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On Nonparticipation: Fatos Ustek, Rachel Anderson, Jeanne Dorado

In conjunction with Karen Mirza and Brad Butler‘s exhibition The Museum of Non Participation: The New Deal, we’ve invited a range of voices to address “non participation”—within the context of personal and professional lives or thinking on the convergences of art and political praxis—with the aim of bringing the expansive spirit of Mirza and Butler’s […]


In conjunction with Karen Mirza and Brad Butler‘s exhibition The Museum of Non Participation: The New Deal, we’ve invited a range of voices to address “non participation”—within the context of personal and professional lives or thinking on the convergences of art and political praxis—with the aim of bringing the expansive spirit of Mirza and Butler’s practice into literal acts of definition. Following up reflections by Chris Conry, Nabil Ahmed, Keli Garrett, Larne Abse Gogarty, Olga Gonzalez, and Rahila Gupta, we conclude this week by hearing from Fatos Ustek, Rachel Anderson, and Jeanne Dorado. These responses are part of an in-gallery guide created for the exhibition, available in its entirety as a downloadable pdf.

(Non) / 0
By Fatos Ustek
All prefixes are derivational and they provide lexical meaning. The prefix “non” is twofold, standing both for absence and negation. It suffices to show that what has been is no longer there or is not as it used to be. It might indicate a loss, a condition of without and/or amplify the states of lacking. Zero is both a number and the numerical digit used to represent that number in numerals. It has a function in the numeric system and fulfills a central role in mathematics as the additive identity of integers, real numbers, and many other algebraic structures. Zero is also a conceptual image sharing the qualities of “non,” furthering the concept of nothingness. Zero negates and “non” is the counter-positive of something in existence.

The arithmetic operations of addition, subtraction, and multiplication are processes that change an existing value by the force of another number. In applied mathematics, when zero is added to or subtracted from another number, it does not cause a change in the numeric value of that number. But when that number is placed in a multiplication relationship with zero, it loses its numeric value. Division is a function that seeks to break up an entity through a denominator. A complication arises in the process of division when the dividend is zero. The result is no longer definable as it attains multiple values simultaneously, hence is assigned NaN (not a number). Both multiplication and division are processes that can activate a major differentiation in value. As with relationships at large, in mathematics a singular value is always the result of multiple couplings and can be derived by multiple means. That is, the outcome of the two values—introduced to one another at a specific gravity-entropy constellation—might be reached by other relations under variant circumstances. A basic example: 60 is an outcome of 2 and 30, also an outcome of 2 and 120, 5 and 12, and so on. Hence the specificity of the mathematical operation is of great significance, especially when complicated formations and values are at hand (i.e., museum and non, museum and participation, non and participation, and so on).

Fatos Ustek is an independent curator and art critic based in London. She is a member of ICI and AICA TR, the editor of Unexpected Encounters Situations of Contemporary Art and Architecture since 2000, author of Book of Confusions (2012), and founding editor of Nowiswere Contemporary Art Magazine (2008–2012).

When This Thread Snaps
By Rachel Anderson
The revolution won’t be led by red flags and the sound of “Bella Ciao”; it won’t be written about by approved academics whose careers we’ve followed and trusted; it won’t elevate the voices of those we long to hear more of, who affirm us and raise our spirits; it won’t fill our airwaves or our ears with solidarity and the justice for which we stand. It won’t happen between respectable hours and in designated areas, and it won’t have an allocated tea station, information board, or “quiet zone.” There will be no training and organized occupations, no sign-up speaking platforms, no “burn out” support group, no PA system fueled by pedal power, no press photos, no high-visibility vests, no polite unauthoratitive signage.

It will come like a flood in the night, with boundless power and uncatchable form, with inconsistence and unpredictability; it will speak with an invisible voice in a language we won’t understand because we never listened before. It will not see us, and it won’t obey our rational demands or follow the path we prepared for it. It will swell and burst. It will be appalling, misplaced, and reckless. It will prioritize the wrong values, it will dance to the wrong songs and laugh in the wrong places; it will be unreasonable, it will be angry, it will be untamable; it won’t understand that we are the good ones who devoted our lives to this time. We will be left with no choice but to join our old enemies in order to put an end to all this, because we have real work to do and a revolution to prepare for.

Note: Last year I went to a socialist film festival to see a documentary about the 2011 London riots called Wonderland: My Child the Rioter, which presented interviews with young people who were involved in these riots and their parents. There was a panel discussion afterward with a working-class family from the north of England who appeared in the film. The young boy was politicized, angry, and radical; he was a very compelling speaker. I think he was studying politics. The first in his family to go to university, he positioned himself as somewhere between anti-capitalist and Marxist. A woman sitting behind me made a comment during the Q&A that went something like this: “You’re a really bright, articulate young man and I want to congratulate you, but most of those who joined the riots last year weren’t being political.”

The riots took place in August 2011 across London and other cities in the UK. They began after the police shot and killed 29-year-old Mark Dugan in North London. Hundreds of thousands of young people took to the streets and thousands were arrested and given severe prison sentences; five people died. Because of the extensive looting that took place during the riots, the mainstream voice of the media and public undermines these actions as not being “political.”

Rachel Anderson is a creative producer based in London. She is responsible for Artangel, London‘s Interaction program.

What Would Socrates Say?
By Jeanne Dorado
What do I have in common with Jesus, Rosa Parks, George Washington, Fidel Castro, and a Quaker? Mavericks or misfits, we offer our communities alternative paths to follow and infinite ideas to be considered outside of perceived respective norms. While we look like anyone else within our species, the whole is greater than the sum of our parts. We live nonparticipation fiercely, demonstrating leadership and perseverance while going against the grain. We ask tough questions, rock boats, and challenge paradigms collectively.

You want in? Here’s how:
1. By Discussing World History: Beauty, like history, lies in the eye of the beholder. Globalization has ensured that it’s now easier than ever to discover alternative mainstreams, occurrences, and perspectives. Experience is like a prism with many angles from which comes color and light. The shade of the Mankato Massacre of 1862 moved Minnesota forward as an immigrant state, while simultaneously moving us backwards in morality. The experience of bullying started long before the Internet. So how do we define progress? Can progress be Cuba’s coastal conservation or is progress developing resort Rivieras?

2. By Asking More Questions: Born in the 1980s, I was raised to think I was unique and irreplaceable. While I appreciate the sentiment, if I’m not a retail sales goal, I’m a credit goal, or it’s networking, advertising, unique visits. Return on investment. You’re quantifiable in the eyes of a ledger. Numbers are like origami—you can shape a statistic into almost any form and it will skew up (or down) into a life of its own. Origami is two-dimensional, like the sheet of paper you hold now—turning you into the passive subject being dazzled and deceived into responding to a prescribed need for planned obsolescence and mind-numbing consumption. Carry on. Corporatocracy has all the answers. But what is the meaning behind this, and at what and whose cost?

3. By Being Paranoid: Don’t look now, but someone is out to get you. There’s no composite facial sketch, but by taking an observant look to count the logos, brands, and hype you confront daily, you should start to get the right idea.

4. By Living the Difference: Don’t let habit get the best of you. Innovate and evolve, human! The legend of Jesus is that of ultimate nonparticipation. He said, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor … and come, follow me.” (Mark 10:21) The one thing that I’m lacking is no things at all? A profound shift, indeed. Prescribed common sense dictates otherwise, but it is possible to survive without 4G or NYSE—much of the world does this every day.

Why bother?

I’d like to secure a healthy blue dot for the exquisite children that shimmer among us, that they might be assured a life-sustaining planet, shaved ice, and the iridescence of soap bubbles. What could possibly be more important?

Sincerely, nonparticipation is necessary to save ourselves from ourselves. I’m leading the parade and fucking for peace.* Now who’s with me?

* By consent and signed waiver only.

Jeanne Dorado is an advertising professional based in Minneapolis. Obsessions: great advertising, cause marketing, qualitative research, ethnography, travel, Julian Jaynes, total market campaigns.

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