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.

For a Criticism of Emergence

Late last year, Dutch art mag Metropolis M published a special on the state of art criticism. I contributed a short piece (a sketch for something more elaborate) that can now be found online.

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.

Real Abstraction

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Gean Moreno’s anthology In the Mind But Not From There: Real Abstraction in Contemporary Art is out now. Published by Verso in association with Gean’s outfit [NAME] publications, this volume contains theoretical and artistic contributions from Alberto Toscano, Benjamin Noys, Paul Chan, João Enxuto and Erica Love, Marina Vishmidt, and myself, among others. The point of departure is obviously Sohn-Rethel’s Marxian concept of real abstraction and its contemporary implications, particularly from the vantage point of contemporary art as a set of practices that manifest and reflect on the reality of capitalist abstraction.

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I also have a text in another Gean Moreno production, the reader of the ICA Miami’s Ettore Sottsass exhibition, but this has been somewhat delayed.

Texte zur Kunst no. 114: Huyghe at the Serpentine

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Issue no. 114 of Texte zur Kunst contains my (slightly belated) review of Pierre Huyghe’s show Uumwelt at the Serptentine Gallery, with its swarming flies and flickering images  derived from brain scans that were fed into a deep neural network. In my text, “Systemic Aestheticization,” I discuss the work largely in the framework of Huyghe’s practice, while acknowledging the role it plays in a certain financialized artworld in which neoliberalism morphs into neofeudalism. Recent developments suggest that this project should also be evaluated in the specific institutional framework of the Serpentine.

The Guardian has revealed that the Serpentine’s CEO, Goldman Sachs-trained Yana Peel, co-owns the Israeli cybersecurity firm NSO—producer of the notorious Pegasus spy software, which seems to have been used against every dissident and human rights group on the planet. Yana Peel is of course very big on human rights, inclusion and diversity. She’s also been pushing the Serpentine to become a “tech startup” and take on projects like Huyghe’s or Hito Steyerl’s. At the opening of her exhibition (which followed on Huyghe’s), Steyerl compared the gallery’s sponsorship by the Sackler family to “being married to a serial killer.”  I suppose the metaphor would have to be tweaked somewhat in light of recent revelations.

All of this also raises serious questions about what it means to review an exhibition at an institution such as the Serpentine, and to separate the ergon from the parergon, the work from the frame.  Of course, such a line of questioning would be a terribly unfashionable form of critique. No wonder that the Serpentine’s bookstore now massively pushes certain forms of “speculative” para-theory, apparently having imposed a ban on uncouth critical thinking.