Brian Holmes on Wed, 23 Jul 2008 00:24:17 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover

50 Ways To Leave Your Lover,
Or, let's find a completely new art criticism

For most of the twentieth century, art was judged with respect to the 
previously existing state of the medium. What mattered was the kind of 
rupture it made, the unexpected formal or semiotic elements that it 
brought into play, the way it displaced the conventions of the genre or 
the tradition. The prize at the end of the evaluative process was a 
different sense of what art could be, a new realm of possibility for the 
aesthetic. Let's take it as axiomatic that all that has changed, 

The backdrop against which art stands out now is a particular state of 
society. What an installation, a performance, a concept or a mediated 
representation can do with its formal, affective and semiotic means is 
to mark out a possible or effective shift with respect to the laws, the 
customs, the measures, the mores, the technical and organizational 
devices that define how we must behave and how we can relate to each 
other at a given time and in a given place. What you look for in art is 
a different way to live, a fresh chance at coexistence. Anything less is 
just the seduction of novelty - the hedonism of insignificance.

If that's the case (if the axiom really holds), then a number of 
fascinating questions arise - for the artist, of course, but also for 
the critic. Where the critic is concerned, one good question is this: 
How do you address yourself to artists or publics or potential peers 
across the dividing lines that separate entire societies? How do you 
evaluate what counts as a positive or at least a promising change in the 
existing balance of a foreign culture?

I'm sure you immediately see how difficult this is. Already in the past, 
it was hard enough to say that a particular aesthetic tradition and a 
particular state of the medium defined the leading edge, the point at 
which a rupture became interesting. Yet still there were times when all 
the painters seemed to flock to Rome, then later to Paris, then later to 
New York City; and so through the sheer aggregation of techniques and 
styles, the fiction of a leading edge could be maintained, at least by 
some. But in the face of a simultaneous splintering and decline of what 
used to be called "the West," and a correlative rise of some of "the 
Rest," who could seriously say that certain local, national or regional 
laws, customs, measures, mores and technical or organizational devices 
are really the most interesting ones to transgress or even break into 
pieces, in hopes of a better way of being? Or to be even cruder about 
it, and closer to the actual state of things: Who can seriously claim 
that the Euro-American forms of society are the benchmark against which 
change must be measured - even if those societies are still the most 
opulent and most developed and most heavily armed with all the nastiest 
of technological weapons?

Let's face it, the task of a transnational critique for the new arts of 
living within, against and beyond the existing states of the world's 
societies is daunting to say the least. However, I think all is not lost 
in this domain, for three connected reasons. The first is that over the 
last, say, fifty years, and particularly over the last fifteen, we have 
seen the still very superficial but nonetheless real emergence of 
something like a world society. To put it another way, there is now some 
kind of connective tissue (call it the transnational economy, the 
transportation system and global English) that does bind our 
possibilities of life together, though without in any way reducing them 
to being identical. The second is that the vast proliferation of readily 
accessible archives (libraries, web pages, video banks, record 
collections, museums) offers at least some chance to rapidly sample all 
sorts of information and impressions about what kind of shape a 
particular society is in, and even what kinds of steps are being made to 
try and change it. And third, given the above and maybe a good 
translator too, what you can do is actually try to stage a dialogue with 
the people you are meeting, and hope that some of them respond, give you 
pointers, correct your mistakes, calm down your unconscious arrogance 
and add their own reflections and aesthetic productions into the mix - 
not only to obtain a better and more useful critique of their society, 
but also of yours. Which last, I might add, is something essential and 
desperately needed, particularly if you are a European or an American.

The above is a theoretical program, but also just a reflection on some 
experiences as a critic and activist out in the wide world. The most 
recent of these experiences was particularly interesting: I was invited 
to participate in and to evaluate a project of artistic remembrance and 
envisioning, focused on the American military bases that are now (maybe) 
in the process of closing and moving out of the South Korean city of 
Dongducheon, and indeed of a range of sites around the DMZ, even as a 
new megabase is prepared further to the south in a place called 
Pyeongtaek. This was an incredible chance to get a first-hand look at 
what I think is the scourge of American and Western democracy, namely 
what Chalmers Johnson calls the "empire of bases." (And I happen to 
think that the first-hand look, however fleeting and superficial, is of 
tremendous importance whenever you really want to learn anything). As it 
turned out though, this was also an incredible chance to start getting 
to know a unique spot on the earth, South Korea, which for the worst of 
reasons has been particularly close to the U.S. over the last six 
decades, despite the fact that many many Koreans would really rather 
close that never-ending chapter called the Cold War on the Korean Peninsula.

The trip was too short, but still amazing, and it got me to do some new 
things in criticism (maybe dubious ones), like using a pop song for 
starters rather than a quote from Foucault, and approaching street 
demonstrations via Korean feminists rather than Toni Negri. In the end I 
had to conclude that the old French saying, "Celui qui aime a toujours 
raison" (those who love something are always right), is in fact wrong, 
since we humans are capable of awful loves, and not only in aesthetics. 
That said, we're also uniquely capable of starting all over again, as 
y'all probably know in your intimate experience. And so let's ask the 
question: What would tomorrow look like without 750+ American military 
bases scattered across the earth? With a little help from some new 
friends, I tried to go further with that line of inquiry, as you can see 
right here:

And now the dialogue is open for whoever has inspiration.

best, Brian

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