Jaroslav Andel is an artist and independent curator who lives in Prague and New York. He served as a consultant to the Council of Europe on its conference and new platform “Smart Creativity, Smart Democracy”.
There is a growing feeling that the art world has become a subsidiary of the finance industry, controlled by a handful of individuals. The dominant art institutions—museums, art schools, auction houses, art dealers, and collectors—resemble an incestuous family who serve the interest of the richest 1%, more precisely, one tenth of the 1%. Art institutions are failing to fulfill their original mission of helping people gain a better understanding of today’s world, to provide narratives that would make sense of it by connecting the present with the past and the future.
Should we strive either to reform the system from within or to build new institutional structures, or more than one of the above?
Luis Camnitzer is a Uruguayan artist and educator based in New York. He represented Uruguay in the 1988 Venice Biennial, was in Documenta XI, and is author of several books.
In 1929, when his wife helped found the Museum of Modern Art in New York, John D. Rockefeller didn’t like modern art. According to Calvin Tomkins: “He found in modern painting nothing more than a desire for self-expression, as if the artist were saying ‘I’m free, bound by no form, and art is what flows out of me.’”
The statement is still true, but only describes part of the word art. By now, art is such an ambiguous word that it often covers up issues instead of revealing them. For a moment, then, I will assume that the word art doesn’t exist. Even in the absence of the word and of any concept supporting it, I probably would still desire to own a useless object that deserves—for whatever reason—to be cherished. It’s a clear need, even if, at this point a yet-unnamed one.
I will keep, however, the concept of market, and presume that I’m lazy and extremely wealthy. I, therefore, won’t try to produce that object myself, but instead will contract somebody to work on a project that will satisfy me and pay whatever it costs. I would hope that there is somebody that can work with total independence and freedom, and without being constrained by the colors of my living room. The following conditions and instructions will have to be fulfilled:
- The person to work on my project will have to be able to propose an interesting problem to be solved, one that preferably hasn’t been explored yet by other people and reveals something that, at least, I didn’t know before. It may be called “original.”
- The person will have to solve this problem in the most economic and elegant way possible, meaning that every part in the solution will be indispensable. The solution will have to fit the problem perfectly, without digressions, and maintain a maximum of complexity while eliminating any complications.
- The form given to the solution will have to make it communicable. I want to be able to understand on some level what is going on and what I’m paying for. I also want other people to admire me for having commissioned the piece and contributed to culture (at least to that of my peers) with it.
- The execution of the piece has to be as perfect as possible. There shouldn’t be anybody who might be able to do it better, since I want the piece to be admired as a “master piece.” It has to be impeccable from the point of view of craftsmanship, balancing precisely the needs demanded by both the problem and the communication required by the solution.
- The relation of the problem and the solution should be one as close as possible to being or establishing a paradigm. In other words, the piece should serve as a reference and become a starting point for subsequent creations so that it will be recorded in the history of art.
With all these conditions satisfied, we may now use the word art again. The last condition, becoming paradigmatic, probably will make the piece much more expensive, but since I’m rich I can afford it; besides, it also may prove to be a good investment since A) It may produce more money than I spent in the event I sell it, B) It will establish my reputation as an insightful patron, and C) If I add some money, particularly in the U.S., it may help name a public cultural building after me while I’m still alive.
My most important contribution, however, will be that I managed to revitalize the word art and helped remove its ambiguities. I will have merged art-for-profit with non-profit-art into one word. Maybe it’s not a building that should be named after me then. Just use the word camnitzer (no capitals) instead of the word art.
PaoloCirio works with information systems that impact the dynamics of social systems—he makes provocative and engaging conceptual artworks.
Project “Art Commodities”
Smart art investment advisory
ArtCommodities.com embraces the notion of art as an asset class. It advises for the best investment for art, for avoiding financial losses, and inefficient business. Art is a good hedge against inflation, stock, bond, and currency market fluctuations: buying art allows investors to diversify their portfolios while pursuing financial gains.
Works of art can also be used as collateral in order to secure loans, transfer assets, or they can be bundled with numerous investments funds and capital shields as donation’s tax and insurances value. ArtCommodities.com proposes a new formula for an innovative art investment in an attempt to reorganize the economic and symbolic value of contemporary art while assuring social, cultural, and financial capital returns.
