e-flux Conversations has been closed to new contributions and will remain online as an archive. Check out our new platform for short-form writing, e-flux Notes.

e-flux conversations

Superconversations Day 16: Xenia Benivolski responds to W.A.G.E., "Online Artwork and the Status of the 'Based-In' Artist"


Home Alone

Al Aqsa Mosque, the Wailing Wall, Jerusalem

The City & the City is a 2009 novel story by China Miéville that takes place in the cities of Besźel and Ul Qoma. These two cities actually occupy the same space, but they are perceived as two different cities. From childhood, citizens of both cities are taught to recognize things belonging to the other city without actually seeing them. A citizen of Besźel must learn to ignore the denizens, buildings, and events taking place in Ul Qoma.

In Mexico City this winter I noticed that the characterization of Spanish nouns is arranged in a way that feels spatially considerate, the serious words heavy and short and close to the ground, while silly objects move further and further away from you as they get smaller – Chica, Chicita, chicitita, etc. I assume that we all grew up in the 90s but we didn’t, and to me, it feels a little bit like that; Nineteen Ninety, Nineteen Ninety nine, nineteen ninety ninety nine, becoming farther and smaller. The 90s started with Seinfeld and ended with the Matrix because of a phone! The Internet renders everyone international. Having a home feels conservative.

Also, whenever a French person is born, that person becomes a part of the entire French language and holds the ability to eventually affect or even change that language by being a part of it, like a French whale song. “Home is where I understand and where I am understood” said Karl Jaspers, and to this, Spivak replies “Is it necessary to depend upon citation to be told what our home is?”

To make this analogy, I’m going to have to imagine an artist emerge into a plethora of artistic activity, each member of which holds the key to change the tide. Both disdainful and acknowledging of the people around them, the city they supposedly occupy, marking new avenues that chart a topography that to employed people at large seems inaccessible, artists are marking cities on top of the cities acknowledged by the masses. But there is a daisy chain of musicians, CEOs, domestic workers, physical labour forces and anyone also marking transit spaces around the globe with their presence and influence.

Anyways, is that glamorous?

How can someone account for any group of mobile workers? To which class of mobility do artists belong? W.A.G.E. asks in the text for Supercommunity, what is the ‘our’ in our fair share? Is it necessary to depend upon citation to be told who we are?

Xenia Benivolski is an artist, writer, and curator based in Toronto, Canada. She co- runs the galleries 8eleven and the platform LUFF, a publication called Rearviews, and the artist residency NoYo.


“…artists’ complicity in the annexation of urban territory by an elite class.” This is by far the most readable of the essays so far (none of the pretentious ontological, epistemological rhetoric). Still, it is more a status report than a manifesto.
Roger Waters’ proposed boycott of Israel, for instance, has been effective. Do American billionaire philanthropists not deserve the same treatment?
The education reform movement is prepared to displace/disenfranchise millions of urban poor to make over inner cities for the entitled. “…artists’ complicity in the annexation of urban territory by an elite class.” Is the insular world of art even aware of the fundamental changes taking place at the foundations of public education in this country? Will art counter the evils of Common Core?


Love your analogy here. The boycott of Israel of course is as much about the American liberal’s hypocrisy and a form of camouflage for the sinister actions of the capital’s empire as much as it is about Israel. I hope it’s clear what happens if you transfer my analogy out of the world of art and extend it to the entire process of capital accumulation as power. I am friend with Lise and thought hers was a well written assessment of the situation.

Xenia’s response is very cryptic but equally interesting. If I am reading her right, what she is suggesting, which sometimes also resonates with me, is that the very nature of the economy of contemporary art not only is based on neoliberal principles but in way precede neoliberalism and is a model for it, or as both Suhail Malik and I have contended in the past, contemporary art economy is the true essence of neoliberal economic processes. So how can one establish a form of union pay and socialism in such a world without hitting a tall wall made of paradoxes?


The 90s started with Seinfeld and ended with the Matrix because of a phone! The Internet renders everyone international. Having a home feels conservative.

An interesting observation, in that for Heidegger, Arendt, and Weil, in their respective ways (along with Jaspers, no doubt), uprootedness and alienation are presented as the source of totalitarianism - only that which has been uprooted can then be totalized, while having a “world” is the key to infinity. Perhaps today we should be moving in the opposite direction, beginning to take more seriously that which still sounds sillier, or farther away. Rather than trying to return to where everybody knows our name, to embrace anonymity and alienation, locating collectivity in the category of the denizen, rather than the citizen.

