Austin Film Society, Avant Cinema, Austin
April 22, 2009
by Kate Watson
What would a film look like if it were really made for the cost of a lunch? Mike Plante’s Lunchfilm series begs just that question. Screened last week at Austin Film Society, Plante’s ongoing project commissions artists and filmmakers to make a piece in exchange for (a slightly decadent) lunch.
First of all, scratch that high-falutin’ word “film”—these twenty-dollar babies would be videos. You’d borrow a camera from your videographer friend who shoots weddings for cash on the weekend, right? You’d edit it with that Final Cut software you stole from a professor, yeah? Maybe you’d steal some classy footage left over from your thesis project?
The point is this—even “cheap” art isn’t cheap. As DIY makers, we all cut corners and use our connections and education to get by. Rabble rousing Ivan Lozano’s been talking about it on Glasstire (and the conversation is had all the time in Austin). It’s really worth digging deeper into the idea of “Alternative Economies” that he brings up.
Both contemporary art and the American financial structure have become mired in theoretical economies and it’s gotten us into serious trouble. In Rikrit Tiravanija’s “Alt Econ” talk last year at MoMA, he freely admitted that he “wanted to be an artist so (he) didn’t have to work.” Isn’t that the fantasy that many privileged middle-class 20-somethings grew up being spoon fed? Yet we were also told that we would somehow, miraculously, be more successful than our parents (a fundamental tenet of the American dream). How is this possible?
Bourriaud defines the modern (60’s era) artist as a “scholar/philosopher/craftsman,” but the contemporary artist as an “entrepreneur/politician/director.” Tiravanija himself admits that he “works very hard to not work.” He seems to be winning the game; he is supported by the global contemporary art infrastructure that seems to us outsiders to be an endless stream of grants, residencies, art fairs on the beach, etc. Yet even this prince of Relational Aesthetics discusses mounting drawing exhibitions of virtually unknown Korean artists in New York and taking part of the sales funds for such utopian projects as “The Land.” Ah, ha! The money is still coming from a physical, collectible object!
Back to Lunchfilm, the project is structured as a series of exchanges between Plante and a procession of makers. They eat lunch, write a napkin contract, and Plante foots the bill. Artist digs up the dough/ footage/ final project (more than a few of the films use pre-existing footage or cite additional funding sources); in return, Plante lifts the responsibility of “entrepreneur” off the artist’s shoulders. He takes the piece on the road and screens it, no matter what the artist gives him.
In Austin, we more or less live “off the grid” of the kind of funding structures that exist elsewhere. And we’re ok with that (at least for a few years)—we find jobs on the side to support ourselves. The thing that pushes us over the edge is being a worker, a maker AND a
hustler salesman. Maybe I can produce four or five videos a year, but then I have to market them to festivals, galleries, curators, too? Lunchfilm takes care of that part, offering guaranteed exposure to the artists involved. Nonetheless, he and the artists he works with seem to be operating within a larger global financial support structure that we only dream about deep in the heart of Texas.
Maybe Christine Hill’s Volksboutique is a more functional model for the here and now. Described as a “second-hand shop-cum-social-sculpture,” this evolving and ongoing installation has regularly incorporated tangible, affordable goods and a community space where “customers” come together. Our very own Domy Books or Sam Sanford’s Mercado make a similar commitment to the tangible, the affordable, the local. Now we’re getting somewhere.
As Dave Beech of Freee puts it, Bourriard “takes his position in direct opposition to the avantgardist who asked ‘what can we make that is new?’ with the motto, ‘how can we make do with what we have?’”
Kate Watson is Coordinator of testsite and Associate Editor of ...might be good.