Reflections on Big Soft (BS) Contract Workshop

5.4 / Shotgun Review

Reflections on Big Soft (BS) Contract Workshop

By Cassie Thornton May 22, 2014

On April 19, 2014, the Arts Research Center (ARC) hosted Valuing Labor in the Arts: A Practicum. This daylong event included a series of artist-led workshops that developed exercises, prompts, or actions that engage questions of art, labor, and economics. The ARC invited participants to send them reflections on the key ideas, challenges, or recurring themes that came up throughout the day to feature on their blog. We are featuring several of these responses as Shotgun Reviews to offer our readers multiple perspectives on the day.

Cassie Thornton led the “Big Soft (BS) Contract” workshop. Cassie Thornton led the “Big Soft (BS) Contract" workshop at the Valuing Labor in the Arts practicum on April 19, 2014.

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As an artist, I take abstract economic forms and make them tangible. 

The “Big Soft (BS) Contract” is a metaphysical attempt to debunk otherness from the inside, ruining capitalism by creating solidarity where competition and fear might have been. My goal for the “Big Soft (BS) Contract” workshop was to facilitate a moment of curiosity about the person (not a corporation!) on the other side of a written and/or social contract. If we look at this Other long enough, we may see that they are as vulnerable as us, possessing a similar level of anxiety, fear, competitiveness, dissatisfaction, and skepticism.

My workshop was the exact opposite of Microeconomics 101. The microeconomics frame requires us to assume that all people are self-interested actors making competitive choices in a landscape of scarcity. In the “Big Soft (BS) Contract” workshop, we took small steps toward untangling ourselves from this assumption. Do we want to be the number-one, most successful, wealthiest individual, or do we want to trust others and be loved?

When exchanges are transactions, corporations issue loans, medical care results in debt, credit scores are necessary to secure housing, and education is a risky investment, how should we know how or when or whom to trust? Are we not humans? No, in many cases, we have become economic actors. These conditions are the breeding ground for anxiety, fear, competition, dissatisfaction, and skepticism—emotional and affective states of being that have enormous impacts on our expectations and treatment of Others.

During the first half of the workshop, we dealt with our own financial limitations. We imagined and described our debts as physical objects, and then we openly discussed and explored our relationship to money using these metaphors. We admitted our individual relationships to debt and listened as each person described their connection to it. We sent these debts screaming into space for a new kind of emotional refinancing—interest rates are below zero out there. Together, we made room in our collective unconscious for imagining things outside our own survival or success story, as well as room for seeing the Other.  

One of the primary examples of scarcity in microeconomics is time. Because it is a diminishing resource for every person, we are cued to use ours as effectively as possible (or better than anyone else). Thinking in this way helps us to prioritize our selves before Others; it’s practical, economical. For the second half of the workshop, we made time to witness or even become the Other. We each left the workshop, alone, to observe a stranger for a few minutes. We took notes on their movements, their words. We wondered where they came from, where they were going, what they desired, what they feared, if they had debt, what their perception would be if they were observing us instead. When we returned to the workshop, we walked and talked like the Other. After building up their character, we slowly removed their motions and vocalizations. We sat still, being them, feeling what that was like.

As a final gesture, we wrote the Other a postcard. Some people wrote what they wanted or what they feared for them. After they finished, I asked each person to address the postcard to themselves.

The assumption that the Other is different, a source of competition, or diminishes our potential is a joke told to us in microeconomics class, but not in the BS World. If everyone suffers from anxiety, fear, competition, dissatisfaction, and skepticism, then to look closely at others is to see these common traits and to create solidarity from this awareness. The social contract is changing, mass indebtedness is leverage, value exists outside of money, and no one is a loan!

Valuing Labor in the Arts: A Practicum is on view at Arts Research Center, in Berkeley, through April 19, 2014.

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