The Society Without Qualities
February 13–May 26, 2013
Box 4001, 163 04 Spånga
T +46 (0)8 360 763
F +46 (0)8 362 560
Søren Andreasen, Archizoom Associati, Thomas Bayrle, Samuel R Delaney, Ane Hjort Guttu, Dave Hullfish Bailey, Jakob Jakobsen/Anders Remmer, Charlotte/Sture Johannesson, Jakob Kolding, Learning Site with Jaime Stapleton, Sharon Lockhart, Joanna Lombard, Palle Nielsen, Xabier Salaberria
Lars Bang Larsen
Because aesthetic problems can’t be solved in the social sphere, art offers the possibility to re-think the concept of freedom at its limits.
The exhibition’s title can be seen as an indictment of a state that fails to provide a life of quality for its citizens. Throughout modernity, rationalised society has converted qualities into functions and economic relations. Today, notions of the welfare state, ‘Big Society,’ the networked society, and ideas of growth and nationality are major social representations that underpin governmentality.
Also haunting the title is Robert Musil’s novel The Man Without Qualities (1930–1942), in which the protagonist leaves it to the outside world to form his character. However in The Society Without Qualities, it is society rather than the human being that is deliberately left as a blank. Taking its starting point in the militancy and utopian proposals of the late 1960s, the exhibition thus focuses on how artists, activists and architects have devised new languages beyond the alternative, as a way of departing from origin myths and normative historical expectations.
What if we desist from producing models that may improve society as it exists? What if we stop looking for ‘the beach underneath the asphalt’? What would it mean for art and architecture to engage in historical processes and social struggles but proceed without a specific model or image of the society to come? Perhaps a non-utopianism, in which we check our impulse to project figurative qualities onto the future, would be suited to theorise what freedom exists over and beyond the existing reality principles.
If—as Gilles Deleuze once remarked—being leftist means to orient oneself towards the future, to think a little further ahead, this is in a general sense also where the leftist political project intersects with art. Art can be defined as that which is not yet identified by culture at large, not yet known or purposeful. This doesn’t mean that art is inherently leftist, only that art is not a thing or a product, that it isn’t something stable and known. Thus the political left also lets its own project down when it forgets that it is in fact aligned with art in the struggle against capital’s colonisation of the future. The aesthetic experience is an overlooked precondition for comprehending social conflict.
When art addresses the future in speculative and skeptical ways, it refuses nostalgia and hope as sentimental compensations for an uncertain future. Perhaps one can incorporate disillusion into a politics of undoing that urges us to hear the unheard-of with our own ears, to touch the un-apprehended with our own hands.
The Society Without Qualities is part of the research project The New Model: An Inquiry, initiated by Maria Lind and Lars Bang Larsen in 2011. The New Model takes its point of departure in Palle Nielsen’s adventure playground The Model. A Model for a Qualitative Society that took place at the Moderna Museet in 1968. Here, in the space of the museum, children were asked to construct their own social model. The Society Without Qualities revisits key themes and central concerns of The Model such as artistic research, the right to the city, the child as an active historical subject, and the critical use of the art institution. Participants in The New Model include Magnus Bärtås, Ane Hjort Guttu, Dave Hullfish Bailey and Hito Steyerl, who have been invited to make new work for the project.
The New Model: An Inquiry will continue at Tate Liverpool, 7 November 2013–2 January 2014.