Snafu on Sun, 27 Jul 2008 17:35:47 +0200 (CEST)

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

Brian, Dan, Florian

there si another aspect of Gerald's book i think would deserve some 
discussion -- the concatenation of the revolutionary machine with the 
Russian avant-garde, in particular the Productionism of LEF and New LEF 
of Arvatov, Tretyakok, Eisenstein and others.

Recently I was reading Boris Groys' The Total Art of Stalinism. In this 
remarkable short book, Groys articulates a critique of many segments of 
the Russian avant-garde, with a specific emphasis on productionism, as a 
project whose aspiration to directly transform reality (rather than 
knowing it and representing it), is to be read in a line of continuity 
rather than in opposition with socialist realism and the Stalinist 
abolition of the avant-garde. Groys argues that since the avant-garde 
treats the world itself as material, "the demand underlying the modern 
conception of art for power over the materials implicitly contains the 
demand for power over the world. This power does not recognize any 
limitations and cannot be challenged by any ohter, nonartistic 
authority." (p. 21)

This will to power of the avant-garde explains for Groys the competition 
among various segments of the Russian avant-garde to conquer the favor 
of the Bolsheviks, their open appeals to the State to repress their 
opponents, and the reduction of the function of art to a "proletarian 
science of art" that ends up being necessarily subortinated to the Party 
if it wants to realize its transformative goals. But once art gives up 
its cognitive and contemplative function (Constructivism rejected 
Malevich's spiritualism in the same way LEF's Productionism attacked 
Constructivism and Tatlin's "mystique of the material"), that is, its 
autonomy, it lends itself to be instrumentalized by those political 
forces that have all the tools at their disposal to be the actual 
life-building engineers. Groys notes that "there would have been no need 
to suppress the avant-garde" if the avant-garde had limited itself to 
artistic space, "but the fact that it was persecuted indicates that it 
was operating on the same territory of the state." (p. 35)

In dealing with the relentless organizational work of Tretyakov in the 
kholkoz, Rauning avoids the question of the autonomy of art entirely. 
But when we evaluate (revolutionary) art, following Benjaming, in terms 
of its "organizing function" -- or in the ability of the artist to 
create or improve a productive apparatus that can turn readers and 
spectators into collaborators  -- we have to ask in what way is this 
activity different from that of a politician. In this respect I do not 
agree with Rauning's statement that Tretyakov's choice of working in the 
kholkoz was micropolitical and "functioned as a laboratory still waiting 
for concatenation" that was later superseded by "Stalin's molar 
apparatus," as if this apparatus was completely external to LEF's choice 
of working among the people.

By sacrificing its own autonomy to a social experiment that claimed to 
break away from the past, the avant-garde threw itself in the hands of 
Stalinist  aesthetics for "which everything is new in the new 
posthistorical reality," and thus does not need "to strive for formal 
innovation since novelty is automatically guaranteed by the total 
novelty of superhistorical content and significance." (Groys, p. 49) In 
this respect the Futurist, Suprematist and Constructivists' formal 
innovations "internally contradicted the requirement that all autonomous 
forms be rejected." (p. 41) Tretyakov and Arvatov thus did not realize a 
micro-political experiment but took the avantgarde to the last, logical 
place where the modern avant-garde, intended as the total integration of 
art and social praxis, could be taken, i.e. where the work an artist was 
no longer to be evaluated for the knowledge its produces, but for its 
ability to transform society or, in one word, for its ability to be a 
good (or bad) politician.

This does not mean that the concatenation of art and politics is always 
doomed , and Raunig shows several examples in which this concatenation 
was indeed effective, but we should be vary in liquidating the issue of 
the "autonomy of art" and its search for formal innovation as a pure 
byproduct of burgeois aesthetics. I think that the issue of autonomy of 
art becomes critical in implementing transversal forms of concatenation 
in which neither art nor politics are entirely subsumed by the other.


Brian Holmes wrote:

>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?

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