Independence can be an attitude, a mindset, or a utopian dream. Independence promises freedom, self-determination, and sovereignty, and it shapes the way we think about the economic, professional, ethical, and political aspects of our lives. But how feasible is this conception of independence?
A closer look usually reveals independence to be a modality of privilege: a dependence on financial support, access to power, and established inequalities and injustices, as you will read, for example, in the contribution of the Australian curator and art historian Amelia Wallin. By taking a closer look at Easy Riders, a performance piece by the Melbourne-based artist Eugenia Lim, Wallin demonstrates how the model of a day divided into eight hours of work, eight hours of leisure, and eight hours of rest – still (or once again?) – is a utopian ideal. Not only does it fail to account for the care and housework that enables such a conceptualization of the workday in the first place, but it also cannot accommodate the unclear distinction between work and leisure, which has always been blurry. After all, isn’t leisure time – provided you even have some – an investment into one’s own ability to perform at work? With platform capitalism and the gig economy, the responsibilities formerly held by the employer (in a regulated working relationship) are thrust back on the employee and sold as an additional measure of independence; however, self-employed people only enjoy their sovereignty as long as a pandemic or other large-scale event does not happen to destroy their livelihood (and their ability to survive).
Ultimately, we all are embedded in networks of dependencies; even those who would prefer to hold on to the premise of individualism in spite of the experiences of last year. As François Bonnet shows in the audio essay narrated by composer Kali Malone, even our own perception. To perceive is to perceive in a specific environment, not from the vantage of monadic sovereignty, and because of that, perception remains susceptible to the irrational, imaginary, and strange – which ultimately might also be its greatest strength.
So, should we distance ourselves from the idea of independence? This question has been on our minds for a while now. It had an impact on our understanding of V/A as a magazine with an independent editorial team that is published and financed by an institution. We found that the term “(in)dependence” is productive as it does not attempt to obscure our dependencies while also not suggesting that there’s no individual agency at all. It creates a space for action, connection, and relations to be discovered within the network of dependencies in which we are situated, and thereby to embark on the exploration of new territories. You will encounter examples of such explorations in the conversation between the young and independent designers invited by Jeppe Ugelvig in the context of the exhibition he curated at the X Museum in Beijing. (In)dependence also signals our vulnerability and the need for solidarity and collaboration. The contribution of Chilean curator César Vargas —co-published with Mexican art magazine Terremoto—delivers a powerful plea for the necessity of these values. (In)dependent spaces and networks of mutual assistance that grow organically and responsive to their environments do not only allow for survival, they also provide an opportunity for a life of change and transformation.
We are delighted to have the chance to gather a multiplicity of perspectives in the contributions of the authors and publishing partners to this second thematic cluster of V/A – (In)dependence. It will conclude next week with a report by Satoko Tsurudome and Sankar Venkateswaran on how they built and run their Sahyande theatre in the jungle of Attappadi in Kerala, India. Embedded in and working with local communities, within sight of wild elephants, they built an initiative relentlessly pursuing the possibility of bringing art and life into unison – an attitude that draws, as they write, from the practice and philosophy of performer Kubikukuri “Hangman” Takuzo.