It was better after
Just a few days after the start of the lockdown, people began saying that the “after” could not be the same as the “before”. The art world was not spared from this belief: the after could never be like it was before. The before: The earth was seen as a cultural playground for a happy few; the fast-and-furious drivers of globalisation; the extravagant carbon footprint of galleries; artists and collectors criss-crossing through international fairs and biennials; the domination of auction houses, obliged to organise derelict shows but with growing prestige; the constant financial pressure tied to the obligation to participate in such events…
And then, this dizzying competition was cut short by a virus, leaving room for a slightly worrying shock.
The entire system of production, exhibition and commercialisation of artwork was questioned, sometimes in unexpected ways. Several well-known galleries began to complain about the frenetic pace of the global art business. There was hedging, with some saying “Not everything is wrong with the contemporary art world that we’ve just left behind!” It says a lot about the deep reflection about the art world. It was as if a hidden conviction had finally found an opening in which to express itself. Such an immediate reaction reveals a long-buried sentiment.
Of course, as soon as safety and political conditions will allow it, the temptation for a new “after” will fade away in the return to the “before”, to business as usual. But I believe that we would be wrong to scoff, more maliciously than lucidly, at this desire for an after that would redefine each player’s role in the production, exhibition and dissemination of artwork. Instead, we could take advantage of the opportunity to more clearly articulate the burgeoning questions and pursue ideas that until now have never truly been discussed. What shape do we want to give previously expressed desires for solidarity and proximity? Are we capable of and do we want collaborations in formats other than just commercial events?
My experience with the galerie de multiples has proven to me that regular collaborations between galleries, whether continuous or occasional, face challenges but are doable, satisfying and productive. They have made it possible to create and expand production modes that are less common but effective, even if they are not as visible in the art scene. These collaborations have led to the production of artwork that would never have been included in the strategies galleries have to follow if they want to participate in the international art market. The market imposes a specific type of production.
In France, the world of cinema offers an example of what might be possible in terms disconnecting production from market expectations. It is a specific, imperfect example that may not be exactly transposable, but which shows the viability and effectiveness of doing so. It offers a reliable framework with which to reconsider artwork production.
For each cinema ticket purchased, a percentage is earmarked for the CNC [French national centre for cinema]. This revenue source enables the CNC to finance films that otherwise would never be produced.
By drawing inspiration from such a system, we could imagine a contribution that would be small enough to be “painless” for galleries but which, when added up from all sales, could generate new means for art production.
An independent and renewable body comprising gallery owners and artists could be formed, which would not be in direct competition with the State’s missions – namely the CNAP [French national plastic arts centre] – but whose single aim would be to produce artwork that would likely never be created without such funding. One key difference with the CNAP’s missions would be that not just any gallery or artist could apply for funding. Just as no one expects the CNC to finance the next James Bond or Spielberg film, contemporary art “blockbusters” (galleries and artists) should not be in the running for such funding. Another difference would be that the support provided would not be a reimbursable loan, nor an acquisition, nor aid for an exhibition. The artwork produced would remain the property of the gallery and artist until it is sold.
This idea as such creates more questions than answers. All, or nearly all, of the details must still be ironed out. What percentage should be applied to sales of artwork? Should the independent body members be only galleries and artists (what I think)? How do you set up an independent committee and draw up the rules regarding production support? These rules, to be sustainable and shared, must be determined by the largest number of galleries possible. A specific collaboration with art shows could be envisaged to test out this idea. A percentage – by obligation small – taken from all sales during an art show could fund the galleries that go before the selection committee, but for which the cost of a stand may be entirely unprofitable.
This idea is undoubtedly imperfect. Others may gain better traction. But it shows the interest in suggesting new solidarity-based collaboration between gallery owners and between gallery owners and artists. It offers a way to rethink how artwork is produced independently from the market. And most of all, it offers the opportunity for “big” galleries to address the desire for solidarity they have expressed in recent months.
Tracking shots are a matter of morality
The project of this blog was born before the pandemic.
It read as follows: To assert, rightly, that art neither defends nor serves a moral, has made us lose sight of the fact that artistic practice is ethical. That the artistic gesture is a matter of ethics is a conviction that we will defend here. First of all, because it seems to us to open up – once again – conceptual horizons that have remained unexplored for too long, and yet are necessary for the knowledge of an artwork.
