On the ground floor of City Hall is the Office of Art, Culture, and the Creative Economy. Inside that office is an art gallery. Inside that gallery is another office, the Department of Alternative Affairs.
The stated goal of the DAA is “art in the pursuit of good.”
It’s a fake.
The Department of Alternative Affairs is a playful send-up, a bureaucratic system assigned to the creation of art. It has a desk, a website, even employee ID badges.
It’s the collaborative brainchild of Little Berlin, FLUXspace, and extra extra–three fringe art collectives in the Kensington neighborhood that were invited to set up shop in City Hall for the month of July.
A conceptual visual
They are each non-hierarchical, meaning their members collaborate by consensus, with no designated leader. They traffic in performance, electronic, and installation art that is often too conceptual to be sold. Nobody makes any money at this.
The DAA is a whimsically officious way of saying art galleries that don’t contribute to the economy are still worthwhile.
“By labeling it Department of Alternative Affairs, with a website listing public services, framing it that way people might be, ‘wait, they really do serve the public,'” said Beth Heinly of Little Berlin. “People don’t think about that–how important it is for independent spaces to be operating.”
For the DAA, Heinly set up an office desk inside the gallery mimicking the reception desk on the other side of the room–that of the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy–right down to the potted plant.
Dressed in a crisp pantsuit, Heinly will be holding regular office hours doing both the real work of administering Little Berlin and performance of running a fictitious city agency.
FLUXspace created an office environment with an old microfilm machine and five metal filing cabinets filled with every issue of the New York Times from 1850 to 2008. The public is invited to peruse the obsolete archival technology at their pleasure.
The third collaborative project–extra extra–has installed a video loop of images depicting pressure, from a human acrobat tower to the surface of the sun. To draw a contrast, once a week a member of the collective will don a pagan robe and meditate. His “Meditation Mondays” are a pun on corporate “focus groups.”
Real agency embraces fictitious one
The Office of Art, Culture, and the Creative Economy (the legitimate city agency) invited the collectives into their office to highlight the burgeoning alternative art scene in Kensington. It’s also a philosophical intervention for an agency up to its neck in city bureaucracy and politics.
“Art is not just about objects. It’s about ideas, and we sometimes forget that artists are the prime movers of our society,” said Tu Huynh of the OACCE. “It’s necessary that our office–in City Hall, in any building–every now and then ask ourselves, ‘Why do we do what we do, how do we do it, what is the structure of our thinking?'”
During the month-long residency, members of the collectives will create art inside the gallery, but just what form the art will take is anybody’s guess; it will come out of a collaborative process.