Art & Impact: Measuring the Immeasurable

9 December 2021, 5:00:00 am

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Session Convenors

Dr Alex Gawronski, University of Sydney (Lecturer Contemporary Arts SCA/SLAM/FASS)

Session Moderators

Dr Alex Gawronski, University of Sydney (Lecturer Contemporary Arts SCA/SLAM/FASS)

Session Speakers

Dr Alex Gawronski, University of Sydney (Lecturer Contemporary Arts SCA/SLAM/FASS)
Zoe Marni Roberston, University of Sydney (PhD Candidate and sessional lecturer SCA)
Maya Stocks, University of Sydney (PhD Candidate SCA)

This panel will argue from differing perspectives, that statistically orientated, outcome-based methodologies not only inherently overlook non-quantifiable knowledge forms, but frequently devalue them. Numerical justification, a mainstay of neoliberal ‘post-political’ economistic thinking, the ‘capitalist realism’ of our age, has particularly adverse effects on the notion of contemporary art as a critical, resistant, or testing endeavor. Each participant will address the notion of ‘impact’ (and related terminology) as it pertains to art and research. From a social perspective, the metrical obsessions of contemporary capitalism corral practitioners into behaving inherently as self-entrepreneurs as much out of ambition as out of need conditioned by broadening precarity. This is clearly evident in the current ubiquity of social media and its widespread effects. Elsewhere, knowledge and thinking conditioned by the impact of neoliberalism’s emphasis on the ‘objectivity’ of ‘free’ markets, has turned increasingly to alternative freedoms couched now as Conspiracy Theories. Even the technicist aspects of contemporary representational and production systems are conditioned by normalising standards that subtly undermine diverse alternatives. Of course, emphasis on measurable proof of cultural value today faces unignorable yet equally measurable impacts of quite another dimension in the manifold effects of climate change, global authoritarianism and mass unemployment.

PAPER #1
Social Media Impact: the Dictatorship of Visibility

PRESENTER
Dr Alex Gawronski, University of Sydney (Lecturer Contemporary Arts SCA/SLAM/FASS)

The ubiquity of social media platforms today is by no means entirely positive. The practical inescapability of social media has become increasingly instrumentalising. Contemporary ‘platform capitalism’ to which such media are attached, is central to neoliberalism’s extractive functioning: as both media and capital have become more virtualised, so value is increasingly drawn from subjective and affective areas of life previously considered beyond capitalism’s reach. At a time of the unprecedented erosion of social services and effective party politics, ‘social’ media transforms every user into a self-entrepreneur. From the artist’s perspective, the ‘successful’ practitioner is the one willing themselves into significance in tune with biopolitical pressures that command the individual to act like what Foucault once described as an ‘enterprise unit’. At the same time, social media’s emphasis on the Now measures the impact of contemporary art according to its consensual popularity: stressing the myth of democratic horizontality (a total paradox given social media’s corporate underpinning) an artwork in the present is considered more institutionally impactful according to its instant accessibility, its ‘likability’. Against collective, genuinely political or social(ist) ends, minor, resistant, critical or ‘negative’ practices, social media prefigures art (as well as the artist) according to a dictatorship of visibility.

PAPER #2
Conspiring Against a Social Intelligence

PRESENTER
Zoe Marni Roberston, University of Sydney (PhD Candidate and sessional lecturer SCA)

The commodification of culture is symptomatic of a nihilistic social order, which in this case will be presented through the vehicle of the Conspiracy Theory. Conspiracies create a narrative to oppose official state narratives, garbling alternative histories in such a way as disallows nuance and multiplicity, thus forming an alternative reading that (paradoxically) supports the status quo. Where intelligence is supposedly predicated on a lack of “social skills” we find a lack of “use” for the humanities. It is not simply that “the nerd” is awkward but that he is actively anti-socialised, as well as responsible for developing these media, only ironically social. All work in this order, can only be in the service of product-development, reframing knowledge as predicated on use-value. The issue is not individual actors but Homo Economicus, where the subject is expected to work solely in their own interest (down to the design of software in expecting the subject to act solely based on reward, with echoes in industrial psychology). While this foundational mythology is seemingly convincing, it has been roundly disproven as a behavioural science, functioning as a kind of hypnosis where the subject must acquiesce (and only does so for lack of an alternative).

PAPER #3
The Square Root of All Evil: Standardised ‘A’ Paper Formats and the Subversion of Creative Forms of Dissent

PRESENTERS
Maya Stocks, University of Sydney (PhD Candidate SCA)

Through a short history of the standardisation of cut paper formats based on the metric ‘A' series, this presentation considers the ways in which technical standards of aspect ratios, metrics and modularity have come to ultimately shape, and subvert, creative forms of dissent. Through a comparative analysis of obsolete paper formats over the ages we can observe how technicist systems came to define printed formats, and look at why now, in this digital ‘paperless’ age, these systems continue to endure. How and why have we ended up with essentially one basic option: A4? This printed sheet was the first completely standardised product manufactured in series. It marked a point of departure from the anomalous, the human – to forms of abstract mathematical theory. In 1972, John Berger asserted that Capitalism had survived by forcing the majority, whom it exploits, to define their interests as narrowly as possible. All spaces, small and large, became monetised. This presentation seeks to challenge the dogma of ‘rationalisation’ as it re-emerged out of Modernism. In doing so, it aims to shed light on the ways in which ideologies of streamlining and efficacy have come to be so closely aligned to notions of desirability and impact.

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Biographies

Dr Alex Gawronski, University of Sydney (Lecturer Contemporary Arts SCA/SLAM/FASS)

Alex Gawronski is a contemporary artist, writer independent gallerist and academic working across multiple disciplines. He has a particular interest in the implications of galleries and museums as cultural sites of spatial, socio-political contestation. Gawronski has shown widely nationally and internationally. He participated in the inaugural The National: New Australian Art in 2017 presenting large-scale architectural interventions simultaneously at the AGNSW, the MCA and Carriage Works. In 2014, Artspace Sydney published a Monograph of Gawronski’s art and essays titled Words and Pictures. Gawronski also has an extensive history founding independent Artist Run Initiatives, currently KNULP in Camperdown, Sydney.


Zoe Marni Roberston, University of Sydney (PhD Candidate and sessional lecturer SCA)

Zoe Marni Roberston is an artist, writer and PhD candidate at the University of Sydney where she also works as a sessional lecturer. Robertson has exhibited widely and her art spans diverse media from narrative and conceptual video, to painting and object making. Her thematic interests are broad, encompassing contemporary feminism and its histories, the lingering impact of classical and pagan narratives and iconography and critical ecology. She is engaged in the further explication of how these diverse fields are enmeshed in the extractive operations of neoliberal 'cognitive' capitalism.


Maya Stocks, University of Sydney (PhD Candidate SCA)

Maya Stocks is an artist, working in print, film and painting. She is currently a PhD student at the University of Sydney where she is researching the history of the Earthworks Poster Collective which operated from the Tin Sheds between 1972-79. She was an apprentice to British graphic designer and writer, Richard Hollis, designing catalogues and books for Bridget Riley. She was an Art Director, colour and pattern designer for Marc Newson in London and Paris. In 2011, Stocks has an MA from Royal College of Art in London. In 2012 she established the artist-run space Ultra Violet in Sydney.