‘If the Museum Is Funded by Exploitative Labor Practices, or Practices That Ruin the Planet, It Remains Only a Health Spa for Art Lovers’: Interview with Renzo Martens

‘If the Museum Is Funded by Exploitative Labor Practices, or Practices That Ruin the Planet, It Remains Only a Health Spa for Art Lovers’: Interview with Renzo Martens

Renzo Martens, film still from White Cube (2020). Members of Cercle d’Art des Travailleurs de Plantation Congolaise (CATPC) (courtesy of Human Activities, 2020)

In 2012, the Dutch artist Renzo Martens founded the Institute for Human Activities (IHA), which, since 2014, he has developed in collaboration with the cooperative Cercle d’Art des Travailleurs de Plantation Congolaise (CATPC) on a former palm oil plantation in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Through the IHA, Martens has sought to analyze global mechanisms of power, resource and value extraction. At present, the impact of ‘critical’ art, largely produced and consumed in global cities, remains, in Martens’s view, highly limited. The institute has brought the position of plantation workers within global value chains—as well as their place in the history of modern and contemporary art—into sharp focus. Through their activities and artistic practices, Martens and the CATPC seek to revisit the history of the global art system and to intervene in its contemporary structure.