Urtica, art and media research group (c) 1999 and Beyond
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Value Quest Bourse—The Value is Here

Installation, Print, Internet platform at https://valuequest.info

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  • Photo doc
  • + more
  • e-magazine
    “Propeler” (eng)
  • e-magazin
    “Propeler” (srb)
  • Art and Economy

    An art-allegory
    of socioeconomic cycle

  • Keywords / Tags

    • Art,
    • Economic crisis,
    • Bankruptcy,
    • Greed Economy,
    • Labour,
    • Morals,
    • Profit,
    • Quest,
    • Responsibility,
    • The Indices of Fortune,
    • The Wheel of Fortune,
    • Value
  • Art-Bio:

    “Value Quest Bourse—The Value is Here,” 52nd October Salon, Belgrade. Curators: Galit Eilat and Alenka Gregorič
    Festivals and Group Exhibitions
    Canarias (Canary Islands), Spain, ESPACIO ENTER - International Festival of Creativity, Innovation & Digital Culture
    Montreal, Canada, “Affaires à Risques // Risky Business,” Festival The HTMlles 10
    New York City, USA, dystoRpia Project, Place: Queens Museum of Art, Outpost Artists Resource and Local Projects, Curators: Arlan Londoño and Gabriel Roldos
    memefest.org (Brisbane), “Debt,” Festival of Socially responsive communication and art

Copy of text originaly published at e-magazine “Propeler,” Belgrade 2011

An Interview with the Art Group Urtica

by Tijana Jovanović Petrović, Belgrade, 2011

How would you present the work Value Quest Bourse? What segments does it consist of and what questions does it raise? How, within the work, do you explain the rephrasing of Karl Marx’s view that “No one is free. The winners must compete, the losers must be exploited?”

Urtica: The inspiration for this kind of artistic and research “experiment” are the impacts and consequences of the current social crisis caused by the deregulation of the financial market, stock market speculation, questionable concentration of resources and accumulation of capital, business strategies used for the sake of achieving a goal, and of course by the inevitable factor: human GREED. In order to place the “topicality of the problem” into a broader temporal and spatial framework, because there is no social sphere that has been spared, even if it is on the outskirts of economic cycles - like culture is, we created the Internet platform https://valuequest.info. Starting from the representative form of coated optimism of the business environment, Value Quest Bourse refers to the socio-economic cycle seen through the prism of games of chance, stock market trends, business strategies and their conjunctures. At the 52nd October Salon, it was presented as part of a participative installation that comprises three segments: the poem “Wealth Indexes,” installation “Value Is Here” and an intervention on the wall dubbed “Art in Liquidation.”

At the October Salon exhibition and on your website you state the decision by which “THE ARTIST launches the process of liquidation of the valuable activity of ART, due to the disappearance of natural conditions for carrying out that activity.” Can you explain this decision?

Urtica: The wider public is less familiar with the fact that the UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Status of the Artist was adopted in Belgrade, in October 1980. The Recommendation, which was passed by all UNESCO members, regulates the rights and freedoms of artists, including moral, economic and social rights, with special focus on the right to earn money and have health/pension insurance. According to the Serbian Statistics Bureau, artists today are in the most endangered category of the population. By making the decision to launch the process of liquidation of the valuable activity of ART, at the 52nd October Salon in October 2011, the Artist marks the day of adoption of the Recommendation concerning the Status of the Artist, thereby referring to the disastrous social and economic position of artists in Serbia. More about the decision at https://valuequest.info/content/vq-glossary.html. Also at https://valuequest.info/liquidation one can find a brief questionnaire examining the state and possibility of changing of our social environment.

What is the artist’s responsibility in society and especially within the field of hegemonic struggles in neoliberal (or transitional) society? How can autonomy from the dominant capitalist conditions of production be achieved?

Urtica: Unfortunately, in Serbia the artist is on the margins of the socio-cultural cycle. We don’t have capitalist production conditions in culture because we have no art market, the state is still the main financier of culture, the necessary resources are controlled by public institutions (which receive over 80% of budget funding), the independent scene is economically weak and therefore completely dependent on project financing, and the only thing we get from the hubbub regarding “social responsibility” is the self-promotion of companies at a low cost. Capitalists in Serbia are more interested in “real estate in culture” than in modern art, while the neoliberal spirit is most present in the bad privatizations that have destroyed what little resources were left (e.g. the film industry). The survival and development of certain activities requires a favorable social environment. In a bid to mitigate the effects of the economic crisis during the Great Depression, the Roosevelt administration launched the Federal Art Project (1935-1943), for the sake of providing artists with work. Posters, pictures and murals for public buildings were made, and the project secured jobs for more than 5,000 artists, including some who will later become famous, such as Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, Willem De Kooning and others. The question is, what is bureaucracy today doing to help art/the artist survive? Our view of the problem was presented in the satirical video “Art and Crisis: Facing the Bureaucrat“

The question of value and the relationship between art and the economy was tackled by numerous artists during the 20th century: Marcel Duchamp (by producing checks and bills of exchange), Yves Klein (by exchanging air for gold), Marcel Broodthaers (by turning gold into art), Andy Warhol (the work 200 one dollar bills)… How does Urtica deal with the relationship between art and the economy? Why is the issue of value important to you? What social, ethical, ideological and aesthetic values do you strive for?

