Precariousness

Do you know how things conspire in your favor when you put your mind to something? I am planning this big thing to go to East Timor and do a project about that country, and many things I have been reading, ideas and conversations seem (to me at least) to reveal some aspects I must take into consideration. One such aspect is precarity. This morning, going through my usual morning reading rounds, I chance upon this:

Drawing upon the ethical thought of Emmanuel Levinas, Judith Butler has interrogated precarity in the wake of September 11th in works such asPrecarious Life (2004) and more recently, Frames of War: When is Life Grievable? (2009), where she writes: ‘Precariousness implies living socially, that is, the fact that one’s life is always in some sense in the hands of the other.’ The debates within the field of economics and sociology and the political and philosophical reflections of thinkers like Virno and Butler lead the curator Nicolas Bourriaud to posit the existence of a ‘precarious art’. In a recent essay Bourriaud writes: ‘When we look at artistic production today, we see that in the heart of the global economic machine that favours unbridled consumerism and undermines everything that is durable, a culture is developing from the bankruptcy of endurance that is based on that which threatens it most, namely precariousness.’

from Art&Research Journal

I define precarity as a sort of fragility, and when I think of East Timor, fragility is the first thing that comes to mind. Systems that have been initiated, but not quite finished. Roads that are built but that don’t take you very far. Workforces in transit and without security. Your delegation of your life to the hands of others. Unsustainable and unpredictable climate changes. Precariousness can be thought of as the liminal threshold between development and disaster. I guess Bourriaud is right to ask: is there something called ‘precarious art”? Is this the same as saying “is there art about precarity”?

Baucau, East Timor. Photo by Luis Baia

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