Summer School of The Autonomy Project at the Van Abbemuseum, 2010

Autonomy and Its Contradictions

Issue no1
Feb - March 2020

Like in every discussion dealing with art and autonomy, the questions outnumber the answers. Report on a lecture by Andrea Fraser at the Van Abbemuseum, which focuses partly on autonomy from a psychoanalytical standpoint, followed by a Q&A by Charles Esche and the launch of Open, no. 23 on autonomy.

On June 16th I went to Eindhoven to attend a talk by American artist Andrea Fraser at the Van Abbemuseum. The topic was ‘autonomy’, a particularly dear topic to the venue. For the past few years the Van Abbe has hosted and coordinated talks, publications and exhibitions on the matter, mainly through The Autonomy Project, an appropriately named research network founded at the Dutch institution.

Steven ten Thije, coordinator of the aforementioned project, opened the talks with a brief introduction before leaving the stage to Jorinde Seijdel, editor-in-chief at OPEN. Seijdel gave a brief summary and officially launched the next edition of the journal, dealing with autonomy – of the engaged kind, more specifically – and featuring several promising contributors (including critic Sven Lütticken, among the speakers later discussing on stage). Apart from the significance of the issue's theme, it's important to say the survival of the publication itself is tightly connected to a forced separation from SKOR. The Foundation for Art and the Public Domain (also among the event's organizers) has in fact been so harshly axed down by the state in terms of budget that its future is currently uncertain, despite a program still rich in ideas and collaborations.

Summer School of The Autonomy Project at the Van Abbemuseum, 2010

After the launch, main speaker Andrea Fraser proceeded to read most of her own contribution to the issue, part of which focuses on autonomy from a psychoanalytical standpoint. If critique is a moment of defensive negation, then integrating analysis (thus reducing anxiety) can be interesting for autonomy in the arts. Which brings us to the contradictions hinted to in the event's title: autonomy is a fantasy of agency, and art reconciliates fantasy and reality, but meaningful autonomy and agency can only happen by acceptance of dependency. Now more than ever, artists (and those working with and around them) have come to realize how deeply interconnected with globalization and capitalism their practice is. The very infrastructure sustaining the cultural sector is enmeshed in the same financial and economic dynamics many artists strongly criticize in their work.

To conclude her lecture, Fraser screened a hilarious recording of her performance at InSite 97, a public art event between San Diego and Tijuana that, in the name of multiculturalism, brought together different crowds (including artists and politicians) in the late nineties. By showcasing a schizophrenic thank you speech on a stage, Fraser started from real press releases and developed a satirical depiction of the tight and controversial link between culture and establishment that I mentioned above.

Following the screening, Van Abbe director Charles Esche interviewed the artist. Alternating with Sven Lütticken, Esche took inspiration from articles written by Fraser and exploring the double bind between the arts and the global financial market – Art and Money, L'1% C'est moi. Some of the main issues touched were the differences between the American and European models for art funding, the connection between the arts and social inequality, and – more conceptually - the difference between institutional critique and institutional analysis, which are however not mutually exclusive (meaning we need both).

Of course, like in every discussion dealing with art and autonomy, the questions outnumbered the answers. But, paraphrasing Fraser, after all embracing the contradictions and accepting dependency are good ways to keep the stress away. For the moment, while SKOR and many others wait for permission by the Dutch Ministry of Education, Cultural Affairs and Science (OCW), a chat and a few beers will do.

Autonomy and Its Contradictions, a lecture by Andrea Fraser
Saturday June 16, 2012 from 3:30 - 6 PM
Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven

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26 June 2012
Camiel van Winkel

You forgot to mention that Andrea Fraser was completely unprepared.

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Metropolis M Magazine for contemporary art No 1 — 2020