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<nettime> e-flux: Galleries Against Gaslighting: how can the UK art worl
nettime's_roving_reporter on Sun, 18 Jun 2017 10:13:40 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> e-flux: Galleries Against Gaslighting: how can the UK art world



Jun 17, 6:04 PM

The increased visibility of various forms of discrimination, populism,
nationalism, state sanctioned cruelty and bureaucratic indifference,
as practiced by world leaders including, but not limited to, Theresa
May, Donald Trump, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Rodrigo Duterte, has led
to an attitudinal shift in the art world.

Politics, hitherto confined to the relative hinterland of socially
engaged art, has now become difficult to ignore. That is to say, the
matter of where power is vested, how it is being wielded, and who or
what is benefiting from this arrangement versus who is subjugated and
dispossessed, has moved from the margins and to the twitter feeds,
IRL conversations, and psychological concerns of the individuals,
collectives and institutions that constitute the art world. The
question is how best to respond?

In addition to the more widespread and perhaps traditional reflective
responses of the symposium or the research based project, must
now surely come the unreserved expression of solidarity and the
dissemination of information that is empowering and informative for
the communities and citizens that participate in, digest or realise
the work that artists produce, institutions distribute, and critics of
all stripes reflect on.

Why should this be done? The art world is one of the few professional
spheres that has built up a vast network of contacts (through mailing
lists, memberships, regular visitors, education groups, volunteers
and specialist publications not as beholden to state agendas as
broadsheets, tabloids, and large broadcast media corporations) that
constitute a large proportion of the general public. In short, if
there is anything that might resemble an unfiltered and uncompromised
channel then it should be used.

While the recent UK general election was a missed opportunity for
this strategy of solidarity and dissemination, all eyes and energies
must now be on the disaster that many are identifying as corporate
manslaughter; the fire that has engulfed and killed residents of
Grenfell tower, and traumatized entire communities in the immediate
vicinity of Latimer Road, West London and beyond. The fire, allegedly
started by the explosion of a fridge, should have been contained and
isolated in the single apartment in which it took place. However,
due to what is being described as a perfect storm of architectural
and structural negligence perpetrated by developers, the council of
Kensington and Chelsea, and the current conservative government who
ignored legislation to impose stricter building regulations, the tower
bloc containing 128 apartments and at least 500 people, was almost
entirely destroyed and left a charred, gutted shell that may still

As the agenda setting media regurgitate and repackage the same
reports, coloured by the same cautions and empty gestures towards
unbiased reporting, what is happening on the ground is disturbingly
familiar to gaslighting. Anyone who has had any dealings with state
bureaucracy knows that the strategy employed to exhaust citizens
fighting for their rights is one of indifference, misinformation
and endless deferment to so called decision makers. Here is what is
happening on the ground that I have been able to observe:

• The death toll is being downplayed. According to off-the-record
sources from the police and fire services the death toll was around
160 people by the 20th floor of the block and rising.

• The agenda setting media is being pressured to kick the stats
into the long grass: the idea, according to unofficial sources, is to
slowly trickle out the real numbers over a period of two weeks, in the
hope that attention and outrage will have ‘died down’.

• Provisions are not getting to people: all the clothes, food,
and material resources are reportedly being held in storage by the
council. The reason being the council do not know, and are avoiding,
releasing an official tally of who has survived, although some tower
residents and residents in surrounding areas have been housed in

• People in temporary hotels are being moved from hotel to hotel: A
strategy of displacement and disorientation seems to be being employed
by government. Kids and families are stuck in hotel rooms and are
stuck in information systems of unpredictability, which is increasing
the trauma, and there are no services for counseling.

• There is absolutely no support from the council: There is no
counseling, no information centres, and no official representative
walking around talking to people. What is needed is a 24hr emergency
centre on site which will be the central point of focus, and
additional hotel rooms that can act as temporary service centers need
to be rented at the hotels where former residents are temporarily

• Where is Mayor Sadiq Khan?: London’s mayor is not here. People
are calling this London’s Hurricane Katrina, but where is our Russel
L. Honore? Sadiq Khan should set up a hub here to coordinate and
corral councilors into doing the work that they are failing to do.
He and his office need to be the ones guiding the police and the
overall official effort. There is a huge gulf and vacuum in the shape
of central responsibility and control. There are hundreds of people
struggling to do the work that people are being paid to do and it is a
total disgrace that they are not here.

• Criminal prosecutions for the politicians, developers, and
professional parties who are culpable for the spread of the fire:
Developers knew that the materials used to beautify the tower
block, so that it would appear ‘more pleasing’ externally, were
completely substandard. Apparently the price difference between the
fire resistant and flammable material was a mere £2, around $4.
That was the price of a life. This impulse to cut corners is down
to a bottom line of profit created by the massive restructuring and
disappearance of social housing, and the essential handing over
of social housing stock to the private sector; the Conservative's
strategy that has accelerated since the global financial crisis of

The above information needs to be put out to as many sources as
possible. But for pressing demands that can be distributed easily and
succinctly, voices of concerned parties are identifying two key areas:

Immigration amnesty for everyone affected/nobody to be deported.
There are reports that residents may have had applications for full
residency in process and have had their 20 years evidence of British
residency burned in the fire; this must not be used as an opportunity
to deport.

Full temporary and permanent housing in the borough for the residents
of Grenfell Tower and surrounds. Anyone who needs to be moved should
be able to stay in the area should they choose.

Make no mistake this fire is the result of a concerted strategy of
willful neglect, mismanagement, bureaucratic indifference and cruelty.

Instead of the spectacular techsploitation of Richard Mosse,
institutions in the UK art world can respond by using their resources
for the dissemination of information (Twitter, Instagram and Facebook
accounts with tens of thousands of followers, huge mailing lists,
regular web visitors and so on), most pressingly to distribute the two
points above. These are the messages that need to be circulated to
counter misinformation and the media narrative that is beginning to be
constructed by agenda setting portals.

The art world isn’t FIFA and nobody will fine galleries, magazines,
and other intuitions for engaging in politics in this way. Of course
it is not the only answer, but in the era of so-called ‘fake news’
the institutional position must surely not be agonizing over combating
it. The answer must be doing something, by getting the information
out there that people need by employing the two-step strategy of
solidarity and dissemination. Galleries put their necks out to get
behind Brexit, and thousands took to the streets to march for their
rights and against the potential harm of friends, family and loved
ones in the near future. Today at least 160 people are dead because
our government, the Conservative party, doesn’t care about the poor.
It has actually happened. Surely we must do all we can to ensure that
they don’t get away with this.

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