Tuesday, 23 February 2016
This is the funding proposal that gave birth to DPA:
4. How is this a sustainable solution and potentially a viable social enterprise? This birding tour package, if successfully sold to travel agencies in a piggy back would earn ongoing income for riverside community members as tour leaders, for me marketing and running the project from the UK, and for other staff eventually employed in this social value business. It is an opportune time to offer ethical holidays in the Amazon region, with the recent climate change summit and the fact that carbon offsets are gaining in popularity. Birding eco-tourism, along with NTFP community forestry maintain habitat intact for wildlife. For customers, this project is an attractive and credible offset in the sense that bird watchers can be sure that the impact on the environment their pastime causes will be directly compensated in the local area impacted, and some profits are reinvested in the training and empowerment of riverside peoples to live more sustainably harvesting in the forest, such as Brazil nut production. My idea to employ an ornithologist to train trainers (indigenous and traditional nature experts) has been well received by my Amazonian partners, promising to be a long term project for all involved. They are excited about my proposal to develop birdwatching (something NAPRA have not considered), and have chosen Lake Cunia, as the first place to develop such holidays. If carried through long term it could give impetus to the local economy, extending to other locations are along the Rio Madeira, where NAPRA operates. Extended tours could also be arranged linking to the endangered Tapajos river, the Patanal or the Alto Madidi Park in Bolivia.
5. Why are you undertaking this project and what do you personally hope to achieve by undertaking this project? I am undertaking this project because it is my personal conviction (especially since attending climate change summit events in Paris at COP 21 in 2015) that supporting sustainability in the Amazon region is important for urgent humanitarian and environmental reasons, to the home community and the wider world. With my present contacts and past experience, I feel I will, by putting my shoulder against the wheel of the issues faced there, make a difference. My friends at NAPRA have many skills (being PhD students and professionals) in many fields, who have given their services mainly voluntarily, but have lacked the creative and entrepreneurial skills that are needed to extend their impact, and make their programmes less subject to chance of who volunteers. By bringing new activities to them, such as birdwatching tours/ecotourism (something they had not previously thought of), they are now thinking of developing the Cunia lake for this purpose. My full time commitment to this project and loyalty to their mission promises to produce a happy and long-term partnership which will be my full-time job on graduation in June 2016. I am interested to see how we can develop these projects and which of the possible lines of activity (organising birding tours/eco-tourism development of Lake Cunia/Prospecting markets for NTFPs) will work out over time.
Saturday, 28 November 2015
“The Moment that an artist takes notice of what other people want and tries to supply the demand, he ceases to be an artist.” Oscar Wilde (Ross, 1969, volume 8, p. 300).
I will introduce the ideas of art theorists Kester Grant and Clare Bishop in connection with Relational Aesthetics. The nuances of their positions are central for making sense of the range of mainstream and unconventional art practice happening inside and outside the gallery setting, in collaborative or socially engaged practice, and in biennales worldwide. I will be making critical and conscious use of case studies to illumine the debate. Wochenklausur and Occupy Museums illustrate the thinking of Kester, while the work of Jeremy Deller and Mark Wallinger fall more within a Bishop-like model of what good art should be. Kester argues in favour of the ethical component of such practices while Bishop wishes to keep it out, defending the autonomy of the artist within the art world.
Bishop upholds the status quo of contemporary art today though widening its boundaries to subsume the politically engaged; Kester evangelises the word of the ‘dialogical’ with the promise of freedom from fixed identities and official discourse. Both believe passionately in their causes and argue them out for others to grasp their arguments. Wochenklausur are using art(‘s capital) for micro change, Deller and Wallinger simply confront us with the human predicament, while Occupy Museums want to turn the system upside down. I will deal humorously at times with these tight polarities, as Matthew Collings would say, “just to let in some air”. I will be asking if ethics and aesthetics are really at war, considering the potential of art to give power to the people, and question who is deserving of the title of ‘advance guard’ in the art world today. I will argue that the positions of Kester and Bishop are not as polarised as their rhetoric might imply, and question the soundness of linear thinking.
