WOW HUH
Something Short on Waiting
by Patrick Gantert


(I’m writing this on a plane flying from Munich to JFK. While some if it was actually written in NYC, the narrative of a return from Eastern Europe is a better analogue for the content so bear with me. I was in Romania for a shoot but ended up getting stuck due to snow in a city (Bucharest) that had a quite modest infrastructure and protocol for dealing with snow. All that is to say that I was snowed in at the Radisson Bucaresti. My options were limited to drinking too early (which I did) and wandering aimlessly in the hotel (which I did). I was just waiting for the weather to clear.)

Wait for the train. Wait for money to come in. Wait for other people to show up. Wait for a layer to dry. Wait for reviews of the show. Wait to hear back about the residency application. We are, almost without fail, constantly waiting. With every application submitted and every thought that lingers too long on representation or tenure track, we create more spaces in which to await an answer. But there is value in that waiting time and within the current landscape of constant and ‘work in progress’ production and sharing, time in waiting is partially negated and instead becomes a valuable form of resistance.

To wait is ‘to stay where one is or delay action until a particular time or until something else happens’. In some sense, waiting is a call and response, a time period that prefaces a contingent action. I’d be hard pressed to think of a time when I’ve waited without the promise or at least the possibility of something desirable. Waiting is, by definition, inextricable from progression.

In a recent interview with Katy Siegel in The Brooklyn Rail (a partial transcription of their conversation at Regina Rex), Lane Relyea offers a broad strokes take on the way that makers today self identify ‘...everyone’s answer today is, “I make stuff” or “I do stuff.” All verb, no predicate.’ The idea of defining with verbs underscores the current state for a younger crew of producers, namely that forward motion and near constant output are paramount - but only in so far as they yield response. In a landscape of scarce opportunity, smaller scale endeavors with compressed timelines, shoestring budgets, and mutable scope are filling the gaps in time once dedicated to institutional bureaucracies (judging, selection committees, interviews, etc).

Is there is a way for us to employ the fact that we are disconnected from a dominant scene in service of something else? To use that waiting time we give up to institutions as productive time in which to develop outlets and methods for change? There is a lot of fiery talk around the professionalizing of art and the disgustingly narrow and underpaid job market for MFA grads, this issue of WOW HUH notwithstanding. The logical assertion in light of such a discussion, with almost everyone being at least cognizant of the fact that supporting yourself entirely on art is something of a pipe dream reserved for a small percentage of us, is to suggest that there must be ‘alternatives’, ‘other economies’, or ‘new models’. This needs to be more than rhetoric. Within a scene at least partially consumed with brainstorming ways to subvert or replace the dominant model of the art world/market, the manifestation of other models is fertile ground.

In his essay ‘Exhaustion and Exuberance’ Jan Verwoert hints at the push for dispersed and small scale action over big events:

‘...Grand gestures of revolt tend to be overwhelmingly assertive. They thrive on the rush of the moment when things really start happening (the crowd surges forward, the water cannons start shooting). In this sense they actually exemplify the core momentum of high performance itself: they make something happen and deliver an event. Should we then not look for other, more subtle ways of performing dissent? What silent but effective forms of non-alignment, non-compliance, uncooperativeness, reluctance, reticence, weariness, or unwillingness do we find in everyday life? There are, for instance, those covert survival tactics of the workplace accumulated by generations of employees devising ever new schemes to avoid performing the task they’re asked to perform in the way (or at the time and speed at which) they are required to do so. Can we embrace such forms of anti-performance in art and thinking as forms of art and thinking?'

The grand gestures here are market inclusion, the bi-yearly solo shows, the mid career retrospective, the day you quit your job job and set up permanently in the studio. Romantic notions that are all but evaporating, at least in the way that we were conditioned to understand them, as the numbers of artists increase. By and large, we inhabit a world of fiction where each day spent in the studio or at a desk writing or online waiting for a response is bolstered by the idea that the actions will lead to something bigger and better that may not even exist. We’re mostly acting independently. In a space where an artist’s prices can rise 3000% in the span of one year, we should feel alienated not included. That kind of statistic does not make for a lasting enterprise, it creates momentary demand and speculatory markets (this is summarized brilliantly in a recent Businessweek article entitled ‘Art Flipping Speculators Boost the Young Artist Market’) which is unkind to the artist whose work it exploits and endlessly beneficial to an unchecked system concerned with liquid assets and the next big thing.

It’s no secret that actually changing this kind of system is next to impossible, that’s the reason people suggest ‘alternative economies’ instead of ‘replacement economies’. That said, there seems to be more of a push now than ever to actually explore those alternatives and not just talk about them. Small scale curatorial ventures, online magazines and independent fairs pop up on what seems to be an almost weekly basis. That combined with a new and younger group of artists whose sense of urgency is native allows for the respectful downtime to be located and obliterated, making space for resistance.