Information InFiltration. Mediaculturistic artistic dissent-o-mania.

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[- on expressionism and activism and ...
By monicaross, Section whatever...
Posted on Mon May 12th, 2003 at 06:28:35 PM EURODISCORDIA TIME
its quite difficult to know where to come in to here goes... with some thoughts in response to a question i was recently asked by another artist and to trebor's and brian's discussion..." what did you do about the war?"


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Although i carried out an art action during the 91 gulf war, my resistance to the invasion of iraq was of a different order, one that is not clear to me yet. it included the refusal to make art as response. as if to participate in the spectacle, to make what could only be a token gesture, would somehow indicate an inverted form of consent. as the invasion became imminent, related net art projects began to appear. the readiness of this instinct, far from seeming a demonstration of a utopian counter memory, began to have as depressing, and wearying, an effect on me as the happening - now- info-tainment of split screen, subtitled cnn.
the artist's question was an opener on trying to speak about the anguish produced by the gross intimidation of this event: an exercise of immutable force in which iraq was made an example to any who might attempt to oppose it. and about an art practice informed by political and ethical beliefs, but alienated from and doubtful of current activist forms as a means to address overwhelming power. what, we were thinking, is going on then in this compulsion to silence? is what seems to be inaction always a sign of being overwhelmed into ineffectiveness, of political dis-engagement?
as one bomber left the abraham lincoln aircraft carrier to deliver shock and awe to baghdad, other crew watched "the light show" on the ships monitors, in real time, from the comfort of armchairs, commenting, like theatre goers, on the live performance. In britain, it is a habit to use the word "political" to describe something which opposes the status quo. so that while the term "political art" implies an art that is identifiably critical of the status quo, it is hardly ever used to describe the cultural activities that support the status quo itself. do we just take that for granted? or do we forget? as brian indicates, the autonomy of art is, once again, at issue. but not only within the utopian spaces of counter action to which he refers.
the juggler of the paving stones in the "who is faking it?" discussion, may demonstrate a welcome counter image of power relations, but how does such an act translate into forms of agency which will counter the actual structure of these relations? to what degree is the subversive potential of the carnivalesque diminished when the dominant power structure has become a past master in the same metier? might how we get from the carnival demonstration of the arrangement of power to its actual re-arrangement, of necessity, now have to be through other, unspectacular, forms of agency? a different kind of work?
just now, in the west at least, we seem to be engaged, en masse, in cultural activisms/artforms whose expression , as discussed by trebor and brian, the status quo also comfortably tolerates within its own limits. some forms, particularily where dissent is diffused into display, into the spectacular, may even be welcome to it and synthetic to its interests. dissent as the spectacular performs a show of democracy, demonstrating it as real time images which counter the suspicion that democracy may now only be an illusion.
"The growing proletarianization of modern man and the increasing formation of masses are two aspects of the same process. Fascism attempts to organise the newly created proletarian masses without affecting the property structure which the masses strive to eliminate. Fascism sees its salvation in giving these masses not their right, but instead a chance to express themselves." walter benjamin. the work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction
walter benjamin. the work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction
the anti-war march in london was the largest single demonstration of political opposition to government that has ever happened in the uk. it occurred within a space of popular mediation that granted it the most generous tolerance. the polls against the war ran at higher percentages than the average turn out for the ballot box. and it made absolutely no difference whatsoever to the political stance of a government, which, more than any other in the history of the uk, can claim, electorally, to represent the constituency which protested against it.
while we are busy expressing ourselves, the tanks roll on regardless. as a strategy of gesture, can expressionism do much more than perform the apearance of our discontents? it is a spectacular form for raising awareness, inspirational. but can we expect it to take the burden of altering the same superstructure which purposively allows it to exist for its own reasons as a means to negate it? from reality tv to discussion lists to demonstrations: are we all participating in a state of techno-distraction where performing the power of expression is a glamour which we were always intended to mistake for power itself? while the agency of expressionism keeps up the appearances of utopian counter cultures, to privilege it as a solution to the dystopia from within which it erupts, may even be a mistake of unconscious complicity.
all manifestations of art, activist or any other, are always part of the complex social processes within which it is produced. that activist forms must stage and re-stage themselves differently, in a tactical cycle of appearance and dis-appearance, as brian mentions, to evade co-option, is necessary to their dynamic. but is there not a tyranny in this cycle itself? one that restrains a counter culture from sustaining its development and its diversification beyond the stage of tactical re -activism? is a counter culture always to be caught in a cycle of repetition which inhibits and disrupts itself as much, if not more, than the power structure it addresses? how does the cycle of activism's opportunism relate to that of the dystopia's own? what does it mean when particular forms of agency/art forms appear to have ascendancy over others? are they always the most appropriate or the ones most tolerable to the limits that the dystopia has already set in place? does the ascendancy of any one form play a part in hardening those limits? does it participate in silencing the development of other forms of agency which might work to counter the superstructure from less spectacular bases?
in terms of reviewing this cycle, might it, after all, be worth mining the inventory of art to re-think some of arts very old fashioned characteristics - the ability, for example, through one form or another, to remain?

