Since the turn of the millennium, protests, meetings, schoolrooms, reading groups and many other social forms have been proposed as artworks or, more ambiguously, as interventions that are somewhere between art and politics. Kim Charnley’s Sociopolitical Aesthetics traces key currents of theory and practice, mapping them against the dominant experience of the last decade: crisis.
Drawing upon leading artists and theorists within this field – including Hito Steyerl, Marina Vishmidt, Art & Language, Gregory Sholette, John Roberts and Dave Beech – Sociopolitical Aesthetics argues for a new interpretation of the relationship between socially-engaged art and neoliberalism. Kim Charnley explores the possibility that neoliberalism has destabilized the art system so that it is no longer able to absorb and neutralize dissent. As a result, the relationship between aesthetics and politics is experienced with fresh urgency and militancy.
Kim Charnley speaks to Pierre d’Alancaisez about the political punditry of Artist Taxi Driver and the political sloganeering of Tim Etchells, the limits of institutional sociality in the work of Tania Bruguera, the various guises of institutional critique, and what these developments owe to the conceptual art practices of the 1970s.
Artists from Kurt Cobain to Amy Winehouse command fascination not only for their work but also for their drug addictions and the manner of their death. Communions is an attempt to understand the role that opiates play in the artistic lives of those who are gripped by addiction.
Channeling hallucinated versions of dead artists and junkies, these fragments access the uncanny allure of shared experience. Elements of speculative fiction, criticism and encrypted auto-biography merge to form a disconcerting portrait of the artist as addict. Neither denunciation nor valorisation, Communions probes the haunting singularity of opiate addiction and its ineradicable influence on art and culture.
Adam Lehrer speaks to Pierre d’Alancaisez about addiction and class, our fetish for the artist flirting with death, communing with his heroes, his experience of the opioid crisis, and the role for art criticism in unraveling all these issues. Lehrer reads a chapter on Darby Crash from Communions.
Today, journalists, legal professionals, activists, and artists challenge the state’s monopoly on investigation and the production of narratives of truth. They probe corruption, human rights violations, environmental crimes, and technological domination. Organisations such as WikiLeaks, Bellingcat, or Forensic Architecture pore over open-source videos and satellite imagery to undertake visual investigations. This combination of diverse fields is what Fuller and Weizman call ‘investigative aesthetics’: the mobilisation of sensibilities associated with art, architecture, and other such practices in order to challenge power.
Investigative Aesthetics draws on theories of knowledge, ecology and technology; evaluates the methods of citizen counter-forensics, micro-history and art. These new practices take place in the studio and the laboratory, the courtroom and the gallery, online and in the streets, as they strive towards the construction of a new common sense.
Matthew Fuller and Eyal Weizman speak to Pierre d’Alancaisez about the logics behind Forensic Architecture and the evidentiary turn: the aesthetics of distributed sensing, the investigative commons, and the condition of hyperaesthesia.
Matthew Fuller is a Professor of Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths, University of London. He is the author of Media Ecologies, and with Andrew Goffey, Evil Media.
Eyal Weizman is the founder and director of Forensic Architecture and Professor of Spatial and Visual Cultures at Goldsmiths, University of London. He is the author of Hollow Land, The Least of All Possible Evils, and Forensic Architecture: Violence at the Threshold of Detectability.
Some fields have an easier time describing themselves than others. “History is the study of past events.” “Biology is the study of living organisms.” But art? Is art a discipline? Is it a practice? Who gets to answer this most fundamental of questions, and why do we prefer not to try? Between Discipline and a Hard Place, written from the perspective of a practising artist, proposes that, against a groundswell of historians, museums and commentators claiming to speak on behalf of art, it is artists alone who may define what art really is.
Between Discipline and a Hard Place is a passionate treatise arguing for a new way of understanding art that forefronts the role of the artist and the importance of inclusion within both the concept of art and the art world.
Alana Jelinek speaks to Pierre d’Alancaisez about a disciplined and disciplinary approach to thinking about art and its value outside the current preoccupation with economic considerations and the great potential of interdisciplinary working.
Alana Jelinek is an artist and a researcher at the University of Hertfordshire.
What is creativity? While our traditional view of creative work might lead us to think of artists as solitary visionaries, the creative process is profoundly influenced by social interactions even when artists work alone.
