[-empyre-] art and ethics

Gerry Coulter gcoulter at ubishops.ca
Sat Jan 30 09:44:49 EST 2010

Responsibility is complicity -- full circle indeed.

best g
From: empyre-bounces at gamera.cofa.unsw.edu.au [empyre-bounces at gamera.cofa.unsw.edu.au] On Behalf Of Nicholas Ruiz III [editor at intertheory.org]
Sent: January 29, 2010 12:05 PM
To: soft_skinned_space
Subject: Re: [-empyre-] art and ethics

...absolutely, and a helpful way for artisans to realize that the craftsmanship of policy - public and private - produces an always malleable artifact, as in laws, in every conceivable sense...this sort of idea can only enable the possibility of engagement...as responsibility for 'artistic' engagement is another matter.


Nicholas Ruiz III, Ph.D
NRIII for Congress 2010
Editor, Kritikos

From: sawatzky.jacky <sawatzky.jacky at gmail.com>
To: soft_skinned_space <empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au>
Cc: soft_skinned_space <empyre at gamera.cofa.unsw.edu.au>
Sent: Thu, January 28, 2010 12:34:10 PM
Subject: Re: [-empyre-] art and ethics

In my previous post I mentioned an article in dutch Post-propaganda by Jonas Staal I found an english translation here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/15629480/NOWISWERE-4
The articles name is Post-propaganda- An introduction by Jonas Staal (p 17) Here is hte link to his website: www.jonasstaal.nl<http://www.jonasstaal.nl>

this article, of which I am still trying to formulate my thoughts, so I am giving here an improvised attempt: Jonas Staal is an artist who has the conversation with politics on the foreground of his practice; Robert Rauschenberg, has a conversation with materials on the foreground of his practice. (I love his work and each time in Buffalo i go to the Albert Knox gallery and spend a long  time looking at the same painting. I have never seen any of Jonas Staal's work in 'real' so I can't comment on it.)

I am opting the statement; ethics as a process, and the possibility of  democracy as a material that the artist processes This idea opens up the possibility for   ethics -process, materials and art to be situated on the same topological space.  Concepts then become materials and materials art and materials concepts, and so fort. Thinking about art in this way allows to have on aspect on the foreground with at the same time acknowledging the others, it also allows to add to the set of propositions that constitute an art-practice, without denying one consideration,- the topological space just expands. What makes this different then post-modern thought is that I think believing that one aspect is more important then the other, motivates and gives dedication. Believing as a drive to make art.
These are some careful thoughts I want to add to the discussion

Cheers, Jacky Sawatzky


On 27-Jan-10, at 6:33 AM, Gerry Coulter wrote:

Jackie, Your point is well taken.

Ethics must come sometime after process -- after art.

I think Robert Rauschenberg is a good example of an artist who let art work itself out through him, and for his part, he tried to enjoy processing materials. From one experience of process led to thoughts on the next and on it went for about 54 years during which time he made one work, on avg.,  about every 4-5 days. When he had millions of dollars and was at the pinacle of the artists expereince he could work with more sophisticated processes and materials. When he was young in New York and had not enough money for food and none for paint and supplies, he took what little paint remained and his bed, and he made the work "Bed". From bed to his later days as a successful artistic millionaire, Rauschenberg seemed to truly enjoy processing materials. To me, that is an essential experience as an artist -- engaging with materials and experiencing their possibilities (incluing the failures).

Rauschenberg is also important in that he was wary of learning outside of the experience of process -- his quote it runs something like "every new thing i learn about art places limits on me as an artist". That certainly goes for ethics and worrying about granting agencies or travelling to shows or conferences. The best experience of life I know is joy, and for someone through whom art chooses to speak, if they are in love with process, a joyful life awaits -- even if no one else ever appreciates their art. I think if you try to force art into various boxes (ethical or otherwise) the joy is sucked out of it. If art wants to come out through you just try to enjoy it, make art for yourself first -- its the same with writing -- write for no one but yourself -- of others enjoy it -- wonderful -- but if you do not enjoy it, the process of making, painting, writing, whichever, what is the point of being an artist? We've had far too much talk about ethics from wordsmiths who have been punished by educations immersed in restrictive ideologies -- art knows these places but does not live there. What does art know of political correctness or ethical correctness or environmental correctness? It little different for art in such restricitve places of ethical constraint now, than it was for it during the Cultural Revolution in China or during Soviet Realism [oops, there i go with my xenophobia again -- there really was no CR or no such thing as SR!], or during the hegemony of the Greenbergian narrative etc.