Why should value investors buy critical art?
ArtCommodities.com is building an art investment market whose social impact increases its potential for economic returns. As the social impact and relevance of a work increases, so does its market value. Today’s art market logic is highly dysfunctional and inefficient over the long-term. Art collectors are endangered by incentives on short-run profits and the selling of quick, aimless, and trivial art rather than on supporting an independent oeuvre of lasting quality and complex and thought provoking art. This false paradigm of low intellectual and cultural value as tied to high financial value negatively affects the infrastructures and formations that sustain the cultural industry complex. Overvaluation and mispricing of easily digestible and entertaining art is becoming more and more prevalent, a situation that misguides the investors and harms the intellectual value of artists and the entire art world, which are the real source of value. The present conservative model is often unsustainable, creating losses for its investors.
A simple economic analysis of the production of artworks’ values
Symbolic value can be exchanged for high economic value; however, recently, commercial value has been exchanged for the symbolic, making the market unreliable. The misleading dominant forces have influenced popular taste and the artistic canon, which ultimately determines a false system of values. ArtCommodities.com is committed to building symbolic and intellectual capital to create a new market value of art, believing in the equation between social value, artistic significance, and economic development. Art is a concept of value constantly requiring its own (re)evaluation. However, the factors influencing the valuation and validation of contemporary art, artistic reputation, and credibility are too often determined by the economic conditions and status of its producers, dealers, or buyers. ArtCommodities.com wants to invert this paradigm and assert a new scenario where the social validation of art influences its economic value, which is then redistributed to the social bodies that fuel and create the art economy itself. Economic evaluation should be democratic; hence, it should be conditioned by discernible quality and consumable artworks. ArtCommodities.com promotes a new age of critique, awarding prestige and cultural capital to critical art, and encouraging its appreciation by popular audiences. Many have been questioning the authority of cultural experts and how they could legitimate their own valuations to generate estimations for inflating the value of artworks. Today, within the sphere of the contemporary visual arts, the agents whose interests determine the dominant values of art are mainly large institutional investors. Through their acquisitions, these new agents shape artistic reputations, taste, and establish the art market’s elitist character. The role of the public expert has been gradually replaced by financial ventures in the art market, which has shifted both intellectual and monetary values to bend to these power dynamics. Experts themselves have lamented this questionable inflation of superficial values in the art market, a scheme that ultimately harms both investors and artists.
Henry A. Giroux currently holds the McMaster University Chair for Scholarship in the Public Interest in the English and Cultural Studies Department and is a Distinguished Visiting Professorship at Ryerson University. His most recent books are The Violence of Organized Forgetting (City Lights, 2014), Dangerous Thinking in the Age of the New Authoritarianism (Routledge 2015) and coauthored with Brad Evans, Disposable Futures: The Seduction of Violence in the Age of Spectacle (City Lights, 2015).
One consequence, in many countries under the regime of neoliberalism, is the growing support among the public for policies, at all levels of government, that no longer support the arts and exert enormous pressure to turn those public spheres where the arts have flourished as sites of resistance into adjuncts of the market. Many artists have been deprived of the spaces, support, and encouragement to exercise art as an expression of the critical imagination, as a performance that embodies a notion of the future that is no longer simply a repeat of the present.
Under such circumstances, the power of art gives way to the poisonous control of culture by the corporations and ultra-wealthy. Repression increases and replaces compassion. Real issues—such as poverty, youth unemployment, the war on immigrants, the disparity in wealth and income, and homelessness—now give way to policies associated with discipline, containment and control. In the face of such repression, artists become quiet, more accommodating, and, all too easily, become complicit with societies in which the only value that matters is exchange value. The turn towards state repression and social containment is matched by the eradication of dissent and the ongoing rise of the surveillance state and the criminalization of everyday problems. That more money is being invested in the growth of prisons in many states in the United States than in higher education or other important safety net programs is evidence of a growing culture of control. Moreover, as A. Anton has insisted, there is growing support for the neoliberal belief that “individuals with the same talent and abilities would be equally productive independent of the social resources available to them and thus, owe little to the society that provides the context for their achievements”. When the social is invoked under neo-liberalism, it appeals to communities to draw people together on the basis of shared fears rather than any sense of shared responsibility. As Zygmunt Bauman observes, rather than addressing the “deepest causes of anxiety—that is, the experience of individual security and uncertainty” grounded in concrete social problems—governing elites all over the world exploit the new fears and ‘terror’ as a threat to the body. As such, community is invoked through the appeal to military defense, national security, and civil order, and with greater legitimacy after the horrific terrorist attacks of September 2001.
