Liberation Economics as Performance Art-Life
(Song of Capitulation. Adapted by PPL from John Willet’s translation of Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children, music composed and sung by Brian McCorkle with Nick Joseph.)
There are plenty of articles about the lies that educational institutions are telling art students about making “a living.” Artists with MFAs complain about debt, research projects (artistic, institutional, and otherwise) display pie charts and demand bigger pieces of it. Not-for-profits offer “business of art” training for a fee, artists are taught to consider themselves entrepreneurs. Performance art, when it considers itself an “art form” like any other plastic arts discipline, spends community time and energy on panel discussions framing commodification as advocacy. Others bemoan commercialization. How are we to sell our work? How are we to make this living work?
How are we to “make living” is a good question, the question “what is the good life” is ethically, ideologically, and practically answered to in waves, movements, missions and media across most human performativity that can be called “culture.”
In euro-centric contexts of academia, so they say, after post-structuralism and post-post-internet, beyond speculative realism and plateaus of authenticity, there is wholesale capitulation to capitalism in answers to the how, if not to the why, we are able to make our lives “work.” Work, works, and exchange of labor-hours, ideas, artworks, and other objectified products/productivities comprise all individual and social performance according to even the most vehement anti-capitalist conceptualizations of the socialist, communist, or democratic; we understand capitalism as physically, cognitively, emotionally post-consensual, beyond our control. We feel that we no longer have the ability or the burden to make our own lives, we must whip/work it.
When life is seen not as something to be made by persons experiencing/performing it, but rather as a “natural” product of systems so much stronger and more ingrained than can possibly be changed, we capitulate our body-minds themselves as a matter of conscious and unconscious rationalization of capitalism.
I choose the word capitulation carefully, not just in reference to Dialectical-Marxist Bertolt Brecht but also because of its economic definition and usage:
Investors are said to “capitulate” when they suddenly and radically sell off stocks or other assets in judgment that current risks and liabilities outweigh any future gain or interests. Capitulation is not only a rationally calculated as escape from financial danger, it is also an emotional response, induced by panic or “cold feet.” Through this term, we acknowledge that capitalism is emotionally and psychologically reinforced as much as it auto-poetically makes our everything; human sensations and perceptions determine ability/disability to work functionally/successfully, at least.
Capitulation, though often seen as an “irrational” behavior, does mediate the internal patterning of local and global economies, just as a single artist “selling out” can generate interpersonal and cultural effects ranging from resentment amongst friends through pop culture’s ability to assimilate subcultural aesthetics and rhetoric.
Additionally, wherever there is capitulation, is the possibility of failure/refusal to capitulate. There are perhaps only two consequences of this negational performance whether it is intended or not: 1.)bankruptcy or severe devastation (lost gamble) 2.) re-formation of value-assignment/gain of greater value (won gamble). Within trade economies, capitulative gambles can result in loss of money and other equities, just as capitulative gambles such as trading 40 hours a week for $12.95/hr can cause loss of pleasurability in lived experiences. In terms of the second consequence—reformation of value-assignments—capitalism and its economies constantly work against the possibility of this consequentiality; capitalism is most threatened by any re-assignment of forms of value. It is, in short, threatened by “values” that drive human action outside of existing markets without that market’s consent; while capitalist values remain locked within metaphysical conceptualizations of capital evaluation as such, evaluation of something like “risk” can be contingent on/moved by valuation as a performative process.
Art, even though it is largely defined by “normative economies” of attentions and markets, has conceptually embedded within its self-conception the perception that value is subjective and that risks are worthwhile in and of themselves, or at least subjected to evaluation empirically. Some artists are thus permitted (no matter how naively) to, as persons and communities, make “decisions” about whether or not to capitulate.
Here in Brooklyn NY in 2015, most artists desire and plan to participate in free market economies, be these “creative class,” “artworld” “academic” or otherwise. Their assets and interests include recognition, money, visibility, power, which they accumulate and trade through recommended mutual investment-schemas. These artists are deferential, concessionary, accomplice, happy to “have the opportunity” to even participate in “art industries” as capitulant within global economies.
While it is unthinkable (perhaps literally) to artists-as-such that they should do anything other than make works and accumulate capital/assets, such modes of ascquescient behavior is not capitulation in the sense of a sudden sell-out induced by panic. Most “middle-class” investors and “professional” artists never even have the choice of capitulation because they do not take risks or gambles in the first place (conceptually, formally) and rarely have enough capital (authority, sense-distribution-ability) for it to be threatened with loss. These artists don’t take risks because they operate in fear of extreme poverty (and possibly imprisonment, or other physical discomfort) even though/because they have usually never experienced it. It is most likely that their capitulation would be a caused by a lowering of their “quality of life” below a certain threshold, prompting their capitulation to a more mainstream life-style “outside of art.” Here, “soft” capitulation is an irrelevant slither away into management of a commercial gallery, grad school, or a “regular” job.
