João Enxuto and Erica Love

João Enxuto and Erica Love on platforms and autonomy

João Enxuto and Erica Love, “The Digital Divide (Every LinkNYC in Manhattan),” 2018–, inkjet print, 13 x 13".

João Enxuto and Erica Love are shrewd diagnosticians of the asymmetrical distribution of power within art institutions. Through their work, they consider the potential ramifications of the incursion of platforms, big data, and AI into contemporary art, noting how they amplify and naturalize existing structural inequalities within the arts and threaten the already greatly-diminished agency of artists. Crucially, however, through works like the Institute for Southern Contemporary Art (ISCA), 2016, Enxuto and Love imagine the emancipatory potential of such technologies, if they were to be pried from the hands of private capital. Below, the artists discuss dreams of autonomy, the platformization of public space, and breaching the limit of mere criticality.

WHEN WE STARTED WORKING TOGETHER IN 2009, techno-utopianism was a dominant ethos among most people of authority—like administrators—within art institutions. It was also a position that people adopted to gain authority and institutional power, especially in museums. Platformization was not addressed so much. Artsy was relatively new, but it seemed to already wield significant influence. As far as we knew, no one addressed it in a critical way before we did. Our 2013 work Art Project 2023 imagined how paradigm shifts brought about by platforms and Web 2.0 might lead to a transformation of art’s audience and institutions.

Platforms are themselves modes of speculation, so the scenarios we come up with in our work are based on something that may have already occurred, is occurring, or could potentially occur. They are not so far afield as to be science fiction; they’re more speculative fiction. Some pieces, such as the forthcoming Sketches for a Secession, 2020, take the conjecture further, and produce an imaginary that is clearly an alternative to our current direction.

With the ISCA, we proposed a system where artists whose work and activities are not remunerated by the market would be supported by a cooperatively owned platform that redistributes the spoils of art’s financialization. But that still depended on a collector base for capital. We have since tried to move away from that model, because collectors are not to be relied on by any working artist. More sustainable models depend on statecraft, but not necessarily large-scale governance. There is serious grassroots work that can happen to this end, exemplified in, say, Platform Cooperativism, which we have been following closely and consider to be the most promising alternative to extractionist platform monopolies.

A video with the same title as our latest text, Sketches from a Secession, written earlier this year, will be on view in the German pavilion of the Venice Architecture Bienniale, now postponed to 2021. The prompt was to consider the year 2038; these sketches imagine how the Covid-19 crisis might mark the beginning of a deeper balkanization of the United States. Whereas our past work has directly addressed art institutions, Sketches from a Secession takes a broader view. We are becoming less inclined to consider things solely through the purview of the art field. The past forty years of neoliberalism signal that we are approaching a world in which equitable artistic labor itself will not be possible without broad political transformation. While there’s a romantic link between the artist and autonomy that is anticapitalist in its essence, the fiction of autonomy is more diminished than ever. The artist will have to part with the vestiges of this fantasy, possibly enter into coalition with worker’s movements, and, when conditions are better, lend their skills and aptitudes to building a new social democracy.

Today, we’re seeing the state in crisis, without infrastructural tools, unable to perform its functions. The platform monopoly rushes in to fill the gaps: Elon Musk and Eric Schmidt pitch their services, while Bill and Melinda Gates are brought in to reinvent the New York public school system. (The best diagnosis of this phenomenon is Naomi Klein’s recent piece in The Intercept on the “Screen New Deal.”) Zwirner acts like Google, swooping in to buttress the art market until the next paradigm shift, when they will probably consolidate the system alongside other major players.

All along, we’ve looked at urban tech to consider how platforms expand beyond online spaces, moving into museums, civic structures, and the commons. While walking around NYC, we’ve created “The Digital Divide (Every LinkNYC in Manhattan),” 2018­–, a photographic series that pictures all of the city’s LinkNYC kiosks, which, when not being ignored, are used as armatures for sales of paperback books, as phone chargers, or as porn hubs. Right now we’re craving communal spaces, but when we enter them again, you can imagine how much more they will be mediated by the use of temperature guns and contact tracing.

A common critique of “critical art” has been that it only reveals, pointing to a certain condition without intervening in it. Following our belief that one way to breach this limit is the use of technologies that threaten hierarchies—such as blockchain—we try to produce prototypes that suggest how artists might receive derivative value through their labor. These are just speculative models, but they can actually be used, scaled, and employed.