Neoliberal regimes have corrupted politics, the arts, and most other public spheres that do not define themselves in purely market values. Under such circumstances, politics has been emptied of any substantive meaning. Artists and other cultural workers need to address, at the very least, three important issues. First, we need a new understanding of politics and a new vocabulary that address the educative, cultural, and global nature of politics. The older language of politics, with its insistence on economic structures, has failed to understand both the educative nature of politics in its relentless production of subjectivities, and in its escape from the traditional boundaries of nation states. Consequently, there is a need to create new, international formations willing to organize around the defense of public goods, economic justice, and democracy. Second, any viable strategy that takes education and cultural work seriously must encourage artists, educators, and others to work with one foot in and one foot out of traditional institutions of power. We cannot turn over traditional institutions of power to reactionaries and, in refusing to do so, address them as ongoing sites of struggle. At the same time, traditional public spheres and institutions will not suffice to enable any kind of political and cultural revolution. This suggests that, third, developing alternative public spheres where alternative ideals, values, social relations, art, knowledge, and modes of exchange can provide a space that portends a different society formation. Art has to push against the grain, but this is a difficult task without the help of others, the existence of alternative public spheres, and a broad social movement that supports such efforts.
Hans Haacke, born in Cologne, Germany (1936) has lived in New York since 1965. His work has been in 4 Documentas and the Biennials of Tokyo, Sydney, São Paulo, Venice, Johannesburg, Whitney, Gwangju, and Sharjah.
Birgitta Jónsdóttir is a Poetician for the Pirate Party in the Icelandic Parliament and chairman for the International Modern Media Institute.
An artist often has the ability to see aspects in our society or social structure from a different vantage point than others. Artists have the ability to move the norms by their vision or work. The most stark reminder of that is reflected in the ability to shape social norms in books that reflect a vision of a future in works of fiction, such as Brave New World, Snow Crash, and, yes, 1984. Films, music, visual arts, theater—all of these are fields that have the same role in directing action of new norms or seeing reflections of reality from a new vantage point that will lead to societal changes, because the thresholds of norms and realities have changed or been moved to a fresh angle.
We are currently living in exciting times as humanity because all norms are lucid, liquid, and in a transformative stage. It is really the best of times for creatives. We get to be the architects of the new systems or societal structures. New visions of all systems, through the eyes of the creatives, are ripe for change. So why aren’t more creative people seizing this responsibility and finding the muse of transformative times beating with such force in their minds that there is no rest until the shackles of the old are thrown away and new norms manifested through the creatives? Well, the good news is that there are amazing, spellbinding ideas circulating: the bold, the beautiful, and, of course, the ugly.
Shackles and chains are founded in fear of change and, to be honest, an artist is manifested in someone who craves change like gnawing hunger and loathes the still, stagnant waters of current norms.
Most artists that move me and inspire change are the fearless, just like my favorite fusion of art and activism materialized in the wonderfully strange and beautiful acts of anarcho clowns.
I started as a humble poet writing about the aftermath of nuclear war when I was a teenager; that has metamorphosed into many different stages. Currently, I am doing an art installation by hacking the very fabric of social norms, writing poetry into the code of laws, exposing the theater of the absurd called the legislative body. Reshaping and rethinking how to co-create with the wisdom of others. I often think of the Talking Heads song, “Once in a Lifetime” when I wake up. I always knew I wanted to be part of changing the world. I am a change maker, just like everyone else who has the creative spark flowing through the veins of their being.
So what are you waiting for? Start thinking up new worlds, stateless states, the future of everything and put it into some form of creation.