Art becoming, the artist becoming... the joy of process... these are rare, leave it alone and I hope you have frequently expereinced this joy. Not many academics have - they have made work of art, and the art of being an academic is to make your work into joy, into play. The world is a game after all. It is completely indifferent to us as any Haitian knows these days, or those who experienced the big Tsunami a few years back. When we match the indifference of the world with an indifference of our own, we open ourselves to the experience of the joy of living as unencumbered as possible.

On another note -- we began our month long dialogue a few weeks ago by pondering art and complicity. Isnt one of the major problems artist's complicity with the real? Is this not why so many really terrible works are foisted upon us by museums? Art isnt about the real -- it isnt about mirroring, its about dealing with the real, this real which always lurks behind appearances, in other ways isnt it?



From: empyre-bounces at gamera.cofa.unsw.edu.au<mailto:empyre-bounces at gamera.cofa.unsw.edu.au> [empyre-bounces at gamera.cofa.unsw.edu.au<mailto:empyre-bounces at gamera.cofa.unsw.edu.au>] On Behalf Of sawatzky.jacky [sawatzky.jacky at gmail.com<mailto:sawatzky.jacky at gmail.com>]
Sent: January 26, 2010 4:14 PM
To: soft_skinned_space
Cc: soft_skinned_space
Subject: Re: [-empyre-] art and ethics

Dear all,

I want to add an element to the equation of art and ethics , economical system that finance art. In my experience how I make a living has an influence on my art-practice. (I am not talking about only a cooperate, commercial situation but systems like grants, private support, (family money or partners with money, ext.. ) The requirements needed  to apply for a grant? How does this requirement determine the artist that are able produce work and the work produced? Is this requirement ethical?  Is getting a grant more ethical then selling through a commercial gallery?  What are the social and political implications of grants, fellowships, and other funding?
Even for teaching you will need to be part of a system,  to get the job you need exhibitions and grants,  the more the better.. Resulting in traveling to exhibition, conference, artist talks, ext. Sometimes the travel is far, for sort period, is this ethical for the environment?
 Often these issues are not discussed..
It's a complex intertwined situation with many variables  that determine choices of ethics in art or not always clearly defined. Ethics and art is like peeling an onion and making choices when to stop peeling, because art needs a system to support it. (Like David says: But even a hermit is marking off a space and
time in relation to the dominant order.)

What I think we need is less judgement and condemning of practices. Awareness how these system work, not just taking the presentation for an answer, but start looking further into how did the presentation come to be? And the question how was I able to see it?.
I read an interesting article related to these topic in 'De Groene called 'Post-propaganda' written by the artist Jonas Staal It is in dutch.
In a later post I will try to  give a synopsis of this. (Writing is difficult and slow ) But maybe  someone on this list heard about it and has a translation in English?

Chaio, Jacky Sawatzky


On 25-Jan-10, at 4:29 PM, davin heckman wrote:


I finally feel like I am beginning to understand the various positions
being sketched out.

G. H. Hovagimyan writes, "I think being an artist is about arguing
above and beyond the current intellectual and
political millieu.  Optimally an artist liberates themselves from all
of that. They find a place that is actual freedom, perhaps poetic and

And Gerry Coulter adds, "It is rather the same for art is it not? Art
thrives not because of the art world or public or private institutions
but in spite of them. And art, like politics, is today, the recipient
of mass indifference. Pretty soon about the same number of people who
attend one art show per year will be the equivalent of those who vote.
The numbers are not so far apart right now."