Chapter One: The Bishop and Kester skirmish
“My view is inevitably influenced by living in the U.K., where New Labour have for the last nine years instrumentalised art to fulfil policies of social inclusion–a cost-effective way of justifying public spending on the arts while diverting attention away from the structural causes of decreased social participation…In this context it is crucial for art practices to tread a careful line between social intervention and autonomy, since demonstrable outcomes are rapidly co-opted by the state. Temporary Services once asked me which was worse: to be instrumentalised by the state or by the art market. I’m afraid I think it’s the former.” (Roche, 2011).
Bishop’s reason for provoking hostilities with ‘The Social Turn: Collaboration and its Discontents’ was her aversion for the “sacrifice of the aesthetic at the altar of social change,” [quoting Rancière]. (Bishop, 2006a, p. 179). She insists art must remain in the context of the gallery stronghold without the interference of the “ethical turn” (Bishop, 2006a, p. 179). The wrong turn for her in recent decades in art theory has been the change of course to emphasise “process over product” (Bishop, 2006, p. 184) in critiquing collaboration. She vehemently defends the aesthetic position, accusing Kester of “treating communication as an aesthetic form” (Bishop, p.181), an affront to real art. The socially engaged is welcome so long as it swears loyalty to mainstream values. Kester’s sin, for Bishop, is to pass off a palliative for social ills for art that threatens to “untangle the knot” of “art’s autonomy”. She undermines Kester’s utopian yearnings which she terms “the blurring of art and life”. (Bishop, 2006a, p. 183). Thus Bishop seeks to police a clear boundary between culture and social transformation.
What is good art for Bishop? It must be deeply symbolic, demanding the ability to think in terms of “contradictions” complex “artistic gestures that shuttle between sense and nonsense”, with “multiple interpretations” that zap one into a new way of being. If it doesn’t fulfil these criteria, it is “pleasantly innocuous” or “bland” art in her judgement. (Bishop, 2006a, p 182). What gets up her nose is that the socially engaged is “exempt from criticism” because it relies on “ethical judgements of working procedure and intentionality.” (Bishop, 2006a, p. 181). Not what are should be about, at all. (Bishop, 2006a, p. 181). Bishop, like Wilde, argues that when art is judged by its “social impact”, seeking to supply the demand, it ceases to be art.
Chapter Two: The Battle of Orgreave
intersubjective relations are not an end in themselves but rather serve to unfold a more complex knot of concerns about pleasure, visibility, engagement, and the conventions of social interaction. (Bishop, 2006a, p. 183).
Kester, in the spat, condemned Bishop for her self-congratulatory need to crack codes of ambiguity, of her “self-perception as an acute art critic, ‘decoding’ or unravelling a given video, installation, performance, or film, playing at hermeneutic self-discovery…” (Kester, 2006). The naïve public, Kester argues ironically, depend on this decoding for a true apprehension of the worth of a work, and for it to have impact. He disagrees with Bishop’s idea that “politically engaged’ collaborative art practice constitutes today’s avant-garde.” (Kester, 2006, p. 22). For Kester, this kind of work “can become legitimately political only indirectly by exposing the limits and contradictions of the political discourse itself.” (Kester, 2006, p. 22). Kester is not seeking to exclude Deller from claiming avant-garde status; he is rejecting Bishop’s claim of exclusivity, seeking to exclude “activists who reject aesthetic questions.” (Kester, 2006, p. 22). He argues for “rapprochement”, a more inclusive recognition of “a continuum of collaborative and ‘relational’ practices”.
There is corroboration for the Kester’s “indirectly political” claim in the critique of the New York Times writer, Negar Azimi. He argues that institutional historical critiques such the Battle of Orgreave “offer impassioned arguments on safe subjects…” (Azimi, 2011)—safe history where the artist is carefully to buffered from political fallout.
Kester believes historical engaged works within contemporary art “lead to the sedation of our aesthetic and critical appetites,” more flattering of “Deller’s oft-cited 2004 contribution to Manifesta 5 (the European Biennial of Contemporary art) that had activist balls. Deller invited all manner of alternative societies to march through San Sebastian’s streets,” being direct political and real-time social engagement.
