e-flux journal issue 62

e-flux journal issue 62

e-flux journal

February 4, 2015
e-flux journal issue 62

with Luis CamnitzerPaul Feigelfeld in conversation with Jussi ParikkaPhilip GrantEwa MajewskaAhmet ÖğütJon RichSimon Sheikh, and Paolo Virno


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Increasingly it seems like no large exhibition opens without an artist boycott. And the reasons to withdraw are legitimate—a gulf museum employs migrant labor under terms approaching slavery, a biennial sponsor corporation operates an offshore detention center, works are censored for petty moral reasons, a municipality passes a homophobic law, or funding is traced to an occupying state with a staggering record of ongoing human rights abuses.

Of course, these petitions can start to come off as a nuisance to those who believe that a healthy cultural industrial complex thrives on its distance from power and politics, as if some kind of contemplative distancing that makes art possible in the first place must also be too elegant to deal with the mundane financing or bloodstained politics of its hosts. But now there are so many petitions, so many threats to withdraw, that it becomes clear that the conditions for producing and exhibiting art have become ethically unbearable for too many artists—and this comes at the same time that the economic and political utility of contemporary art is becoming clear to global players discovering how supporting vanguard cultural production can humanize their own image. Where industrialists before put their surplus into cultureoften to curry favor with the municipality—now municipalities, industrialists, and feudal lords alike use culture as advertising. And the staggering number of boycotts can be understood as the artistic response to these particular advances in the industrialization of the art world, and of art.

An important part of this shift is a change in the status of cultural production in general. Basically, art can no longer be taken to be an automatically good thing. If artworks have for over a century pointed to transformations in political or social consciousness, many artists are now coming to terms with the degree to which artworks are already functionalized as instruments of blunt social and political realities. While these realities might be depressing to idealistic types, or confusing to connoisseurial contemplative types, it would be a shame to miss what a profound reformatting of time we are currently experiencing when the engine of historical progress that defined the modern tradition slows down and bifurcates into the endless mirroring and redistribution of the present time. Technology turns naturalistic and advanced materialist accounts read global swarms of waste products for legible signs, for points where planetary-scale desires start to look structural or infrastructure-ish. The real discovery in all this may in fact be in a slow and relentless unraveling of what a sham the modern tradition may have been the whole time as an era profoundly overstuffed with heroic promises layered over a sewer of neglect, of all the contradictions that modernity necessarily had to suppress in order to sustain its wildly progressive claims. And the Charlie Hebdo killings in Paris this past month could be seen as a testament to this.

While many find it difficult under these circumstances to identify the clearly marked political horizons of the past, we can also see artists taking these large-scale structural shifts into account to build an awareness of the strength of their own blind complicity, of their proximity to power, or of their coordinated opposition, as producers or nonproducers within the cultural industrial complex. And when it comes to the boycotts, the very interesting thing to notice is something that comes beneath the layer of moral indignation that any boycott petition has to use, because many of the artists involved in organizing or joining these boycotts are, in their work, already dealing with what is being boycotted. In many cases the same artists withdrawing their participation are actually extremely interested in the bloodstained funder, the weapons manufacturer, the moral police, or the draconian state policies, which they stand together with other artists to oppose.

Of course this is by no means a contradiction. Rather, it suggests that we may be witnessing a very sophisticated war of position that is renegotiating the way artists seek to simultaneously instrumentalize and be instrumentalized by hegemonic forces that far surpass them in scale. It is to say: a dictator is funding the exhibition, and I will not participate in the exhibition with my work on this dictator—he belongs to me, and within my work, and I do not belong to him. In terms of military strategy, it can be taken as a flanking or pincer maneuver to surround and contain the thing that might otherwise surround and contain you.

The artist Ahmet Öğüt, who has found himself participating in a number of recent boycott actions, has described how he began questioning the effectiveness of boycotts that only rely on a refusal or withdrawal of labor. Maybe the boycott attracts too much righteous indignation or self-interest. Maybe it’s not sufficiently encompassing enough in scale to modify the terms of the agreement. Funders are by definition rich, and almost never interested in art. They can just as easily find another artist who will accept the terms. Furthermore, artists are often invited to participate in exhibitions not by funders, but by curators and institutions who respect their work. Why reject that dialogue outright? With this in mind, Öğüt began thinking of what Gayatri Spivak has called affirmative sabotage—saying yes, entering into the agreement, but with a caveat: the artist participates on the condition that she or he has license to intervene in all operational aspects of the event, potentially causing significant problems for funders. Potentially turning a biennial into an exposé on the transgressions of its funders. Potentially scaring those funders away for good when they realize they are in over their heads.

