“Why is she wearing a duck costume?” Who hasn’t heard this question thrown out there at least once in their lifetime? Various occasions demand that we wear a duck costume, and just the other day there was such an occasion. It was May 12, Global Day of Action, and the person wearing the costume was a marching member of the To Have and To Need movement of artists in Berlin. Elaborate, large letters were carved out for the march, with each one of the artists in the movement carrying one to collectively spell ‘Haben und Brauchen’ (“To Have and To Need”). Posters with the movement’s demands were also brought along. The demands of the movement all relate to the arts’ diminishing autonomy within the confinements of neoliberalism, where art is taken advantage of, along with its essential role to be at the heart of ‘the commons.’
In transitional times, art wants to be acknowledged for its capabilities of bringing forth changes in society. As soon as such demands are made, they seem to be incorporated into the art world’s idea of itself. Different ways are found to express this notion of art, many of which can be seen at the currently on-going seventh Berlin Biennale. This year’s curator, Artur Zmijewski, has set out to prove the truly effective nature of art through different means, ranging from inviting the Occupy movement to occupy a museum, thus giving them enough white wall space to express themselves, to setting up different kinds of congresses that address real social and political issues in real settings.
Upcoming in Reykjavik is an art festival that aims, yet again, to address urgent issues for the sake of the commons. The curator, Jonatan Habib Engqvist, is setting up an international visual art project that will open up existing borders in order to create an unexpected dialogue between the artists themselves as well as the various Nordic art institutions taking part. Through this dialogue, Jonatan wants to extend the established categorisation of culture and identity by creating a so-called third space, which Homi K. Bhabha defines as an “interruptive, interrogative, and enunciative” space of new forms of cultural meaning. This, as Jonatan states in the introduction text to the festival, might create the setting for “revolutionary happenings.” Jonatan therefore believes that it is with the proper Nordic funding system and within the terms of the cultural art institution that the tools will be provided to open up such relevant issues, all under the title of (I)ndependent people.
The aforementioned duck in the May 12 demonstration is the anomaly that gives us another idea of the big picture. An artist wanted to make herself more individually present in the demonstration, by relating to the colour scheme of the movement—the duck costume was black and white as were the movement’s written demands. This gesture and the response it garnered can be seen as a reminder of the limited breathing space the art world tends to allow itself when it takes up arms to implement change. Art too easily succumbs to the model laid down by what it intends to critique, instead of operating on terms that would actually ignite the change which would give it reason to yell: Watch out! Duck!