Re: [-empyre-] Do You Still Your Own Reality?

"So let us discuss what it is we are talking about"...

The dissolution of what was once understood as society - within both
exclusive and inclusive parameters - a process we can sail comfortably
complicitly along with until an historical event transpires, such as that on
11/9/01, or the seizure of power in the US by neo-cons, necessarily entails
a cultural paradigm break - not 'slippage'. The place of the artist
remains - and returns - unchanged; that of the artist qua society alters

It is crucial, as to whether the artist desires to exert influence or
contribute to political debate, that his and her relationship to the socius
are re-articulated not in art-historical and critical or theoretical terms
but in terms by which individuals - however generally or partially - in an
already transfigured world apprehend that transfiguration. The proviso is,
of course, that if artists wish only to be talking amongst themselves or to
their academic and critical others there need be no re-assessment, no
re-articulation of the always shaky first principle binding the artist to
even a changing social constituency beyond that called for by
self-preservation. We can discuss what we are talking about.

The technology I'm using now promised new sorts of society but, by the tenor
of this discussion, I'd say there is a general nostalgia, alongside the will
to confront the cultural impasse, presented by the dissolving spectre of
society as that-which-cannot-be-gainsaid.

I'm trying, inconsequentially, and badly, to contrast the two ideas of
society: that with which the artist experiences identity and to which the
artist feels responsibility - in the meat-space; that of interested parties
not knowing how to articulate their interest apart from appealing to their
peers, their interest-groups, having the former avenue ruled out by a
process they were happy and complicitly sailing along with until...

----- Original Message -----
From: "saul ostrow" <>
To: "Christiane Robbins" <>
Cc: "soft_skinned_space" <>
Sent: Monday, October 18, 2004 3:14 PM
Subject: Re: [-empyre-] Do You Still Your Own Reality?


  It ís not at all difficult to sum up the problem posited as one of
finding ourselves once again immersed in a discourse without clearly
addressing what art practice(s) we are specifically discussing here and
so on. <<<snip>>  As some of us retreat back into the fictive constructs
and self-deceptive strategies which sustain us, others seem to be wholly
engaged with the slippage of both these illusions and their entrenched

So let us discuss what it is we are talking about  and how we may free
ourselves of  the myth of engaged art and construct new models  that
might actually contribute to something more than the continuing illusion
 that the cultural sphere is the place to realize our political
aspirations --  to begin with  what is the role that 911 plays in our
present cultural scenario -- the following is in part my analysis of
its ongoing effect ( my apologies for offering up a prepared statement
that was written  early Jan-Feb, 2003)

it begins in this manner:

 Among the many casualties of 9/11, the date of the attack on the
Pentagon and the World Trade Center, respectively symbols of the United
State's military and economic might many artists' lost their faith in
the value of what they were doing.  In a shocked state, they asked
themselves how in the face of such horror could they continue to engage
in what they could only now imagine to be the self-indulgent expression
of the minutiae of their ordinary lives.  Hadn't the making of art
become just another narcissistic activity?  What did it matter what they
thought to be of theoretical or cultural importance?  What sense did it
make to worry over an abstract painting's ability to have meaning or to
want to make transparent the mass media's control over our sense of
self?  How could any of this matter in the face of our renewed sense of
mortality and vulnerability? These artists, young and old, questioned
their commitment and desire to produce, to nurture and succor the hope
that they once found in their work.  Now this seemed nothing more than a
sign of their impotence - their inability to effect. Art, as a sign of
personal expression could not matter the way it once did. Among many
artists there is sense that Art at least as they had known and desired
it was just an illusion,. That rather than a form of engagement. it is
just another way to withdraw from the world. Only art that was socially
engaged could heal the pain.

This doubt is not new, it feeds on an uncertainty that was endemic to
Modernism, and is a principle condition of post-Modernism. A half
century ago, in the face of the horror that were WW2, the Holocaust and
the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, with its innumerable dead,
combatants and civilians alike Theodor Adorno theorized that it was no
longer possible for us to produce poetry.  One reason he gives is that
art had revealed itself to be  little more than a facade behind which
the barbarian inside hides.  The ideal of making sense of the
non-sensical had become an impoverished enterprise. Culture had revealed
itself to be a thin veneer, something only affordable at times when we
were not struggling for our own survival or oppressing some "other" who
we  thought might be threaten that existence.

