Variant issue 23    back to issue list

Commons Service Group

In response to the WTO's empire, we recommend art.

Dear Variant, 28/3/05
The Commons Service Group, a curatorial collective based at the Ecole du Magasin Professional Curatorial Training Program, writes to you from Grenoble, France. We are interested in Variant's position as a "form of collaborative curatorial / aesthetic practice in its own right and an educational, discursive public space" (Editorial Winter 2004). We would like to invite Variant to participate in a curatorial project that functions as an "aesthetic maneuver" to disseminate information on the significance of the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) for contemporary art production.
The GATS is an agreement between the 146 member countries of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). When the GATS came into effect in January 1995, culture was initially exempted - but only for a period of ten years. In 2005, culture and many other publicly funded "services" are due to be renegotiated. The GATS will have serious consequences for the cultural field, yet little information is available because GATS negotiations have occurred outside democratic processes. The GATS reduces the trade of immaterial goods - designated as "services" - to solely commercial value, and encapsulates the cultural sphere within the category "Recreational, cultural and sporting services". Of particular concern is that GATS "national treatment" rules designate government funding of public services and non-profit organizations as "distorting trade" and a potential "barrier to trade", violating the GATS.
The Commons Service Group is working with artists to create a series of A5 single-page "inserts" which will be disseminated via an international selection of free contemporary art publications - both in print and on-line - in May and June. We propose that Variant participate through the placement of inserts in the next issue, and also via the web version. These inserts comprise one element of a larger curatorial project. The Commons Service Group declares contemporary art a "GATS Free Zone" and will be present at the professional opening of the Venice Biennale with a portable kiosk - to be created by artist/architect collaborators Public Works.
We believe that art is part of the commons, that it should circulate freely, and that culture cannot be regulated as a trade commodity. We have specifically chosen to work with free art publications because they are supported by public cultural funding. We align ourselves with artistic practices that propose alternative economies and modes of exchange, and that envision new models of work. We admire Variant's initiative and dedication in creating a space for critical engagement with the social, economic and political context of contemporary cultural production. For these reasons we are asking for Variant's collaboration.
We will happily answer any questions you have about this project. We also invite you to visit our web site where we have created an information kit on the GATS:

Heather Anderson, Jerome Grand, Julia Maier
Commons Service Group

The Commons Service Group are delighted that Variant has participated in this project, presenting readers with inserts created in collaboration with artists: Lara Almárcegui (Netherlands), Etienne Cliquet (France), Maura Doyle (Canada), Claude Lévêque (France), Chris Lloyd (Canada), Public Works (UK), Antje Schiffers (Germany), YOUNG-HAE CHANG HEAVY INDUSTRIES (Korea).
Other participating publications: L'Art Même (Belgium), Fucking Good Art (Netherlands), Hors d'Oeuvre (France), (France), Nero (Italy), Republicart (EU), (Canada).