Exhaustion and Exuberance and The Night of Exhaustion and Exuberance
“The contemporary economy of art relies more on presence than on traditional ideas of labour power tied to the production of objects”:1 it hinges on the incessant pressure to perform, where quantifiable measures of productivity have been replaced by presence as the basic logic of attention economy. We are required to be omnipresent, ever ready and in a constant state of “busyness” – permanent availability without any promise of compensation. Presence legitimises cultural institutions’ access to scarce funding, meeting KPIs, while cultural workers boost someone else’s profit under the over-professionalised pretense and false ideology of high performance. Following the propaedeutic exercises of How To Politely Say No To Unpaid Labour in the Knowledge Economy, the panel of Exhaustion and Exuberance meditated upon ways of working together to develop survival tactics in the contemporary economy of presence. The panel aimed to find new terms and paradigms, shifting the conversation from the logic of work and strike into the field of love and care. The panel took its title from Exhaustion and Exuberance, an essay by Jan Verwoert published in 2008 where he suggests the idea of care as a way to subvert the pressure of a high-performance society – to “shatter the illusion of limitless potency” of the individual by acknowledging the debt of inspiration that we owe to other artists, friends, lovers, and histories. Almost 10 years after the text was first published, the panel invited the witnesses and initiators of new experiences in the realm of exhaustion and exuberance to come to terms with the issues raised in 2008, proposing an occasion to think together through the still pertinent and burning issues it proposes: When do we commit to perform of our own free will? How can we tell the difference and embrace latency? If, living under the pressure to perform, we begin to see that a state of exhaustion is a horizon of collective experience, could we then understand this experience as the point of departure for the formation of a particular form of solidarity?
Case Study: OFF Biennale, Budapest (2015)
In 2015, the OFF-Biennale Budapest was announced as “a new platform to explore the ways in which art can contribute to the development of civil society”.2 The biennale was established by a group of professionals in the city and beyond, and founded on collaborations between locals and professional artists, curators, cultural NGOs, galleries, cooperatives and art venues. The grassroots initiative, free of state funding, mostly relied on pro-bono contributions, private endowments and international funds, and was therefore unencumbered by governmental or corporate constraints. In the context of the increasing impingement of Hungary’s right-wing government on the operation of cultural institutions, the OFF-Biennale experimented with a means to remain autonomous, to deflect the debilitating power and reliance on the state, remaining independent from corporate agendas. The first OFF-Biennale was a prime example of the urgency for new modes of resistance through art production. It aimed to implement a structural model that is based on the commonality of interest, trust, and solidarity. On this final day of the programme, a few months prior to the second edition of the biennale, the project resurfaced the question of what kinds of sustainable methods can we employ to shatter solidified routines, and evade authoritarian powers’ monopolistic take on culture. Is it possible to escape the feedback loop of the contemporary art world’s neoliberal reliance on the desirability of presence? At what cost are we willing to engage ourselves and our work to achieve autonomy?
Panel Discussion – Exhaustion and Exuberance
Friday, 15 April
Introduced by De Appel Curatorial Programme
With Tijana Stepanovic, Vera Mey, Yolande van der Heide, Brian Kuan Wood
Moderated by Jan Verwoert