Jill Magid
Gerald Raunig
Stephen Hobbs
Dr Achille Mbembe
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16 february 2006


Gerald Raunig

Thurs, Feb 16 2006 12:37 pm


Welcome to the discussion forum, The value of 'socially-engaged art.'

The discussions will be inititiated by three texts which have been comissioned as responses to this theme. We begin with a text by Gerald Raunig, entitled:

Art and Politics: The great divide

In my central-eurocentric view of the art field, an old figure comes up again and again: the rigid division between art and politics. On the one hand, moody commentaries stress pleasure as the primary aspect of the reception of art; for the field of politics, on the other hand, there is a call for the earnestness of "real rationality". Fun and creativity here, uncreative yet politically efficient political work there. In the case of documenta 10 and 11, for instance, there are recurrent references to the allegedly exaggerated austerity, an overly heavy emphasis on politics and discourse. At the same time, the new documenta director Roger Buergel stresses the "special character of art" "in contrast to … political propaganda". Underlying these kinds of needs for separation, there are often class-specific interests and the mechanisms of the art market, but also a current development that could be described as a paradoxical mix of neo-conservative and neo-liberal tendencies. They are  neo-conservative to the extent that they still or again seem to defend the purity of art against uncontrollable political swarms, to defend an understanding of art that stems from a Bildungsbürgertum that has passed away; they are neo-liberal in the sense that the ideology of freedom of art is transformed in affirming a spectacular exhibition business that has little use for the "earnestness" and the "austerity" of the political.

  On the other hand, in other realms of the art field – such as in the conference Klartext that was organized a year ago in Berlin – a hunger for activism is noted. However, this seems to be more of a hunger for a form of “soft activism” that is about controlling and integrating what used to be the audience, than about radical social criticism and change: here art is supposed to help transform the boisterous multitudes into a manageable group in and around museums. Undifferentiating critics all too quickly equate this tamed “art activism” in the form of community art, participative art and relational aesthetics with certain very different practices of intervention art, communication guerrilla and activist approaches that apply fundamentally different methods. Whereas the former impel identitary and communitary strategies, seeking to redistribute and apportion space, the latter tend to distribute themselves in space without fixing the space as antecedent, stable and hierarchical. When these two completely different policies are blurred, whether out of ignorance or maliciousness, this lays the foundation for carrying out an all-encompassing criticism of every form of activist art, whether it is soft or hard, structure- or machine-like, striating the space or producing it. On the basis of this reduction and confusion, it becomes easy to criticize activist art practices on the whole and revoke a (re-) turn from the process to the object, partly with the rehashed conceptual tools of the aesthetics of the 18th and 19th century (autonomy, beauty, aesthetic experience, etc.), partly with the brute force of the PC hammer: today's political (art) practices are said to be "politically correct" and hence without humor or pleasure.

  Where does this lead, this rigid division into an art that has to be fun and only fun, and politics whose effectiveness is allegedly only reached by earnestly following a straight line to achieve an objective? It leads to a depoliticization of both fields. The rigid division of the fields, setting a border that is as solid and insurmountable as possible, is not only to be understood as a false description, but it also has a normative function in the respective contexts. Politics in the sense of organs of representative democracy have every reason to instrumentalize art for beautification, rather than drawing on the critique of representation; actors in the art field may profit from distinction with a superficial political enrichment of their practices, but then they are generally satisfied with themselves. So there are quite strong tactical reasons for sticking to rigid divisions of political and artistic practices as well as for bashing concrete forms of radical art activism and
 activist art that create overlaps of the political and the aesthetical.

  On the other side there is the pathos of crossing borders, of exodus to the other side, transgression in the sense of a transcendence into another world, analogous to the fantasy of the separation dissolving in something beyond power relations, beyond capitalism, etc. Overcoming the border, eliminating it or simply crossing it may sound seducing at first. Yet the cathartic practice of carnivalesque, Dionysian transgression results in the hangover of integration, and when the Gesamtkunstwerk comes into play, then the total state is not far away.

