Market Cafe

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What follows is Marsha's proposal. While the café part overlapped with Mary Anne's revised proposal reFREshE?ments, the doc-you-mentary on memes in at The Market has now morphed into a collaborative editing project with Jem Mackay called Ecoes.

“What’s cultural about economics?” To explore this question at the Festival of Europe, Critical Practice is organizing The Market of Ideas, a flea market/trade fair/swap meet composed of conceptually and aesthetically diverse stalls-cum-spectacles. As my contribution to this cornucopia of micro-macro-mental-material economies

I will facilitate a project involving two stalls. The first is a café, a physical site for conversation and refreshment at The Market. The second involves interviews as discursive sites of both expression and performance during the preparation, realization and reflection on this event.

These dialogic engagements will together explore The Market as an oral economy. Fascinated by the condensation of information into ideas, I aim to use the café and the interviews to trace in particular the emergence and movement of memes in the discourse around “FoE,” the acronym used by Critical Practice to designate the group’s contribution to the Festival of Europe.

What kinds of memes take shape through FoE as a multifarious economy? How do these units of cultural information shift and change as The Market is organized and facilitated? How do they insinuate themselves into the small talk, decision making, public relations, analysis, etc. of the event? What might the absence and presence of certain memes indicate about the culture of this economy as an example of “economic culture” in general? These questions will be addressed through the two-part, practice-led research project Ecoes (working title), which is developing as follows:

Part/Stall A: Café in The Market of Ideas.

(Working) Description: An architectural space/place comprised of tables and chairs (think “school tea” with tablecloths, china cups and paper serviettes), possibly located in the centre of The Market. One of these tables will host refreshments (in all likelihood a combination of soup and baked goods, coffee and tea). Free to all market participants, this food and drink will either be paid for by Festival of Europe organizers or will be sourced through Beyond the Free Market. Or it may involve contributions from both groups. (Discussion with Trevor Giles and Mary Anne Francis about this to follow.)

(Tentative) Purpose: The purpose of this short-term, site-specific aspect of Ecoes is four-fold:

1. Practical: To provide a space/place for members of “the milling crowd” to sit and refresh themselves in The Market.

2. Experimental: To provide a platform for what Donald Schön calls “reflection-in-action.” In this context, reflection-in-action involves discussing The Market while participants actively engage with this scene. On site interlocutors (or “plants”) will encourage this process by chatting to participants about their transactions.

3. Strategic: To provide a hub for the more formal/recorded interview component of this project (Part B). In addition to monitoring the refreshment table and general interaction in the café, I will circulate throughout The Market as a “roving journalist,” a role further elaborated below.

4. Critical: To interrogate the “café-qua-artwork” as standard fare in biennial culture. Still very much emergent, this part of the project critiques both Nicolas Borriaud’s “relational aesthetics” and the “participatory turn” (including Web 2.0 technologies and other forms of so-called “interactive” culture) as meaningful economies for intersubjective exchange. Assessing participation (as a form of social transaction) at the intersection of High Art and popular culture is part of the discursive, aesthetic, conceptual and cultural economies producing this project. (More on this to big claim in future iterations of this proposal or process/progress notes).

Part/Stall B: Video “doc-you-mentary” of memes in/around/evolving out of The Market of Ideas

(Working) Description: A video trace of The Market of Ideas exploring in particular the memes in circulation at/around/through the project. Acting as a roving journalist, I will interview participants about their transactions at FoE. I will then work with other stallholders and/or market participants to edit these interviews into an interpretive record of the event. In addition to being a self-contained “document,” this video may also be fragmented, with bits (clips, stills, etc.) appearing on the website or elsewhere in the public domain.

(Tentative) Purposes: The purpose of this longer-term, discursive aspect of Ecoes is three-fold:

1. Practical/critical: To generate a “research outcome” that simultaneously critiques and fulfills this obligatory practice of institutionally funded research culture (Critical Practice is funded by Chelsea College of Art and Design [see Trevor Giles’ contribution to Talk:FoEmarket about research outputs].)

2. Experimental/historical: To create a discursive and experimental video record (trace) of dialogue around and about The Market of Ideas as an alternative to a concluding roundtable discussion. Instead of resolving perceptual differences of the event (as normative roundtables are wont to do), this dialogic doc-you-mentary will attempt to preserve tensions among the perspectives expressed by stall “owners,” members of “the milling crowd,” and/or other interlocutors. (I will ask Critical Practice members Jem Mackay and Andrew Cheshire to consult on the video component of Ecoes.)

3. Practice-based research: To explore how discourse about The Market and in The Market in turn frames The Market as both a Critical Practice project and public event. This connects to Michel Callon’s study of the performative aspects of economics. His thesis: that economics not only describes markets but also effectively/affectively shapes them through this description. Consider, for example, how the economic metaphors used by the FoE working group in discussions about The Market (among them, “transaction” and “exchange”) might become prisms through which this project is experienced.

Ecoes is a collaborative project and I am seeking partners for these stalls. Kindly email me at if you have any questions, comments or concerns about this artwork—and most especially if you would like to collaborate on this practice-led research.

Marsha, February 27, 2008

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