Debtors of the World, Unite!



Google-translated from Polish. Original is here

Debt has always been an effective policy tool directed against the potentially politically and socially engaged citizens. Widespread indebtedness among artists affects the stability and long-term nature of collective projects, each one focused on the repayment of the borrowing – explains Noah Fischer, an artist involved in the Occupy movement Museums, initiator of the art fairs to support the artists in the repayment of their debt.

Act in several movements such as Occupy Museums, Debtfair the Gulf Labor Coalition. I would like to start our conversation from the event, which in a sense was the beginning for all of them, because launched in an environment of artists need to engage in social movements across America – that is, from Occupy Wall Street in 2011. Tell us about the beginnings of this movement and why it has become so important for the self-organization of artists?

In September 2011, New York’s Zuccotti Park began occupied by people who felt the need to manifest their opposition to what happened on Wall Street. Many of those responsible for the infrastructure and the organization of the protest they were artists or creators of culture. Their collective work in the park to undermine one of the basic mechanisms governing the world of art, which promotes primarily the individual and it is based on marketing strategies. The protest in Zuccotti Park initiated the formation of the many artistic groups, whose members saw an analogy between the present financial system, promoting extreme inequality in access to wealth, and the rules governing the art world, with its beating records auctions and museums operating as close corporations. Self-organizing artists saw that both of these systems, in fact, describe the same moment of late capitalism.

The collective form of work has become for us just as important as its content. Politically, we wanted to look for links between the different social risks and create complex structural analyzes, which have a completely different kind of pressure than a political strategy moving a problematic topic. The group formed as a result of the Occupy movement analyzed the relationship between issues such as police violence, gentrification and environmental degradation. Occupy movement also managed to cross the borders, escalate into a global network, where problems specific to a country suddenly in a different location are entered into a new context.

The action release in the museum 10 000 specially-designed banknotes, Global Ultra Luxury Faction project: Noah Fischer, fot. Nitasha Dhillon.

It seems to me that the flagship slogan Occupy movement, confronting 99 percent of the indigent population of the globe with a 1 percentage rich, very easy to relate to the situation of artists. In the art world 99 percent of artists are prekariusze, only 1 percent are elite scraper for themselves all the prestige and financial gratification.

The movement Occupy Wall Street gave artists the chance to find a new identity: the allocation by artists that belong to the 99 percent, is for them a much bigger step than for other professions. Although the artist usually earns less than a worker on a construction site as a creator is closer to 1 percent than others. The life of the artist is directly related to the decisions of billionaires – a situation such as the art market there is probably no other profession with a comparatively low average wages.

This new identity is particularly important, when we think of disappearing today in the US middle class, where artists are part of the …

The middle class is being destroyed in a very concrete way, this process is associated with the current economic rules, as a result of which we have to deal with growing debt, the increase in real estate prices, high rents. In the present situation virtually impossible to save any money.Of course, the artists always biedowali, but now not only they do not have the money, but yet they began to have huge debts that have contracted to pay for college. They are usually more than the sum of 100 000 dollars.

We, the artists are perceived as the vanguard of gentrification. In the past, we had a certain cultural capital, so that we could exist on special conditions. Today, however, both in the US and Europe this vision of a privileged class cultural no longer raison d’être of the reasons that I mentioned above. Currently we are one of the many groups destroyed by 1 percent elite. To go one step further, we need to better understand how to sympathize with those 99 percent.

Explain, please, what is the problem of the default of the debts incurred during the study and what is the ground because it also contributes to the deterioration of the living standards of the middle class. Artists are experiencing not only the increase in rents, but also multiply debts.What is a project initiated by you Debtfair?

One of the changes that affect the art world, there is an increase in professionalization. To obtain a certain degree of recognition in the art market, artists must possess some degree – a master’s degree, and more often the doctor. In addition, these diplomas give artists the opportunity to maintain the teaching in schools, although art schools offer less and less stable job full-time. In the environment there is a monstrous rivalry and to get out of it unscathed, not enough to have a high school diploma artistic – it must be a certificate issued by a particular university, usually the one with the high tuition … Among the ten most expensive institutions of higher education in the United States until seven this art schools ! Actually, you can say that this is the most expensive way of education.

Noah Fischer: drawing used in the rebranding campaign launched by Global Ultra Luxury Faction, courtesy of the artist.

On the other hand, the practice of art is marked by a high rate of prekarności. It seems that in the United States to be an artist, you have a lot to invest, and the entire project is a huge risk, because the chance that you will go to the 1 percent artistic stars, is negligible …

Yes, getting a master’s degree will cost around 50 to 75 $ 000 two years of study, to reach even the cost of living, which in practice means that people have to take out the big banks larger loans. My research shows that many artists often have as many as 100 – 150 $ 000 debt.Having impossible to pay off the debt becomes normal today, because it is the consequence of making a completely rational choices, such as the desire to study at a good university, not a result of excess.

High tuition at art schools due to lack of financial support, which in the case of other universities comes from their alumni, artists, however, are usually poor. Moreover, a significant part of the art school students is a very wealthy newcomers from abroad, so that these centers can keep up with the tuition fees and do not have to provide students with scholarships or other forms of financial support. The educational system is based on a model developed in the business. Sold at these universities product – artistic education – is advertised as fashionable, hipsterskie and expanding the horizons of cultural experience combined with lifestyle. In this very simple business payment for exclusive merchandise is tuition.

Yes, on the other hand, to make this model work, you need to carefully hide the economic conditions necessary for its smooth functioning. In other words, future graduates who pay such high tuition fees, must constantly affirm the belief that it is their awaits a bright future, that is, belonging to 1 percent, the artistic elite. Therefore, in the environment of the American art world does not have the habit of making the topic of economic condition of artists, because it could lead to a crash of the whole circulation system of art …

That is why an initiative Debtfair, which clearly say that the fact of being in debt affects the quality of art practiced by artists. Completely de-politicize it. If you have to pay 100 – 150 $ 000 debt, and monthly payment of the loan is high, really greatly limits the possibilities of your creative forces to pursue art marketable and safe or to devote a considerable part of the time to take the following additional orders. Debt has always been an effective policy tool directed against the potentially politically and socially engaged citizens. Widespread indebtedness among artists also affects the stability and long-term nature of collective projects, because everyone focuses on the repayment of the loan taken.

The project Debtfair loudly talking about the problem of educational debt, try to describe the reality of the creative work in the context of economic realities rather than economic aspirations, as it previously did. From the beginning, we wanted to organize art fair, where artists could the money from the sale of their work to spend on debt repayment. Asking artists to execute and issue work at such fairs always aroused a sense of solidarity between them, united them in a kind of protozwiązku debtors.

The exhibition under the initiative Debtfair at the Art League Houston organized by Occupy Museums, in November 2015.

But it’s not only about you focus on the economic condition of artists. The project Debtfair not opposed policy aesthetics – rather through artistic and curatorial strategies shows that every aesthetics has political connotations. And in this sense, your goal would be to change the policy functioning in the field of aesthetics.

Before I deal with politics, I focused mainly on the issuance of their work and the conduct of discussion on this topic with other painters. Then, when I started to have engaged art, I noticed that this environment is reflected deep distrust of the art object. Politically engaged artists undermine the sense of focusing on aesthetics. I always thought that this is their weakness, because in this way create around himself a kind of bubble, and in fact also use a specific kind of aesthetics. Only this is much less understandable to the general public. Let’s face it: for most people it is the visual aspect of art is the most inspiring. Me on the other hand are interested in strategies for good communication – one that has a chance to engage viewers.

Yes, but during your exhibition in Houston not only you wanted to show the nice-looking objects. On the contrary – you made a conceptual intervention mechanism to produce the exhibition.

Let’s explain something: I do not think that the power of art lies in making pretty objects. On the contrary – the capacity is revealed in a unique, individual and common visual expression.Therefore, I think that art has always been a kind of political representation, because it is based on the appreciation of one’s specific vision.

The works shown during editing Debtfair in Houston operate on two parallel levels: firstly, in the political sense, it represented exhibiting artists, and secondly their presentation took the form of specific topic. Rather than hang work on the walls, we grouped them and placed in a specially designed simple common framework in the shape of circles, triangles or rectangles.And these shapes, within which there were several works created if a new work of art, so we presented not so much the individual artists as collectives.

The first action Occupy Museums, MoMA, New York, October 2011, fot. Jerry Saltz.

These shapes were the representation of the results of sociological surveys, which przeprowadziliście among the artists participating in the project …

In Houston, the project collaborated with the Art League Houston – a local arts center whose mission is to support the community of artists; they are also one of the first organizations certified WAGE [1] Thanks to them we reached a large part of the artistic community in Houston. Our survey contained 25 questions, for example: How much credit you have? Which bank? Unless you have odd jobs? Where do you work? What type of training? Do you consider yourself a professional artist? How high fees paid during the studies? What is the interest rate on your loan? Then we asked a series of more reflective questions, including about how economic conditions, which was the artist affect cultivated his art. All these responses analyzed, and on this basis grupowaliśmy work in different shapes, each of which showed a little credit issues from a different perspective: statistical, political or cultural. In this sense, this initiative has no end, because you can always propose a new perspective to talk about credit.

Your exhibition was also a form of economic intervention. Not based on the denial of the logic of buying and selling works rather undermined our idea of ​​how the market works of art.

Exactly. Our intervention was aimed at a specific exchange model, which works on the art market. During the fair, you could not buy a single job, you could buy only collection of works grouped in one form, say 7-10 work, which combines the fact that their creators share some characteristics of the debt. During the exhibition at the Art League Houston price of each of the sets increased depending on the amount of loan interest rates. Money from sold works roamed not artists, but directly to the banks. Therefore, although it’s been profitable for them, did not provide compensation. In this sense Debtfair acted as a tool for showing how credit formats lives.