Bishop continues: “the inclusion of these societies [Sealed Knot et al.] symbolically elevated the events at Orgreave to the status of English history.” (Bishop, 2006a, p.183). Isn’t she praising up an event that is already is in-deller-bly engraved in the British psyche as the bitterest industrial dispute in British history. She contrasts the Battle’s “disruptive specificity” (characteristic of what for her is the avant-garde) with Kester’s “generalised set of moral precepts”--an art naively prostituted or instrumentalised to achieving social ends. (Bishop, 2006a, p. 182). She sees Kester’s aesthetics as something like a service-oriented neo-liberalism, or a smoke screen of misguidedness for it: the real aesthetic power of art to awaken the viewer is dissipated by Kester’s “politically correct” do-gooding. For this reason she has emphasised treading a fine line between this and autonomy.
For Bishop, Artsblog might illustrate this misguidedness. The blog opens with:
Evaluating the social and aesthetic efficacy of arts and social justice work requires disrupting mainstream evaluation practices that distort—or even undermine—the connections among art, culture, and social justice.
The kind of disruption she is talking about, then, causes an awakening in the viewer like the young lady illustrated in William Holman Hunt’s The Awakening Conscience, 1853. We see an epiphany that breaks the chains of exploitation of the gentleman over his working class mistress. But if the painter were patronised by the gent and painted for fame and fortune, as the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood did, then the institutional critique is subsumed back into the system.” (Azimi, 2011), as Kester might agree.
For Bishop, this is an old argument, and she doesn’t buy it: “believers are activists who reject aesthetic questions as synonymous with cultural hierarchy and the market.” She denounces social intervention, outside of the gallery discourse, as “a Platonic regime in which art is valued for its truthfulness…” (Bishop, 2006a, p. 183).
Bishop’ethics seem more derived from psychoanalysis with its tragic dimension of analytic experience, “confronting with the darker, more painfully complicated considerations of our predicament.” Psychoanalysis and analytical psychology, influencing many aesthetes, deal with the ‘shadow’ side of the human unconscious—alerting us to the enemy of our lower selves. From a Jungian perspective an artist might be worthy of the epithet “bearer of insight”, so long as fully analysed. (Bishop, 2006a, p. 182).
Chapter Three: The Spoils of War
Close to my heart, too, are Wochenklaur, an Austrian art collective developing projects internationally, claiming realistic goals. This group no longer have any ideological ambition to change the world into a Social Plastic, but just to make a difference, to empower the most disadvantaged, without overestimating their own capabilities.
Artists rebelling against the mainstream aesthetic, they are intent on using the “capital inherent in the art world” (Wochenklausur, 2014a) for social change and they have been doing it in any way they can for the last 22 years. They steal from the rich and give to the poor, their small unit battle tactics include shoot-and-scoot, tell-the-truth-and-run, exploding norms, the occasional deception (or expedient measures), and, most importantly, dialogue. They tell me they find cooperation with most everyone they encounter within the institutions. They are mainly hindered by aesthetes wanting to argue the ontic question of art qua art J (Wochenklausur, 2014a).
They vigourously support their status as artists (they are often accused of being social workers) with a claim of lineage from the militaristic branch of the avant-garde, the Constructivist movement. (Wochenklausur, n.d.a). They are inspired by Vladimir Mayakovsky's declaration: 'the streets our brushes, the squares our palettes', as artists and designers participated in public life during the Russian Civil War (Lodder, 1983, p. 48). This is echoed in Kester’s: “Traditional art materials of marble, canvas or pigment were replaced by ‘socio-political relationships’” in reference to Wochenklausur’s socio-dialogical methodology. (Kester, 2004, p.3). Constructivists were notable in modernism for making the viewer an active participant in art, and for their transdisciplinarity: they influenced architecture , theatre, film, dance, fashion and design. Kester argued in Artforum that “a continuum of collaborative and ‘relational’ practices” constitutes the real avant-garde, that must include activists dismissed by Bishop “en masse as “politically correct”, ‘Platonic’ and even ‘Christian’”, “activists who reject aesthetic questions.” (Kester, 2006, p.22). Kester approves of Wochenklausur in the way that Bishop approves of Deller.
In Intervention to aid Drug-Addicted Women—Boat Colloquies (Kester 2004, p.2) the artists acted as advocates for those without a voice of their own. In other interventions they form a “transdisciplinary group, including the specialists needed, and beneficiaries”, according to Martina Reuters of the group (Lee, 2015). They brought together a group of Zurich politicians, journalists, prostitutes, a police commissioner, city councillors and activists to make an intervention in homelessness, during a three week series of boat trips on Lake Zurich, where they were able to dialogue in a way not possible within the institutions:
…in the ritualistic context of an art event, with their statements insulated from direct media scrutiny, they were able to communicate outside the rhetorical demands of their official status…and were able to reach a consensus for the creation of a boarding house… (Kester, 2004, p.2).
