Center for Cultural Decontamination,|
Sep 30, 2013 - Oct 06, 2013
"It’s the Political Economy, Stupid!"
by Vladimir Jeric Vlidi
"Criticize the Old World in Content and Advocate a New One in Form."
Metahaven in Conversation with Aaron Peters(1)
It was impossible for even the occasional observer of the art scene in Belgrade not to be genuinely puzzled and intrigued by the invitation for the "It’s the Political Economy, Stupid!" exhibition curated by Oliver Ressler & Gregory Sholette and presented at the Center for Cultural Decontamination in 2013, as part of the event "The Crisis and Alternatives". It was announced that the selection of works - in the form of video, as is almost mandatory these days - would be introduced through the series of discussions and presentations by artists, economists and activists. It also came announced with the following sentence: "While artists today normally avoid making work on the issues of crisis and capitalism in the world, this exhibition makes an exception".
That got me thinking for a good while - and I sincerely couldn't remember nearly any artworks I've seen in the previous 5 years that weren’t concerned, in some way, with either capitalism or a crisis of some kind. Perhaps this says something about "people like us" and our own social circles and interests, and about a certain worldview. After all, couldn't it be said that even today’s celebrities are tackling those issues, in some way, at least recognizing the problem insofar as their circumstances and capacities would allow them? Even the curators themselves write that today "at dinner parties, in the bedroom, on vacation, we speak with the grammar of finance"; so what made the exhibition make this claim of uniqueness? Let's have a closer look before we return to this examination.
With dozens of artists and groups presenting an equal number of hours of video material, a series of public discussions and a book filled with essays, it is simply not possible to list all the authors and works included in "It’s the Political Economy, Stupid," not to speak of the in-depth analysis it requires. What can be done instead is to frame the exhibition as the entity itself, and try to make some observations from this position - so singular works will be quoted in such function, and not as a part of a detailed overview.
Upon entering the space, which did present the curators with a small exercise in successfully "solving" its geometry and limitations, you're greeted with Capitalism Is The Crisis, a work by Oliver Ressler, it's giant letters occupying most of the right-side wall, juxtaposed with We are the 1% - A small violent minority has ruined it for everyone else, a work by Noel Douglas, that covered almost the entire surface of the wall on the left.
Although at the first glance they are similar in nature - beaming a direct message addressed to general public - the difference between the two was actually substantial, and it appears that it was precisely the space between these distinctive approaches was being used by the exhibition to construct its own worldview, its own position and expression.
With his work/statement, Ressler presented the audience with a thoroughly "anti-artistic" approach with regards to the idea of meaning and the expectations of art - that is, he committed the ultimate sin of displaying precisely and unambiguously what he wants to say and nothing else, and particularly, nothing more.(2) It seems that all the usual stuff from the artist’s bag of tricks managed to be conflated by Ressler into these giant 2D words. This act is understood in its political effect only if understood as the artistic act proper, and precisely in its negation of, and relation to, the means of art and art as expression. In the light of the now seemingly eternal "art VS activism" debate, no hasty conclusions should be drawn in regard to the reasons for such "anti-artistic" approaches - it draws its meaning precisely from its lack of all traditional attributes of art - allegories, implications, "pointing to" - that makes the sentence "capitalism is the crisis" precisely the work of anti-art, that is, nevertheless the work of art.
Face-to-face on the opposite wall, Douglas presented one rather elaborated "street-art baroque caricature", if it can be put like that, where quite a lot is happening. For anyone even remotely following contemporary social unrests through the media, it seems like one could find a few months worth of recent headlines on the latest mischiefs and crimes of so-called "world leaders". This is not art in the narrow sense of the term, rather it draws from a different visual setting. Street protests and pamphlets, the bourgeois revolution and later labor unions and class struggle and various different emancipatory movements is what is being drawn upon, rather than what was unfolding in museums at the time. So, this work was probably conceived with a street rather than a gallery in mind - and from a standpoint that declares that there should be no difference between the two - but still, it does require one to recognize names and faces of important people from current national governments, to connect the corporate logos with the weapons to break dissent, it does demand a certain understanding of some particular information in order to be readable.
On the central wall opposite to the entrance, framed between these two works there was, as to be expected, a large cinema screen. Which is to say, the exhibition itself. Except for the two artifacts discussed above, it comes entirely in somewhat the unavoidable format of digital video that is being presented in archival succession of separate or mutually-connected films. Within the several screening places carefully set up in the space, it seems art and activism will always meet at one and the same place, the inevitability of media, or to be more precise, in its distinctive news and documentary forms.
The publication by the same title (3) gives the exhibition an entirely new level of articulation, presenting various writings on art, capitalism, future, history and related terms of interest. In a curious development, this publication, including most of the artworks presented within the exhibition, will not be found freely on the internet. This is perhaps one of the "expected yet unexpected" contradictions of contemporary production that reveals the complex circumstances of capitalism as much as any similar endeavor can do at the present moment - or, as Slavoj Žižek will put forward in his essay that gave a name to the entire project - it is the principle of "obey, but think." (4) Some, including myself, will strongly disagree with said principle as it applies to this and similar projects. Surely, there are reasons, and then there are reasons - but this is perhaps best left for some future discussion.
"It’s the Political Economy, Stupid!" is communicating many different stories, but most are telling a similar narrative: what is recognized in the works themselves are the various aspects of the principle of capital provoking and producing art in various ways. It is also, to a lesser extant, about when art makes some more capital in return, but in general it is mostly about what it all means, the purpose and the result of this feedback loop, and if a different constellation can be proposed.