Nicolas Bourriaud's little book Postproduction does not match the emphasis on cultural contestation and collaborative independence that is so conspicuous in the networks and projects of the new socially oriented artists. True, Bourriaud argues that "art can be a form of using the world", but when it comes to the details, Bourriaud converts these social events back into those of an encounter "between the artist and the one who comes to view the work". His new artist is a 'semionaut' (the DJ, the programmer, the web surfer), whose 'collaborations' with the social world are reduced to exchanges of signs. When he speaks of how the semionaut "activates the history" of appropriated material, Bourriaud is referring to the generation of new meanings. And because he places his hope in the liberatory effects of semiotic play, he takes his position in direct opposition to the avantgardist who asked "what can we make that is new?" with the motto, "how can we make do with what we have?" I think the new socially oriented artists are closer to the avantgarde than this, with a question that goes beyond Bourriaud's semiotic play: how we can make what we have do something else?
Old Habits Die Hard emphasises an aspect of contemporary independent art that separates it from Bourriaud's semionauts. The semionaut is an individual who, in Bourriaud's account, is in opposition to others, in particular to the obsolete producers on whom the semionaut's appropriational practice depends. Of course, this opposition can be redescribed in collaborative terms. The DJ and the socially oriented artist acts in a spirit of hospitality rather than hostility. While hospitality can contain its own forms of hostility - when inclusion is nothing but a positive spin on the neutralisation of opposition, for instance - there can be a tenderness to hospitality that is worth encouraging. As a genre of social interaction, hospitality is more promising, ethically, as a model for an artist run space than, say, entrepreneurialism or semiotic play. Collaborative independence, involving hospitalities within hospitalities, is a form of independence that does not delude itself that autonomy (self-determination) is equivalent to isolation (the myth of the self-created self) The 'self' of 'self-determination' is understood, within collaborative independence, to be co-produced with others. That is, the self of self-determination is not self-sufficient. And thus, the independence in collaborative independence is necessarily based on the individual's utter dependence on others.
We are not semionauts; we are, if anything, socionauts. Socially oriented artists do not demonstrate any inclination today to reduce social encounters to semiotic encounters. At the same time, such social encounters are not typically those between an artist and a viewer mediated by the object that is made by the former for the visual pleasure of the latter. If the contemporary artist contests culture by, among other things, contesting the role of the artist, then it follows that the contemporary artist contest culture by contesting the modes of attention of the viewer (the artist's traditional collaborator). In fact, contemporary artists seem to be in the process of converting the viewer into a doer, an active participator in the events and actions set up by the socionaut. In this sense, the contemporary artist in the first decade of the 21st century has in common with the avantgardist in the first part of the 20th century a vital commitment: the merging of art and life as a critique of the isolation of art from everything else. If the avantgarde's sense of breaking new ground gave them a social superiority complex, the current crop of socially oriented artists are avantgarde only insofar as they share the political programme of the avantgarde, not their social position at the head of culture. Avantgardism was always independent but now it has become independent collaborative hospitality."