To The Reader emerges from the understanding that capitalism is, first and foremost, a social relation that defines our behaviour. The exhibition is grounded in our current historical period. The basis for capitalism as a mode of organization has never been weaker, but paradoxically has seen almost no credible articulations of dissent. Perhaps there have been some fairly weak moral pleas for it to behave more pleasantly, and vague ideas that a return to Fordism and Keynesianism might be a good idea.
In the art world, this has been echoed with a fetishization of the ideals of exodus and withdrawal and, more recently, a turn to the anti-politics of the object. The artists here alternatively opt, as theorist Donna Haraway would put it, to ‘stay with the trouble’. Instead of attempting to objectify capital to produce a critique from a safe ethical distance, the works rather inhabit and map the flows of the supposedly non-ideological system, making visible that which is hidden and complicating that which is presented to us as natural.
A number of densely related themes run through the exhibition. First there is the question of labour, as the place in which capitalism makes itself most apparent to us in our day-to-day lives and through which we are forced to sell our time, to reproduce our material conditions. Long after the faded promise of emancipation through automation we find ourselves subject to work in entirely new and increasingly pervasive ways, as communication technologies have entered the home and our person. Coupled with this, since the 1980s there has been the assumption that private business is more efficient than the state and all public services should be handed over to private firms who in their quest for profit have driven down pay and conditions for workers.
The second theme is the image production that capital produces, as recently noted by John Russell, an artist in the exhibition. ‘Capitalism is not continuous flux, algorithmic automatism, and dematerialized circulation, but instead breakdown, stagflation, crisis, primitive accumulation, violence, and the illusion of growth. It can never perform its own self-image successfully but always falls back on brute power (unnetworked, unambiguous, dumb). It is a system whose strongest production is the production of the image of its own productivity.’
Third, and maybe most important, is the constant pressure to perform oneself and possess an individual sovereignty that is imposed on us through capitalism’s demand for competition and commodification of social bonds leaving it increasingly difficult to collectivize on grounds beyond consumer preference.
The exhibition itself will be a tightly packed constellation of existing, newly commissioned and extended works, thinking through some of the contradictions we find ourselves entangled within. Whilst some of the information and ideas dealt with are necessarily complex, the exhibition will maintain a level of humour, understanding the importance for a certain lightness of touch when dealing with complexity.