“Artist in Residence Coming, Make Some Space” by Gal Kirn

Over the last few decades, the sphere of art has been under thorough “re-construction” (1.). Many would like to see art as a sphere detached from the real conditions of life, a sphere of authenticity and free expression, whereas others would like to see art as a servantof national culture or simply see the main purpose of art in the reproduction of national culture. At first sight, these two ideological positions seem to be a universe apart, as positions that exclude each other. However, I will try to sketch out that in fact, they form an idealist doublet consititutive to the dominant artistic ideology. In contradistinction to these internally “idealist ” notions of art , the return to the truth of the art procedure (Badiou’s Handbook of Inaesthetics, 2004) or the emancipatory possibilities of the art work to break up with the existing “logic of the sensible” (Rancière’s Politics of aesthetics, 2004) seem to have become the agenda of art (theory). Even if this inherently aestheticii approach (2.) is worth following, we must notomit another dimension that is central to art today, namely, thinking about the materiality of art, art work and artistic practice. More specifically, I want to analyze the material conditions of artists today, in other words, this can be seen as a small contribution to the concrete analysis of artistic practices within the post-Fordist context: the artistin residence.

Art and post-Fordism

Nowadays, the precarity of working conditions has become the natural order of things. It came into existence at the beginning of the 70s. Free and flexible contractual relationships have become dominant ever since. These social relations are the post-Fordist managerial answer to the critique of late 60s (remember May ’68?), when social and cultural critique was re-appropriated and rearticulated with new ways of production of surplus value that brought about new forms of exploitation (3.). The radical claims of the movements for the transformation of social relations were forgotten, however, personal choice and individual freedoms were granted at the work place. Everyone could realize immense possibilities in the world: individuals just need to do their best in the quest for self -realization. Instead of the alienated working conditions of factories, we have flexible contracts and we can work from our homes on computers. We cooperate in the improvementof our working conditions, where precisely this “cooperation” constitutes one of the basic moments in the exploitation. If in Fordism, one witnessed rigid hierarchies and the impersonal power of factory management, today our bosses have become our friends, but as we all know too well, the imperative to get our job done is even fiercer. Thus, instead of hierarchical relations, we have horizontal relationships, which are a specific form of personal dependence. This managerial reorganization of the production process has hit art (4.) as well, and more specifically, it has also changed the basic conditions of art production and one of it s central categories, the category of space. The space of artistic production was never self-evident, especially once the most influential critique and analysis of space was posited in May ’68 with the Situationist International. Henri Lefebvre’s works contributed a very impressive and complex conceptof space to materialist theory, and ever since, have become extremely important for historical analysis as well as for artistic practice. Space, after ’68, cannot be seen as a simple normative category or a self -evident given. What came after the 70s, as one very specific answer to the artists’ need for space, was precisely the artist residency. Existential troubles with space were resolved partly by flexible contracts and the artist in residence seems the perfect solution to the problem. It is not correct to say that “art -in-residence” appeared in the 70s. This phenomenon appeared at the beginning of 20th century, where its second wave struck in the 70s and it underwent two quite opposite directions: the first was an exodus from society, forming a local artistic utopia, whereas the second was much more socially engaged and wanted to promote certain artistic politics and contact with the public. My axis of crit ique will not touch these older models, alt hough the f irst can easily be labelled as escapism (the search for authent ic lif e), nevertheless, I will look at the recent popularizat ion of the art residency as it def init ively became a global model, promoted by states, corporations, academies and artists themselves (5.).

