[iDC] Art

Brian Holmes brian.holmes at wanadoo.fr
Fri Dec 9 22:03:00 EST 2005

Robby Herbst writes:

The thing I always come up against is how the
> tools of deconstruction generally have been 
> applied against structures and ideologies that encourage sociail cohesion
> and homogeniety. 

This kind of question preoccupied me for about five years 
(say, 1994-99) until I finally realized that deconstruction 
et. al. were not the driving forces of hyperindividualism 
and cultural fragmentation, but instead were epiphenomena - 
discourses that may have been aesthetically or 
philosophically interesting in their time but are now just 
academic placeholders covering up much broader social trends.

Societies all over the world are being torn apart because 
the incredibly dynamic forces of free trade and 
financialization - with the attendant subjectifying barrage 
of advertising culture - are breaking down the institutional 
and even improvisational spaces where people used to have 
time to resolve their differences. That's a political 
problem. It demands answers to difficult questions about 
economic functions, about economic justice, and also answers 
to maybe even more difficult questions about how to slow 
down and tame that cultural tiger called the transvaluation 
of all values, which was something that the left had a 
better handle on up to around 68, but which was then taken 
over almost completely by commercially driven media 
experiences and consumer hedonism, who have been riding it 
to a very uncertain future.

The economic questions are, imho, actually easier to answer. 
You just have to spend about five years reading the theories 
and comparing the realities! But it's worth it, it's 
necessary, and one of the reasons for the decay of society 
is that people don't do the minimum. What you ultimately 
realize (and some people may be able to get there much 
faster than I did) is that there are now a host of specific 
mechanisms leading to the recreation of a genuine ruling 
class - I mean, people who are so rich that they just aren't 
like you and me anymore, and further, they have the capacity 
to direct the way the society evolves. That kind of 
statement has been basically taboo for a generation. But if 
you don't find a way to say it then you're condemned to 
watch the process continue to unfold, silently. In the 
absence of any democracy.

Step 2 is more difficult. What kind of society do I want? 
How can I express that? Where can I share that expression 
with other people? How can I learn to give up my first ideas 
and adapt them beyond what I perceive, feel, etc?

Art has, at least in a small way, actually become an arena 
in which you can ask those kinds of questions and begin to 
have those kinds of conversations. I think that's worth 
defending and illustrating, particularly since it's 
something I'm halfway equipped for. I actually agree that 
the notion of tactical media, in particular, has begun to be 
fetishized, because it can be very simplistic, you know. The 
eruption of tactical media 6 or 7 years ago was important, 
because it showed that the image and symbol manipulating 
classes - which have become kind of important, not so 
marginal as they used to be - could actually do something 
political, and get out of that postmodern paralysis that had 
been the previous chapter of cultural history. But now I 
think there are a lot more complex things to take on. 
Artists (or anyone lese, for that matter) should not let 
their ambitions get restricted to things that become fads.

I am going in a few weeks to Berlin to see an exhibition 
called "B-Zone: Becoming Europe and Beyond," where three 
women (Ursula Biemann, Angela Melitopulos and Lisa Parks) 
each explored the development and, let's say, the human 
ecology of a big piece of infrastructure  on the EU's 
southeastern borders (an oil pipeline from the Caucusus to 
Turkey, a road network heading out hrough Greece to Central 
Asia, and a statellite telecommunications system serving 
former Yugoslavia, respectively). It's extremely interesting 
stuff, which combines the full complexity of economic 
problems with all the formal, affective and intersubjective 
subtleties of art. Well, I and Ursula and Suely Rolnik and 
Maurizio Lazzarato, we all tried to make a case for this 
kind of work at an international meeting of museum directors 
in Sao Paulo a few weeks ago. As you can imagine, most of 
them are light years away from that sort of work (especially 
the millionaire collector types, etc.). But some others of 
course, are not. And I think that it is very important to 
defend the kind of artistic inquiry that those artists are 
doing, and also the kind of sociological and critical 
inquiry that I am doing. Because the art space is maybe not 
big enough, not direct enough, not important enough for 
these complex questions about society - but if we can't 
create the space to develop such questions in what seems to 
be our home base, where else are they going to get 
developed? This is also the kind of thing running through my 
mind when I read Saul's notes about trying to design a new 
program for art that consistently straddles the 2d-3d divide.

Anyone interested can look at the transcripts of that panel 


The point is not to draw attention that particular panel, 
but just to say that beyond the fetishization of 
simplicities, there is lots of important work to do! 
Including real activism, which I wouldn't say is exactly 

best, BH

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