[iDC] Art

Trebor Scholz trebor at thing.net
Fri Dec 9 13:00:20 EST 2005

Ok, let's talk Art. The everyday bread and butter of artists is to produce
culture.  It's personal. All the immediacy and politics that we discussed
before does not get lost when talking about Art.

Something is happening. For one there is a shift of the artist to something
that I call a cultural context provider. Two things. Many many media artists
function in strange ways. In fact, their job description has yet to be
written. They are artists. They are activists. They write.  They may even be
theorists. Many of them curate or have an event-based cultural practice. And
all of these "occupations" are united in that one person. Ok. Ok. I know--
that's nothing new. That has been witnessed long before the resurfacing of
the notion of the cultural producer in the 90s. No need to name names
(Duchamp, Beuys, ...). But there is more than several occupations under one
hat. I'm talking about a phenomenon that renders the cultural context
provider as the person who orchestrates a context without delivering the
input. "Les Immateriaux" in 1985 could be cited. Here, Lyotard set up a
situation in which people respond to a task and to each other and the
resulting thing is his artwork (with content provision entirely by others).
Trace that through the 90s service art to today's participatory design
projects like "Learning to Love You More." I find that my students have
decreasingly, and in many ways refreshingly, little interest to become art
stars. They want an audience. They want a platform. They are ambitious with
their cultural practice. But they realize that they can have dialogues
without the ghettoized artworld. Or if not outside then somehow tangentially
glued on to one of its wings. Extreme sharing networks empower them.

So, secondly: art activism. Media activism. It's as schizophrenic as
capitalism itself. What about all this online art, media activism and
creativity that has political intent? Is it art (uh...)? There is this Steve
Wright guy who is gripping. He wrote a flavorful essay titled "The Future of
the Reciprocal Readymade: An Essay on Use-Value and Art-Related Practice."
[1] There he says: "What they do is not art, yet without art it would not be
possible to do it." Once or twice in the past I dared to question the
efficacy of tactical media with the result of vehement attacks. There was a
moment when tactical media suddenly became so fashionable that you have
university courses about it. If we look at how-many-years of tactical
media... how much has it achieved? Before you start throwing rocks at me-
hear me out. I'm not taking away from TM. But don't we need to revisit even
super-popular notions like tactical media for their ability to affect? Also,
the argument Wright makes is interesting. He asks if all this cool Rtmark
and Bureau d'Etudes work is not merely art-related instead of being art. Ok,
I always wonder why people would ask the art question to start off with.
Usually those posing tghe question are curators who look for definitions to
more smoothly define an institutional inside and outside. But here is a
taster from Wright's essay:

"In a late text, Marcel Duchamp set out to distinguish several different
types of readymades. Of particular interest here is the genre, which he
punningly described as ³reciprocal readymades.² Anxious, he claimed, ³to
emphasize the fundamental antinomy between art and the readymade,² Duchamp
defined this radically new, yet subsequently neglected genre through an
example: ³Use a Rembrandt as an ironing-board.²1 More than a mere quip to be
taken at face value, or a facetious mockery of use-value, Duchamp¹s example
points to the symbolic potential of recycling art ­ and more broadly,
artistic tools and competence ­ into the general symbolic economy of
everyday life. For in that respect, the reciprocal readymade is the obverse
of the standard readymade, which recycles the real ­ in the form of
manufactured objects ­ into the symbolic economy of art. Historically
speaking, the readymade is inseparably bound up with objecthood: it refers
to a readymade, manufactured object Yet, it would be reductive to confine
the readymade to its objective dimension alone, if only because it provides
such a strong general image of the reciprocal logic between art and the
In the same way that framing an object in an art context neutralizes it as
an object (distinguishing it, as it were, from the mere real thing), can the
de-framing of an artwork neutralize it, in reciprocal fashion, as art? This
is an important question, and one to which Duchamp was expressly alluding,
because it would enable art to produce a use-value. Since Immanuel Kant¹s
influential championing of ³purposeless purpose² and ³disinterested
satisfaction² as defining features of our engagement with art, it has been
broadly held that art cannot produce use-values. Kant argued in effect that
art, unlike design, could not be evaluated and appreciated on the basis of
its objective purpose ­ be it external, regarding the utility of the object,
or internal, regarding the perfection of the object. In so doing, Kant
sought to preserve art from the realm of the ³merely useful²; and in the
contemporary world where utilitarian rationality and the sort of
cost-benefit analysis to which it leads reign supreme, where art is
regularly co-opted by such profit-driven, subjectivity-production industries
as advertising, to even mention use-value tends to smack of the philistine.
Of course one might say that in such a context there is something circular
about defending art on the basis of its uselessness alone (or even its
³radical uselessness,² as Adorno put it), for it would seem to suggest there
is something worthwhile and thus useful about something ostensibly lacking

Maybe that can be material for a continued exchange.

[1] <http://www.16beavergroup.org/events/archives/001481print.html>

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