The artist in residence

Let us look closer at this phenomenon: art residency is a space, where artists can stay for a certain period of time. Some residential art centers have specific terms that the guest artist has to comply with, sometimes artists are commissioned to do some works or organize an exhibition at the end of the period, rarely are artists free to use the residency for their own purposes, without any obligation towards the host. Art centers are mostly financed by governments or international foundations, artists still have to pay part of the costs sometimes, but sometimes they can live there for free. The period of hosting can last from a couple of weeks up to one year or even longer. Most residencies are shorter (approx. 3 months) and during the stay one cannot really become very engaged in the local community. One of the initial ideas behind the art residency is precisely cultural exchange, sharing of knowledge and art works. It is extremely questionable, if one can establish a solid relation with the local environment in 3 months time… At the moment, I live in the Netherlands, where this artistic contractual practice is extremely popular. Apart from well-est ablished academy-based residencies (6.), you have a spookier phenomenon. Even though the housing problem (from your living space to your workshop) is a big issue in the Netherlands, the consequences of certain solutions remain highly ambiguous, if not completely reactionary, as exemplified by the anti-squat movement or “solution” (antikraak) (7.). But apart from it, specific spaces, designed for artists only, are being set up. So, from time to time, new settlements or villages are built. In the middle of the settlement, one usually comes across a blue house and the purpose of this blue house is to host artists. That means that artists receive a residence through the process of normalization and the prescription of the art space by the municipality. Of course, artists should be thankful that the municipal authorities gave them this opportunity; maybe they can even show their art work to the local community. But doesn’t this idea of being able to locate someone in the specified area rest on a specific idea of factory or craft? First, they assign you the space, where you have to create, and then they might also say what and how much you are supposed to produce during your residency? Actually, as already shown in our argument, this presupposition is not far from reality. But if at the end of the 60s, with the event of the Situationist International, the question of space was one of the most crucial ones, today we have the answer: artists receive a rigidity of assigned space, maybe in flexible terms and for temporary use, but already assigned in time and space. Debord and Lefebvre are turning in their graves. For me, this popularization and normalization of residence seems rather as a negative utopia – a dystopia. One could name it as a managerial commune, where you manage the space to an optimum efficacy: to have various artists coming from everywhere for certain periods of time and to get the most out of them. Certainly, for the time being, artists are safe in their paradise. They can realize their potentials, but at the same time, they become isolated from society on the little parallel islands of residence (8.). But this parallel island is neatly connected to a global network of art residencies, nomadism of precarious cultural workers becomes an imperative rather than a “free” choice for everyone, and it can be as repressive as staying in one gallery one’s whole life. The choice was already made and certainly not by them. At the beginning of this essay, I exposed certain dominant ideologies, the etatist national cultural perspective, accompanied by the authentic romantic perspective. Isn’t this holy alliance embodied precisely in the popularization of the artist in residence? Management ’s answer is the synthesis of both perspect ives. The art centers, with the noble help of foundations/municipalities/the state, guarantee the space and finances for artists that can then, inside these islands, practice individual freedom of expression (authentic). Should artists not be the first to question this type of condition of work? Isn’t the relationship between artists and their spaces of production of vital importance to understanding their relationship towards society, on the one hand, and their relation to the art work, on other? Therefore, space is a very important part of the artistic process. If it is true that any site of art can be “eventual” or non-eventual, it definitely has to question its own conditions in order to open a possibility for the new “sensible.” In other words, art frequently becomes art, only at the moment when it re-articulates something that is outside its “assigned” field. What needs to be stressed is the fact that real art happens precisely where it is not expected, in some object or in some space that had not been designed, thought or treated as artistic before. To be sure, the “eventual” site can take place in the already assigned site, like the gallery or museum, as exemplified by Duchamp’s works (see Wajcman’s Objet du siecle, 2006, or, even in the art residency. Thus, this conclusion does not imply that true art works are produced only in the “liberated” or autonomous spaces of art production. This brings us to a more political conclusion of the artistic problematic. Certainly, recognition of the lack of space (as a symptom of flexible, precarious conditions) can bring artists towards a collective search for organization vis-à-vis a spatial problematic. I can conclude with two possible directions of answer for further debate: on the one hand, a need for the continuation of squatting or opening/planning of temporary zones/spaces or on the other hand, the articulation of demands to municipalities/local communities that need to guarantee the basic infrastructure and spatial facilities for artists, on the condition of course that artists themselves decide about the internal organization and future programs. Nevertheless, don’t both answers c’all upon one external maxim to art, the one of the de-segregation of artistic spaces?



(1.) This “reconstruction” is nothing new, because art – since its modern foundation – has always been embedded in different social domains, ranging from ideology, law, politics and economy. The novelty can be found in the intensification of the discourse on creativity and capital inside art it self.

(2.) With the inherently aesthetic, I am referring only to Rancière and not to Badiou. Even though they share a similar stakes in thinking novelty in art (“event ”, disruption of the “distribution of the sensible”), they strongly differ in their point of departure. If Rancière sticks to “aesthetics”, even though transforming its basic concepts and using a very different method, thinking of relations towards politics, Badiou remains loyal to his basic tenet that art is its own procedure where one must not intervene with some other discourse (politics, aesthetics, philosophy).

(3.) For more insights about the new regime of production, see: Paolo Virno’s Grammar of Multitude (2004).

(4.) Many artists have to do other jobs in order to guarantee their own survival. More and more artists are becoming freelancers with only one-time projects that give them far weaker positions for negotiation within the art market.

(5.) It can be labelled as some kind of “internship” for artists, and experiencing it after the academic formation (to put it in your CV) is becoming an imperative.

(6.) Rijskakademie is a paramount example of an institution consecrated only for art residency. It is highly competitive to enter this prestigious institution, but once artists become members of it , their “value” on the market is set. Rijskakademie’s central role is to launch art works onto the art market.

(7.) The price of rent is extremely high (many people cannot afford it), the waiting lists for normal or socially sponsored apartments are sometimes a couple of years, so many young people, also artists, decide for squatting, which is still legal at the moment. However, recently, the anti-squat “solution” (antikraak) has taken place. The empty buildings or old offices are protected by the guard who can live there for free. The Antikraak organization then sublets these places quite cheaply. Newcomers can live there very happily, but on the condition they do not make noise and with awareness that they can get kicked out with only a couple of weeks notice. Antikraak is supposedly finding to them a new place. Moreover, the system to enter the “anti-squat system” is more difficult or unimaginable for immigrants (socially endangered groups): one needs to know someone that is already inside, who guarantees them, and also one needs to have a social security number. This option is popular amongst artists. This solution is twofold. On the one hand, it protects private and public property, in order to ensure continuous and unstoppable financial invest ments. On the other hand, it launched an attack against squatting.

(8.) I am just waiting for the moment when Albania enters the EU – maybe all its bunkers can be used for artist-in-residencies in the light of the revival of tourism and resolution of spatial problems.


Gal Kirn is a philosopher, he completed his PhD at Nova Gorica (Slovenia), was fellow researcher at Jan van Eyck Academy, currently at Berlin Institute for Cultural Inquiry member of the Workers’ Punk University, political activist and Editor-in-chief of Agregat.

The article was originally published in Reartikulacija #4/2008