Against Job: Give-get Money For Nothing.
I am fifteen years old and I am locked inside the
bathroom at my parents’ home. The bathroom is the only
place in a Greek house where you can find some privacy.
I am looking at the pale pink porcelain tiles that surround
me and I am imagining that they are telecommunication
buttons and Control Panels. I dream that by clicking
them, I am sending orders to a group of terrorists and
I am producing beautiful explosions.
While I am sitting there blowing stuff up, my mother’s
voice, or the recording of her voice that played in
loop all day in my mind, arrives from the other side
of the door. She is telling me that I should start working
hard and plan my future otherwise, “you will end up
a construction worker” she says, “life is not for free,
you need a job because nobody ever gives you money for
Doing nothing? That already sounded like a good job
to me. I remember pushing some pink tiles and while
a department store in the center of Athens was collapsing
in flames I promised to take “doing nothing” as my future
Around 1983, I discovered a book about the great American
artist Jackson Pollock. I found his art so easy that
a few days later I started producing it myself, using
his signature technique of dripping. Pollock had borrowed
dripping from a friend of his dealer Peggy Guggenheim.
Her name was Janet Sobel, you can Google her to find
more because naturally the artworld -apart from a small
article in Artforum- keeps this story a secret. Sobel
was an amateur painter when she discovered that you
can make wonderful paintings just by dripping colors
on a canvas. When Mrs. Guggenheim gave her a show, Pollock
was influenced to such a point that he abandoned the
Picasso-type of pictures he was
doing up till then and start his giant canvases made
exclusively with this lady’s technique.
In the beginning, making Pollock was just a summer game
for me- I remember washing my pictures in the sea to
make them look prettier. But after I sold one of them,
I noticed that this was also a good way to get money
for doing quite nothing.
In 1985 I left Greece for Italy and there I learned
more about Contemporary Art. I realized that anyone
with the courage to call himself an artist is welcome
to try his luck in this field. No particular talent
is required and after you made yourself a reputation,
you get to travel around the planet for exhibitions.
While Museums and art-galleries pay your expenses, you
have the feeling of participating in something important,
a conspiracy on an aesthetic and even social level.
But around 1994, Contemporary Art was not fun anymore.
Students from art colleges all around had learned the
game and they were now respected artists, you had to
compete with them. Biennials started happening all the
time, everywhere. People were searching for some photogenic
scandal so that they would win points in these exhibitions
and would be invited to the upcoming ones. Each of us
became specialized on a slice of the pie. It was all
based on our identities and it was not all that different
from working as a car mechanic. Some artists, would
even resemble demolition workers, such was their capacity
to fill up rooms with trash. That’s what Nicolas Bourriaud
started calling Relational Aesthetics. It’s suppose
to be an International generation of artists but in
the reality, it was just about local stars. What young
artists really represent, is the town and the country
Unfortunately for me, I wasn’t able to stick to a place.
So while everyone was building his little business,
I bought a computer and I started spending my time with
That computer-an Apple Powerbook laptop- was interesting
mostly because it was empty. It’s memory was just a
4 MB and the screen a grayscale. So I really had to
customize that machine to make something out of it.
That’s how I started looking for some peculiar software,
not because I wanted to do something with it but just
to make my computer do something cool.
At a certain point, I was so empty of ideas for exhibitions
that I decided to paint that laptop on a canvas. I didn’t
really know how to paint but I had visited a lot of
museums so I followed the instructions left by the dead
masters. The dimensions of my paintings would also come
from the old paintings, as well as the composition and
colors. But in terms of atmosphere, I tried to apply
a videogame touch to my pictures.
In 1996, I was officially a painter. But while making
paintings is fine, you still have to exhibit them and
this is too much of a job. If you are a visual artist,
you ought to fill up white rooms in a peculiar way so
that the public - mostly the expert one - must always
get some kind of experience. And they know already what
they want to see: they want to see something that looks
like Contemporary Art.
Making enough money from my paintings in order to survive,
I decided that I should find some niche, something which
you could hardly call “art” at all.
That’s not so easy because today, any object you put
in an empty room will look like Art. But then I realized
that the objects you’ll encounter on the computer screen
still look too unreal or too new to be already Art.
I was living in New York then, but it was such a traditional
city, so I moved to Los Angeles and I opened the “ElectronicOrphanage”.
I start hiring a few people to become “Orphans” and
soon they brought their friends, they weren’t many but
they started building a new culture; casually, like
a constantly drunk mechanic who is fixing the transmission
of a Volvo in NY and the brakes of a Mercedes in Paris
mixing all the parts.
I am convinced now that radical culture is always
a side effect; there is no way to produce it in purpose.
It is stupid to pretend that you are doing art today
while you are actually doing just a regular job. And
if art is just a job like any other, then I don’t want
to do it; maybe because-speaking the words of a literature
critic about a black writer-“I never been hungry enough
or insecure enough to learn the game”.
Also, the game today is destructive. There is a lot
of demand and because of that, whoever expresses himself
in a professional manner and does that for a long period
of time, is mediocre by definition.
Miltos Manetas, New York 2001-2003. First version of
this text was written for “Learn and Pass it On” published
by the i-D magazine in 2001.