I get the impression that sometimes we are talking across each other.
On the one hand, I do believe that art has a social role and
obligation.  On the other hand, I do not think that artists should
feel obligated to look to "politics" to find their vocabulary.  I find
that I share your sentiments in regards to mass indifference....
until I think about how the very political structures that we use to
interpret art (the galleries, the lectures, the collectors) should be
interpreted as the true targets of indifference.  Art can be found
just about everywhere where you can find people (Check out these kids
playing ball....  if this isn't art...  I don't know what is:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JgIi7sycfmk )

I think we are really talking about the role of artists outside of the
established discourse of the day, the potential that a work of art can
project new forms of knowledge, outside of the artist's intention and
the social/political/critical sphere's capacity to anticipate it.  Art
is always a speculative endeavor, it never existed before
representation, so it is, at some level, silly to endow it with a
presence....  except to say that the intrinsic qualities of the work
are inherently representational.  They do not so much represent
reality as reality, but represent reality as representational (if that
makes sense).  And, while I would be reluctant to tell people what
"street basketball" means, I would say that it contains the elements
of performance, virtuosity, and improvisation.  It plays with
expectation and while there are clear objectives that are structurally
determined (taking it to the hole), such play is entirely about HOW it
is done.  On one level, such play is the furthest thing that I can
imagine from any sort of clearly defined political discourse, but I
think you'd do violence to the work to separate from its context
(which, in a sense, is what I am doing by presenting a youtube video
packaged by an apparel manufacturer). So while art necessarily exceeds
the mundane, its excess is also produced by that banality, and that
the force of a work can be lost when it is robbed of its context
(cleaned up, placed in a gallery, collected).

When I speak of the social obligation of the artist, I really mean
that art does not belong to any individual.  Rather, it belongs to
whoever encounters it.  We make art.

It is interesting that, for all the controversies about the
relationship between art and politics, even those who are opposed to
this relationship seem to come back to the point that political
discourse is debased, a lost cause, a sinking ship that threatens to
drag everything else down with it.  Yet, we are really talking about
historical specificities here.  That "politics" reminds us of
baby-kissing assholes or zealous blowhards does not mean that
politics, at its root, is destined to be synonymous with its bastard
offspring.  Politics means nothing more than the social relationship
with power.  If art is "beyond" the power of temporal authorities,
then it exists in a social relationship with power.  It might be
something of a hermit.  But even a hermit is marking off a space and
time in relation to the dominant order.

Having said all that, not all artists are called to be hermits.  Not
all art is alienated.  Rather, it is inherently speculative.  It is,
in the here and now, an alternative to the here and now.  Which does
speak to this desire to see art as apart from the dumb realities of
daily life....  but it is apart only insofar as it is within.  It
marks off a zone of autonomy in relation to various threats to that
autonomy.  Maybe I am way off the mark here.  But I remain reluctant
to draw lines between categories of human expression and social

I guess I'd like to imagine that we are all artists.  Or, at least, we
could all be artists.  And that there is a utopian potential tucked
away in there somewhere... that at some point, art IS a social reality
in competition (and sometimes cooperation) with many competing
notions, and life is a struggle to realize that our lives could be
much more than they are.  It could just be wishful thinking.



On Mon, Jan 25, 2010 at 4:32 AM, Gerry Coulter <gcoulter at ubishops.ca<mailto:gcoulter at ubishops.ca>> wrote:
I appreciate your post and would make a link to the chatter we endured about the US Supreme court's latest decision...

It doesnt matter which rich people choose which pack of lawyers to run government as it does not matter (Bush the Son is a good example) who leads a country. Look at the pack of idiots who have been President of France for the past 50 years. Nations thrive DESPITE politicians not because of them.

It is rather the same for art is it not? Art thrives not because of the art world or public or private institutions but in spite of them.

And art, like politics, is today, the recipient of mass inidfference. Pretty soon about the same number of people who attend one art show per year will be the equivalent of those who vote. The numbers are not so far apart right now.

Maybe, I hope, in fifty years, we'll hold a major election in a Western country and only the politicians, their friends and families will turn out to vote. Or perhaps a blockbuster with no lines...



