(UN) Conference at Tanzquartier Wien 6 · First day · By Theresa Luise Gindlstrasser

(UN)Conference · Day 1

Sustainability is a term we very often use in the context of “sustainable development”. Sustainable development then is very often used in the sense of progress, of becoming better and maybe more, but not too much and most importantly without minimizing the options too much that this planet holds for us in the future. Or as the United Nations coined it in 1987 and Wikipedia is providing it today: “sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.“

After the first day of the (UN)Conference Elke Krasny, who was giving the first keynote titled Planetary Perspectives + Politics of Care, was the one to remind the audience of the fact that the title of the conference relates a strange lot to (UN)Conference, so after one full day of speaking about “sustainability in relation to artistic production” a lot of different attitudes towards this term have, not surprisingly, popped up. In everyday understanding sustainability is something we try to do by buying “Ja! Natürlich” milk, by swapping clothes with friends and by not flying to Canada and Vietnam but choosing one of the two. When it comes to discussing this concept and also its origin and development it all leads very quickly to questioning the whole arrangement we live in, the economic and political structures we are facing and the role of art in the midst of all this.

So yes, as promised in the programme outline, there was very little talk about the specific possibilities of how to establish our everyday understanding of sustainability also in the field of art production and art distribution. Like: How to provide continuity in the work process of artists and create possibilities for them to work longer on a project, to show the project more often, to try and fail, to grow an own repertoire? Or: How to avoid playing the game of searching/finding/promoting young artists only until the next one is searched for, found and promoted? The second day will present more of these so called best practice solutions. But there was lots of talk.

During the three keynotes in the morning – Janek Müller who was supposed to give the very first one of them was not able to attend the conference -, but even more so during the open discussion after lunch at least two notions of “sustainability” were established. The first one I would like to call “slow down”, the second one will be “where the hell”, and yes, this is Radiohead.

“Slow down”. Why? And in what sense? Because capitalism is based on a concept of “the more, the merrier” and only when we interrupt or disrupt this concept we can start breathing again. As we go faster and faster and produce more and more we loose the capacity to look ahead and question what it is we are doing here. So Adrienne Goehler in her lecture How do we actually want to live? – beautiful slip of the tongue by I forgot who it was: “working nine to fine” – was promoting the idea of a basic income grant, not tied to any conditions. Slowing down means redirecting resources in order to provide a chance also for those who are not already merrier. So what I call “slow down” is searching for means to put an end to the constant necessity of running.

“Where the hell”. The second notion of sustainability is actually asking, why the hell we would want to continue living in a system that will, and has always done so, as Elke Krasny was explaining, find profit also in concepts that seemingly try to change it, while only polishing symptoms and never touching the primal scene. This primal scene would be gaining profit. So the second notion captures capitalism as something that feeds solemnly on that. Jacob Bilabel, who is giving his keynote tomorrow, was in this context speaking about ideas of a shared economy in contrast to the economy based upon scarcity in which we live today.

Theresa Luise Gindlstrasser
25 April 2015