e-flux journal issue 77

e-flux journal issue 77

e-flux journal

Standing Rock, North Dakota. Photo: Sara Lafleur-Vetter.

November 2, 2016
e-flux journal issue 77

with Boris Groys, Martha Rosler, Victor Skersis, Étienne Balibar, Antonia Majaca and Luciana Parisi, Irmgard Emmelhainz, Not an Alternative, and McKenzie Wark
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Early in the new century, it is already clear that the vanguards of the last one were less a singular, sequential telos than a symptomatic cycle. Movements like impressionism, abstraction, conceptualism, or symbolism are more like weather patterns that recur under certain circumstances than historical exceptions never to be repeated. There are everyday sprinkles of impressionism which relate to a Monet in the same way that the average rainstorm relates to a hurricane. In “Towards the New Realism,” Boris Groys examines the revival of what is still the most suggestive and polyamorous of these commitments, the pursuit of the real. Under what circumstances does reality appear in need of partisan support? Is the real something that is produced by institutions or something betrayed by them?

Unlike “the real,” or the weather, the concept does not change of its own accord. The conditions of possibility for a renewed conceptualism are different than those of a reactivated realism. Writing to reinvigorate this tradition, Victor Skersis draws on the philosophy of mathematics to formalize the achievements of twentieth century art, which he describes as “Analytic Conceptualism.” Only by stating explicitly the theoretical achievements of a Duchamp or a Kosuth can we avoid endlessly reiterating them.  

The idea of the autonomous concept is not without difficulties. Martha Rosler, in “Why is Everyone Being So Nice?” considers how shifts in the underlying political economy of the art world may impact its affective rhetoric. Has the global shift toward a rentier economy created a new culture of mannered courtliness? In “Institutional Liberation,” Not An Alternative resurrects Rudi Dutschke’s call for a “long march through the institutions of power,” by calling for a militant, critical realism toward contemporary museums.

Perhaps all this necromancy of old ideas is just the latest in a series of zombie attacks unleashed on the present by a past that refuses to die. Antonia Majaca and Luciana Parisi in “The Incomputable and Instrumental Possibility” argue that the ancient opposition between the political agent who uses and the instrument that is used needs to be overthrown due to the consistent misrecognition of agents as instruments. Instead, the relationship between being an agent and being an instrument needs to be understood as mutually reinforcing and constitutive. Responding to Hito Steyerl, McKenzie Wark examines several different contemporary works to argue that art is better described as a derivative than as a currency. And Irmgard Emmelhainz reminds us that any history of the concept as such must reckon with the colonial reality that produced it. There is little in our intellectual arsenal that has not relied for its consolidation on accumulation by dispossession in one form or another.

Finally, in “Citizen Subject,” Étienne Balibar unites in a single stroke the philosophical and political economic foundations of modernity. The relentless anxiety and concern for the fate of the subjectivity, in the philosophical (or artistic) sense, Balibar avers, cannot be considered separately from the revolutionary transformation that translates the subjects of an absolute monarchy, in the political economic sense, into the citizens of a representative republic. By linking these two senses of the term “subject,” Balibar provides us with a new way of revisiting decades-old questions about the relative stability and veracity of representation, while also reminding us that the institutional legacy of aristocratic privilege did not vanish in 1789. What if expressionism expressed a painter’s citizenship, rather than her subjectivity? Is realism something different when practiced by the loyal subject of a patrilineal regime than when it is pursued by the citizen of a nominally free state?


Please join us at the Brooklyn Museum on November 11 and 12 and at at the Walker Art Center on November 20 and 21 for Avant Museology: two symposia in Brooklyn and Minneapolis respectively exploring the practices and sociopolitical implications of contemporary museology. 

In this issue: 

Boris Groys—Towards the New Realism
We initially discover reality not as a simple sum of “facts.” Rather, we discover reality as a sum of necessities and constraints that do not allow us to do what we would like to do or to live as we would like to live. Reality is what divides our vision of the imaginary future into two parts: a realizable project, and “pure fantasy” that never can be realized. In this sense reality shows itself initially as realpolitik, as the sum of everything that can be done—in opposition to an “unrealistic” view of the conditions and limitations of human actions. This was the actual meaning of nineteenth-century realist literature and art, which presented “sober” and elaborate descriptions of the disappointments, frustrations, and failures that confronted romantic, socially and emotionally “idealistic” heroes when they tried to implement their ideals in “reality.”

Martha Rosler—Why Are People Being So Nice?
The art world is perhaps a special case. Artists—despite canned Facebook congratulations and condolences related to progeny, parents, and pets—may not be invested professionally in cultivating niceness. Some curators and many art historians seem to duck online niceness in favor of an archly distant dignity. But much of the institutional apparatus in charge of distribution, circulation, publicity, and sales is on a long-term charm offensive. The experience economy, like the closely related caring economy, demands a public-relations approach. A very high proportion of museum and gallery staff, those who must communicate with people both inside and outside the institution, are, like the very high proportion of public-relations workers, women—a “pink-collar ghetto”—with all the prejudices that still calls forth.

