[iDC] Re: Art

Brad Borevitz brad at onetwothree.net
Mon Dec 12 11:09:13 EST 2005

is there a special responsibility of art, to, or in, the domain of the

how is it that this conversation about political action takes place here
where each statement has the implicit preamble, "as an artist ..."?

"as a citizen..." "as an american ..." "as a human being ..." "as a cyborg
..." "as an intellectual ..." "as a technologist ..." "as a victim ..." "as
a teacher ..." "as a consumer..." various perspectives authorize not simply
a complaint, but a responsibility to action: a sense of civic duty. this is
still meant as a question.

must an artist make political work? must a person take action? why aren't
these questions separable? aren't they for a nurse, or a firefighter, or a
factory worker, or a clerk? what is the moral sum of a life lived making
pretty pictures by day and revolution by night? is this a hypothetical

are we at the point where it makes sense to demand that everyone drop
everything and change the world? or is this demand only incumbent on the

or rather, is aesthetics at a point where it demands that art is political
action, and no claim to aesthetic production is valid outside of its domain?

it is certainly not only artists who are in a state of alarm. both
journalistic and academic worlds are buzzing with descriptive and analytic
accounts of our troubling situations. but it doesn't seem like prescription
follows diagnosis so simply as say ricardo's posting would suggest.

most difficult is the way that past strategies of resistance seem to be
rendered so ineffective in the contemporary moment; that if resistance is to
be counted as more than a gesture - as more than merely aesthetic - it must
contend with some judgment regarding effect.

on this count, grant's examples are suggestive. at least they address
specific local problems where questions of effect can be answered. (and
aesthetic questions raised) but not all problems are like this, and
certainly not all national or global conflicts are amenable to this sort of
interventionist strategy.

it may be that the tide is turning in regard to public opinion on the war,
but the cause is surely not the millions of people who demonstrated in the
streets all over the world. could it be the opportune gesture of a single
sympathetic, telegenic mother of a warrior? should we all be poised and
prepared for that moment that is ready for our particular gesture? in any
case, demonstrations, even the largest ones, are denatured or ignored by the
mainstream media or put down by the police. protests are now penned in and
made irrelevant. the chinese government (and not just them) will still shoot
to kill if pressed. the ability of media savvy protesters to get through has
evaporated since the heyday of ACTUP. it seems like violence is the only
theater that garners significant attention, but the art of messaging in fire
and blood is fraught with, among other things, imprecision.

even less inflammatory strategies have fallen under the chilling eye of the
growing police state. the willingness of the US government to surveil
imprison and harass artists and activists has raised the stakes of
involvement tremendously.

if we struggle, against anything, we also struggle against the absorption of
our gestures into a powerfully entrenched narrative of a manichaen battle
between good and evil, where we will be cast as the enemy by a simple and
indelible accusation. among my fears is that my own narrativizing of the
contemporary mirrors that endless war against terror, which is the
production of terror (both as fear, and as violent reaction). how can
counternarrative not share this structure, be corrosive to it, be more
compelling, and possibly gain a footing in the public imaginary?

perhaps ricardo's point is that a description, a complaint, should suggest a
strategy of attack that is worth venturing, testing ... is resistance a
symbolic gesture ultimately? it is easy to say "TAZ," to say "route around
it" - but the precariousness of these solutions and their isolation betray
them, their limits, their selfishness. is the question of effectiveness only
part of the ideology of the hegemon? an imposition of efficiency where
extravagance and waste should dwell. an instrumentalizing of what is
properly easthetic? there is so much resignation in that kind of conception
of resistance that it seems rather pathetic and unsatisfactory.


More information about the iDC mailing list