Consumption as Creation: A Tactical Probe into Cognitive Capitalism through Art Practice-based Research Methods

消費如同創作: 透過以藝術實踐為基礎的研究方法對認知資本主義進行對策探討 

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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  • Josef BARES

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Awarding Institution
Award date8 Sep 2016


The thesis uses a self-centered art practice based on consumption as a research method. How can an idiosyncratic set of consumer decisions, captured in the form of personal expenditure records, be used as a means towards a meaning producing process instead of being, as it often is, an object of behavioral research? Furthermore, I ask how the shift towards cognitive capitalism influences the effectivity of artmaking as a critical practice and my self-understanding as a three-in-one of the artist, the researcher and the consumer. The three probes into cognitive capitalism based on tactics (Certeau, 1984) of everyday consumption presented in the thesis provide evidence of how meaning can be produced by employing the ego instead of dwelling on it.

The understanding of attention-directing and knowledge-producing cognitive faculties as a form of intangible capital has strongly shaped our lived experience of the last decades (Davenport & Beck, 2001). The trends went hand in hand with info-technological development (Zwick & Denegri Knott, 2009), leading to a decoupling of consumption from the materiality and use-value of the products consumed (Baudrillard, 1996). Yet despite these developments, semioticised and financialized consumption is driven by our needs and desires (Deleuze & Guattari, 1983) anchored in the meatware (Clark, 2001) of our brain caught up in a feedback loop between the Symbolic (Lacan, 2006) and the neural (Neidich, 2009), manifested through individual coping tactics of everyday practice.

Production (creation) cannot be understood as a simple opposite to consumption, as if a product of a creative process would disappear or be destroyed when consumed. Consumption does not only mean a disappearance of something, but also an appearance, a creation through destruction. Jean Baudrillard uses a broad definition of consumption as “an activity consisting of the systematic manipulation of signs” (Baudrillard, 1996, p. 200), stressing the fact that it is most of all an act in the realm of meaning creation (semiotics) rather than a purely material practice. The split between cultural production and consumption has long been problematized (Bishop, 2006), with an increasing stress on a shared authorship where audience and artists meet on equal terms, a tendency further accelerated by the ubiquity of the digital blurring the boundaries between amateurs and professionals, replacing the dichotomy with a circulation of signs.

The thesis delineates an art practice-based method for investigating the effects of the shift towards cognitive capitalism, using a self-centered approach anchored in everyday practice that takes into account the hyper-reactivity inherent in information-based technologies as well as the material matter of our daily lives by using consumption as an element that unites both transactional and experiential dimensions. The method starts by recording my daily consumer decisions and employing them without personal bias (Latham) in a decision recycling process applied onto another data structure. Like a speech act that is not reducible to language, consumption is not reducible to economy. Consumption serves to approach the pharmacological (Stiegler, 2013) nature of cognitive capitalism, as expressed in the writings of Negri & Hardt (2009), Srnicek & Williams (2015) and Noys (2014). Consumption is a hinge that allows for hyper-reflexivity while staying true to an art practice-based approach where experience is transformed into expression. With this approach, art makes a step closer towards life, while at the same time keeping its reflexive and critical role that sets it apart as a specific aesthetic discipline separate from life itself (Rancière, 2006). By linking the facts that everyone is a consumer and that consumption is creation, the approach exemplifies the significance of everyone’s potential to act as an autonomous creative individual, while questioning the very autonomy in an attention / cognition-based economy.

This research shows that the application of an idiosyncratic and subjective art practice-based research method can generate meaningful (Arendt, 1978) results beyond the self. Each of the three research-based artworks in the thesis provides an example of how the narcissistic realm of the Imaginary (Lacan, 2006) can be utilized to deflect the transcendental Symbolic (the simulacrum) and glimpse the Real in a feedback feedback loop between mind and neural matter, extending short-circuited (Stiegler, 2013) signifying chains. A re-imagination of consumption as a pharmacological practice shows that a critique can be carried out by acknowledging dependence and investment as the very nature of cognitive and meaning making processes.