LAUREL PTAK


Based in NYC. Working across curatorial, artistic &
pedagogical boundaries with attention to the social,
political contours of art, technology & everyday life.


Part-Time Faculty, The New School
Co-Editor, Undoing Property?
Director, Triangle NYC


Upcoming, Recently

July 30——Visiting critic at New York Art Residency & Studios Foundation in NYC

July 16——Visiting critic at Abrons Art Center AIRspace
Residency Program in NYC

June 7——Curating & Contemporary Art discussion at Hampshire
College
in Amherst

June 3——In conversation with McKenzie Wark on art, labor and
social media at Eyebeam in NYC

May 17——Pedagogy Group Teacher's Lounge at Open Engagement
in NYC

May 1——"Art in the Age of the Norwegian Semi-Social-
Democratic-Post-Welfare State" for The Exhibitionist

Past
In January 2014 I was appointed Director of Triangle Arts Association in Brooklyn, a more than 30-year-old artist residency program with a fascinating history that is embedded within an international network of arts organizations around the world. At the moment I’m at hard at work transforming Triangle into a completely revitalized institution——one that actively rethinks the site of artistic production and wonders what an artist residency can be in the year 2014. A brand new institutional identity and website are currently in the works as well as several exciting new programs that will be announced publicly very soon. In the meantime have a peek at what our studios and office look like here.

Image: Triangle staff at our newly revamped office just adjacent to our artist studios at 20 Jay Street in Brooklyn, May 2014

In January 2014 I was appointed Director of Triangle Arts Association in Brooklyn, a more than 30-year-old artist residency program with a fascinating history that is embedded within an international network of arts organizations around the world. At the moment I’m at hard at work transforming Triangle into a completely revitalized institution——one that actively rethinks the site of artistic production and wonders what an artist residency can be in the year 2014. A brand new institutional identity and website are currently in the works as well as several exciting new programs that will be announced publicly very soon. In the meantime have a peek at what our studios and office look like here.



Image: Triangle staff at our newly revamped office just adjacent to our artist studios at 20 Jay Street in Brooklyn, May 2014

In February together with Siân Evans, Dorothy Howard, Jacqueline Mabey and Michael Mandiberg, I co-organized an all-day communal updating of Wikipedia entries on subjects related to contemporary art and feminism at Eyebeam. The day was complete with tutorials for the beginner Wikipedian, reference materials and childcare. The Art + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-A-Thon brought together over 600 participants and resulted in more than 100 new Wikipedia articles, with over 30 satellite edit-a-thons joining us in solidarity, including:
Adelaide—Flinders University
Amsterdam—De Appel
Austin—School of Information at the University of Texas
Boston—W. Van Alan Clark, Jr. Library at The Museum School
Brooklyn—Parmer
Brooklyn—Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum 
Calgary—Luke Lindoe Library at the Alberta College of Art and Design
Chicago—Flaxman Library at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Dundee—Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design
East Lansing—Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University
Florence—Advancing Women Artists Foundation
Halifax—NSCAD Library at Nova Scotia College of Art and Design
Iowa City—University of Iowa Center for the Book
Kingston—Women’s Studio Workshop
Los Angeles—The Public School
London—School of Art and Design at Middlesex University
Madison—School of Library Studies at University of Wisconsin
Montreal—Eastern Block
Philadelphia—Greenfield Library at the University of the Arts
Portland—Portland State University 
Purchase—State University of New York at Purchase
San Francisco—CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts
Seattle—Seattle Attic Community Workshop
Toronto—Art Metropole
Washington D.C.—National Museum of Women in the Arts
Wikipedia’s gender trouble is well documented. In a 2010 survey it was revealed that less than 13% of its contributors identify as female. The reasons for the gender gap are up for debate: suggestions include leisure inequality, how gender socialization shapes public behavior, and the contentious nature of exchanges between Wikipedia editors. However, the practical effect of this disparity is clear——with more articles on notable women missing when compared to Encyclopaedia Britannica——Wikipedia is clearly skewed. This represents a huge inequality in an increasingly important repository of shared knowledge.
More details here and here. Some press here, here and here.

