Lecture by Gillian Whiteley: Moochers, wasters and vagabonds: the arts of sloth and reverie as oppositional (in)activities
This lecture is part of the ASCA Workshop on Uselessness and open to the public.
The mantra, ‘art for art’s sake’, is anathema in the contemporary artworld and contemplative practices frequently attract critical scorn. Fundamentally, as Nato Thompson (2012) has noted, we no longer ask is it art but is it useful art? Of course, ‘socially useful’ art has always been rooted in the specific critical political and economic contexts of its own time, from the demand for ‘art for a purpose’ of the Artists International Association in the 1930s, to Jean-Paul Sartre’s advocacy of the ‘committed artist’ in postwar Europe, through to the emergence of Tania Bruguera’s Arte Util in the global financial and humanitarian crises of the 2000s. Unsurprisingly then, questions around ‘socially-engaged’ practices and the ethical dimension of art currently dominate the contemporary field. In contrast, the internet offers a proliferation of time-wasting activities and idle pleasures encapsulated by the internetofuselessthings or Simone Giertz’s ‘shitty robots’. In a futile attempt to draw things to a close, this talk will offer a bricolage of thoughts across a range of discourses, ruminating on the hegemonic orthodoxy and potential fallacy of useful practices. It asks, should we reclaim the culture of slowness, sloth and the ‘right to be lazy’ (Lafargue, 1883) as a post-work political act of refusal? As artists (and citizens) should we demand the right to roam aimlessly, dream endlessly and expend time in useless (pleasurable) (in)activity?
Dr Gillian Whiteley is an interdisciplinary researcher based at School of the Arts, English and Drama, Loughborough University (LU) where she is Programme Director for Fine Art, Senior Lecturer in Critical and Historical Studies and Coordinator of the Politicized Practice Research Group (PPRG). Interests include historical and contemporary practices of creative dissent and ludic protest, art and activism, bricolage, materialisms and detritus. Publications include ‘Welfare State International’ in J.Bull and G.Saunders (eds) British Theatre Companies: From Fringe to Mainstream, (2016); ‘Schm]alchemy: Magical sites and mischievous objects – episodes in a performative inquiry into the transformative and disruptive potency of stuff’ in Body, Space, Technology Journal (2016); ‘Regimes of Value: Sensuous Stuff, Entangled Objects, Undoing the Order of Things’ (ex cat) Victoria College of the Arts, University of Melbourne and The Substation, Newport, Melbourne (2013) www.regimesofvalue.com and Junk: Art and the Politics of Trash (2010). As co-organiser of RadicalAesthetics-RadicalArt (RaRa), she is currently working on Art, Politics and the Pamphleteer (events, an exhibition and an edited book for Bloomsbury) and, with members of the PPRG and Anarchist Research Group at LU, a collaborative project around Art activism and political violence. www.bricolagekitchen.com