Engaged Art Incorporated

Front Desks and Legal Entities (About the Business Called ‘Engaged Art’)


Just like the institution of politics, engaged arts are often about organising. Nevertheless, many engaged practices risk lip synching current organisational structures, through which they wedge form and content further apart, resulting in all kinds of violence. In this article, Veldkamp analyses different forms that attempt to engage but merely lip sync prevalent organising, such as the helpdesk, action committee and legal persons. 

The Institutional Attribute of Engaged Practices

Any engagement has allies, agendas, parties, support and opposition. It is a deeply political practice, even though politics—the formal thing, with its parliament, parties, MPs and so forth—might never come to mind. This is not an issue because there is a difference between the political and politics. The political concerns the social constitution of our societies. In other words, the ways in which we live together. Politics itself regards the institutional intervention on these social constitutions of our societies. Thus, politics always revolves around the organisation of sociality, and in that organisation, elements such as power, authority, agenda, force and diplomacy are at play. Politics intervenes (or explicitly does not) on the business-as-usual that prevails in the attempted continuation of social realms. One could argue that the engaged practice functions as a pseudo-politics, attempting different means to tinker with the social constitution of our societies, subverting the current political organisation of them. That engaged practice is always embedded in this structure does not mean that politics comes first; the opposite is true. We first live together, and through the realisation of that fact we simultaneously start shaping how to. As much as we are thrown into life, we are, above all, thrown into society, too. Engaged practices are predicated on other forms of organising, which are other forms of politics that pursue other ways of organising—be it of form, people, thought, legacy and so on—to the institutional politics we know does. That being said, if one wants to, the form in which one does so cannot reflect the content of the problem one engages with. Nevertheless, this is often how engaged practice takes place, mirroring current political organisation. I believe this has to do with a segregation between form and content, which are wedged apart by neoliberalism.

Many thinkers rightfully stress the importance of institutions, while simultaneously affirming that, in many regards, their policies can often be dangerous. These things correlate because institutions are important, as I will repeat later on. While thinking through ‘turns’ in institutional critique, artist and thinker Jonas Staal has warned us many times that working with institutions never happens without an agenda. He does not do so in a resentful way, arguing through Maria Hlavajova that ‘as an artist, you have choice: flee the world, or confront it.’1 Obviously, he argues for the second option. Staal illustrates at least two agendas in his book Post-propaganda—if not an uncountable many more. That institutions need to be reformulated according to what they too often regard as the ‘whims’ of society at the time might be, to put it plainly, annoying to these often large, sturdy and ‘elevated’ trans-historical titans. And so, artists and curators are asked to carry the load, working through commissions; hence, desk-chair officials and a heightened, often somewhat anxious, sense of public reception.

Staal notes that some dangers lurk in this interaction, starting with tokenism. Tokenism concerns a friction between the ‘progressive’ (or conservative, for that matter) content institutions produce and present through their shows and programmes and the failure to implement the premises and principles of this content into their own organisational structures. Tokenism is all bark but no bite—form and content are in friction with one another. This leads to another danger that Staal notes: ‘In institutional critique, the artist became a sort of cleaning service.’2 The artists, artworks and programmes risk becoming not much more than tokens used by the institutions to whitewash, greenwash, pinkwash or redwash themselves. This builds strongly on a politics of hygiene—cleansing is reached through fictitious pureness, using programming as the ‘washcloth’ to do so. This way of thinking is fundamentally troubled. Putting on different clothes does not make the wearer less of an asshole, nor does a shiny surface reveal what lies underneath. Although it is worth noting that something at the institution’s surface level changes—it now stinks less—the whole ‘cleaning’ process will most assuredly result in it getting dirty again, be it the institution itself or the cloth that was used. This is not an issue if getting dirty is the aim. As Hlavajova polemically puts it, we should ‘get our hands really dirty.’3 Programming of any kind should never take as its goal to be universally mandated and accepted. The issue here is that these institutions want to be clean, but often play dirty. What’s worse is the cognitive dissonance that often follows, where they do not realise the ‘wrongs.’ The reason is that the manner in which they are organised does not allow for not playing dirty. However, this antagonistic relationship between institutions and the people who work with them is a stretch from their constitutional bounds—their often publicly stated goals. It is not without reason that it has grown this way: decades of poor pruning results in plants that have more branches than leaves.