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on expressionism and activism and ... | 1 comments
[new] Between Silence and Absorption (Avg. Score: none / Raters: 0) (#1)
by TreborScholz on Tue May 13th, 2003 at 03:23:07 PM EURODISCORDIA TIME
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So that is what you meant when you wrote me that you'll drop in an informal comment...Wow. Great.
The presence of counter-imagery and the global demonstrations are helping to disrupt the US Administration's grip on the flow of information. At least to a certain extent. So I do appreciate these many artistic spontaneous responses. Some artists refused to do what they are best at- because it would play into the dynamic of a discourse driven by the administration. That was like the game "If I say say:..."
I agree with your concerns related to contrinuting in the spectacle of democacy with all its necessary intrinsic players. I brought the example of Michael Moore who became a kind of key popular figure, which is good. But he can only be so successful as his critique in his recent documentary on gun control: "Bowling for Columbine" is incredibly unspecific, not really following up who really does create the fear that maks people buy guns and use them against each other. He "allowed" to shout "Shame on Bush" at the Oscar's and like you said, he feeds perfectly into the spectacle of democracy. A similar example is Wieden & Kennedy (Nike's ad company) calling up Negativeland (authors of the controversial record "Religion is stupid" ) to ask them to do a Coke commercial for them. The band was depressed as that showed them how much their work is co-optable, absorbable. But still I insist that it is important for some in the US to hear that guns are a bad thing (in a teenager's hand). Or, with Lucy Lippard: There is always that 18 year old who has not heard any of it.
And I can't get ACTUP's 80s Silence=Death slogan out of my head and I am still questioning your position of creative or productive silence. Does not that just leave the field to the dominant discourse? I also disagree when you say that there is so much politically engaged work in "the West." I think Europe and the Us are completely different in that respect. In Europe it seems to be the year of political art I was told. Also this year's Venice Biennal has some political intent. I probably don't need to mention that that's not true for museum's scene the United States...

When looking at the demonstrrations and what they achieved I am more optimistic than you. The war was not stopped but very visibly the world showed opposition, in New York- people who never considered themselves political or "lefty" of any coleur joint the demonstrations. International, national and regional networkss were created. And when I look at photographs of these protests today I feel courage, joy and hope.

Will they "change the superstructure" according to your demand? The US is in no way anywhere near anything that would make that a realistic dream even.

At a program that I faciliated in 2001: Carnival in the Eye of the Storm: Kosov@, Boris Buden said:
To "do" something doesn't always mean to engage oneself in the concrete practical situation. Grasping the meaning of historical events can have an impact on them.

In that spirit I disagree with Brian that the stone thrown at a demonstration should be the capstone of art, the North Pole on which we orient. Because, you know, Brian, the North Pole markation drifts daily.
_/ _/ _/

on expressionism and activism and ... | 1 comments

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