Dan S. Wang on Wed, 23 Jul 2008 12:10:05 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> Review of Raunig's Art and Revolution

Hi Florian,

> On Monday, July 21 2008, 02:20 (-0500), Dan S. Wang wrote:
>> activism.  Other reviewers have questioned Raunig's selection of the
>> PublixTheatreCaravan as the one example from contemporary times. I have no
>> quarrel with his choice; from his descriptions, the group is indeed a fair
>> representative of a prevailing current on the leftist world stage, in
>> strategy, method, and aesthetic.
> It's interesting that "Volxtheater" dubs itself "PublixTheatre" in
> English which doesn't tell the whole story: "Volk", used as a prefix in
> German, according to my German-English dictionary can be translated as
> "people's; public; ethnic; folk; national" - one should also add
> "popular". "Peoplez" or "folkz" would be a more literal translation of
> "Volx".
> In German language, "Volk" thus is a double-edged sword. The
> spelling "Volx" comes from the squatter culture of the "Autonomen" left
> where it most commonly refers to "Volxküchen", "peoplez kitchens"/"folkz
> kitchen", inexpensive, non-profit (low-brow) weekly eateries in squats
> or other alternative spaces of the radical left. It uses the unorthodox
> "x" spelling in order to avoid associations with "völkisch",
> "national-ethnic", a word introduced and used by the National
> Socialists.

Thank you, I think these are important points. With the Austrian right wing
political class favoring in its arts agenda those stereotypically 'volk'
arts (dancing, dress, music, and semi-mythical lifeways), I can very much
understand the 'x' as disavowal and/or tweak-appropriation. As far as the
English translation goes, I'm not sure a more literal translation offers any
of that complexity of meaning. And I'm not sure there is any good
American-English translation, if that ironic aura of nativism is what you
think needs to be delivered. In common American parlance, to reach that same
part of the social psyche, we might have to go with something like
'Hardworkingmiddleclasstheater.' 'Publix' is more generic, true, but it also
brings to my ears a trace of an older referent, maybe a dysfunctional,
intrigue-filled Roman Senate. That's humorous grandiosity of a different
sort, and maybe just fine. I can live with 'Publix.'

> The role of "Volxtheater" as the culmination point of Raunig's narrative
> is very comparable to the role of the British "Class War" group as the
> culmination point of Stewart Home's "The Assault on Culture" from 1988.
> While Class War at least was funny with its tabloid-style, over-the-top
> black humorous propaganda - like in the headline "another fucking royal
> PARASITE" under a photograph of Princess Diana holding her newborn baby
> -, "Volxtheater" is a rather dull, run-of-the-mill agitprop street
> theater telling of Raunig's geographically and culturally somewhat
> limited horizon. (While Austria has been a hotbed for experimental and
> subversive arts since the 1950s - often more so than Germany -
> Volxtheater's relevance is easily overblown from an inner-Austrian
> perspective because of the culture wars surrounding the right-wing
> Schüssel/Haider government in the early 2000s, and the link to the Genua
> demonstrations.) It is well explainable, again, from an
> Austrian-Viennese perspective: Other Austrian artist collectives such as
> ubermorgen.com and Monochrom, which are much more advanced in their
> artistic means, media tactics, theoretical reflection and last not least
> wittiness, don't lend themselves to Raunig's narrative because, despite
> all their critical reflection of politics, they are not communists and
> not politically revolutionary in his sense.

Well, I think Raunig's use of the Publixtheater as the final example is
quite serviceable, and, in the interests of extending his theoretical reach
into today's left, a good choice.

You'll notice that in my review I never really say anything laudatory about
the Publixtheater--my main point is that, based on Raunig's descriptions, it
is *representative.* Good and bad. And, when bad, bad in a major way, if you
think the left in the US (I hear you: 'what left!?' 'what left!?') is as
discombobulated as I do.

I don't think Raunig is hailing the group as the 'culmination' of anything,
certainly not in any highly valorized way. Many of his passages detailing
the group's evolution highlight episodes of momentary blindness, as when the
troupe went mobile, ventured outside of social democrat-run Vienna and took
to the lower state byways of Carinthia. The unexpectedly conservative
village atmosphere they encountered throughout the state left the colorful
troupe camping quietly, and reining in the carnivalesque actions that had by
then become standard in their Vienna home environs. (What did they expect,
was what I was thinking.) The way I read Raunig's account of the group's
further adventures in Genoa and Strasbourg, in those places the group was
not so much an exemplar of revolutionary activity as it was the subject of a
beat-down, by the vicious cops in and outside Genoa, and by their own group
dynamic inadequacies at the noborder camp.

But despite the limits reached in any particular situation or project, or
maybe because of them, as I understand it the group continued to evolve
throughout and experiment with new forms, partly using its own social
make-up as one of its media. I think this evolution is what fascinates
Raunig, based as much or more on failure than on success. I think those
emphases stood out for me, rather any arguments for it representing the
positive superlatives in political art practice. This was not a simple
exercise in valorization--I certainly would have made that point in my
review if it was.

Dan w.


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