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Text in progress. Edited by Cinzia Cremona.

Critical Practice

Critical Practice is a cluster of artists, researchers, academics and others, hosted by Chelsea College of Art & Design, London.

Our research and practice revolve around art, and issues of ethics and governance in relation to culture. We explore new models for creative practice, and look to engage those models in appropriate public forums, both nationally and internationally.

We seek to avoid the passive reproduction of art and uncritical cultural production. Our research, projects, exhibitions, publications and funding, our very constitution and administration are legitimate subjects of critical enquiry.

All art is organised, so we are trying to be sensitive to issues of organisation. Governance emerges whenever there is a deliberate organisation of interactions between people. We are striving to be an open organization, and to make all decisions, processes and production accessible and public. We are always in the process of defining our aims and objectives and improving the transparency and accountability of our processes.

All aspects of Critical Practice can be accessed and modified through our wiki: www.criticalpracticechelsea.org


What is cultural about economics? A Market of Ideas

For the Festival of Europe, Critical Practice hosted the inaugural lecture by Bernard Stiegler, and, as part of the two day How to Make Europe Dream; a Cultural Congress, organised a Market of Ideas.

Markets are good at convening and distributing resources. Based on the model of the ancient bazaar, our non-competitive market encouraged the co-production and distribution of knowledge. Critical Practice invited artists, anthropologists, economists and others to activate 'stalls' distributed throughout the grand banqueting hall. This enabled the previously passive congress audience to become a noisy milling crowd, animatedly transacting knowledge and experience. The Market of Ideas challenged the lazy institutionalised model of knowledge transfer - in which amplified 'experts' speak at a passive audience - and offered instead an engaged and distributed peer-to-peer exchange within the Festival of Europe.

The project has its theoretical roots in Bruno Latour’s approach to Actor-Network Theory. According to Latour, connectors are the vehicles that carry the 'truth condition' of association. They are not external binding conditions, but composites of individual behaviour. From this point of view, we imagined economies and culture as connectors, and our market as a composite of composites.

Critical Practice reflected on economic and cultural conditions as layers of association that inform our coming together. Each stall offered an opportunity to sample and interrogate a variety of models of transaction and evaluation.

Mike Reddin's lively Economies of consensus and information invited people to consider ethical ways in which we should, and could "pay for things". Mike offered a choice of five ethical questions to explore, starting with a 'medical dilemma' designed to find out what value we bring to situations of resource-choice. Encouraging participants to ask for further pieces of information, Mike tried to elicit the common ground which people bring to such decision making - or see if they could come to common decisions via very different routes.

In the Waste Proposal Unit, Mike Knowlden invited participants to discuss their habits of food consumption and draw up recipes based on their personal requirements. Mike’s stall addressed the notion of domestic leftovers – food waste – as a void from which both economic and non-economic value might be recovered. In this practice, the recipes became a tool to chart this value, and one outcome of the stall as a means of returning content to the public domain.

Facilitated by Marsha Bradfield with the help of Mary Anne Francis, Kelly Large, Katrine Hjelde and Helena Capkova, the reFREsEments Café provided a place/space for delegates and marketers to sit and chat. Marsha Bradfield and Jem Mackay set out to provide a platform for what Donald Schön calls ‘reflection-in-action.’ The Café was the focal point for Ecoes, a collaborative video project that uses Actor-Network Theory to explore the Market of Ideas as a web of heterogeneous interests. Project facilitators Jem Mackay and Marsha Bradfield circulated through the market, talking to marketers, delegates and visitors about their experience of the event. Critical Practice will collaboratively edit these resources into a research outcome for screening and distribution.

For the Economy of Emotions stall, Cinzia Cremona (with the help of Davina Drummond) offered a thought experiment of sorts, which required to invest in a momentary personal relationship. Asked to select their favourite TV advert, participants were invited to explore the emotions, feelings, needs, desires and ideas it evoked for them. The thought experiment consisted in ‘converting’ these emotions from needs waiting to be fulfilled (passive) into a form of capital for 'you' to invest into productive activities (active).

The Well-being stall was developed with New Economics Foundation – a think-do tank focused on changes in policy and attitudes. Their ‘Happy Planet Index Calculator’ provided the impetus to reflect on personal well-being and to speculate on what the world might look like if well-being was to become a standard of comparison between economies national and personal. Visitors were also invited to test their happiness using a short test devised by Ed Deiner. By extension information on Basic Income was used to introduce the issue of moral responsibility toward basic human need within developed societies.

Katelyn Toth-Fejel took inspiration from the '70s permaculture movement for her Permaculture, Permacouture stall. The permaculture movement was started in Australia to impart holistic systems thinking into agriculture. Katelyn operated a mobile dyeing station using natural techniques and materials to alter available items.

Joe Balfour with economists Federico Campagna and Francesca Papa contributed the very lively Corporation.comm, The perverse pleasure of mixing community and business. The stall proposed to discuss the A B C of a new approach to social economics: the mix of Artists, Business, Communities. This meant connecting the Artists Placement Group's assimilation of ‘socially engaged practice’ by art institutions, with ®TMark and Netart's tactical use of corporation tools enacted by bottom-up communities, and a new perspective in marketing - that a social community can act like an entrepreneur, as in the example of Parkour. The dialogue is continuing at http://www.corporationdotcomm.blogspot.com.

Offering a more traditional interpretation of the link between commercial transaction and exchange of ideas, Robert Dingle invited a professional Barber, to engage customers in meaningful conversation as he shaved them and cut their hair.

Debt was a stall manned by anarchist and anthropologist David Graeber, perhaps best known for his book Towards an Anthropological Theory of Value: The False Coin of Our Own Dreams. For the Market, David evolved a draft 'typology' of some 24, mostly non-commercial social transactions. The typology was used to structure exchanges about the possibility of transactions without incurring debt.

Economics Through Imagery – An Associative Approach. Using pastels and black paper – a conversation takes place. What is ‘an invisible hand’, a ‘national economy’ or a ‘market force’? Arthur Edwards worked with passers-by to explore perceptions of economics derived from the imagery of graphs, words and mantras, and the values inculcated through their repetition. Transactions focused on how the present circumstances of participants can be translated and made visible through the logic of accounting.

Reflecting back onto the Market of Ideas and its effects, the general feeling within Critical Practice is that there was a rough and interesting rub between the Congress and the Market: the Congress seemed to dream Europe via well-rehearsed theoretical assertions about the other in the form of experts, panels and passive audience, whereas the Market embodied a generous, peer-to-peer co-production. The Market was a successful form of practice and could be used for other projects, although the allocated time slot left a sense of frustration both in the activated participants and eager marketeers. Confident in the potential of the non-competitive market format, Critical Practice aims to develop the idea further into an independent event with more attention to the aesthetics of the stalls and more time to transact.


Return to the London Festival of Europe or to the Market of Ideas