However, institutions remain broadly mandated, and not without reason. The issue is not to rid ourselves of institutions, nor of their infrastructures, which are indeed only tenable with a somewhat oversized organisational structure. The sentiment against institutions might rather be part of the problem. This has long been happening under the ambitions of neoliberalism and self-organising, both of which unleash the principle of free market competition into a social realm that could exist and organise thanks to these institutions and not thanks to commercialisation. To use a metaphor often deployed by ambassadors of these neoliberal ideals against them: this approach often results in rivalry among the ‘fish in the lake,’ which, according to our officials, is ‘too full.’ Hence, museums and faculties are closed. Subsidisation is emaciated, regardless of the fact the advice committee has assessed the application as honourable, and then argue that one should receive it but will not. These officials do not realise the problem is that there are not enough rods hanging in that pond, nor even that the ecosystem of the pond is under high stress due to the hydroelectric dam at its source, which is to make profits. This approach is more of a form of siege warfare than a social policy, if you ask me. So, institutions need to reformulate themselves according to the most current of the most current trend in organisational management—read: a ‘good’ manager who turned another company into a ‘success,’ rather than someone who knows the institution’s field of work. That means downsizing, flexible shells, outsourcing, temporary contracts, smart purchasing, five-year plans.

As a result, to borrow a phrase often used by Hlavajova: we have to institute otherwise. As she writes: ‘In the world at this point in history, imagining things otherwise might not be enough […] in my view, to not just produce the imaginaries of a different world, but to act them out, to inhabit and embody them.’4 Institutions are the organisation of social necessity, which gain power through that act of organisation. A power that is either lacking somewhere else, or that we are not willing to grant to any government or cooperation. In other words, a power over something we regard as important, alongside the already-present dispersions of power throughout politics and commerce, which are often hegemonic. Organising is, therefore, a struggle, pur sang. In any type of organisation, the most important question is thus how to organise, because politics is about organising and institutions claim power outside the prevalent political infrastructure: be it a school, a museum, a union or social insurance. Thus, they have to organise in different ways. One must hope that they organise according to their statues—which shimmer in social significance—shaping themselves to serve these goals. However, for a long time, the manner in which we organised was regarded as purely formalistic: you know, it’s just very handy to have a CEO, and this and that. With the term ‘formal’ here, I do not only mean ‘legal,’ but more precisely that which regards form. This might imply that many institutions have lost their social relevance, but I would stress the opposite. Social domains have been calling for a renewed attention. It is not without reason that in 2019, for example, the Netherlands witnessed more protests than ever before.

Above all, protest attempts to vocalise something that isn’t mandated within the political institution as we know it today. Protestors quantify this by organising themselves within the domain where they are not properly represented by power. As Judith Butler adds, the manner in which groups do this is often of as much importance as what they ‘want’; it acts what it wants. She illustrates this with the example of Occupy: ‘They don’t have any demands, they are just occupying space.’5 So in response to an official complaining about the lack of demands, she noted: ‘No, that is a way of making a demand, it is a way of saying this space belongs to us or this space should be public. But it does not have to be verbalised for that claim to be made; I thought they were making it with their bodies or through the way their bodies were occupying space.’6 They were giving form to content, not content to form.

The question whether the infrastructure of an institution fits the goals of what that institution does with its ‘infrastructure’—say, to put on a show about the futures of democracy—has long been disregarded as segregated from the first question about formalistic affairs. Hence, such a show would be organised completely vertically, according to the whims of a curator. No mandate, no expressiveness, no indulgence. Staal thus invites artists to confront ‘the conscious or unconscious failure to render the influences of politics on the art institution and on the métier of art criticism consistently visible.’7 We need to address the cognitive dispositions of these legal entities. He suggests that ‘the art institutions and their main representatives—the artists—will have to depict power again, and all the schizophrenic convulsions that go with it.’8 In regards to this hypothetical show on the futures of democracy, it would be fitting if an index were made of the power relations that made it happen, and they were exhibited alongside the artworks present in this hypothetical show.

