Notes On Sustainability

  Karl England  

March 2015

As a de-centralised cultural distribution system where any and all content and content editing/creating software is available legally as ‘open source’ or illegally via peer-2-peer torrents the internet has enabled an amazing flattening out of cultural production. The pre-internet world with it’s systems of hierarchical control via restricted access enabled via both geographical and financial proximity are rendered obsolete weakened by the free movement of information.

Sluice was born of a meeting over twitter and is a child of this more egalitarian model of organisation. Sluice is not predicated on removing gatekeepers per se, but rather in meritocratising access, and as far as possible minimising financial barriers.

This is why if we can give it away we do. All sluice material is released via creative commons, a copyright licensing platform that’s editable to suit the needs of the individual users, essentially CC replaces “all rights reserved” copyright management, with a more agile “some rights reserved” model. [link to sluice’s cc license]

Many of the projects we work with are a celebration of cultural value as a distinct entity from economic value. Some of the projects are implacably set against the commercial art market but most are at best ambivalent… The format our recent exhibition Xrates assumed was in part designed to draw out the nature of what was achieved in our preceding collaborative project, the Exchange Rates expo. How are outcomes defined? If the reason for participating in a project like the ER expo is not financial by what criteria can we determine success? Is it enough that people had a good time and got drunk on a roof in Brooklyn? Is it about making contacts? Collectively punching out of our little corners of the world and making a mark beyond this zoning district or that affordable backwater? Do we believe in the art we’re making or just in the importance that we continue to do so? What does sustainability mean for an art not particularly bothered with the market?

Musicians are amusingly finding it difficult to transition from a market based on the monetisation of endless facsimiles to one more akin to that of the fine artist where the point of (re)creation is marketable and everything else is promotion. The economy of the experience – which is marketable in the physical world - is reduced to meme-ification in the virtual world.

Sluice is called Sluice__ because our intention is to funnel a particular stream of cultural production. Value judgements are involved but primarily Sluice__ defines a series of parameters that describe a certain ethos, projects that fit those parameters are then eligible to participate.

Unfunded spaces are not ipso facto commercial, unfunded spaces are not ipso facto noncommercial, commercial galleries are not ipso facto profitable. Funded spaces are not ipso facto noncommercial. In the artist/curator-run non-profit grass-root, emerging sector it’s never black and white. Are some funding models more moral than others? Why is state funding OK but BP isn’t? Is the state’s war profiteering more ethical than the Zabludowicz’s? Can great art flourish in any of these systems?

What does sustainability actually mean? What sustains us? Sustainability seems to have been co-opted as primarily a financial state, as opposed to the broader definition of how systems remain diverse and productive (of which financial security is just a part). In line with this broader definition – Sluice is sustainable as long as there’s a demonstrable ongoing interest and demand for our activities. And there will only be an ongoing demand if we continue to push forward in offering something that other groups and institutions aren’t/can’t. As a financial prospect Sluice isn’t sustainable at all, but is propped up by the people that run it, as with most of the art world.

And if there is ongoing demand then we find a way of making it happen financially. Crucially we are not led by our financial position – even if we are defined in some way by it.

All of which is a long winded way of saying; if you support us, and can do so financially, do so. And if you can’t then that’s cool too, there are many ways to express support.  s