A paradoxical situation arises in which we must protect the rarefied realm of art in order to preserve its autonomy and thereby its ability to be radical – that urge to contradict Renzo Martens’s reduction of art to capital – while knowing that it is difficult for art to operate in the real world when it has to drag the institution of art along with it.
Examining the controversial art practice of Dutch artist Renzo Martens, this article examined the ‘heart of darkness’ beating within contemporary social practice. Concentrating on Martens’s most recent project, the Institute for Human Activities (IHA), based on a Congolese plantation, this piece asks what is really exchanged through participation in social art and who really benefits. It was originally written for a collection of texts on the theme of ‘exchange’, our third publication produced on the Critical Writing in Art and Design MA programme at the Royal College of Art. You can purchase a copy here and Heart of Darkness can be read here. An extended version is soon to be published in the fourth issue of the Journal of Arts Writing by Students (JAWS).