11 theses on art and politics #4

dth14. There is good reason to consider the art object in the widest sense, as a mode of containment. This is true if we are talking of a literary work, graffiti on a wall, or a state monument – each can be a provocation, but each allusion to ‘politics’ can be overtaken by the real.

Politics can be contained in various forms – Berlin ‘walled’, Rushdie burned, China Wendered. Mere representation as representation (vertreten/darstellung) appears as a way of containng/erasing politics. The ‘political’ in art is a neutralization. This is more often than not a vote for order, for the status quo. Radical art must be a process, not a thing – a thing, even where critical, is compatible with wage slavery.

Even films are things. The pop promo is as much conceptual art as commercial format designed to sell records and jingles. A distraction machine even when, perhaps most often when, it is explicitly ‘political. The sensational fascination of the ‘Rage Against the Machine’ is complicit even as it enacts opposition. The overtly political is a release valve and a containment – at best a fable illustrating values that are wholly other than those its existence (and its audience) puts into play. The antithesis of political creativity, the committed artist is no better than a cornered ant. (Ants, I note, cannot pollinate flowers – there is no possible stand-in for the bees if they die out. Why cannot ants pollinate – something to do with how plants have stems…)

That the political artist offers conflict in a way that deflects conflict is not a new point. But here we do get to the issue of architect and intention. And this is not even yet to speak of those who shun this complicity in a higher-minded aspiration that belongs to art ‘as such’. Still more hygienic, conceptual art takes a distance from traditional forms (painting, sculpture) but is nevertheless governed by the same old ‘atmosphere’ that insists on hygiene – that art should remain artistic. Conceptual politics would also distance itself from sculpture, and elections, but still be caught in the logic of representation. Politics as everyday art of life trades upon sensation and eschews depth (party, programme, personality) and trends towards temporary and surface effects.


About john hutnyk

Writer on culture, cities, diaspora, history, film, prisons, colonialism, education, Marxism. Studied and taught in Australia at Deakin and Melbourne Universities; and in the UK in Manchester University’s Institute for Creative and Cultural Research; before moving to Goldsmiths in 1998, and becoming Academic Director of the Centre for Cultural Studies in 2004-2014. Has held visiting researcher posts in Germany at the South Asia Institute and Institute fur Ethnologie at Heidelberg University, and Visiting Professor posts in InterCultural Studies at Nagoya City University Japan, Zeppelin University and Hamburg University, Germany, Sociology at Mimar Sinan University, Istanbul, Turkey and at the Graduate institute for Social Research and Cultural Studies, National Chiao Tung University, Taiwan. Immediate past adjunct Professor of RMIT University, Melbourne and GIAN Visiting Professor Jadavpur Uni Kolkata.
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2 Responses to 11 theses on art and politics #4

  1. Pingback: Eleven theses on art and politics, #10 & #11 (not the last) « trinketization

  2. What is radical art? Best answers on an Art as a way to intervene and mediate in heated social situations are found in a book called “Cultural Activism Today, The Art of Over-Identification” (BAVO, editors)

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