The “Fool’s Façade” in Amsterdam

Merijn Oudenampsen, who gave such a great talk on the Creative City back at the my-CI conference in Amsterdam in November 06, has now published a new version of his ideas in Variant magazine:

The article is excellent, with many sharp insights and lots of valuable resources in terms of bibliography. And above all, if anyone actually wanted to start critiquing the creative city — rather than just oozing with it on the way up to illusory middle-class complacency and blindness — then they could take his article as an inspiration. I mean, as an inspiration to leave the whole Creative Industries discourse behind and focus on reality again.

In particular, Merijn points out the old-fashioned and boring truth, that the reason the huge boom in urban decoration and entertainment is even possible, is that cities in the developed and financialized world are thriving on their ability to exploit a division of labor that has relegated production to the far reaches of Empire–or in some cases, just to the suburbs or the provinces or the former East, where the creatives don’t have to see it. The Creative Industries hype only makes sense in the capitals and major cities of “democracies” that are able to recruit the so-called best and brightest (or maybe the most compliant), while leaving whole classes, populations and regions to sink into decay, ecological crisis and war. So doesn’t this mean that what we really need to hear about is the Uncreative City?

I must say, however, that I am still glad that Merijn singles out and describes in detail the thing that made me cringe at the my-CI conference, but I mean really cringe, and feel that kind of terrible and dismaying feeling in the pit of your stomach when you sense the presence of an overwhelming force of public idiocy, which was the glowing presentation of the new Sandberg fine arts and design faculty facade (followed shortly thereafter by a distribution of real honest-to-goodness publicity for Amsterdam Creative City, in the form of a special issue of the local Time-Out-syle magazine). We were all supposed to admire the Sandberg facade, at a supposedly critical conference. Merijn describes it like this:

The new marketing function of the creative
sector is perhaps best illustrated by the recent
project of Sandberg called Artvertising. It involves
the facade of the Sandberg fine arts and design
faculty being turned into a huge billboard filled
with logos of predominantly major companies
and also some smaller cultural projects. Following
the model of the Million Dollar Homepage, the
sixteen thousand tiles of the facade (35 x 29cm
each) were sold for 20 euros a piece, making sure
to mention that all the business savvy people of
the office park Zuid As would be passing on the
adjacent ring road. A small blurb from the website
of Artvertising:

“Every self considered art or design intellectual ends
up twisting his or her nose to the so-called ‘commercial
world’. Art, culture, criticism is what it matters. But we
don’t think so. We believe that now, more than always,
the world is ruled by commercial and economical
relationships. Culture defines, and most important, is
defined these days by market dynamics.”15

The Sandberg project is a beautiful illustration
of the state of art in the Entrepreneurial City.
Perfectly vacuous, it’s like a bubble that’s bound
to burst. The accomplishment of the project – note
also its grammatical bluntness – is that it becomes
at once the tool of critique and its object; the
embodiment of post-critical art, stretched beyond
the cynical dystopias of Rem Koolhaas. However, it
did not fail in sparking some resistance during its
one month’s existence, it was modestly vandalised
by a group calling itself the ‘Pollock commando’,
wanting to reclaim the facade as a “public
canvas” by throwing paint bombs on it.

Well, I guess all the activists among us must be really impressed by those paint bombs! So I hope you see what I mean, when I say the best thing is to turn away from this sort of aesthetic ideology, and look at what’s going on in more prosaic terms. From San Francisco to Shanghai via Amsterdam and Copenhagen, the creative-class populism of the CI economy celebrates the ability of the managerial classes to not give a fuck about anyone else. The whole point is to get into the museum–or to own it, if you happen to be a corporate billionaire. And meanwhile, what’s happening all over the developed world, in addition to the decorations on the facades, is that center cities of being voided of everyone who does not engage either in direct corporate command, or in the kind of cultural shlock that decorated the Sandberg building. We all have a choice, which is to continue lapping this stuff up out of bowls in the forms of precarious contracts to actually produce it, or to find ways of recreating what used to be called an opposition. Right now there is almost none to be seen — and by the way, this is what I meant when I once called the position of the cultural producer today humiliating. It’s above all humiliating to have anything whatsoever to do with the production of this “Creative City” ideology.


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