Issue #135 Editorial


Issue #135
April 2023

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.

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