There are some artists, on the other hand, who do not desire or plan to participate in free market arts economies in “safe” participatory ways, or at all. Our lives involve deliberate construction of the decision “to capitulate or not;”
We construct situations in which we choose not to wherein current risks and liabilities do not outweigh any anticipated future gain or interests. We construct situations in which we choose to capitulate when there is a possibility to re-form values and forms of valuation themselves, i.e. we trade away that which we want to lose value, thereby reforming valuation schemas themselves around intended losses and assignment of other schemas to asset-values themselves. We forcefully fabricate choice where there is none, perpetrating artistic practice as an area of free action and value-form subversion.
The former choice to not capitulate is fairly easy to explain and construct; we self-organize in context as parallax/autonomous ideologues and zealots who are psychotically willing to risk everything dominantly perceived-as-valuable. Future gain (towards whatever idealistic agenda) and fulfillment of interests (in whatever impossible future utopian situation) are worth far more to us than any immediate loss of assets or safety. More simply, we do not find the threat of homelessness, being ignored, having bedbugs, never being able to have kids, going to bed hungry, being stuck in one place, etc as enough of a loss to justify a sell-out. We operate in states of romantic delusion, political rage, and though we may panic constantly, we still refuse to sell our bodies or our minds into valuation schemas bent on de-valuing bodies into identity-objects, homogenizing conceptualizations, and capitalizing-upon our very processes of moving, thinking, feeling, being. We do not objectify ourselves or our “workings” into asset-products at all, we grit our teeth and keep intentionally performing in time-space, directly real-izing our values/valuations.
The latter choice, to capitulate towards re-formation of value-schemas, is more complicated to construct, and can easily become a sort of “but I’ll change things from the inside!” kind of selling-out if existing constructed systems (such as institutions, non-profits, etc) are depended upon to facilitate/support activity. In an economic sense, however, here is where we intentionally and specifically “sell ourselves short” as a way of removing and re-assigning value across forms (our own and those needed by capitalist systemics). Here, we may, for example, be choosing to work as unbranded anonymous collectives by trading off individualism. We may make uncommodifiable work that trades long periods of time (high equity risk) in exchange for the initiation of low prices on the traded-off stocks. We may demand to work for free when others are being paid. We attempt to cause something like a “run on the bank” or a “confused frenzy” that crashes it all. We make-up buzzwords and hashtags, infecting capitalist visions of what art should and does “look like,” who should and does make it, and so on. Personally, I find the most extreme forms of capitulation working most powerfully as a giving up of stakes and as directly work against our own “best interests.” We may find ourselves intentionally making “bad/unstylish art,” or giving up the claim that we are artists at all, rather “amateurs” or “cultural organizers” other value-less persons. We do not apply for grants or have an elevator pitch. We do not have a “bio.” We capitulate our “roles” as “cultural producers,” rather we give away our work for free, selling out the paradigms themselves into confusion and an un-grounding of capitalist valuations/values.
A liberation economy values and maintains such capitulations and non-capitulations, despite capitalism’s insistence that such choices themselves are neither possible nor desirable.
Performance art communities in Brooklyn, as a “micro-undercommons” identified by participants’ traditional resistance to commerciality and as a gatherings magnetized by shared experiences and needs, designs and carries with its modes of action and production themselves such ability to “make decisions about how to live.” This ability exists in very concrete mutual support performed between human beings through their self-determinate and “irrational” makings-of-lives. Further, as auto-poetically-framed “free action” in the economic sense, we position our performance art-life as non-valuable, as alter-assessment, as actual “sub-version” that fevers forth as an “subtext” “multiverse” or “counter habitus” to capitalist ways of living, thinking, and feeling.
“Privileges,” as “individually held assets” are not welcome here, processes of organization themselves seek to repurpose and deconstruct these, in non-correlative parallel to capitalism’s systemic maintainance its own construction. Through conflation of performance-of-life and performance-as-art we merge the investor and the investment, replacing the systems with persons, using risk-taking and fears of failure to motivate large-scale de-liberations of capitalist calculations of personal worth and enculturations of “worthwhile cost-paradigms” for (loss of) human lives.
As performers of liberation economics, we embody how and why we value our own lives and those of other human beings, not as workers, victims, or as cells in a metabolism so virally infected that our species-being has become un-re-cognizable, but as temporary locations of infinitely complex perceptions, sensations, and as carriers of the very forces of terror and panic that can destroy investment-schemas by positioning decisions. The liberation economy performs its own terrible, frightening freedom: we are not subjects but poltergeists.
The two following sections involve some statements. Alignments/recognitions may be personally possible, but it is unlikely that any of us agree with all of them, I merely use “we” because I personally can’t/don’t perform all of these constructivities all of the time simultaneously, I can only identify/gather/write them as some ways in which I perceive liberation economics being performed in and around and as my (personal-as-political) life in/for performance art.
How do we concretely perform anti-capitulation in construction of liberation economics?
First, we are valuing time over money and refusing to be threatened by loss of everything, via re-framing of what “everything” is. The experience-state of “performing free action/thought/feeling” is of deep value to us, as is work towards the health of our bodies and our planet, and realization of intentionally-constructed situations freely sharing/open-sourcing energies, bodilies, and socialities.
