Curating At Large, Via a Street Newspaper
I am not sure what it means to have an early art memory. Is it as an empirical experience, as the recognition of a canon, or as something made to be understood as an artwork? For now, I choose the object: a painting. It is a reproduction of Bartolomé Esteban Murillo’s “Boys Playing Dice” (ca. 1675/1670) at my grandparents’ house, in front of which I would play in the warmest afternoons. Twenty years later, I stood in front of the original at the Alte Pinakothek in Munich, and it was like standing in the corridor of this old building in Guayaquil. The painting carries a huge paradox in itself. It is the depiction of young beggars, yet it’s worth tons of money. But what is unavoidably visible is the humanist projection of poverty, embodied by two boys sitting on the ground, absorbed in their game of fortune, while a boy on the right of the picture is looking into a void, into the room of the viewer. Through Murillo’s moralizing choice, I believe there was always a strange attraction to art for me, and a distance I prefer to always keep—acknowledging that art has always been a tool for power to define itself, no matter what societal order was there to be imposed.
Otherwise on the spectrum between spontaneity and premeditation I am lost in a thousand thoughts.
Out of that limbo is where Arts of the Working Class originated. Three years ago, Alina Kolar, Paul Sochacki, and I created a tool for productive conversations between arts and politics, between the rich and the poor, between fiction and reality. We didn’t do it for charity, but because of a much more sustainable device: economy, which means, dignifying work opportunities and sustainable investments. We created a street newspaper, and we decided to call it Arts of the Working Class and squat the historical term of the working class. We have faced criticism for playing with it all too lavishly and ironically, and for aestheticizing historical, painful, deadly gaps and struggles for the mere taste of today’s hedonistic escapism. But, to be honest with ourselves, the term Working Class was already hijacked long ago, and there is an urgency for revisiting the problems of those for whom it can stand.
Arts of the Working Class comes out every two months, with contributions from artists, academics and activists from around the world, published in multiple languages, writing about and through artistic practice about what brings us together as a global society. Every issue is a polyphonic assembly fed by the wealth of imaginative thinking worldwide. It contains no superficial illustrations, no bullshit, and it is given for free to anyone who would like to sell it. Vendors keep 100% of the revenues, there is no registration needed, you just come to one of our pick up points in Berlin, London or LA, take as much as you want, and go earning. How is it financed? By curated advertisement and media partnerships. Like for the most recent issue, with the German Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennial, Savvy Contemporary, Superrr Lab, and Berlin Questions. The wealth that Arts of the Working Class offers grows from vulnerability. Homeless people offering an avant-garde magazine called Arts of the Working Class is not only a means of redistributing the wealth accumulated by underpaid creative labor and concentrated in institutions. It is also an open question passed over to everyone: how do I, as a citizen using the publicly maintained and privately exploited streets, relate to and within the dichotomy of poverty and privilege, of dignity and invisibility? If you would like to work together and see Arts of the Working Class circulating on the streets and reflecting on the poverty in your city, please email us.
I never curate without others. Being from Ecuador, both my father’s and my mother’s families have experienced what it means to lose everything that generations have built up before, through political and economic corruption. This might contribute to me always giving and asking maybe a little bit too much when it comes to justice in organizing and sharing common goods. Without the security of German citizenship and the privilege of being offered German grants, we cannot afford a comfortable, moralizing outside gaze, and we also are not interested in offering comfortable seats in this global spectacle of morals. So as a curatorial practice, I want to offer joy in communally navigating the actual contradictions of the contemporary economies we are working in. We offer to consider aesthetic and intellectual refinement not as something to oppose, but as something to be shared with everyone. We offer to organize the actual redistribution of dignity and wealth on a peer-to-peer level. Mutual respect. If we consider the working class as everyone earning less than the average income—in Germany, 3,975€, before tax, monthly—it’s massive. We are a part of it, and many of you are as well. My/Our curatorial practice, and this is what brought me, Alina and Paul closer, counters the invisibilization of class struggle by culture, which contributes to its joyful escalation. Arts of the Working Class is out there to be distributed not only in Berlin, but in all the streets in the world, in a curatorial frame where spatial gestures can be understood as part of the editorial process.
I’ve been dancing some good dembow and walking through the streets of Guayaquil lately.
There is no time or preference that gives a hierarchy to my playlists or my library. Having said that, I currently carry Silvia Federici’s “Re-Enchanting the World: Feminism and the Politics of Commons” in my bag. It takes the political language of Marx to think about societies after capitalism, and I am very much interested in taking her idea of rebuilding commons not as happy islands in the sea of misery but rather as autonomous spaces from which to challenge existing structures of human life.
The Last Show That Made An Impression. I’ve been thinking a lot about the last edition of the Steirischer Herbst for several reasons. First, because Ekaterina Degot, David Riff, Henriette Gallus, Dominik Müller and Christoph Platz are an exemplary curatorial team. They are thinking together and holding their own responsibilities within an institutional apparatus, but also working against a status quo. Second, because that very combination of intellectual and diplomatic work always stays dissonant. This year, this festival, one of the oldest ones in Europe for performing arts and discourse, has shown the lack of sustainability in the contradiction that holds this form of institutional critique, which remains highly theoretical. They called it “The Way Out”, and it presented a very constructive, self-denouncing call for care. That was less palpable as an exhibition but rather as a love letter, for example the one that Paul B. Preciado wrote for it.
