1. Artleaks is a bold project making counter-information about the art world an its unwritten and unequal rules. Having a user generated process you have more possibility to spread documented experiences and get a real pulse on the situation. What is changing since 2011, when you started this group and the gazette?
We launched the online platform in September 2011, although we came together as a group in 2010. ArtLeaks is a joint effort, borne out of solidarity between artists, curators, critics. We wrote a public manifesto together that you can read on our main site http://art-leaks.org/about/. From the beginning it was important for us to take responsibility for the content published on the site, and to let people know who was behind the project. The Gazette was launched in order to defend the rights of artists and cultural workers, and to protect this category of global citizens from the abuses of cultural bureaucracy nested in and around contemporary art institutions. Since 2012 we have used our publication as a tool of empowerment, seeking to mobilize artistic communities throughout the world to stand up for their rights. My estimation today, is that art workers are more empowered to come forward and share their stories, and that institutions are more aware that they are responsible for how to treat their labour force. Of course, there is still more work to be done, and we remain committed to publishing cases and supporting art workers as much as possible in their struggles.
2. The focus of your open calls is basically addressed to let controversial situations come to light from institutions, galleries and big events. Especially in the relationship with artists and regarding their compensation and equal treatment. How do you feel institutions are perceived from cultural workers nowadays and do you have trust in a possible dialogue with them?
Galleries, Museums, Art Institutes, Foundations, are built within an ideological and economic field which is unequal and uneven, but nonetheless, as institutions they are predicated on the labour of those creative producers that they manage. This includes artists, curators, producers but also other museum staff and the public that is likely to be sympathetic when we speak out. ArtLeaks reports on its platform, cases of mistreatment and misbehavior, are in fact systemic issues that are to be found in other fields as well. Our main strategy revolves around the section “Artleak your Case,” and we mostly rely on artists or groups to come to us; then we develop a narrative together. In some cases this involves not just exposure and online publishing, but actually actions on the ground. For example, in London we worked with PWB, Future Interns, and Ragpickers to engage directly with local institutions.
3. A very crucial issue in our experience is facing the fact that art scene is extremely competitive. Quite often our inequalities come into being because of our silence and complicity. Every movement of change results from cohesion and solidarity instead. Do you agree on this point of view and maybe you found any solution in the contributions you received?
One positive thing that ArtLeaks managed to do is that it developed some close connections with other collectives, such as Working Artists and the Greater Economy (W.A.G.E.), Occupy Museums, the Precarious Workers Brigade (P.W.B.) and the Ragpickers. This implies that we often function as relays one to another, and that as a result of conjoined efforts we manage to make various cases and issues more visible.
Here it is also interesting to mention that one of our founding members, Vladan Jeremic made a graphic wall installation at tranzit.ro Bucharest for the “Prophets and Parasites” conference, entitled The artistic production cycle in neoliberal capitalism and how to brake it was tackled as very important for the strategy of the struggle. According to this graphic proposal, to break the chain of exploitation of cultural workers means to produce a cut off in two major points: first, we have to free the revolutionary potential of the reserve army of cultural labour and to drill into their ideological balloon; and second, we need to cut off the hand of structural repression.
4. If we want to take under consideration a very good example of collective awareness, let’s think about the fight between Guggenheim and Gulf Labour Coalition. Even if still struggling with several uncertain results, this initiative was surely successful in remarking the uncomfortable situations of Guggenheim’s workers at a global level. In your opinion, how are the keys for this achievement, in terms of organisation or innovative ways to protest?
I have been living in the New York area for over six years, and have developed affinities with the Occupy movement; one of the groups ArtLeaks collaborates with is called Occupy Museums in New York. They have recently done several protest actions at the Guggenheim in collaboration with the Gulf Labour Coalition against the exploitation of workers during the construction of Guggenheim Abu Dhabi. Some of us in our group come from the new left and identify with the aforementioned groups, some of us come from anarchism, some of us are Deleuzians; and so we are not like a united political front. Over the years we have organized our own workshops and exhibitions where we do look at different historical models for coalition building and social movements in which artists were at the forefront. For example, I like begin with Courbet, to introduce this notion of activism and the art worker and so on and then look at later initiatives such as the Art Workers Coalition, studying historical examples of how artists organized.
5. Looking at Artleaks’ funder members, it’s obvious that you have an academic background related to institutional critique. We found that even more in recent years, museums and biennials are adopting some attitudes and terms from this subject, in order to open their consensus basis. Are there any real risk of normalization for institutional critique at the moment? If yes, how to avoid it?
ArtLeaks occupies a space across disciplines and borders, being an initiative stemming from actors of the art world, while grounding itself outside of the art world as well, in activism, or in academia. It is important to be perceived internationally as a communal tool for the problems that art work and theory production are facing today. ArtLeaks wants to provide as much support as it can for burning issues in the artistic communities and most importantly to link local struggles of art workers in a particular situation, for example in obscure and so-called peripheral countries, and to connect those local struggles with the global struggles in order to empower communities.
Even though I have been studying and working in the United States for many years and am well aware about the mechanisms of the gallery-museum-biennale-art fair complex, I still feel compelled to tackle the challenges of the environment in Romania, where neoliberalism is in full bloom, the intelligentsia is almost entirely rightwing, galleries and the market claim hegemony. I think it is not coincidental that a significant part ArtLeaks’ original founders comes from this context: The Bureau of Melodramatic Research, PostSpectacle, Paradis Garaj, Raluca Voinea our co-founding members – represent a handful of artists and critics from the independent scene in Bucharest (that is they do not work for any state institution but have developed an alternative way of implementing critical projects through outside support) who are tired of the greed, obedience and lack of critical discourse and want to change things in the culture. I think in these so-called marginal context we could use more institutional critique.
6. At the end, if we would like to finish our interview with a positive attitude, are you finding some “good institutions” around the world? Which kind of actions are they taking? Being outside of the system, in the so called “independent scene” does give more guarantee or not for an equal treatment?
I think that a platforms like e-flux are sustainable, we can find transparent kunsthalles in Norway. But all these are far away from being ideal. We can also find socially responsible artist-run spaces with participatory models, such as the NGBK-Neue Gesellschaft für bildende Kunst in Berlin. In this examples managing and organizing the space are interconnected with the general economy and the political environments. As opposed to this, negative examples we have reported on use cultural and artistic projects for money-laundering. All in all, I would like ArtLeaks to develop more in the direction of joining forces with other international actors to expose not this or that bad situation but reveal the mechanisms that perpetuate a system that we all agree is broken and abusive. And to build awareness that these mechanisms are not exclusive to the art world. I think we can build good examples and best practices from joining forces with activists who are asking similar questions about governing our every-day lives, our societies.
One comment on “A conversation with Corina L. Apostol – ArtLeaks”
It is true that those “mechanisms [of abuse] are not exclusive to the art world – but it will be only a unified collective of artists who are capable of exposing and rectifying those abuses. As demonstrated by your excellent history “Art Workers Between Precarity and Resistance: A Genealogy” that while the political world at-large trends year after year from one form of humanitarian abuse to the other, like sexism and racism the precarity and exploitation of artists remains a constant – – not only in the western world but throughout nearly every society and also in an increasing global manner. Call us what you will; creatives, workers, activists, the avant-garde – artists are not independent of one another or of the society we share, we never have been. As for art departments in academia this is the stuff the needs to be taught before not after students are subject to the consequences.