A Miami based contemporary art newsletter / blog

Tommy Ralph Pace: Cultural Production and the Capitalist Paradigm

Dialogue Project, 2008. 8.5 x 11 Computer prints

Dear Friend,
Global warming is an urgent, but solvable problem. That’s why I’ve joined the We Campaign, a powerful nonpartisan movement of concerned citizens that was founded by Nobel Prize Laureate and former Vice President Al Gore. We’re already a million strong — and growing each day.
Will you join, too? Visit this site to learn more and add your voice:
Together, we can solve the climate crisis.

Do we know you? We would prefer not to receive group e-mails to this address.
Thank you, ARTLURKER.

Sorry the website loaded my Gmail address book. It was a blip. Sorry. Tommy Pace.

No problem, your name is familiar though – who are you?

I e-mailed you a week ago an asked about making a submission to ARTLURKER.

Thank you, Tommy for jogging our memory. Your recent indiscretion has not blighted our interest in your work; in fact, we have been looking for artists who intersect with green technologies or deal with the evolution of technologies and design.

No worries, I accidentally sent that email to my 380 Gmail contacts. I got a lot of “who are you” responses. I have to admit that my immediate concern in wanting to connect and contribute to your forum is in preparation for my return to Miami now as a “trained” artist. You offer one of the few outlets for critical contemporary art discourse in Miami, and I am a little fearful of returning to the perma-vacationer oblivion that is the sunny enclaves of South Florida. As somebody who left Miami for NYC at 18 to pursue a BFA due to the lack of a sustainable “cultural infrastructure”, I am fascinated by the influx of “culture” that Art Basel and other venues have nefariously spawned in my absence. In my own practice I am attempting to defeat/question, or defeat by questioning capitalist power relationships within contemporary visual culture. This process has left me somewhat down and out and as I now find little joy traditional mediums due to their overwhelmingly commoditized nature I find my work has become didactic. But still, when most contemporary art practices and the dialogue surrounding them revolve around this capitalist paradigm, where the cult of “genius”, and simple transactional decision making rule, the transcendence of this super structure is illuminated as the next great frontier.

Follow, 2008. 8.5 x 11 Computer prints

We hear what you are saying but we would fear being perceived as righteous or that our contributions to culture would be seen as operating within specific ontological or epistemological contexts. You say the capitalist paradigm takes precedence where as we feel that it becomes intrinsic to our production and that generally we have little choice but to operate within that framework. This is not necessarily a bad thing, however, fighting one’s self can be, which is maybe why you feel like you are fighting a losing battle.

We know that human production existed long before the capitalist paradigm, which means it will exist after (if you use deductive reasoning). That’s where I am stuck; figuring out how to get to be in conversation with, and listen for what is after. The battle is one that I am fighting with myself, but I suspect that everyone who is a consumer/citizen (getting harder and harder to tell the difference these days) may feel this tension as well. I can not escape the capitalist paradigm in my consumption, but through education and research I can try to deconstruct the symbolic violence occurring within in it. I do feel a responsibility to the role as cultural producer to eliminate, or at least transcend the greedy, private, lonely nature of the art market – but essentially I am helpless. For the last 2 years I have tried mediate the roles of critic, collector, art market and museum in an attempt to map something out in the spirit of Mark Lombardi. I fear however now that my polemic has actually become pander. What can I make that can be free, in all senses of the word?

Big American Painting for Alice Walton, 2008. 4 x 6 Metallic prints

Surely as a contemporary artist you must deal with contemporary (or present) issues in order to be heard at all. The notion of anticipating what will happen not only smells a little doomsday-esq, but also has the potential to alienate you from your audience, whom like the rest of us and like yourself, live in the now. You could of course make this debate your art – which we suppose is interesting – but we would fear going mad. It seems to us that things will run their course and that perhaps artists should not invest too much of themselves into what might be but rather focus their great ability to reflect on, inspire and/or communicate a sense of social or political camaraderie. Artists above all people might want to escape their current political climates but they are more likely to be the ones who affect new directions rather than trying to predict them and dare we say it, capitalize on them.

I see your point, and possibly I misstated mine. I should have just quoted someone smarter than me to get my idea across. Angela Davis, infamous ‘Black Panther’ party member, and once Vice Presidential candidate for the Communist Party, was recently invited to host two panel discussions here at Pratt. In media theorist Jon Beller’s introduction to her keynote speech titled: ‘Identifying Racism in the Era of NeoLiberalism’, he pointed out the relevance of inviting Angela Davis to an art school :
“I’ll put it simply: Artists, Architects, Designers, Writers, Creatives of all types use what they know of the world to re-envision and indeed to remake the world. “Each epoch dreams the next,” as they saying goes. In case anyone hasn’t noticed, the world isn’t a particularly nice place, particularly for many women, people of color and for the Global South. We need to ask both, how do things stand? And what are we dreaming of?…” “An artist whose work complacently reproduces what is, an artist whose work does not engage with the social in a profound and complex way, risks being unworthy of their art…”

“The only path of liberation for black people is that which leads toward complete and radical overthrow of the capitalist class.” – Angela Davis.
Would you say then that you aspire to be a revolutionary? And if so, is this desire for change borne of a desire to be able to breathe as an artist?


The Market Will Pit Me Against You, 2008. 8.5 x 11 Computer prints

We agree with what Beller is saying but the fact is that everything goes wrong at some point; history has proved that. These days, relative to past frontiers, we think that people don’t really have a specific or cohesive interest other than perhaps a pseudo-political one based on the reality that we are all consuming on a similar level and trying to do so in a politically ‘correct’ manner. As a result culture has become something that you buy into rather than something to participate in.

In the global context I think that it is impossible to say that we are all consuming at the same levels, I mean the “consumer class” is only about 1.8 billion people, leaving 4 billion at the bottom of the pyramid. Capitalism not only maintains its violent and oppressive effects through an alienation of production, but also an alienation of understanding. The “symbolic violence” Pierre Bourdieu conceptualized.

“So individually we must become conscience. I assure you, you will then individually create something immense, not a society which is merely holding to an ideal and, therefore, decaying, but a society that is constantly in movement, not coming to a culmination and dying. Individuals establish a goal, strive after its attainment, and after attaining, collapse. They try all the time to reach some goal and stay at the stage which they have attained. As the individual so the state – the state is trying all the time to reach an ideal, a goal, whereas to me, the individual must be in constant movement, must ever be becoming, not seeking a culmination, not pursuing a goal. Then self-expression, which is society, will be in ever constant motion”
-J. Krishnamurti

I think that quote is a really nice climax of this conversation. I Wikipedia’ed the author of it and he died 16 days after I was born[.]

Tommy Ralph Pace is a visual artist and a student of Pratt Institute. A new video work by Tommy entitled “Getting Capital Hurts Like Bullets” is included in the video exhibition Optic Nerve X which screens tonight, August 7th at 7pm and 9pm at The Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami. Joan Lehman Building, 770 NE 125th Street, North Miami, FL 33161.

For more information on this Museum please visit:

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Tommy Ralph Pace: Cultural Production and the Capitalist Paradigm