Although one could argue that this is just depiction, and that does not invoke responsibility, I need to state that something needs to be affirmed before it can be addressed, and a sense of consciousness is also essential for legal entities: they cannot negate responsibility, moving it from desk to desk without addressing it. Art is about the organisation of forms; distributions of the sensible. Nevertheless, all too often institutions adopt what is familiar from business management (yes, including PR, marketing and HR) or politics. In other words, institutions have started to see themselves as a skeleton without flesh, as infrastructure without traffic, as form without content. They forget that their existence is mandated exactly outside these hegemonic politics and economics, even though they lip sync business as usual. Business management and politics have become solely about form. As David van Reybrouck argues in his book Against Elections, democracy has become elections, even though it is plainly a method. Plainly form.9

Business has become management. Of course, it follows that he suggests that democracy is about so much more—for example, about citizenship, equality and shared ownership. We cannot do this anymore, and must not segregate form from content; nor disregard manner from motive; nor separately evaluate intentions from actions. This cocktail without content often results in nauseating results, like the Afrika Museum’s recent ‘vacation campaign,’ which displayed white pensioners, complete with garden chairs and a popsicle and iced tea, who were going to visit Ghana close to Nijmegen. ‘Leuk samen een dagje Ghana, lekker ver weg in eigen land,’ it stated, but they did not get far because the advertisement was taken down the same day (July 28, 2020). This is not only remarkable because it is a museum about Afrika but also because it fails tremendously to keep a close bond between the forms it uses and its contents.

After graduation, it did not take me long to understand that in the cultural sector, it is often the formal organising work (everything that relates to the ‘office’—marketing, planning, etc.) that is seen as the backbone of any activity whatsoever, because this work maintains continuity, structure, infrastructure; and hence, these institutions far outdate any generation and seem to somewhat transgress time. We forget that an institution is not just about the infrastructure it offers, such as assembly during a strike. It is about what is being striked for. Although a precarity reigns in the field of culture in general—regardless of function and position, be it in the office, in the galleries or outside those—it is, in fact, the office workers who get paid better more consistently. Not to mention their working conditions, which, of course, have never even been raised as a point of discussion, even though they work with freelancers because there is an apparent lack of organising. De-organisation is the greatest danger to society. The term freelancing implies ‘someone who fends for themselves,’ the war of everyone against everyone made real—without the gory feel we know from those hack-and-slash movies, even though this ‘fight’ is also about the maintenance of life itself. Hence, we can imagine which workers do the work that, in the end, these organisations ‘organised’ themselves so well for: the most precarious. Precarious not only in the sense of ‘temporality’ but in the sense of positionality: freelancers lack position, lack allies, have no ground to dig their heels into. They are overshadowed by institutions that have, formally speaking, outgrown (also in the sense of time) their capabilities. Branches without leaves.

Much can be said about the structure of institutions—that the structure of directors makes it possible for them to make empty promises without consequence; that a lack of public funding (always, always, always) invites many dark thoughts and puts many wrong parties on the nametags of the galleries because obviously their goals do not match the statutory goals of these institutions. This is a formal plight that is forced on institutions. Although scarcity is the wind on which these kinds of decisions are made, it was a formal choice to decide to sail on this wind and hoist these tiny sails. Many of the preconditions of these structural tendencies can be traced back to politics, and, most importantly, economics affairs, as Staal illustrates well in Post-propaganda. Above all, the first—politics—has these days been overshadowed by the second, resulting more properly in political economics that reign our societies, hence the political is treated in economic, and thus formal, regards. In this condition, it becomes easy to forget we are essentially all dealing with (non-)human beings. The household now dictates the members of the household, rather than the other way around. Institutions risk becoming expert systems that were formulated just like bureaucracy to support social realms, which have now acquired a legitimacy themselves and have long started to colonialise our Lebenswelt, to use Habermassean terminology. Social realms become necessary for institutions, rather than institutions being essential to social domains.

