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.

 

Volksfronten

While my focus these days is on seeing my two-volume project Forms of Abstraction into print (the manuscript of the first volume is ready), I keep getting distracted by fascism. One symptom of this is the essay “From Fact Check to Counterattack,” which is part of the Volksfronten reader published by Steirischer Herbst, and out now.190521_Volksfronten Publikation_web001_2.jpgThe Popular Front, the broad anti-fascist coalition of the mid-1930s, was a unique moment of solidarity in European political history. Yet here we controversially use the plural “popular fronts”—thus dispersing and weakening its power. In the German version of the title, Volksfronten, the word Volk stirs up the darkest memories of nationalism and racism. They are not just memories anymore: today nativism seems to be very widely accepted, and identitarianism is found on the right as well as on the left. Adding to the confusion, any new consensus against the rise of nationalism today no longer defines its main enemy as fascism—populism is now the common foe.

What does that mean for contemporary art, which proclaims its solidarity with ninety-nine percent of the oppressed while still clinging to its avant-garde roots? Is the popular always populist? Is populism just a new name for fascism? Such were the questions central to the 2018 edition of the festival steirischer herbst, entitled Volksfronten for which this book serves as a reader.

The abstraction project is an account of forms of capitalist real abstraction, as articulated by artistic practices under advanced Neoliberalism. “from Fact Check to Counter-Attack” is one of a series of essays responding to the burgeoning backlash against neoliberalism, which may a continuation of neoliberalism by other means—witness the Goldman Sachs boys in Trump’s cabinet, or Alice Weidel in the Adf, or Rees-Moggs and Farage in the Brexit movement.

And yes, all things considered I think it is high time we dispense with euphemisms such as “right-wing populism.” This by now unbearable term has one again been liberally used during the recent EU election. In John Bellamy Foster‘s words, this epithet “reflects the ruling class’s ambiguous relation to the “radical right”—which, for all its supposed ‘radicalism,’ is recognized as fully compatible with capitalism.”

If it quacks like a duck, and walks like a goosestepping duck…

Grey Room: Gestural Study

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Grey Room no. 74 (Winter 2019) is out, and it contains my article “Gestural Study,” which discusses both the crisis of gesturality under industrial capitalism and the renewed importance of gestures in today’s culture of networked performance; it does so through a number of artistic practices and artworks. It was a pleasure to work with Grey Room again, where I always feel in good company (even if it happens to be an exclusively male company in this issue). Naturally I spotted a blooper when it was too late and the issue had gone to print, though I still got to correct this glitch (you can find out what it is yourself; it’s on the first page) for the version of the text that will be in the Bloomsbury Companion to Performance Art. 

Both the recent two-part e-flux journal essay on nuclear aesthetics and this article are the culmination of long research trajectories; my punishing Protestant superego tells me that these pieces are among my better efforts, and that I may feel slightly satisfied for a change.  The nuclear aesthetics essay will be the basis for a chapter in Objections, my next book, while “Gestural Study” will become part of its companion volume, Personafications. Together, they form the two-parter Forms of Abstractions. I hope I’ll get around to working on Personafications later this year, though no doubt the editorial process of Objections will eat up a lot of my time.

Image: Rudolf von Laban pupils, early twentieth century