Ok, so this is my response to some recent activity over at Reading the Maps (more here), mostly concerning a post by Jared Davidson aka Garage Collective (yes, it's one guy) at indymedia. This whole business is patently ridiculous, especially considering the fact that Jarred's work is anything but revolutionary, in any sense that you take the word. proof of this can be found in his constant production of posters for pop gigs. The fact that they are for sale, and that he had a gallery show at HighStreetProject, and is currently ragging on galleries as being the tools of the bourgeois establishment shows the inconsistency of the whole thing.
In his tirade against the establishment Jared posits that any art that is not overtly political, and does not seek to bring down the capitalist system "and replace it with logic, frankly, should be left to die". These are big calls, and , like the entire piece, are contradictory, inaccurate, historically unaware, and inherently wrong. What is being proposed is a form of Neoplatonic Idealism (Cf. Plato on art and poetry in that handbook on fascism, The Republic), and, in the prescriptive nature of his pronouncements, he falls into the trap of fascism as so many hardcore traditionalist Marxist have before him.
The cultural economy, especially in a small city like Christchurch, actually does not produce (or procure) a large amount of capital. Try selling an installation work, or publishing a volume of poetry, or putting on a show without Creative NZ/ Creative Communities funding and you'll see what i mean. Contrary to this, Jared's posters are 'hip and down with the kids'; and Blink from alowhum likes them so he's probably doing a fair bit of business.
Jared asks questions regarding the place of 'art', the value of the term itself, and the praxis of situationism's breaking down of the barriers between art and life, but is seemingly unaware (aside from the situationist name-drop) of the history of radical art, or it's current status. What about Fluxus? Theodore Adorno? It is interesting that he rips terms such as "culture industry" directly (or, more likely second-hand) from Adorno's writings, cites the Situationiste Internationalle of Guy DeBord, and brushes over an essentially Fluxus practice, without understanding them at all. And, just where the hell is Dada, especially Marcel Duchamp, in all of this? His works' functioning as critiques of the bourgeois art establishment is very pertinant to the discussion, and its not as if he' s a paticularly obscure figure.
On to Adorno - in the 1930s there was a very public debate on the role of political praxtice in artistic production between him and György Lukács, regarding the relative political value of Franz Kafka (championed by Adorno) and Bertold Brecht, championed by Lukács. Lukács' argument was for a socially responsive realism that is is able to comment on the sociopolitical in the real-world, and from a Marxist perspective, offer alternative courses of action that will move forward the revolutionary ideal. These realists will "depict the vital, but not immediately obvious forces at work in objective reality. They [will] do so with such profundity and truth that the products of their imagination can potentially receive confirmation from subsequent historical events". He was highly critical of modernist techniques such as impressionism and surrealism, seeing them as "decadent", and create art that is 'subjective' rather than the objectivity' he purports to find in realist literature.
Of course, this is relatively easy to counter. ANY artistic production is subjective, even the chance operations of John Cage and Jackson Mac Low rely on a subjectively constructed operational technique, and the choosing of (subjectively produced) source materials. Then there are subjective decisions about the success of the work, and whether is is finished, and/or fit for performance/publishing.
Adorno's response to such ideas, and Lukács indictment of his (overtly Marxist as well) theories on aesthetics as evidence of his dwelling in the "Grand Hotel Abyss", was simple, and comparable to Rauan Klassnik's comments on political poetry (in the review, check out the comments section for more). essentially Adorno cites the ineffectuallity of overtly political art, and its inability to affect real political change. Art's political value comes from its inherent (conventional) non-functionality, allowing for a line-of-flight from dominant economic models of exchange/use-value. Of course this does not apply to all forms of art, and it seems that a large percentage of overtly political cultural production falls outside of these parameters.
Take, for example, music. every 'revolutionary' phase in music that has garnered widespread popularity (I'm thinking of Jazz, Blues, Rock & Roll, Punk, Hip hop) has been effectively co-opted by the commercial/state apparatus, defanged, and sold back to the public in a watered down, demilitarized form. And I can't help but laugh when i see bands like Rage Against the Machine wearing their Sneakers, releasing their albums on Sony/Epic, and still "rallying against capitalism".
The alternatives here are not simply to pander to the state apparatus, but far from it. I think the political has it’s place in artistic practice, but rather than a dictation of a polemical position, politics (or ethics even, I’m thinking of Steve McCaffery’s writing on the applications of Levinas’s ethical writings to poetic practice in Prior to meaning) should be demonstrated or performed within the work, and the way the work is created and functions. A pertinent example of this being Bruce Andrews’ essay “Writing Social Work and Political Practice”, and its ramifications for his own work. That piece could be seen as a dogmatic diatribe, and is, for the most part, but knows that it is one piece of the ongoing conversation on “poetry and praxis”. Perforative rather than polemical artistic work has a long and fruitful history, from its origins in the genesis of modernism through Dada, Fluxus, and Situationism through L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry and the performance art of Marina Abramović, the theatre of Heiner Müller and Sarah Kane (drawing on the work of Antonin Artaud and his Theatre of Cruelty) to new practices such as the poetics of the Gurlesque (see essays and discussions here, here, and here).
So it seems that Jared's Garage collective activities not only indict himself on his own terms, ie:
"Any artistic practice short of advocating the abolishment of capitalism and replacing it with logic, frankly, should be left to die", and any art that does this isn't going to actually achieve a hell of a lot.
Furthermore i wish to add that the charge that these works be 'left to die' is highly socially irresponsible, as, even if not meant in such a way, it functions as essentatially a call for the erasure of history. And once more, we are back at Platonic fascism as a means of social control.
There's my two cents. and, in the interests of fairness, you can catch Jared's here.