Rosa Mercedes

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Tom Holert is turning the Harun Farocki Institute’s online journal, Rosa Mercedes, into a vital node for corona criticism from a vantage point of visual art/culture and theory. I contributed a little piece (there’s also a German version) that references Jonas Staal’s Collectivize Facebook event at the HAU, which was of course cancelled due to corona. However, there will be a prerecorded introduction at the HAU’s livestreamtoday at 7 PM, and the websiteis online.

The Social Disease

It was a singularly strange experience to be visiting the exclusion zone in Fukushima —with its checkpoints and protective suits—in order to visit the Don’t Follow the Wind project, and to be receiving urgent pleas from friends and family to return to Europe before all borders are closed and everything is on lockdown. On Thursday I arrive back at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, though this required a lot of phone calls and an assault on the KLM headquarters in Tokyo. In the case of some other European countries, return would already have been impossible.

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The Fukushima Daiichi disaster and the corona crisis have strange resonances; both are lessons in disaster capitalism and population management through a state of exception.  While wild boar rule the Zone in Fukushima, COVID-19 has spawned memes about dolphins “returning to Venice” stating that “we are the virus, corona is the cure” once again posit a seemingly unified species “we” in the manner of anthropocene discourse. Just like “Fukushima” was a capitalocenic catastrophe, so corona is—to detourn a Warholian term—a social disease that feeds off habitat destruction, intensive farming and air travel.

Neoliberal globalization was always based on a dialectic of borders and movement, of flows and blockages. When I returned home, Krystian Woznicki’s book Undeclared Movements was waiting for me, which open with a good analysis of the pre-corona situation in Europe. Even while clinging on to its ideology of free movement for citizens and goods, since 9/11 and even more so since the “refugee crisis,” the EU has intensified its regime of “deterritorialized borders” against immigrants from North Africa to its own inner cities; the border can now be anywhere, if you’re on the wrong side of it.  The EU was always a colonial project, all its bleating about noble values notwithstanding; as brilliantly reconstructed in Peo Hansen and Stefan Jonsson’s Eurafrica, the project of European unification involved a post-war attempt to consolidate the colonial holdings of the various crumbling European powers.  The corona crisis, with its closed Schengen borders, is a further intensification, which now also affects some whom privilege protected so far.

Various European countries and institutions failed to respond adequately (or at all) during the crucial early phase of Covid-19’s spread. Now measures have been taken that are both urgently necessary and deeply disruptive. Corona manifests itself in an isolationism that is the complete opposite of how Warhol used the term social disease: to refer to his constant party going. In the cultural field, exhibitions are closed and assemblies as well as publications are postponed. I realize that I’m not nearly as affected as those freelance workers who are fully dependent on the gig economy, but on a personal/selfish note, my (theoretically) forthcoming book Objections has been put on hold due to the pandemic’s impact on the publishing economy. I hope that Sean Snyder’s wonderful exhibition at Rongwrong, which I curated, can stay open at least for individual visitors, even if things look bleak for the gatherings we’d planned.

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While many forms of critical practice have more or less been suspended, the situation drives those of us in academia deeper in the arms of Silicon Valley, as we are scrambling to figure out which platform for video conferencing/remote learning can work for us (even while we, invariably, will end up working for them).

Anyway, having “made it back” to a country of—how can I put this delicately—ignorant and inconsiderate troglodytes, I’ll try to weather the storm here and keep working with my students and on my research. I hope you are well wherever you are.

Futurity Report

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April will see the release of the long-gestating volume Futurity Report, which I co-edited with Eric de Bruyn. Published by Sternberg Press as the first volume in the Counter-Histories series, Futurity Report was conceived as a critical intervention in a discourse that has swung from left melancholia to manic accelerationism. While challenging the presuppositions and ideological agendas of today’s neo-futurisms, our constellation of contributions refuses to abandon the futural dimension of history. Futurity is too important to be left to its hypesters and hucksters.

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Sean Snyder at Rongwrong: The Rembrandt and Ravachol Appreciation Society

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I curated an exhibition by Sean Snyder at Rongwrong in Amsterdam, opening on the 29th of February:

Sean Snyder’s practice frequently revolves around formats, standards and protocols—and their disruption. In February of 2017, while teaching at the art academy in Braunschweig, Sean Snyder came across a newspaper story about a drawing of a dog from the local Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum being reassigned to Rembrandt. With a brand name attached, this sketch now had an entirely different status. Linking art-historical to natural taxonomy (it was a drawing of a dog, after all), and to early Dutch capitalism and colonial expansion and appropriation, Snyder also took his class on excursions to natural history museums.

That same year, student protest erupted at the academy because of the limitation of student access to the studios in the evenings and weekends. Seeing resonances with late-60s protests, Snyder and his class began examining the 1966 Situationist-inspired Strasbourg student stunts and provocations, which included the founding of a Society for the Rehabilitation for Karl Marx and Ravachol. Ravachol being a bomb-throwing 19th century anarchist. Before long, an entity calling itself The Rembrandt and Ravachol Appreciation Society began using the Rijksmuseum’s online platform Rijksstudio, which allows “members of the public” to select and crop images of artworks and other objects from the collection, to make image sets and to download these materials and “[use] them in a creative way.”

In 2019, the museum invited such members of the public to submit their own artworks for an exhibition celebrating Rembrandt (Lang Leve Rembrandt). Among the 8,500 submissions was one by The Rembrandt and Ravachol Appreciation Society, titled (Im)mutable: Braunschweig Terrier—a proposal for an installation of vinyl stickers that would be free to take. In the online entry form, the Society noted that “the inventory number (Z 719) of the ‘New Rembrandt in the museum’s classification remained unchanged, revealing both the extent of the mutability of reality and the immutability of the abstract systems that govern it.” In a reenactment of the Richard Mutt affair, the museum rejected the Society’s muttley submission.

The Rembrandt and Ravachol Appreciation Society investigates lost images and the loss of radical ideas. Blending free association with systematic rigour, the Society uses standards and grids not to equalize and make commensurable, but to tease out resonances between the dissimilar. The Society links “lost and found objects” such as Rembrandt drawings, or the shells that were listed in the inventory of Rembrandt’s possessions, to “the shell game of global megacorporations.” If such corporations are the true artists and designers of the 21st century, branding and forming our world, then what would it mean to genuinely celebrate Rembrandt, or art?

On the Rijksstudio platform, The Collected Works of the Rembrandt and Ravachol Appreciation Society continues to function as a site for the extraction of materials which the exhibition at Rongwrong reformats in various forms. Meanwhile, the 27th of February 2020 sees the deadline for yet another competition by the Rijksmuseum: the Rijksstudio award, which “invites everyone to create their own masterpiece inspired by the Rijksmuseum’s collection. An international jury of experts will assess who the 10 finalists and the 3 winners of the Rijksstudio Award 2020 are.” The Rembrandt and Ravachol Appreciation Society can neither confirm nor deny that this has any bearing on the opening of its exhibition at Rongwrong two days later.

Keywords for Marxist Art History Today

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Kunst und Politik is the annual publication of the German Guernica-Gesellschaft. The 2019 volume contains a section (in English) on “Keywords for a Marxist Art History Today.” Expertly edited by Larne Abse Gogarty and Andrew Hemingway, this section includes contributions by Stewart Martin on “Commodity,”  Kerstin Stakemeier on “Critique,” Jenny Nachtigall on “Life,” Marina Vishmidt on “Mediation,” Alan Wallach on “Patron,” Fred Schwartz on “Public Sphere,” Dave Beech on “Value,” among others. I, of course, have been typecast as Mr. Autonomy. (And it actually looks as though my personal albatross, the Art & Autonomy reader, will see the light of day in 2020.)

Kunst und Politik can be ordered from the publisher here.

Speaking Volumes

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This winter sees the publication of quite a few edited volumes in which I’m represented. Some of these have been in the making for years, so that what seems like a flurry of activity is in reality a bit of a fluke. While I’ve written new texts for some of these, others contain versions and variations of existing articles. The latter is the case with the second volume of Marc James Léger’s The Idea of the Avant Garde and What It Means Today (Intellect Books): it contains my “Cultural Revolution” essay, among many contributions by artists (from Pauline Oliveros to Martha Rosler to David Thomas) and theorists.

Sanneke Huisman and Marga van Mechelen edited the clearly though perhaps not thrillingly titled A Critical History of Media Art in the Netherlands: Platforms, Policies, Technologies (Jap Sam Books):

This edited volume offers an in-depth exploration of Dutch media art from 1985 onwards from many different perspectives. Through early access to the Internet, state subsidies and dedicated institutions and festivals, a vivid counter-cultural environment and a cosmopolitan artistic and intellectual scene the Netherlands hold a unique position in regards to the development of media art.

I contributed an essay titled “Talking Back and Looking Ahead,” which places the 1985 Amsterdam-based project Talking Back to the Media in international genealogies of media art and activism. Meanwhile, the first volume in the new series of Basics readers, which BAK publishes with MIT Press, is titled Propositions for Non-Fascist Living, and I contributed an essay titled “Abdicating Sovereignty.” It traces the afterlife (or resurgence) of the figures of national and individual sovereignty in recent politics, theory and art.

Borrowing from Michel Foucault’s notion of “non-fascist living” as an “art of living counter to all forms of fascism,” including that “in us all… the fascism that causes us to love power, to desire the very thing that dominates and exploits us,” the book addresses the practice of living rather than the mere object of life. Artists, theorists, activists, and scholars offer texts and visual essays that engage varied perspectives on practicing life and articulate methods that support multiplicity and difference rather than vaunting power and hierarchy. Architectural theorist Eyal Weizman, for example, describes an “unlikely common” in gathering evidence against false narratives; art historian and critic Sven Lütticken develops a non-fascist proposition drawn from the intersection of art, technology, and law; philosopher Rosi Braidotti explores an ethics of affirmation and the practices of dying.

And then there’s the long-awaited fourth volume in the Cultures of the Curatorial series edited by Beatrice von Bismarck and Benjamin Meyer-Krahmer, titled Curatorial Things (Sternberg Press), which contains my essay “Fetishize This!,” a critical re-engagement with the concepts of the fetish and fetishism through a number of contemporary art practices.

The meaning, function, and status of things have changed decisively over the past two decades. This development can be traced back to a growing skepticism since the second half of the twentieth century that culture can be presented through things. The questioning of thingness is an integral part of presentation and has informed and shaped the social relevance of the field of the curatorial. Immanent to presentation as a mode of being (public) in the world, the curatorial has the potential to address, visualize, and question the central effects of the changing status and function of things. The presentational mode has played a generative role, vitally participating in the mobilization of things through its aesthetic, semantic, social, and, not least, economic dimensions. Intertwining transdisciplinary discourses, transcultural perspectives, and methods of practice-theory, the anthology Curatorial Things is a new orientation of the analysis of things.

This is not everything, but I’ll stop here for now!

 

Deserting from the Culture Wars

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From November 13 to 17, BAK in Utrecht will be hosting Propositions #9: Deserting from the Culture Wars, a week-long series of trainings, lectures, and panel discussions that I curated.

The program seeks—through forms of enactment and performative approaches—to actively evade the current moment of ever-more polarized ideological combat, often characterized as a return of the “culture wars.” Propositions #9 brings together artists, theorists, and writers in a range of formats to actively reflect upon and work toward a tactical desertion from the cultural conflicts being waged today in a theater of war demarcated by the (far-) right through aggressive hypersensitivity, injured entitlement, angry rants, and memes about “cultural Marxism,” immigration, climate change, and feminism. What possibilities would be opened by a refusal to play these war games, and commit desertion—not as a withdrawal into a realm of apolitical privacy, but as a pursuit of different strategies, tactics, and coalitions?

Deserting from the Culture Wars is a “temporary spin off” from Jeanne van Heeswijk’s ongoing BAK project Trainings for the Not-Yet. The full programme is here.

e-flux journal no. 103: Toward a Terrestrial

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The October issue (no. 103) of e-flux journal is out, with my essay “Toward a Terrestrial.” This text is part of a series of texts that respond to transnational neofascism, while at the same time trying be more than reactive. Among these pieces is the “Cultural Marxism” essay in Afterall, “From Fact Check to Counterattack” in the Steirischer Herbst volume Volksfronten, and the essay “Abdicating Sovereignty” in the forthcoming BAK/MIT Press reader Propositions for Non-Fascist Living.

In November, I will also be co-convening a week of talks, training sessions and discussions at BAK in Utrecht under the title Deserting from the Culture Wars.