Martina said that Wochenklausur have been successful because of artist freedom from the hierarchy within. Here, Zurich politicians had been loath to comment on the issue for fear of being misconstrued. She adds, “It is often better not to know about the hierarchy to be free to take the necessary steps with our fresh vision. People within the institution are bound by the steps that lead up to the top.” (Lee, 2015). In dialogical terms it:
help[s] us speak and imagine beyond the limits of fixed identities and official discourse and the perceived inevitability of partisan political conflict. The questions that are raised by these projects have a broader cultural and political resonance as well. (Kester, 2004, p. 8).
Their radical origins can be traced back to the Viennese Secession in 1992, when Wolfgang Zinggl, an art critic, (who is today leads Wochenklausur) attacked the idea that an aesthetic art object could really bring social amelioration. He was invited to do better. “Eleven weeks later a mobile ambulance for homeless people with no costs for the concerned started its duty and is until today serving people with no insurance in Vienna.” (Wochenklausur, 2014b).
Bishop files Wochenklausur under “believers” who, like the government policy she despises, “prioritises social effect over considerations of artistic quality.” (Bishop, 2006a, p. 180). For Kester they his ideal of the creative avant-garde, just with a “more convivial relationship to the viewer” than her version, and demonstrate the complexity you would expect from good art (Kester, 2004, p.26). Just as Wochenklausur are unshakeable in their status as artists, so Kester has unbendingly argued for the mainstream validation of dialogical practice until today.
The avant-garde defined by Bishop is, for Wochenklausur, as for Kester, more about the map and not the territory: a gallery simulation. There is nothing more creative, as well as radical, than getting out there, and effecting grass roots change. Kester calls our attention back to the 19th century (Kester, 2004, pp. 31-36), when there was a break with the earlier enlightenment thinking that valued communication in art (according to Kant, Wolff, and Hume) in the open-ended pedagogical exchanges of the social life of the drawing room, governed by discursive ethics. With the in the Victorian era the avant-garde, he says, was a noble cause seeking to sever the viewer from the objectification of a dehumanising rise of profit-driven materialism and positivism to return to communion with the soul of humanity. They were mainly identified, he maintains, with revolutionary working class causes, as champions of egalitarianism. With the rise of the mass market, a tension arose, with “the idea of the malevolent Other” of kitsch and mass culture. Here, the drive to freedom led by the avant-garde was put on hold to defend art from the assault of billboards, advertising, Hollywood…Inward exaltation was cultivated by the Pre-Raphaelites, for example, as a defence of beauty against this assault. “An untrammelled imagination and a fiercely defended sense of individual vision are the last redoubts against a conformist and utilitarian bourgeois culture.” (Kester, 2004, p. 25). By the time of the impressionists, only a handful of viewers were considered worthy according to their inner vision, a refined visuality devoid of ethics. Kester, with this argument, associates Bishop with capitalism and implies she has had police training from Greenberg, who abhorred the kitsch of the media that corrupted the taste of the masses. Here began “a concern with policing the boundaries between true art and kitsch…” (Kester, 2004, p. 36),
Kester defends collaborative practice from Bishop’s readiness to “revert to the nuclear option of challenging the ontic status of art qua art” on this basis. Thus he seeks to undermine Bishop’s argument to discredit what she considers kitsch as a “foil”, when she typically compares the “complex ‘aesthetic’ unfavourably to the “unsophisticated Other” of socially engaged art. (Kester, 2006, p. 26). In this account of the avant-garde, Kester seeks validity for his continued discourse within art theory and defends his champion of collective dialogue, Wochenklausur, who he describes as a vanguard group, creatively dealing in complexity and diversity, confronting the neo-liberation values of today.
He cites the process in Boat Colloquies, to support this argument of complexity, which demonstrates persuasive power, the challenging of stereotypes, dialogue, consensus, goodwill, modelling right human relations, the ability to creatively mobilise a wide cross-section of society, and so forth. From 1990s until today artistic expression seems to have forked into market-oriented production and the socially responsible. Wochenklausur have responded to this situation courageously, and call on others (artist or non-artist) to choose the red pill or the blue: “to get involved in the cooperative shaping of society or the satisfaction of leisure time needs.” (Wochenklausur, 2014b). Kester argues that “challenging the definition of art is the essence of the modernist project.” (Kester 2004, p. 43).
