Friday, October 31, 2014

last night's panel

photo adrienne vonmlates
the panel was on fire. i wished i'd been a panelist. being a moderator is like having your hands tied (smilet).

Monday, October 27, 2014

What are the limits of ownership? This Thursday @ 7pm @ MDC Wolfson Campus

As moderator of this panel discussion, I’d like to explore Weiwei’s smashing of an ancient urn in a performance (and Caminero’s subsequent smashing of Weiwei’s property @ PAMM).

It harks back to Weiwei’s own performativity principle: “... by shattering it we can create a new way to look at what is valuable.” Weiwei is on to something: The Western aesthetic tradition defended by Kant, Schiller, Hegel, the Romantics, and then performance art, allows for “actions” which call attention to broader political issues.

However, Maximo Caminero’s “action” @PAMM wasn’t considered as valid as Weiwei’s. Does ownership supervenes cultural patrimony? Is it public perception? i.e., Weiwei’s entitlement as political “enfant terrible” of Chinese’s contemporary art? Is there not a cultural-patrimony argument to be made against Weiwei? Recently, theorist Boris Groys suggests that art activism is a way out of what he calls “total aesthetization.” 

Is Weiwei’s “action” a form of art activism? Is it a blatant form of political anarchism? Or is it a bombastic bluff?

Panelists: Nina Johnson Milewski (Gallery Diet), Babacar M'Bow (director of MOCA), Maximo Caminero (artist). 


Monday, October 13, 2014

Boris Groys: In times of total aestheticization art is useless, so, become an art activist

aLfRedO tRifF

Professor Boris Groys' warm defense of art activism for e-flux. 
The phenomenon of art activism is central to our time because it is a new phenomenon—quite different from the phenomenon of critical art that became familiar to us during recent decades. Art activists do not want to merely criticize the art system or the general political and social conditions under which this system functions. Rather, they want to change these conditions by means of art—not so much inside the art system but outside it, in reality itself. 
The sentence is red is the kind one tries to avoid writing (if one can). "central" and "new" are as close as day and night.

Art activism has gotten a lot of rap from curators recently. Why? In times of political crisis it can be arthoodicated as art's next great white hope. This is precisely Groys' thesis. He tries hard: this is a long piece with interesting detours here and there. The general argument could be sketched as a simple syllogism:

1- things need to be changed. 2- activists like to change things, 3-artists can be also activists, so, art activists can change things.

... but some artists could care less for activism and surely some activists don't particularly care for art.
Art activists try to change living conditions in economically underdeveloped areas, raise ecological concerns, offer access to culture and education for the populations of poor countries and regions, attract attention to the plight of illegal immigrants, improve the conditions of people working in art institutions, and so forth. 
Commendable paragraph, but see that it really belongs in the activist department.

(Groys' "useful"/"useless" gaffe)

Let's move to Groys' art department:
Art activists do want to be useful, to change the world, to make the world a better place—but at the same time, they do not want to cease being artists. And this is the point where theoretical, political, and even purely practical problems arise. 
Be "useful"? How lame. From the paragraph one gets this implication that artists cannot "change the world," but Groys doesn't make it look as if he actually believes it. The idea is to present it as a received misconception:
In our society, art is traditionally seen as useless. So it seems that this quasi-ontological uselessness infects art activism and dooms it to failure. At the same time, art is seen as ultimately celebrating and aestheticizing the status quo—and thus undermining our will to change it.
Whose "tradition"? Modernity? If this was true, why is art so important for the pre- and post-revolutionary european nobility (and ruling classes of early Twentieth Century?)

1- As per Groys' "quasi-ontological" point (in red) above, a reference to Kantian aesthetics, is as obscure as Xenu. Kant's hypothesis is not about art being "useless" but purposeless.

2- This characterization of art as "useless" makes me think of an old reductive reading of Marx's base/superstructure hierarchy in his Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, i.e.,  art, religion, etc, are simply byproducts of any society's economic base.

3- What celebrates the status quo is not art, but the art market.

((what definition of "useless" Groys refers to, we'll never know))

4- How about this oversimplified presentation of French aesthetics?
Our contemporary notion of art and art aestheticization has its roots in the French Revolution—in the decisions that were made by the French revolutionary government concerning the objects that this government inherited from the Old Regime.
If Groys is right, what to make of Diderot's pre-revolutionary critical writings from 1759-1769 contra French rococo? or Jean Baptiste du Bos' highly influential treatise attempting to grasp the entire enterprise of Western art? Groys assumes he can "cut" history's continuum with a theorist knife, as if historic causation begins at the moment of the cut.

 And he needs a "clean" cut circa 1789, if his "aestheticization" is to have a revolutionary flavor to it.
There is no doubt that we are living in a time of total aestheticization. This fact is often interpreted as a sign that we have reached a state after the end of history, or a state of total exhaustion.
Indeed, there's exhaustion (of over-theorizing!).

And how will the feeble masses of the world get out of this "state of total exhaustion"?
Using the lessons of modern and contemporary art, we are able to totally aestheticize the world—i.e., to see it as being already a corpse—without being necessarily situated at the end of history or at the end of our vital forces. One can aestheticize the world—and at the same time act within it.
"Total aestheticization" is claptrap. Groys' Hegelian impulsion falls short of empirical evidence (theoretical meanderings can set the best theorist an unexpected trap).

What jumps for attention here is how theoretically convenient it is for Groys to simultaneously totalize and exceptionalize.

I'm sorry to spoil professor Groys' show:  One doesn't pretend to "change the world" by making art installations and then hoping to get collected by the very people you condemn or by cheering the art-troop base of curators and artists (who else reads e-flux? the sans-papiers? Wall street investors?).

Groys' exhortation is as bland as farmed tilapia.

Which brings me to the beginning: if art is useless why are global billionaires running to Art Basel?