Overrated sanity. I manage to keep sane by biking through the city. Finishing the last issue of AWC (we called it World Hell Organization) and coping with the brilliant and demanding art crique’s tour by Verein K, in which I was honored to participate, raging through the streets of Vienna—gave me clarity. But, to be honest, sanity is not a priority. What I try my very hardest is to stay alert to the chances to make systemic changes, to the relationships that can be built out of that. And that demands long periods of careful listening to the outside, to the world, and less time for introspection or disciplinary activities that would make me look or seem more (socially) sane. Many friends criticize this mode of operation, as if it were a kind of entropy; a total dysfunction between my body and my mind. But I feel best by traveling, and channeling the wisdoms that pass through me while trying to understand the world.
I don’t believe in the best way of collaborating; togetherness is always a discovery journey. I rather intend to believe in the energy that is collectively created by taking risks together or for one another. Only then, critique can emerge as a constructive manifestation. Everything else works by default. My latest experience of this is Ponto de Orvalho, an event that took place at Freixo de Meio, north of Lisbon. The organizers managed to surpass expectations for a festival for permaculture and performing arts by working sensibly with farmers, cooks, musicians and dancers by placing their invitation to let go and hold the trust they asked from visitors into their own hands. This was possible mainly because of the scale: not too small, not too big, slimed to fit capacities and resources, but fitted to the aim of awakening through arts and food culture. That was also the case with Artocene in Chamonix-Mont Blanc, and the Souls for Foods Market in Berlin. I hope this kind of social phenomena replaces biennials and fairs soon.
My go-to piece of clothing is my pair of mom’s 80s Levi Strauss Jeans. I take them with me to every press trip, to the rainforest, and even to fancy dinner parties. I like to wear those high waist jeans, because they always make me feel casual, sensual, and ready to take action whenever duty calls.
This pandemic made me realize how much care I still need to show to others. Caring should be a constant embrace.
This lesson evolved into L’Union des Refusés and my engagement with The Hologram. With AWC, we’re currently rehearsing a different model of governance in an effort to redefine union work through a decentralized, peer-to-peer model of care. The devastation of the pandemic enhanced the urgency for thinking further about global governance from the perspective of the experience and dignity of every single citizen of the world. So, in 2020, Alina, Paul and I founded the Union des Refusés, named after the Salon des Refusés founded in imperial Paris in the early 19th century to house all artists too progressive for the taste of the court. The Union des Refusés calls for all art workers, from guards and cleaners up to museum directors and successful gallerists, to rethink their working relations and their relations with society as a whole and to develop more sustainable models of care for the shared aesthetic and intellectual infrastructure. In contrast to the centralized model of union work, which has led to a disintegration of working class interests into a competition between many individual fights for an often-symbolic appreciation, the Union des Refusés explores a decentralized grassroots model. Instead of carrying protest signs through the streets, L’Union des Refusés so far meets in darkness, away from spectacularization and representation, in personal relations of radical intimacy. L’Union des Refusés meets every 21st of the month, and everyone is invited to join, at least to hear what this is about. It implements a method for community building that was introduced by hospital and care workers within Solidarity Clinics in Greece, in places where the impoverished state had left a vacuum. This method, The Hologram, groups four people together who meet regularly to understand and discuss each other’s personal and professional concerns and needs. Everyone serves as each other’s coach and therapist, learning less from institutionalized methodologies and more from each other. This means that there’s nobody occupying a place of power through hierarchies of knowledge. It is a model that can be taken up by any organization genuinely interested in learning from its members and in improving its ways of working. It’s also an inspiring model for rethinking global citizenship, starting from the viewpoint and the measure of each human being.
The best advice I ever got is: “if you hear the dogs barking, it’s because you are moving ahead”, my father likes to paraphrase Cervantes’ Don Quijote.
And the worst was “Never look back”. How is this supposed to be good advice? We have to look everywhere to understand the whole picture.
Curating is inspiring when it’s not exclusive. Curating can be exercised everywhere, anytime, with and for anyone, when the purpose is to honor knowledge in the most accessible and at the same time challenging way possible.
The best way to know an artist is to be interested in their universe rather than getting to know an artist per se.
I like any meal or drink that I can share. I don’t like to eat alone.
If I wasn’t curating, I would be doing the many other things I already do like editing my beloved bimonthly Arts of the Working Class!
María Inés Plaza
Publisher, independent curator
María Inés Plaza Lazo likes to develop curatorial and communication strategies for others, individuals and institutions. Her pronouns are she/her. She grew up in Guayaquil, Ecuador, was trained as an art historian at the Ludwig-Maximilian-Universität in Munich, Germany, lives and works between the streets of Berlin and the world. Together with Paul Sochacki, she founded the street journal on poverty and wealth, art and society „Arts of the Working Class“, which they edit and publish with Alina Kolar. „Arts of the Working Class“ contains contributions by artists and thinkers from different fields and in different languages. Its terms are based upon the working class, meaning everyone, and it reports everything that belongs to everyone. Everyone who sells this street journal earns money directly. Vendors keep 100% of the sales.