Let’s move on to another initiative in which you are currently involved: Gulf Labor Coalition. It is proof that the group involved artists not only focus on the economic condition of their environment, but also they are talking about it, that art be considered as part of the policy – both national, where the theme becomes the problem of debt, as well as global, which concerns use of cheap labor.

That’s right, all the time I’m trying to find a balance between being absorbed in their own problems and dedication to fully help others. In other words, I mean to transcend the difference – understanding what may rely on the solidarity of workers at different positions and in different situations. Gulf Labor Coalition was formed in 2010, when it was revealed that the workers spilling the foundations for the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, mainly from South Asian countries are exploited and experience violence from their employers. Then part of the New York artists came out with an initiative zsolidaryzowania and support workers on the other side of the globe.

The construction boom in the Gulf has created new jobs for construction workers, and housekeepers. System monitoring of immigrants taking up employment in the United Arab Emirates is called kafalah. It consists in the fact that unskilled laborers working in the UAE, who are not citizens of this country must have a so-called sponsor (usually it is the employer), which is in the form of wages gives them money to maintain, and also takes responsibility for the legal status of these people, in practice, this means confiscation of their passports. These workers have become completely dependent on their bosses. Although they are promised high wages, in fact, they fall into the trap: earn pennies, can not leave the country, and also the authorities there is no favor to any form of workers’ organization. When we realized that many local museums – for example outpost of the Louvre, London’s National Gallery and the Guggenheim – were built based on this system, we deemed it necessary to zsolidaryzowanie of oppressed workers.

The paradox lies in the fact that all these galleries and museums present themselves as institutions working for the common good by providing the audience aesthetic …

It’s not just that between what is happening in Abu Dhabi, and the mission of these institutions in Western countries there is a contradiction, but the fact violations of fundamental social contract. Take the example of the Louvre, which was in the midst of the French Revolution as a symbol of the fall of the monarchy. The Louvre opened the anniversary of the beheading of Louis XVI’s head, so he was a symbol of devotion wealth of the monarchy in the hands of the people. In Abu Dhabi there is something exactly the opposite: The Louvre is again in the hands of the monarchy, and is in addition its very oppressive version …

It is also a return to the model of operation known from feudalism …

The racist interpretation of this situation, it would sound like this: people living in the Persian Gulf are backward and can not appreciate the values ​​of liberal democracy. But the truth is that the global financial system is based on close relationships between oppressive regimes and the systems of power that seem transparent, and it is very difficult to carry out a clear division here. Between Western art institutions and the authorities of Abu Dhabi was concluded peculiar Transaction: museums and galleries have sold your brand in exchange for money, which will allow them to maintain their western outpost.

And all this in the name of aesthetics priceless …

Pay attention to the concept of dark matter art, framed by Gregory Sholette’a – in fact it is it is invaluable, because brand value is based on distributing the work between very different people who make up this dark matter. Although the Warsaw Centre for Contemporary Art or the New York MoMA and Guggenheim have valuable brand, does not automatically mean having the financial perks are two different things.

I think we will start to sell the brand …

This happened in Abu Dhabi. However, remember that having a reputation, which is always closely associated with the ownership of the brand, there has never been synonymous with owning property. Unfortunately, there are these two issues overlap. Our coalition has captured this practice at the crucial moment, pointing to the true nature of the transaction.

Relationship reputation, brand and assets?

When the people and the values ​​that they generate, are beginning to be translated into wealth – and this was based modern economy – then a lot of the democratic principles simply disappear from the public sphere. Our initiative Global Ultra Luxury Faction (GULF) has to defend what remains of democratic values ​​- we want to emphasize the fact that the public sphere is still common. Although the claim that it is, seems to be an expression of a sizeable optimism.

Noah Fischer – co-founder of the initiative Occupy Museums, which grew out of the movement Occupy Wall Street in 2011. Shares of collective appeared at the 7th Berlin Biennale, the 56th Venice Biennale, the art center ZKM in Karlsruhe, Art League Houston, as well as in Warsaw CCA. Working with initiatives such as Sotheby’s Art Handlers Union and the Gulf Labor Coalition, the artist has participated and organized their shares in the New York MoMA, during the Frieze Art Fair, at the Guggenheim Museum and the Whitney Museum. With Coco Fusco founded the platform of The Artist as Debtor, focusing on the economic situation of artists.The creator of sculptures and installations of moving the current political problems. He lives and works in New York.


[1] Working Artists for Greater Economy – an organization based in New York, strives to improve the economic condition of artists, eg. By demanding remuneration for artists for exhibiting their work and participation in projects. One of the flagship initiatives is to issue certificates confirming that the institution pays artists a salary for their work.