e-flux journal issue 63

e-flux journal issue 63

e-flux journal

March 5, 2015
e-flux journal issue 63

with Irmgard EmmelhainzNaeem MohaiemenSimon SheikhJonas StaalHito SteyerlMcKenzie Wark, and Beti Žerovc


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We have a soft spot for people, for our own humanity. We learn to nurture this soft spot through art, through philosophy, through democracy, through our notions of justice or the rights of humans. We learn about the good in the things that are done by the people, for the people, through the people, in the name of the people.

But it’s getting cold out there. Something in this setup is shifting below our feet. Something is making the image of the people fuzzy, increasingly vague—a floating signifier missing its referent. Now militants who might have once fought for an idea are increasingly self-interested. Artworks are starting to function more like investment vehicles that no longer need to be seen by people. And some say that our most recent stage of planetary evolution—our current geological epoch—is distinguished mainly by the permanently destructive effects of human industry on the biosphere, in species extinction, deforestation, pollution, radiation, and so on. Which is to say that humanity can no longer be taken as the solution to anything. On the contrary, and from the perspective of the earth, humanity looks increasingly like the problem.

So how can the humanistic tradition of art continue when humans are turning the biosphere into a place uninhabitable by humans themselves? An artist today may now suddenly find the only addressee to be a future of despair, of catastrophic human extinction, of death. What does art look like when it is made without any future to look forward to?

We may be able to look at this another way. Because even though this apocalyptic view of the world sees the end of humanity, it also sees humans as the super-authors of their own doom, and even as authors of the collapse of the planet’s ecosystem. Humans may be eradicated soon, but at the same time this scenario understands humanity as more supremely powerful than at any time since the Enlightenment, even though this power is purely negative.

So the artist working under these conditions may discover a certain pleasure in the violent spectacle of annihilation. In the sheer scale of its consequences, she may understand the megalomaniac thrill of having a stake in the architecture of planetary despair. Incapable of modesty, the artist in this situation might only find the means to abandon a bloated humanist positivism for a turbocharged death drive. But we should be careful not to get too excited here. Because in this situation we are not really witnessing the death of humanism so much as the thrill of seeing what it might do in reverse. Which might be a muffled cry for the promises of a classical humanism.

One can imagine a full shift of attention towards survival technologies. An artist must find ways to harness nuclear energy, to build better bunkers, to financialize everything possible by hoarding abstract capital that can only be spent on symbolic capital. Do we know what this art looks like? It might in fact look like nothing at all—hidden away inside a bunker, or appearing as a mirror that shows you your own image, but turned up a notch. Purged of positivist fantasies, it might only appear as money does: as an uncannily base dumb material like a stone or iron ore, but one that comes with a ghostly promise of eventually being exchanged for something better that may never come to pass.

—Julieta Aranda, Brian Kuan Wood, Anton Vidokle

In this issue:

Irmgard Emmelhainz—Conditions of Visuality Under the Anthropocene and Images of the Anthropocene to Come
The Anthropocene is “the age of man” that announces its own extinction. In other words, the Anthropocene thesis posits “man” as the end of its own destiny. Therefore, while the Anthropocene narrative keeps “man” at its very center, it marks the death of the posthuman and of antihumanism, because there can be no redeeming critical antihumanist or posthuman figure in which either metaphysics or technological and scientific advances would find a way to reconcile human life with ecology. In short, images of the Anthropocene are missing.

McKenzie Wark—Molecular Red: Theory for the Anthropocene (On Alexander Bogdanov and Kim Stanley Robinson)
Powerful interests still deny the existence of the Carbon Liberation Front. Those authorities attentive to the evidence of this metabolic rift usually imagine four ways of mitigating its effects. One is that the market will take care of everything. Another proposes that all we need is new technology. A third imagines a social change in which we all become individually accountable for quantifying and limiting our own carbon “footprint.” A fourth is a romantic turn away from the modern, from technology, as if the rift is made whole when a privileged few shop at the farmer’s market for artisanal cheese. None of these four solutions seems quite the thing.

Hito Steyerl—Duty-Free Art
The idea of duty-free art has one major advantage over the nation-state cultural model: duty-free art ought to have no duty—no duty to perform, to represent, to teach, to embody value. It should not be indebted to anyone, nor serve a cause or a master, nor be a means to anything. Duty-free art should not be a means to represent a culture, a nation, money, or anything else. Even the duty-free art in the freeport storage spaces is not duty free. It is only tax-free. It has the duty of being an asset.

Jonas Staal—To Make a World, Part III: Stateless Democracy
The Islamic State stands in stark opposition to the only three-year-old Rojava Revolution and its stateless democracy. The Islamic State’s ambition for an endlessly expanding caliphate—its total state—in its terrifying conquest and brutal patriarchal policies of cultural assimilation, subjection, and enslavement of women seems to form the bizarre mirror image of the total state of the security apparatus of the Coalition of the Willing’s never-ending War on Terror and its radical and violent disregard for other states’ and peoples sovereignty.