Chapter Five: Disruption in Peru
By way of primary research, I would like to cite an example from my own repertoire of Kester-like interventions, which took place in Peru in 2007. (Palomino, 2007). “The context of art offers advantages when action involves circumventing social and bureaucratic hierarchies and quickly mobilising people…” (Wochenklausur, n.d.b). Having never heard of Kester at this time, I find now his open-ended thinking enlightening. He says that he developed his dialogical model “through ongoing conversations with artists, activists…that has taught him about the possibilities for art and to see art history in a different way.” (Kester, 2004, p. 191). His framework does help this project, in retrospect, to find a place in the art world with integrity.
In 2009 I had experienced a 7.9 magnitude earthquake while in Lima. As a creative response I went to the earthquake zone 3 days after the quake, heard the stories of survivors and surveyed the damage to buildings around Ica. I visited the state rescue services, architects and attended a seminar at the College of Engineers in Ica on reinforcement and repair techniques of earthquake damaged earth buildings. I soon realised that this information would only be transmitted to those who could afford it. So I decided to build a model earthquake proof house with 2 colleagues to encourage local people to keep building in earth. Without earth building reinforcement knowledge, victims of the quake (“damnificados”) were too afraid to rebuild with earth, and the alternative was to borrow from the government to buy expensive and less ecological bricks and cement, with the prospect of the poor remaining in tents for several years. I got sponsorship from a local mayor to build an anti-seismic earth house built house. We gave capacity building workshops in the area and I did an appearance on Ica TV. The dialogical aesthetic intervention, as Kester describes, invariably begins with dialogue in the community where it is produced, with an idea emerging from the conversation, learning the context of the people, their needs and skills, through active listening to “maximise the collective creative potential of a given constituency or site.” (Kester, 2004, p. 25).
Chapter Six: Parliament Square
Another of my experiences of a Kesterian intervention was the Parliament Square protest later immortalised by Mark Walliger in State Britain in 2007 (Bois et al., 2008), perhaps relevant to an understanding of the disagreements between Bishop and Kester. Wallinger, according to his interview, expressed anger at the illegal Iraq war. Bishop, in her anthology, Participation. Documents of Contemporary Art 2006 lauds such works that since the 60s have “appropriated social forms as a way to bring art closer to everyday life,” (Bishop, 2006b p. 15), thus arguing for authority to remain in the institution.
Brian Haw on Parliament Square Mark Wallinger in the Tate Britain
She adds: “I believe in the continued value of disruption, with all its philosophical anthihumanism as a form of resistance to instrumental rationality as a source of transformation.” (Bishop, 2006a, p. 181). Here again she preaches her ethics. But there is no evidence that Haw’s “instrumental rationality”, in his encampment from 2001 to 2005 was any less transformative than Wallinger’s so-called radical avant-garde creation. Haw’s was certainly more cost-effective disruption: the price tag for the State Britain critique of the government’s erosion of civil liberties and the banning of protest in Whitehall and Parliament Square was £90,000, and took 15 people six months to recreate.
Amy Iggulden of the Telegraph argues that State Britain is not worthy: “It doesn't tell anyone anything they don't know. It offers no new evidence for debate, no new insight into the reality of war on the ground.” (Iggulden, 2007). Such a judgement lends support to the view that the gallery artist works from a safer place, from a position of superiority and often has others do all the donkey work. I never saw Brian Haw with his hands in his pockets during my time on Parliament Square. One might suspect WaIlinger of careerist use of easy cultural capital here that earned his second Turner Prize nomination Wallinger ‘making’ art based on another’s ‘actual’ protest.
Bishop’s condemns Kester for his “populist approach” that rejects this idea of the artist’s superiority over the audience. (Bishop, 2006a). State Britian arguably shows the gallery artist’s impotence rather than his real disruptive power. Increased publicity certainly did no harm to the anti-war movement, but the years of personal sacrifice Haw spent braving the elements and the attacks make his work no less noble or effective. Interestingly, we see here a crossover from ‘Kesterian’ art to ‘Bishoparian’ in the same subject matter (a public protest coming to rest in a gallery) that makes one question the absoluteness of the positions held by our theorists.
