[-empyre-] an 'ethico-aesthetic paradigm' - in France and Argentina

brian.holmes at wanadoo.fr brian.holmes at wanadoo.fr
Tue May 13 07:10:50 EST 2008

Timothy Murray wrote:

While activism might not have been fashionable, I'm not sure that I'd 
agree that it was totally retrograde in artistic circles. 

I was speaking, on the one hand, about a specific place where I was living
and working (Paris, France); and on the other hand, I was talking about
activism. This is to my mind something different than artistic or
intellectual vanguardism. It involves putting your body on the line, in
some kind of embodied public space, in situations where you and/or the
people you are in solidarity with can win or lose (a place, a right, a
court case, an administrative decision, a vote, etc). Generally in the case
of activism, there is some risk of getting arrested or beaten by the police
as well.

As this is a passionate thing, it is normal that people get passionate
about it. Now, I have also been involved, in my case passionately, with all
sorts of intellectual and artistic vanguardism and whatever you want to
call it, and in fact, I' m mainly involved in such things right now. But I
think it is important to make a difference. Activism, for Western middle
class people, and I think, for all middle-class educated people in global
society, either entails going outside your class boundaries, risking
something with and for people whom you do not resemble, or risking
something from a minority position where a group with which you are
identified is being actively discriminated against. Just innovating in art,
or gaining new recognition or state money as a middle-class art producer or
theorist with an extreme idea, is not what I'd call activism. I also very
much like C-THEORY; I am not sure I'd call it activist. Fabulously
vanguard, yes, I love that stuff.

By the way, the tired old song about being suspicious of political
vanguards is just foolishness. Politics always means sticking your neck
out, and it also means choosing who you will believe in, who you will give
your solidarity to. Comfortably maintaining the status quo, i.e. having no
belief about how things should change, there are good words for that: like
conformism, indifference, and so on. Sometimes it is very reasonable to be
indifferent. But in individualist societies, where private indifference is
the expected, default option, I would not call that a politics or an
innovation or anything new or surprising, it's the common condition of fear
of getting involved. Which as middle-class intellectuals and artists we
probably mostly share, most of the time.

best, BH

  This was, 
after all, the period that gave birth to the electronic journal and 
listserv.   If we take just one example, that of CTHEORY which was 
founded in Canada by Arthur and Marilouise Kroker, we can appreciate 
a conceptual apparatus whose purpose was to think critically about 
the urgency of the digital divide.  This is a prolonged discussion on 
the CTHEORY site that continues to target technoglobalism and its 
relation to art.  Indeed, this was one of the primary reasons that 
Arthur, Marilouise, and I decided to collaborate on creating three 
new editions of CTHEORY Multimedia in order to provide   a platform 
for emergent critical practices in Net Art,  whose experimental 
multimedia format provided artists with an alternative option for 
critical artistic dialogue between themselves and others 
(http://ctheorymultimedia.cornell.edu)  (on Tech Flesh [the 
eco-politics of genomics], Wired Ruins [digital terror and ethnic 
paranoia] and NetNoise).

In the gallery spaces themselves in the nineties, a wide variety of 
international work in video and multitechnological installation made 
insistent interventions against globalism, racism, and sexism and/or 
the politics of emergent capitalism and attendant corporate/political 
fascism.  I'm thinking of a range of artists from Muntadas in 
Barcelona/New York (who has a critical exhibition up right now at 
Kent Gallery in New York on media panic in the age of terror), Keith 
Piper  in London, dumb type and Candy Factory in Tokyo,VNS Matrix in 
Southern Australia, Critical Art Ensemble (US), the inSite exhibitons 
(Tijuana/San Diego), etc., etc.

Indeed, one of the things I've carried with me from my Argentine 
artist friends in the 70s in Paris, who fled during the period of 
disappearance,  was to value to sociopolitico contributions of 
experiments in artistic form itself, whose results could sometimes 
open the artist and viewers to networks, systems, and relations not 
otherwise thinkable.

This clearly was also Melinda's vision when she created -empyre-, a 
soft-skinned space.

In this regard, Renate and I have been reflecting on the comparative 
quiet of -empyre- during last month's discussion of "wired 
sustainability."   We think that it's really fascinating that this 
month's discussion topic, which is no less blatantly political, has 
generated a much  more passionate response than last month's topic 
through which the complexities of politics probably were articulated 
more indirectly through the pragmatics of form.   We'd be interested 
to hear all of your thoughts about the list's comparative quiet over 
sustainability, when we're now writing passionately about the 
sustainability of political cultures and systems.  Do you understand 
these to be mutually exclusive discussions?

All the best,

empyre forum
empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au

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