Art and Capital

In Conversation with Famous New Media Artist Jeremy Bailey

Famous New Media Artist Jeremy Bailey helped shape the structure of the Digital Economies Lab and here we discuss their vision for artistic prosperity in the 21st century. We chat about artists’ complicated relationship to capital and how we are in an exciting moment of transformation. Join us, as we delve into questions of value, the pace of production, and our perception of reality, augmented or not.

Drawing on his experience as an artist who works through every new development of digital communication technologies, self-proclaimed Famous New Media Artist Jeremy Bailey shares his insights on the inspiration behind his contributions to the development of the Digital Economies Lab (DEL). Posed with questions like whether tech and digital spaces can resist their sinuous ties to capitalism – a notion that seems invaluable to artists – Bailey asks us if that is the point? Rather, he asks us to consider creativity and the pace of production in our evaluation and monetization of the arts. Art, profit, and governance are not mutually exclusive, or at least they don’t have to be. Countering a perceived dissonance between capital and art, Bailey challenges us to consider new media art as appropriating the means of production. How can artists be empowered to demand the true value of their work? What could artists learn from embracing startup culture? Are artists responsible for advancing culture? Do you think artists are endowed to care for the community and, if so, what infrastructure are you willing to establish to sustain that pastoral care? Join us as we tackle topics such as arts infrastructure, technology and capitalism, and the issue of reciprocal care between artists and society.

Produced by the Artengine Stream Team:

Mikke Gordon aka Seiiizi https://twitter.com/s3iiizi

Ryan Stec

Kimberly Sunstrum https://www.kmbrlysnstrm.com/

 

Editorial Assistant

Erin Galt

 

Production Design Consultation

Leslie Marshall/MAVNetwork http://mavnetwork.com/

Post-Production Support: Chris Ikonomopoulos

DEL Theme Music by Mikki Gordon aka Seiiizi

 

Artengine’s Digital Economies Lab brought together a diverse group of artists, designers and other creatives to rethink the infrastructure of cultural production in the 21st century.

 

Funding for the Digital Economies Lab was received through the Canada Council for the Arts Digital Strategies Fund.

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Excerpts from conversation

I personally find it concerning, if I’m honest, though, because my fear is that the rejection of a macro sociology, like the amount of technology that’s stacked on top of technology in our society overall, the rejection of that by artists is potentially the rejection of helping codify or unpack or culturally translate what that means for everyone.

If artists have some responsibility, it is to advance culture.

DICHOTOMY IN PRACTICE AND PLACE

Ryan Stec

I wonder, personally, for you, as we’ve had conversations over the course of this project, I think you’ve said it tongue-in-cheek sometimes of the places where you feel like a socialist and the places where you feel like the capitalist, even though you feel it’s the same identity.

 

You put yourself in different contexts and you’re perceived in these different ways.

 

How do you think about that, how your capitalist elements speak to your socialist elements?

 

How do you resolve some of those tensions for yourself as you go through all these different experiences and contexts?

Jeremy Bailey

Yeah. I think for me as an artist, and for most artists that I’ve ever worked with, investigation or study is a matter of…curiosity. So being curious about capitalism is how, you know, I got into it… I worked with a marketing agency once, actually, and they had this great expression:

 

“We should try things on.”

 

The same way we try on a sweater when we go shopping or whatever, we try on different clothes.

 

Trying it on can help you come to understand what it means to you and how it’s reflected in your identity.

 

And to ignore it would be–

 

First of all, you can’t.

 

You’re probably wearing it, you’re just not even aware.

 

It’s a little bit of an emperor’s clothes situation.

 

We’re all wearing this outfit, and as an artist, I think it’s important to actually be self-aware of that and to consider what it means….

 

I think it’s important to recognize that the social contract, at the end of the day, actually be in line with the goals that we’re seeking, and even aligning on that. 

 

That’s a values-based discussion, which should endure regardless of the contextual parameters.

Ryan Stec

I think what’s interesting about what you say there and what I see in the different ways that you try on the different elements of your practice administratively and all of that is that these things… They can co-exist, and they often have to co-exist, that there’s not an exclusive aspect to any aspect of our identity either. 

 

Our personal identity is made up of different relationships, and so your professional and artistic identities can have those things, too. 

 

They can be in the same place.

Jeremy Bailey

Absolutely.

TWO KINDS OF ARTISTS

Jeremy Bailey

I think artists, especially–not always but many–take on a communal aspect to the work, right? And I still think the Fluxus imperative was that the community, and communes, of that time produced a lot of art. And a lot of those still exist, like Arcosanti in Arizona. 

 

The ideal is like, “What if we could all go away to an island and commune to create a better society?”