Naeem Mohaiemen—Tracing that which Vanishes into Air: Japanese Red Army and the Anabasis of Wandering
“Nostalgia for the kingdom of water” drove the sojourners, but when they finally reached home, nothing was as it was promised to be. Adachi realizes that, by the end, the largest collateral damage of the JRA project is its own members. The cities that were the stage for their actions—Dhaka, Tel Aviv, Tokyo, Hague—survived, but men did not. Zaoui reminds us that “Anabasis is not the tale of a ruin of the ruined, but of a ruin of ruiners, or people who are the chief architects of their own ruin.”

Simon Sheikh—Circulation and Withdrawal, Part II: Withdrawal
To the extent that the object of critical theory is the mode of governance, or the distribution of power, critical theory addresses this object through cultural forms or products, as manifestations and critiques of power relations. That is, on the one hand cultural productions are symptomatic of these relations, while on the other analytic of them—having the potential of intervention and critique, again with a specific placement and angle, or, if you will, method of intervention and mode of address. Critical writing is thus a sort of double or shadow, whose task is not only to trace the work, but also to respond to it and to separate the symptom and the analysis, as well as to unpack the overlaps, contrasts, mergers, and mutations of these two moments and movements. And this is a radically different task than that of art advising—or that of the aesthetic judgment of yore, for that matter!

Beti Žerovc—Joséphin Péladan: A Proto-Curator?
Today, Péladan is not well known for his curatorial work, not because he was so far ahead of his time that, say, his contemporaries did not understand him, but rather because, when it came to positioning himself successfully in art with an enduring place in history, he made several “mistakes.” Among other things, despite Péladan’s hard work and the genuinely large influence he enjoyed in his day, he did not do enough, and above all was not sufficiently convincing, to ensure that he would be “right” in art history. He did not persevere long enough in his practice, he was not successful enough in assembling a coherent group of artists, and he was not well connected to the market. Furthermore, he was so extremely pompous and so obviously contradictory that it made it difficult for anyone to take up his cause openly and in earnest.