From: empyre-bounces at gamera.cofa.unsw.edu.au<mailto:empyre-bounces at gamera.cofa.unsw.edu.au> [empyre-bounces at gamera.cofa.unsw.edu.au<mailto:empyre-bounces at gamera.cofa.unsw.edu.au>] On Behalf Of simon [swht at clear.net.nz<mailto:swht at clear.net.nz>]
Sent: January 24, 2010 8:44 PM
To: soft_skinned_space
Subject: Re: [-empyre-] art and ethics

Dear Empyreans,

Having just picked up a copy of Philosophy in the Present (Polity,
2009), from its pages Alain Badiou announces incommensurability as
constitutive of the philosophical situation, the situation in which
philosophy can create problems (or concepts). This would seem to be
pertinent to the turn this discussion has taken, to the potentials for
complicity between the corporation and art - perhaps I am reading it
wrongly. But then again perhaps this turn can in turn be characterised
in terms of its Kantian inflection, specifically an inspiration to
consider ethics as a shared ground upon which complicity eventuates: on
the Law. So, then, just asking for it, for a critique that goes to
unground this implicit and unhappy co-incidence of art and ethics by
this simple and easily repeatable formula: the time of art is not that
of power; the ethics - on which, the Law or from which, the Law - the
rules - of the power are incompossible with those of art - with those
little laws of difference, that immanent Rule, which in making art is
the only one worth listening to - and may just as soon make us outlaws;
in short, what we are dealing with here are incommensurables. So,
Badiou, invoking Mizoguchi's /Crucified Lovers, /particularly the
lovers' "withdrawal into the smile" as they are led to the punishment
which the law against adultery has conferred upon them - crucifixion -

"Well, in these magnificent shots, Mizoguchi's art not only resists
death but leads us to think that love too resists death. This creates a
complicity between love and art - one which in a sense we've always
known about." [trans. P. Thomas & A. Toscano]

He is led here himself by Deleuze quoting Malraux to the effect that art
is what resists death and in this situation will not give that the
lovers are happy to meet their fate but that in a sense they have
already overcome it. So in a similarly philosophical situation - one in
which disinterest can possibly prevail - Badiou relates the story of
Archimedes's summons to the Emperor Marcellus's court; wherein the
soldier sent to collect the great scientist on behalf of the great power
of the victor is ignored and eventually takes his sword and ends the
former's life: Archimedes has asked for time to complete his
'demonstration,' a drawing in the sand of geometrical figures. Badiou
glosses this confluence of incommensurables in terms of time: the
impatience of the Emperor's emissary and the artist's time's otherness,
an internal time, created with the problem in the act of describing the
problem, or in the act of the problem's expression.

However, I have followed this discussion with interest, because of an
experience of a complicity which I haven't yet found here, and which
I've ever since thought of as the complicity of the artist... with the
destruction of the institutions on which the artist depends. In the
early eighties in New Zealand theatre workers went out on strike,
nationally. All seven professional theatres closed. Actors had voted to
back technical and backstage workers, against the management, at that
time a loaded word. And words, it must be said, were at the cutting
edge, not of the dispute, but of the problem: the co-option of the
language of the artform by the language of industrial relations.
Productivity replaced productions. Industry displaced theatre or art.
Artists redesignated themselves workers, workers all. The unforeseen
outcome was that the formerly egalitarian theatres were stratified:
where pay parity had existed between backstage and acting company, where
in fact unity of the company had been the unofficial prejudice as it
included back- and front- of the house, on-stage as well, demarcation
made it thereafter almost impossible that an actor might, say, hang a
light, and the theatres slipped back into star-systems, into British rep
style hierarchizations, into, therefore, older formations. One step
forward, two back. Could actors have envisaged that by their industrial
action, by their complicity with, well, their ideological complicity,
they would reposition themselves at the top of the industrial hierarchy
and of the pay scale? positions of which the industrial action was
intended as abrogating?

And, to clarify what may appear a contradiction: yes, the actors top the
payscale, but professional theatres as institutions bankrupted -
ideologically and fiscally. Who are here the artists? Theatre is
possibly not an indicative demonstration or example; but it surely goes
to illuminate something in the sense that collaboration has been talked
about, particularly online?

I present this sense of complicity for interest and diversion only.


Simon Taylor

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