Hannah Wohl speaks with Pierre d’Alancaisez about Bound by Creativity, her ethnographic study of the New York contemporary art scene that reveals how artists develop conceptions of their distinctive creative visions through experimentation and social interactions and how aesthetic judgment evolves between artist studios, galleries, art fairs, and collectors’ houses.
Crisis? What Crisis? At a time where there are repeated claims of the impending demise of art criticism, The Ends of Art Criticism dispel these myths by arguing that the lack of a single dominant voice in criticism is not, as some believe, a weakness, but a strength, allowing previously marginalised voices and new global and political perspectives to come to the fore.
Patricia Bickers speaks with Pierre d’Alancaisez about her time as the editor of Art Monthly, the changing role of art criticism, the politics of speaking and writing about art, the art school, the relationship between artists and critics, the academicisation of critical discourse, the relationship between art history and criticism, and.. the art of the interview.
Art as an Interface of Law and Justice looks at the way in which the ‘call for justice’ is portrayed through art and presents a wide range of texts from film to theatre to essays and novels to interrogate the law. Such calls may have their positive connotations, but throughout history most have caused annoyance. Art is very well suited to deal with such annoyance, or to provoke it.
Frans-Willem Korsten speaks with Pierre d’Alancaisez about art that attempts to support – or disturb – law in pursuit of justice. He discusses Milo Rau’s The Congo Tribunal, Valeria Luiselli’s novel Lost Children Archive, the practice of Forensic Architecture, and Nicolas Winding Refn’s film Only God Forgives. Through art’s interface, impasses are addressed, new laws are made imaginable, the span of systems of laws is explored, and the differences in what people consider to be just are brought to light.
Frans-Willem Korsten holds the chair in “Literature and Society” at the Erasmus School of Philosophy and works at the Leiden University Centre for the Arts in Society in the Netherlands.
In a world that purports to know more about the future than any before it, why do we still need speculation? Insubstantial speculations – from utopian thinking to high-risk stock gambles – often provoke backlash, even when they prove prophetic. Why does this hypothetical way of thinking generate such controversy?
Gayle Rogers speaks with Pierre d’Alancaisez about the intellectual history of speculation: from the mirror and the watch tower, the Calvinist reformation, the scientific revolution, through Jane Austen, to the founding of the United States, and the shape of contemporary capitalism – with booms, manias, busts, and bubbles along the way. Unraveling these histories and many other disputes, Rogers argues that what has always been at stake in arguments over speculation, and why it so often appears so threatening, is the authority to produce and control knowledge about the future.
Gayle Rogers is professor and chair of English at the University of Pittsburgh.
It is now just over a decade since protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square started Egypt’s chapter in the events of the Arab Spring. Much has been made in western criticism of art and culture’s role in the revolution, but the everyday cultural production of studio artists, graffiti artists, musicians, and writers since has attracted less attention. How have artists responded personally and artistically to the political transformation? What has social role of art been in these periods of transition and uncertainty? What are the aesthetic shifts and stylistic transformations present in the contemporary Egyptian art world?
Caroline Seymour-Jorn speaks with Pierre d’Alancaisez about her many years of research in Cairo that goes beyond the current understandings of creative work solely as a form of resistance or political commentary, providing a more nuanced analysis of creative production in the Arab world. Caroline suggests that young artists like Hany Rashed or The Choir Project have turned their creative focus increasingly inward, to examine issues having to do with personal relationships, belonging and inclusion, and maintaining hope in harsh social, political and economic circumstances.
Caroline Seymour-Jorn is professor of comparative literature and Arabic translation at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and the author of Cultural Criticism in Egyptian Women’s Writing, 2011.
What makes a woman ‘bad’ is commonly linked to certain ‘qualities’ or behaviours seen as morally or socially corrosive, dirty and disgusting. Bad Girls, Dirty Bodies explores the social, sexual and political significance of women who are labelled bad or dirty. Through case studies (including Empress Stah, RubberDoll or Doris La Trine), the book challenges the notion that sexual, slutty, bad, or dirty women are not worth listening to. Gemma Commane speaks to Pierre d’Alancaisez about her study of neo-burlesque, queer performances, and explicit entertainment as sites of power, possibility, and success.
