Brian Holmes on Thu, 24 Jul 2008 03:50:41 +0200 (CEST)

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

It's nice to have some discussion of Gerald's book, and even if 
Florian's critique of Publixtheater Caravan is a bit of a cheap shot, 
still it's clearly stated and a good departure point:

>  Other Austrian artist collectives such as
> 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. 
> Like in Home's book, it's the typical example of fitting certain
> practices into one's history because it fits the preconceived theory
> rather than adjusting one's theory to practices challenging it.

Is Publixtheater attractive because they're communists? Hmm, maybe not 
because Raunig is not particularly concerned with communism. Maybe 
instead they are interesting because they were there, I mean in Genoa 
and Strasbourg and other places, performing their acts and exposing 
their bodies to the test of what society offers to those who disagree 
with it?

I had quite a long talk with one member of the caravan on the upper 
deck/cafe of their impressively designed multimedia bus at the 
Strasbourg No Border Camp, and it was pretty fascinating and frankly 
scary to hear about what the group had been through in that place from 
which I escaped unscathed, namely Genoa where the Italian cops got out 
of control or rather, obeyed their orders. What was so intriguing to me 
was the clear nervousness of this guy who was nonetheless on the spot 
again, doing yet more "illegal" and principled things in public after 
having seen what could happen as a result, to the tune of months in jail 
with no real charges, impoundment and loss of the earlier bus, abuse at 
the hands of the police, endless trial etc. Later after our talk I found 
their performances curious for the bizarre spectacle of this black and 
white double-decker bus with camels painted on it, parked in front of 
the train station where they also laid out the decor of a tropical 
vacation (plastic palm tree, blow-up blue wading pool) and had some guys 
dressed up strange and white-faced moving around acting like aliens come 
down to check out odd things happening here on earth, which I guess was 
supposed to be the deportation of the people who come from those 
tropical places where the others just went to take their vacation. Maybe 
I would have more complex things to say about the intricate media pranks 
of Ubermorgen and their sophisticated manipulation of the law, but I 
also have less to feel and remember, because even if I like some of the 
work we did not meet there in such moments that change your life and let 
you breathe differently forever after.

A lot of Gerald's book is about revolutionary machines, or in other 
words, dissenting adventures that involve aesthetics and groups and 
equipment and atmospheres, and then another lot of it is about escaping 
structuralization, which is the time-honored tendency to separate life 
out into little boxes of purified and specialized experience which are 
ranked and ordered and administrated by someone who seems to have no 
particular significance or passion, other than it's his/her job and they 
do it. So the machines are not so much about ideology ("communism") as 
they are about experience, the implication of your whole self in 
situations where you can win or lose and no one else is really taking 
care of the outcome, except maybe to make sure the loss is painful. It's 
understandably disconcerting for artists when these hybrid machines take 
the place of and receive the attention traditionally given to more 
recognizable forms of art, but that happens for the simple reason that 
these machines actually do for activists what spectators always wanted 
art to do to them: namely they provide a chance to transform your 
existence, whereas art nowadays is usually caught in the little boxes I 
mentioned earlier. Maybe it changed the artist's life, but as far as 
everyone else can tell that is some kind of unfathomable secret.

Now, what I'm trying to get at with the above is the idea that the 
revolutionary machine is able to open up zones of experimentation that 
are really interesting, passionate, transformative, and this takes all 
kinds of skills and knowledge and dexterity which are not going to stand 
out as particularly special if you put them up against a complicated set 
of brushstrokes inside a frame, but which do have the great merit of 
opening up a new possibility of how to live and act in public. So maybe 
the weird translation of Volx into Publix is actually one of those good 
translations that are better than the original. In any case, writing 
about such revolutionary machines is pretty rare; I also tried to do it, 
maybe just to clumsily illustrate my outdated communist ideology as 
Florian would have it, but I'm not so sure.

As to the question of sophisticated forms, Gerard Paris-Clavel of Ne Pas 
Plier always used to say that the worst Sunday painter would be much 
more interesting if he would bring his canvas out into a demonstration 
and carry it with his own body. But this always made me wonder, what 
would the best genius painter look like out there in the demo waving 
around his or her historical breakthrough into the next avant-garde 
level of aesthetic possibility? They don't usually do it for simple 
reasons: because it took months to paint, and these days, water cannons 
are so numerous and so unpredictable. What I think does happen in 
reality is that there is another invisible concatenation of art and 
revolution, whereby the historical breakthrough is actually present in 
the minds and sensoria of people who were touched by it in a truly 
transformative way; and so they find themselves out in the street for a 
demonstration as naturally as they would be in a conference hall 
listening to the Henri Bergson of our time, or in a museum getting into 
the latest in painting, installation or whatever. The loss of an ability 
to see this kind of transversality between complex art and direct action 
is one sign of structuralized times, where the little boxes go so far as 
to become the secret ideal of artists and political activists alike. My 
only advice is to flee such boxes and go write something interesting in 
the book of your own active existence.

best, Brian

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