Victor Skersis—Analytical Conceptualism
The history of art tells us that art changed from the ancient era to the Middle Ages, from the Renaissance to modernism and postmodernism. The driving force behind this evolution is claimed to be external forces: social, political, even personal. As soon as these forces change, art changes—or so goes the argument. The trouble with this picture is that it describes well what happened, but it gives no idea of what will happen next. And it cannot tell us this precisely because it looks backward and assumes the driving forces to be external to art.

Étienne Balibar—Citizen Subject
Thus, the idea that causality and sovereignty can be converted into one another is conserved and reinforced in Descartes. It could even be said that this idea is pushed to the limit—which is perhaps, for us in any case, the herald of a coming decomposition of this figure of thought. The obvious fact that an extreme intellectual tension results from it is recognized and constantly reexamined by Descartes himself. How can the absolute freedom of man—or rather of his will: but his will is the very essence of judgment—be conceived of as similar to God’s without putting this subjection back into question?

Antonia Majaca and Luciana Parisi—Incomputability and Instrumental Possibility
If it is true that the individual is caught in a circle of continuous undulation between enslavement and liberation, trapped in the paradox of simultaneously being her own master and slave, can learning from the logic of the machine provide a path for a new, alien beginning? And if it is true that instrumentality as such has developed its own logic through the evolution of machine complexity, shouldn’t we attempt to think the instrumentality of the post-cybernetic individual beyond the dualities of means and ends?

Irmgard Emmelhainz—Decolonization as the Current Horizon of Political Action
The takeover, executed in collaboration with the tourism complex’s employees—waiters, security guards, maids, and gardeners, who politely escorted shaken tourists to the bus station and airport—takes place after years of planning by a team of international environmentalists, leftist guerrilla strategists, Palestinian architectural decolonists, radical cultural producers, biologists, environmentalists, an international team of anthropologists from indigenous communities, and community leaders representing one hundred of the nearly four hundred ethnicities still surviving across Mexico. The interdisciplinary team has taken up the task of organizing communal forms of living in the complex, following the desires, needs, and concerns of the natives of the mountains in Guerrero. Their goal is to reconvert the Acapulco Diamante tourism complex into a sustainable habitat by restoring the ecology of the area; one of the first tasks is to turn the pools at the luxury hotels into fish farms. Technology and know-how have been imported from Gaza to build a desalinization and water-treatment plant, and from Belgium to build a solar energy system.

Not an Alternative—Institutional Liberation
Some on the Left respond with refusal. Advocates of neo-primitivist lifestyle politics retreat to the forests and mountains, to DIY off-the-grid living that abandons the millions in the cities. This “not my problem” individualist survivalism reflects the ideological orientation of neoliberal capitalism. Survival-themed reality television has been big for over a decade. Others on the Left side with the things. They advocate horizontal relationships with rocks and nonlife, shift to deep time, and celebrate the microbes and weeds likely to thrive in a posthuman world. Here the genocidal mindset cultivated in the sixteenth century’s colonization of the Americas expands and turns back in on human life as a whole. The failure to value black and brown life, the inability to conceive living with and in diverse egalitarian communities, becomes the incapacity to value human life at all.

McKenzie Wark—Digital Provenance and the Artwork as Derivative
The artwork is now a derivative of its simulation. Of course there are many different kinds of simulations. It could be the JPEG of a particular work sent by a dealer to a collector, attached to a text message. The collector reads the text, looks at the JPEG, makes a decision about the artwork. But actually, the artwork is a derivative. It was the JPEG that mattered, as it is the JPEG on which the transaction depends. The collector might decide to buy or not buy the work, to reserve it, to see it later in person, and so on. As in other fields, the main thing traded here is the derivatives. The simulations are not worth much at all, or are such poor images that they might as well be free gifts.


The print edition of e-flux journal can 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 / Books People Places / do you read me? / Haus der Kulturen der Welt / Motto / Neuer Berliner Kunstverein (n.b.k.) / Pro qm Belfast: Platform Arts Bern: Kunsthalle Bern / Lehrerzimmer Bialystok: Arsenal Gallery Bielefeld: Bielefelder Kunstverein Biella: UNIDEE - University of Ideas, Cittadellarte - Fondazione Pistoletto Onlus Birmingham: Eastside Projects / Ikon GalleryBologna: 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 / DEPO / Galeri Zilberman / SALT Johannesburg: Center for Historical Reenactments Kansas City: La Cucaracha Press Klagenfurt: Kunstraum Lakeside Kristiansand: SKMU Sørlandets Kunstmuseum Kyiv: Visual Culture Research Center 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 Merrylands: Cerdon College Mexico City: Librería Casa Bosques / Proyectos Monclova Milan: Fondazione Nicola Trussardi / HangarBicocca Milton Keynes: MK Gallery Minneapolis: Walker Art Center Monaco: Nouveau Musée National de Monaco 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 / McNally Jackson Nottingham: Nottingham Contemporary North Little Rock: Good Weather Gallery 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 San Sebastián: Centro Internacional Cultura Contemporanea 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 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 Venice: The Biennale Library-ASAC 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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November 2, 2016

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