The strings that have pulled our institutions into the awkward position are decennia of neoliberal governments, and the ‘developments’ of capitalism. Capitalism rules how things are done (formal affairs), not what is done—well, at least that is what it tells itself, often following both the invisible hand and the hands-off strategies—resulting in that what is done is now how things are done. What has become how. A forceful wedge between form and content has broken both apart. The form itself has become the only content. This technology is called speculation. This is what capitalism does, so that the formal side can be quantified without considering content, or even by disregarding it explicitly. The sheer importance and force of financial markets signify the prevalence of speculation today, completely unlocked from welfare, climate and so forth. The what is now the how. Yet it remains, I believe, at the ‘how’ where the change must now be made.

It is not too often that the programming of a museum deserves harsh critique, but rather the manner in which it comes about. Recently, we all heard about an exhibition called The Future Is Female at the CODA Museum in Apeldoorn, which, ironically enough, refused to pay the artist’s fee to some of its female participants. This is moral corruption that drips into the separation between form and content. Henceforth in this article, I will delve further into where Staal finishes in his book when he notes that ‘art simply cannot withdraw from its inherent alliance with […] ideology.’10 I will explore some of the ‘how’s’—how some engaged practices function these days, which risk following this logic of disconnection between form and content. This might be a third problem, following tokenism and ‘washing,’ which I call ‘front desking.’ Alongside the ‘turns’ in institutional critique Staal discusses, some curatorial, educational and interactive turns have passed the revue, resulting in a tendency in the engaged arts in which it is no longer the engaged artist facing an issue. Instead, the engaged artist turns 180 degrees and projects the problem on to a ‘public,’ channelling, and thereby negating, both power and responsibility on to the least powerful. Form risks being segregated from content, and with that, criticality also evaporates: this turn does not see who or what stands behinds its back.

Interfacing and Front Desking

There reigns a business-as-usual, not only in society at large, playing at our senses of normality and thus hiding under the radar as (if) neutral, but also in engaged practices. Our societal constellations bring about what appeals to our senses as normality, often plainly by what we repeatedly encounter and what not. To bring about this business-as-usual as an unusual is one of the key qualities of art in general—to ‘reframe power, render it comprehensible from the position of observer.’11 Although what has been transfigured as unusual often seems to loosen from the business-as-usual as we know it, that is as false as saying fiction is unrelated to non-fiction. I would argue it is born from it, and the power is exactly that it flies away from non-fiction; it loses the qualifier ‘real,’ which in most cases just means ‘familiar.’ The act of mediating between usual and unusual, between fiction and non-fiction, is an act of interfacing. In other words, it attempts to find a bracket that makes both ‘fit’ or even ‘mismatch’ within a narrative, often resulting in combining both into one big business-as-usual. Interfacing is, so to say, attempting to make explicit the relation the unusual has to the usual, often by cleaving the first from the latter.

In the act of interfacing, many approaches are notable, one of which is that there is a sensual mode where what is physically insensible is made sensible. This often has to do with scaling (up or down), and uses form to make the unseen seen. This approach draws from a factual ‘gap’ between the usual and unusual, because it is the usual here itself that is unusual. A second approach I have come across often is the regressive act of interfacing, whereby a phenomenon from business-as-usual is drawn into the unusual, and looped back on to the usual—the usual made aware of its ordinariness. ‘Unusual-washing’ we could call it. Hence, the occupants of business-as-usual are the targets of this strategy, which draws on a strong awake-unawake dichotomy of power, to use some popular jargon. At the core of this act lies a didactic motivation, often drawing from the argument that to ‘make us aware’ of something ‘they’— the artists—are already very much aware. It follows easily that a certain organisation with a certain distribution of power fits this strategy, interfacing an issue back on to those who signalled it, and often live through it, too. One of the most explicit forms of doing so which we know from many low-key socially engaged practices is ‘front desking.’

Front desking is interfacing on many levels. It builds first of all on a mechanism of delay and deliberation, whereby a ‘client’ phrases and rephrases issues through layers and layers of pseudo-responsibles, which those ‘pseudos’ apparently need in order to get a clear image of the issue. ‘Pseudo’ because it is not the front desk ‘employees’ who ultimately have the power to make decisions, but they are precisely present because they have no power. That is their power. Hence, they possess a lack of power, which is in itself very powerful, but all too often only to those in ‘real’ power—and real power these days is ownership and thus access to means; the control of forms; the hegemony of how. This creates a situation where the power does not have to exercise its power, because power is scarce and runs down when used (i.e., power is the ownership of means, and those run out).

