Commons Service Group

As a collective of curators, we have given ourselves the two-fold mandate of informing the contemporary art field about the significance of the GATS (General Agreement on Trade in Services) for art and cultural production, and sharing knowledge about projects that oppose the commercialization of culture.

There has been virtually no discussion within the field of contemporary art on the significance of the GATS and its probable consequences. Through a series of "aesthetic manoeuvres", we aim to change that in whatever modest way we can. The Commons Service Group opens a space for research and debate, assuring the circulation of information via modes of dissemination and "inservention". It is because we undertook this role that we found it necessary to constitute the Commons Service Group.

We are concerned by how the GATS reduces what we understand as "art" and "culture" to a commercially regulated category: "Recreational, cultural, and sporting services". Many WTO member countries' public services, including cultural "services", were initially "exempted" from GATS negotiations for a period of ten years --in 2005, art and culture are due to be renegotiated at the level of the WTO, a process which is outside democratic processes. Art and culture are part of the commons, and we assert their public role. GATS international trade regulations designate public funding as "distorting trade" and thus will drastically transform the public resources and services constituting our societies and local communities.

We believe in other possibilities.

As a counter balance to the WTO's empire, we recommend art. Art practices that propose alternative exchanges and engage in subversive economies. Art practices in the service of oppositional capital. We align ourselves with cultural producers working within movements to build the commons, creating alternative modes of exchange, and new conceptions of work.

We have been engaging in exchanges with artists, theorists, economists, activists, and cultural producers, drawing upon their respective field of expertise/practice, to produce and disseminate actions illuminating the significance of the GATS for artists and artistic production. These exchanges and actions are central to our process, both contributing to the development of our curatorial project and activating the principle of "putting into common".

A project

Our project is a conceptual one: information on the GATS becomes working material on both political and aesthetic levels. This project is deployed across multiple phases and supports, comprising various forms of "inservention": as artists' inserts in free art publications (both in print and on-line), and as a series of micro-events during the professional opening of the Venice Biennale with a kiosk created by public works. In inviting artists and publications to collaborate with us in "aesthetic manoeuvres", we first undertook to share information with them about the significance of the GATS. We approached artists whose individual practice intersects with our chosen context without expecting them to address the GATS specifically, as that is the responsibility we have taken on board as the Commons Service Group.

This web site serves as a virtual kiosk. In order to offer a resource on the GATS for contemporary art's participants, we have created an information kit on the GATS. We invite you to consult this site regularly to follow the evolution of this and future Commons Service Group projects.

Origins of the CSG and project

The Commons Service Group is composed of Heather Anderson (anglophone Canadian), Jerome Grand (FrenchAmerican) and Julia Maier (French). We are the three participants of Session14 of the Ecole du MAGASIN, an international curatorial training program at the Centre National d'Art Contemporain in Grenoble (France). The Ecole is part of the Magasin's programming, and for ten months each year hosts a small team of participants selected through an application process.

The development of the Commons Service Group as a curatorial project commenced in the Ecole's first trimester with research on free publications and their critical potential (1). This led us to an interrogation of "the free", gift economies, sharing, and "putting into common"(2). In the process of our research, we encountered on the one hand cultural concerns surrounding the expanding application of the (GATS), and on the other hand projects and movements promoting the sharing of knowledge and artistic production: notably Open Source software movements, Creative Commons, Indymedia, Wikipedia, etc. It is at the intersection of these questions that we chose to locate our curatorial project, thus creating the Commons Service Group.

The site of Session 14 of the Ecole du Magasin presents central elements of research and production.



Heather Anderson (Canada, 1974) received her BFA from Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design (Vancouver, 1998), and her MA in Women's Studies from the Joint Women's Studies Programme at Mount Saint Vincent University, Dalhousie University, Saint Mary's University, in conjunction with the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (Halifax, 2003), with a thesis entitled Contemporary Canadian Women's Performance Art: Reading Postfeminism and Third-Wave Feminism. She was Curatorial Assistant at the MSVU Art Gallery in their annual apprenticeship program (2000-2001), and worked in the art handling team at the National Portrait Gallery in London (2004). After the Ecole du Magasin she plans to continue developing a practice as a curator, researcher, and writer.

Jerome Grand (1981, FrenchAmerican). Born and raised in France, I studied at Indiana University (Bloomington, IN, USA) where I received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 2004. My studio practices focused on printed/digital matter, and event-based installations. Along with my art courses, I furthered studies in art history, mathematics, media & cultural studies. I have created limited edition prints, developed event-based installation (view selected work), and assisted in the development and management of an independent art building. I intend to pursue my interest in the printed/digital form in both my curatorial and artistic practice, and to continue to serve the commons.

Julia Maier, born in France, artist and researcher. I followed a program of study in art and humanities, receiving both university and art school degrees. I was an assistant in a private art gallery in Paris for more than three years before moving to curatorial practice. As a founding member of the Commons Service Group, I wish to extend this experience in the development of future independant curatorial and artistic projects.