Abstract The predominance of religiously (or ethnically) justified violence can be accounted for by the very fact that we live in an era that perceives itself as post‐ideological. Since great public causes can no longer be used to incite mass violence, that is, since our hegemonic ideology calls on us to enjoy life and to realise our Selves, it is difficult for the majority to overcome their revulsion at torturing and killing another human being. The majority would need to be ‘anaesthetised’ against their elementary sensitivity to the suffering of others in order to do this. Religious ideologists usually claim that religion makes some otherwise bad people do some good things; from today’s experience, one should give more weight to Steven Weinreich’s claim that, while without religion good people would do good things and bad people bad things, only religion can make good people do bad things.
Abstract This article is a brief meditation on ‘visions’ of art: do we mean concepts, ideas, manifestos concerned with art, or some ineffable visionary nature of art? Much art, past and present, speaks of bodily needs, of everyday angst, the horrors of war and a relentless history of traumas. Our capacity to respond to the world that we presently inhabit has become inured to shock, our empathy mediated by the simulacra of consumption. We are now witness to the delirium of the collapse of the market and the cynical manoeuvres of democratic governance. What can art do to restore trust in humanity? Is that the visionary role required of it by the future?
Abstract In December 2008 Muntadar al‐Zaidi, an Iraqi journalist, paved the way for anything parked in a gallery space to be regarded as ‘the work of art in the age of shoe‐throwing’. However advisable, a tendency to challenge global ambitions with something all‐encompassing may well be diagnosed as psycho‐mimetic reciprocation. To avoid this, the author uses fragmentation as a tool to confront globalisation, which is why his article consists of relatively short fragments. In countries where the power of corporate capital has reached an imperial state, ‘democracy’ is an empty canister set to be filled with oil. To restore it to the status of political utopia, one needs to understand that autonomous discursive fields and aesthetic activities no longer exist. Everything, including art, has to be embedded into some system much larger than itself. Yet, there should be negative gestures as well, gestures capable of self‐negation in the name of utopia. Any text describes the indescribable inasmuch as it refers to some elusive textual entity, a ‘deferred object’ that escapes description identical to such an entity. The latter is often mistaken for something else, eg, art or democracy. Any effort to establish a one‐to‐one correspondence between ‘deferred objects’ and their descriptions or definitions is what Adorno attributes to identitarian thinking, and Derrida to logocentrism. Finally, globalisation is a vehicle that spreads ‘insteads’ – idiocy instead of idiosyncrasy, glamour instead of amour (where ‘gl’ is short for glossy). Glossy love, the name of the promised land.
Abstract Before the publication of Maria Gough’s (2005) and Christina Kiaer’s (2005) work on 1920s Soviet Productivism, Productivism had been deemed to have ‘not got off the drawing board’. Gough, in particular, shows this to be very short‐sighted; the presence of Productivists in the Soviet factory system was greater than imagined. Drawing on this new research, and Boris Arvatov’s Kunst und Produktion (1926), the article examines the place (and limits) of the factory in Productivism’s model of the revolutionary transformation of art and labour. In turn, the revival of Productivist language in recent cultural and political writing on the new immaterial economy is assessed. In what ways does this ‘vitalist’ Productivism – as the author calls it – delimit or transform the Productivist legacy?
Abstract Autonomist theory is arguably the most prominent orientation in contemporary social movements aiming beyond capitalism. However, certain tendencies within this stream of radical theory suffer from insuperable antinomies, particularly with regard to its operative conceptions of power, the state and anti‐capitalist agency. Critical clarity concerning theoretical responses to practical impasses is a precondition for a collective passage beyond globalised class society. Reflection on the possible emancipatory roles of art makes sense only within a global historical analysis. This article traces autonomism from splits within the anti‐Stalinist radical left after 1945, in the work of Cornelius Castoriadis and Guy Debord, to one of its most influential versions today, that of John Holloway. Holloway’s Zapatista‐inspired and Adorno‐inflected notion of ‘non‐instrumental revolution’ is analysed and assessed.
Abstract ‘Art’ is a modern concept, limited in time and space. Its role has been taken over by the ‘artworld’, which thrives in our era of globalisation. Is YouTube today a more creative space than the artworld? Should we be concerned? Rasheed Araeen calls for a ‘true universalism’ to replace the fragmented orientations of creative work in the recent past. What would this mean as an alternative to the artworld? What strategy of creative work, in theory as well as art, could produce a social field that defies boundaries, real and imagined? What would a radical, cosmopolitan space look like that understood its task as refusing to align itself with a particular political position (even a ‘progressive’ position)?
