Caveat and Emptor are collective research projects reflecting and acting on the ecology of artistic practice. Convened in 2017 by the Brussels-based artists’ initiative Jubilee in context of a research residency programme Lodgers, organised by AIR Antwerp and M HKA, Jubilee initially used its own networked operational structure to model Caveat. During the Lodgers residency Jubilee not only organised presentations and workshops, consultation and exchange between artists and art workers from art centers, museums, galleries, academies, residencies... but also addressed a number of historical case studies. Each time a different legal consultant attended these meetings.
In collaboration with three research partners who joined in 2018 – Open Source Publishing (OSP), No New Enemies and Eté 78 – Caveat started to develop as an interface that inserted itself within the fields of friction between the different actors and perspectives involved. This moved discussions and negotiations from a private, not-visible environment – where considerable differences in economic and other power positions exist unchallenged – to the agonistic inclusivity which Caveat strives for, as a project situated in the public domain.
With a one-year-support of Innoviris Caveat was able to set up a number of artist research trajectories in 2018-19. In different ways Caveat related all of them to the question: how can juridical tools contribute to a shift from an economy to an ecology of artistic practices.
What are more sustainable, balanced ways of operating within the existing legal frameworks?
The project title Caveat alludes to the expression caveat emptor (buyer beware) – signaling the research's ambition to raise awareness and co-create alternatives. As such Caveat is a wake-up call to artists and art workers, as well as to art institutions and producers, to collectively re-think and respond to the nature of their work relationships; not only to their socio-economic and legal context, but also to their cultural positions in a broad sense.
During this period (2017-2020) Caveat's artistic research focused on contracts as a tool for reconfiguring relationships in the field of visual arts. Its methodology attributes a central role to a great number of artists and practitioners who are invited to share their in-depth research into the socio-economic and legal conditions of their practices. A research team (an artist, a curator, a legal specialist and an editor), further completed with collaborators of the different partners, curated and coordinated this phase of the project. This team worked closely together with the artists to narrate and extrapolate the commissioned works.
And when the limits of the existing system are reached, what are possible new narratives that open up space for reflection?
A variety of professionals in the cultural and legal fields were also involved, offering their expertise to the project. Next to that, a number of Brussels-based art institutions were engaged in the research trajectories, or acted as co-producers or hosting institutions for the artists' commissions. Caveat also initiated an ambitious educational programme for art academies and universities.
Initiating Emptor, Jubilee continues to look into a more sustainable, balanced way of operating within the existing legal frameworks of visual arts. Emptor focuses on property relationships in the arts field.
Gathering a group of carefully selected artistic practices, research 'dramaturgs', engaged institutions and external experts around the notion of 'property' and its impact on the arts field, the project builds on Caveat's foundations in the quest for an ecology of the arts field and allows to shift attention from artwork to practice aiming for collective knowledge and insights to develop.
Assemblies of Practice are alternated with Reading Rooms and other reflection moments and attempts to publish and perform our ongoing exchange on practicing property. By using mapping and co-writing as tools throughout the reflection trajectory, questions are extrapolated to other domains, contextualised and accessible for the public.
How can we practice 'property' for a sustainable visual arts field?
Doing so, Emptor has the ambition to collectively question our positions in the economy of the arts today and open up new narratives that create space for reflection and action. Defining what is the artwork, how it can be exhibited, conserved and sold is an ever more delicate and complex question within today's visual art practice – as it is often collaborative, performative, internet-based, audiovisual, and/or immaterial in its form.
Even if these art practices challenge the roles on the field by setting conditions for materialisation or acquisition, ownership of material objects remains crucial within the visual arts economy. Discussions most often seem to circle around property issues, rather than focussing on finding a common understanding of how collaboration between different protagonists (artist, institution, collector, public) could ensure the further ‘life’ of an artwork. The same observation could be made for many current societal urges outside of the artworld (e.g. climate change, housing crisis) that confront our society today. Emptor therefore puts our current practices of property at the centre of discussion and creates possibilities to collectively re-think them.
In four Assemblies of Practice, Emptor respectively asks: What does it mean to own? 14 April 2022, CIAP/Jester Genk Whose artwork? 16 June 2022, BUDA Kortrijk Whose institution? October 2022, Kunsthal Ghent Whose collection? December 2022, a.pass Brussels
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