On the occasion of the second Amateurist Network event Anton Vidokle, NYC/ Berlin artist behind e-flux, Unitednationsplaza, Night School and the Martha Rosler Library to name only a few recent projects, presented his 2010 film New York Conversations at E:vent Gallery. The film was the result of a joint commission by A Prior magazine to produce material for the publication. Together with Nico Dockx and Rirkrit Tiravanija, Vidokle decided to hold a three-day conversation open to the public, with invited guests and lunch and dinners prepared by Tiravanija.
The topics of the conversations ranged from issues over the precarious positions of independent art workers wanting to ‘own their own alienation’ (Miwon Kwon) or needing to ‘hustle’ by selling their ‘body of work’ (Jan Verwoert). The dialogue also addressed the loose structures of ‘trust’ and ‘understanding’ used to enable relationships, which were also identified as their potential weakness. The dynamics of how to have a group conversation was also discussed and suggestions over how the event will become mediated in its documentation.
The film was a condensed version of over 20 hours of material and was predictably very dense, requiring close reading throughout. But the overall effect of the film was bold and engaging. In relation to the nascent Amateurist Network, with its stated aim of ‘privileging talking’, the film underlined the importance of sharing experiences and creating feedback loops to safeguard against isolation and competition for competition’s sake.
The discussion with Vidokle at E:vent Gallery following the screening was wide ranging, from the political history of film and video to ideas of social agency and the aesthetics of the film and its ambiguous status as an art object. The question of how public the filmed conversations were was raised. Vidokle responded by stating his concern that art was becoming fodder for lacklustre tourism, quoting Rosler, he said that the public had been replaced by ‘an audience’. A voice from the audience argued that he enjoyed being a tourist in his city, going to openings and discovering new work. I stated that the notion of ‘tourism’ needed to be clarified as the arts has come to be marketed solely as a marker of the cultural status of a city for visitors, and rarely for its innate worth and relevance to communities of artists and the sources of critical support they draw from. I worry that this hollow promotion has led to the easy sidelining of the arts by the present Con-Dem leadership.
Vidokle argued that the last thing he wanted to be was a ‘professional artist’ and went on to talk about how sovereignty, rather than autonomy, might be a worthwhile topic on which to concentrate, warning against the prescriptive nature of biennials and the co-optive tendency of institutions over artists. He emphasized the ongoing need to keep questioning and sustaining this through different forms of distribution and circulation.