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Re: <nettime> Diminishing Freedoms
Lennaart van Oldenborgh on Thu, 9 Feb 2006 15:02:54 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> Diminishing Freedoms

Brian Holmes wrote:

>  But what's mainly lacking, from my viewpoint, are not only
>audacious direct action stunts, and not only (though this is of course more
>important) forms of political engagement that can reach huge numbers of
>participants and give them an effective way to help change society. 
>What's also
>missing are artworks that cut through the trendy flaky fashions, and 
>go beyond the
>old modernist definitions of art for art's sake, to touch the core 
>of the human
>quandry and help you transform your self and your relation to the others, at a
>moment when things go on getting worse and worse and worse.

recently i came across someone writing, a propos journalists aspiring to be
novelists, that "good literature tends to benefit from ambiguity, whereas good
journalism benefits from clarity" (i can't remember where, sorry i'm somtimes
sloppy with my sources). I think you could say something similar about art and
activism - they can benefit from eachother but ultimately they work in different
registers, even if we accept that art is a fluid enough term to be able to coopt
activism to the extent that many activist groups regularly do gallery exhibitions.
Another way of saying "artworks that cut through the trendy flaky fashions" is
simply "good art" which isn't necessarily always aligned with activism -
infuriatingly, some blatantly commercial artists produce some of the best art,
according to this definition. Unfortunately it looks like good art is easily
canonised or commercialised, but less easily instrumentalised.

it's always difficult to come up with genuinely good and relevant ideas, whether
that's in art or activism, but at least in the arts my impression at the moment is
that the most interesting work is the work that comes from regions where there is
a real urgency about how to shape the future (the Middle East and Latin America
mostly). It is likely that these artists will exist primarily on the financial
support of western institutions and collectors, but that does not mean that they
will be unable to "touch the core of the human quandary" in a meaningful way.

one more thing about the growing Split between art and activism: this might not
just be a result of hardening attitudes in the activist camp. Over the the last 10
- 15 years, the institutional and commercial artworlds have embraced the media
arts, and found ways - through the principle of editioning - to make previously
problematic, "ephemeral" media like video and installations economically viable. 
Many media artists used to be close to the activist camp partly because
commercially they had nothing to lose anyway, but the temptation to aim for big
sales to rich institutions and collectors (often hi-tech entrepeneurs; Mr Norton
of Norton antivirus is a huge collector) is now very real.


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