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

Timothy Murray tcm1 at cornell.edu
Tue May 13 11:32:07 EST 2008


I'm concerned that it's a little presumptuous to assume that activist 
artists were not also activating politically in the nineties and well 
before, whether in demonstrations, alternative political 
organizations, or even in mainstream organizations such as 
universities and political parties  (I suppose what you call middle 
class organizations) whether against racially organized political 
systems, for feminism, for AIDS activism, against globalism, against 
international human trade, against war, for the environment, etc.

Of course activism might involve some risk of getting arrested or 
being beaten by the police.  But many of us who have spent years of 
our lives  being beaten by and threatened on and off the streets  by 
the police also might have come to understand the value of additional 
reflective critical practice (in contrast to simple reactive 
action--which is certainly necessary and justified on occasion) which 
also can entail not only the traversing of class and comfort 
boundaries but also engagement in activities of critical spatial 
practice and conceptual activism whose aim might be to question the 
very notions of the comfortable "middle class" that underlie your 

Without wishing to distract us from the addditional issues posed by 
this week's -empyre- guests, I wish to caution against the 
assumptions of your premises that this is an all or nothing equation 
and to counter your suggestion that activist artists of the nineties 
somehow failed to be politically active while also being critically 
reflective.  The reason that I questioned the avant-gardist logic of 
your proposition was because of my concern that it carried with it an 
implied assumption that we can progress only  by looking forward to 
"real conflict" rather than backward to artististic circles for whom 
politics was retrograde.    Is it a coincidence that Steve Kurtz of 
Critical Art Ensemble (active since the mid-nineties) has faced up to 
5 years in prison for his critical art practice that clearly rubbed 
American Homeland Security forces the wrong way?  Or what about the 
artistic activism in the early nineties of Teiji Furuhashi of Dumb 
Type who died of AIDS before being able to perform his response to 
the AIDS pandemic in the performance, "S/N," which his troupe took to 
Brazil?  Dumb Type understood itself to engage in political activism 
by extending  its audiences "to an ever wide range of people, to 
connect theater and festival staff, AIDS-concerned groups, and 
gay/lesbian communities."  Or what about the recent bravery of the 
performance artist Pippa Bacca who was raped and murdered while 
rather quietly hitchhiking  to Israel with the "Brides on Tour" 
project in an appeal for peace?

Although the streets of France might have been quieter in the 
nineties than they were in the sixties or more recently,I suspect 
that you'll agree that similar commitments to sexual and political 
activism were indeed important to the critical community of artists 
and theoreticians.  I simply don't want us to lose sight of this 
history nor to downplay the radical significance and critical lessons 
of so many of these earlier interventions for the sake of delivering 
deserved credit to current activist projects.  Call it the academic 
in me!

All my best,



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