Butt & O’Reilly

The Ethics of Artistic Infrastructure under Neoliberalism

Danny Butt
Centre for Cultural Partnerships, VCA University of Melbourne

Rachel O’Reilly
Independent Critic, Amsterdam/Berlin

The “social turn” in artistic practices brings with it new hopes for reconciling the political and the ethical, through practices that stage new modes of collaboration and open exchange. Nicolas Bourriaud opened the relation of ethics to infrastructure in 1995 by proposing that “inter-subjectivity is the substrate” in projects of relational aesthetics. However, as the history of institutional critique has shown, the possibilities of any ethical engagement with an artwork are always underwritten by an institutional politics and a specific relation between capital and the nation-state. Angela Mitropolous defines infrastructure as “an answer to the question of movement and relation.” Who provides these answers, and how, underwrites the spatialisation of artistic professionalisation and its global effects and arrangements.  Under neoliberal globalisation, the infrastructural relation embeds the site of the institution sponsoring “relational practices” in a larger relation: to the transnational flows of capital extracted from highly unethical processes including war, environmental destruction, or mandatory detention of asylum seekers to name a few. Through an analysis of the statements of the Biennale of Sydney 19 Artists Working Group, this paper seeks to interrogate the differences in artistic approaches to the representation of ethical subjectivity in socially engaged art, and the non-representational practices of boycott, divestment and sanction in large-scale exhibitions.