Mike Watson (PhD Goldsmiths College) is a media theorist, art critic and curator. Watson has curated at the 55th and 56th Venice Biennale, as well as at Manifesta12 in Palermo. His next book, The Memeing of Mark Fisher, comes out with Zero Books in September 2021.
When crisis becomes the norm, what is there for the art world to resort to but its capacity for spectacle? In Rome this involves maintaining confidence in the capacity for the contemporary art scene to continue to grow – a contemporary art scene is nothing if it remains static. Here, a difficulty is presented in that the word ‘contemporary’ implies newness and newness implies change. Yet change requires energy and energy requires the input of resources at least equal to the output gained by a given action. In an economic recession, output begins to recede, and in an economic depression, worse still, output is continually lower than input. Our current economic crisis is somehow unique in that its scale is unprecedented post World War II, and yet it is not classified as a depression. Whether this is due to the manipulation of economic figures or to the complexity of the financial model, which is multi-layered, abstract and difficult to chart is unclear. Indeed, a lack of clarity has become a central facet of Crisis era living. The proverbial wheels have come off the European economy, and yet in much of Western Europe the wagon keeps on rolling.
We are currently witnessing a profound cultural implode which mirrors in its intensity the recent economic collapse. As the markets round on nations unable to sustain the debt brought upon them through bank bail-outs, and as the proverbial house of cards looks set to spectacularly fall once again, the arts assumes a familiar historical position.