ESR 11 Blog September/October 2022: Fabiola Fiocco

Echoes from the Field


As part of the FEINART Summer School, Re-Imagining Socially Engaged Art Building New Ecologies in a Planetary Crisis, which took place at Zeppelin University at the end of September, we were asked as ESRs to present fragments of our research, especially concerning our experiences during the fieldwork. Entitled Little Pieces: Messages from the Field, we created 3-minutes long presentations using different formats and languages. It was a precious moment of sharing which definitely brought out the different interests and, especially, the different personalities and research approaches, that coexist in the FEINART group. Over the past year, I had the opportunity to interview and enter in conversation with art workers, activists, and researchers from various parts of Europe. Although each story has to be necessarily understood as geographically, politically, and economically situated, I decided to present for the Little Pieces a montage of excerpts from the various exchanges that would highlight how some issues – especially when related to labour and conditions of production – are shared concerns to all of us. Names and other identifying details have been removed in order to produce a single story in which instances, experiences, and reflections intertwine and amplify each other. I want to use this space to thank all the people who have generously offered me their time and mental and emotional space, who have agreed to open up with me and share their knowledge, their struggles, and experiences. And all the people who will continue do so in the future.


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I think all of us share the idea of not doing political art but doing art in a political way. How to think of the tools that come from feminism and theories of democracy and all these kinds of things, and how you become transparent in terms of labour, of power relations, to make the work and the process politically. How to operate. I think in terms of politics; feminism informs the way that we operate, our approach, it’s practical, it’s the most democratic. But it was very clear to all of us that we don’t want to force ourselves in a situation of production, to align to the liberal narratives that existed at the time. It’s more and more difficult to act as an artist that tries to negotiate the compromises of art and capital. Sometimes the only way to work in the way we are interested in, is to step completely outside of the art scene and, of course, there are all the time questions like, okay, if you choose not to work in any way or not to be visible at all, then is there any potential in that?


We have these different hats and different modes of communication for different contexts and that’s absolutely necessary because I have to be able to translate the ideas of our members into policy proposals. That’s the way to change it, except for a revolutionary change. We share these things, we share things from our lives, the personal as well as the collective. There is a joy in connecting, there is a joy in articulating with people, that we share common ideologies, common claims, common difficulties. In this sharing, in this joy, we create an affirmative towards crises, negativity, difficulties.


But you don’t know exactly who you represent. Do you represent the privilege of specific professionals?


What I find interesting about joy is that all these ideas about social engagement, they have a very specific economy within the liberal ideology because they kind of create a fake consciousness. The idea is not to be unhappy, but to not blur things in this kind of feeling good situation because we all know that the thing is not ending there.


In the past I was working in a more romanticized way with what is socially engaged, so maybe the discomfort goes there, you know, you can actually contribute and serve values that don’t exploit the others. This is the problem. You have this kind of solidarity. In other cases, it’s exploitation.


There were all these powerful people, and they were saying how proud they were that they did this exhibition with no money and with all the effort. It was a kind of celebratory thing. And when my turn came, I had to say that I was not sharing at all this festivity because to discuss that we do things without money, it’s not a thing of pride, but shame. And one of the older critics, she said to me, well, that means that you are not passionate enough for your profession. It was simply the norm to some extent. It still is a lingering idea that art should be unpaid. You know, if you care about money as an artist, you’re not a real artist, you know the stereotypes, I guess. A privilege. That’s why it’s so important to me to resource these projects so that people can take the time, creating this time capsules, if you want, in which one can spend time.


I think I like this idea of being transparent about money and power, I think is the best you can do. That doesn’t mean that you take away all the problems of the world or all the inequalities. But at least it’s a form of equity to start with, to say this is the budget, it comes from this source. If this is the living wage, then it will lead to these many ours. And it’s also quite interesting because in my work, if you do it like that, it’s often easier to involve the cleaner than to involve the academic.


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