The word 'care' is very prevalent in the art world at the moment. One can find it in descriptions of workshops, festivals, exhibitions, and programs: climate care, community care, curation as care, etc. Is care just a trendy word that becomes increasingly shallow the more often it is repeated? Or does the popularity of the word attest to an urgency of our time? In its Germanic roots the word was related to concern, grief, and lamentation, only in the 16th century positive uses of the word developed, such as "having an inclination".1

In both its historical and contemporary meaning the word describes a state of emotional affectability, of being touched, set in motion, by something or someone. Caring, at least if one doesn't speak of institutionalised forms of care, means to refuse indifference. It means to refuse looking away, to refuse pretending like the suffering of others has nothing to do with yourself, to refuse acting as if we do not hold any power over each other. Our lives are contingent, our actions don't exist in a vacuum, but in relation. Along the strings of these intersubjective webs we all have agency over each other's lifes, and with this power comes responsibility. Caring means acknowledging this responsibility, or as Donna Haraway would say, response-ability for forming conditions in which human and non-human beings can thrive.2

Maybe, as often in the art world (and beyond), with its focus on short-term projects, the difference between care as a trendy catchphrase or ‘real’ care lies in the sustainability of care. Does the care last for the duration of a workshop, of an exhibition? Or is it a continuous and sustained process that is reflected in the infrastructures, in the way people interact and take responsibility for each other ? Differing from the constant need for the new that both the art world and capitalism thrive upon, care doesn't seek to innovate, but to give attention to and maintain that which is already there. Often delegated to the private, to the home, caring as a reproductive activity is mostly unpaid, not considered labour and still mostly performed by women. The necessity to care for the home, the elderly, and children also doesn't disappear with women joining the workforce. Often these tasks are relegated to badly paid and even more precarious domestic workers.3 The pandemic made the precarity of care jobs, the lack of recognition and appropriate payment especially visible. When it comes to institutionalised care, the jobs of care workers are often further complicated by laws and regulations that don't take the experience and needs of those working in the field into account.4

Patriarchy compartmentalises and individualises care, it either takes place in highly reglemented public structures as social work or health care, or, in its unpaid form, is relegated to the home. The last years also found a surge in the promotion of self-care, as a temporary, individual, highly lucrative remedy for the exhaustion and alienation produced by neoliberal capitalism. From bath bombs, to scented candles and spas, self-care products are a big industry and contribute to the further individualization and privatization of care.5

How can we care in a more collective way? iLiana Fokianaki raises this question in her text ‘Introductory Notes on the Care-less and Care-full’. She proposes to see care as the basis of everything that we do, not as an obligation but as part of collective joy as a “structural practice not only for others, but with others" . She names examples of activist groups and other alternative infrastructures that provide support with getting abortions, distribute food, promote workers' rights, build commuity, and construct infrastructures for self-education.6 Maintaining the web means taking responsibility for the multiple beings entangled in it and to make the web resilient and durable by resisting short-term thinking. A space web is inherently decentralised, responsibility is distributed along the interconnected threads.

1 “Care.” Etymonline, #etymonline_v_33875. Accessed 16 May 2022.
2 Haraway, Donna. Staying with the Troubles: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Duke University Press, 2016.
3 Cox, Nicole, and Sylvia Federici. Counter-planning from the Kitchen: Wages for Housework, A Perspective on Capital and the Left. New York Wages for Housework Committee and Falling Wall Press, 1975.
4 Paula Verwold. Personal communication.
5,6 Fokianaki, iLiana. “The Bureau of Care: Introductory Notes on the Care-less and Care-full” E-flux, Nov. 2020, Accessed 16 May 2022.