February 26th, 2008


My agenda

Is it my agenda, or is it wishful thinking? As our societies move from manufacturing to information and services, we're moving from material to postmaterial values. As the internet and new folk forms make trad copyright look increasingly irrelevant, we've made the transition from a culture which was all about the ownership of physical property to a culture which is more about temporary experiences and spectacle. If property is involved, it's rented, or collectively owned, or microproperty in flow world.

At a certain point in the 90s I noticed that, whereas I'd once have wanted to buy things I saw and liked, I was content to snap digital pictures of them and put them on a website somewhere; that was just as satisfying. With this realisation comes the idea that the public and the collective, so long neglected because of a Thatcher-Reagan-style emphasis on ownership, are once more becoming important. Why own a house in the suburbs when you can rent one in a revitalized city centre full of public amenities? Why own a pool when you can visit a nice public one?

These shifts, and the ongoing transition of culture to the digital realm, have changed what I do as an artist. Once the CD -- a plastic object owned by one set of people and bought by another -- was everything. You toured to "promote" this plastic object, which means you performed approximative versions of the songs on it in front of a group of people who'd -- with any luck -- buy it, thus making the people who owned it (including yourself, a kind of minority shareholder in the process) richer. Now, CDs promote live shows, experiences. The premium -- the thing people are willing to pay money for -- has become a unique personal appearance, a collectively-shared event, something that can't be digitized and sent out over the internet. In this postmaterialist, spectacular new world, artists are freed up from the rote chore of plugging CDs by performing songs off them. The kind of appearances and spectacles they concoct can be much more various.

Is it my agenda, or is it some dates in my diary? As a result of the changes featured on my ideological agenda, my date agenda over the next few months is a hell of a lot more interesting, diverse and downright weird than it would have been a few years ago. Next month I'll be showing some visual field recordings, singing a song at the unveiling of a planned gigantic necropolis near the Bauhaus, and traveling to Prague to do a spoken word performance at a gallery hosting the whispering piece I've shown in London and New York.

In April I'll be singing improvised new lyrics to old standards from a balcony inside the MUDAM gallery in Luxembourg. The artist Candice Breitz, who's organised Call and Response, is interested in a post-property idea of art: "A central premise of this series of events," she explains, "is my belief that all creative acts are responses to other creative acts, all creative thinkers are in dialogue (consciously or otherwise) with other creative thinkers, and all works of art (subtly or otherwise) feed on and reflect existing works of art. It is therefore somewhat nonsensical to imagine that only certain artists are recyclers and samplers, as defined against those who continue to produce ‘original’ works of art."

May sees me singing songs at the 5th Poprevo Festival in Aarhus, Denmark, giving a spirit medium ghost tour of Richmond Library at an event called Libraries Aloud, and being a singing installation at the Vienna Technical University, incanting chemical formulae while vibrating tuned bowls of water (ideally played by Tomoko Sauvage, if they can afford to fly her in).

Then in June it looks like I'll do a piece at the Hide and Seek festival which turns London into Tokyo (I can't tell you how at the moment). Later in the year French and German publishers will publish my Book of Jokes, and I hope there'll be a new Momus album too. But, whereas once that piece of plastic would have been the sun around which everything else orbited, now it's a somewhat peripheral relic of a much more formatted, materialistic time, a time when everything you did was oriented to property, not experiences.

Of course, there are paradoxes galore. Central London, like central New York, has become prohibitively expensive, a playzone for the super-rich. And yet, although I can't afford to live there any more, it's become ever-cheaper to fly in for "the London experience". I don't need to own property in London or New York to enjoy them -- I just need projects to do there, games to play, experiences to share. Similarly, the reason the art world is booming is that the super-rich buy art as an investment. But at the same time, you can "consume" art as a series of experiences (biennials, for instance) without ever buying a single piece. Materialist and postmaterialist ways of seeing -- having and being -- co-exist, for the time being. We play while others work, we look at what others own. Despite different mindsets and mentalities, somehow our agendas sync up.