In considering what the network is or was – even before calling its project organizing an “artwork” (and what is the hoped for gain of this description – for whom is it being described as such: for artists, critics, research funders, taxpayers, etc.?) it might be good to admit that Filliou’s concept of a an artists network as it gained popularity always looked different from the time and place of observation. Its signification was predictably altered by cultural change and by institutionalization. That is only to suggest that it meant something different for Brecht and Filliou, a lot of different things when employed by Filliou-inspired artist collectives and spaces of the 1970s, and so on along its paths to “re-discovery” and/or recapturing in the 21st century.
For me it matters that Filliou’s statements came prefaced with what amounts to a social critique. So when Roddy quotes Filliou saying, “Everytime we turn our attention to what we don’t know, we are doing research” the statement is missing its preface which is, “Research is not the domain of those who know; on the contrary it is the domain of those who do not know.” Was Filliou poking at scholarly specialists (that now includes many of us as respondents) ? Probably. The set-up for announcing the Eternal Network/La Fete est Permanent is similar. “There is always someone making a fortune, someone going bankrupt – we in particular.” Does this suggest that artist poverty or precarity is a pre-condition for being a network member? Of course not. Filliou wrote, “As you can see, we included the fact of our being bankrupt as part of La Fete Permanente. To us, this an important element of the Eternal Network: including in it the harmful, painful or disagreeable things in life, as well as the pleasant, profitable ones.” (Teaching and Learning as Performing Arts, Verlag Gebr,Konig, Koln, 1970) It was (he writes) supposed to help wean artists off of their allotted competitiveness. But was it what we would now call a “safe space?” Was the network brought into being with any socially operational effects in mind? Think of Facebook, not as a corporate string pulling, but how we try to use it with our “friends.” What works and doesn’t work when we try to interact? We have some general sense of what gets approval in our specific node but not much else. Do we describe our earliest use of FB an “artwork?”
Speaking of and to the history of the network, I now want to detour via what Stuart Hall (co-founder of British Cultural Studies) wrote about that project’s history and the “will to connect” (“Cultural Studies and its theoretical legacies,” 1992 ). (This was v. useful for me when I was seeking a way to trouble my view of the history of artist spaces as a doctoral project.)
So while Hall acknowledges that cultural studies as a project is open-ended, “always open to that which it does not know yet, to that which it can’t yet name,” he also argues against pluralism and for the stakes (something at stake) of cultural studies. It will probably take a second post to get to the core of what I think the stakes of an collective artist practice could / might be in relation to a network and that has something to do with a present that appears to accept that the merging of functions of artist, curator, critic, and patron works out for the best of all involved. That collegial management is perhaps the only way forward for a brighter future?
Like our view of art (on good days) Hall reviews c.s. as “a serious project, that is inscribed in what is sometimes called the “political” aspect of cultural studies,” not he adds, “ that there’s one politics inscribed within it.” The tension, Hall says, is “between a refusal to close the field, to police it, and fluency.”
So what if any is the significance of artists formulating and maintaining a network? Hall cites Raymond Williams who wrote that “the relation between a project and a (discursive) formation is always decisive because they are different ways of materializing…and then describing a common disposition of energy and direction.” (Raymond Williams, “The Future of Cultural Studies, 1989).
So I guess from this follows a question of whether or not (or at least in what sense) in this discussion are we bothered whether the “discursive formation” we are hailing is about “art” or “artists?” And in its vagueness, does it matter if the network had / has a “common direction” that in any way, shape or form might be called ‘political’ ?