In February together with Siân Evans, Dorothy Howard, Jacqueline Mabey and Michael Mandiberg, I co-organized an all-day communal updating of Wikipedia entries on subjects related to contemporary art and feminism at Eyebeam. The day was complete with tutorials for the beginner Wikipedian, reference materials and childcare. The Art + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-A-Thon brought together over 600 participants and resulted in more than 100 new Wikipedia articles, with over 30 satellite edit-a-thons joining us in solidarity, including:


Adelaide—Flinders University

Amsterdam—De Appel

Austin—School of Information at the University of Texas

Boston—W. Van Alan Clark, Jr. Library at The Museum School

Brooklyn—Parmer

Brooklyn—Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum

Calgary—Luke Lindoe Library at the Alberta College of Art and Design

ChicagoFlaxman Library at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago

Dundee—Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design

East Lansing—Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University

Florence—Advancing Women Artists Foundation

Halifax—NSCAD Library at Nova Scotia College of Art and Design

Iowa City—University of Iowa Center for the Book

Kingston—Women’s Studio Workshop

Los Angeles—The Public School

London—School of Art and Design at Middlesex University

Madison—School of Library Studies at University of Wisconsin

Montreal—Eastern Block

Philadelphia—Greenfield Library at the University of the Arts

Portland—Portland State University

Purchase—State University of New York at Purchase

San Francisco—CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts

Seattle—Seattle Attic Community Workshop

Toronto—Art Metropole

Washington D.C.—National Museum of Women in the Arts


Wikipedia’s gender trouble is well documented. In a 2010 survey it was revealed that less than 13% of its contributors identify as female. The reasons for the gender gap are up for debate: suggestions include leisure inequality, how gender socialization shapes public behavior, and the contentious nature of exchanges between Wikipedia editors. However, the practical effect of this disparity is clear——with more articles on notable women missing when compared to Encyclopaedia Britannica——Wikipedia is clearly skewed. This represents a huge inequality in an increasingly important repository of shared knowledge.


More details here and here. Some press here, here and here.

Wages For Facebook draws upon ideas from a 1970s international feminist campaign to think through relationships of capitalism, class and affective labor at stake within social media today. In the 70s Wages For Housework demanded that the state pay women for their unwaged housework and caregiving, as the market economy was built upon massive amounts of this unacknowledged work——and its laborers could be seen to constitute a huge working class entirely overlooked by existing Marxist or socialist critiques. Wages for Housework built upon discourse from the anticolonial movement in order to extend the analysis of unwaged labor from the factory to the home. Along these lines Wages For Facebook attempts to draw upon feminist discourse to extend the discussion of unwaged labor to new forms of value creation and exploitation online.
In 2012 Facebook reached more than 1 billion users and generated a revenue of 5.1 billion dollars. It is the first social-media website to be traded on the stock exchange wherein all content on its site is created by its users. Is what we do on Facebook work? How would we calculate our value? What could an alternate form of social media, based on an idea of the commons or a feminist praxis, look like?
When it launched in January 2014 wagesforfacebook.com was graced with over 20,000 views and rapidly and internationally debated on Facebook, Twitter and in the press——clearly touching a collective nerve and beginning a broader public conversation about worker’s rights and the very nature of labor, as well as the politics of its refusal, in our digital age.
Wages For Facebook has included public lectures, discussion-based workshops and installations, so far as part of:
The Photographic Universe conference, organized by artist Arthur Ou, The New School, New York, April 2013
Core Studio course taught by a Huong Ngo & Audra Wolowiec at Parsons, New York, April 2013
Visions of The Now festival for art and technology, organized by artist Anna Lundh, Stockholm, May 2013
Facebook borde betala oss! Eller? article on Wages For Facebook by Håkan Lindgren in Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet, June 2013
Stop Work at Eyebeam, New York, August 2013
Key Lecture at The Photographers’ Gallery, organized by artist/writer/curator Katrina Sluis, London, September 2013
And How Are We Feeling Today? exhibition and workshop curated by Michelle Hyun at the University Art Gallery at the University of California San Diego, January-February 2014Media Lounge organized by artist Jenny Marketou at the College Art Association conference, Chicago, February 2014
Kadist Art Foundation talk and workshop curated by Christina Linden, San Francisco, March 2014
Wages For Facebook article by E. Alex Jung in Dissent, April 2014
Women In Art And Technology installation at A.I.R. Gallery (all female art cooperative since 1972) curated by artist Amelia Marzec, New York, July 2014
FALSEWORK exhibition and workshop curated by Christine Shaw at the University of Toronto Blackwood Gallery, Ontario Canada, September–December 2014
They say it’s friendship. We say it’s unwaged work. With every like, chat, tag or poke our subjectivity turns them a profit. They call it sharing. We call it stealing. We’ve been bound by their terms of service far too long——it’s time for our terms…
Image: Wages For Facebook campaign materials, posters designed by Eric Nylund, fist logo on pins created by artist Anna Lundh

