For as long as artists have come into contact with the market, they have created work that reflects or responds to it. We've chosen four artists who avoid explicit commentary on the market, but who instead utilize its structures as their medium. By placing a financial transaction at its core, their work exposes, complicates, and subverts its capitalist context. Though the approaches and goals vary, contained within each of these transactions (or in their absences) is a challenge as well as a proposal, whether it be for a more civically engaged, materialistically connected, or collectively shared world.
Center for Tactical Magic's Tactical Ice Cream Unit (TICU) is a mobile distribution point for ice cream and information. Would-be customers who approach the truck with expectations of a simple cash exchange and cool refreshment are informed that the desserts are "free" but are asked to read the TICU's propaganda - informational brochures from local progressive groups. Aaron Gach of the Center for Tactical Magic states, "In that moment where they thought they knew what was going on, they're trying to figure out what's actually going on... they're looking at the menu differently, they're looking at the side of the menu that says Food for Thought. And they're starting to try and figure out the relationship between what their stomach wants and now what their brain is trying to process, trying to digest." The nourishment TICU offers is as much community engagement as it is delicious treats. TICU purposely inverts our comfort with a time-honored consumer tradition by requesting attention rather than cash. The Center for Tactical Magic uses that moment of disorientation to plant a seed of progressive change.
A central theme in Lea Redmond's work is the artist as mediator between people and their things. Her website reads as a crafty online shop yet her "products" challenge our relationship to purchased goods. These aren't tchotchkes optimized for impulse buyers; they require more from consumers than their credit card numbers. Redmond's goods are the antithesis of disposable. She asks, "How might 'materialistic' become a compliment about being insightfully and responsibly attuned to the sensuous world we inevitably inhabit?" In Curio Search Service, one could commission Redmond to find a perfect curio on eBay for oneself or a loved one. She requested 20 meaningful keywords that she then translated into a single object. Included with the object was a letter describing the process by which Redmond found meaning in the words. The way she pursues her goal of reconnecting people with the objects in their world is via the market - as a personal shopper and online store full of goods. She takes advantage of her customers' comfort with these forms to help them realize that objects can be experiential, proposing new ways to revel in the world. Redmond offers, "The material world (both human and 'natural') has always held great potential for meaning, enriching the life of humans in wonderful, healthy ways."
Stephanie Syjuco's Shadowshop also reads as a familiar capitalist space - the museum gift shop - yet it raises questions for all who participate. Described as "a temporary and alternative store/distribution point embedded within the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art's fifth floor galleries," Shadowshop is an artist project that is a store filled with artist projects. Over two hundred Bay Area artists were invited to contribute "wares" to the shop. The institution provided the infrastructure (space, inventory system, staff) and agreed to cover the sales tax on all purchases, thus allowing 100% of the pre-tax proceeds to flow directly to the artists. The participating artists were offered a prime customer base and the prospect of exposure but were challenged to tailor their practice to the limitations of a commercial context. They were discouraged from including work from their primary practice, but rather offer works that addressed their own commodification as artists. Syjuco described what she sought as, "works that critiqued capitalism, were complicit with it, or were just also commodities." Consumers are presented with the comfortable setting of a store, yet are challenged by its unorthodox contents. The museum's institutional role as a hub for the local arts scene is brought up for debate, questioning and proposing a new way to support and represent what is happening in the area. Visitors to the museum who view the project through the lens of the art world are confronted with issues concerning Syjuco's role as artist/curator/promoter, the model's sustainability and ethics, as well as the role and the financial stability of both artists and the institutions that showcase their work.
Through the seemingly simple act of buying something and giving it away, Amy Balkin's work exposes both the architectural and the philosophical limits of our capitalist structure. Her long-term project, This is a Public Domain, attempted to give a tract of land she had purchased in Tehachapi, California to the collective ownership of the global commons. After navigating convoluted bureaucratic and legal channels, she discovered that the U.S. legal system implicitly would not allow it. The piece lives on as a document of unrealizable possibilities, or as she terms it, "a speculative counter-space." In Public Smog, Balkin explored the notion of public clean-air parks by purchasing pollution credits from the open market and then retiring them from use. This effort for a cleaner atmosphere proved no less difficult. She states, "It's relatively difficult for individuals to buy emissions credits in regulated markets (often requiring a permitting process) and easy to withhold these 'rights' from use for their regulatory lifespan. It's much easier to buy land, but (unsurprisingly) much more difficult to give it away to the global public." At their roots, Balkin's projects question the compatibility of her noble aims with our economic and political systems. By pushing the boundaries of what is possible within those structures, she highlights the values embedded within them.
One of the ways these projects are distinct from typical economic endeavors is in their notion of success. In a traditional business model, success is measured by how much money is in the bank. We speak of a venture's impact as being synonymous with its market cap - if people are buying, its services or products must be needed. However, when artists utilize the very same methods in their practice, we're forced to question the values at the root of our market culture. These four projects seek out a new definition of success through their exemplary or activist missions. Their sustainability is not a measure to which they are judged as they are tactics used to move us forward. When we are asked to account for their successes, we must prize most the questions they raise.
Oliver Wise and Eleanor Hanson Wise create hybrid systems that blur the line between art production, commerce, advocacy and philanthropy. The Present Group, an organization they founded in 2006, is dedicated to finding new ways to fund and distribute artist projects. Their subscription art project enables a community of subscribers to fund artist projects and receive limited editions in return. They recently launched a web hosting service that funds artists grants and in the fall of 2011 they will debut Art Micro Patronage, an experimental platform for showcasing and supporting web-based artwork.