I fear that I’ve conjured a general anxiety amongst my friends. They have begun sending panicked messages whenever they are more than five minutes late to meet me. Sometimes they even call, breathlessly, to apologise. And although those closest to me know I dislike waiting and being waited for, I did not conjure this petty tyranny on purpose. I consider lateness as nothing beyond a minor annoyance, if that at all. Attempts to pinpoint where this dislike of lateness comes from usually end in memories of my being scolded. My mother—a woman of God, a former cop—used to profess that the time of others is sacred. She believed, and instilled in me as truth, that it demonstrates discipline and respectability for one to be thirty minutes early than ever ten minutes late. Her proposition is, at its core, ridiculous: that one must always be early for that is from where dignity is derived.
I have begun thinking more closely about the resonances of lateness, or the political power of being slow. First, as a potentially unconscious strategy of Decolonial Hacker, but also as a reaction to some of the conversations I have endured over the last year, where I have been looked at like a luddite for not adopting or taking in my stride developments in the art world which I find wholly repugnant.
A man tells me that the art world’s present bend toward embracing blockchain and crypto is a train that will leave with or without me on it. There is snideness to his words: that the conductor is about to blow their whistle, previous conductors have already blown their whistles, that this whistle I’m hearing is the last. An ultimatum dressed up as advice. But my impulse is not to get on the train. In fact, I’d rather like to blow it up.
He speaks of NFTs as a form of revolutionary chattel that shifts the balance of power in the art market toward artists, as an expansion in the possibilities of how they can earn money, and thus being an entirely good thing. Everest Pipkin has written on why utopian framings of NFTs—and crypto more broadly—are pernicious: that they obfuscate and impede how we ought to imagine and strategise ways out of existing social inequalities, not to mention the immediate consequences participating has on the climate catastrophe. In the end, crypto-art and NFTs represent the further refining of the ways in which the market already regulates the logic of accumulation and possession under capitalism. There’s not much use arguing against those who want to make money—our conditions of existence dictate that much. To quote the artist Jesse Darling, “The point is the money, not the object. And I’m all for people making money, but let’s not talk about that shit like it’s art.”
Web3, with its grift that users can assert proprietary ownership over a piece of the imagined digital landscape, might calcify a similar logic. If the object of Web3 is to syphon power and influence away from Big Tech, why does it appear that we’re now doing the same thing these companies have always done—carve out and acquire property—only in more fragmented ways touted as “decentralised” and “autonomous”? And, why must we be quick to adapt ourselves to these ‘new’ regimes of accumulation, under the particularly gross metaphor of the internet being a landscape we must conquer? Nothing about these technologies is liberatory or ideologically advanced to the extent of figuring them as the emancipatory tools that they promise to be. Aligning yourself with Web3 and the crypto marketplace is at best a short-term salve. It may feel as though you operate on a piece of land beyond the surveillance of Zuckerberg et.al. You might even make a quick buck. But without advancing the principles of collective bargaining, one risks the creation of another world that exists only in service of private wealth and accumulation. Colonialism and capitalism grow stronger through shifting into forms that trick us into believing what’s happening is their antithesis. The consensus, it appears, is that shaping the world on these terms, in this moral image, is ok.
Ten months have passed since Decolonial Hacker began. We have published nine long-form texts traversing a range of subjects: setting out new principles for governance at MCA Australia, bringing to light how the severance clause operates in the New Museum Union’s contract, and explicating how the relationship between hip-hop and state mediations of culture by the Cuban Rap Agency inscribe a national artistic grammar on the island nation, to name a few.
What began as a project that sought to document a list of structural grievances and misdoings about cultural institutions is slowly moving into a field that is beyond the immediate, obvious purview of the art world. Museums and their fraught working conditions are only a constitutive part of a greater depravity, and our activism and thinking must grapple with this larger reality even if the art world is the reference point we have familiar to us as cultural workers.