Wages For Facebook draws upon ideas from a 1970s international feminist campaign to think through relationships of capitalism, class and affective labor at stake within social media today. In the 70s Wages For Housework demanded that the state pay women for their unwaged housework and caregiving, as the market economy was built upon massive amounts of this unacknowledged work——and its laborers could be seen to constitute a huge working class entirely overlooked by existing Marxist or socialist critiques. Wages for Housework built upon discourse from the anticolonial movement in order to extend the analysis of unwaged labor from the factory to the home. Along these lines Wages For Facebook attempts to draw upon feminist discourse to extend the discussion of unwaged labor to new forms of value creation and exploitation online.


In 2012 Facebook reached more than 1 billion users and generated a revenue of 5.1 billion dollars. It is the first social-media website to be traded on the stock exchange wherein all content on its site is created by its users. Is what we do on Facebook work? How would we calculate our value? What could an alternate form of social media, based on an idea of the commons or a feminist praxis, look like?


When it launched in January 2014 wagesforfacebook.com was graced with over 20,000 views and rapidly and internationally debated on Facebook, Twitter and in the press——clearly touching a collective nerve and beginning a broader public conversation about worker’s rights and the very nature of labor, as well as the politics of its refusal, in our digital age.


Wages For Facebook has included public lectures, discussion-based workshops and installations, so far as part of:


The Photographic Universe conference, organized by artist Arthur Ou, The New School, New York, April 2013


Core Studio course taught by a Huong Ngo & Audra Wolowiec at Parsons, New York, April 2013


Visions of The Now festival for art and technology, organized by artist Anna Lundh, Stockholm, May 2013


Facebook borde betala oss! Eller? article on Wages For Facebook by Håkan Lindgren in Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet, June 2013


Stop Work at Eyebeam, New York, August 2013


Key Lecture at The Photographers’ Gallery, organized by artist/writer/curator Katrina Sluis, London, September 2013


And How Are We Feeling Today? exhibition and workshop curated by Michelle Hyun at the University Art Gallery at the University of California San Diego, January-February 2014

Media Lounge organized by artist Jenny Marketou at the College Art Association conference, Chicago, February 2014


Kadist Art Foundation talk and workshop curated by Christina Linden, San Francisco, March 2014


Wages For Facebook article by E. Alex Jung in Dissent, April 2014


Women In Art And Technology installation at A.I.R. Gallery (all female art cooperative since 1972) curated by artist Amelia Marzec, New York, July 2014


FALSEWORK exhibition and workshop curated by Christine Shaw at the University of Toronto Blackwood Gallery, Ontario Canada, September–December 2014


They say it’s friendship. We say it’s unwaged work. With every like, chat, tag or poke our subjectivity turns them a profit. They call it sharing. We call it stealing. We’ve been bound by their terms of service far too long——it’s time for our terms…


Image: Wages For Facebook campaign materials, posters designed by Eric Nylund, fist logo on pins created by artist Anna Lundh

Undoing Property? reading groups, talks & workshops bring together audiences and the book’s editors and contributors for focused discussion of its texts and themes, taking place in various cities in fall 2013:
September 17 reading group at The Showroom in London with Marysia Lewandowska, Laurel Ptak, Kuba Szreder and Marina Vishmidt
 September 21 talk at the Miss Read art book fair in Berlin hosted by Sternberg Press with Antonia Hirsch, Matteo Pasquinelli, Laurel Ptak and Florian Schneider September 25 reading group at  Tensta Konsthall in Stockholm with Rasmus Fleischer, Marysia Lewandowska, Mattin and Laurel Ptak
October 21 reading group with City College Digital & Interdisciplinary Art Practice MFA students in NYC led by Laurel Ptak
November 30 workshop at  Casco——Office for Art Design and Theory in Utrecht with Marysia Lewandowska and Laurel Ptak
Image: Undoing Property? working groups discuss editorial and distribution questions at Casco in Utrecht
 

