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The visibility of the capital apparatus

January 11th, 2012 by Remco de Blaaij

Today I stumbled upon an interview with the new director of the Institute of the Tropics in Amsterdam. Since last year, as a wide array of other cultural stages, the institute has experienced a direct financial threat by withdrawal of large governmental funding. In order to be able to deal with this instant threat, the board has appointed a new director who hopefully will be able to save the institute from its urgent lack of oxygen.

The choice for the director perhaps can be seen as an archetypical one in dark days of cultural setback in the name of financial decline. Constructing his CV mostly in the entertainment business, he is hoped to deliver new forms of ‘earning models’, the only way forward to save an institution of its cultural importance. It made me think once again how the entanglement of clear capitalist systems can be read through the shift of cultural institutional practices. I was wondering if perhaps, in times where one is not allowed to exist beyond unavoidable financial catastrophe, offers a potential of visibility for capitalist and financial systems and surfacing of motivations to be read through the current (dis)placement and mobility of culture in the very name of ‘unavoidable’ financial crises.

The Tropical Institute and the appointment of a new financial strategic brain is not a unique event, but part of an array of measurements that seem to have initiated in the Netherlands parallel with the introduction of the  rhetoric of ‘the financial crisis’ starting in 2008. Since then, some major cultural institutions in the Netherlands have seen change of leadership, like the Prince Claus Funds appointing a lawmaker as its director, or a more radical shift undertaken by the merge of Fonds BKVB and Mondriaan Fonds, up until the threatening disposal of institutes like Rijksakademie and SKOR. Each history having a complex relationship to governance, which is something that one should read closer, could provide a new line of sight. A line that shows us not so much radical changes in cultural policy itself through social change, but the non radical changes in capital policy itself in a world where some believe capitalist systems can no longer be valid, non functional and the apparatus of betraying the people.

However, for me, the interview shows no signs of any despair, disbelief or even a collapse of any of these systems, or even a true radical rethinking of foundations of cultural policies, in fact, the true potential lies in surfacing a new capitalist possibility in total opposite of destruction. The language being operated is one that signals an urgent need of awareness and visibility in many institutional discussions occupying the current. Especially alarming however is to hear that culture can only retain its value by serving a ‘wide as possible audience’, a direct link to consumers. The new director recognises this by taking the total population of the Netherlands (17 million) and comparing it to the current visitor amount (200.000), concluding space for growth with many more visitors. This in itself is an equally evident as well as shocking conclusion where a gap in the market urgently seems to need a refill. In many fields, this mobilizing of the ‘customer subjects’ can be regarded valid, but in the case of the Tropical Institute and perhaps even in the wider cultural field, culture kicks in as a badly selling product in need of renewed strategy. This radical reduction is apparent in the attitude of the new director when commenting on new and broader audiences able to learn through the Tropical Insitute on new cultures as well as their own. But how then? I read nothing more than Dutch present colonial language that still functions on a form of ‘barbarising’ a culture through only acknowledging its economic value and using culture as a mere marketing language, it sells, but what does it do? It exchanges, cross examines and let cultures learn form each other, as if the Tropical Institute is the only institution capable of playing a role in cultural exchange and comes to this conclusion by drawing out a simple measurements of bodies.

In that light it could be that we are at a junction where intellectual approaches are believed to be out of economic potential, to be traded in ( as it no longer contributes to a cashflow) for something new. This ‘something new’ mostly finds its way in language forms of creating ‘wider audiences’ or ‘wider programmes’, but in fact the real potential is not existing in search for the new product, the new kid on the block, but its deep commitment to new capitalist urgency in the name of culture itself. This in itself could be worrying and at some times irreversible frightening for many people that still believe in the value of other value systems in operation, but it does give us one opportunity and that is to make visible and imagine capital apparatuses underlying our cultural infrastructure, networks and even future potentialities.

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