[First published in 2016 in Runway Issue 30: ‘Ecologies’]
Everything is jelly now
Air, clouds, us
The jelly is the material out of which the immaterial world is made
and we are moving towards exhaustion[1. Notes by Nefeli Myrodia, edited by Valentina Karga, ‘The gigantic jellyblob: A participatory lecture-performance at Athens Biennial’, November 19, 2015, Market for Immaterial Value http://www.marketforimmaterialvalue.com/the-gigantic-jelly-blob/]
Valentina Karga, 30 Days in the Garden, 2012, courtesy the artist. Image credit: Tessa Zettel.
Valentina Karga began her practice working with rather concrete ecologies—self-sufficient systems by which she could sustain herself as a human body. We first met in 2012 at 30 Days in the Garden, a backyard in one of Berlin’s quieter suburban neighbourhoods where the Greek-born artist had set up a network of experimental devices and scenarios for producing the basic resources and food she needed to live for 30 days, without any waste. These were relatively simple techniques and configurations posed as a counterpoint to the dominant ways of feeding oneself in the city. To supplement a diet of what would otherwise have been mostly tomatoes and greens, visitors were invited to bring edible offerings to trade for the surplus of what she managed to grow. I swapped some crumbling homemade biscuits for a handful of golden potatoes. The project website, Berlin Farm Lab, announced what was desired most on any given day: flour, rice, oil, and tracked her embodied and collected research over the summer and beyond to become a not insubstantial resource of its own.1
Valentina Karga, 30 Days in the Garden, 2012, courtesy the artist. Image credit: Valentina Karga.
Trained as an architect, Valentina was concerned here with building infrastructures of support—self-made, self-managed, not always fully functional, but open to input, improvement and appropriation by others. These were architectures involving objects and spaces but also networks of knowledge and ideas. Some four years later, informed by the pragmatics and precarity of being an ‘unmarketable’ artist in the gentrifying creative capital of Berlin, Valentina’s work has come to address much more directly those immaterial relations and systems of exchange that one needs access to in order to live. On the premise that ‘art cannot be oblivious to its own conditions of creation and exchange’, her current project with partner Pieterjan Grandry, Market for Immaterial Value, is a multilayered platform for investigating the possible role and future(s) of the artist in a world driven by the demands and flows of neoliberal capital, via a collective process of renegotiating ‘value’ and exploring contemporary economics.2 Unwilling to simply buy into the artist-as-entrepreneur mode of staying afloat, but without a backup plan to meet rising rent, Valentina writes of feeling she was somehow inventing a non-existent profession, and so needing to create ‘not only my ‘art’ but all structures around it that could possibly support it and make it work’.[4. Valentina Karga, ‘Art, finance and the perception of value: Angela Viera Cardoso’, Interview posted May 13, 2015, Market for Immaterial Value http://www.marketforimmaterialvalue.com/discussion-1/] Not knowing exactly what those structures might look like, the project set out to create various spaces of conversation framed as research, in partnership with collaborators that include anyone who has attended or participated in one of their events.
My initial encounter with the Market for Immaterial Value came as a guest at a dinner event, ‘Un-quantifying value’, hosted in mid-2015 by The Institute for Endotic Research, a discursive, interdisciplinary initiative from Lorenzo Sandoval based out of his tiny Berlin kitchen. Up for discussion amongst the assembled practitioners and thinkers were alternative ways of valuing non-material artistic labour in the context of affective capitalism. Hacking the finance market, venture capitalism and the prospect of Silicon Valley becoming a studio practice were debated, and though no clear resolution emerged we did share around a very good zucchini pasta and still-warm homemade bread.
As with the earlier projects, Market for Immaterial Value effectively hacks a particular system, trying to understand how its infrastructure works and recreating it on a small, DIY scale. This becomes a way to both offer a critical perspective on that system and gain a degree of empowerment or autonomy from it, whether producing your own food or your own speculative investment scheme. Given the financialisation of everything under a capitalist economics which no longer emphasises the production of goods and services but of speculative economic growth, and where money seems to weirdly ‘mis-measure and misrepresent everything’,[5. Max Haiven, ‘ Art and money: three aesthetic strategies in an age of financialisation’, Finance and Society 2015 1(1), pp. 38–60] it makes sense that the financial market and its relationship to art production (and to social relations in general) has become the new focus of intervention practices such as Valentina’s. The project was initiated in 2015 with funding from the Vilém Flusser Residency Programme for Artistic Research, part of Berlin’s transmediale festival for art and digital culture, and the question of how it might sustain itself (and the artists behind it) into the future without external funding is here shifted from its customary position in the shadowy background to being instead core content.