Undoing Property? reading groups, talks & workshops bring together audiences and the book’s editors and contributors for focused discussion of its texts and themes, taking place in various cities in fall 2013:


September 17 reading group at The Showroom in London with Marysia Lewandowska, Laurel Ptak, Kuba Szreder and Marina Vishmidt


September 21 talk at the Miss Read art book fair in Berlin hosted by Sternberg Press with Antonia Hirsch, Matteo Pasquinelli, Laurel Ptak and Florian Schneider

September 25 reading group at Tensta Konsthall in Stockholm with Rasmus Fleischer, Marysia Lewandowska, Mattin and Laurel Ptak


October 21 reading group with City College Digital & Interdisciplinary Art Practice MFA students in NYC led by Laurel Ptak


November 30 workshop at Casco——Office for Art Design and Theory in Utrecht with Marysia Lewandowska and Laurel Ptak


Image: Undoing Property? working groups discuss editorial and distribution questions at Casco in Utrecht

 

As part of a collective effort led by Arts & Labor Alternative Economies Group worked on organizing What Do We Do Now?, a two day ‘Alternatives Fair’ filled with workshops, skill-shares, discussions, info tables and much more on October 18 and 19 at Eyebeam.
The event offers direct access to and dialogue around existing resources in NYC that provide alternative economic models for artists, art workers, and more based on practices of mutual aid and cooperation. Covering everything from education to technology to alternative media, worker cooperatives, time banks, healthcare, immigrant rights, youth & teen at-risk art programs, legal advocacy, housing, artists’ services and much more.
Participants: All in the Red, Art Production Coop, Arts & Labor, The Base, Beyond Childcare Coop, Books Thru Bars NYC, Claiborne McDonald, Center for Urban Pedagogy, Deep Dish TV, Democracy Now, Fair Pay Music, Fixers Collective NYC, Flatbush Mutual Aid, Flux Factory, Fractured Atlas, Free Cooper Union, freeDimensional, Hibridos Collective, The Illuminator, Intern Labor Rights, I Ran into Iran, Lanchonete, Making Worlds, Mayfirst/PeopleLink, MetaLocal, Mexicali Rose, Mutual Aid NYC, Neter, NYC Anti-Eviction Network, Nsumi Collective, OurGoods, OWS Screen Printers Guild, Paper Tiger Television, The Pedagogy Group, The Public School, Radix Media, REV-, Tech-Ops, TimeBanksNYC, Times Up, Trade School, Trust Art, US Federation of Worker Cooperatives, Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts, W.A.G.E. and more.
Plus celebrate the launch of What Do We Do Now? Arts & Labor’s updated 2013–14 Alternative Economies Resource Guide To Living in New York City.
Full details here and here. Held in tandem with the Performing Change panel series organized by Paolo Cirio.

As part of a collective effort led by Arts & Labor Alternative Economies Group worked on organizing What Do We Do Now?, a two day ‘Alternatives Fair’ filled with workshops, skill-shares, discussions, info tables and much more on October 18 and 19 at Eyebeam.


The event offers direct access to and dialogue around existing resources in NYC that provide alternative economic models for artists, art workers, and more based on practices of mutual aid and cooperation. Covering everything from education to technology to alternative media, worker cooperatives, time banks, healthcare, immigrant rights, youth & teen at-risk art programs, legal advocacy, housing, artists’ services and much more.


Participants: All in the Red, Art Production Coop, Arts & Labor, The Base, Beyond Childcare Coop, Books Thru Bars NYC, Claiborne McDonald, Center for Urban Pedagogy, Deep Dish TV, Democracy Now, Fair Pay Music, Fixers Collective NYC, Flatbush Mutual Aid, Flux Factory, Fractured Atlas, Free Cooper Union, freeDimensional, Hibridos Collective, The Illuminator, Intern Labor Rights, I Ran into Iran, Lanchonete, Making Worlds, Mayfirst/PeopleLink, MetaLocal, Mexicali Rose, Mutual Aid NYC, Neter, NYC Anti-Eviction Network, Nsumi Collective, OurGoods, OWS Screen Printers Guild, Paper Tiger Television, The Pedagogy Group, The Public School, Radix Media, REV-, Tech-Ops, TimeBanksNYC, Times Up, Trade School, Trust Art, US Federation of Worker Cooperatives, Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts, W.A.G.E. and more.