A second level of interfacing is that it is the hub that creates a domain in which a certain issue can find approachability. The addition of front desking is that it takes on the organisation of an 0900 customer service number with its familiar, and often very frustrating, helpdesk choice menus. This resonates very strongly with engaged practices, because relative to the issues mentioned—say, healthcare, social security, or poverty—these ‘employees’ are indeed not only pseudo-responsible, transferring you from one person to the next, but they are also helpless themselves. We, above all, know the rumours of why hegemony likes and uses ‘creatives’ to hop into the positions that they consider helpless: out-of-the-box thinking applies to everything where no other solution is regarded tenable, and hence artistic speculation appears the bandage to sooth factual conditions. So, all too often, artists are ‘called in’ to do the most hopeless work, without realising that the agenda that got them there has most assuredly created the precarious situation itself that they, the artists, now are asked to ‘fix.’ Although this is noble, it all too often signifies an unpreparedness to deal with an issue on the part of the institution. Artistic proposals that transfigure the usual into the unusual, which draw on fiction as a power, are very easy to reject on the basis of formalities or impracticalities, and thus that they do not repeat the business-as-usual, which it seems the commissioner ultimately wants to uphold. Although the artistic qualities of this point are exactly that they escape business-as-usual, this construct locks artists into fiction that is forcefully wedged from non-fiction. The thought easily follows that these artists don’t need pay, not only because their work is unspecified and fictitious, but because they like it and draw from sources other than hunger and thirst. Creative power, so they make it appear, does not draw from scarce means that run down just like any other kind of power; they draw from non-formal means.

That aside, a third level is that the helpdesk structure allows for vocalising issues that do not find space to do so anywhere else, and as such it is of radical potential. It puts a claim on the distribution of the sensible, in which certain things get room, space and visibility and others do not. The issue is that such a claim cannot take the shape of a help desk ticket that ‘will probably be answered within five working days’ but will never be resolved. You’ll have to make do with an automated response, however formulated it is in a very fun, hip and personal manner. The power here is that the helpdesk unveils a new domain for that which has a claim on the distribution of the sensible, although the structure in which it takes place only tokenises it. We should not forget that any help desk structure is not necessarily present for a ‘client’ to get something fixed, but instead for the owner of the helpdesk to serve multiple purposes, including mechanisms of delay, sublimation of responsibility and springs of diversion.


I strongly believe this aforementioned helplessness of the artist can and should be reappreciated, and would be of significance if that reappreciation would work. It is only in their helplessness where relationships are mutual, and mutual assistance takes form through the work of art. Not forgetting that even your traditional artwork is perhaps the most helpless object in the world, only nitrile gloves, special environmental conditions and its guardians’ close watch can maintain it. In the relation to the object of art, a radical new form of relationality is present, which unfortunately refuses to transfigure to human and non-human beings: that of an unconditional attention, a stunning presentness, transgressing many standards of living, often (and, perhaps for that reason, jealously) irritating public opinion. The artwork is true helpless power. In the attempt to reappropriate helplessness, it is obvious that there can be no forward given the infrastructure of power in which this practice would take place; any interfacing would ruffle feathers. If the unveiling of present power structures is the aim, then interfacing—even, and possibly especially, the front desk structure—could work really well. Although this is impossible to ask for, an explicit rejection of vertical power relations—say to a company, institute or the like—would be the first step. This also valorises the rejection of commissions as a precondition to engagement. This rejection does not ask for monetisation, or secularisation, or individualisation, but for a horizontality. Here, power needs to be distributed more evenly, and this is a claim, a struggle, and hence the whole helpdesk structure would not work, because it negates any distribution of power. This is of importance because of conflicts of interest, and the conscious or unconscious fooling of a community as its effect, but also because the helpdesk structure is drawn from a vertical power relation, wherein premediated power itself disintegrates when it flows downwards; and, in addition, that it creates an outside-inside construction. The helpdesk is a transparent wall, a vertical ceiling.

