11 September 2014

Was Autonomy Just a Moment?

"Another incoherence here is that while claiming extreme social openness and political commitment in the vein of the avant-garde’s impact on society, contemporary art—de facto—in its economic disposition happens to be part and parcel of post-Fordist alienated production. In other words, in narratives it claims democratic and resisting values, but in reality it happens to be a nonsocialized, nondemocratic, i.e., quasi-modernist, realm in its means of production and sense. Resisting attitudes and constructed situations are often used in art as externalized, abstract, and formalized actualities rather than necessities stemming from the material and immanent bond with political constellations. Hito Steyerl approaches this condition from the other end. Considering the mutation that the avant-garde’s aspirations of fusing with life have undergone in recent times, she observes the opposite effect of such a goal—life being occupied by art. It is that very art that pretends to be dissolved in life, but de facto absorbs life into its all-expanding but still self-referential territory. The system of art believes in its social microrevolutionary democratic engagement. But since the social and economic infrastructure is privatized and not at all a commonwealth, social-democratic values happen to be declared or represented while the ethics contemporary art uses to deal with social space are rather based on the canons of modernism’s negativity—which internalizes, absorbs, and neutralizes outer reality and its confusions, even though all this might be done quite involuntarily. [...]

"Today, the problem facing many contemporary art practices—also due to their very close proximity to institutions and their commissioned framework of production—is that they have fallen out of classical aesthetics, as well as what stood for non- or post-aesthetic extremities (the sphere of the sublime). I.e., they have fallen out of modernism’s canon of innovative rigidity as well as the avant-garde’s utopian horizon, but they have also failed to return to the practices of pre-modernist realisms, because contemporary art languages cannot help but decline the dimension of the event; they consider the anthropology of the event to be the outdated, almost anachronistic rudiment of art. Meanwhile, what has become so important in the highly institutionalized poetics of contemporary art are the languages of self-installing, self-instituting, self-historicizing in the frame of what constructs contemporary art as territory. The context in this case is not historical, aesthetical, artistic, or even political, but is rather institutionally biased. So that the subject of art is neither the artist, nor artistic methodology of any kind, nor the matter of reality, but the very momentum of institutional affiliation with contemporary art’s progressive geographies. This brings us to a strange condition."

Excerpt from Keti Chukhrov's essay "On the False Democracy of Contemporary Art", which appears in the new edition of the E-flux journal. This edition picks up where the journal left off before its summer vacation, with a second installment of the double-issue theme "The End of the End of History?" Which means another round of essays on contempo art practice, and how its modes of discourse and representation contend with recent shifts in specific cultural or national identities; particularly when the latter takes an ultranationalist turn. Hence essays addressing recent developments in Hungary, Greece, Macedonia, Russia, France, and elsewhere; as well a discussion of the expanding "statelessness" of Neue Slowenische Kunst.

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