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Aesthetics

Creative Occupation Pop-up Street Projection, Geelong, documentation still December 2020.

As part of the new freedom and fresh urban vibrancy (after the social restrictions due to the pandemic were lifted), a few of us embarked on pop-up street projections – in connection with artist collective and my curatorial project Creative Occupation. We blended into the streetscape and all that was happening there.– It was a mode of taking a lens to see an assemblage of little events such as music, joyful crowds at a night club, friends having a glass of wine, and so on. Some people wanted to know what we were up to with our tripods and some wanted to take the stage in the ‘photoshoot’ as soon as they noticed our cameras. This pop-up adventure made a simple reminder of a piece of my past reflection, that I recently re-visited:

[…] It is not just representational systems that the artist produces but the systems that interrogate and disrupt dominant spatial regimes. In the post-medium condition the meaning of the work is in the context. The meaning is also in an active practice and enactment through fictional framework. What force of ideology is behind the represented work is usually very important. […] Simulative trend towards social practice is where the current interest and aesthetics is focused. The artist delivers not only work but first of all a proposal of ideological nature that correlates with the activity of social operations. (Dated July 2017)

From memory, a note must be made that the notion “the post-medium condition” was gained from the work by Rosalind Krauss Art in the Age of the Post-Medium Condition. For me it was an interesting illumination of conceptual artists’ practice in the 1960s-70s from the point of medium, with the examples from Marcel Broodthaers and others– Included in this medium theory was also a portrayal of the escape of the meaning from the enclosure of medium-specific objects and the adoption of the behavior of playing with the context of their categorization and commodification instead (take for example Broodthaers’ project of fictitious “Museum of Modern Art, Eagles Department”, 1969-1972).

After re-visiting my reflection I found it tempting to pick up the article by Peter Weibel where he reflected on the whole tradition of what he called context art. Excerpts of this article titled Context Art: Towards a Social Construction of Art //1994 were in Situation edited by Claire Doherty (in the popular Documents of Contemporary Art series published by Whitechapel Gallery and MIT Press). This article testified that ‘context art’ could be identified as methodological trajectory from the conceptual art’s golden age. It followed that it had increased its range of impact in current times (the 1990s when article was written); in Peter Weibel’s words, context art was – “no longer solely about the critique of art’s systems but the critique of reality and the analysis and creation of social processes,” and he added – “artists are now becoming independent agents of social processes, partisans of the real.” Basically, Peter Weibel suggested that context art in its later version was to do with the link with other-than-art discourses and the general social reality (and I think this should rather be understood as a construction or ‘reality’). That syncs with my tone when I was thinking about simulation of (new/fictive) social operations. Spatial practices including the interventionist modes such as our pop-up street projections, broadly – ‘critical spatial practices’ defined by Jane Rendell (as per Introduction of Situation edited by Claire Doherty) express entries into possibilities for modeling social relations.

More recently, Irit Rogoff urged to think about infrastructural containments for practices. The critical view of infrastructure protocols might be another, newer proposition of the context art:

“When we in the West, or in the industrialized, technologized countries congratulate ourselves on having an infrastructure – properly functioning institutions, systems of classification and categorization, archives and traditions and professional training for these, funding pathways and educational pathways, excellence criteria, impartial juries and properly air-conditioned auditoria with good acoustics – we forget the degree to which these have become protocols that bind and confine us in their demand to be conserved or in their demand to be resisted.” [1]

Since Irit Rogoff considered this infrastructure in relation to work practices – although in the ‘expanding field,’ [1] these protocols should be frames for contemporary ideas and cultural practices. In the aftermath of the second wave of COVID-19 (in Victoria, Australia, where I live) I am thinking whether the restricted social and art conditions actually cast a light on this infrastructure field – not just as something taken for granted/missed, but as frames?

[1] Rogoff Irit, “The Expanding Field,” in The Curatorial: A Philosophy of Curating, edited by Jean-Paul Martinon, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 2013; http://yishu-online.com/wp-content/uploads/mm-products/uploads/2014_v13_02_rogoff_i_p012.pdf.