We are living in a world without borders; the Internet is the collective enabler of sharing ideas beyond time and space. Everything is possible. I once upon a time wrote a poem about that, as I had just discovered the magical realism of the cyberworld. It is simply called Countries without Borders and expresses, in much fewer words, what I really mean to say in this essay:
Countries without Borders
The countries of the world
Through the void
earth is shrinking
sense for distance changing
Floating through space
I feel home
in every corner of the world
we can all understand
Art is the language
the word still a virus
from outer space
Colours, forms, sounds, shapes
Cities without borders
Countries without borders
Cultures without borders
Earth without borders
Us without borders
Suzanne Lacy is an artist, writer, and Chair of Graduate Public Practice Program at Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles.
Seems to me this is not a particularly new situation. For centuries, art and artists have served the ruling classes. I suppose one could make the case that the feeling itself—that the art world is in service of the top 1 percent—is what is growing. More interesting is not what the arts institutions have become, but rather how observations on the role of the fine arts industry in shaping our culture of inequity are part and parcel of a broader awareness of societal inequality on every level.
Just out of graduate school in the 70s, we didn’t expect to make a living with our artwork, at least not right away. We bought the myth that things might (or would) change, if we focused on challenging sexism and racism within the art world. Living on the West Coast, out of the range of major institutions, made what it meant to “make it” a bit indistinct. With the rise in graduate education costs and the recent art market boom, young artists have their noses pressed right up against the glass of out-of-reach celebrity. Given the exorbitant cost of living in cities like New York and London, it’s not surprising that we’d hear more talk about the corruptness of art institutions.
Battling on every front is, in general a good idea, but we pick our battles. The art world is clearly an insider’s game and needs reform; just like corporations are an insider’s game, with executives making 500 times more than their workers, all the while making plans to move to countries where destitute people are more malleable. Government is an insider’s game, with the Citizen’s United ruling ensuring corporate influence. While art may be a pawn of the financial elites, it is only a victim (and for a few, a benefit) of consumptive practices. The issue of inequality goes way beyond the art world.
I do believe in working from the outside, building alternative institutions. I’ve spent my life participating in their design and operation, beginning with the Feminist Studio Workshop in the 70s. I came into the arts at a time, and from a geographic space (Los Angeles), where we had to take matters into our own hands, whether it was to start our own schools and galleries, or to challenge what was acceptable as art. Schools, galleries, and museums weren’t at all responsive to the work of women or people of color. Now they are, more so, but the issue remains: an unequal distribution of wealth, and the violence that characterizes it.
I’ve also worked inside of institutions, specifically academic ones, as I do now at Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles. There are, no doubt, contradictions in my positions, but I live in the center of many contradictions: I teach at a college where tuition burdens our largely middle and working class students, and I believe in a free college education. I vote for political candidates who are essentially compromises with my core beliefs, rather than opting out of the voting process.
We can work for change within and outside of the art system on issues of inequality. As for where to place my energy at this moment in my life, I’d rather talk about how to reform health care than museums, or to change the U.S. congress than to attack Ai Wei Wei’s latest work, or to support the voting rights of minorities than to opt out of the gallery system.
Where I’ve chosen to make my “artworld” stand is in the subject matter of my work, and in questioning, developing, and expanding the relationship between art and politics. For me, it is more a practitioner’s mission, than a museum mission: “to help in better understanding of today’s world—to provide narratives that would make sense of it by connecting the present with the past and the future.” My perceptions are a function of my own experience, however, and I am sure my students have very different perspectives on these issues.
Marita Muukkonen is an internationally active curator based in Helsinki and Berlin, and a co-founding co-director of Perpetuum Mobile. She has been Chairperson and Curator of The Helsinki International Artists-in-Residence Programme; Curator at FRAME – The Finnish Fund for Art Exchange; Editor at FRAMEWORK – The Finnish Art Review (the international art magazine), and held key functions at The Nordic Institute for Contemporary Art over several years. Marita has curated exhibitions and projects internationally, including the Museum of Modern Art (New York), Moderna Museet (Sweden), Kiasma – Museum of Contemporary Art (Finland), and galleries such as Momentum (Berlin) and Bo Bjerggegaard (Copenhagen). She curates and coordinates exhibitions and events in biennial-contexts, including the Perpetual Pavilion (Venice 2009), The Finnish Pavilion in Venice (2009), The Nordic Pavilion (2009), The Arts Assembly (Manifesta 8, 2011), The Nordic Pavilion in the Dak’art Biennale (2012), and the School of Displaced Persons (Kiev Biennial, 2015) as well as is part of the Athens Biennial (2015-2017).
