Leveraging as a Paradigm for Activism in Entrepreneurial Economies 

One thing the pandemic made glaringly clear, if it was not already, is that within the expanded industry of art, at least, the self-entrepreneur model is pivotal. The sociologist Ulrich Bröckling in his book ‘The Entrepreneurial Self: Fabricating a New Type of Subject’ (2016) breaks down what the functions of the entrepreneur are in a financialised economy, they are speculation, innovation, risk bearing, and coordination. One can say that, for example, the ubiquitous presence of curating in all its variations is due to the function of coordination being a prominent part of what an entrepreneur is. The prominence of speculative discourses in art, philosophy etc. can also be linked to these functions, speculation itself has become a mode of production as Marina Vishmidt points out in her 2018 book. And taking on risk is evidenced through different forms, for example, spending days (or even months on end) developing proposals for funding, while knowing the chances of being selected are slim. As we all become more and more integrated in and with this computational socioeconomic infrastructure the conventional idea of transgression associated with art seems misguided, and the concept of critique, although still relevant and important, appears exceedingly quixotic. Considering this, the talk will briefly explore an emergent form of activism in the field of art. What I call the new ‘leveraging practices’ are those that fuse artistic competencies with knowledge and research about some of the most prominent devices of our era: financial instruments. Through tactical propositions, prototyping approaches, and developing economic fictions they attempt to leverage a way into the economy while carving out a space that is more hospitable, economically diversified, and equitable for artists, artworkers, and beyond.

Bassam El Baroni is assistant Professor in curating and mediating art at the School of Arts, Design and Architecture, Aalto University. He was founding director of the Alexandria Contemporary Arts Forum (ACAF) a now closed non-profit art center in Alexandria, Egypt from 2005 – 2012 and co-curator of the 8th edition of Manifesta – the European Biennial of Contemporary Art – in Murcia, Spain, 2010. He co-curated the Lofoten International Art Festival, Norway, 2013 and curated the 36th edition of Eva International - Ireland’s Biennial, Limerick, 2014. Other notable projects include curating ‘What Hope Looks like after Hope (On Constructive Alienation)’ at HOME WORKS 7, Beirut, 2015 and ‘Nemocentric’ at Charim Galerie, Vienna, 2016.

He has been a member of the faculty at the Dutch Art Institute, Arnhem, the Netherlands since 2013 teaching theory, supervising MA theses, and organizing cooperative study groups around diverse research areas such as 'robotics and visual culture'. He is a regular contributor to international symposia and curatorial workshops.

Image: Noora Lehtovuori