Gemma Commane is Lecturer in Media and Communications at the Birmingham School of Media, Birmingham City University. She is active in research in the fields of media and cultural studies, and gender and sexuality.
A Restless Art How participation won, and why it matters
Published by Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (open access), 2019 ISBN 9781903080207
It is almost twenty years since contemporary art took a ‘participation turn’. Now, just about every museum or theatre company has a participation or engagement department. It is nothing short of orthodoxy that one of art’s core roles is to reach out to audiences beyond art institutions – and paradoxically it is often art institutions that mandate this function. How can we reconcile the somewhat forgotten history – and ongoing practice – of the community arts with the recent rise of participatory art, social practice, or outreach and engagement?
François Matarasso speaks to Pierre d’Alancaisez about his long-term engagement in community art practice, the meanings of participation and cultural democracy, and his proposals for thinking about cultural and artistic participation as a fundamental human right. We talk about the history of the community arts movement in the UK, his influential 1997 paper Use or Ornament, ways of supporting cultural democracy through projects like Fun Palaces, and reaching peak culture.
In Another Aesthetics Is Possible Jennifer Ponce de León examines the roles that art can play in the collective labour of creating and defending another social reality. Focusing on artists and art collectives in Argentina, Mexico, and the United States, Ponce de León shows how experimental practices in the visual, literary, and performing arts have been influenced by and articulated with leftist movements and popular uprisings that have repudiated neoliberal capitalism and its violence. Whether enacting solidarity with Zapatista communities through an alternate reality game or using surrealist street theatre to amplify the more radical strands of Argentina’s human rights movement, these artists fuse their praxis with forms of political mobilization from direct-action tactics to economic resistance. Advancing an innovative transnational and transdisciplinary framework of analysis, Ponce de León proposes a materialist understanding of art and politics that brings to the fore the power of aesthetics to both compose and make visible a world beyond capitalism.
Jennifer Ponce de León speaks with Pierre d’Alancaisez about the counter colonial practice of the artist Fran Ilich, the activist performances of Grupo de Arte Callejero, Etcétera, and International Errorista rooted in the political histories of Latin America as a site of resistance in which the boundaries between art and politics blur.
Jennifer Ponce de León is an assistant professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania and an interdisciplinary scholar whose research focuses on cultural production and antisystemic movements in the Americas since the 1960s.
In 2013, Egyptian authorities detained a migratory stork for espionage. This incident is the focus of Heba Y. Amin’s The General’s Stork, an ongoing project that investigates the politics of aerial surveillance. It is also the subject of the most recent book in the Research/Practice edited by Anthony Downey.
Research/Practice focuses on artistic research and how it contributes to the formation of experimental knowledge systems. Drawing on preliminary material such as diaries, notebooks, audiovisual content, digital and social media, informal communications, and abandoned drafts, the series examines the interdisciplinary research methods that artists employ in their practices. In their often speculative and yet purposeful approach to generating research, what forms of knowledge do artists produce?
Anthony Downey, speaks with Pierre d’Alancaisez about the work of Heba Y. Amin and her exhibition at the Mosaic Rooms which he curated and the epistemic implications of cartographic imaging and computer vision for our understanding and command of territories. Downey also discusses I’m Good at Love, I’m Good at Hate, It’s in Between I Freeze, a volume in the series that follows the artist Michael Rakowitz as he attempts to restage a concert by the singer Leonard Cohen that never took place in the occupied Palestinian territory.
Working Aesthetics is the story of art and work under contemporary capitalism. Whilst labour used to be regarded as an unattractive subject for art, the proximity of work to everyday life has subsequently narrowed the gap between work and art. The artist is no longer considered apart from the economic but is heralded as an example of how to work in neoliberal management textbooks.
With the narrowing of work and art visible in galleries and art discourse today, Working Aesthetics takes a step back to ask why labour has become a valid subject for contemporary art and explores what this means for aesthetic culture today.
Danielle Child speaks with Pierre d’Alancaisez about the rise of the art fabricator embodied by the stories of Lippincott, Inc. and Mike Smith Studio, dematerialised labour of Rimini Protokoll, and the digital afterlives of etoy and the brave new world of NFTs.
