Grizedale Arts Use Value and the Little Society by John Byrne in Afterall 30

… Artists, critics, theorists, curators, gallerists and art historians alike are now faced with the task of pinpointing just what it is that makes art special in a world in which contemporary art has become indistinguishable from other forms of popular culture and mass media. The emancipatory discourses of self-help, self-determination, self-organisation and global networking have now become interchangeable with the smooth rhetoric of multinational capitalism. An example of this can be seen in the 2010 Big Society election pledge made by UK Prime Minister David Cameron, to give further autonomy to citizens in the governance of their own lives, by encouraging the breakdown of government offices and councils into independent small businesses and by allowing communities to establish self-help charities. Whilst it may be clear that such promises simply gloss over new forms of centralised capital deregulation, and contribute to the continued erosion of the power and rights of under- represented and vulnerable individuals, the proximity of such rhetoric to the utopian dream of the avant-garde is striking.

The activity of returning use value to the production of current art in an otherwise self- alienated neoliberal society is a means by which we can begin to rethink ourselves, our futures and each other. In this sense, the use value of Grizedale Arts’s projects is to be found in the realignment of provisional positions within the formation of a ‘Little Society’ — their production of flexible and recombinant communities that, of necessity, occupy the same space and modalities as neoliberalism, but which nevertheless seek to differentiate themselves from the ideological forms of a deregulated Big Society. The staging of projects such as Child’s Play or The São Paulo Mechanics Institute becomes a means to systematically cast doubt on the logics and impositions of neoliberal economics.

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