“Submitting to a voice”- me listening as part of an artwork at Liquid Architecture exhibition Eavesdropping at Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne, August 2018

I’m reading the introduction to the book Locating the Producers: Durational Approaches to Public Art, 2011 (edited by Paul O’Neill and Claire Doherty): it takes big steps – from willing to commission dynamic “place-based” art, understood as constellation of social relations, –  to open-endedness of process to defy instrumentalization of art [1]. However, with parameters such as  “place-based” art and “public art” taken as genres, impacts, and meanings, there is a kind of mindset and text already elaborated – from which it is perhaps too hard to jump out anyway. How to handle the big claims of “public art”? Perhaps, scale down to a situation, a project and art work, but also make them even bigger thinking “public” in  the sense of humanity. This makes me think of the manifesto-like Theory of the Minor by curator Chris Sharp. There he defends the rights for art to be “minor” and so to be against what is called “major.”  The major/minor contradiction is one reflexive mechanism that simply displays the question of art autonomy on the banner and provocatively asks – hey, what about art just being itself?  In Chris Sharp’s words –

“the major, like allegory, instrumentalizes. [..] Seeking the lowest common denominator, which is often found in either spectacle, topicality, or use value, it continually asks what art can do, as opposed to what it is or can be, which  it almost always takes for granted” [2].

The reality is  specific. The  art world is composed of people: artists, audiences, and other agents. Reference systems and policies are language, voices, that come through our own words and mold our thinking, perceptions and emotions. Some sort of voice or rhetoric “often” resonates the value with leaflets, FB posts and information panels. People require and expect translations. In reality, the institutions are made of people, and policies are drafted by (mostly) passionate art-loving and practicing people. On deeper level, there is no contradiction between groups of agents, and there is a “common interest” overarching the whole “art field” including practitioners, insiders-politicians, producers and organizers. Making a separation between information and the field of reality can be a methodology.  What if we read through/behind buzz-wordy statements that claim the use value of the arts sector and rather locate people, human beings separately. What if we reshuffle and deflate the focuses on “public art” and “place-based art”.  The point is – isolate the language and ask – who is speaking, or – where does it come from, “whose” voice is it, what process is behind?

Cutting through the icing of the cake when dealing with language as text, information, words, is not idealistic but practical. Being in the shoes of a producer of information and translations, I find it interesting and fair that the speaker identifies themselves, or maybe manifests their absence. Authorization is transformed into communication between agents.

 

[1] Paul O’Neill  and Claire Doherty (eds.), Locating the Producers: Durational Approaches to Public Art (Amsterdam: Valiz, 2011).

[2] Chris Sharp, Theory of the Minor, Mousse Magazine, 57, 2017.

TELEMATIC CAFE

Telematic Cafe: The Song of Memories (#TiNaDCollective) on the final day 11 July 2018 (dis)playing the visualization of images and their sound version. The Project Space – Deakin University, Geelong.

Hello! Telematic Café has news – a project has been developed by joining This is Not a Drill Collective (25 June – 11 July 2018) at The Project Space – Deakin University in Geelong, AU. This is Not a Drill Collective was a generative model of creative production on site, exploring what collaboration might be, what art-making in a space, specifically in The Project Space, could be and what this process might bring for the gallery and artists-producers. This framework was a direct inspiration for Telematic Café: The Song of Memories (#TiNaDCollective) was bound to evolve as one of the voices within This is Not a Drill Collective.

The Song of Memories (#TiNaDCollective)

Team:
Marita Batna (concept, data collection…

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A link to source: transmediale 2018 exhibition “Territories of Complicity” documentation website (Sprawling Swamps); via a still image of Sprawling Swamps (2016-ongoing) by Femke Herregraven – installation, interactive 3d environment, video, audio.