I think the paradox is necessary. My first thought upon reading this was this passage from Agamben’s version of “We Refugees”:

What the industrialized states are faced with today is a permanently resident mass of noncitizens, who neither can be nor want to be naturalized or repatriated. Often these noncitizens have a nationality of origin, but inasmuch as they prefer not to make use of their state’s protection they are, like refugees, “stateless de facto” For these noncitizen residents, T. Hammar created the neologism denizens, which has the merit of showing that the concept citizen is no longer adequate to describe the sociopolitical reality of modern states. On the other hand, citizens of the advanced industrialized states (both in the United States and in Europe) manifest, by their growing desertion of the codified instances of political participation, an evident tendency to transform themselves into denizens…

This image of outsiders embracing the outside itself reminds me of one of the key arguments for a universal basic income: survival, and even flourishing, is no longer reducible to membership (I work for…) or utility (I worked x hours…), etc.

@DADABASE - I would say that one might end up “hitting a tall wall” when addressing the (art) economy as long as the basic units of which its logic operates are adopted as givens…

“They will carry on endlessly about wages, hours, working conditions, exploitation, productivity, profitability. They’ll gladly talk about anything but work itself. These experts who offer to do our thinking for us rarely share their conclusions about work, for all its saliency in the lives of all of us. Among themselves they quibble over the details. Unions and management agree that we ought to sell the time of our lives in exchange for survival, although they haggle over the price.” - Bob Black

“Socialists and conservatives, democrats and fascists fought each other to the death, but despite all deadly hatred, they always paid homage to the labour idol together…At the end of the 20th century, all ideological differences have vanished into thin air. What remains is the common ground of a merciless dogma: Labour is the natural destiny of human beings.” - Krisis-Group

“…As we have already noted, feminism has managed to reproduce its own version of the work ethic, whether in the process of defending waged work as the alternative to feminine domesticity in both liberal feminism and traditional Marxism, or through efforts to gain recognition for modes of unwaged labor as socially necessary labor. Feminism, including much of 1970S Marxist feminism, has tended to focus more on the critique of work’s organization and distribution than on questioning its values…” - Kathi Weeks

“…in so using these forms, a part of Marx’s critique was left incomplete, carrying over entirely uncritically two key concepts of political economy itself. By basing his critique of political economy around production and labor, Marx retained the theoretical and ideological core of the object of that critique, which inhibited his ability to complete his critique and escape the constraints of classical political economy…” - Frederick H. Pitts

“It is relatively easy to say that in the future I will be what I am now—a worker, just perhaps with more money or more job security or more control over my work. It is something else to imagine ourselves as different kinds of people altogether.” - Peter Frase

1 Like

Artists are interchangeable. The problem of the based-in artist and of the election of the cities-metropolis chosen by artists based-in is marginal. The artists, for the art system, are interchangeable. Lost one, they make another. People do not notice the substitution. We are all candidates for substitution, online and out, in the market. Saying that X, Y, Z are based in London is the same as saying J, K, L are based in London. So what does this mean? London is eligible by anyone. Or by no one. As online. The “London based” is a fact that impresses only the provincials. A fashion accessory of the artists involved in the art system.

The only problem with a platform like WAGE is that it is not totally perfect. Who can come out and directly argue that artists should not be paid a fair wage in relation to what they do for various institutions? the battle of an organization like wage should also be geared towards institutional discrimination between stars and non stars, the A listers and the B listers and so on, ie the tangible and visible matter and also the dark matter of contemporary art.

Great ideas and a lot of stimulating conversation. I would like to make a correction . Spanish is rich in diminutives and diminutives can have their own diminutives when a suffix is used in a word twice to give a more affectionate meaning to the word. In the case of chica or chico it is not - Chica, Chicita, chicitita- The correct way is : chica(o), chiquita (o), chiquitica(o), chiquitín (a).
Don’t ask me why, I am not a Spanish language scholar, I just speak it.
Anyway, enjoying much the writings!

1 Like

W.A.G.E.'s analysis of art worker labor and the nomadic follower-of-money brings to light a fundamental function of the art world around the problem of practice-- the space to work is mediated through art-working labor online as here.