– Autumn/Winter 2016

Social Autonomy and the Use Value of Art

John Byrne

‘Office of Useful Art 2015: Localist Worker’, organised by Liverpool John Moores University / Liverpool School of Art and Design, Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art and Tate Liverpool, Exhibition Research Centre, Liverpool, 2015. Courtesy the Office of Useful Art

In 1917, Marcel Duchamp placed a urinal on a pedestal, signed it R. Mutt and declared it art. In 2010, Cuban artist Tania Bruguera took an identical urinal, signed it R. Mutt, reconnected it to the plumbing system in the Queens Museum of Art’s men’s room, and called it Arte Útil.1

The Asociación de Arte Útil (AAU) is the home of an ongoing and propositional art project instigated by Tania Bruguera. The overall intention of the Asociación is to produce an international online and offline resource, or toolkit, that brings together and propagates forms of art practice that seek to have direct and lasting social, political and economic impact. Begun in 2013, at the Arte Útil Lab at the Queens Museum of Art in New York, the project has consisted of a series of public programmes, workshops, symposia and events at a number of art museums and institutions; an online platform with a selected archive-cum-database of useful art projects and other Arte Útil-related materials; several exhibition-presentations of

  1. Press release for 'Arte Útil Lab: Investigating the Parameters of Useful Art', Queens Museum of Art, New York, 17 February–2 June 2013, available at http://artforum.com/uploads/guide.002/id07566/ press_release.pdf (last accessed on 18 August 2016).

  2. It is also worth mentioning that AAU has developed within a broader constellation of interconnected projects, including the Autonomy Project (2010–11) and the five-year programme 'Uses of Art – The Legacy of 1848 and 1989' (2013–17) by the confederation of art museums L'Internationale. See http:// theautonomyproject.org/ and http://www.internationaleonline.org/programmes/list (both last accessed on 18 August 2016).

  3. These criteria came about as a result of discussions at the Queens Museum, Grizedale Arts, Cumbria and the Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven in the run up to the exhibition 'Museum of Arte Útil' at the Van Abbemuseum from 7 December 2013 to 30 March 2014. See http://museumarteutil.net and http://www. arte-util.org/about/colophon/ (both last accessed on 18 August 2016).

  4. The AAU archive is currently run by Broadcasting the Archive, an independent project conceived by Gemma Medina Estupiñán and Alessandra Saviotti, which aims to 'reactivate and mediate the Arte Útil's archive within and beyond the museum's context'. See http://broadcastingthearchive.tumblr.com (last accessed on 18 August 2016).

  5. See http://www.queensmuseum.org/immigrant-movement-international (last accessed on 18 August 2016).

  6. See Steven Wright, Towards a Lexicon of Usership, Eindhoven: Van Abbemuseum, 2013, available at http://www.arte-util.org/tools/lexicon/ (last accessed on 18 August 2016).

  7. As alternatives Wright suggests 'emerging concepts' such as 'Cognitive Surplus', 'Double-Ontology', 'Museum 3.0', 'Narratorship' and 'Repurposing', and new 'Modes of Usership' such as 'Gleaning', 'Hacking', 'Piggybacking' and 'Poaching'. See ibid.

  8. Liam Gillick, 'The Good of Work', e-flux journal, issue 16, May 2010, available at http://www.e-flux. com/journal/the-good-of-work/ (last accessed on 18 August 2016).

  9. See the 'about' page of the Museum of Arte Útil website: http://museumarteutil.net/about/ (last accessed on 18 August 2016).

  10. Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, London: Penguin Books, 1985, p.4.

  11. Mierle Laderman Ukeles, 'MANIFESTO FOR MAINTENANCE ART 1969! Proposal for an exhibition "CARE"', available at http://www.feldmangallery.com/media/pdfs/Ukeles_MANIFESTO.pdf (last accessed on 18 August 2016).

  12. The performance is documented at https://vimeo.com/69101898 (last accessed on 18 August 2016).

  13. Pino Poggi, 'Manifest Arte Utile I' (1965), available at http://www.arte-utile.net/PinoPoggi/web-content/navigation/f-au.html (last accessed on 18 August 2016).

  14. See Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Volume 1 (1867, trans. Ben Fowkes), London: Penguin, 1990, pp.131–38.

  15. See Fredric Jameson, Representing Capital: A Reading of Volume 1, London: Verso, 2014.

  16. For instance, Jacques Rancière posits a metapolitics of aesthetics as a means to illuminate the full complexity and interconnectedness of aesthetic and political debate within the Western canon. See J. Rancière, Politics of Aesthetics: The Distribution of the Sensible (trans. Gabriel Rockhill), London: Continuum, 2004. See also Claire Bishop's Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship (London: Verso, 2012), which is more orientated towards objectified forms of resistance as art in gallery spaces.

  17. See http://museumarteutil.net/about/ (last accessed on 18 August 2016).

  18. 'Arte Útil Summit 2016', Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art, 22–25 July 2016. See http://www. arte-util.org/studies/arte-util-summit-2016/ (last accessed on 18 August 2016).