We value volunteer/unpaid labor and do not schedule/take “gigs” based on payment or “reputation” within economies of capital-value-based attention. We do not perform for audiences of only wealthy people, become or pander to people with high levels of privilege, we do not accept golden-tickets; we are not court jesters at private parties or artworld galas, we are not entertainers who perform material(ization) on cue.
We do not seek “the broadest audience possible,” instead relating personally to participating witnesses, passers-by, and co-performers. We seek non-normativity of situation and substantiation, evading expectations for when, where, and how “art” should occur.
We work other jobs for money and do not allow our artistic processes to be influenced/formed into capitalist modes of production by the timelines or framing devices of commercial spaces and institutional structures and their funding cycles. If we do accept money, it comes as voluntary resource re-distribution; any and all payments of money must be voluntary and no experience is “worth” a certain amount in money. Where a 20-minute action might make sense for the $50 artist fee, we may perform instead for 7 hours. We spend time sewing, sculpting, planning, testing, preparing, meeting, because it is the cultural constructivity that matters, not production of valuable commodities. We often perform for free, in public.
We make, spend, and pay as little actual money as possible, living as low-footprint as possible despite the threat that the suffering will kill us. Our efforts here are often interpersonal; we seek to relieve one another’s’ panic and the “cold feet” that causes capitulation on the largest scale to participatory capitalist paradigms by creating community of resistance and a dialogic of relational determination.
How do we concretely perform and assist only constructive/re-formative capitulation?
We do not compete, we collaborate, relieving emotional and psychological pressure and dialogically developing capitulative processes as intentional art-formations.
Intentions, ideologies, ethics, and values are considered resources, not as competing mutually-exclusive models for “objectively good” living. We do not force our ideas on others, we situate the formal activations of ideations and engage interpersonally with any interested participants. We recognize that capitulations can be performed positively, as (panicky) trade-in of high-risk participation in capitalism as so-called “future gain” becomes increasingly experienced as progressive destruction of selves, natures, and societies.
We affirm and critically evaluate processes and practices of other bodies, even when we may not precisely share experiences or even have the ability to communicate; we ignore “works” as products to focus on persons and our relationships and acts as systemic re-conditionings of who “we” are together. We respond to the processes of others in conversation, writing, and enthusiastic reactivity, embodying the affects and consequences of processes intended/recommended. We perform respect for the ways valuations are performed by others and allow our own “assets” to be re/de-valued. We remain open to perspectives, sensations, ideations, and reformations that are not generated solely by our own “selves,” instead operating as colluders within value-driven larger-scale movements, our “social body” reaching beyond our subjective horizons and needs.
We give our time, manual labor, resources, assistance, and attention when we value how performative processes are making life something we want to be temporarily a part of: we are capitulating our own freedom into the service of the freedom of others, without any expectation of personal gain.
We also fail to make “art” as such. We lose, break, destroy, and give away art, re-valuing commitments and forms of action. We make anti-art, we protest art, we surrender our claim to authority as artists or academics, we make irrational claims and say stupid shit. We act up, in transgression and also as emotional outletting, capitulating to our emotions and allowing them to drive us.
Further, we construct the possibility to capitulate (a problem when we are seen as having no “assets” as such to risk) by emphasizing the value of things not valued by capitalism, such as ideas, bodies, weakness, vulnerability, and mistakes. We offer capitulations as reformations to those who are not offered any assets by white supremacist patriarchal norm-reinforcing capitalism, inserting our bodies into situations where we don’t “belong” and disrupting paths of least resistance, polluting asset-streams with non-valuable assets, selling “junk stocks” and intentionally flooding markets with explosively dangerous dysfunctional products. We take up class-action suit against forms of economy themselves, selling cheap and fast in attack of asset-natures themselves.
The concrete consequences of maintaining such choices to capitulate or not capitulate are lived as performance of life-as-performance arts and carried by our bodies through time-space. Such concrete consequences may be made visible, or seen as, performance art.
 Perhaps via processes similar to how “meanings” or “personas” are seen to be made, or “constructed.”
 Digitalization and algorthimicization of such processes are demanded by capitalism for financial performances intentionally participating in capital accumulation/condensation.
 Art is that which defines itself as art, so says Antonio Gramsci
 Further, we superficially frame “selling out” as a betrayal of subcultural economics, a use of smaller fish as bait for the sharks. Here, we echo earlier conceptions of an “us vs. them” paradigm, before capitalism ensconced all, and Others worked to involve their visions and include their bodies (then), rather than to subvert and subalternate at any cost (now).
 See Fred Moten
 See Achille Mbembe
 often by refusing positivist ontological and epistemic dialectics in favor of sensibilities.
 some may perform this “destitution” intentionally, for many of us, it has never been an option to have money, we have never experienced it and have no intention to experience it. Teeth rot, the actual pain of the tooth falling out vs. it being drilled out by a dentist is negligible, the drugs are the difference.
NOTE: I use the term “liberation economics” as a kind of satirical position, playing with connotations of historic “liberation theologies” and radicalizations of humanist neo-liberalism. If you google the term, you can find many more crackpots like me “inventing” the term.
FURTHER READING/ACTUAL READING: