1. Art, Economy, Catastrophe

It had always been known that capitalism was a game of winners and losers, but the Empire of Europe was nonetheless shocked to find itself on the losing side.

As the luxury hovercraft Europa began to sink, its impeccably dressed captains seemed to do all they could to keep her afloat. The momentum projecting her forwards had long ago been lost; having jettisoned the cumbersome sandbags of manufacturing and industry, they held out little hope of reviving the inner workings of the engine room. The main problem they faced was that the air cushion that had kept the great hulk floating above the mutable tides was leaking fast. The fictitious funds that had secured her buoyancy for centuries were seeping out with a sizzle, monsters emerging from the sleep of reason to become tangible and laughable as they met with the atmosphere above her skirts.

To maintain the bulbous ballast on which she bobbed, those entrusted with her wellbeing would have been better advised to channel their bluster directly into the inflatable canopy. Instead, they insisted that the Empire’s artists turn their attention to making a gigantic crinoline that would maintain the illusion of pompous voluptuousness.

Most of the Empire’s artists rushed to assent, unable to see anything on the horizon but the unwieldy, careering bulk of Europa and all who sailed in her. Their relationship with the craft and its commanders had begun long before. The handiwork of their forefathers adorned the upper deck, hastily relocated skywards when reality started creeping in. Porous masterpieces sat captive as chopper blades lacerated the air overhead, bringing the new rich to ogle their latent messages with envious eyes. As the floating landmass was reduced to an ornate theme park, the back-slappers and flatterers sidled over to where their counterparts stood, securing their exits.

The artists were pleased to be distracted from their diminishing returns. Against their will or willingly, they had been sucked into the slipstream of Europa, scavenging scraps like seagulls behind a trawler. Tethered to her mast, they had been doomed to describe an arc the length of their fetters. Now they harnessed their ingenuity to the sinking ship, praying for salvation. Following designs that were not their own, they sketched and scored, pinked and primped, feeding ballooning fabric between their fingers. Imprisoned in their individualism until then, they relished the proximity of their fellows.

Those involved in the final installation thought they saw something untoward as the finessed fibres passed from hand to hand. The great metal structure they imagined would support them was mostly missing. At first, they took this to be the effect of saline upon steel. But the absent pieces were too cleanly shorn, and some were clearly marked up for export. Noticing the educated captains glowering above, they feigned renewed interest in their work. Next, they thought they saw something unsightly on the underside of the great platform. Their breath stolen by the wind, these experts of form and function glimpsed an outline of shapes, calcified like coral, the shells of those souls on which the Empire had been built.

Eventually, the gargantuan bustle was stretched into place over whistling, rubberised fissures. The breeze caught it from underneath, billowing its scarlet mass outwards in a semblance of inflation. For the briefest moment, the stretched satin served as a decoy, a vibrant cipher puffed up as if to attract potential mates and ward off danger. After that, nobody was fooled, and the only option left to the captains of industrious futility was to instruct those artists based on land to start sculpting the sands lapping Europa’s oceanic nemesis, softening them in readiness for the inevitable impact.

As fragments of scarlet satin heralded the impending catastrophe, most of the Empire’s artists had realised what would become of them. All they could do was to head for the beach, to bear witness to the ultimate aesthetic experience. The upper deck was clearly submerged by now, taking with it the history on which they had staked their futures. Briefly freed from expectation, they remembered the feeling of working together and a flicker of possibility ran through the assembled crowd. As Europa ran aground on the shore of capital, the Empire’s artists moved to salute their patrons. But, on the bridge of the sinking ship not one of them was to be seen.

5 Comments

  1. Posted December 5, 2012 at 7:01 pm

    Really enjoyed reading this, and I thought that the following might be relevant – “In a spex interview, Dirk von Lowtzow said, “The Fatigue Empire […] is a reevaluation of social imperatives. To function constantly these days is seen as extremely virtuous. For many the worst thing would be to acknowledge that they are exhausted. Contemporary capitalism demands constant creativity, and that one deal with it, profitably. Not even losers are left in peace—they too should work on themselves continuously, and get involved permanently. The Fatigue Empire represents an opposing model that celebrates exhaustion very open-mindedly, as everybody knows of course.”

    [http://lectures-staedelschule.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/cosima-von-bonin-and-moritz-von-oswald.html-]

    Now, thinking this through leaves me in a bit of a bind. If I follow the logic of it, then it looks like a reasonable response to contemporary capitalism might be to do as little as possible, to just scrape by. However, this leads rather directly to dropping out, self sufficiency, squatting, scrabbling around for scraps, etc and I’m not entirely convinced that’s the answer. So, in choosing to act, to be creative, and to get involved, even in projects and activities whose content is broadly in opposition to contemporary capitalism, am I still unwittingly collaborating in it? Is there a way out other than tending towards inactivity?

  2. Angela Dimitrakaki
    Posted December 5, 2012 at 11:51 pm

    Dear Neil,

    You are right. The issue of how to not reproduce capitalism is key.

    And there is indeed a catch, which is expressed precisely in the concept of ‘enclosures’. When we are deprived of the means of living, we are left principally with one option: work for money, be they wages, freelancing or even begging. Hence a famous novel of the early 1990s started with translating what ‘choose life’ meant to those who did choose it and those who didn’t. Apparently the author himself chose life by writing it, let alone publishing it.

    In some ways, all the works in the show, and in any show, are implicated in the same cycle. Capitalism has evolved into a massive magnetic field when it comes to creativity, except that capitalist gravity is not a mystery at all but the outcome of a persistent and methodical eradication of the viability, rather than possibility, of ‘outsides’. This is why it is, in my view, premature to talk about post-capitalist practices actually existing, of which there has been much talk in recent years.

    Leaving art for a moment, there was recently a union policy in the context of academic work that said to work just on contracted hours. It was very hard to implement because then even the oppositional projects we felt committed to would never happen. It is not workaholism that we are faced with, but rather a structural transformation of life rather than just work. Everything is drawn into the vortex of economic relations, not because everything has a price but because in the 1990s we sleepwalked (addicted or exhausted) into accepting the terms of production. And that meant to be among the lucky ones.

  3. colm linnane
    Posted December 8, 2012 at 10:09 am

    Really enjoyed this piece, although i think it’s a slight oversimplification in terms of perpetuating the common misconception that Europe has sold all its manufacturing, Germany has spent much of the last 20 or so years heavily investing in skilled manufacturing, part of the problem with the EU as it stands is that the entire currency product has enabled the establishment and reinforcement of a Bourgeois Hegemony at the heart (metaphorical and geographical) of Europe. The german industrial heartland was and continues to be wealthy, with good economic prospects, at the expense of the periphery- the German position in Europe has enabled them to develop an economy that is able to withstand forseeable shocks of debt/neoliberalism while simultaneously exporting riskier aspects of their banks business out to countries like Ireland where regulation was identified as being less rigourous. It’s interesting to read recent BritMedia pieces (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/joris-luyendijk-banking-blog/2012/sep/19/capitalism-banking-blog) breathlessly describing how normal and well adjusted the German Bankers are compared to their vulgar City of London colleagues are now commonplace, the Germans were able to move the vulgarity offshore or at least keep it at arms length.

    Some would argue that the Germans have played this cannily in a way and the way they’ve slowly but surely resisted investor-led pressure to fling some of the periphery out which would have damaged the Euro more than it has been already. This doesn’t excuse the immiseration of Greek and other Europeans through technocratic austerity but it does go some way towards explaining the German government’s position.

    Apologies for any grammatical obscenities, editing this on a smartphone = massive pain (and potentially exemplary of the impact of tech/glide economy on our behaviour)

  4. Maria
    Posted January 22, 2013 at 7:07 pm

    Momo, however, is a wrench in the plans of the Timesaving Bank

  5. Posted February 6, 2013 at 2:05 pm

    I’ve grown to be very proud and driven by my adrnetuvous side and my need to explore the unknown, so I get it. Humans were destined or at least naturally inclined to test their limits of discovery and potential. So we set out on our metaphorical ships to become civilized and to know and to conquer all that caused us burden. At some point it was decided that everyone should be on these ships and we should set sail for anywhere like great explorers, but not everyone is the adrnetuvous type. This became a burden in itself, so it became law that everyone and everything must travel into the unknown on these ships. The ships are becoming faster and faster, and we have gotten very used to the ride where we don’t even seem to question its purpose or its safety anymore. The captains have become quite reckless and fixated on the process over the purpose. If the boats don’t continue to accelerate then the passengers are cast off. If the boats run out of fuel then they and their passengers are left to die. If anything impedes the path of the boats, it is destroyed. I’m not the only one on the boat who feels that this adventure has strayed off course. When I plan for a trip I try to be prepared for whatever I will encounter, and most importantly I try to have enough resources to sustain me on my adventure. During the adventure I am very conscious of risk and reward, and I make sure that I only get far enough to be able to get back when my resources are depleted. It seems that now we have traveled so far in unchartered terrain that we have no hope of returning to our regular fueling point. But there is hope. See our travels have caused us to lose track of whom we are in the first place and where we come from. We are the sea we travel on and the sky we peer into. We are the sun which lights our journey and the stars which mystify us at night. We are the air that we breathe and the water that we drink. We are the fish that we consume. We are not alone, for we could not exist that way!My message is to ready yourselves for a wonderful blast of awareness back to our roots. Our predicament calls for a revolution in consciousness, and we will be able to bring all that we have learned back to a balanced and peaceful world, but we must reassume our rightful place. We are not on the world, we are of the world, and we simply cannot be without its health! This means the end of conquest, hatred, brutality, entitlement, occupation, exploitation, oppression, greed, apathy, gluttony, and tyranny.What kind of wishful thinking is this? Debate if you would like to whether it can happen, but please don’t even think about debating whether it needs to.

One Trackback

  1. By ECONOMY « LONG+WRONG on December 9, 2012 at 7:12 pm

    […] This upcoming exhibition at stills in Edinburgh looks rather stupendous. Their website has much to read, digest, and respond to. I’ve developed my thoughts on the Fatigue Empire quote below and have contributed the following in response to this […]

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