Abstract This article investigates the politics of contemporary art photography, specifically the work of those photographers who produce characteristically large images (eg, Edward Burtynsky, Andreas Gursky, Jeff Wall). In a context in which the politics of the aesthetic has been repeatedly challenged, these photographers carve out a new political space by employing both an older notion of the aesthetic and newer ideas of activist art beyond aesthetics. The photo‐image forms a ubiquitous part of social life as a result of the popular use of digital imaging. Instead of trying to separate themselves from these images either in form or content, contemporary art photography makes use of the indexical power of photos while reframing and redefining them through their physical size. These big pictures constitute powerful attempts to map the big picture – to render visible those zones where power moves and possibilities are both generated and shut down.
Abstract If means of communication are electronic, can painting be transmitted? If painting’s appearance is entirely available to the surface and timing of film, it can be photographed, and screened. But Lyotard proposes qualities in painting that present an alternative resource for visualisation, to be valued for their isolation from industrialised imaging. He enquires about the significant experience of painting’s visuality that is beyond photo‐visibility, but nevertheless communicable. Clement Greenberg finds the essence of painting’s communication lies in event‐full encounter with the generic specificity of painting itself, characterised by reciprocity of ‘at‐onceness’, that parallels the complex immediacy of visual experience in modernity. Roberts suggests another possibility: that the model of autonomy emerging from the consumption of painting may be communicated to other models of productive labour. This article accepts Roberts’s ethical questions about transmitting the conception of the painter’s ‘skilled hand’, but emphasises the social dimension of the opticality of painting’s surface.
Abstract Playing the game with an institutional travesty is Marina Abramović’s strategy in Role Exchange (1974). The performance consisted of role exchange with a prostitute and was executed in two institutions: De Appel Gallery and the red light district in Amsterdam. It addresses questions of boundaries of the artwork, its status as the visual art object, the role of the art‐trade and the problematic of authorship. In Role Exchange transgression between the homogenous space of the gallery and the heterogeneous, volatile space of the red light district is a move against the artworld and its mechanisms of trading. This work is also aimed against the artwork itself as an active factor in corroborating with this system of trading. By intermingling the sphere of everyday life with the autonomous realms of galleries, this piece plays with the possibility of contaminating the sterile museum world with the facts of life, and the artworld with everyday experience.
Abstract Twenty‐first century media are integral to the making, dissemination and business of art. They are also the infrastructure of neoliberal globalisation. Artists and cultural activists can no longer ignore the technical workings of network media, nor how they are constructed politically in global and national policy forums. This article analyses the loss of integral governance as a result of the rise of neoliberalism, the increased exclusion of the developing world from decision‐making processes and the emergence of technical norms which threaten to constrain creative and social activity aimed at anything other than profit. It argues that we already have models for intervening in these processes at local and global levels, proposing that these are no longer tactical but strategic options for artistic practice. It concludes with a brief consideration of the largest remaining challenge: the social and environmental impact of new media technologies, and recommends artists temper their concern for content with attention to the vehicles of their art.
Abstract This article focuses on the intimate relationship between two concepts, revolution and critique, arguing that the understanding of radical critique within social and aesthetic theory was directly inspired by the concept of revolution – revolution as a libertarian utopia that links critical thought with its epoch. However, despite its previous role as the most important concept of modern social life, politics and critical thought, in today’s post‐political society, in which radical social change is not imaginable, ‘revolution’ seems to have become an obsolete idea. Today the concept of critique seems to be locked into and de‐valued in a post‐political paradigm, which tends to collapse the virtual aspect of politics and critique into the actual. Against this background, the article takes issue with critique as a paradoxical concept, a virtual ‘problem’ that can be actualised in different conceptions or ‘solutions’ but can never be reduced to them, an event that cannot fully actualise itself in a final form.
Abstract The Freee Collective have written a manifesto entitled ‘The New Futurist Manifesto’ which uses the original Futurist manifesto as a template. Freee have updated the manifesto simply by changing the odd word here and there and sometimes by adding whole sections to change the meaning and politics of the original to suit a radical critique of the current world order. The manifesto was launched at the ICA exactly 100 years after the original. It starts with a history and theory of manifestos and leads from there to a series of specific demands that are timely and point to a better future – or perhaps a better futurism! ‘All art must take sides!’ it says, ‘Protest is more beautiful than the return to beauty in art’, and ‘The correct response to public art is anger!’
