Constructions of the ‘We’

Laura McLean

I remember picking up a copy of Runway at the now defunct Phatspace in Sydney, probably during my first year of art school. It came with a CD-ROM of a new media artwork, which I viewed on my enormous sumo eMac at home, not even connected to the internet for a period, in a share house when I was the only one with a computer. I recall also photocopying pages and pages from art journals and monographs at the SCA library for free take-home knowledge of what was happening in art in Australia and internationally.

This all seems somewhat hilarious now that I, like everyone else, am glued to my laptop (wifi 24/7, CD drive, USB 3, Thunderbolt 2, HDMI, SDXC), and take for granted 1) that art works and art writing can feature here as texts, links, vimeo clips, gifs, downloads etc, 2) the accessibility of other online journals, and 3) the proliferation of PDFs on sites like AAAAARG.[1]

In contrast to the early 2000s, when print publications still localised discourse and social media hadn’t kicked off yet, the (International) Art (English) world today circulates online as much as off, and the way we educate and constitute ourselves as practitioners and communities is through increasingly decentralised and globalised networks, institutions, and media.

Following a FORMER WEST ‘Public Editorial Meeting’ last week, which took the form of a series of lectures and discussions centered around the topic “Who is a ‘People’? Constructions of the ‘We’”, conversations at the pub turned from the more broadly geo-political focus of the event to how various ‘we’s’ are constructed in the art world.[2] Obviously the local is not lost, and collective associations and scenes are still formed by shared flesh-bound experiences (there will always be exhibitions, talks, and the pub!). But in addition to this it is becoming easier and easier to develop a tailored curriculum for oneself through online lectures, texts, artworks, and forums that do not require schlepping across town or an entry fee, and which allow one to ‘attend’ events from Brisbane to Berlin. Token ‘attendance’ of an event on facebook too is often a gesture of support and association by remote or time-poor peers, but what becomes visible through this self-association are spheres of interests and commonality that can lead to IRL connections and collaborations. The construction of a ‘we’ in the art world is very different today than it was ten years ago, and how ‘we’ are made has changed what ‘we’ create.[3]

There’s a homogenisation at play in this globalisation, and this emerges aesthetically and linguistically. But as a process of displacement and enclosure takes place with corporate sponsorship replacing cut state funding, climbing university fees, and the pricing out of artists from the institutions that once housed them, where are all these artists to go?

The atomised art precariat meets online, avoiding rents and creating networked galleries, skipping uni fees and watching MFA lectures on youtube, and avoiding printing and distribution costs by publishing online [4]. Homogenisation within these critical realms can also be seen as the emergence of a common language which we might use to exceed the conditions in which we find ourselves, an aesthetic solidarity that traverses borders and binaries.

 Laura McLean can be contacted on twitter at @LauraRoseMcLean


[1] Founder Sean Dockray discusses AAAAARG in this great conversation with Chto Delat? and other practitioners of independent political media.

[2] FORMER WEST is an extensive research project run through BAK, basis voor actuale kunst engaged in thinking though global histories and futures post 1989. It is archived and accessible online.

[3] In recognition of hyper-individual web-based participation e-flux has recently launched e-flux conversations, a ‘platform for in-depth discussions of urgent artistic and social ideas’, intended to steer conversations away from corporate owned social media. How does an e-flux conversation differ from a facebook conversation differ from a pub conversation? What ‘we’ is formed in this broadening of spheres, and what value is created by the immaterial labour of non-commissioned e-flux conversation contributions?

[4] Also check out art&education’s Video School.

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