Saturday, April 11, 2009

'Politics, Art, Praxis and artists (some starving)'

It seems my comments a while back on indymedia has stirred a few pens into action regarding 'radical art'. For myself, that is a good thing, and much needed in these dire times. Ross has extended to me the right of reply, which I will gladly accept, if not only to tidy up some irregularities on the part of his research into my own practice.

It seems a quick google search has brought up some of my PAST activities, including band posters and a show I had at HSP A FEW YEARS back. Please note the emphasis, as these were primarily my modes of praxis after leaving school. Time has passed since then — I am no longer making band posters, nor having shows. My text on art has become a sort of signing off to that aspect of my production, so while it shaped my consciousness to some extent, it no longer features in my practice. Anyone interested can read about the evolution to where I'm at here.

And please note, I am not a Marxist. I consider that an insult, and will put it down to a lack of understanding on the ideas of anarchism and libertarian socialism. Nor would I consider my work 'revolutionary'. No work, individual, movement or party could ever be 'revolutionary', as the term (and as history has shown, with the fallacy of Russia, Cuba, China etc) equates mass, participatory and spontaneous action on a huge, liberatory scale — not lead or driven by a minority, but far reaching and social. Therefore, the most one could be is PRO-revolutionary. And this is definitely the most screenprinted posters or any art/movements could ever come close to being, in terms of its content. That includes Situationism, Fluxus and Theodore Adorno, Neoism, and yes, Dada too. I am well aware of these movements (I'd recommend reading 'Assault on Culture: Utopian Currents from Lettrisme to Class War').

These past movements, including Dada, tried (and failed) to destroy capitalism. Where they only tried to revolutionise 'art', we should now look to change life, in its totality. Ross gets hung up on the idea that what 'radical' art has to SAY forms it's revolutionary value — yet to continue to make art in that context continues the division of maker/viewer, reworks hierarchy and perpetuates the privileged system of relations its supposedly critiquing. As Tony Lowe states in 'Give Up Art, Save the Starving': "to call one person an artist is to deny another the equal gift of vision — and to deny all people equality is to enforce inequality, repression and famine". If this is understood, then isn't any art, revolutionary or not, still merely 'art' in its current and historical understanding?

I am interested in the notion (proposed by the people such as Black Mask, Stewart Home, Art Strike 1990-93, Tony Lowe and to some extent Situationism) that by continuing to make work, and therefore to define ourselves as 'artists' — we deny others the equal gift of vision and keep art firmly separate to everyday, creative acts ie life. In this way, we perpetuate a system of inactivity, passivity, hierarchy — and most importantly — privilege. Ross mentions this himself: "Art's political value comes from its inherent (conventional) non-functionality, allowing for a line-of-flight from dominant economic models of exchange/use-value". And to become non functional and pro-revolutionary art should discontinue in its current form, not just in terms of economic exchange, but in the relations of production it continues to uphold. After all, Capital is first and foremost a social relation.

Herein lies my current position. Art which ‘criticises the establishment’ is reintegrated into it, defusing any useful comprehension of its horror. Since this kind of ‘edgy’ work often defines itself in opposition to the very thing it critiques, the work — and the artist making that work — has a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. In the end these sub-cultures within the art world only serve to diffuse the potentially radical energies of the creative public so that they pose no real, collective threat to established culture. The critique of the spectacle remains an integral part of the spectacle itself, and in turn legitimises it. And that includes my past practice (which I'm quite happy to admit).

It should be plainly obvious by now that art making, in itself, is an insufficient response to social crisis. The libertarian possibilities of disavowing art as an individualistic activity that is somehow special or superior to other human activities are endless. Creative energies could be channeled into any (or every) action one could imagine. To give up artistic privilege, consumption and productivity — addictions which capital has convinced us gives our individualistic lives value — is the negation of art, the negation of domination.


dave said...

Not to mention that an artist in capitalist society is alienated so how libatory is that. e.g. poor fucked McCahon. First we have to abolish capitalism. If we use our creativity to do it that's arty, but we also need the revolutionary science and the laboratory of the democratic centralist party. How else do we know what will work? The alienated individual is abolished in the process.

claire said...

does anyone remember leaflets put into art magazines during the 1990's about giving up art as it was bad for your health? who did this?

Jared Davidson said...

In NZ or elsewhere? If you mean the US it could have been participants of the 'Art Strike' of 1990-93? The link to their leaflets is in the above text.