Plus celebrate the launch of What Do We Do Now? Arts & Labor’s updated 2013–14 Alternative Economies Resource Guide To Living in New York City.


Full details here and here. Held in tandem with the Performing Change panel series organized by Paolo Cirio.

Undoing Property? edited by Marysia Lewandowska and Laurel Ptak. Published by Sternberg Press and Tensta Konsthall, June 2013. With contributions by: Agency, David Berry, Nils Bohlin, Sean Dockray, Rasmus Fleischer, Antonia Hirsch, David Horvitz, Mattin, Open Music Archive, Matteo Pasquinelli, Claire Pentecost, Florian Schneider, Matthew Stadler, Marilyn Strathern, Kuba Szreder, Marina Vishmidt. Preface by Binna Choi, Maria Lind, Emily Pethick. Design by Konst & Teknik.
You can download the book here or buy a copy here.
Undoing Property? examines complex relationships inside art, culture, political economy, immaterial production, and the public realm today. In its pages artists and theorists address aspects of computing, curating, economy, ecology, gentrification, music, publishing, piracy, and much more. Property shapes all social relations. Its invisible lines force separations and create power relations felt through the unequal distribution of what is otherwise collectively produced value. Over the last few years the precise question of what should be privately owned and publicly shared in society has animated intense political struggles and social movements around the world. In this shadow the publication’s critical texts, interviews and artistic interventions offer models of practice and interrogate diverse sites, from the body, to the courtroom, to the server, to the museum. The book asks why propertization itself has changed so fundamentally over the last few decades and what might be done to challenge it. The undoing in Undoing Property? begins with the recognition that something else is possible.
Image: Undoing Property? on my desk

Undoing Property? edited by Marysia Lewandowska and Laurel Ptak. Published by Sternberg Press and Tensta Konsthall, June 2013. With contributions by: Agency, David Berry, Nils Bohlin, Sean Dockray, Rasmus Fleischer, Antonia Hirsch, David Horvitz, Mattin, Open Music Archive, Matteo Pasquinelli, Claire Pentecost, Florian Schneider, Matthew Stadler, Marilyn Strathern, Kuba Szreder, Marina Vishmidt. Preface by Binna Choi, Maria Lind, Emily Pethick. Design by Konst & Teknik.


You can download the book here or buy a copy here.


Undoing Property? examines complex relationships inside art, culture, political economy, immaterial production, and the public realm today. In its pages artists and theorists address aspects of computing, curating, economy, ecology, gentrification, music, publishing, piracy, and much more. Property shapes all social relations. Its invisible lines force separations and create power relations felt through the unequal distribution of what is otherwise collectively produced value. Over the last few years the precise question of what should be privately owned and publicly shared in society has animated intense political struggles and social movements around the world. In this shadow the publication’s critical texts, interviews and artistic interventions offer models of practice and interrogate diverse sites, from the body, to the courtroom, to the server, to the museum. The book asks why propertization itself has changed so fundamentally over the last few decades and what might be done to challenge it. The undoing in Undoing Property? begins with the recognition that something else is possible.


