The last decade has seen a whirlwind of building initiatives catered to the ‘creative class’ and cumulating promises of regeneration through Richard’s Florida’s urban miracle cure. Through the instrumentalisation of culture towards economic development, the distinctions between agent and recipient of change can easily become blurred in the promise of a stabilised, creatively-influenced socio-economic ecosystem. What are the relations then of cultural producers to mobility and precarity, as enforced by the ebbs and flows of capital, paraded as buoys to recovery? Can cultural producers shift movements by which capital subsumes social and cultural fields into its totalising factory, within the very sites of subsumption?
‘We might lose our balance, but we stay put’ could well be the statement ascribed to anthropomorphized buildings reeling from the expectations of economic regeneration through creative industries in late capitalism. The line ended a performance on 12 June 2011 at LOW&HIGH, an interdisciplinary platform in Folkestone, during which Erica Scourti and I attempted to project a speculative subjectivity to the buildings that have shaped our development as artists. Investigating tensions between the institutional instrumentalisation of artistic practice and the necessary structures on which artists depend; between the incited mobility of artists and the structures that outlive us, our performance weaved through auto-fictional accounts presenting ourselves as evolving buildings, and surreal narratives conflating the settings of economic development with the expectations projected onto cultural producers as both vessels and recipients of that development. An elegy to backgrounded structures, our reading marked a clear relationship between the mobility through which cultural production is compelled to sustain itself and the relationship that fixed spatial parameters of cultural production entertain with local economies. Scaffolding and construction work appeared across Folkestone during this week, a layer of anticipation in the urban fabric which mediated our experience of the micro-residency, and magnified the ‘industrious’ character of cultural production materialised through events such as the Folkestone Triennial -which opened a few days after our micro-residency, on June 25th. The idea of potential created by the crisis of a local economy (in this context, associated to the so-called ‘deprivation’ of Shepway district’s local economies and largely attributed to declining revenues from tourism and deteriorating transport infrastructure) diffused itself across town through the use of empty shops managed by a regeneration charity (The Creative Foundation) whose sign boards appeared behind many of the Old Town’s disused storefront windows.
Other sites emerged as references during the micro-residency, particularly structures instrumental in understanding the weaving of transnational capital into the fabric of a city’s creative economy. Black and white images of Chicago’s Marina City, for instance, referred to the promise of architecture as panacea, for instance reversing the patterns of migration from inner city to suburb across the US in the 1960s. The transparent, circular structure of its parking lots appeared as an exoskeleton for architecture as porous agent of regeneration and the pragmatism of modernist tower blocks. From 1998 in particular, with the opening of Guggenheim Bilbao, cultural institutions have sought to redefine their use in relation to broader social and economic contexts. The last decade has seen a proliferation of museums courting visibility for European towns with declining industries, in line again with Florida’s battle cry for a regeneration through the ‘creative class’, with its beneficial repercussions in any given urban ecology. This model often directly addressed the needs created by the fluctuations of specific industries and manifested itself recently on the Kent coast, with the opening of Turner Contemporary in Margate last April.
These developments give us an indication not only of the economically strategic migration of cultural production and cultural centres, but also more generally of the shifting ‘place’ of capitalist imperatives within social and cultural spheres. Involved in increasingly symbiotic relationships with the global flows of capital, the intimacy of a neoliberal instrumentalisation of culture also entails surpassing standard dichotomies of institutional critique. That the migration of cultural production follows the tides of regeneration shows the shifting roles and responsibilities assigned to cultural producers. It is telling that this movement coincides with a period of austerity measures and drastic funding cuts to the arts in the UK, in effect accentuating the ‘eviction’ of cultural production from the continuous support of a location toward the curative properties of a conveniently flexible mobility.
– Sydney Hart