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Issue 144

Letters
by Alexandra Irimia, Jack McCombe, and Chelsea Rozansky

Hi,

The latest issue fondly reminded me of José Saramago’s words in the short story “The Tale of the Unknown Island” (1997): “Liking is probably the best form of ownership,” he wrote, “and ownership the worst form of liking.” Despite the danger of dismissing the phrase as an all-too-easy chiasmus, I believe it illuminates a little-acknowledged truth in our world.

Marie Fraser’s piece on acquiring a Tino Sehgal work in C143 problematizes the relation of ownership to its (non)lasting temporality. The author emphasizes new ways to think the possibility of ownership as pure trust and intersubjective connection, in the absence of all tangible attribution of matter, rights or meaning. Shockingly, the artist’s endeavour disowns even the seemingly indispensable foreknowledge of the thing to be owned.

In the light of these new findings, for me it becomes apparent that authentic ownership is, indeed, mutual and immaterial. It springs from a dialogic exchange that shapes both the owner and the owned, to the point their co-dependent roles become interchangeable. This conception of ownership is less a matter of holding property (of any kind) and is instead an affective engagement that troubles—if not effaces in its entirety—the constructed power dynamics at work between the owner (usually endowed with authority and agency) and the owned (usually deemed weak and passive).

I own what owns me.

Alexandra Irimia
Dear C,

Listening to the radio this morning, I learned that yesterday, Twitter banned political advertising, prompting pressure for other social media platforms to follow suit. The radio commentator made the point that it will prove difficult to distinguish what ads are and are not political. For instance, would Trump Hotels be allowed to publish an ad, the commentator asked. And, is it not politically-weighted to publish an advertisement for a clothing brand that uses sweatshop labour, while elbowing out activist groups lobbying for labour rights, she offered. The commentator ultimately decided that Twitter’s new policy would only endorse corporate consumption at the expense of grassroots political organizing, and that social media companies are better off regulating directed advertising specifically, which uses our expressed political ideologies and social interests to push product.

I’m hung up on Elisha Lim’s piece in C143, “Identity Politics Economics.” It has been heartening to put a name to the sense of disease I, and others, feel about social media platforms functioning as our go-to political arena. Lim offers an equally helpful and horrifying framework for our paradigm: no longer are we merely engaged in identity politics—a term which, at this point, is often met with ennui, ambivalence and cynicism—but are now subjugated to identity economics, a supra-determining system of algorithms that type and isolate us through our political leanings in order to sell us product more specifically and more astutely. Lim’s piece makes clear that more than any political power, we are governed by a regime of technology. I wanted to point out to the radio commentator this morning that a free market for political advertising will not work in our favour either, since even if ads that may embolden activism were permitted, clicking on them still just makes us better consumers.

I am reminded of a quotation from the feminist art collective Laboria Cuboniks’ “Xenofeminist Manifesto,” (which I first encountered through an article by Esmé Hogeveen in C132): “Technology isn’t inherently progressive.” It isn’t even inherently neutral. In this Foucauldian new world, our selves are ordered, regulated and controlled precisely by our good faith in standing up for ourselves. All we do is opt in. Thank you Lim for this sobering article.

Chelsea Rozansky
Dear C Mag,

Did you ever see the 2015 film The Big Short? Something drew me back towards this film after reading your latest issue, “Ownership.” The market, which rears its abstract head a good few times throughout the issue, is most likely the obvious point of departure in my attempt to understand this connection. In the movie, Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale and Brad Pitt—in their portrayal of real life opportunists—try to short (bet against) the pre-2008 housing market, in order to make money back when the market might crash. They have arrived at the belief that the housing market as a whole is propped up by stocks lacking any accountability or integrity. Rather than falling into a critical elongation in the attempt to understand credit default swaps myself, and then trying to re-explain them here, I would rather cut to the chase. The moral of the film is that we (mis)place our full trust in these systems at large—financial, political, social, ecological—to sustain a sense of permanence.

Nevertheless, there is something to be said for extracting value from such lacks of accountability in those systems. Is this not exactly what the work of Tino Sehgal does? It is not my intention or interest here to claim that artists have the moral responsibility or obligation to guide us out of sins against ourselves and our planet (if anything, I would claim the opposite). However, I will say that there is a certain perspective that an artwork can allow us to position ourselves from; an interruption that enables us to see something for what it is. It is no coincidence then that Sehgal appears in your issue. By “problematizing the collection” in selling his work to the museum, he is shorting the collection itself, making visible the conditions of how an artwork comes to be valued. This interruption of the acquisition process exposes these conditions of exchange as a series of unwritten rules, unspoken presumptions and unfounded trust. If we can profit from exploiting these flawed ecologies as a way of illuminating its problems, then why not? If we are to continue to shift perspectives on how we condition ourselves in this world, perhaps we are to follow in the footsteps of real life opportunists, including Sehgal.

Jack McCombe
UP