Dialogue, Kester explains, is inherent in the engaged art form itself (which is certainly true of Haw’s art-activism) in contrast to the often dialogue-provoking character of the resolved art object represented here by State Britain. Wallinger’s and Haw’s work, again, clearly have characteristics of both. (Bishop, 2012, p. 8). Wochenklausur sum it up nicely: “Art can perform many functions…and the many functions are also enmeshed in one another.” (Wochenklausur, 2014b).
Having spent time with Brian on Parliament Square in 2010, I was arrested and thrown into a police cell for protesting the Afghanistan war on the Cenotaph the day before Remembrance Day in 2008 under the “One Kilometer Exclusion Zone” in Whitehall and Parliament Square. It was a peaceful silent protest with 2 fellow activists from Parliament Square (one of whom studied art and politics at Goldsmiths). That same morning, I was banned from Haw’s side of the Square by Brian and his close circle who, in a most paranoid manner, accused one of my co-activists of being a policewoman. According to Wallinger, he too was initially told to “piss off” by Haw, wary of journalists and the police. Wallinger rejoiced that Haw had been taken more seriously after the Tate showing, and that his message was more widely disseminated, empowering “one man alone against the world”, who had been dismissed by the Guardian and labelled an eccentric. I can testify that Haw’s work did indeed “challenge fixed or conventional meanings without dividing [his] audience into philistines and cognoscenti”, (Kester, 2004, p. 22) exemplifying one of Kester’s main points of difference with Bishop.
Chapter Seven: Occupy Museums
“Boycotting everything is no longer an option; the strikes and protests will be included, too. The system is resistant. Moving against the stream is a problem, for it goes in every direction.” (Gillick, 2011).
Occupy Museums are activists with a vision of macro change with sights on the art world. They see themselves at war, and employ the traditional offensive accessories such as the siege engine, the battering ram and the Trojan horse. No doubt new recruits have learned much from old campaigner Lucy Lippard, whose handbook on art activism “Trojan Horses: Activist Art and Power”, gives stratetegies of cultural resistance dating from the Regan era. Debate has gone on ever since if activist art really does subvert the idea of an art object, or is itself ultimately subsumed. “Activist art, is not a genre, not an ‘ism’, but is rather an engagement in social issues and social change through a great variety of methods and mediums.” (Sheikh, 2009). Lippard, a heroine of collectivism, inspired activists to rally together, making them believe change can only happen through a movement.
In 2012 Occupy activists gathered in Kassel, Germany to lay siege to Documenta 13, and the 7th Berlin Biennale. The impact of the intervention led an Art Monthly commentator to say that it “could herald the end of the art system as we know it.” (Fowkes et al., 2012).
At Documenta 13, their guerrilla encampment was declared as “a total work of art” by the consensus of the Occupy Museums group. They had graphitised white tents with the iniquities of the establishment, which gained their Trojan horse admittance into the inner circle of e Kassel art establishment. They were then able to continue their usual technique of propaganda and self-promotion with insider power, they hoped. Their aim was to proclaim their cause to a wider art audience to raise a larger army:
We must bring together wider communities that usually do not hang out together in the art world, and change the class and race segregation that we see in culture, even if this takes lots of work and lots of sacrifice… (Berlin Biennale, 2012).
Ethical power relations
Occupy rejected the temptation to make any demands in Berlin, though after the curators positioned them as a “human zoo”, (Maak, cited in Loewe, 2015) they did make demands of the curators in an attempt to retain political autonomy in a press release:
More than halfway into the 7th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art, the invited global movements have challenged the hierarchical structure of the Biennale, initiating a move toward horizontality—the now described ‘former-curators’…the director-curators denied the status of becoming expected stars. (Hal, [1996: 198], cited in Frascina, 2013).
Kester points to the tendency of activists to reject the binary opposites in pursuit of a third way, “in denuded post-structuralism that makes an artist’s transgression of social and cultural boundaries as inherently libertory.” (Kester, 2004, p. 130). In this way they attempted to resist being subsumed, to be able to stimulate the public to become active participants in their cause rather than the passive spectator (such as the zoo-goer) that capitalism typically produces.