To regard the outside-inside construction, we need to—ironically—take a step back first. The engaged artist takes the task upon themselves to ‘sculpt’ sociality in which they as a person also necessarily are, as opposed to the popular idea that something is made for a social reality, hence regressing into technologies and associated conflicts of interest. Think of ownership over this technology, and the somewhat inhumane experience of being reduced to something you apply a technology to (say, a helpdesk). Engaged art is thus made within social reality, and only functions within. It is politics within the political, content in form. There is no ‘outside,’ there is no ‘view from nowhere.’ This does not mean that society enters into aesthetics and is hence reduced to it, as many writers, such as Marcuse and Adorno, have warned us about when speaking of political art. Neither does that ‘withinness’ of artistic practice mean aesthetics enters society because it has already been there, always. The ideocracy of this idea must cease to reign. However, social domains always ‘withdraw’; they step back, take distance. Only a sense of withinness negates withdrawal, because withdrawal becomes a full stop in the ideocracy of the outside-inside doctrine. An approach remains a conscious step, every single time, that is taken and never received. As Jacques Rancière notes, obviously ‘there is no real world that would be outside the arts.’ He even furthers that ‘there is no reality in itself, but there are configurations of what is given as our reality, as the object of our perceptions, thoughts and interventions.’12 Society is formations, aesthetic formations. Engaged practices engage with the society in which they are, taking active part in the formula that makes up our conditions of life—‘configurations,’ as Rancière names them. Although the helpdesk maintains a sense of an inside-outside construction, it never approaches an outside. The inside-outside construction becomes most explicit in the form of the ‘action committee,’ which of course partakes in the same code as regressive interfacing and helpdesking.

The Action Committee

Pursuing the intermingling of the arts with the larger set of accidents that we call ‘business-as-usual’ asks for activities and attitudes. To be more precise, the goal here is to touch upon a set of attitudes that I call ‘action committee,’ and in the wake of that criticism propose a broadening of engaged practices. The action committee owes its existence to an issue and is a product of a state of exception, rather than the helpdesk, which, although it is present to solve issues, does so through business-as-usual. The helpdesk sees issues neither as deviant nor problematic. During the short life of the action committee, often called into being by some sort of authority—be it a government, business, or university—the board made up of ‘experts’ are enlisted to swiftly, and therefore somewhat hierarchically, do problem-solving. Often, the action committee formulates itself as if it were a front desk; an outbound customer service. It interacts with the ‘target group’ and attempts to summarise or rather generalise what is verbalised. The action committee interfaces between a somewhat transcendent cause, or ‘issue’ put differently, and the lesser symptoms. It mediates until synchrony is reached between both. Although the ‘service’ is that of help, it nearly never results in real help, as I also mentioned earlier. The opposite is true. Usually it results in corporate-style reports, conclusions, and glimpses of promises that consequently do not convey action. Above all, as Stefano Harney adds, ‘with metrics, no one cares what you have achieved.’13 This action committee is metaphorically reachable through an 0900-number. It is made accessible,14 although one always has to ‘hang on for a minute,’ listening to a pleasant yet annoying jingle, and is eventually diverted and flushed through a series of pseudo-responsibles, who are all, in the end, not really allowed to be responsible. The action committee just moves information through a screen and passes it on.

The front desk of the action committee offers an interface that is false in as much as it is a façade, a smiling and friendly face. Why is it false? Not because it cannot really ‘help,’ nor because it is not of value emotionally (we all know the power of a friendly smile and a listening ear), but because it lets the chronology of issue-solving flow in the wrong direction: the action committee represents not the caller, but that to-who-is-called. The action commission does not work for the subject of its research, but for the commissioner. It represents the ‘issue,’ not the one suffering from it, and hence often unconsciously forwards the wrong agenda. It has its back in the wrong direction; it trusts the wrong parties. Metaphorically, we always have to wonder in which directions the backs are standing, where affiliation lies. And this is not an exercise of reproach in retrospect. It is an analysis of the infrastructure of power prevalent within the situation one works. It should be a starting point. The action committee functions as mediation; it negotiates between the ones who suffer from an issue and the party who owns that issue. Mediation is negation, and in these dialectics, it is not aiming to reach a synthesis, but to flatten the differences, resulting in a monochrome image of what is at stake—unbound from its embeddedness. It is a means to an end without means, and thus all too often an end in itself. Those who have worked in the field of culture for a while in the Netherlands have seen multiple commissions pass through over the years producing reports that all argue somewhat the same thing: not enough space, tremendous precarity, not enough means. These are the most fundamental elements of any existence, but as long as these are the results of the commission, new commissions will be erected every now and again until another blameful result is found. The commission is too often not erected to find results, but to affirm a hypothesis in order to deny doing something about it.