Far from disqualifying this ambition, Covid- 19 has made these demands more forceful. If the ardour of the debates that animated us the day before quarantine started has totally disappeared (should we separate the work from the artist? It was the antiphon of many conflicts), once the stupor caused by the epidemic is over, art will not escape the ethical questions that were (re)emerging. Cause the questions of the status of the artist, of the artwork, and finally of the link between the author and its work (interrelated, among others, of rights and duties), do not only belong to cinema and literature, they challenge art as a whole, and contemporary art in particular.
And the new ethical questions arising from the pandemic, from quarantine, from its conditions and from the management of the health crisis will rapidly spread to areas other than public health, as soon as the doors of quarantine are opened. The idea is spreading, for example, that worldwide business and art business will not go back to the way they were before the crisis. That both cannot afford to avoid a more responsible redefinition of their practices (their modes of production and distribution, their markets, etc.). Participating in and defending the liveliness of this idea is in addition to our primary ambitions. Because nothing says today that this afterthought will not, on the contrary, break the momentum and ambitions of a more responsible and solidarity-based economy.
We have chosen this title, a tribute to the French New Wave, because it makes us, by its mere statement, to think beyond our contemporary certainties.
Morality today is only brandished as a fetish that should not be invoked for fear of awakening the empire and exaggerated forces, and all too often, a questioning of the exercise of power, its physical subjection as much as its moral constraints, it is denounced under the pretext of a return to normative and liberticidal morality. As if morality, as order and as power, had not long ago undergone its transformation, abandoning the ways of the religious that justified its ascendancy (what it is good/evil), for those of reason (essentially economic and political) which now alone can give it authority (it is realistic/unrealistic; it is possible/impossible).
Choosing this title is also, first of all, to place oneself under the auspices of three important figures of cinema (in fact, four…)
Serge Daney, in his beautiful article Le travelling de Kapo1, reminds us that Jacques Rivette, in a review published in the Cahiers du Cinéma2, finds despicable a tracking shot by filmmaker Gillo Pontecorvo in his film Kapo.
Made in 1960, the film tells the story of a young French Jewish girl who is arrested and then deported to a German concentration and extermination camp. The camera movement allows the Italian director to approach and reframe the body of a heroine who has just thrown herself onto electrified barbed wire so as not to end up « like a beast ». It is the aestheticisation, the classic recomposition of this terrible suicide, that Rivette denounces.
Rivette’s criticism is in line with Jean-Luc Godard’s3 assertion : « tracking shots are a question of morality ». This article and this all-Godardian sentence placed ethics as a required value, on a par with the passion that the French New Wave enthusiasts had for cinema.
It is a question of cinema, of course, but the succession of avant-garde movements that gave rhythm to twentieth-century art can also be read as the permanent search for a practice that would combine aesthetic desire and ethical requirements in a single gesture.
In other words, it was already defending the idea that aesthetics is a matter of ethics.
This blog does not want to be a communication tool but a space for reflection. It will be so if we know how to open it to otherness, pluralism and contradiction. We will invite artists, collectors, critics, gallery owners, passionate amateurs to intervene here.
The global crises (financial and health) reveal ethics as a need of humanity, and no longer as a chic but boring accessory of a few somewhat idle people. But as soon as the crises are over, the need becomes less pressing… And ethics quickly becomes again, at best a forgotten subject such as the Baccalauréat, at worst an exotic object whose use is no longer recognized.
It is up to all of us to redefine its use. It is up to the players of the art world to redefine an aesthetic of ethics.
Unless it is the other way around, and this is our first line of thought, working to define an ethic of aesthetics…
Because we shall not forget that before tracking shots were a question of morality, morality was a matter of tracking shots 4.
morality is a matter of tracking shots
- Serge Daney : Le travelling de Kapo – Traffic n°4, autumn 1992.
- Jacques Rivette, De l’abjection, Cahiers du cinéma n°120, June 1961.
- Statement by Jean-Luc Godard during a round table discussion on the film Hiroshima mon amour by Alain Resnais. Round table transcribed in the Cahiers du Cinéma n°97, July 1959. For the entire period of the Cahiers du Cinéma, see the book by Antoine de Baeque: Les Cahiers du cinéma, Histoire d’une revue. Ed. Cahiers du Cinéma.
- In an article, Sur les brisées de Marlowe, published in the Cahiers du Cinéma in March 1959, Luc Moullet wrote: « La morale est affaire de travellings » (« Morality is a matter of tracking shots… »).