Ivor Stodolsky (curator and theorist, Berlin-Helsinki) is Co-Founding Director and Curator of Perpetuum Mobile (www.perpetualmobile.org). PM’s recent thematic projects include the Re-Aligned Project (Berlin, Cairo, Moscow Biennial 2013, Tromso, Checkpoint (Helsinki 2014, Athens Biennale 2015, etc.), the Perpetual Pavilion (Venice Biennale 2009, Berlin 2013, etc), The Arts Assembly (Manifesta 8, CAFA, Beaux Arts), The School of the Displaced (Kiev Biennial 2015, Helsinki), and Pluriculturalism (Moderna Museet, Malmö). A writer with a background in philosophy, social theory and anthropological research, he is also an editor of publications such as “The Raw, The Cooked and The Packaged” and “The Square” newspapers as well as PM films. In 2016 he has been largely focussed on PM’s Artist at Risk platform which received the Annual Art Act Award for Safe Haven Helsinki, and was honoured with the European Citizen’s Prize of the European Parliament in Brussels.
Marita Muukkonen & Ivor Stodolsky
A STATE OF PRE-
21st Century Re-Alignments in Art and Politics
Future historians will judge whether the wave of revolts of our time bear comparison to 1640, 1789, 1848, 1968, or, perhaps, following further major convulsions, will be seen as the capitalist antipode to the communist collapse of 1989. What is clear today is that we live in a time of worldwide instability, where hegemonic government by consent is under intense pressures due to the crises of transnational elites above, and the discontent of vast majorities below, which are forced to bear the brunt of the ensuing problems.
Next to the economic and ecological crises of mondial scale, there are political conflicts being played out in widely differing arenas that show remarkable structural similarities. The notion of a non-aligned positionality, which invokes the refusal of multiple mainstream positions, describes one such common structural feature. An Egyptian, Russian, Chinese, or Cuban oppositional intellectual, for example, will reject (local) authoritarianism while often simultaneously maintaining a highly critical stance vis-a-vis (global) western forms of historical and/or current expansion and oppression. An Occupy activist, as much as an African or Latin American intellectual, will similarly reject an authoritarian conception of communism while fighting the rapacious logic of neoliberal capitalism. In all cases, concomitant with a clear non-alignment with the outmoded mainstream social paradigms of the 20th century, we see what we call re-alignments of the 21st. Although a term kept deliberately open to multiple readings, re-aligned initially describes a re-engagement with and re-merging of activist and intellectual currents that are replacing the apathy and disillusionment, apolitical irony, particularism, single-issue and identity politics of the previous epoch. It describes the “third”, “fourth”, or “fifth” ways being sought between vertical and horizontal forms of organization, between particular identities and unarticulated hybridities, between difference and universalism.
The period preceding our current era, sometimes called postmodernity, saw a sustained focus on cultural-ethnic issues, post-colonial and national-independence narratives, post-communist nation-building and religious revivals, gender-related liberation movements, and numerous new ways of reading popular and commercial culture and society. While subverting and superimposing and making these configurations clash, many power relations that postmodernist theory and art engaged with and critiqued, were often paradoxically strengthened and reproduced in this same period rather than overcome.
Explanations for this require a re-orientation of perspectives. It has been argued that precisely postmodernism’s aversion to “meta-narratives”, the “universal”, “reality”, and similar overarching conceptions furnished the “conditions of ignorance”, so to speak, for the macroeconomic neoliberal depredations of the past decades. Discussion of general social and political structural movements remained out of fashion, suspect, even unspeakable, in an environment where collective convictions and ideals were ridiculed as simplistic, dangerous, and antiquated, often forced to be couched in obscure jargon, while the power-relations they decried took their heavy toll.
Over the past years, the clarity of the need for common agency has led us to speak of the re-aligned approach as engaged in multilectic thinking. Careful to avoid reversions to single-issue, single-culture, single-tradition thinking—that is, abandoning diversity or falling into undifferentiated universalism—this likewise multivalent term describes the aim, amidst the maddening multiplicity of our times, to redevelop models for holistic worldviews. The plethora of currents and movements, which constitute the re-alignments we speak of, are a type of globalisation “from below”. Due to their undeveloped, still-localised nature, we hence describe them as having a pre-mondial agency. This is an agency for which politics, art, and thought are only now beginning to imagine new structures and give a language to.
