[-empyre-] Artists' responses to the so-called "crisis"

Anna Munster A.Munster at unsw.edu.au
Mon Apr 27 10:04:42 EST 2009

In the hope of trying to get a little more thoughtfulness going about  
what people think artists are or are not doing in relation to a/the/ 
any crisis, let me 'explain' some of the terms and areas I was  
referring to in my last post.

To quote Joseph:
> I was talking about artist responses.
> Just not the artists you wanted me, or the list, to talk about.

Joseph - I was critically engaging with your  generalisation about  
artists responding to crisis by analysing your use of the term  
'response'. As I take it you are referring to quick and immediate art  
that is made when a 'crisis' - I suppose you might be at the moment  
referring to the gfc?? – occurs....

I was countering this generalisation, which is uninformed because, as  
I was suggesting, there are many many artists working globally who do  
not 'react' (ie quick, immediate etc) but rather 'respond' via  
carefully thought out and quite lengthy engagements with what is  
actually an ongoing period of crisis. Where we might want to locate  
the beginning of this depends on what part of the world you live but  
many people would probably say - sometime during the 1970s or 1980s.  
The recent 'financial' crisis in these more longitudinal views is  
understood as unfolding in this context, then. And so if some, all or  
many of the artists I might have named and others are now 'responding'  
to this recent 'crisis' it is more often than not because they have  
been thinking about things for quite some time!

At any rate, which artists were you taking about? You only named the  
fictional appearance of an artist within a literary context, so can  
you tell me who you think is currently responding 'badly' to the  
financial crisis and who well? perhaps then we will actually have  
something on the table for discussion.

I really don't think my endorsement of interesting and intelligent  
responses to crisis has anything to do with following a  'market'  
discipline or logic...which I also find a rather vague and unuseful  
term. Which market? Financial, the art market, culture market,  
knowledge market etc? These are not reducible to each other because  
they do not all pass through the same institutions even though they  
may share some. It is  hegemonic to use 'the market' as a figure for  
cultural analysis.

Which in part is also why one cannot connect the 'art of' with all  
contemporary art practices. Of course art practices are situated  
inside capitalism but it does not therefore follow that all art  
practices pursue the 'art of' capitalism nor are they governed by 'the  
market'. The 'art of' (to follow Foucault) is a mode of conduct...an  
ethics if you like. And hence the question of how one conducts an art  
practice also bears upon one's ethico-aesthetic paradigm (to follow  
Guattari). While we cannot be 'outside of' capitalism, how we choose  
to respond to, work with others and conduct our practices living in  
the culture that we do, can be transformative. These transformations  
may be temporary, molecular, longitudinal or major - sometimes only  
time tells. But there is a vast difference, as I have already stated,  
between pursuing the 'art of' finance and situated within capitalism,  
conducting or being engaged with practices of transformation and  
change. None of the artists or art theorists I mentioned have any kind  
of naive belief in overthrow of the capitalist system; yet all are  
committed to transforming as a response to crises (some of which are  
financial, others, political, others ethical, others combinations of  
all these)

> I am a guest on this list, this month.  Among various posts on a
> number of topics, I notice these periodic, sometimes truculent,
> sometimes emotional, calls for discussants to stop talking about some
> things, and talk about other things instead.

I would have thought that as a guest in a space, one would at the very  
least, want to know something about the flavour and areas that the  
inhabitants want to talk about...perhaps that is not your idea of  
being a guest but it's certainly mine! Empyre is a reasonably run  
longing list and in it's history has had a diversity of people, topics  
etc but, naturally, there are also shared interests that are  
intellectually and passionately felt and thought. One of these, if I  
am not mistaken, is a passion for art, especially networked and or new  
media art. Indeed many of the list contributors ARE these artists.

It is therefore unsurprising that when generalisations are made about  
this field people will not want to engage with these and will call for  
a discussion to shift elsewhere. What you see as truculence others  
might see as being fed up.



A/Prof. Anna Munster
Assistant Dean, Grant Support
Acting Director Centre for Contemporary Art and Politics
School of Art History and Art Education
College of Fine Arts
P.O. Box 259
NSW 2021
612 9385 0741 (tel)
612 9385 0615(fax)
a.munster at unsw.edu.au

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