Abstract In the last decade or so we have seen a series of incremental shifts from object‐based to context‐based art practices and, more recently, to artworks that primarily utilise forms of collaboration and participation – or, so‐called socially engaged artworks. A significant factor in the latter practices has been the emergence of the artist as a quasi‐ or pseudo‐ethnographer. Such developments, whilst not necessarily new, have nonetheless further problematised critical reaction to collaborative practices, involving as they do a series of ethical quandaries when it comes to considering how communities are co‐opted, represented and, in some instances, exploited in the name of making art. The overall discussion will suggest that the aesthetics involved in the expanded field of pseudo‐ethnographic collaborative art practices cannot be divorced from ethics, nor can they necessarily be resolved in relation to ethics. In more specific terms, the article will outline the critical debates thus far and suggest that we have to rethink the potential to be had in developing an ethics of engagement in relation to collaborative art practices and the return of the pseudo‐ethnographer.
Abstract Politics of memory are absolutely crucial to rethinking the conditions of the contemporary. Returning to specific histories of the ‘avant‐garde’ remains problematic, however, for it still leaves open the questions of which histories or even whose histories serve as the font for ‘legitimate’ critique, and thus whose ‘avant‐garde’? Are there other politics of memory to consider beyond these ubiquitous conceptual frames? This article follows the lead of a number of artists who have remobilised different cultural histories as a font for contemporary collective action. These are histories of dissident aesthetics and potentials that do not belong to the ‘avant‐garde’, but instead stem from Indigenous rebellion in colonial Australia (in Tom Nicholson’s marches) and critiques developed in late Communist Europe (Lia Perjovschi’s workshops). Drawn together, these retracings can advance our knowledge of still‐marginalised histories, as was Third Text’s original brief back in the 1980s, while opening up prospects for a truly global art history emerging from local collective memories.
Abstract This article lays bare an unusual underlying relationship between modernity and art or literature in the West by elucidating the sequential relationship between the premodern and the modern in the West as scripted by Descartes. Modernity rejected the premodern and the rejected is recalled and preserved by art and literature. This formula, when it travelled to societies like India through colonialism, met with mixed results as there remained the large premodern social reality. In this sequential relationship the premodern at times interrogated the modern. Creativity in these societies is to be found not only in art and literature but also in politics. This is illustrated by analysing how Swami Vivekananda chose saffron dress and wandering; Sri Aurobindo departed from this and selected white and seclusion; subsequently, Mahatma Gandhi chose wandering from Vivekananda and white from Aurobindo. The article concludes by pointing out how Descartes simultaneously decided to leave the past and enter into modernity whereas Ambedkar tokk nearly three decades between the decision to leave Hinduism and convert to Buddhism.
Abstract The project of Third Text – as a critical voice of the Third World avant‐garde – along with the whole process of globalisation, is complicit in an emerging neo‐modernity. However, it is a mistake to conflate this emerging neo‐modernity with the old Eurocentric modernity, as if nothing has changed. If, for example, our task was once to root out Eurocentrism, now, like the provincialist bind that once shadowed non‐European modernists, it is irrelevant. It has no oxygen because it is an impediment to the emergent globalising discourse of modernity. What is needed is a critical reassessment of modernity and modernism that recognises the origins and continuing relevance of their globalising discourses in local arenas around the globe. This essay addresses these issues in the light of one such local arena, the art from the Western Desert Aboriginal communities of Australia that since the early 1970s has been marketed through their company Papunya Tula Arts.
Abstract Sifting through images of bones and brooms linked to the landscape and conceptualisation of a desert museum in Rajasthan, this article reflects on what can be learned through material culture in strengthening the depleted imaginaries of contemporary art practice. Calling attention to the residues of knowledge available from marginalised communities in India – bone‐collectors, broom‐makers and ‘de‐notified’ tribes – the author makes a case for renewing the ecological bases of art and culture through the creation of a new corporeality and translation of traditional modes of knowledge.
Abstract A shift of historic proportions has started to take shape in the Americas with the election of Barack Obama as President of the US in 2008. Revealingly, many of the measures Obama has begun to implement are based on ideas originally supported by Third Text over the last thirty years. It is perhaps not surprising that the most iconic image over the last half‐century in the US is Shepard Fairey’s 2008 poster HOPE, which features a famous almost Che‐like portrait of Obama, now in the National Portrait Gallery, even as the poster was most commonly seen along with graffiti in the streets during the election. Similarly, there is another artist who gained new significance in the US recently: Theodore A Harris, whose anti‐imperialist collages in the tradition of John Heartfield present searing critiques of US government policies both at home and abroad. Both artists provide potential clues for glimpsing the future.