The Art of Experiment is a handbook for navigating our troubled and precarious times. In search of new knowledge practices that can help us make the world livable again, this book takes the reader on a journey across time—from the deep past to the unfolding future. Hughes and Armstrong search beyond human knowledge to establish negotiated partnerships with forms of knowledge within the planet itself, examining how we have manipulated these historically through an anthropocentric focus.
Rachel Armstrong and Rolf Hughes speak with Pierre d’Alancaisez about their approach to knowledge-making and organa paradoxa as an apparatus for incorporating the unexpected into research and practices. They also talk about sending cockroaches into space, living Shakespearean bricks, and about the value of experimentation in establishing productive cross-disciplinary collaborations.
Some of the works discussed in the interview are described and illustrated in a Nature article.
Caustic Ophelia from Brick Dialogues is on Bandcamp.
During the middle decades of the twentieth century, the production of America’s consumer culture was centralized in New York to an extent unparalleled in the history of the United States. Every day tens of thousands of writers, editors, artists, performers, technicians, and secretaries made advertisements, produced media content, and designed the shape and feel of the consumer economy. While this centre of creativity has often been portrayed as a smoothly running machine, within these offices many white-collar workers challenged the managers and executives who directed their labours.
Shannan Clark speaks with Pierre d’Alancaisez about the origins of the creative class, their labour union struggles and successes, the role of the Works Projects Administration, and institutions like the Design Laboratory and Consumer Union which foretell the experiences of today’s culture workers.
Has ‘migrant’ become an unshakeable identity for some people? How does this happen and what role does the media play in classifying individuals as ‘migrants’ rather than people? How Media and Conflicts Make Migrants challenges the idea of the ‘migrant’, pointing instead to the array of systems and processes that force this identity on individuals, shaping their interactions with the state and with others.
Kirsten Forkert, Gargi Bhattacharyya, and Janna Graham speak to Pierre d’Alancaisez about their research carried out in the United Kingdom and Italy and examine how media representations construct global conflicts in a climate of changing media habits, widespread mistrust, and fake news.
How to understand propaganda art in the post-truth era — and how to create a new kind of emancipatory propaganda art. Propaganda art—whether a depiction of joyous workers in the style of socialist realism or a film directed by Steve Bannon — delivers a message. But, as Jonas Staal argues, propaganda does not merely make a political point; it aims to construct reality itself. Political regimes have shaped our world according to their interests and ideology; today, popular mass movements push back by constructing other worlds with their own propaganda.
Jonas Staal speaks to Pierre d’Alancaisez about his proposal for a new model of emancipatory propaganda art — one that acknowledges the relationship between art and power and takes both an aesthetic and a political position in the practice of world-making.
Jonas Staal is a scholar of propaganda and a self-described propaganda artist. He is the founder of the artistic and political organization New World Summit (2012–ongoing) and the campaign New Unions (2016–ongoing). With BAK, basis voor actuele kunst, Utrecht, he cofounded the New World Academy (2013–16). His most recent project Collectivize Facebook exploring legal ways to return the ownership of data in its many forms to the collective ownership of the users of software platforms.
The last twenty years have seen a rise in the production, circulation, and criticism of new forms of socially engaged art aimed at achieving social justice and economic equality.
Leigh Claire La Berge, author of Wages Against Artwork, speaks with Pierre d’Alancaisez about what she calls decommodified labour — the slow diminishment of wages alongside an increase in the demands of work. Outlining the ways in which artists relate to work, La Berge examines how artists and organizers create institutions to address their own precarity and why the increasing presence of animals and children in contemporary art points to the turn away from paid labour.
Leigh Claire La Berge is Assistant Professor of English at Borough of Manhattan Community College, City University of New York. She’s the author of Scandals and Abstraction (about which she spoke on an earlier episode), and co-editor of Reading Capitalist Realism. She’s currently working on expanding her project Marx for Cats, initiated with Caroline Woolard and Or Zubalsky.
What is the role and function of contemporary art in economic and political systems that increasingly manage data and affect? Knowledge Beside Itself delves into the peculiar emphasis placed in recent years, curatorially and institutionally, on notions such as “research” and “knowledge production.”
Pierre d’Alancaisez speaks with Tom Holert, author of Knowledge Beside Itself about the history of art’s fraught relationship with knowledge and its opposition to scientific notions of epistemology, as well as about art’s complicity in the “epistemic mammoth” of the knowledge economy.
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