Against Job: Give-get Money For Nothing.

I am fifteen years old and I am locked inside the bathroom at my parents’ home. The bathroom is the only place in a Greek house where you can find some privacy. I am looking at the pale pink porcelain tiles that surround me and I am imagining that they are telecommunication buttons and Control Panels. I dream that by clicking them, I am sending orders to a group of terrorists and I am producing beautiful explosions.
While I am sitting there blowing stuff up, my mother’s voice, or the recording of her voice that played in loop all day in my mind, arrives from the other side of the door. She is telling me that I should start working hard and plan my future otherwise, “you will end up a construction worker” she says, “life is not for free, you need a job because nobody ever gives you money for doing nothing”.

Doing nothing? That already sounded like a good job to me. I remember pushing some pink tiles and while a department store in the center of Athens was collapsing in flames I promised to take “doing nothing” as my future job.

Around 1983, I discovered a book about the great American artist Jackson Pollock. I found his art so easy that a few days later I started producing it myself, using his signature technique of dripping. Pollock had borrowed dripping from a friend of his dealer Peggy Guggenheim. Her name was Janet Sobel, you can Google her to find more because naturally the artworld -apart from a small article in Artforum- keeps this story a secret. Sobel was an amateur painter when she discovered that you can make wonderful paintings just by dripping colors on a canvas. When Mrs. Guggenheim gave her a show, Pollock was influenced to such a point that he abandoned the Picasso-type of pictures he was

doing up till then and start his giant canvases made exclusively with this lady’s technique.

In the beginning, making Pollock was just a summer game for me- I remember washing my pictures in the sea to make them look prettier. But after I sold one of them, I noticed that this was also a good way to get money for doing quite nothing.

In 1985 I left Greece for Italy and there I learned more about Contemporary Art. I realized that anyone with the courage to call himself an artist is welcome to try his luck in this field. No particular talent is required and after you made yourself a reputation, you get to travel around the planet for exhibitions.
While Museums and art-galleries pay your expenses, you have the feeling of participating in something important, a conspiracy on an aesthetic and even social level.

But around 1994, Contemporary Art was not fun anymore. Students from art colleges all around had learned the game and they were now respected artists, you had to compete with them. Biennials started happening all the time, everywhere. People were searching for some photogenic scandal so that they would win points in these exhibitions and would be invited to the upcoming ones. Each of us became specialized on a slice of the pie. It was all based on our identities and it was not all that different from working as a car mechanic. Some artists, would even resemble demolition workers, such was their capacity to fill up rooms with trash. That’s what Nicolas Bourriaud started calling Relational Aesthetics. It’s suppose to be an International generation of artists but in the reality, it was just about local stars. What young artists really represent, is the town and the country they reside.

Unfortunately for me, I wasn’t able to stick to a place. So while everyone was building his little business, I bought a computer and I started spending my time with it.
That computer-an Apple Powerbook laptop- was interesting mostly because it was empty. It’s memory was just a 4 MB and the screen a grayscale. So I really had to customize that machine to make something out of it. That’s how I started looking for some peculiar software, not because I wanted to do something with it but just to make my computer do something cool.
At a certain point, I was so empty of ideas for exhibitions that I decided to paint that laptop on a canvas. I didn’t really know how to paint but I had visited a lot of museums so I followed the instructions left by the dead masters. The dimensions of my paintings would also come from the old paintings, as well as the composition and colors. But in terms of atmosphere, I tried to apply a videogame touch to my pictures.

In 1996, I was officially a painter. But while making paintings is fine, you still have to exhibit them and this is too much of a job. If you are a visual artist, you ought to fill up white rooms in a peculiar way so that the public - mostly the expert one - must always get some kind of experience. And they know already what they want to see: they want to see something that looks like Contemporary Art.

Making enough money from my paintings in order to survive, I decided that I should find some niche, something which you could hardly call “art” at all.
That’s not so easy because today, any object you put in an empty room will look like Art. But then I realized that the objects you’ll encounter on the computer screen still look too unreal or too new to be already Art. I was living in New York then, but it was such a traditional city, so I moved to Los Angeles and I opened the “ElectronicOrphanage”. I start hiring a few people to become “Orphans” and soon they brought their friends, they weren’t many but they started building a new culture; casually, like a constantly drunk mechanic who is fixing the transmission of a Volvo in NY and the brakes of a Mercedes in Paris mixing all the parts.

I am convinced now that radical culture is always a side effect; there is no way to produce it in purpose.

It is stupid to pretend that you are doing art today while you are actually doing just a regular job. And if art is just a job like any other, then I don’t want to do it; maybe because-speaking the words of a literature critic about a black writer-“I never been hungry enough or insecure enough to learn the game”.
Also, the game today is destructive. There is a lot of demand and because of that, whoever expresses himself in a professional manner and does that for a long period of time, is mediocre by definition.

Miltos Manetas, New York 2001-2003. First version of this text was written for “Learn and Pass it On” published by the i-D magazine in 2001.