In the first months of Decolonial Hacker’s publication period, I had the feeling that a large part of our audience was expecting ‘call outs’ on particular directors and institutions which could easily circulate as industry gossip. I do not wish to indulge this tabloid mentality. It is an insult to the rigour, research, and personal experiences of the authors. If all one can do is read their essays and mine them for scandal, then they have entirely missed the point of how this platform conceives critique, and the type of thinking this platform seeks to advance. To be more direct, we have been concerned—and will continue to be concerned—with what it means to imagine and work toward the annihilation of unjust structures. Yet this work, I have realised, will continue to be framed as scandalous and too radical by some. For instance: before the publication of a particular essay last year, the Australia Council for the Arts—this project’s funding body—was contacted by a museum director who, knowing only that a text was being written about their institution, sought to quash the piece. This went so far as the Federal Government portfolio issuing a ‘please explain’ to the Council, with the substantive question being whether public money had been misappropriated in funding Decolonial Hacker.
I share these anecdotes and arguments to say that there are so many things about ‘culture’ and the industry that mediates it that enrage me. Certainly, I have become less interested in the idea that the art world or its institutions can be reformed. Going forward, I will continue to resist the pressure of Decolonial Hacker becoming a program that is fast, reactionary, and gossip-oriented. I hope that the work done here feels measured, illuminating, and intellectually expansive. This work, however, does not have the man I spoke of earlier in mind. Nor his friends already on the train, the museum director, the Government. They sneer at the stained and battered concrete platform I stand on, yet it remains the vantage point from which I can see the passage of history most clearly. So get on the train, I want to tell them, get on the damn train.
“Dance little asshole dance
oh he gets elected, like a Calvinist
He says, I have these guts
Men, I have these guts.
Having dedicated whole
regions to the destruction
you inspire, the
logic will be to go on doing it
doing it. Having proceeded by
of your per-
you will perceive your continued
as an excuse to go on. having
as you have. And so one continues.”
From Alice Notley’s “Logic”, (2011).
2021 and beyond
In line with the Government’s COVID-19 roadmap to re-opening the country, the doors open on 17 May 2021.
Almost all of the Barbican’s casual staff don’t show up for front-of-house shifts. They have moved out of London or found employment in places that value them more. The Barbican’s creative upper class have to become hosts and invigilators to open the centre.
Barbican Stories is published.
Barbican employees are shocked at the stories and recollections of racism in the book. They can’t believe that this is all true and so they dive into their minority workforce to find out for themselves, once and for all. Unconvinced and under mounting public pressure, the Barbican hires an external consultant (a friend of a director) to publish a public race report that concludes that whilst the Barbican could do better, there is no systemic issue.
2,000 workers across London’s cultural sector create a picket line in solidarity with Barbican workers. The demands of the protest are impossible and necessary.
During the Barbican’s opening concert, as the conductor enters the stage to fill the auditorium with music, it is instead filled with the sound of 400 people standing up and leaving the orchestra on stage with no audience. A violinist cries.
All the employees of colour evacuate and the Barbican is left with a purely white workforce. There is a palpable sigh of collective relief: If there’s no one but white people, then we can’t be racist!
Artists stop aligning themselves with backward institutions so cultural producers at the Barbican have to become artists to fill the programme.
Whiteness clings to the walls like moisture. Visitors are too ashamed to cross the picket line.
Coffees go undrunk, B R U T A L tote bags collect cobwebs, the conservatory grows wild. The ducks leave the lake in solidarity. Old Barbican guides litter the foyer. The orange carpet turns grey with dirt.
Eventually, audiences don’t need a picket to stop them from coming to the centre. A primed and ready-to-pay cultural audience now reflects the fastest growing demographic in London. Now, these younger and more diverse audiences that make up the city’s landscape find different and better cultural spaces that actually care about them and reflect their lives without skirting around the ugly facts. Why see another token diversity event when there are now whole institutions dedicated to the complexity of the diaspora?
One by one, lights are cut from the Barbican’s many rooms and offices, as they grow dusty in the absence of people. Moss grows between the cracks in the concrete.
The only room that remains open is the directorate office.
The directors maintain a throne of old catalogues, leaflets and newspaper clippings, in a never-ending meeting where the only thing on the agenda is to dust.
One unremarkable day, the Barbican ruins collapses in on itself. The debris blows away to reveal an ON SALE sign.
The only thing worth anything at the Barbican is the land it used to occupy (and even that won’t cover the debt left behind by the brutal beast).
Blitz Property Developers find EC2Y 8DS and they love a bargain.
Once again, the site is raised by the Blitz.