Image: Undoing Property? on my desk


To Have And To Owe is a research platform focused on debt and the social relations it engenders. This is a project in collaboration with Leigh Claire La Berge whose academic work examines cultural representations of finance. With an exhibition and series of events at the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts from September 21-October 27, 2012 the project seeks to widen discussion on topics like debt as discipline, equitable and inequitable redistributions of wealth, money as a social medium, banking crises, debt peonage, credit worthiness, collectivizing debt, philanthropy as debt in reverse, and debtor strikes among numerous other subjects related to credit card, healthcare, student and mortgage debt as well as the national debt and indebtedness of nations to one another.
Of particular interest is the way in which debt has been inscribed as a fundamental mechanism of power, force and subjugation in contemporary society. While debt is front and center as an issue in both politics and our personal lives, the basis of its control seems directly related to the fact that it is experienced opaquely. Debt exists simultaneously as an absence and a form of presence. And though debt is socially enforced it is almost always individually experienced with this fundamental tension rendering it difficult to represent collectively. So what happens if we work towards undoing debt’s unrepresentabilty? What if we experienced debt as a shared cultural form that is perceptible, communicable or materializable? How can debt be rendered as a nuanced historical, philosophical and even aesthetic problem in all of its social thickness inside American life?
Inside this framework, a range of artists, theorists, designers and others will offer lectures, performances, workshops, infographics, discussions, quilting sessions and visualizations, exploring the subject of debt and opening up a space in which its aesthetic and social dimensions may be considered as part of its economic register. All events are free and open to the public. 
Artist Cassie Thornton leads the audience to engage with debt’s physical representation, activating it as a malleable substance that might change through collective re-evaluation. OWS working group Arts & Labor hosts an open discussion and collaborative quilting session to address how debt functions in the art world. Theorist Richard Dienst considers the social worlds created by debt and looks at indebtedness as a social, economic and political bond as explored in his recent book The Bonds of Debt: Borrowing Against the Common Good (Verso, 2011). Media artist Fran Ilich hosts a meeting of the Diego de la Vega Experimental Economics and Finance Research Group, discussing debt as an instrument used historically to organize society, considering topics like money as abstraction, sovereign debt, ecological debt, and neocolonialism. Theorists Leigh Claire La Berge and Annie McClanahan share their respective work on cultural representations of debt, from the language and metaphors of finance to photographic depictions of foreclosure.  In a workshop about the theory and practice of barter, artist Caroline Woolard will demonstrate the power of relationships based on mutual credit (not mutual debt) while performing a ritual of erasing money. NYU Professor of Art and Public Policy and Director of the Graduate Program in Arts Politics, Randy Martin will lecture on the cultural logics of financialization, unpacking what a derivative is and explaining why it matters to the production and circulation of art. Curator Laurel Ptak hosts a weekly reading group discussing David Graeber’s Debt: The First 5,000 Years (Melville House, 2011) and Maurizio Lazzarato’s The Making of the Indebted Man: An Essay on the Neoliberal Condition (Semiotext(e), 2012). An installation of infographics by designers Brendan Griffiths, Zak Klauck, and Mylinh Trieu Nguyen provide alternative models to mapping and realizing economic knowledge. And in collaboration with Occupy University’s fall exploration of debt, To Have And To Owe, will provide space for educational activities that the university will organize including teach-ins by George Caffentzis, Yakes McKee, Nicholas Mirzoeff, Andrew Ross and others. 
Over the past thirty years, the United States’ economy has changed profoundly. Some political economists and historians date this to the early 1970s and the suspension of the convertibility of the United States Dollar for gold——a moment that marks what many social and cultural theorists have referred to as the “dematerialization of money.” Others date it a bit later, to Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker’s decision in 1979 to “break unions and empty factories” by unleashing rising interest rates and unleashing a tremendous recession in the U.S. that has come to be known as the “Volcker shock.” Nearly all observers agree, in the words of Giovanni Arrighi, that “something fundamental has changed about the way capitalism works,” many have argued that the increased presence, indeed, the leading presence, of the financial industry is the central cause.
As finance’s role has increased in the American economy, banks’ presence has increased in the lives of many Americans. With real wages stagnant since the late-1970s, daily social reproduction has become for many funded by private bank debt: student debt, consumer debt, mortgage debt, second-mortgage debt, and so on. While being in debt as old as human civilization itself, the structure of that indebtedness has changed. Today, credit card and student loan debt account for trillions of dollars of wealth——and although many people are in debt, it is much less clear that they have the ability to pay it off——ever. Rather, many of us live in a state of constant deferral, a relationship to an uncertain future when our debts will come due and the collection agencies will begin calling. To be in debt is to have one’s future tied in with another and in the contemporary American case that other is probably a bank. One used to be condemned for lending with excess interest; now it seems it is the debtor who must pay her or his “debt to society”.
More info here and here and here.
Image: opening performance by Cassie Thornton at Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts Project Space, 2012

To Have And To Owe is a research platform focused on debt and the social relations it engenders. This is a project in collaboration with Leigh Claire La Berge whose academic work examines cultural representations of finance. With an exhibition and series of events at the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts from September 21-October 27, 2012 the project seeks to widen discussion on topics like debt as discipline, equitable and inequitable redistributions of wealth, money as a social medium, banking crises, debt peonage, credit worthiness, collectivizing debt, philanthropy as debt in reverse, and debtor strikes among numerous other subjects related to credit card, healthcare, student and mortgage debt as well as the national debt and indebtedness of nations to one another.


