Three Questions For Mi You


Since October 2021, all professorships at the documenta Institute have been appointed. With Mi You, Felix Vogel and Liliana Gómez, scholars came to Kassel who have been bringing their respective backgrounds, ideas and perspectives to the documenta Institute since then. With the series "Three questions to..." we would like to give a first impression of this. Heinz Bude asked the professors the following questions: How did you take notice of your professorship? What background do you have? And where do you want to go? This time the answers are given by Mi You, professor of the Department of Art and Economies.


HB: Do you remember where you read the job advertisement for your professorship? In which newspaper? In DIE ZEIT? Or through a network?

MY: I think it was on the Internet.

When I read the announcement for the professorship of Art and Economies, I realized that the university was open to different interpretations of the topic. On the one hand, there was talk of the intrinsic value of art, but on the other hand, also of the infrastructural and economic conditions of art production. There was also the question of different forms of value - or at least that's how I understood it. This openness suited me, for I am interested in a productive cross-reading of art and economies. For me, the question is not so much about the economy in the art field, such as the art market but about the question of how we can arrive at other economic ways of thinking through art. What does it mean to form thoughts with alternative forms of value? How can art contribute to realizing new shapes of value and society? With questions like these, I immediately found myself in the job profile.

Of course, the connection to the documenta archive also appealed to me. But I was also interested in the prospect that the documenta Institute will work in a research-oriented as well as a public-oriented way. It is precisely this emphasis on public relations that is very important to me. That's why I want to work not only in Kassel but also with Kassel, a - as we know - multi-layered city. I also find the possibility of dealing with Kassel between the documenta exhibitions extremely appealing. Because the regional doesn't have to be provincial at all. I would even say that the future of Europe depends on small cities and rural areas. Just look at the resistance of the right-wing for that.

As I said, working with the public at the documenta Institute is central for me.

HB: And what is your perspective when you do research?

MY: Due to my research in Art and Media Studies and Science and technology studies, I have quite an interdisciplinary background. While writing my dissertation, I also worked intensively with New Materialism and Historical Materialism. When I deal with art and economies, I combine all of these.

I look at the question of the value of art classically from the perspective of the labor theory of value and production relations but also from the perspective of financial capitalism. Increasingly, we are, in fact, recognizing the structural similarity between the art world and the financial world, for instance, in the sense that both capital and art are, in a certain sense, subjects that act in a self-logical and independent way.

At this point, my claim to cross-read art and economies in a productive way comes into play again. With my work, I do not want to stop at the level of critique, but rather to think further about the conditions and explore possibilities for change. Accordingly, the question of the possibilities and theories of social transformation is always present. In this sense, it is interesting for us in the Arts to find ways in which, for example, finances can be socialized and the social is not further subordinated to financial thinking. The aim is to (re)generate value where there was none before. Or creating liquidity and value arbitrage for social purposes, for example, by looking at the care work sector and larger social infrastructure systems like the pension fund. So how can we optimize the system and advance other forms of social organization? That will be one perspective in my research.

HB: And do you know where you want to be in maybe ten years?


MY: That's quite a long time, let us say five years. As I said, one of my main concern is how art can re-engage with society and be part of social transformation processes. For example, how can artists bring new forms of organizing care work or even pension funds into society? Or how can we break away from the pressure of production thinking that prevails in the art world and possibly shift the paradigm from production to maintenance?

The current documenta, by the way, shares this concern. It is concerned with the transformative power of art, which can be used in very different areas, for example, in rural development, ecological modernization, or technology in general. Especially regarding technologies, it would be necessary for us to become more aware of their relevance and to take action against the dictatorship of Big Tech. Art can help searching for alternative forms of organization in this area and is already doing so - just think of data communities and platform cooperatives.

These are all big tasks, and I don't think the arts should approach them in a self-indulgent way. Rather, artists should see themselves as part of a complex process. In doing so, they can participate by utilizing the power of narratives, by charting unconventional, non-technocratic paths, and by experimenting with relational approaches. That's the first area of action for me in the future. 
The second is about the question of globality and global art. How should we do Global Art Studies these days? It would be too little if we only connected expertise from the field of regional studies with art or simply contemplate art that exists and takes place "as such" elsewhere in the world. More important would be drawing transversal lines that connect what is happening somewhere in such a way that it is relevant elsewhere.

Let me give an example. Currently, there is a rather insidious development in Poland and Russia. There, contemporary art is being co-opted by right-wing politics. The works use contemporary aesthetic language, but the message is nationalistic. We should observe such processes and study the connections between them. This would also help us understand where we are today and where certain milieus might be heading in Western European countries, that are still the stronghold of democracy. I think such perspectives would be important for global art studies in the future and could make a real difference.