Invisible Venue

Christian L. Frock@Invisible Venue | Yuk Hui@DOXA

(The following conversation was conducted through emails in preparation for the AMASS workshop)

YH: What was your motivation of organizing the invisible venue? Your emphasize the term ‘alternative’ many times in your writings, what is that ‘alternative’ you want to develop?

CF: I created Invisible Venue in 2005 in response to these questions: Is it possible to show something (artwork) that is also nothing (conceptual, digital, ephemeral), everywhere (public spaces) and nowhere (online)? As a curator and cultural producer, I wanted to collaborate with artists to explore their ideas and through this collaboration interrogate the relationship between contemporary art and daily life. Intrinsic to my objectives was finding a way to work both independently and publicly—to what extent could I interject the work of artists into the public realm through the force of personal autonomy? What kinds of opportunities exist in between the margins of regulations and special permissions? What, in short, are the alternatives to the institution?

YH: How does your work relate to the theme of our workshop the ‘commons’? what is your particular take on the term ‘common/s’

CF: Invisible Venue is largely preoccupied with the establishment of artistic autonomy through the use of public space, commonly available resources and the far-reaching capacities of the Internet.  In this regard, my work relates to themes of self-organization and sustainability, though perhaps in unexpected ways.

If maintaining control over the work equates with creative freedom, then creative freedom means freedom from the market, art or otherwise. While creative autonomy within my work can be established through an indifference to the art market, real autonomy and independence in the world at large is predicated on financial independence. This does not mean amassing a fortune—living standards are variable—but rather that independence is achieved when my financial obligations are within my means. So a job that is unrelated to my primary objectives and drains me of all creative impulse compromises my autonomy. Establishing fiscal stability on my own terms and maintaining creative production are the key components of an alternative autonomy.

Cultivate an alternative autonomous model within the existing capitalist system, developed in keeping with the integrity of my work and ideas. Develop a multi-pronged approach to financial independence through a range of tactics and a broad application of skill set.  Explore alternative entrepreneurial methods for fiscal independence: micro-patronage, crowd funding, and fiscal sponsorship. Consider ways to apply business tactics to conceptual endeavors. Use all of the resources available including websites, social networks, and video publishing.

YH: Sustainability is always a major concern, one of your project ‘Project Space Survival Strategies’ in collaboration with Elysa Lozano for Autonomous Organization investigate the sustainabilities of galleries and organizations across the globe, what are your findings and what are these strategies for survival?

CF: As the alternative operates outside of conventional models, there is no established source of sustainability, per se. Projects are produced within one’s means and personal economy, within the surplus, with the help of friends, and outside of business hours. (Day jobs, and sometimes night jobs, preclude regular business hours.)  Experiments are finite by nature, as are experimental models, and exist as a course towards sustainability; they are not financially sustainable, in and of themselves, without an injection of cash or revenue. Sometimes alternatives evolve into conventional business models—there are only two:  commercial and non-profit—in order to achieve sustainability. Sometimes they are gone overnight.  Change is a necessary constant. Alternatives last as long as they last—their relevance is not linked to physical longevity, but rather to the ambition of the investigation and to the quality of the discourse that circulates in its wake. Alternatives have been known to be experimental platforms to launch long careers.  In this sense, they are sustained as narratives within these legacies.

By investigating the motivation for each of these spaces and how they are funded, I have found an incredibly diverse set of ideas, manifestations, and community connections that are articulated through the financial strategies. A very different meaning is created when a project is funded entirely from the administrators’ careers vs. when the artist passes a hat around to get donations from visitors. Each of these strategies articulates a unique perspective on the value of contemporary work within its community and even a stance on how it ought to be positioned in society.

YH: Your works impressed me that you are playing with different social relations (for example when you talked about your experience of distributing cards in the London frieze art fair and bring people to your screening somewhere else), that also seems to me an important elements concerning the commons, what is your reflection after these projects?

CF: When I started the Invisible Venue project space in West Oakland, I was contacted by a young reporter from a local paper who wanted to ask me about how Invisible Venue was going to engage the local community and surrounding region in the projects.  The assumption was that I was creating a community space that was geared towards the betterment of my neighbors, even though I hadn’t lived in the neighborhood for very long and didn’t yet know my neighbors.  It struck me there were conventional expectations around the function of art and how it relates to an audience that hadn’t quite caught up with the new paradigm.

I am interested to engage both an accidental and an art-invested audience, but I am not interested to evangelize art or make converts of my neighbors.  The vast diversity of the commons today–public space in the built environment and in virtual sphere–creates an unprecedented platform from which to reconsider ideas around community.  My first responsibility is to the integrity of the work.  I put the work out in public space–whomever takes note is the community and the rest can pass it by.  The process isn’t completely democratized, of course, but it is no longer limited to physical space; this perhaps allows for a greater commons than has ever existed before.

Writings by Christian L. Frock

Invisible Venue(s): Alternatives to the Institution

Notes on Alternative Autonomy

What is the Visible Alternative? And Other Infrequently Explored Possibilities: