It was a relief when, after the US election, I felt I could finally take down the massive “God Hates Trump” sign from Paul Chan’s New Proverbs series, which had loomed large over my dining table for a number of years. Sadly, Paul has had to add another sign to the series, which can be ordered from Printed Matter.
The tenth anniversary of the (ongoing) Fukushima catastrophe on March 11 will see the official launch of the book Don’t Follow the Wind, edited by Nikolaus Hirsch and Jason Waite in Sternberg’s Critical Spatial Practice Series. The volume documents the Don’t Follow the Wind exhibition project in the Fukushima exclusion zone, and collects a number of essays. My contribution, titled “Radio-Activity,” comes out of a trip to Fukushima last March, with members of the DFTW collective. This site visit and the encounters have informed my essay, and will continue to inform my practice.
I would argue that Don’t Follow the Wind is precisely about radioactivity—about not just the radioactivity of certain materials, but about the political economy of the nuclear-industrial complex that has unleashed them, and about the actual and potential praxis of displaced people, of communities and those mediating between them, of seemingly free agents and those bound to the earth. In terms favored by certain contemporary feminist theorists, we might say that Don’t Follow the Wind stays with the trouble and pursues and ethico-aesthetic practice of entanglement. This is radio-activity as posthuman sensuous activity in the wasteland of this world.
The new issue of e-flux journal contains my essay Divergent States of Emergence. It comes out of a recent strand of research and reflection on sovereignty, the nation state, inter/transnationalism – which includes the essays “Abdicating sovereignty” and “Toward a Transnational.” There may be a little book in this, which would present a further development and synthesis of these texts—but at this point I’m not sure whether there is any demand for this, nor whether I can make the time. Perhaps it will remain a potential book existing in the form of fragments.
Image: Madeleine Albright as US President in the simulation Atlantic Storm (2005).
Funktionen der Künste. Transformatorische Potentiale künstlerischer Praktiken is a new volume edited by Birgit Eusterschulte, Christian Krüger and Judith Siegmund, with a range of contributions examining the dialectic of artistic autonomy and the social functions of (the) art(s). As the book’s title suggests, it’s mostly in German, with the exception of my essay. Titled “To Live Inside the Law,” my text examines functional differentiation and the erosion of value-spheres, and specifically the changing relation between art and the juridical sphere.
Image: Forensic Architecture at the ICA, London, 2018.
Since it never rains but it pours, 2020 was also the year when Texte zur Kunst—already plagued by structural issues—committed an act of intellectual and political self-immolation with a badly misguided issue that played into the anti-BDS campaign by the German political and journalistic establishment. The debacle has been documented here.
Irrespective of one’s position on BDS, in Germany it has become impossible to even debate the merits and problems of this strategy, and to work with people who do support BDS, or are even suspected of harbouring some sympathies, since “BDS = Antisemitism.” There has now finally been a reaction by a number of German cultural institutions, the Initiative G.G. 5.3 Weltoffenheit, and a supporting letter by artists, academics and curators, Nothing Can Be Changed Until It Is Faced. This, at least, is a hopeful sign. (I co-signed the letter, and signature can still be added.)
The McCarthyite climate is probably difficult to imagine if you’re not based in or closely connected to Germany. Earlier this year I wrote an essay for an exhibition catalogue addressing some of the limitations (and ideological instrumentalizations) of German Erinnerungskultur and Vergangenheitsbewältigung. In an all too predictable performative confirmation of my point, my text was censored. It could only be published if I removed some crucial passages, which I did, since the curator was working within impossible institutional constraints. I’ll try to publish the integral version elsewhere, somewhere in the non-German parts of this decaying planet.
As we limp toward the end of this frequently dispiriting year, I hope that the holidays—even in lockdown—will be a restorative and joyful period for all who read this.
Image: Eran Schaerf, Schnappschuss, performance at the Akademie der Künste, Berlin, May 17, 2019.
While certain established art journals are busy self-destructing, the artist and curator Irene de Craen has chosen this annus horribilis to launch Errant Journal, a new publication affiliated with the Amsterdam-based decolonial art space Framer Framed. I’m not involved with this, beyond some informal advice and feedback, but I thought I’d give a shout-out to a promising but precarious initiative. The first issue, with a chronopolitical focus, can be ordered here.
As Futurity Report is making its way through reopened bookstores and online retailers, another edited volume has just arrived from the printer’s: Deserting from the Culture Wars, which comes out of the project I did with BAK last November, and which is co-published by BAK and MIT Press. The book won’t actually hit stores before October, but it can be preordered. Editing this volume sometimes felt like Achilles racing the tortoise, as it seemed impossible to keep up with events. Even so, as the culture wars keep raging (now with face masks being added to the arsenal), I think the book’s urgency and pertinence have only increased.
One text is, sadly, a document of a bygone era: in his essay in Deserting from the Culture Wars, Kader Attia expounds the thinking behind
La Colonie, the decolonial space he founded near the Gare du Nord in Paris. By now, La Colonie is no more; it did not survive the corona lockdown. For me, in the last few years La Colonie has been one of a handful of art and cultural spaces in Europe whose practice define and transform the moment. Kader and the team created and curated a montage of positions and practices that was more than the sum of its parts, and at its best went beyond the simulation of dialogue or confrontational one-upmanship. The whole thing amounted to a generative social sculpture that the likes of Beuys and Hirschhorn can only dream of.
To help the team “open a new
La Colonie space in Paris or its banlieue,” you can make a donation on one of the following platforms:
From the “apocalypse in slow motion” that is Miami, Gean Moreno informs me that the publication accompanying his exhibition Ettore Sottsass and the Social Factory is finally out. The publisher, Prestel, touts the book as a “revelatory collection of essays by leading thinkers in the fields of political theory, economics, the media, design history, and cultural theory”—but, in a kind of lateral dick move, they do not deign to name any of said thinkers. I suppose I must be one of them, as I contributed an essay titled “From the Imaginist Bauhaus to Olivetti: Ettore Sottsass between Proto-Situationism and Post-Fordism.” Sara Cattin provided essential research assistance in Italy, and equally necessary translation services.
I’m not that frequently invited to write substantial monographic texts (and given the time to do it), so I’m very grateful to Gean for making this possible. I have no doubt that this book will be a remarkable resource. Gean is also the editor of the recent-ish Verso volume In the Mind But Not From There: Real Abstraction and Contemporary Art, to which I likewise contributed.
Images: The Elea 9300 computer installed at the Monte dei Paschi bank, early 1960s; model office with Olivetti Synthesis Sistema 45 furniture, Florence 1971 (photo: Gabriele Basilico).
The June 2020 issue of e-flux journal contains my essay Performing Preformations: Elements for a Historical Formalism. This is something of an introduction to my two-part book project Forms of Abstraction. The first volume, Objections, was originally scheduled for later this year, but this now seems to be exceedingly unlikely due to the economic repercussions of COVID-19 in the publishing industry. Oddly enough, while production on Objections was halted just as it was about to go to the designer, the long-gestating Art and Autonomy reader has now actually entered the design stage. Go figure. Another book project that is going ahead at full steam is the BAK reader Deserting from the Culture Wars, which we’re finishing this very weekend. As for Forms of Abstraction, I will happily potter away on it regardless, as far as I can make the time to pursue the hobby—that essential luxury—called research.
Kunstlicht is a journal by and for young scholars, affiliated with the Art & Culture department of the Vrije Universiteit and largely edited by graduate students. The latest issue is On Representation, and since some of the texts come out of courses I’ve taught, I contributed an introduction. The issue can be ordered here.