e-flux lectures: Tom Holert, “Contemporary Art’s Epistemic Politics”

Questioning the functions and claims of contemporary art within economic and political systems that rely on the management of data and affects, this talk takes issue with a peculiar emphasis—placed for quite some time, e.g. in curatorial statements and the self-descriptions of art institutions—on notions such as “research” and “knowledge production.” Understood both in terms of artistic practices articulated as “of the present,” as well as a specific, expansive mode of culture industry, contemporary art moreover should be discussed as a strategic bet on the social distinctions and value extractions thought to be made possible by claiming a different, though certainly privileged and privileging access to “knowledge.” Contemporary art’s various liaisons with the humanities, with “technology,” with the social and natural sciences (its practitioners increasingly embedded in transdisciplinary research environments and educational settings) create a sense of epistemological and aesthetic departure. It concurs with the impression that art is transforming to become a conduit or catalyst of “knowledge.” Considering the realities of cognitive capitalism and machine learning, this gambit of framing contemporary art as an exploratory, essentially epistemic enterprise is to be problematized. The talk will present passages from the manuscript of Knowledge Beside Itself, a book scheduled for publication in October 2019 (with Sternberg Press).  

Tom Holert works as an art historian and cultural critic in Berlin. In 2015, he co-founded the Harun Farocki Institut; in 2018, he curated Neolithic Childhood: Art in a False Present, c. 1930 at HKW, Berlin (with Anselm Franke). Currently, he is researching and developing Education Shock: Architectures and Technologies of Knowledge and Learning, 1957-1980, a project involving an exhibition at HKW (to open in September 2020). Holert has been a frequent contributor and collaborator of e-flux journal since 2009 (most recently with the conference “Navigation Beyond Vision,” a co-production of e-flux and the Harun Farocki Institut).

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