The print edition of e-flux journal can now be found at:
Amsterdam: De Appel arts centre / Rijksakademie van beeldende kunsten Andratx: CCA Andratx Antwerp: M HKA Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst Århus: Kunsthal Aarhus Athens: OMMU Auckland: split/fountain Austin: Arthouse at the Jones Center Baden-Baden: Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden Banff: Walter Phillips Gallery, The Banff Centre Barcelona: Arts Santa Mònica / MACBA Basel: Kunsthalle Basel / Museum für Gegenwartskunst Basel Beijing and Guangzhou: Vitamin Creative Space Beirut: 98weeks Belgrade: Cultural Center of Belgrade Bergen: Bergen Kunsthall / Rakett Berlin: b_books / Berliner Künstlerprogramm – DAAD / Bücherbogen am Savignyplatz GmbH / do you read me? / Haus der Kulturen der Welt / Motto / Neuer Berliner Kunstverein (n.b.k.) / Pro qm Bern: Kunsthalle Bern / Lehrerzimmer Bialystok: Arsenal Gallery Bielefeld: Bielefelder Kunstverein Birmingham: Eastside Projects / Ikon Gallery Bologna: MAMbo – Museo d’Arte Moderna di Bologna Bregenz: Kunsthaus Bregenz Bristol: Arnolfini Brussels: WIELS Contemporary Art Centre Bucharest: National Museum of Contemporary Art Bucharest (MNAC) / Pavilion Unicredit Cairo: Beirut / Contemporary Image Collective (CIC) / Townhouse Gallery Calgary: The New Gallery Cambridge: Wysing Arts Center Castello: Espai d´art contemporani de Castelló (EACC) Chicago: Graham Foundation / Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts / The Renaissance Society at The University of Chicago Cologne: Kölnischer Kunstverein Copenhagen: Overgaden Derry: CCA Derry~Londonderry Dijon: Les Ateliers Vortex Dublin: Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane / Project Arts Centre Dusseldorf: Kunstverein für die Rheinlande und Westfalen Eindhoven: Van Abbemuseum Frankfurt: Städelschule / Portikus Gdansk: Łaźnia Centre For Contemporary Art Geneva: Centre de la photographie Ghent: S.M.A.K. Glasgow: CCA Centre for Contemporary Arts / Glasgow Sculpture Studios Graz: Grazer Kunstverein / Kunsthaus Graz / Künstlerhaus KM– / para_SITE Gallery Grijon: LABoral Centre for Art and Creative Industries Groningen: University of Groningen Hamburg: Kunstverein in Hamburg Helsinki: Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma Hobart: CAST Gallery / INFLIGHT Hong Kong: Asia Art Archive Iași: theartstudent at the University of Fine Arts, Iași Innsbruck: Galerie im Taxispalais Istanbul: BAS / Cda-Projects / DEPO / SALT Johannesburg: Center for Historical Reenactments Kansas City: La Cucaracha Press Klagenfurt: Kunstraum Lakeside Kristiansand: SKMU Sørlandets Kunstmuseum Leeds: Pavilion Lisbon: Maumaus, Escola de Artes Visuais / Oporto / Kunsthalle Lissabon Ljubljana: Moderna galerija Llandudno: MOSTYN London: Architectural Association—Bedford Press / Calvert 22 / Chisenhale Gallery / Gasworks / ICA / Serpentine Gallery / The Showroom / Visiting Arts Los Angeles: REDCAT Loughborough: Radar, Loughborough University Luxembourg: Casino Luxembourg Madrid: Brumaria / CA2M / PENSART Maastricht: Jan van Eyck Academie Marfa: Ballroom Marfa Melbourne: Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA) / World Food Books Mexico City: Librería Casa Bosques / Proyectos Monclova Milan: Fondazione Nicola Trussardi / HangarBicocca Milton Keynes: MK Gallery Minneapolis: Walker Art Center Moncton: Fixed Cog Hero (a bicycle courier company) Montreal: Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA) Moscow: Garage Center for Contemporary Culture Munich: Haus der Kunst / Museum Villa Stuck / Walther Koenig Bookshop New Delhi: Sarai CSDS New York: e-flux / Independent Curators International (ICI) / Printed Matter, Inc Nottingham: Nottingham Contemporary Omaha: Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts Oslo: Kunstnernes hus Oxford: Modern Art Oxford Padona: Fondazione March Per L’Arte Contemporanea Paris: castillo/corrales – Section 7 Books / Centre Pompidou / Les Laboratoires d’Aubervilliers Philadelphia: Bodega Pori: Pori Art Museum Portland: Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA) / Publication Studio Porto: Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Serralves Prague: DOX Centre for Contemporary Art Prishtina: Stacion – Center for Contemporary Art Prishtina Providence: AS220 Reykjavik: Reykjavik Art Museum Riga: kim? Rio de Janeiro: Capacete / A Gentil Carioca Rome: MACRO Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Roma / Opera Rebis Rotterdam: Piet Zwart Institute / Witte de With | Center for Contemporary Art Saint-Nazaire: Le Grand Cafe, centre d’art contemporain Salzburg: Salzburger Kunstverein San Antonio: Artpace São Paulo: KUNSTHALLE São Paulo / Master in Visual Arts, Faculdade Santa Marcelina Sarajevo: Sarajevo Center for Contemporary Art (SCCA) Seoul: The Books / The Book Society Sherbrooke: Foreman Art Gallery of Bishop’s University Singapore: The Ngee Ann Kongsi Library Skopje: Press to Exit Project Space Sofia: ICA-Sofia / Sofia Art Gallery / SWIMMING POOL St Erme Outre et Ramecourt: Performing Arts Forum St Louis: White Flag Projects Stockholm: Bonniers Konsthall / Iaspis / Index – The Swedish Contemporary Art Foundation / Konstfack, University College of Art, Craft and Design / Konsthall C / Tensta konsthall Stuttgart: Württembergischer Kunstverein Stuttgart Sydney: Artspace Tallinn: Kumu Art Museum of Estonia The Hague: Stroom Den Haag Toronto: Art Metropole / Mercer Union / The Power Plant Torun: Centre of Contemporary Art Znaki Czasu in Torun (CoCA) Toowoomba: Raygun Contemporary Art Projects Trieste: Trieste Contemporanea Trondheim: NTNU University Library Umeå: Bildmuseet, Umeå University Utrecht: BAK, basis voor actuele kunst / Casco – Office for Art, Design and Theory Vaduz: Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein Valencia: IVAM–Biblioteca Valletta: Malta Contemporary Art Foundation Vancouver: Artspeak / Fillip—Motto / Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, University of British Columbia / READ Books, Charles H. Scott Gallery, Emily Carr University of Art and Design Vienna: Kunsthalle Wien / Salon für Kunstbuch—21er Haus Vigo: MARCO, Museo de Arte Contemporanea de Vigo Vilnius: Contemporary Art Centre (CAC) Vitoria-Gasteiz: Centro Cultural Montehermoso Kulturunea Visby: BAC – Baltic Art Center Warsaw: Zachęta National Gallery of Art Wiesbaden: Nassauischer Kunstverein (NKV) Yerevan: Armenian Center For Contemporary Experimental Art (NPAK) Zagreb: Galerija Miroslav Kraljevic / Gallery Nova / DeLVe | Institute for Duration, Location and Variables Zurich: Postgraduate Program in Curating, Zürich University of the Arts / Shedhalle / White Space.

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