e-flux journal issue 135

e-flux journal issue 135

e-flux journal

Mutual Love and Active Production, poster, 1954.

April 6, 2023
Issue 135 

with Xin Wang, Daniel Loick, aracelis girmay, Sajan Mani, Benjamin Krusling, Simone White, Masao Adachi, Go Hirasawa, Ethan Spigland, Rebecca Jarman, Erin Manning, Matt Longabucco, and Thotti

In this issue, Xin Wang details the haunting of China’s contemporary art by socialist-realist pedagogy from the Soviet Union. Perhaps even more significant than this line of influence is its near-total occlusion in Western accounts of China’s avant-garde lineages, no doubt related to Clement Greenberg’s assaults on Soviet socialist realism for epitomizing kitsch. Following Greenberg’s lead, Western scholars may have attempted to be generous by elevating works above lowly pictorial origins, but in doing so, they cleaved them not only from their key influences, but also from a range of formal innovations and attitudes specific to socialist modernity—a version of modernism that continues to persist through its negation, haunting artworks up to today.

Also in this issue, Daniel Loick asks a provocative question concerning how artists and political movements should make use of forms of power that are also forms of violence—specifically with regard to the judicial system and the form of the court. Beneath the high abstraction of “justice” as a concept, the court is a highly dramaturgical instrument relying heavily on aesthetics to produce and install systems of norms. What openings could make this form available for artists to reuse towards exploring “other forms of justice and jurisprudence”? 

For Sajan Mani, today’s right-wing Hindu nationalism poses particular challenges for Dalit artists and thinkers, and an artist should be compelled to undertake very conscious acts in response. Mani’s oral history project, as told to contributing editor Serubiri Moses, centers on Kerala as a site of Dalit artistic, political, and spiritual resistance to a centuries-old Brahmanic caste system built on enslavement.

This issue also features work by four poets. aracelis girmay follows an unceremonious break in psychic love. From within an ever-inhospitable America, shot through with radiation, Benjamin Krusling sees his cousin off to jail. Grim in individual citizenry, his cousin looks like “a diamond being beaten.” Simone White’s “Beatings” recalls layers of family and violence, in a resonant pairing with Krusling’s poem. Matt Longabucco writes, through a slow rupture of what was once a workable cohabitation, that some things once said can never be taken back. 

Filmmaker Masao Adachi details to interlocutors Go Hirasawa and Ethan Spigland the process of depicting Tetsuya Yamagami, who last year assassinated Shinzo Abe, Japan’s former prime minister. Yamagami’s carefully planned individual act, motivated by animosity towards the Unification Church, “a fraudulent group with ties to Abe that extracts money and assets from individuals and families in the name of religion,” shows that Japan is in the throes of a political crisis. According to Adachi, the type of violence inherent in this action should be screened and discussed with breadth and nuance: audiences, not directors, make up their own minds.

In November 1985, Colombia’s Palace of Justice was breached by guerrillas, while later that same week a nearby volcano erupted, decimating a manufacturing town. Rebecca Jarman reads these confluent disasters—one political, one geological—as “a convergence of temporalities that usually coexist, but that do not necessarily intersect,” creating temporal ruptures that still reverberate today in the work of Colombian artists.

Erin Manning takes us to another point of no return—the violence of whiteness—and endeavors to find out how race operates in thought beyond the body it marks: “It names a problem, not a person.” Race is not a certain body, Manning says, but a cleave that cuts into ontological sediment, exposing a world cracked open. And whiteness polices that cleave by creating endlessly shape-shifting partitions. Pointing off that map, Manning describes an order of space and time that imagines a world where the foundations and definitions of “the human” might be conceived otherwise.

In the final part of the three-part series “We Too Were Modern,” Thotti tries to capture the ghostly presence of a Brazil made from layers of denial over centuries. From the trophy of Magellan’s corpse and Brazil’s independence as a nation, to its attempts at fascism and Bolsonaro’s pyromania, Thotti finds a game of signs and masks proclaiming a sense of identity to be celebrated, which actually cries out of a wrenching solitude and failure to come into being. For Thotti, the question of how to actually inhabit such negative spaces that haunt cultural identity only deepens when living abroad and finding senses of home on display in the Museum of Modern Art.



Xin Wang—Soviet Hauntology
Art history has failed to competently account for the “post-socialist” in postmodernism, not so much as an interpretative framework but as a preexisting and indeed “haunting” condition. The hauntological dimension of post-socialist legacies might just be the missing link that allows us to understand much of postmodern art truly on its own terms, taking account of the inherent contradictions, mediations, and transformations of historical circumstances.

Daniel Loick—On Tribunalism: Should Artists Use the Court Form? 
Can and should such movements take over the form of the court, especially given that the judicial system in particular is part of a state apparatus that is based on the constant reproduction of violence? This question is of course to be asked in the context of the much larger question of which stance to take with respect to bourgeois institutions in general: Is there something to be rescued, despite their formalistic, bureaucratic, claustrophobic, cruel, cold, and merciless modes of operation?

aracelis girmay—We knew
We knew there were people with us / dreaming inside the stones / who left our mouths as horses stroked     with the light

Sajan Mani—Caste-pital
Caste slavery was legitimized through myths, and “justified” through spiritual means. Over the long span of thousands of years, such myths have been compromised and appropriated through many more stories. This is what we Dalits mean when we refer to the oppressive environment long upheld through Brahmanic knowledge production.

Benjamin Krusling—radiation underground and in the sky 
the steps up to heaven were sweating with ideas

Simone White—Beatings
my mother’s syncopic incapacity / to convey the fullness of a threat

Go Hirasawa and Ethan Spigland—REVOLUTION+1: An Interview with Masao Adachi
By depicting Yamagami’s motive behind the crime and by having discussions about it, we demonstrated that the nature of the problem in Japan is a political crisis. Violence is neither totally negative nor totally positive, but rather something that should be considered on a case-by-case basis. In the end, I chose to depict the contradictions in their entirety, and let the audience come to their own conclusions. 

Rebecca Jarman—Before and After? Temporalities of Disaster
The protagonist of Orbit is a two-hundred-ton boulder that once sat at the heights of the Nevado del Ruiz. On the night of the eruption, it traveled over forty-five kilometers, and was deposited in the center of Armero shortly before midnight. Today, it is a landmark in a ghostly town that, like Herculaneum, stands in ruins. However, unlike its Italian counterpart, Amero receives no conservationist funding or legislative protection. In the absence of state investment, the rock has become an unofficial monument to the dead.

Erin Manning—The Being of Relation 
Intensity cannot be destroyed. What exceeds the shape things take cannot properly be located. blackness cannot be captured because blackness is not. It moves. Parastratum, it multiplies all ecologies it comes into contact with.

Matt Longabucco—From Theta
some things, once said, can never be taken back, and by heeding / these emanations the undead navigate an expanse of featureless terrain / to slake themselves on pity at its spring // even belaboring this list     the insipid approach of endings

Thotti—We Too Were Modern, Part III: Of Earth and World 
It is only possible to speak of independence, beyond a political or economic gesture, when it is revealed that the only common experience is the denial of experience—the end of experience, where one can no longer navigate, where separation and mystery are retained, and a sovereignty of each self is assured even if only as an instant, a space, or a way of life.

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