Mike Watson is an art theorist and curator based in Italy. He holds a PhD in Philosophy from Goldsmiths College and has curated for Nomas Foundation and at the 55th and 56th Venice Biennale. He has written regularly for Frieze, Art Review and Radical Philosophy. His book, Towards a Conceptual Militancy (Zero Books) is both a critique of the political left and the art world, ultimately arguing for a commons based cultural management which can act a space or rethinking the approach of the left. Mark McGowan’s mimesis of the media, as he sensationalises events using the language of the ‘man on the street’ (or, rather, the ‘taxi driver’), exposes the media itself as a propaganda machine whilst providing a voice for otherwise marginalised figures. Also a prominent anti-war and anti-austerity activist, McGowan’s performance art has evolved from shock tactics to diligent and constant political campaigning for the rights of workers, disabled people, the sick, immigrants and the disaffected in general.
On the occasion of the launch of Towards a Conceptual Militancy (Mike Watson, Zero Books) the author enters into dialogue with Mark McGowan (AKA the Artist Taxi Driver) on the political status quo and the art world’s reaction to it. Drawing on the experience of austerity in the UK and the vibrant art occupations of the bene comune movement in Italy (where Watson has been based since 2008), the conversation will ask what, if anything, a politicised art form can achieve post-economic Crisis.
As state supported finance capital meets with a surveillance machine ready to keep the population in check it seems doubtful that art can provide the answers where concrete political activism failed. All the while the art world itself is corrupt to its core with dealers, galleries, fairs, biennials, and collectors operating a racket, whilst workers often go unpaid or underpaid.
Against this backdrop McGowan and Watson ask what, if anything an art based political response to our times might achieve?