One of the successful characteristics of groups like Wochenklausur and Occupy Museums is their consensus making. Wochenklausur told me: “It has a lot to do with participation and how to create a movement in a stucked situation and also about common decision making.” (Wochenklausur, 2014a).
Occupy Museums say they are beginning to unmask a cultural system of inequality and exploitation which has ancient roots…working together to replace the exchange of capital with a creative exchange for and by the 99 %, fighting for art as a necessity and not a luxury. “without [groups like] Museums from New York, is it unlikely that the issues of art and power raised by the Biennale would have been articulated so effectively.” (Fowkes, 2012).
Government is under suspicion: Kester and Bishop both work have gripes about it, and both live within in American(ised) societies which thrive economically but not so well socially. One might wonder if the vehemence of their arguments has something to do with this frustration. Occupy might prefer the term social justice to social change, the latter now so often used by the socially engaged; they might argue that this word smacks of the agendas of the ‘establishment.’ “Vote for Change” was the British Conservative party slogan for the 2010 general election. (Stratton, 2010). It contrasts strongly with the solidarity internet meme coined in the 2011 Occupy Wall Street and associated protests, that caught the imagination of the world.
“Cultural politics is being transformed by processes of corporate globalization” described by Naomi Klein in No Logo (1999). In characterizing Documenta 13 (2012), for example, Julian Stallabrass identified a ‘radical camouflage’ of art practices that barely concealed a large ‘business enterprise’ closely ‘connected to the commercial art world’ accompanied by a curator ‘armoured with an elaborate theoretical mysticism’ veiling ‘the deep contradictions between art’s ethos and its business model’” (Stallabrass, cited in Frascina, 2013).
Curatorial co-opting of the activists was motivated, perhaps, like Occupy Museums, by the need to generate publicity and could have resulted, in this digital age, in the counter strategy of their own digital Trojan horse: one purporting to cleanse the system of viruses, but instead infecting it. It is the kind of paradox of a Disneyland that relieves the masses from the pressures of predatory capitalism, but leads to increasing its power over us.
Bishop welcomes the relinquishing of political power in favour of the aesthetic. (Bishop, 2012, p. 8). In the widening of mainstream boundaries the socially engaged candidate has a place within. Should Occupy have entered? Kester doesn’t give political advice in Artforum in 2006. One wonders if this is the start of a showdown with the vested interests that will lead to global equality, or another failed uprising.
There are precedents for success in the Magna Carta, the French Revolution, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and so on, and the challenge is more pressingly global now. Occupy Museums are free enough of petty bourgeois aspirations to refuse Jeff Koons as a role model, at least. But Occupy Museums at Kassel and Berlin, according to Sebastian Loewe in 2015, “are two watershed events that mark the decline of the movement”, citing evidence that the movement has come to an end in the west. (Graeber, 2014). We shall see.
All of our protagonists express scepticism of the motivating forces of art in the establishment, its mass media reduction to socio and radical-chic, its role in legitimising the status of the 1%, the degeneration into entertainment and naughtiness (not even culture), of an arguably inward looking establishment.
I have argued that the terms “ethics” and “instrumentalisation” as used by Bishop lack the specificity to be able to use them as absolutes for making a linear differential diagnosis between aesthetic and socially engaged art practice. Many so-called aesthetes have ethical motivation and expression. Bishop might be accused of attempting to use the terms to disconnect art from questions about its socio-political reality.
Just as Kester and Bishop are both talking ethics, they are equally, perhaps, trying to exorcise this contradiction. “Rancière emphasizes contradiction as the basis of the political potential of collaborative work, whilst at the same time demonstrating that both Bishop and Kester try to expel this contradiction from their arguments thereby neutralizing its political potential (my italics).” (Charnley, 2011, p. 37).
What light does Colling’s argument shed on Bishop and Kester’s? Funnily enough, in cutting edge ideas discussed in the Aesthetics of Sustainability, Kagan identifies paradigms that transcend “simple binary logic to think in terms of either/or”. He favours “attention to the multiple forms and scales of otherness, and to the properties and boundaries marking oneself from others” in a paradigm of “complexity”. (Kagan, 2011, p. 385). He examines certain philosophical frameworks for making sense of reality such as the scientific, before generalising plausibly to the art world. He characterises the older philosophical isolationist paradigm that fails to admit complexity as a “gloomy, anti-aspirational focus on limits and restrictions” (Kagan, 2011, p. 385). He cites the quanta energy of Max Planck, who introduced a new logic at the nano-physical level. “It is a constitutional disorder, part[…] of order and organisation, while being neither order nor organisation! [It] is a disorder which, instead of weakening, creates.” Being insights into the nature of quantum reality (the foundations of all phenomena and our shared reality) they may be signposts for a shift in consciousness in all fields of human endeavour. Kester and Bishop are undoubtedly working on introducing a new logic to their field(s) too.
It is plausible that Bishop, in thinking inwardly and symbolically in terms of “contradictions” and “complex artistic gestures that shuttle between sense and nonsense”, with “multiple interpretations” that “recalibrate our perception”, (Bishop, 2006a, p. 183) is expressing the similar principles—in the parallel and symbolic world of aesthetics. Kester, too, expands his analysis into more complexity in his more recent book (Kester, 2011), showing signs of non-linear thinking. He carries on the momentum outwardly and globally, even seeking to cover the aesthetic of the NGO, “attempting to complicate the discussion of social practice” (Landgrajf, 2012), in a broadening overview of the continuum of collaborative art. But quantum physics and cybernetics, for example, now belittle any problem solving not based on systems thinking, disdaining even multi-disciplinarity for its limitations.
As it stands, our protagonists rigorously mark themselves off from each other: Wochenklausur are categorical in denouncing art as “the satisfaction of leisure needs”; Bishop can’t stomach the ‘ethical turn’, the ‘Christian’ or ‘social inclusion’; Kester (although arguing for recognition of the diversity of practices) remains keen to subvert the individualism predominant in the mainstream; Occupy are inclusive in the sense that anyone can enter, but oppositional in their worldview.
According to the New York Times, Christie’s, has for the first time sold a billion dollars of art in a week. (Reyburn, 2015). Market forces are certainly pulling increasingly in various directions along the various socio-political streams. It is to be seen in what direction these artistic currents will take us. Sacha Kagan in ‘the Aesthetics of sustainability’ warns:
If the art world is being divided and polarized into highly antagonist groups its existence in its current form is endangered (and it may then either split up into a number of diverging art worlds, or successfully repress antagonistic groups, or itself cease to exist). (Kagan, p. 448).
No one knows if it will become more polyarchic or hegemonic, he says. He progressively advocates for art and culture as a valuable component in sustainable development (Kagan, 2015, p. 13). Paul O’brien goes further to emphasise the context of impending ecological disaster which should condition all debates on art, culture and politics:
This year looks like being the hottest year on record by some distance. 30 November to try to avert catastrophic and irreversible climate changes. But there is hope: “There is more political and creative will to find solutions than ever before”, according to Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, environment minister of Peru. (Harvey, 2015)
But with French bans on activism due to security fears through the recent events in Paris, 200,000 people from 130 NGOs will be excluded from pressuring for strong action. (Harvey, 2015) One of the parallel events permitted, is the brand new Place To B, a new paradigm international media and civil society advance guard headquarters evolving out of the radical Fresh Air Centre created at the Copenhagen summit:
The Bella Center [Scandinavia's largest centre] was the monolithic representation of The Old Way -- slow, unresponsive and bureaucratic. TckTckTck made space available to bloggers, journalists and NGOs, live streaming briefings, video editing set-up, drop-in talks by people like Kumi Naidoo, the head of Greenpeace, panels with Naomi Klein, Andrew Revkin and George Monbiot, Happy Hour sponsored by the UN Foundation….Movers and shakers wanted to stop by and reach that audience…fantastic journalists and activists. (Mogus, 2015)
Kester’s, in speaking of Wochenklausur’s intervention in Boat Colloquies, (Kester, 2004, p. 111) praises this new paradigm of communication, quite unlike the “antagonistic communication” of the separative old institutions—the same might well be applicable to Place To B, we shall see…
Perhaps emphasising similarities and embracing the complexity of new paradigms in the global context, at the same time celebrating diversity, is the only way to transcend separation. What better place for our protagonists to talk it out than in Montmartre cafés with the new intelligentsia. After all, we all work in some way for the common good and hold a common belief in the capital inherent in art. Who says that artists of all shapes and sizes cannot together play an important role in saving the world? See you at COP 21!
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