Legal Persons and Being Put on Hold

The structure is now made explicit, but that structure implies certain attitudes, certain subjectivities. The smiling face is not the face that holds power; it is the façade of a legal person. A legal person is a person who is not a person but just legally. It is allowed to do anything a person can: take on contracts, make bonds, do business, but it is not addressable, and, most importantly, not responsible like a real person. Responsibility is not spread out throughout its representatives, but sublimated in statues, although the representatives are made responsible for its shortcomings. It is very handy for a company to have the least intertwined made to face all the waves of issues that come. Anyone who has worked in a store of a big company might know this: they are held responsible for the faults of the legal person, even though they have no say. A legal person owns its improper body to those who it steals it from. They cannot commit crimes because they have no hands, although this is their first crime and many more follow. They have a name, a logo, but they cannot be addressed, perhaps only by a lawyer who speaks ‘legal.’ Ethics transgress any legal entity because they cannot act. Only their improper bodies can do so in its name which is sacred, but of course its improper body cannot be disposed of at will.

Eef Veldkamp

Eef Veldkamp (1993) is an artist, researcher and teacher for Fine Art and Design in Education at ArtEZ University of the Arts, the Netherlands. At ArtEZ, he researches questions around engaged practices. By intermingling artistic and philosophical research methods, he brings about subversive textual interventions that function as the point of departure for his artistic practice, in which he develops what he calls ‘counter-systems’. These are organisations erected to engage with a specific bottleneck in society, which they do through a multiplicity of forms that he terms ‘art on batteries’. He is currently investigating our mnemonic structures for dealing with societal crises, for which he is developing a new sort of souvenir.





Jonas Staal, Post-propaganda (Amsterdam: the Netherlands Foundation for Visual Arts, 2010), p. 52.

Staal 2010, p. 15.

Maria Hlavajova, ‘BAK: Art and Politics,’ seminar on March 11, 2019, 19:30-21:30 at BAK in Utrecht.

Maria Hlavajova and Jonas Staal, ‘World-Making as Commitment,’ in Former West: Art and the Contemporary After 1989, eds. Maria Hlavajova and Simon Sheikh (Cambridge/Utrecht: MIT Press/BAK, 2017), p. 672.

Judith Butler, ‘Trump Is Emancipating Unbridled Hatred,’ Zeit Online, October 28, 2016, https://www.zeit.de/kultur/2016-10/judith-butler-donald-trump-populism-interview/komplettansicht.


Staal 2010, p. 44.

Staal 2010, p. 84.

David van Reybrouck, Against Elections: The Case for Democracy (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2018).

Staal 2010, p. 84.

Staal 2010, p. 73.

Jacques Rancière, De Geëmancipeerde Toeschouwer, trans. Joost Beerten en Walter van der Star (Amsterdam: Octave, 2015), p. 79.

Stefano Harney, ‘The New Rules of Algorithmic Institutions,’ in Former West: Art and the Contemporary After 1989, eds. Maria Hlavajova and Simon Sheikh (Cambridge/Utrecht: MIT Press/BAK, 2017), p. 451.



  • Butler, Judith, ‘Trump Is Emancipating Unbridled Hatred.’ Zeit Online. Last modified October 28, 2016. https://www.zeit.de/kultur/2016-10/judith-butler-donald-trump-populism-interview/komplettansicht.
  • Harney, Stefano, ‘The New Rules of Algorithmic Institutions.’ In Former WestArt and the Contemporary After 1989, edited by Maria Hlavajova and Simon Sheikh. Cambridge/Utrecht: MIT Press/BAK, 2017.
  • Hlavajova, Maria, ‘BAK: Art and Politics.’ Lecture at Basis voor Actuele Kunst, Utrecht, 2019.
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