—Julieta Aranda, Brian Kuan Wood, Anton Vidokle

In this issue:

Luis Camnitzer—The Detweeting of Academia
We may keep on polluting the world with things called “art,” and more particularly with “my art,” but we should understand that we are ultimately preparing the space for the development of collective policies that generate the freest and most empowering form of what we call “culture.” We must accept this responsibility and act accordingly.

Simon Sheikh—Circulation and Withdrawal, Part I: Circulation
But the fact that the production of a magazine is withdrawn from the public is not the same as an exit from the public sphere as such; it is not a withdrawal from and of discourse. Why, then, circulation and withdrawal? This has to do with the relation a magazine has to its objects and subjects, and how it constitutes a public as specific, and sometimes in opposition to dominant forms of publicness and official cultural policies. Sometimes withdrawal is enforced, through economy or censorship, but other times it is intentional and tactical: the withdrawal from certain public debates and arenas is what makes an alternative cultural and critical production possible.

Ahmet Öğüt—CCC: Currency of Collective Consciousness
Thinking of how to make all these concepts more effective, I would suggest the idea of the “Intervenor”: an autonomous outside voice who nonetheless has the right to act within the institution. Intervenors could not only act within the walls of the white cube, but could also directly intercede when it comes to matters of communication, events, bureaucracy, administration, and even the office space itself.

Paolo Virno—Déjà Vu and the End of History
But what can “remembering the present” mean, except having the irresistible sensation of having already experienced it previously? Inasmuch as it is an object of memory, the “now” is camouflaged as the already-been, and is thus duplicated in an imaginary “back then,” in a fictitious “other-then.” It goes without saying that between the current event, considered a mere repeat, and the phantom original prototype, there is no mere analogy, but rather the most complete identity. The present and the pseudo-past, which have the same perceptual and emotional content, are indistinguishable. The consequence is a troubling one: every act and every word that I say and do now seems destined to repeat, step by step, the course that was fixed back then, without the possibility of omitting or changing anything.

Media Archaeology Out of Nature: An Interview with Jussi Parikka
The same thing happens through historical retrojections: look, for example, at the number of stories that are written about the “first” selfie or ancient “social media” when some new archaeological discovery is made. It’s perfect material for a pseudomedia archaeological search for the roots of phenomena that are media-specific and part of the postindustrial mode of capitalist operation. In terms of nature and animals, the connection between artificial life and capitalism is deeply embedded in much more than linguistic naturalization and metaphors. One can even say that this sort of discourse is the new version of Adam Smith’s invisible hand.

Philip Grant—Too Real an Unreality: Financial Markets as Occult
And in the background lies the figure of August Nordenskiöld, invoked by Goldin+Senneby in their design for the VWAP assemblage: an eighteenth-century alchemist trying to make gold from base metal to fund the king of Sweden’s wars with Russia, while surreptitiously hoping that the same transmutation will end “the tyranny of money” forever.

Jon Rich—The Communal Rift: The State Must Be Defended
The Charlie Hebdo attack is a harbinger of things to come. And not for the amount of blood spilled. On the same day that the Kouachi brothers killed thirteen people in Paris, an explosion in the Yemeni capital Sanaa ravaged more than one hundred lives between the dead and the injured. The Yemenis die as if they never lived. This is true mainly because the French blood flowed in a place full of light, in the City of Light, while the Yemeni blood flowed in darkness.

Ewa Majewska—The Common in the Time of Creative Reproduction: On Gerald Raunig’s Factories of Knowledge, Industries of Creativity
In Raunig’s analysis the university, and the humanities in particular, are a political matter, not because of their supposedly “disinterested beauty,” alienated from any social and political context, but precisely because they constituted a zone of critique, resistant to marketization and financialization, and they therefore enrich the cultural experience of contemporary individuals.

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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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