20 July 2010

Report: Thom Donovan's "Commoning and Art Practice"

Thom Donovan capped off his visit to the Bay Area with two engaging events on Sunday: a conversation about commoning and art practice followed by a reading with Catherine Meng at 21 Grand.

Thom began the conversation with a number of prompts, asking us to take notes around our understanding of the commons as it relates to art. Using these notes as a starting point, we broadened the conversation to include notions of praxis, legality, the somatic, and resource sharing.

In response to the prompt, I wrote "commons=an unregulated (or deregulated) (non-)site outside economies of ownership in which resources are shared as defined by a collective-social body // art that through its becoming-social makes forms of commodification and ownership inoperative (or tries to through determinate negation). Art that operates precisely as a moving body of thought that, because not owned or sited, evolves with the practice of its participants."

Taylor Brady addressed the contemporary commons in terms of global security, noting that common resources become an issue only when we can't get our arms around them: air space, ground water, etc. He framed the common in terms of two separate models of tragedy: a Sopheclean model in which the commons is sacrificed because it isn't commensurate with the law, and an Aeschylean tragedy in which the commons exceed discourse and as such develop completely different terms of engagement (a justice that exceeds the law / a socius that exceeds the social).

Petra Kuppers warned against the pastoral, utopian model of the commons, reminding us of the term's feudal history (that by its very nature establishes a binary between the rich and the poor), followed by Elliot Anderson discussing a kind of performative resource-sharing.

Thom's own definition privileged the body as a site of commoning (a nice segue into David Woloch's talk next Sunday) in which the shared-social is rooted in atopic ecologies, no places, registered by and through bodies.

As we moved around the table (Beverly Dahlen mentioned practical commoning practices including the rise of community gardens // Kathleen Fraser spoke about Italian commons as sites of pleasure and gossip (that is, the dissemination of often crucial local information through community conversation)) the discussion turned to the complicated dialectic between use and ownership in terms of resource consumption: when does how we use resources trump who owns them?

Thom used this question as an opportunity to address how aesthetic practice can be used to make the "law material." He addressed conceptual art practice and land art from the 60s and 70s as useful models to rethink art's role in challenging legislation around commoning and resource-sharing.

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