Visible Solutions LLC
It, culture provides for us.
Into it, we can invest.
Its, funding is not subsidizing
It, gives back many times more.
It, brings life to old buildings and forgotten places.
It, attracts and makes talents stay and the creativity enriches our environment.
An excerpt from Sigrid Viir’s ready-made poem, composed based on the words on Ragnar Siil, the director of the Development Department at the Ministry of Culture, 2009
It comes as no surprise that besides the promise carved into our constitution to preserve our culture for all time, the cultural politics of Estonia’s second period of independence is characterized by an ill-disguised wish to separate culture from the state. In the last issue of the magazine “Kunst” for 1996, artist Marko Laimre noted: “In the Estonian Republic, the artist is identified as a small entrepreneur; in other words, the official title “artist” can apply to anyone who produces something (art) or provides a (an artistic) service – ergo, considerable pressure on the arts community and the dangerously effective definition of their role in terms of the “right”.” A few years later, around 1998, the rhetoric of the sole trader is introduced to an increasingly thrifty companion, a new stool pigeon also foreign and with flashy feathers called the creative industries. In the decade that follows, it becomes one of the most used phrases in the programmes of the Ministry of Culture, as it is advertised as a universal solution to present and future impediments. The question is, how should the arts community respond – critically, of course! Therefore, in 2006, for example, curator Rael Artel expresses her indignation, typical among people involved in the arts, at the unmistakable demagogy of the cultural leaders in an article published in the Estonian daily Eesti Päevaleht, saying: “Video art and small enterprises belong to different categories of machine. I am waiting for the state to also recognize this fact.” However, these calls fell on deaf ears and the Estonian Institute for Future Studies and the Estonian Institute of Economic Research are still singing the same old song.
This is the stage that a collective of three young artists, Karel Koplimets, Taaniel Raudsepp and Sigrid Viir, enter with an unexpected angle in 2009.(1) In collaboration, they form a creative industries unit called Visible Solutions LLC, soon in the commercial register as an enterprise with full legal status. As a starting point, the shareholders of this artwork-enterprise declare, “Visible Solutions LLC is an art project, an artwork-enterprise that operates in the fields of art and the economy, combining aspects of both fields, and is constantly seeking new methods to create symbolic and economic capital and methods for converting one into the other.” (2)In April 2010, Visible Solutions temporarily closes Hobusepea Gallery and opens an office there to promote their products. As evident from the attitude and how the artists represent themselves as entrepreneurs, even during their first endeavour, it is not a parody or conventionally ironic gesture aimed at the creative industries, it is rather something much more elaborate – a simulation, a mimicry, an interactive translation between contexts in art and in business, a self-colonization.
Of course, creating corporate aesthetics and cover enterprises is not unusual in postmodern art practice – among other numerous examples there are the Finnish ironic Bonk Business Inc, the American conceptual General Idea, the Latvian anthropologic shop selling kombucha and the Danish idealist mercantilists, Superflex. In the local context, a special issue of Kunst.ee, “Firms and fictions” (Firmad ja fiktsioonid), was published in 2003; it provided a rather good overview of different art strategies flirting with corporate practice.(3) The question is which part of this will accommodate our own test tube capitalists. Reflecting on the ideological subconscious of the official cultural policy, they seem to overplay a known quote from Joseph Beuys - “business as evolutionary process. Everyone is an entrepreneur”. Yet, their projects, which in some measure really do take after Beuys’s idea of social sculpture, are characterized by precise metaphors and use installation as a medium to emphasize voids and the occasional moments of silence in mainstream neo-liberal ideology.
One of the most important reoccurring images in the works of Visible Solutions is Adam Smith’s pervading “invisible hand”. Although, in the 800-page epic “The Wealth of Nations”, one of the founding works in economics, the metaphor only occurs a couple of times, this mythologem has become the prevalent rhetorical argument in the neo-liberal business-utopia and successfully neglects to mention the wedge between economic liberties and liberties existing in other spheres of society. Here, the dominant claim is a simplified understanding of Smith, according to which the uninterrupted striving for personal gain, paradoxically, also provides maximum benefit for society. However, today’s vision of Smith, a former professor of ethics, is somewhat inappropriate, as through a closer reading it turns out that he really does not fully support laissez-faire capitalism(4); even though at this moment, that is not of primary importance. Everywhere Visible Solutions LLC closes a gallery in order to open their temporary office and present their products, a ritual, a happening “Hoisting the Banner”, takes place; during the ceremony, they collectively hoist the national flag of their current country of residence to which the image of the ideological dominant, the invisible hand, is added.
An even more interesting short circuit of meanings reveals itself in the prototype of the first product by Visible Solutions LLC, in an installation called “Adam Smith’s Pet Invisible Hand in a Cage” (2010), which convincingly brings together the image of the invisible hand and the never-ending cycle of production and consumption, the rat race. An attentive observer might also have noticed an image of a hand, this time in the form of an inflated yellow rubber glove, in the video exhibited during their first appearance called “Through technology and innovation, they found ways to work less and get better results” (2010). The video presents the everyday environment of the enterprise, with the sound of a copying machine on autopilot in the background, stressing the rhythm of routine productivity.
Their product samples are minimalist, mostly using the aesthetic code of brisk Nordic wooden hues; however, they are more artefacts of art than design and cannot be directly associated with the malicious contract with the marketing rhetoric that Hal Foster sees as an inherent part of contemporary design.(5) Also, their product presentations-performances cannot be characterized by the slick seductive marketing rhetoric that turns commodities into the substitutes of sublimated desire. Instead, they take a more strict approach by creating poetic bureaucratic jargon while imitating the specifics of the inner communications of the business world, of product development manuals and brand manuals. With the same strictness, their second work “Exterior Space for Interiors “Clarity”” (2010) is positioned somewhere between a minimalist zone and an art installation, it is a kind of a dystopian oasis that, after it is purchased, eliminates the need for ever leaving the office for greenery. Indoor emigration is enough.
The last notable public appearance took place at Tartu Art House in Tartu and resulted in a communication project that was paradoxically centred on an apparatus for generating safe vacuums of meaning. Visible Solutions LLC contacted 49 people, internationally renowned in the fields of art, theory and economics, sending them a customized proposal and an offer to receive a service in exchange.(6) The list includes everyone you could possibly imagine from Georg Soros and Sir Nicolas Serota to Noam Chomsky. From my point of view, the only one conspicuous by his absence is Richard Florida, the most prominent ideologist of creative industries. Among others, there are some names that are relevant from the standpoint of the personal iconography of Visible Solutions; for example, Laurie Anderson, in whose work the motif of the invisible hand has appeared and who received a proposition to include Visible Solutions in the list of companies in her song “Only an Expert”. The fact that the feedback to the proposals is close to nonexistent, as expected, makes the second project showcased in the exhibition even more powerful as a metaphor. The silence reveals the imbalance in the diagram of the global distribution of social capital. The installation “Chamber of Freedom with Integrated Memory Hole” (2012) consists of speakers, an mp3-player and a glass tube in a vacuum into which the sound waves coming through the machine are directed – clearly, resulting in silence.
As stated in the product manual, the integrated memory hole can very well contain dystopian, utopian or poetic thoughts and keep them from bothering anyone else. As if underlining its tautological nature, the installation is accompanied by an audio file of Marshall McLuhan’s text “Medium is the Message”. It is the perfect product from the test tube capitalist for generating a vacuum of meaning.
(1) To tell the story as it was, it must be said that it all began with a school project, in which, under the supervision of Indrek Grigor and together with fellow students, they decided to analyze the activities and rhetoric of the Ministry of Culture.
(2) Pealelend, Sirp, 07.05. 2010
(3) In this case, the most interesting position is probably taken by Superflex. “To put their ideas into practice, the use of business structures is a necessary and natural step. The aim is not profit, they strive for projects that could function just like those that could really change the world – on the same basis as production.”
Karin Laansoo, Superartikkel, Kunst.ee, 1/ 2003, p 60
(4) See Spencer J. Pack, Capitalism as a Moral System. Edward Elger, p 51-72
(5) Hal Foster, Design and Crime, Verso, London, 2002
(6) A complete overview of the people chosen for the project and the offers sent to them can be found at: www.visiblesolutions.eu