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<nettime> Theseus' Ship
Janos Sugar on Tue, 19 Mar 2013 06:34:04 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Theseus' Ship

   Theseus' Ship

   Elements of the utopias written in Atlantis may be found in the
   present, but the understanding from shore of boats re-constructed on
   the high seas is exclusively genetic. (Johan Sjerpstra)
   The capitalist system (representative democracy based on a market
   economy) has become incapable of functioning in its present form.  For
   one thing we have reached the natural limits of growth, and now produce
   predominantly trash and environmental damage.  Furthermore we have
   developed technological avenues for manipulation that have evolved into
   a subtle, complex, and convergent system that has the capacity to take
   economies, finance, and social structures in entirely unrealistic
   directions. This has all happened in the name of specialization that
   arose in the scientific revolution of the 17th century and then the
   Enlightenment, discarding universal modes of thought perceived as
   clumsy and an obstacle to development. Secularized specialization
   naturally gave rise to tremendous scientific and technological
   development from the 19th century to our day, one that could never have
   been envisioned in an earlier era - but it has also brought catastrophe
   and a string of societal tragedies.
   With the rise of autonomous art in the 19th century after the wane of
   its religious/political function, gradually the expectation of realism
   and the grand narrative also fell away, concurrent with the
   proliferation of visual media. This was the beginning of a self-driving
   process, borrowing the accumulative and growth-oriented logic of
   capitalism, that built a system of institutions that, in addition to
   commercial activities, support art's own self-reflexive research. This
   clearly leads all the way from modernist concepts of freedom to
   contemporary art's notion of total competence. Now This institutional
   structure is being reshaped all the world over in a
   populist/demagogical vein, in the name of the  so-called creative
   During the Cold War the main message of the culture was demonstrating
   freedom, and art has taken this freedom, of course, in new directions,
   like medial/social/political/global awareness. The Cold War is over,
   the crisis is here, and the ideology of openness is getting to be
   replaced by control. In politics there is a change in general attitude
   toward art/culture: politicians realize its importance, but they
   misunderstand it at the very same time. They simply want more control
   over the influential creative class, and therefore envision a creative
   industry, which, like the other important sectors of a country's
   economy (like military, energy) has to be able to be governed, allowing
   play on its different registers.
   With the wane of institutions of overinterpretative mediation, the
   ability of the system to resolve problems is also weakened. Within the
   exceptionally subtle and effective distribution of labor, the function
   of art has come to represent the other who stirs us to think, and
   offering non-violent, thought-based approaches, and solutions based on
   creative, independent, lateral thinking. Art works through
   over-interpretation - the infrastructure (institutional framework) that
   aids understanding - and prepares us for the encounter with the other,
   and for solving problems we cannot yet know. With its new autonomy, art
   became a place for learning about the encounter with the new, a place
   where, in an environment that is simpler than reality, we may encounter
   something unknown and experience the road from non-understanding to
   understanding. During this journey we fortify ourselves with learned
   ways of understanding and interpretation, and this is inevitably
   critical process.
   The critical competence of art is questioned now by populists
   everywhere, in many local dialects. Art is the last refuge of free
   speech, which must be carefully guarded and preserved above all.
   Solutions for future problems can be found only if we keep watch over
   this freedom.

   Since modern art is also built on the principles of capitalism
   (accumulation and growth), what will happen if the underlying system -
   capitalism - is transformed?

   What other models can we imagine?

   János Sugár

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