Of particular interest is the way in which debt has been inscribed as a fundamental mechanism of power, force and subjugation in contemporary society. While debt is front and center as an issue in both politics and our personal lives, the basis of its control seems directly related to the fact that it is experienced opaquely. Debt exists simultaneously as an absence and a form of presence. And though debt is socially enforced it is almost always individually experienced with this fundamental tension rendering it difficult to represent collectively. So what happens if we work towards undoing debt’s unrepresentabilty? What if we experienced debt as a shared cultural form that is perceptible, communicable or materializable? How can debt be rendered as a nuanced historical, philosophical and even aesthetic problem in all of its social thickness inside American life?


Inside this framework, a range of artists, theorists, designers and others will offer lectures, performances, workshops, infographics, discussions, quilting sessions and visualizations, exploring the subject of debt and opening up a space in which its aesthetic and social dimensions may be considered as part of its economic register. All events are free and open to the public.


Artist Cassie Thornton leads the audience to engage with debt’s physical representation, activating it as a malleable substance that might change through collective re-evaluation. OWS working group Arts & Labor hosts an open discussion and collaborative quilting session to address how debt functions in the art world. Theorist Richard Dienst considers the social worlds created by debt and looks at indebtedness as a social, economic and political bond as explored in his recent book The Bonds of Debt: Borrowing Against the Common Good (Verso, 2011). Media artist Fran Ilich hosts a meeting of the Diego de la Vega Experimental Economics and Finance Research Group, discussing debt as an instrument used historically to organize society, considering topics like money as abstraction, sovereign debt, ecological debt, and neocolonialism. Theorists Leigh Claire La Berge and Annie McClanahan share their respective work on cultural representations of debt, from the language and metaphors of finance to photographic depictions of foreclosure. In a workshop about the theory and practice of barter, artist Caroline Woolard will demonstrate the power of relationships based on mutual credit (not mutual debt) while performing a ritual of erasing money. NYU Professor of Art and Public Policy and Director of the Graduate Program in Arts Politics, Randy Martin will lecture on the cultural logics of financialization, unpacking what a derivative is and explaining why it matters to the production and circulation of art. Curator Laurel Ptak hosts a weekly reading group discussing David Graeber’s Debt: The First 5,000 Years (Melville House, 2011) and Maurizio Lazzarato’s The Making of the Indebted Man: An Essay on the Neoliberal Condition (Semiotext(e), 2012). An installation of infographics by designers Brendan Griffiths, Zak Klauck, and Mylinh Trieu Nguyen provide alternative models to mapping and realizing economic knowledge. And in collaboration with Occupy University’s fall exploration of debt, To Have And To Owe, will provide space for educational activities that the university will organize including teach-ins by George Caffentzis, Yakes McKee, Nicholas Mirzoeff, Andrew Ross and others.


Over the past thirty years, the United States’ economy has changed profoundly. Some political economists and historians date this to the early 1970s and the suspension of the convertibility of the United States Dollar for gold——a moment that marks what many social and cultural theorists have referred to as the “dematerialization of money.” Others date it a bit later, to Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker’s decision in 1979 to “break unions and empty factories” by unleashing rising interest rates and unleashing a tremendous recession in the U.S. that has come to be known as the “Volcker shock.” Nearly all observers agree, in the words of Giovanni Arrighi, that “something fundamental has changed about the way capitalism works,” many have argued that the increased presence, indeed, the leading presence, of the financial industry is the central cause.


As finance’s role has increased in the American economy, banks’ presence has increased in the lives of many Americans. With real wages stagnant since the late-1970s, daily social reproduction has become for many funded by private bank debt: student debt, consumer debt, mortgage debt, second-mortgage debt, and so on. While being in debt as old as human civilization itself, the structure of that indebtedness has changed. Today, credit card and student loan debt account for trillions of dollars of wealth——and although many people are in debt, it is much less clear that they have the ability to pay it off——ever. Rather, many of us live in a state of constant deferral, a relationship to an uncertain future when our debts will come due and the collection agencies will begin calling. To be in debt is to have one’s future tied in with another and in the contemporary American case that other is probably a bank. One used to be condemned for lending with excess interest; now it seems it is the debtor who must pay her or his “debt to society”.

More info here and here and here.


Image: opening performance by Cassie Thornton at Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts Project Space, 2012