Valentina Karga & Pieterjan Grandry, Market for Immaterial Value, 2015 – ongoing, courtesy the artist. Image credit. Sumugan Sivanesan.
One of the Market’s outputs has been the development of a prototype financial instrument for capturing value generated by the artist but too often accrued elsewhere within (and outside) the art world. Valentina and Pieter Invest in Themselves is a specially minted gold coin whose value is determined by equities sold to an expanding group of public investors, who then collectively own the work. Envisaged as a kind of pension platform for the artists and their small-time investors, its central commodity is not subject to the speculative fluctuations of the art market but steadily rising in value as new investors join. As Haiven points out in an interview on the project’s website, the proposition manages to reduce risk as a ‘self-defensive manoeuvre’ within the current market model, allowing cultural producers to ‘regain some of the means of social reproduction’, but doesn’t necessarily generate new socialities or subjectivities based on economies or forms of exchange outside capitalism.3 For Valentina this can at least be read as a negative effect creating friction, which itself is a commons.
Valentina Karga & Pieterjan Grandry, Market for Immaterial Value, 2015 – ongoing, courtesy the artist. Image credit: Valentina Karga.
Other arms of their research include a series of podcast interviews with economists, theorists, designers and artists, interrogating how hegemonic economies and finance markets work, and can be worked around; in one, Ben Vickers of the unMonastery talks about his efforts to establish an autonomous secular-monastic community posing as a tech start-up, in another Jan Ritsema calls for a giant collective bank account and a new culture of unmeasured sharing. There is a cheerful/cynical T-shirt range: ‘Debt is Fiction’, and a participatory lecture-performance, The Gigantic Jellyblob, which had its first outing at the 2015 Athens Biennial and resurfaced at transmediale in Berlin earlier this year. The Jellyblob is a tool for opening out discussions to a wider audience who actively shapes the work, by which the market becomes ‘a space for communication, togetherness and embodiment of ideas, that transform through a performative process’. Fiction and metaphor are used to make a form out of discourse that reflects on ‘the current imagination about value(s)’, with each participant contributing a specific role to a collaborative lecture where ‘the jelly’ stands in for ‘(financial) capitalism’.[7. ‘The gigantic jellyblob: A participatory lecture-performance at Athens Biennial’, November 19, 2015, Market for Immaterial Value http://www.marketforimmaterialvalue.com/the-gigantic-jelly-blob/]
Valentina Karga, The gigantic jellyblob: A participatory lecture-performance at Athens Biennial, 2015, courtesy the artist. Image credit: Natalia Avlona.
Back more firmly in the material realm, Valentina and Pieter are also co-founders of Collective Disaster, conceived as an amorphous collective able to adapt its shape and constituents according to project, resources and site. Incorporating a handful of artists, architects and designers across Berlin and Brussels, the team have produced a public composting toilet and performance stage, The Temple of Holy Shit, and are now working on a bath heated by a giant compost heap, Miracle Mountain. Amidst the exhaustion of defending from the ever-encroaching jelly a viable framework for a critical practice between fiction and reality, it is something of a miracle that Valentina can still declare, ‘it feels like one can change institutions and structures of the real world on the pretext of making an artwork. Isn’t that amazing?’ Not everything has been surrendered to the jelly just yet.
Valentina Karga, The gigantic jellyblob: A participatory lecture-performance at Athens Biennial, 2015, courtesy the artist. Image credit: Avye Alexandres.
– Tessa Zettel, 2016
- http://berlinfarmlab.tumblr.com/ ↩
- http://www.marketforimmaterialvalue.com/about/ ↩
- ‘Speculating on our own futures: Max Haiven’ Interview posted June 15, 2015, Market for Immaterial Value http://www.marketforimmaterialvalue.com/speculating-on-our-own-futures/ ↩