Lüneburg Kunstraum, January 1994
Organized by Helmut Draxler and Andrea Fraser


It appears to us that, related variously to institutional critique, productivist, activist and political documentary traditions as well post-studio, site-specific and public art activities, the practices currently characterized as 'project work' do not necessarily share a thematic, ideological or procedural basis. What they do seem to share is the fact that they all involve expending an amount of labor which is either in excess of, or independent of, any specific material production and which cannot be transacted as or along with a product. This labor, which in economic terms would be called service provision (as opposed to goods production), may include:

—the work of the interpretation or analysis of sites both in and outside of cultural institutions;

—the work of presentation and installation (where those terms have come to refer more to the activity than the environment produced);

—the work of public education both in and outside of cultural institutions;

—advocacy and other community based work, including organizing, education, documentary production and the creation of alternative structures ('community' here including art as well as urban communities).

Whatever the sources or appropriate definition of project oriented practice, there seems to be a growing consensus among both artists and curators that the new set of relations they involve needs clarification. While curators are increasingly interested in asking artists to produce work in response to specific existing or constructed situations, the labor necessary to respond to those demands is often not recognized or adequately compensated. Conversely, many curators committed to project development are frustrated by finding themselves in the role of producers for commercial galleries, or a "service department" for artists they find uninterested in dialogue.

The following proposal has developed, in part, out of specific discussions among artists about the need to collectively establish guidelines for project work. While this proposal would not and could not take the place of such discussions, it does aim to further them by providing a forum for the examination of the same practical issues from the historical perspective of developments over the past twenty-five years, and in terms of the theoretical and political questions those developments raise.


In order to address these issues and others relating to what appears to us to be an important shift in and around contemporary art, we are proposing to produce an exhibition in cooperation with a working group of artists and curators we hope to convene in the days prior to its opening. The exhibition is to be generated according to the process described below.

—The organizers will gather background material relating to the shifts in relations necessitated by project oriented work, as well as material documenting past and present conditions of those relations. This material should include documentary material on artists' organizations, alternative spaces and the exhibitions and activities of individual artists, artists' proposals, prospectuses and contracts, exhibition budgets and institutional guidelines.

—Participants in the working group will be asked to bring documentary material relating to their own activities as artists and curators, as well as any other material they think would be relevant.

—This material will be installed in the exhibition space where, prior to the opening, it will form part of the basis for the discussions of the working group meeting in the same space.

—These meetings will be videotaped and the video tapes will be presented in the exhibition along with the above material (with editing as necessary).

—A public presentation of the group discussion by all or some of the participants will be made in conjunction with the opening of the exhibition.

—Following the exhibition, a catalogue will be produced containing some of the material presented in the exhibition, as well as selections from transcripts of the videotapes and public presentation.

—Note: The exhibition should contain no original or unique art works. As we would like the show to circulate easily and cheaply--perhaps in more than one version—we are interested, rather, in printed matter and readily coped material such as video tapes, photographs and documents. We would also hope to reconvene the working group with all or some of the participants at some of the locations to which the exhibition travels.

Working Group Discussions

While we are particularly interested in creating a forum for the discussion of very practical issues among artists and between artists and curators, we also feel that resolutions on practical problems often represent political decisions which may impact not only the working conditions of artists but also the function and meaning of their activity.

With this in mind, we would propose the following questions for discussion:

Is it appropriate or useful to describe as 'service provision' the activities and relations which distinguish 'project work' from other modes of artistic practice?

If such a development of service provision has indeed occurred, does it mark a transformation of the social relations in and around artistic activity? For example, has the service dimension of much project work changed the relations of "lookers, buyers, dealers, makers" (and borrowers) established in the public and private market in goods, into those of expert/client? or community service?

If so, to what extent has this transformation been a result of action on the part of artists to control and change the conditions and meaning of their activity (for example, in the activity which followed from the historic critique of art market relations), and to what extent is it a result of historical changes in cultural institutions and art related professions?

[We are thinking, for example, of:

—the completion, in the 60s, of the professionalization of previously voluntary positions in cultural institutions (in the United States), and the increasing autonomy of institutions from the direct control of patrons;

—the increasing importance in the 70s of public support for cultural institutions (in the United States), which led to a greater awareness of their public obligations;

—the art museum boom of the 80s resulted in a much greater demand for artists while the expansion in art related professions--producing both greater autonomy and greater competition among curators--meant that those demands became more active and more specific to particular sites and constructed situations.]

How can we evaluate and direct the changes in the conditions and relations of artistic practice relative to such developments?

How might the relations involved in project work be formalized in order to safeguard the interests of both artists and organizations?

How would the formalization of these relations affect the autonomy of artists and the critical or oppositional possibilities of artistic practice? For example, would it lead artists to have a purely reformist function within institutions?

Can attempts to transform or protect the artist's position within markets and institutions through professionalization around an expert/client model be reconciled with the radical goals of community service models?

[from: Beatrice von Bismarck, Diethelm Stoller, Ulf Wuggenig (eds.), Games, Fights, Collaboration. Das Spiel von Grenze und Überschreitung, Stuttgart: Cantz 1996]

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