  Nevertheless, i think it is worth while to take a closer look at overlapping forms of art and activism that overcome simplistic ideas of transcendent transgression. But how could transgression be imagined as both a non-totalitarian and non-transcendental phenomenon, as transgression in the plane of immanence? How could a kind of immanent transgression be imagined, in which masks cover nothing other than more masks, in which transgression is not a matter of a prefigured border separating two identities from one another, nor a matter of destroying that border, but rather of changing its quality?


Ed Young  -

Thurs, Feb 16 2006 4:07 pm




My name is Ed Young, I am an artist currently working and living in   Cape Town, South Africa. I am not really that interested in the sales of artworks but more so in how works operate in the public arena. I do some performances and a lot of things that I regret. I will discuss these at a later stage. First a short biography:




My name is Ed Young, I am an artist currently working and living in Cape Town, South Africa. I am not really that interested in the sales of artworks but more so in how works operate in the public arena. I do some performances and a lot of things that I regret. I will discuss these at a later stage. First a short biography: Biography / Ed Young Ed Young was born in Welkom, South Africa, 1978. He completed his BAFA degree at the Michaelis School of Fine Art in Cape Town, 2001, with distinction in sculpture and studio work and his MFA with distinction at the same institution in 2005. Selected solo exhibitions include the sale of ‘ Bruce Gordon' which was exhibited at the South African National Gallery in Cape Town, March 2003. Bruce Gordon (respected bar-owner) was auctioned of at a charity art auction and donated to the National Gallery, where he was tattooed with the accession number SANG 03/02. Young also exhibited the string quartet ‘ Muse' as a readymade solo exhibition at the Bell-Roberts Gallery in Cape Town, September 2003. Other Solo shows include Asshole at the Bell-Roberts Gallery in Cape Town and Storm at the NSA in Durban, 2004. Exhibitions include the 24/7 residency programme at the Johannesburg Art Gallery, August 2003, Rencontres Internationales Paris/Berlin 2003 and 2005, Grasduinen 1 with S.M.A.K. in Belgium 2004 and a number of participations in the Flanders International Film Festival. Other exhibitions include T1 – The Pantagruel Syndrome , Torino and Videobrasil 2005. He teaches part time in Discourse of Art and Videography at the Michaelis School of Fine art, Cape Town. In response to Gerald Raunig's text I wish to offer the following riposte, currently taking the form of an adaptation from the finale of the film ‘Team America' by Trey Parker.

“[Artists are] dicks! We're reckless, arrogant, stupid dicks! And the [philosophers and art theoreticians from Vienna, and critics and independent curators]!.. are pussies. And [Documenta]!.. is an asshole. Pussies don't like dicks!.. because pussies get fucked by dicks. But dicks also fuck assholes. Assholes who just want to shit on everything. Pussies may think they can deal with assholes their way, but the only thing that can fuck an asshole... is a dick... with some balls. The problem with dicks is that sometimes they fuck too much, or fuck when it isn't appropriate,...

...and it takes a pussy to show 'em that. But sometimes pussies get so full of shit that they become assholes themselves. Because pussies are only an inch and a half away from assholes. I don't know much in this... crazy, crazy world, but I do know that if you don't let us fuck this asshole, we are gonna have our dicks and our pussies!... all covered in shit.” There is a problem when one speaks of ‘socially-engaged' art. And it is the fact that these discussions always tends to be political: a necessary critique of current affairs that promotes advance. But we tend to ignore important multiple aspects of such a work/discussion. That when we are labeled “Assholes” there is a current trend of disregarding alternative structures that is also socially engaging but not [yet] political. It is here where my interests lie. And where I think we can find the more interesting aspects of such work. And I was just kidding about Documenta. I'd love to be invited. I am signing off for now as I am in a dire need of a bath. I smell like a dying small furry animal and am therefore not very socially-engaging… 

gregg smith  - view profile

Thurs, Feb 16 2006 6:28 pm

Thankyou Ed. It seems like this discussion has begun at top speed. While Ed is bathing I would like to introduce New York based artist, Jill Magid. We are having some technical problems in getting Jill onto the group so I will post her message in the meantime.