We are in a state of “pre-”. Contrary to the fin de siècle pessimism of what may be called the non-aligned generation of the “post-”, re-aligned movements are part of a quest for a wider mondial commons. Going beyond the ubiquitous “post-” of the outgoing epoch (post-war, post-modern, post-Soviet, post-communist, post-ideological, post-history, post-colonial, post-human, etc.) what may be called a re-aligned generation of the “pre-”—naturally defined not by age, but vision—seeks the proliferation of common orientations, desirables, and initiatives in face of mondial crises.
Vicente Todolí’s career in the visual arts spans more than 30 years, and includes positions as artistic director at IVAM, and as director at the Museum of Contemporary Art Serralves and the Tate Modern.
To provide a personality and to adopt a distinctive point of view is what I have tried to give to the museums that I have run.
I always try to get institutions to behave metaphorically like a body, where a leg was anchored in the symbolic place from which it arises, while the other leg was circularly moving up like radar, trying to detect signs of art in the space-time universe. Meanwhile, the head would process and edit both kinds of information in order to create the programme—because let’s not forget that is what, together with the collection, defines the museum, not a more or less attractive building signed by a more or less star architect.
That’s what we’ve seen often in the last decade under the effect of the “Star Architects Iconic Syndrome,” which has put an unnecessary and harmful stress on the continent and not on the content.
What was only an instrument has become an aim, and the discourses in which they were based were closer to commercial television targets than institutions whose missions are based in art research and mediation between the world of artists and the public. Several times, Art has stopped being the primary aim and instead has become bait to catch the largest audience numbers.
The figures have become the qualifiers in a quantitative way. Something as immaterial as Art or Culture cannot be measured or weighed just in numbers. This situation may put at risk the values inherent to Art, such as knowledge, realization, and tolerance, due to the pressure of more business-oriented models closer to the financial world. Some institutions may fall into vicious cycles where their programme is based on what they think mass audiences want. Hence, no other options are given.
In times of crisis like nowadays, investing in Art and Culture means investing in the creation of a different kind of wealth that can help make this world a better place to live in, in the present and future. The discoveries are not only geographical or scientific, but also cultural.
Mike Watson is an art theorist and curator. His book Towards a Conceptual Militancy is out in May from Zero Books. Mike lives and works in Rome.
I would suggest that deep introspection is required to ascertain how the art world’s own practices can be improved upon before continuing attempts to coerce the wider world into behaving via the production and display of evermore political art.
That is not to say that political art is not welcome and necessary, but that fundamental structural change is needed in the art world to allow for aesthetic reflection that can help us dream of new realities. Currently this element of reflection is stifled by the sensation that the art world is rotten to the core. Zoning out in front of a painting in a museum is not what it once was, given the awareness that somewhere overseas, workers are enduring slave-like conditions whilst working on the construction of a museum franchise.
Art, via its capacity for illusion, has much to offer in imagining new worlds, but that capacity must not be used to hide wrongdoing in the art world itself. Low pay and a lack of meritocracy perpetuate a field that is hierarchical and closed to many people of lower social rank. We must tackle these problems at a local level while condemning, for example, the alleged poor working and living conditions of migrant workers building the Louvres and Guggenheims in Abu Dhabi. This, for me, must be the priority, and I suggest that this process begin with a frank and open discussion on social class and meritocracy in the art field.
When such a discussion has been conducted, new practices should be implemented to ensure that art practitioners and professionals as well as background staff such as office workers, cleaners, caterers, and interns, are treated well according to basic standards of dignity and respect. Only then can the art world turn its attention to how it can best use its resources to tackle social class and wealth inequality in wider society.
Often, attempts to make art more politically useful are misdirected. As a result, political messages are only conveyed on a surface level whilst foundations, museums, and galleries exploit their workers and employ inappropriate directors and staff members selected via nepotistic employment practices. It is these practices that need challenging before we aim to fill more art spaces with well intentioned, yet often superficial, political art. Ultimately, as long as “political” art occupies buildings that are peopled with a workforce subject to exploitative capitalist practices, it will only ever serve to exonerate the powerful from the accusation of class exploitation.