Let’s continue the discussion from the previous post, where I observed recent transmediale, in particular, its last panel ‘Confronting Social Cybernetics’ that revisited Marshall McLuhan’s legacy and catalysed transmediale’s self-criticality. As mentioned in the post, one participant from the audience suggested to look for alternatives for the discussion, and drew attention to the activity of ‘doing.’ In this respect, there are two truths. As moderator Baruch Gottlieb noted – the festival is a ‘structure’ and a ‘product’ as such, and at the same time, if we look at the website information, it is clear that the work of the whole transmediale collective is enormous research and through that – translation.  So, if ‘doing’ is interpreted as aesthetics, discussion – as translation,  how to compare aesthetics and translation?

The meaning of aesthetics is diverse. Aesthetics can characterise any thing, it can be immediately related to art, but let’s ignore this and apply a more theoretical parameter for a start – aesthetics as opposite in nature to activity of translation. The difference is that ‘translation’ is considered transparent – it draws attention to something else such as knowledge; but we call something ‘aesthetics’ when it has intrinsic value of reality within itself. Even though translation can be thought to be minor, it is obviously very demanded. Often it is important that aesthetics is translated or discussed. But if something that is expected to be ‘translation’ and subject matter is aestheticized then its reception can be mixed. For example, professor Dave Harris has devised youtube series – Deleuze for the Desperate to give resources and tips to those students who need to come to grips with the popular Thousand Plateaus by Deleuze and Guattari which is considered difficult by any standard. But the language of Thousand Plateaus, as Harris confirms, is ‘deliberately rambling.’ [1] So on the one hand, aesthetics presents challenge, on the other hand, Deleuze & Guattari insist on experiencing aesthetics rather than clarity/translation. Where is the balance?

tansmediale is translation only to an extent; its quality as translation is absorbed within aesthetics of the whole event, and particular artworks. Art that occupies itself with research and translation prioritise aesthetic rights. During the panel ‘Extracting Hi(stories) of Complicity’ at transmediale 2018, Femke Herregraven was questioned in relation to her work of visual mapping and imagery that pointed to exploitation of natural resources through infrastructures of capital. The question was about where she situated herself between aesthetics and activism, and I think ‘aesthetics’ was used in the sense of beautification. The artist noted that one way of communication is through an article, but artist operates differently, and if images can attract attention then it is considered effective.

The audience comment above also evokes that activism is more closely related to what is considered translation, not aesthetics. If I remember correctly from transmediale 2018 discussions, a comment was made at some stage that aesthetics was not necessarily good, meaning that perhaps it was not necessarily effective. Even though the spirt of transmediale is that of activism I think it is wrong to disconnect aesthetics from activism. A discussion is activism, not because it is a discussion but because it presents itself as an aesthetic form of resistance. It is already the activity of ‘doing.’ In fact, translation and aesthetics are entangled.

Perhaps the distinction between what is considered activism and aesthetics is so strict because the current tendency of activism is focused on the strategies of subversion, confronting and negation as demonstrated by transmediale. The radical spirit for social change needs to be negating (violent, as McLuhan would say) but the classic avant-garde had the capacity to be affirmative in its nature. It has been interesting to follow e-flux collaboration with Boris Groys as they recover materials and previously overlooked histories of avant-garde – just this month  e-flux journal (#88) ‘Russian Cosmism’ has been published. The world-building idea of this classic avant-garde seems to be different from, for example, transmediale. I think excavation of avant-garde is very timely to glean from, and I am convinced that it is effective to apply active aesthetics as world-building.

But it can be also sensed, that there is a need for ‘building.’ As I mentioned in the previous post, during the Confronting Social Cybernetics panel Jonathan Beller deliberately appropriated the ‘negative’ voice which could be seen very much in consistency with transmediales overall tone. But he weakened negativism and perhaps in a much more McLuhanist way highlighted the idea of ‘re-organizing imaginaries’ with the awareness our distributed personhood. And it feels that re-organizing imaginaries is reliant on concept of building (innovating?) rather than destruction. A form of violence as world-building is possibly the only real form of violence. 

 

[1] Dave Harris, Deleuze for the Desperate #1 Introduction, published January 31, 2016, YouTube.