STATISTA

Statecraft - Pioneer Usage - Representation

The political scope of art - In conversation with Jerszy Seymour

Dass Kunst immer auch politisch ist, ist nichts Neues. Jerszy treibt die Verbindung aber auf die Spitze: In seine Überlegungen fließen radikal die Herstellung seiner verwendeten Materialien, die Wirkweite einer globalen Demokratie und eine Welt ohne Grenzen ein. Im Interview erklärt er seine Ansichten und vergleicht die drei Projekte MACAO Milan, Assemble und Schlesische27 miteinander.

Anton Schünemann im Gespräch mit Jerszy Seymour
Jerszy Seymour beschreibt sich selbst als Designer, der ab und an im Kunstbereich arbeitet. Er arbeitet im Rahmen der “Wandering School” mit dem Künstlerkollektiv MACAO Milan zusammen und hat einen guten Überblick über die Projekte des Kollektivs.


The public and the individual scope of art 


A
Jerszy, what are you working on at the moment?
J
We live in one of the most intense times of mass individualism. I ask: How can we look at the broader picture, which is necessary, if we want to talk about property issues and gentrification, because it is a global problem. Whilst not being a dictator. Whilst not falling into this trap of telling people how to live. These are the big and important questions.
A
You work with art intuitions, art foundations. How does it work? Do they come to you and want do a specific project or do you have areas that are interesting to you and then you go there and open up a project because you work internationally?
J
I think design is quite political and social. Art will be just what it is. The freedom of society is the idea that the only aspect a thing needs to be called art is someone who calls himself artist and then it is art. Design is something different because it always has a means of political production, maybe an example is our wired chair. That project started because there was a factory that produced wires. But they were going to get bankrupt. So we said, lets do something with the wires. And when we were picking up the final produce, the people there were crying because they were closing down the factory that day. They were there for 40 years. Especially in times like 2008, where there were closing down factories that had like 5.000 people. You see, there is a direct connection between the economy and my work


Working with MACAO


A
So how did you get into contact with MACAO? Where you invited or how did it work?
J
A friend of mine had gone to Milan and needed someone to stay. I knew the people from MACAO. It was quite the early days of MACAO. And they just had occupied the biggest building in Milan. So we kind of created a living sculpture, if you want. Loads of parts of the building were still fucked up so we went there and fixed it, we made space for 25 people to sleep there, to shower, built a kitchen and so on. And then we ran a 16-day public program, each day a solo show for each student. We did it as a circular economy and had something like a hotel where we didn’t had to charge anymore. The lines between life and art were blinding in and life and production mixed up.
A
You call it the Wandering School.
J
We create context. Another thing is aestheticization. Which, in the old left, from their point of view is that anything you want to sell to the people was just wrong. But what we see today is that in fact, we are in the spectacle, and we do have to use the power of representation of anesthetization to communicate and produce at the same time a world. Creating an image of what the world would be like. So Wandering School Part 2 we also did with MACAO. It was opted in Athens to build a new refugee center. They lost their funding from the UN: That’s when you realize how hardcore the situation there was. We gave English lessons to refugees, even though we didn’t know how to do it.


Can one combine art and gentrification?


A
That is also interesting for the situation in Italy, right? Because from the privileged situation in Germany, where we have massively funded programs for artists. They can more or less live of that. But in other countries you cannot live from that. But if you want to run a project there you have to rent it and aestheticize it and that has huge effects on gentrification. Don’t you think?
J
Well, if you want to talk about gentrification and art… I am not sure if I want to put the two of them together. But first, what do you mean by gentrification? Do you mean poor areas, where rich people start to move in to pay less for rent. And by this process these areas seem to be more attractive to the richer people and then the prices are going up and up and up? And the poorer people cannot afford the rent anymore and get kicked out?


No borders, no nation?


A
Pretty much, with the distinction that people who are called pioneers like artists would move there to pay low rents and because there is place to do stuff. And then the second wave is because of the infrastructure.
J

I think this gentrification problem is something of a bigger picture. It is much more profound. I don’t care about anyone’s Nationality. Why shouldn’t I go and live in a cheaper place? The same for artists, they are not rich. So why should they go somewhere else and suffer there? The real important question is about how we start to create fair property rights in the world. We are in this moment in the world economy where there is more money generated by capital than through labor. But just by owning land, you make more money than by labor production. That means that right now, labor is secondary to capital. We have to accept a regulated capitalism. In terms of property rights, if you leave a free market property, then you have gentrification.
We have to define what we mean by property rights. Think about inheritance tax and how you bring down massive wealth, which is held by capital. You must stop unused property to build up the value, places are frozen. So basically, you must control that property can be speculated on, the rents need to be controlled. Artists are then not the string to the local community; they can only add to the local community. 


Creating a new world with MACAO?


A

But that’s exactly our thesis. That a lot of artists are starting to think about caring as a central point. How to deal with community and what surrounds you. You think about community on so many levels, for instance political. If we look at your projects, revolution is the goal. What is most important to you? Is it how people think about a new world or how you get them active?
J
With MACAO for example we have a very interesting understanding of what property means. They occupied a building and demanded for a new explanation of what property is. Then they started their own currency system. So you have a legal base. Everyone can be inside this framework. For example, refugees with illegal status can contribute. They created Cryptocurrency. And they have the Grundeinkommen, everyone who does a certain amount of work is getting paid. How do you create a different decision making process?


Boiling it down: gentrification in Berlin


A
Coming back to the question of gentrification discourse, the project we are doing is a cooperation with the KW. They have this history of going to the Scheunenviertel when the wall came down to East Berlin and they just squatted the place and somehow built up galleries everywhere and now you can see what the place had become. They just didn’t care about the bigger picture.
J
That is of course very disappointing of Berlin. There was this hope of an alternative society and it was just totally pushed away. After the Wall fell. The art world just wanted to make sure they are going to be successful and they did. Some very good art came out. But art is just one of the biggest unregulated financial markets on the planet you know?
A
Since you know Schlesische 27, Assemble and MACAO, I would love to hear about your opinions on them. What do you like, what do you criticize?
J
I mean, they are all very different. MACAO is a living model of an alternative, run by open Assemble. Some of their difficulty is effective work, in a way they have to deal with a lot of concrete questions. Assemble has finally become a limited company, they are a proper architecture company, they are organized. And of course they are becoming formalized, they start to be shaped, they are afraid that they are not effective in the area they are trying to work in. There are these magic zones where things are not too fixed yet. For Schlesi maybe they got their foot very much in the government door. And a lot of private people are funding, so they must make the right face, which MACAO doesn’t have to do for example. They are totally autonomous in that sense. Schlesi does have income that can keep education and so on funded. It is more stable. But when you can see what you are restricted by you can play with these limitations.