‘Whatever it wins, it does not keep. It must constantly manipulate events in order to turn them into ‘opportunities’.’

Michel de Certeau,
The Practice of
Everyday Life (1980)

Loopholes are the quintessence of usership-instantiated
tactics since they offer ways into systems without physically
damaging them. Literally, or least historically, ‘loopholes’
were the narrow vertical windows found in castle walls. The
defenders of the castle on the inside referred to them as ‘arrow slits,’ using them to launch arrows against assailants,
who, on the other hand, referred to them as loopholes – the
only anchor point for the loop on their climbing rope, and
hence the only ready means of gaining entry without breaching or destroying the wall or gate. Thus a loophole in a law - or
customary use, institutional convention and so on – often contravenes the intent of the law without technically breaking it.
Users have an inherent knack – call it the cognitive privilege
of usership – for finding ambiguities in a system which can
be used to circumvent its implied or explicitly stated intent.
Loopholes are sought out and used strategically and creatively
by users, including artists, in all manner of circumstances, including taxation, security, elections, politics, different levels of
the legal system and civil liberties.
Artists as users are in a way particularly well equipped to exploit such grey zones inasmuch as one of the reflexes of artistic
competence is ‘détournement’ – never responding forthrightly
to expectations, nor refusing to engage, but rather countering
obliquely. Art itself, like the space of autonomy within which
mainstream practices operate, is often used as a foil to avoid
the legal consequences that would apply to the same action if
it were not ‘art’ or carried out in art’s name. Usership-driven
art uses loopholes both in the mainstream art system and
beyond to circumvent any number of overcodes. The highly
paradoxical instrumentalisation of artistic autonomy is one
widely practiced example.
More consequential forms of loopholing invariably occur in
sectors of society where legal norms have failed to keep pace
with social need – including migration, mores, ownership
issues and various fields of expert privilege – as expressed
through the actual usership of available legal instruments.
These slackspaces of normative action (sometimes called legal voids) emerge quickly but are swiftly shut down, making
loopholing a particularly dynamic mode of under-the-radar
operation. Users of such practices know from experience and
observation that while it is both fun and possible to outfox the
authorities for a while, once the loophole has come to light,
their window of opportunity is already closing and it’s time to
move on.

"Loopholes" from "Toward a Lexicon of...

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