[-empyre-] A New Year's Resolution

Daniel Lichtman danielp73 at gmail.com
Wed Feb 1 04:38:08 AEDT 2017

Dear All,

Waiting until the end of January to write my new year’s resolution has
given me the chance to witness just how high stakes our responses are to
the direction the country is rapidly moving in.

I’m currently reading Nick Smicek and Alex Williams’ book Inventing the
Future, which has been both a cause for inspiration and hope, and
thoroughly depressing. Their assessment of how recent popular tactics of
resistance on the Left, which they call Folk Politics, have failed is
sobering. Taking Occupy as an example, the authors discuss how in folk
politics, protest and organizing has focussed on the small scale—buying
local, for example—and the immediate, personal encounter with politics—for
example, the cathartic, individual experience of participating in a
protest. They discuss how this focus comes at the expense of developing
organizational thinking and strategies up to the task of tackling the
complex, abstract and dispersed systems of globalized capitalism and
neoliberalism. They say an effective approach would require organizing and
action that’s not local or based on the experience of the individual but
instead sufficiently global, strategic and abstract as to confront
capitalism on its own plane of influence and power (they call for a “Mont
Pelerin Society of the Left”). Most importantly, that approach requires a
concrete vision of the future that would come afterwards, to which the
authors devote a large portion of their book.

Artists, however, regardless of their political outlook or agenda, devote
much of their passion, fascination and focus to their own personal
experience with the materials and forms that they make use of in their
practice. As an artist working in installation, video and performance, a
participant in a range of intellectual communities and as a teacher in
dialogue with students, one question I am asking myself with great urgency
is this—how can artists best make use of their singular and associative
relationship with their materials to reflect on our current, collective
situation (and not treat art as a balm that finds satisfaction or relief
solely in its expression of dissent). That is, how do we best develop
visual art and discourse that investigates, expresses and reflects upon
systems of power, and their possible futures, while at the same time
continuing to celebrate the contingency of the artist’s (or collective’s)
individual, subjective relation to the materials in their studio (or
hard-drive) and the ways in which those materials are combined into artwork.

There is much to unpack, or further specify, in this analogy between Smicek
and Williams’ pronunciations about the past and future of Leftist thinking
and the production of contemporary art today. So, one of my new year’s
resolutions is to work through those relations both in my own practice and
in conversation with others.

Best wishes to all,
Daniel Lichtman
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