Art&Reciprocity blog = Awesome

Check out this great blog by our writers Caroline Picard and Erik Hagoort:

see for some samples of their writings the posts below


Identity in Action

Identity in Action – Posted on July 10, 2011, Author: Caroline Picard

When I think of reciprocity, I visualize a call-and-response scenario: a give and take, or the meeting of a positive action with a subsequent positive action. In order to understand reciprocity one must therefore define boundaries: to attribute one action with its source, thereby attributing the subsequent action with its subsequent source. There is a cause/effect relationship embedded in the course of movement and, at first, it seems like separate identities are necessarily contained—because one must be able to hold a single body responsible. In thinking though, about how a shared action in common can generate a greater return, I started wondering after those boundaries. For instance, what does it mean for several people to enact an airport? Who is the author of such an action? At a certain point, the boundaries of authorship get murky.

In his book, The Ecological Thought (Harvard UP, 2010) Timothy Morton reassesses the individual’s relationship to nature, encouraging us to recognize a fundamental and interstitiary “mesh” of which we are all a part. He is not examining art communities. Instead he studies scientific allocations of species and how its distinctions frame humanity’s specific relationship to nature. Over the course of his book, he continues to break down the most basic categorical distinctions—pointing out the blurry line between plant and animal by examining species that occupy abutting biological kingdoms. There is such a minimal difference between an anemone, say, and a fungus that assigning one the attributes of plant and the other those of an animal becomes arbitrary. Only via farther-out consequences—for instance when comparing a palm tree and a lion—does the difference seem apparent. Each member of the “mesh” is distinct, “The mesh is…the entanglement of strangers” (p. 47). We are not so categorically different, but rather necessarily contingent. This approach disrupts ideas of hierarchical thinking. “Thinking interdependence involves dissolving the barrier between ‘over there’ and ‘over here,’ and more fundamentally, the metaphysical illusion of rigid narrow boundaries between ‘inside’ and ‘outside’”(39). Morton focuses on the idea of cooperation, arguing that the mesh consists of countless, various bodies acting independently but in congress. Its members gain from being a part of a group so that there is a built-in reciprocity. He emphasizes “cooperation,” because those individual parts are serving their own interest—what is compromised and enhanced by the additional purposes working with, against and around it. Rather than focusing on a local effort, Morton suggests we inhabit an inclusive mind-space that accounts for the whole mesh. By expanding our awareness beyond an immediate vicinity, he argues, we expand our consciousness to reflect not only other humans in other parts of the world, but also animals and—he would argue—stars. The specialness of community, therefore, lies in an apprehension of the entire, massively intricate system. Which is where the idea starts pressing into something mystical even without the personal connection that mystical experience often boasts. In tandem with this view is kind of death of self-as-center. Can our ideas of community survive such a non-center?

The other question that comes to mind for me: can we admit a degree of categorical poresness, while still being inspired to respond through action? If we are, all us, responsible for participating in the whole mesh, then where does one’s own responsibility stop? And where does this leave us with regard to “ownership?”

Beyond Reciprocity

Beyond reciprocity -Posted on July 18, 2011, Author: Erik Hagoort

Invitation The New Conversations 1: La chaîne est belle (The Chain is Beautiful), front side

Joseph Beuys: “If I take care of you, others will take care of me.”

Stanislav Menshikov: “If I take less, others have more.”

These two quotations still resonate in my mind since I attended “La chaîne est belle”; the New Conversations 1, a two and a half day workshop, held at the Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp last June, on the initiative of artist Nico Dockx, in collaboration with Louwrien Wijers.

The front side of the invitation for the workshop showed these two quotations, printed as if written in white chalk on blackboard, just like Joseph Beuys used to make his statements. Beuys’s statement was written down by Louwrien Wijers, while she was attending one of his sessions at the end of 1970s. The second quote is by someone less known in the art world: Russian economist Stanislav Menshikov. While preparing the workshop Nico Dockx and Louwrien Wijers combined both quotations, as guidelines for this workshop on art and economy.

The phrase of Beuys speaks of chain-reciprocity. This is not a dualistic interplay between isolated subjected. It is not “if I take care of you, you will take care of me”, but: “others will take care of me”. The self is not isolated, it is a connected self. This self forms part of a community. The person who cares may reckon on some sort of chain effect, a transposition of care, a solidarity which goes over from one person to the other, as if from one bead in a chain or necklace, to the other. So in the end you may trust that you, being part of this chain, will be cared for too. Here, at first, I started to feel a little bit uneasy with the saying of Beuys. This chain reaction, if I’m right, seems to work as a boomerang. A positive boomerang, a caring boomerang, for sure, but still a boomerang. This reciprocity is about returning to the self. It starts with the self (“If I…”) and it ends with the self (“…of me”). Menshikov’s phrase seemed to me more extreme, more radical: generous. By taking less, he says, others have more. That’s it. No return of favors, no reciprocal expectations, no chain reaction, no boomerang, no possibility of counting on others to be helpful in return. Just stepping back, so there’s more space for somebody else.

Later on, my thoughts were changing. In Menshikov’s statement, one can still discern the language of ranking and banking. Taking less. Having more. As in a debet-credit balance. This doesn’t erase the generosity, but the terms remain within the framework of the stockmarket. On the other hand, underlying Menshikov’s phrase is his concept of compassionate economy. Menshikov advocates an economy based on compassion, enhancing generosity. Compassion goes beyond the stockmarket. Compassion can’t be counted, can’t be balanced, can’t be returned, it goes beyond reciprocity.

Care, used in Beuys’s phrase, also goes beyond reciprocity. A person who cares, doesn’t ‘care’ about reciprocity at all. Care doesn’t limit itself to a chain reaction. Care can’t be calculated. Care doens’t come back. Care is about love, comfort, friendship. By using a word such as care in his lectures on the Erweiterte Kunstbegriff (=Expanded Art Concept) Beuys lets his own way of thinking, which according to his quote seems to be still bound by the reciprocal ‘returning a favor’, expand beyond reciprocity.

Both Beuys and Menshikov use strong words, even catching phrases, which help them to go beyond their (and our?) own way of thinking.

This post: by invitation of Nico Dockx.

Invitation The New Conversations 1: La chaîne est belle (The Chain is Beautiful), back side

More about Compassionate Economy by Stanislav Menshikov: