Contextualizing Talk and Progress

Just to introduce a little bit about myself,
I grew up in South Korea, and studied and lived in the US since I was in high school.
In University, I studied Fine Arts.
And today I will present a group project I recently worked on, called Talk and Progress.
But before I talk about the project itself, I would like to share some of my latest thoughts to contextualize the project.

And I would like to begin by asking what art means.
And there are endless definitions, but for the sake of time, I narrowed it down to just 3,
but keeping in mind that these definitions are not always so strict.
Firstly it meant Handcrafted goods.
I would say this form of art is the most traditional, ancient, and primitive, often with functional and decorative values attached to them.
What we consider antique objects roughly fall under this definition.
And there are contemporary arts and crafts, but generally they don’t step too far out of the bound of the functional and decorative values.
Secondly, art is a unique object endowed with the individual artist’s ingenious visions.
And this definition is probably very familiar to many people today.
But the idea of art as self-expression hasn’t acutally been around for that long.
In the 15th Century Renaissance, the idea of the Individual was just starting to take place in people’s consciousness and became more pronounced during the 17th and 18th Century Enlightenment,
which then led to the French Revolution of Bourgeoisie and Liberalism.
And this era of Liberalism still extends to today,
which explain why many of us associate art with self-expression of an individual.
And thirdly, perhaps the most familiar and yet vague definition of art is Modern Art.
It both inherits and rejects many aspects of the previous definitions of art, which confuses a lot of the contemporary museum visitors if they’re not particularly familiar with histories and theories in art.
And I’m not going to give a lecture on the history of Modern Art,
but one thing that I do want to point out is the social dimension in the currents of Modern Art.
Often, this social dimension attached to Art today, which perhaps began in the late 19th C, arose out of a reaction to industrialism, mass production, and commodity forms of art.
Generally speaking, many artists at the time felt that art lost its role as a representation of and connection to the spirit of humanity.
To be clear though, this definition of art is not to be associated with naive claims to the “purity” in art, divorced entirely from “money”,
because we can see that since Renaissance, most great art works that we learn about from art history today had been commissioned by great patrons.
No institutions in our society is completely independent from the rest, and the same is true for the institution of art. But when Art concerns itself too much with profit, then obviously it becomes indistinguishable from many other mass-produced commodities we find in our every day.

Just as the meaning of art changed over time, any field of human activity and value is always subject to change according to the given conditions in the course of History.

Then we may ask ourselves, how do these social conditions change and set the course of History?
Is it by fate, or do people have any say in it?
It’s a very complicated question dealt by many big name philosophers.
One thing we can definitely observe from the past is that the development of material conditions plays a crucial role.
The power of commerce and the abundance of goods simply made the existing social order and values, namely Feudalism, obsolete.
But as we have seen in the French Revolution, commerce has only set the conditions for historical development.
And back then, though many people knew that the conditions were ripe, they still had to carry out a decisive action.
Some say it was heroes like Napoleon who pushed history forward. Maybe there is some truth in that. But without the consciousness of many others, who supported him, could he alone have achieved what he had done?
The very idea of human rights is man-made. No human rights were given by nature, but created by humans.
Voting rights for women and racial minorities in America gained their grounds because they fought for it.

So what am I getting at here? It may start to sound like I’m about to make a political propaganda.
But my motive is simple.
It’s to live life to the fullest. To fulfill oneself.
It’s to realize oneself and grasp a sense of meaning as to what it all means to be here and now.
To tell the youths with the least doubt that I live fully to take part in the world, in which they and I live.
And hopefully they will find their own sense of meaning in the world and be able to do the same,
because after my body turns into fragments, I will still live on in them.

And of course, we all have to work with the given conditions. We have to pay bills, raise children, take care of our parents.
To simply shrug off these conditions, in other word, responsibilities and say that the world isn’t a good and fair place, seems rather like a denial of the world,
in other words, denial of the history of all that has existed before to determine this very moment of here and now, which is me, which is the world, and which will be.
But at the same time, for the world to be and will, in other words, for “I” to be and will, it is up to me and the choices I make, which is precisely that same denial of the world as status quo.

This internal contradiction between the subject and object seems incomprehensible.
On the one hand, it appears that I was simply born into the already existing world,
in which there are roads and cars, and televisions that broadcast flying spacecrafts,
all of which seemingly has nothing to do with my will.
On the other hand, it appears that the world, from mountains and trees which traveled the world to become the very floor on which I lie and the walls on which hang the plants I brought there, to the electrons mimicking my own image and reflecting back at me, the world couldn’t have simply been left alone.
It must have been denied of its fixed state of existence in order to transform and shape the world around me.
And perhaps any effort spent in transforming the world, in other words, making materials around us more familiar to us, in other words, active imagining, imagining by doing, and doing by imagining, is what labour means, and that we find reflection and fulfillment of ourselves and the world, in the fruits of our own labour.

Obviously there is no one straightforward answer to all the complexities in our world.
But the least I can say at the moment is this:
history is a man-made idea, as it requires our imagination. Memory is also an act of imagination.
As we’ve seen from Kerem’s presentation, we can observe from the evolutionary process, there must have been a necessity and reason for humans to have given birth to history.
There is a sense in me growing stronger that the more I understand historical contexts to various parts of the world and imagine what drove those people in the past, what values they lived by, and what they feared and loved,
our strange world in its appearance still remains strange, but perhaps less foreign.
I become aware of both my own sense in the world, and the sense of the world in me.
And with this historical sense, I start asking critical questions to myself and imagine different possibilities invoked by those questions.

And under this broadest and the most profound context I would like to present this project, that my partner and I named Talk and Progress.
In 2019, we came across this article named “Fully Automated Postcapitalist Visions” published in a quarterly magazine, called “Arts of the Working Class.”
And we decided to make an event to discuss this article.
We were able to borrow a co-working space of a design collective, named The Boys Club, which is actually an all-female design collective contrary to its name.
And 8 people in total gathered in our first event.
After our first event, we had two more events with one-month-gap in between.
For each event, we recorded and transcribed the discussions so we could use what was discussed as the topic for the next discussion.

Many things were discussed, excited, jived and agitated.
Possibilities of open-source, data, social credit, possession, local governance, direct democracy, synthesis of work-play, dirty jobs, copyright, where does originality begin and end, DIY, micro-economy, gift-economy, image consumption, modern-day illusions and myths, role of abstract language such as metaphor and allegory, history vs facts, and dozens more.
After the third and last discussion we invited all the participants to work with us in making a group project, based on the topics that stood out the most from all the discussions.
And one consistent topic that everyone showed interest in was Universal Basic Income.

Even when it’s not Corona time, it’s difficult enough to get people to come to your event.
So when you ask them to volunteer to work on something,
out of bare minimum respect, many people would maybe get confused.
Despite the confusion, we pursued our social experiment.
Eventually, 5 people in total participated in this group project.
Through several meetings, we brainstormed ideas and divided tasks.
We thought to ourselves that what we make, should naturally relate to things we are already interested in.
Eventually, we came up with the idea to make this website, asking one question to the public, what they would do with absolute free time.

And as I wrap up this presentation, I would like to entertain some food for thought.
Exactly when does our given historical condition become ripe? Ripe for what?
We seem to have many global crisis, from the most immediate one like Corona,
which is in itself a complex one tied to the environmental crisis and the way we do factory farming,
and then there are countless other issues like housing, employment, distribution of resources, which is all very overwhelming.
However, in the midst of all these heavy questions, there are some hopeful thoughts like Universal Basic Income and Automation, perhaps to set the conditions for the next stage of history.
But then, it makes me question, what if Universal Basic Income becomes an excuse for politicians to demise existing social welfare systems?
Is a social welfare state our society of dream?
And just how much automation is exactly sufficient to bring change, when considering automation is simply accumulation of all previous technologies,
just as steam engine, rail road, and light bulb were all accumulation of their previous technologies, also with the potential to provide more available time for people.
But has that liberated people?
Do we develop new needs together with new technologies?
Doesn’t technology just as much have the potential to liberate, as it has the potential to oppress, depending on how it’s used?
Under these questions then, what does liberation really look like?
Well, on one seemingly optimistic note, what we can observe is that at least some parts of the world that we call modern today have won certain human rights that we cherish.
And since the crisis we have is a global one, does that mean we need to wait until the modernization takes place in the majority of the world for their material conditions to be met?
These are all open questions.
But one thing seems certain to me. No human rights were given by nature, but created and won by humans.
That tells me that active human agency is decisively what makes progress in history.

And for the remaining time, I would like to dance.

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