Democracy Cutie: Liner Notes
by Steve Canal Jones

Sometimes a ballad is just a ballad and sometimes a ballad—a good one anyway—works on levels other than the literal subject of its lyrics. That is the case with this subversive little ditty, which was inspired by a series of open conversations that took place on the Lower East Side of New York in June 2008. The talks were hosted by E-flux, New York, were organized by Aprior magazine, Brussels, and were intended to revolve around the concepts of participation, distribution, caring and trust in contemporary art. The conversations were to be transcribed and printed in the next issue of Aprior in relation to the work of Nico Dockx, Rirkrit Tiravanija and Anton Vidokle. A number of significant artists and critics were invited to make initial presentations each day, to be accompanied by discussions with whomever else had chosen to come. The events were punctuated by communal lunches and dinners that were courtesy of Rirkrit, who was aided by a team of assembled culinary friends.

The talks were by turns informative and infuriating and, in the end, were most informative not for what was said but, indeed, for the way they were infuriating. Designed to avoid the usual hierarchical structure that distinguishes an invited speaker from their audience (podium, stage, stage lighting, auditorium seating, etc.), the presentations hoped to have a less detached, more democratic exchange of ideas. With no designated authorities, anyone’s opinion would be given equal consideration alongside anyone else’s. Unfortunately, avoiding the usual hierarchies did not make the collective desire for social structure disappear. Rather, a political economy of power and status took shape with the aid of more intangible, but no less reliable, material, and the apparent friendships, known accomplishments, and institutional affiliations of the noteworthy people in the room became the ad hoc structure for evaluating things. It boiled down to the operating principle that a comment by an “unknown” person carried less weight than if the same comment came from Liam Gillick or Lawrence Weiner.

On the morning of the third day, at the midpoint of a presentation by Jan Verwoert in which he had floated several specious social theories—particularly that women are better at “caring” than men because they are capable of giving birth—one person couldn’t take it any more. Having witnessed several audience members get cut off by Verwoert and his sponsors whenever they tried to engage Verwoert in dialogue—a young woman, I don’t know who—started speaking and, in a polite but relentless way, refused to be silenced. I don’t remember her exact words but I do remember their effect, which was to utterly dismantle the sham democracy of the three-day conference with one deliberate, two-minute speech. This song—Democracy Cutie—is dedicated to her.

—SCJ


Democracy Cutie

The place was hot, the place was packed,
The noodles cold, the china stacked.
Democracy Cutie, when did you come along?

We put on glasses, and changed our looks,
And left our lovers, and picked up books.
Democracy Cutie, where do you belong?

Democracy Cutie, I’m so glad you came,
It’s why I wrote this song.
Democracy Cutie, I agree with what you say!
Have you known it all along?

Plans were laid, and plans were blown,
And shells were cracked, and seeds were sewn.
Democracy Cutie, her seeds were oblong.

People came, and people went,
And trust was shared, and care was spent.
Democracy Cutie, don’t you love this song?

Democracy Cutie, I’m so glad you came,
You’re coming on strong.
Democracy Cutie, I agree with what you say!
By the way—are you wearing a thong?

Walls were scaled, and frames were broke,
And halls were trashed, and cigs were smoked.
Democracy Cutie, where’d you put that bong?

A bearded man, with bearded thoughts,
Poured bearded wisdom from bearded pots.
Democracy Cutie, why’s your face so long?

Democracy Cutie, I’m so glad you came,
Despite the mood of the throng.
Democracy Cutie, I agree with what you say!
Why’d it take so long?

We rubbed our eyes, and craned our necks,
And stretched our legs, and cashed our checks.
Democracy Cutie, where did we go wrong?

The place was cool, the lights were dim,
The overworked chef was sleeping in.
And Democracy Cutie was long, long gone.

Democracy Cutie was long, long gone.
Democracy Cutie was long, long gone.