 

So that’s a utopia that is always just over the horizon, similar to augmented reality, but I have seen it.
Like, when I did Lean Artist the last time in Chicago, all of the projects had a community orientation. 

 

That said, I found the people that I work best with also have that community awareness, and I say that because I’ve identified two types of artists–and I know there are many, many types of artists, but–there is the type of artist that is selfishly driven and believes that art is the sanctuary for individualism, for self-expression and identity, like the unitary, “I’m going to make a thing, and I should be allowed to make whatever I want.” 

 

And that’s absolutely true. 

 

But then there’s another type of artist that is more socially minded, is considering the sociology in regards to the context of their art making, and those artists are ones that I tend to work better with, to be honest with you, because they’ve acknowledged that the audience matters. 

 

The other type of artist might be like, “Yeah, the audience doesn’t matter. Whatever I do, if they like it, hey, great.”

Ryan Stec

Yeah.

Jeremy Bailey

But this type of artist is the opposite.

 

They’re like, “Well, I have to really care for my audience or community. 

 

I have to nurture it. 

 

I’m meaningless unless there is this mutual good.” 

 

And I think both right now co-exist, both modes. 

 

I tend to lean towards that second mode.

THE ARTIST'S RESPONSIBILITY

Jeremy Bailey

I personally find it concerning, if I’m honest, though, because my fear is that the rejection of a macro sociology, like the amount of technology that’s stacked on top of technology in our society overall, the rejection of that by artists is potentially the rejection of helping codify or unpack or culturally translate what that means for everyone. 

 

If artists have some responsibility, it is to advance culture. 

But to, kind of, ignore the culture exists is one of the things that worries me because it’s not a viable alternative for most people at this point, to completely reject the constraints of technology, the same way it wouldn’t have been in successive generations of technology. 

 

Like the Luddites, we’re not living in their societies. 

 

So, what was necessary was for people to find ways to transmute or transgress or subvert those movements and not let people just run riot with the new way, to actually help interpret and help define, in the McLuhanist way, the terms of the new media. 

 

So, my personal point of view is that artists have a responsibility, and I know people hate hearing that. 

 

“Artists have a responsibility.” 

 

That sentence. 

 

I remember when I was at Syracuse University, David Ross, who was the first Curator of Video at The Whitney … Well, he was curator at The Whitney, and he was first Curator of Video Art at the Everson in Syracuse. He gave a talk about artists’ responsibility, and it was during the Iraq war, and I remember it really upset quite a few people, but I really took it as a call to arms.

 

As an artist, you have responsibility. 

 

The same way we demand responsibility from our corporate citizens or anyone, you have a responsibility. 

 

And what is that responsibility? 

 

Well, it’s a responsibility to advance culture, I think. 

 

And I don’t know how you can do that on the outside. I think it is possible, but I think we need both in equal measure.

Ryan Stec

Yeah. Well, I think that’s something we’ve definitely taken in, here at Artengine, thinking about the question of artistic responsibility, and particularly framing it also in the idea that we are, by and large, government funded, and so we should be working in the public interest. And so if we are, it’s really a complex question of what the public interest is. 

 

We need to be able to articulate that and then engage artists who are going to join in that question of working in the public interest.

Jeremy Bailey

Yeah. A conversation is the minimum public interest, I think. 

 

A dialogue versus a rejection.

THE ABSOLUTE CORRUPTION OF ART

Ryan Stec

We invited you to help us shape the program because we’d seen the Lean Artist program evolve and your efforts to try and bring these elements of the startup ecologies to artists. 

 

Can you talk a bit about your experience around this tension that exists, I think, in the cultural community where they see art and capital as oppositional or exclusive things, or at least within the domain of this more experimental world? 

 

I guess we’re leaving some of the art market out of that discussion, or maybe not. I don’t know, but maybe you can talk a little bit about how you’ve experienced that tension and how you’ve tried to resolve it.

Jeremy Bailey

Yeah. I experience it all the time. 

 

I do a lot of work collaborating with artists, as you mentioned about Lean Artist project, where I work with other artists to create products that are, you know, literally for sale, but I also started working with artists to create digital artworks for sale online through an e-commerce platform for an augmented reality sculpture that I built. 

 

So, in all of these encounters, I almost always run into the same thing, which is a skepticism in regards to the capital, like with a big C, but specifically that it is this corrupting force and that art is this pure being, and if it touches Capital, it will be absolutely corrupted.

 

There’s an art historical trajectory there, and it does include the private art market, too…There’s the old saying and cliché that you don’t want to be “an artist at an art fair.” 

 

It’s like being a cow at a butcher or something like that. 

 

The idea of the private market was to offload the financial responsibility from the artist to the gallerist, and they’ll leverage their relationships with rich people to help you, and all you have to do is focus on making great work. 

 

That’s the old kind of model.