During the 1960s and 70s, in the face of much pessimism and existential
doubt there was a burst of modernist optimism that art and artist could
have effect.  Abandoning the last semblance of traditional form and
content they sought to re-assert bodily presence.  Instead within the
age of information conceptual art with its emphasis on language and
anecdote turned into Modernism's last hurrah.  By the mid-80s, art in
form and content had been brought to the edge of its dissolution and in
this condition sought to reconnect itself socially. The post-Modern
message arrived, announcing that there was nothing left to look forward
to but the slick promise of commodification and an abject dystopia. This
shattering blow to the modernist belief system drove "us" in-ward
seeking refuge in the idea that the personal was political and we could
change the world if we were willing to change ourselves.  And now,  911
had even robbed us of this.

Yet, I do not believe that 911 actually marks a significant shift, a
qualitative change in our social, political or cultural situation. The
type of stateless wars that gave rise to this act have been fought
before under other names. Seemingly, today's Holy crusades in the name
of god or democracy,  state sponsored  or as an act of those who find
them stateless are not very differen those of the past.  Terror against
civilian populations have long been an aspect of modern war - wasn't
General Sherman's burning of Atlanta during the American War Between the
States, a terrorist attack on a civilian population.  Even, the fact
that 911 unfolded in real time as the world looked on is just a
quantitative shift from the days of Viet Nam when we witnessed the
napalming of villagers who could not be distinguished from the enemy.,

If in the larger scheme of things, if  911 is significant it is because
it signals the late arrival of "1984."  After all, the global alliance
against terrorism, promises to be like the endless war against waged by
Big Brother, in that it is also an assemblage of shifting alliance made
up of old  friends and recent enemies.  And as in  Orwell's vision the
new "enemy" is the old allies who have decided to go it alone.  So,
while 911 is being heralded as a turning point, a radical rupture
ushering in a new and uncertain era of nation building, community
building and pragmatic alliances, it also makes the possibility of the
20th century's nightmare vision of permanent war and repression a
reality.  Consequently, if we set aside our immediate emotional
reactions to 911, and step back, we can view this event in the context
of the on going struggle by corporate capital for cultural and economic
hegemony within the first world and over its second and third world
partners and clients. Subsequently, on the cultural front Western
society seeks a new humanist culture informed by identity politics to
advance its global strategy. So, there is a growing tendency to see the
artist as a potential service worker, art as a service industry and the
museum and foundations as its administrative arm, its clients will be
the communities of the disenfranchised.

The world of private and public foundations, corporations and government
agencies as part of a strategy to recruit artists to their model of art
as an educative tool, have since the 1990s shown a willingness to fund
those artists who seek a constructive social role.  Meanwhile, the
support to individuals whose work do not address the public realm in a
"constructive manner" have been cut.  As such, the spontaneous responses
to 911 described in my opening paragraph, as well as the emotional
success of those works and memorials produced in the early days of this
event have increased the cultural communities vulnerability to the
proposition of, once again. making themselves socially useful,

The promise of ending the artist's isolation by supplying them with
status, community, audience and effect, has an appeal, especially in
this post-Modern era in which mass culture's has the technical ability
to transform anything and everything into a sign or a simulacra. As
such, through co-optation we have become uncertain as to what to oppose.
 The aspiration on the part of artists to be socially and politically
useful is sustained by the paradigm that art is good for everyone and
everyone should have equal access to it.  This I imagine will be
re-enforced by an increased emphasis on the  work of those artists whose
projects engage those communities effected by this 911, or  address the
need of the nation to heal. The "success" of these  turn will in turn
re-enforce the notion that art and artists are a catalyst for social
"transformation." The question, that will be left unasked is; what is
being transformed into what?
empyre forum

This archive was generated by a fusion of Pipermail 0.09 (Mailman edition) and MHonArc 2.6.8.