Artists, debt, and global activism

Mark W. Rectanus
Finance and Society, 2016, 2(1): 2-24


This article examines how artists, activism, and works of art may contribute to a more textured understanding of debt in contemporary society and culture. The diversity of aesthetic practices and range of strategic interventions in which artists are organizers and activists are manifest in the Global Ultra Luxury Faction (G.U.L.F.), advocacy initiatives by Working Artists and the Greater Economy (W.A.G.E.), and alternative, trans-local projects such as the Arts Collaboratory. These activist interventions provide the context for an examination of how artists have seized upon discourses related to debt and finance to produce works that offer a critical reappraisal of the global economy. Artists’ projects by Martha Rosler, Cassie Thornton, Zachary Formwalt, and Michael Najjar challenge audiences to rethink the invisible networks of debt and exchange by creating new visual vocabularies for ‘seeing’ debt. The emergence of activist groups, such as Liberate Tate, has also signaled renewed interest in the ethics of corporate sponsorships, museums, and environmental issues. A heightened awareness of the ethical dimensions of debt and global support for activist movements may contribute to new notions of citizenship and performative democracy that can incite individual and collective renegotiations of how we might critically rethink debt.

Research articles