  My name is Jill Magid and I am an artist presently based in New York City.

  In my work I seek intimate relationships with impersonal structures, and prepare for our seduction.

  To be seduced is to challenge the other to be seduced in turn. Seduction is an engagement; it is neither a representation, nor an interpretation. It is a cycle, to be played back and forth, against an end. Once seduced, a system moves from an exercise of power to a form of exchange.

  Systems and technologies are created based on need, real or imaginary. I am interested in the appearance of this need, and how a system or technology is invented and inserted to deal with it. My attraction to new technologies is their ability to highlight what we think we need now, and their impossible task to full this:

  Surveillance systems for the feeling or appearance of security; diamonds from human cremains to preserve a life and a love; systems of identification to locate a subject(ivity).

  A system is slowed down when it is engaged on a personal level. This is a system's loose end, and its open invitation. The challenge to its promise is built in. I choose to take this up.

  This being said, I do not think the work I make changes the system at its infrastructure, but at the level of its appearances. I use the system, via of its latent qualities, for an intimate and poetic experience, in an overlap of my needs and its promises.

  My initial encounters with public systems of surveillance appeared as interventions. I made performances using localized CCTV systems, without their authorization, inserting myself into them by overriding their signals with my own.  I used the system to reconstruct my representation, for myself and for those in the space of the action. ( www.jillmagid.net/Lobby7.htm )

  My desire grew for the system to respond. I wanted to instigate seduction, a game to be played out between us.

  An institution is a body. I imagine it as a singular body or being, and this is always personal. Cities are the same. Each institution, each city, has a personality with qualities, character traits and moods. I want to have a relationship with this body. For me it's a sensual experience. I cannot relate to an institution in general terms. I make it a person or a lover in my mind and relate to its body with my own.

  I am attracted to the disproportionate scale of my body to their body, and provoked by the exclusive barrier that divides us: their closed system verses my position outside of it. I look for a way to cross over, to get incorporated, to shrink them down to my size. I like the fact that we form a connection, and that our connection is inherently fragile.

  The systems I choose to work with function at a distance, with a wide-angle perspective, equalizing everyone and erasing the individual. I seek the potential softness and intimacy of their technologies, the fallacy of their omniscient point of view, the ways in which they hold memory (yet often cease to remember), their engrained position in society (the cause of their invisibility), their authority, their apparent intangibility- and, with all of this, their potential reversibility.

  I enter the system in a role I have invented: as Head Security Ornamentation Professional of System Azure ( www.systemazure.com ) in the ornamentation of police headquarters, as the subject of Log #2887 in the Liverpool Police department's Evidence Locker, as the Consultant for Personal Data at Dutch General Intelligence and Security Service.

  …I recognize my image as a sign and change my image in order to signify…

  This is a social engagement.

  It is a beautiful thing when a tool transcends its assigned function. The expectation of the tool creates the ground for its subversion, and in doing so, the symbolic order or ‘truth' of the system is permanently exposed.

  As for the presentation of this experience in the context of art, the viewer is a witness. and a potential player. But if the viewer wants to play he or she must start a new game. I do not give them the game to play, but distill my game for them to see.
  If the viewer is asked to engage, it is to start a new seduction (ex. As the Benefactor in Auto Portrait Pending www.jillmagid.net/AutoPortriat.htm ).

  To make my projects realities, they often must be funded. The art world, when considered as a commercial space, is limiting if the artwork is not something inherently sellable- if I am not creating representations but enacting social engagements. The contract (real or implied) for another to engage with me is a material of that work; i.e. work made with permission is a condition of the work. Perhaps this can be true of money. I am attempting to develop this in my practice, to design the exchange of money as a material of the work, so that ‘support' is not blind, but produces a meaning of its own. Perhaps in a seduction, the exchange of money can be a way to raise the stakes.

  I realize this can backfire.

  When the system or institution engages with me- if it furthermore exchanges with me, it makes itself accountable for what happens between us.

  Public funding should support social engagements that propose new relations, and thus new meanings, within existing social and public systems of authority. This includes their subversion.