This zine about political and participatory art, Chump Change, just dropped, and I want to talk briefly (this didn't turn out brief lol) about how it intersects with some of my feelings about my own recent writing. Thanks to badru for recommending it on twitter (check out badru's blog, the pinery!). The zine's cover art is a melancholy/funny wall of text about how texts like itself are envisioned, created, found, and consumed (e.g. "you are a CONSCIOUS and ETHICAL consumer and this is a good PRODUCT"), and this sets the tone for the often pre-emptively self-frustrated writing within.
2020 more than any time in the past, I've publicly stated specific criticisms of the artistic and social spaces that I move through (Divest from the Video Games Industry, Zonelets.net, Artistic craft beyond rebellion). I've attempted to put into words a kind of political philosophy that is meant to contextualize the type of person I aspire to be, the type of world I aspire to live in, and the type of community I aspire to have—and specifically to do this in a way that makes concrete (and perhaps valorizes) a lot of confusing sorts of magnetic pushes and pulls that I've felt throughout my life.
I quote tweeted my last blog post, saying: "I've been doing a lot of manifesto-ish writing lately... It's a sort of mental cleaning and reorganization perhaps and soon I hope to "settle in" and get a little more cozy/random and less grand (like a dog tramping a circle in the grass of my new zonelet before laying down)" because I was feeling a sense of shame that I feel like I recognize in Chump Change. This sense that making the world better should involve doing rather than saying, at which point it will be it's own reward. Whereas to write about what we want to do, or to write about what we want to stop writing about, and still wanting to be engaged with and seen and complimented for doing so... that is the realm of easy co-option.
Ultimately, I do think that I'm glad that I wrote those other pieces. And I'm also glad that Chump Change was written and edited and that I found it and read it. But also yes, I would absolutely be disappointed if I made "Divest from the Video Games Industry" my brand, if I started giving talks on it at every big conference, if writing pieces like these became more important to me than the other aspects of my life and work. I think the reason why I only refer to my writing as "manifesto" ironically or apologetically is that I don't want a movement based around the fetishization of a core text. These essays that I've written... I write them because I want to move past them.
I worry a lot trying to articulate a philosophical framework that is universal by way of being non-universal: a philosophy that allows me to celebrate other people doing things that I would never do, while still allowing me to criticize things that I think are bad. I was raised in a Christian tradition where there wasn't conceptual room for belief systems to be understood in relationship to the different needs of people in different cultural spaces. Everyone had to exist on a continuum of anti-Christian to very Christian. There was no space for me to just be doing different things, to have questions and concerns that simply weren't the focus of that specific cultural space. To do so was to attack the core belief that it must be universal.
Obviously I take issue with this, but playing out these arguments in my head over and over, obsessing over the idea that I must be the most universal and understanding person in order to be different without hypocrisy left me emotionally on the defensive, always assuming the responsibility for spanning impossible gaps. Ultimately, to practice my philosophy I must learn to be okay with people not getting it, to stop fighting to stay legible and correct-feeling in everybody's mind.
Moving forward, Melos and I and others have been coming more and more to the idea that rather than obsessing over who the ultimate correct people are and hyperfunding them, there should be more numerous, less formal exchanges of money, preferably with no strings attached. From Videogames and Arts Funding by Em Reed:
Normally this is the part of the article where I would speculate or call for generally rethinking arts funding priorities but I've been frustrated by this issue long enough that I have an extremely straightforward and practical solution this time: smaller funding pots with lower bars to entry that end up being genuinely life-changing. A few years ago... I interviewed three independent game makers based in Scotland (Natalie Clayton, Jack King-Spooner, and Niall Moody) and wrote about their practices. In each case, a grant a tenth of the size of the one Weather Factory received, used simply to upgrade a personal computer, buy some needed equipment, or even just spend a few months exclusively focusing on their practice would truly alter and expand the horizons of their work.
From WHY I’M GIVING UP POLITICAL ART by Harry Josephine Giles in Chump Change:
If everyone is an artist, the professional artist is not needed to facilitate community art. All that is needed to facilitate community art is directly giving communities money. If people want and need to make art then they will make art, as long as they have the resources to do so. If people want to pay someone to teach them skills then they will pay someone to teach them skills, as long as they have the resources to do so. If people want to pay for food before they pay for art, they should do so, and they should be given the resources to do so, preferably by arts funders.
Melos and I have been piloting an "Analgesic Residency" along these lines. There are a lot of situational and unclear elements that make me hesitate to "adertise" our "model" but suffice it to say you can just give cool people money and it's fine! In the US, it's not additionally taxed if it's just a gift to an individual rather than wages (unless you hit huge amounts like 15k per recipient per year EDIT: further clarification and source from Melos in the comments section). Disclaimers: I'm not a lawyer, and make sure they want the money and that you really are giving it no strings attached!! You may need to have conversationss about boundaries depending on the situation/amount. I'm mainly just trying to counteract the cultural idea that it's "spooky" to give money to individuals and "safe" to give money to organizations.
I think a takeaway is that ideas are not magic: having or agreeing with certain thoughts can't make you a better person or organization. And no text is un-co-optable. Still, we as individuals can sometimes use writing and text as tools, and that is a nice opportunity.