[iDC] Art

Brian Holmes brian.holmes at wanadoo.fr
Sat Dec 10 11:25:06 EST 2005

saul ostrow wrote:

> what is our object/ subject include -- that we wish to resist
> what does that subject/ object exclude -- what do we wish to preserve
> what is the terms and conditions of its (the subject/ object's)  present 
> situation we wish to change
> what will the terms and condition of the subject/object be as a result 
> of our resistance or actions
> what effect will this change have on us

I have done a bit of work on exactly these questions, as it 
happens. Because Saul is right: you have to ask yourself 
these kinds of questions. Or let's say, it helps if you do.

So I have taken time out, as I told Saul that I would, to 
make a systematic answer.

1. From my perspective there are currently quite a number of 
nasty looking developments things to resist, including: the 
new forms of fascism; neocolonial racism; the total 
colonization of culture,and indeed of subjective experience, 
by networked capitalism. I actually think these three things 
are linked into a system, they are codependent. However, for 
what concerns those of us working with art and new media, I 
will focus on the last one, which I've written about under 
the headings of "the flexible personality" (the ideal-type 
of contemporary middle-class alienation) and the so-called 
"creative city" (the everyday environment of same).

The flexible personality describes a cynical opportunism, 
the disposition to actually take the controls of the 
contemporary networked labor regime, with all its 
surveillance techniques in particular. Note that this 
"taking the controls" means exploiting, oppressing, 
dominating the other as an object, through the use of 
sophisticated tools and strategies.

The "creative city" (a term I did not invent) describes the 
aesthetic environment in which the flexible personality 
feels good, finds its legitimacy, claims a "creative" or 
indeed artistic role, as an expressive subject. More 
recently I have began looking into what I call "the 
urbanization of blindness."

For more on these ideas, see my archive at 
www.u-tangente.org, particularly the text "The Flexible 
Personality" (in the "Hieroglyphs" section); and the text 
"Reverse Imagineering" (in the "Unleashing" section). Anothr 
text, closer to specifically art concerns, is "Reflecting 
Museums" (in the "Hieroglyphs" section).

2. What I personally wish to preserve and foster is a quite 
different disposition, which entails opening oneself up to 
what might be described as "the time of the other." This is 
something that a society has to cultivate, it requires 
initiatives, institutions, spaces both physical and mental. 
It is indeed a dis-position, in the sense of a shift. In a 
very real way, it puts you outside your own skin,it helps 
you understand the outside - the other - that is yourself.

In the spirit of this kind of exchange, when the Tangent 
University website was being created, I invited the 
Brazilian psychotherapist and art critic Suely Rolnik to put 
her text archive there, where you can read further about 
this. A good place to start might be the text we wrote 
together, basically by intermixing our existing work, under 
the title "Through the Looking-Glass." I just put it up in 
Suely's archive, English section, u-tangente.org, specially 
for you all.

3. There are a lot of specific terms and conditions to be 
changed, and when your subject is... the qualities and 
processes of subjectivity, you have to take an ecological 
view of the processual inseparability of subject and 
environment. Therefore the focus on the urban environment 
that I mentioned above. As people involved in art and/or new 
media, our social cohort has had a lot of influence on urban 
environments recently. Or more precisely, we've been heavily 
instrumentalized by capitalist processes which have had a 
lot of influence on the urban environment. So how to change 
one's availability to this kind of instrumentalization?

Under that old practical idea that change starts by cleaning 
up at your own doorstep, I tried a while ago to respond to 
an invitation to contribute to the catalogue of the 
"Biennial of Young Yugoslav Art" (which potentially would 
concern a lot of people I know and care about) by writing a 
text entitled "Emancipation." It was directed to cultural 
producers, and was about how to overcome alienation in 
respect to the market (and also the institutional market). 
The principle ideas included a concern for autonomy in 
taking of decisions about what to produce (here I don't want 
to go into the theory of autonomy, but let me stress that it 
is relative and only make sense when as a group process); a 
capacity to build cooperative environments; and a 
responsibility to the work once it is in circulation.

Actually I had the 16 Beaver Group in mind, as an 
inspiration, when I wrote that text. It is in the 
"Unleashing" section of my archive.

4. Concerning what can be achieved - the subject/object as a 
result of our actions - one of the things I have worked on 
is trying to reconceive art shows, museums and works as what 
might be called "social analyzers" - ways of bringing both 
the objective forms of social environments, and the 
subjective qualifications that orient them and make them 
what they are, into question and into public debate. I have 
written a lot about this, and I have always insisted that 
conflict - the kind provoked by symbolic interventionism, or 
what we have been calling "activism" - has an important role 
to play in sparking these processes of public questioning.

Most of my own work has for that last reason been very 
provocative. However, now I'm finished with that kind of 
work, due to the general exhaustion of the vein (the fad we 
were talking about) and also because the stakes of 
negotiating life in common have gotten a lot more serious 
since 9/11 generally.

A compact version of these speculations about the museum can 
be found in "A Rising Tide of Contradition" ("Unleashing" 

5. What effect such changes would have on us? Well, let's 
take the idea of changing the museum and certain 
expectations about what art practice is or can be. All I can 
say - and this has a lot to do with where I live - is that 
the art world here in France is so closed to anything that 
immediately matters, so dependent on trends and a prestige 
economy, or on the other hand so plunged into academic art 
history, that's it's almost not worth participating in. 
However, since around the time of Documenta X which I was 
involved with, I have seen the art discussions in Europe 
become really a lot more interesting, for all kinds of 
different reasons, and notably because of the contributions 
of symbolic interventionism and also the new space given to 
sociological and culture-critical discourse in the writing 
that surrounds art. Since 9/11 in the US, and especially 
since Bush's re-election, I have remarked time and again a 
new interest in the kinds of activity that have been going 
on in Europe. But what is now desired in the US is not 
European import but something practicallly useful in the 
American context.

This is the great effect that we could have on ourselves: 
giving our lives some meaning by making work that is 
actually useful for other people.

I am sorry to have been so lengthy and to have so immodestly 
supplied an annotated bibliography of my own writing, but I 
didn't see how else to answer Saul's question with any 
degree of precision.

cheers, Brian

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