Look What You Made Us Do. An Examination of Precarity in the Arts

We often equate the life of an independent artist with one of glamor and embellishment, spending their euros from sales on tubes of paint or a brick-walled studio with big windows and natural light. Rarely do we consider the invisible hours strained over meticulously budgeting and submitting and networking and documenting.

What began as one look into a performance summoning culture spectators and enthusiasts to show support-in-numbers by way of attendance and capital, quickly became an appeal to artists to share their stories.

On March 18, at The Poetics of Precarity. Literature, Art and the Precarious Condition held in the Faculty of the Arts, we will premier our video dialogue with artists about these strains and struggles and the hidden mental gymnastics required to maintain a life as an artist. These culture creators – essential for community, beauty, and discourse – have shared their testimonies with us for our Look What You Made Us Do awareness campaign.

Look what you made us do

The conference is a four-day program exploring the foundation of the precarious lifestyle:

“The conference ‘The Poetics of Precarity’ focuses on the intellectual and cultural imaginations of precarity from a historical point of view. Since the 1980s, sociological precarity theories have provided an influential and productive discursive model to describe the work and life conditions in post-Fordist and global capitalism. Precarity and acquainted notions like ‘precarisation’ capture various aspects and effects of the socio-economic processes that gradually push more and more sections of the population in an intensified state of uncertainty and contingency. These structural developments have generated a new ‘dangerous’ class, the ‘precariat’, that manifests itself in protest movements such as the ‘Mayday Movement’ or, most recently, the ‘Yellow Vests’. These narratives, concepts and phenomena not only have poetical and theatrical dimensions of their own; they have inspired cultural and artistic production as well. By way of aesthetic experiments, artists and writers have tried to mediate and shape the imagination and perception of precarious realities. New poetic tools and writing strategies have been developed to represent, explore, transmit, legitimize or criticize the many faces of precarity. Up to now, these trends and their imaginative and aesthetic foundations have solely been examined by focusing on the novelty of the contemporary precarious condition. Whereas precarity has always been a part of capitalism and modernity, exactly this aspect has been neglected. The conference will explore the historical origins of the intellectual traditions and aesthetic reflections of the imagination of precarity from a variety of angles; its goal is to engage upon a critical dialogue between sociologists, political theorists and literary scholars, but also with writers and artists themselves.”

The testimonies illuminate the tedium and stress endured behind the scenes. Look What You Made Us Do was conceived in the wake of the Flemish Cultural Minister’s proposed budget cuts for the arts by 60%. The policy, which has since been enacted, envisaged cutting subsidies given to cultural institutions to cover their operating funds and specific projects. Many artists shared their thoughts and we are humbled to present them to a broader audience in the coming months. Stay tuned!

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