Abstract Through the lens of two films by the Swiss film‐maker Jean‐Luc Godard, Ici et ailleurs (1970–1974) and Notre musique (2004), in which he addresses the Palestine Question, the article sketches out the discursive shifts in geopolitical engagement from the French movement of Third Worldism to current cultural wars and interventionism. In the late 1960s and early 1970s artists, writers, journalists and film‐makers produced works speaking for and about revolutionary struggles in the Third World. When Third Worldism was dismissed as a sort of aberration of decadent Socialism that threatened people’s rights, a new de‐ideologised form of emancipation of the people of the Third World called for the imperative to safeguard their human rights. This led to new figures of alterity in the 1980s and 1990s, the ‘suffering other’ that needs to be rescued and to the post‐colonial ‘subaltern’ demanding restitution, presupposing that visibility would follow emancipation. For Godard, contemporary righteous cultural (and actual) wars stand against a ‘sky red with explosions and restored ruins, still in flames, purporting the false unity of a culturalised past as the condition of possibility of a present of ‘coexistence’.
Abstract The paired projects Land without Earth and Corporeal Memory (1999–2000) took place along the Israeli–Lebanese and Israeli–Syrian border zones and focused on border lines, territory, border crossing and corporeal memory. Juxtaposing the situation of body and land, when both are affected and damaged by a state of emergency, Civic Performance Art process concentrated on ways of making present the absence – of stolen earth and of amputated body parts. At stake in the projects was a representation of exposure, an essential part of a state of emergency, as something which becomes visible through the invisible, the lack or disappearance of what had been once a whole, a body. The discussion reappraises Agamben’s concepts of ‘state of emergency’, ‘homo sacer’ and ‘sovereign power’ in the local context of bio‐political entities in the Middle East, and takes these notions into the dramatised and material reality of land and body via the Hebrew‐based triad ‘blood–man–earth’ (dam–adam–adama).
Abstract This article explores the extent to which ecological awareness and the specific concerns of environmental sustainability are manifest in the critical writings of artists and curators in the early 1970s. Many of the issues later identified by theorists of sustainability, such as consideration of social equality and genuine democracy, as well as the recognition that quality of life is not just a matter of monetary income, were extensively explored in the radical art of the period. While Gustav Metzger was writing about the ethical issues raised by technological innovation, on the other side of the Iron Curtain curator Laszló Beke focused on the overproduction of art objects and Slovak artist Rudolf Sikora published the Limits of Growth (1972) in samizdat. These prophetic art texts are now ripe for rediscovery in the context of current attempts to grapple with the social and ecological consequences of neoliberal globalisation and its crisis.
Abstract In 1982, one of Germany’s most important postwar artists, Joseph Beuys, proposed the planting of 7000 oak trees as ‘a sculpture referring to peoples’ life and their everyday work’. Beuys’s 7000 Oaks is one of the most celebrated artworks in the history of the avant‐garde, but did it achieve what it aimed for? How much tree planting has occurred in the world as a result of this work, except for ceremonial ‘planting’ in the cities of New York, Sydney and Oslo? If this work has not become ‘a regenerative activity’, as Beuys himself wanted in ‘peoples’ life [and] their everyday work’, should not it be considered a failure? Is this not the fate of all art, as measured against the dynamics of everyday creativity? While Beuys’s work has remained contained in the Museum, Wangari Maathai’s tree planting, first begun seven years earlier in Kenya in 1976, has become a global movement and millions of trees have since been planted – and are still being planted every day – all over the world. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her extraordinary achievement.
Abstract Is the history of humanity also not a history of violence, what Walter Benjamin calls the barbarism of civilisation? Our six thousand or so years of civilisation have given us tremendous knowledge, of ourselves, of the world around us and of the cosmos. We are now much more knowledgeable and can penetrate the invisible space of the universe. But we are often unable to resolve even small disagreements or disputes among ourselves without resort to confrontation leading to all kinds of violence. Art today is also trapped in the facile idea of confrontation, which merely produces media scandals where its function is merely to provide the artist with success in the art market. This inflates the artist’s narcissistic ego further and turns him or her into a celebrity, providing spectacular entertainment for the public but without any significant critical or social function. This manifesto proposes that artists should stop playing the silly games of neo‐Dada confrontation. Artists should instead focus their imagination on what is in life, to enhance not only their own creative potential but also the collective life of earth’s inhabitants. The world today is facing enormous violence and this will increase in the twenty‐first century as the Earth’s resources shrink due to the stupidity of the life humans have been pursuing. Art can and should strive for an alternative that is not only aesthetically affirmative and productive but also beneficial to all forms of life on our planet. We humans are the gift of mother Earth, and it is now our duty as its guardians to protect the earth from impending disaster.
Third Text is published in print and online by Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.