Further, we need to stop aiming our critique at young artists, who are often accused of, for example, producing “same-y abstractions” to fuel an art market entwined with a finance economy. Arguably, we have the art world that we as a society deserve, with young artists performing an immanent analysis of an abstract world in which it is difficult to find and depict concrete meaning. This is also reflected in the vacuousness of “Post Internet” art, with its mind numbing self-referentiality being a reflection of the 24-hour media culture we are subjected to on a daily basis. Art would arguably benefit more from a better art world than from better young artists, who, in any case, can only follow the example we set for them.
Krzysztof Wodiczko is renowned for his large-scale slide and video projections on architectural facades and monuments. He currently works as Professor in Residence of Art, Design and the Public Domain at the GSD.
They all, the Avant-Gardists, seem failed in their utopian zeal. One should admit it, and I am willing to do so as well. I wish, however, that we could have more artistic ‘failures’ of such ethical, aesthetic, and political ambition, scope, and scale. Yes, each time we must be more intelligent in our attempts not to repeat the previous ‘failures’ of our predecessors, including those from the Avant-Garde past, yet we must risk new kinds of projects and new kinds of ‘failures’. The ‘failure’ of an Avant-Garde project is a risk worth taking.
There is an overbearing skepticism, perhaps even a ‘cynical intelligence’, at work in pointing to the appropriation of the Avant-Garde by the very powers it questions or critically infiltrates and appropriates. We hear about the ‘danger’ of such appropriation by clever capitalist hegemony, by authoritarian ‘communist’ (state socialist) apparatuses, or by military dictatorships (as in my old country, Poland, under the previous regime). Sure, the Experience Economy has managed to appropriate artistic Avant-Garde tactics quite well, but each counter- or sub-movement, and each infiltration project, must be aware of its temporality. Inherent in any Avant-Garde agenda is the inevitability of appropriation by the powers it tries to deconstruct and transform. So be it. Let us dismantle our own projects ourselves just before each coming moment of appropriation. Let us be as clever as the smartest powers and the most flexible capitalist forces that surround us. Let us recognize the moment that requires a swift shift to new areas of work and that demands a change of tactics. The dialectics of the Avant-Garde method of operation and its politics must continue: action, appropriation, disbanding oneself, forming new areas of action and transformation, the coming moment of appropriation … and so on.
We need art to design the transformation of life. We need artists to inspire, direct, and design the conditions for participatory, collaborative, and inventive people’s art and design. We need artists who work with people and not only for them. One of the Avant-Garde lines of thinking endorses art as design through which people are in partial or complete charge of the projects’ realization and of the processes of design, production, maintenance, distribution, and use.
Artistic means are irreplaceable when it comes to helping to publicly express human experiences that are unspeakable, and to challenge and transform the culture of violence into a culture of dynamic, honest, inclusive, critical, passionate, and emotionally articulate communication.
War (such as civil war and military interventions in Syria ,with their devastating human toll) is one of the most urgent issues today. War is a sanctioned collective madness. Armed with nuclear weapons, it leads humanity to global annihilation. The culture of war idealizes war and orchestrates war psychosis. It mobilizes and unleashes our paranoid, grandiose, and aggressive behaviour, and makes us believe that killing and dying in wars is a just and justified mission—an honourable duty.
Building a war-free civilization demands dismantling the workings of the culture of war, disarming its symbolic arsenal, exposing war’s human toll and fallout, and confronting our drive to enter war situations. An even more important task is to create and disseminate new and effective peacemaking and peace-securing projects.
In the face of environmental catastrophe and the unknown consequences of globalization; continued armed and bloody conflicts; civil wars; hunger, poverty, and epidemics; proliferation of nuclear weapons; and other large problems, we must develop methods and practices that learn from and go beyond the work of our interventionist Avant-Garde ancestors. We must go beyond the work of our postmodern and poststructuralist predecessors, as well as their deconstructive critical analysis and critiques of representation.
While continuing to contest and deconstruct, we must also focus on construction and act proactively in transformative ways, critically and in an affirmative spirit, but all of this on condition, as Chantal Mouffe would prefer, that we do so in an ‘agonistic-pluralist’ and radically democratic mode.