Tobias Madison, born 1985 in Basel, graduated in 2011 from the Zurich University of Arts (ZHdK). Madison is working in a wide-range of media such as sculpture, video, computer-generated and assisted painting, audio, text, and photography. His work focuses on fundamental questions of self-determination and the freedom of art, the individual, and institutions today. He currently lives and works in New York City and teaches in the master program of the HEAD in Geneva.
What fosters art?
A multi-billion suisse fränc industry. Different overlapping genealogies of thought. An aeon–old secret code that is transmitted, consumed, elaborated on and misunderstood at various intensities. What art fosters is a site for polemics and politics, a plane on which new languages can be developed and intensified. That site can’t be divided from the social conglomerate that is inhabiting it and the – hopefully as diverse as possible – conversation within is what really fosters art. The rest is just noise and the traversing vectors of financial markets.
Who is supporting you?
I recently started teaching at the HEAD in Geneva and it’s been the most wonderful experience. I fly back and forth from New York City and I always get really excited when my plane touches down at Geneva Airport. The ability to keep an ever-growing conversation going, expanding it, going back to previous topics, is what truly energizes me. You get me wrong, if you think im saying that it is my ability. I don’t even feel like any authority there. It’s something that is very specific to this assemblage of people, everyone’s generosity in thought. It makes me always wanting to be in touch with this mutation that we call art. Of course, I experience the same with friends, colleagues, critics, strangers etc., but this situation is really intensified, really sacred.
Does financial support expand creativity?
Of course, or at least it enables to move from idea to form, but it’s not always necessary. I guess it depends on the conditions in return for the support.
Must art be sellable?
The question would rather be: Can art not be sellable? Can you be more cynical than capitalism? When they go low, can you go lower? Art’s immersion in the financial market is disgusting, but there is also the thrill, the excitement about an artwork in these broader conditions, something that is set within the mathematical variables of the market. There are certain parts of art that can’t be bought, sensibilities that you just can’t develop, no matter how hard you invest. I think a lot about perversion recently. Times are sour, fascists babbling empty syllables into the air, the media supporting or reacting against – which are basically the same – because they’re structurally bound to doing so.
Anyone interested in media and its languages must appreciate this strange new world of fake news, memes, instant leaks, ISIS cat videos – its like a Dada wet dream, sadly operating against us. Irrationality occupied, what’s left to do is to mutate media in an even more pervert direction, to make it weirder than in the moment. There is a variety of sexual practices that are able to translate oppression into empowerment, lust. There is the weirdness that disarms prudeness, single-mindedness. Sorry, this is not some bizarre Bataille argument, I’m talking about the interpersonal relationship that media always penetrates. The microfascism of images on a cellular level between you and me.
Whats the other option? To – under the spell of fascist media wizards – be magically turned into a moralising swine? To respond rational in the face soul-crushing irrationality?
My breath stops a little when I hear: Oh, politics is something that is just up for grabs for whoever has the most influence to manipulate media, it’s just outside of our reach. The question is rather: Where is politics located? Which is somewhat related to where art is located when an artwork is sold?
In my opinion politics is something located in every single interaction and definitely not in slogans, online forums, petitions and the party system. To disarm sexism, misogyny, white supremacy, homophobia, racism, classism, exploitation, unfair labor conditions, boredom, any kind of separating entity should be the every-day task of everyone, not displaced into some other vessel, including art. Then there are NGO organisations that do amazing grassroots work like WAGE, Pro-Abortion Funds, Indigenous Peoples rights organisations, who are able to change something on a base level, but they are very different than art, they operate in very different structures.
Art can re-organise your views, but only if it doesn’t speak the languages that are already occupied, gentrified, repackaged, resold. I also think it’s fundamentally wrong to see art as something that belongs to the left wing.
Ok, sorry for the long bow around things: If you think about art as a mutation of thought, as something that is ever-changing with everyone and everything it contaminates, as something that in the process of contamination is able to deeply affect your perception, even alter your convictions, a field of influence that exceeds the artwork, then yeah, of course art is not sellable, just the material vomit of it is. Maybe I’d prefer it if art buyers would every now and then give their excess capital to the mentioned organisations instead of owning another silly thing.
Should art belong to the private or public?
As you can imagine, I’m somewhat opposed to binary models. There are companies like Hauser & Wirth & Schimmel, that under the guise of granting public and free access to art hide a general shift from public to private ownership. Im not blaming them, as this is structurally bound to happen in an inflated art economy, that prices out the means of public acquisition funds. We can’t really predict the outcome of this scenario yet, it’s too early. Public institutions and their support structures have equally created a scenario of private and exclusive ownership.
But beyond a public perception of an artwork, there will be a part of art which remains private, inaccessible, intimate and by that I don’t mean some hedge fund kiddos chesterfield couch in a chalet on the Cayman Islands or the perceived isolation in a monstrous gulag on the moon.