Urtica: The matter of evaluation is a matter of existence for the artist. Those who do the sort of work that has an unstable position in economic cycles, and the value of that work is often subjective, i.e. not easily determined, the relationship between art and the economy is like the relationship between alchemy and chemistry. When we started the Value Quest project two years ago, in collaboration with curator Zoran Eric and the Belgrade Museum of Modern Art, the first idea was to make a series of gold coins with the allegorical symbols of VQ industrial sectors. That way we wanted to problematize the still dominant material fetishism in art, because Urtica primarily creates in the virtual environment (the Internet), where information is the dominant building and value “matter.” Negotiations with the potential sponsor, the National Bank of Serbia, fell through so instead of gold coins we made a symbolic monetary form, the Value Quest gold (non-payment) card. Apart from simulating the appearance and features of real (payment) cards, i.e. although it is codified in a similar way, it is a sort of depot of numerous questions and contradictions, psychological barriers and uncertainties stemming from the extremely delicate problem of EVALUATION. Whether value is ascribed to the object (PVC card) or if one desires to have money on it, the ascribing is symbolic, concealed in the identity, because the desired money is also a symbolic replacement for some other value. And in this game of coded answers to the question: What is valuable? Gold, money, status, idea, information… the question is also whether a work of art in Serbia can be a deposit of said value.

Although the works of the Urtica group and French avant-garde artist Marcel Duchamp are divided by a long period of time and different views on the art world, can we still draw some kind of parallel? Duchamp in his time, among other things, also dealt with the analogy between art and gambling (in the work “Monte Carlo Bond,“ 1924), concluding that the strategies of betting in fact pertain to the speculative lottery of art. How does Urtica perceive the relationship between art and gambling, since you use games of chance as a sort of system?

Urtica: Prompted by the constant human desire and search for quick, big and easy gain, we use roulette as an allegory of the social and economic cycle, as a modern match for the medieval concept of Rota Fortunae (Wheel of Fortune). The structure of roulette opens the door to installing a new narrative. In VQ Roulette, instead of money VQ Chips are used, which represent different aspects of the notion of value and suit different industrial sectors, the division of which is inspired by the UN classification of industrial sectors. Every activity, including art, requires resources, strategies and a suitable environment. The players can place chips on one of the numbers, i.e. on the fields with terms related to game theory (i.e. business strategy), such as Fight or Run, Risk or Security. They can invest in resources or place a bet on one of the environment’s dimensions, such as Stability or Capacity. The winning term is determined randomly, with digital roulette. The result of the game affects the placement of industrial sectors presented in the form of a stock exchange report.

How does Value Quest Bourse correspond with the concept of the exhibition that deals with the review of responsibility, i.e. responsibility of artists to the environment as the social, political and personal space they live in?

Urtica: Curators Galit Eilat and Alenka Gregorič put the spotlight of this year’s October Salon on the idea of responsibility, which is also an important point of Value Quest Bourse. The VQ Endless Bond serves as value insurance, because the survival of value depends on the responsibility of the bond carrier and the confidence of other actors in social relations. The extreme economization of value in our society is not a new phenomenon. Surveys conducted during the 1970s and 1980s show that, as far as social values are concerned, the average Yugoslav highly valued Egalitarianism, whereas Freedom and Independence were mainly important to the youth and intellectuals; in the individual plane culture was in the background, while the dominant values were related to material status, such as Enrichment, Good Housing Possibilities and the Possibility of Rapid Climb up the Career Ladder. How are different values created at different levels of human society and what happens when a certain value system disappears, without leaving behind critical mechanisms for reviewing the newly emerging values or pseudo-values?

The game problem was in different ways tackled by many authors - Ludwig Wittgenstein (game philosophy), Johann Heuzinga (game theory), Roger Caillois (game sociology), Marshall McLuhan (game as cultural reflection). How does Urtica take on the game phenomenon?

Urtica: Our artistic methodology is based on data sensibility, a culturological phenomenon of the information age, in terms of sensitivity to information (values) we receive/adopt, i.e. the artistic process in which information is the expressive building matter, and the artistic construct creates the framework for collective input. The core elements of this approach are openness, participation and the game, through which the visitor reflects reality freely and with no fear of repercussions.

One of the aspects of Urtica’s work is educational, in the domain of knowledge production. Can you tell me a little more about the project hoopup.net? What is the relationship between the (neoliberal) institution of art and the production of knowledge? What segments does the work of the Urtica group consist of?

HoopUp is an artistic and educational platform focused on the symbolic communication and social aspect of the artistic message. It was produced in the form of a workshop and collaborative web tool, which enables the scanning of the social environment with artistic means and communication between project participants. It is meant primarily for the younger population and the professional public interested in education and communication in a virtual environment. At this October Salon, we organized a workshop with art history students. The HoopUp project is currently in the making, hence we expect it to be in full swing sometime next year.

Art today is in the position of having to reconquer the space colonized by capital and establish a place for action and reaction there. At the current moment, when we are aware of the presence of culture commodification and the establishing of creative industries as the dominant principle in contemporary culture, one of those privileged places where art should react is, for example, the field of advertising, which is marked by the use of symbolic communication. How does Urtica use symbolic communication?

Urtica: The symbolic is an important aspect of our work and as such is grounded in every creative undertaking. From logos, brands, pictograms, icons, signs and amblems to illustration and allegory. In our work so far, the “symbolic” has gone through the evolutionary cycle in several points; assimilation of reality, construction of narrative, sign objectification, synthetic micro worlds (simulacra) and allegorical representations. In the Value Quest “project” all points are cumulatively present and make up a single artistic “eco” system. We find that symbolic communication is a natural form of communication in the information age, where pieces of information are signals we process or, as mentioned above, our “expressive building matter.” Each individual segment of the exhibition or element of the Internet platform or application is a special signal or group of signals, which in the visual and content sense tell a certain message. The groups of those messages/symbols build a synthetic narrative, where we as the both the creators and participants/visitors are part of an endless participative system.

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Tijana Jovanović Petrović, cultural researcher and journalist at
News Agency BETA.