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Gerald Raunig

Art and Politics: The great divide

In my centraleurocentric view of the art field an old figure comes up again and again: the rigid division between art and politics. On the one hand, moody commentaries stress pleasure as the primary aspect of the reception of art; for the field of politics, on the other hand, there is a call for the earnestness of "real rationality". Fun and creativity here, uncreative yet politically efficient political work there. In the case of documenta 10 and 11, for instance, there are recurrent references to the allegedly exaggerated austerity, an overly heavy emphasis on politics and discourse. At the same time, the new documenta director Roger Buergel stresses the "special character of art" "in contrast to … political propaganda". Underlying these kinds of needs for separation, there are often class-specific interests and the mechanisms of the art market, but also a current development that could be described as a paradoxical mix of neo-conservative and neo-liberal tendencies. They are neo-conservative to the extent that they still or again seem to defend the purity of art against uncontrollable political swarms, to defend an understanding of art that stems from a Bildungsbürgertum that has passed away; they are neo-liberal in the sense that the ideology of freedom of art is transformed in affirming a spectacular exhibition business that has little use for the "earnestness" and the "austerity" of the political.

 

On the other hand, in other realms of the art field – such as in the conference Klartext that was organized a year ago in Berlin – a hunger for activism is noted. However, this seems to be more of a hunger for a form of “soft activism” that is about controlling and integrating what used to be the audience, than about radical social criticism and change: here art is supposed to help transform the boisterous multitudes into a manageable group in and around museums. Undifferentiating critics all too quickly equate this tamed “art activism” in the form of community art, participative art and relational aesthetics with certain very different practices of intervention art, communication guerrilla and activist approaches that apply fundamentally different methods. Whereas the former impel identitary and communitary strategies, seeking to redistribute and apportion space, the latter tend to distribute themselves in space without fixing the space as antecedent, stable and hierarchical. When these two completely different policies are blurred, whether out of ignorance or maliciousness, this lays the foundation for carrying out an all-encompassing criticism of every form of activist art, whether it is soft or hard, structure- or machine-like, striating the space or producing it. On the basis of this reduction and confusion, it becomes easy to criticize activist art practices on the whole and revoke a (re-) turn from the process to the object, partly with the rehashed conceptual tools of the aesthetics of the 18 th and 19 th century (autonomy, beauty, aesthetic experience, etc.), partly with the brute force of the PC hammer: today's political (art) practices are said to be "politically correct" and hence without humor or pleasure.

 

Where does this lead, this rigid division into an art that has to be fun and only fun, and politics whose effectiveness is allegedly only reached by earnestly following a straight line to achieve an objective? It leads to a depoliticization of both fields. The rigid division of the fields, setting a border that is as solid and insurmountable as possible, is not only to be understood as a false description, but it also has a normative function in the respective contexts. Politics in the sense of organs of representative democracy have every reason to instrumentalize art for beautification, rather than drawing on the critique of representation; actors in the art field may profit from distinction with a superficial political enrichment of their practices, but then they are generally satisfied with themselves. So there are quite strong tactical reasons for sticking to rigid divisions of political and artistic practices as well as for bashing concrete forms of radical art activism and activist art that create overlaps of the political and the aesthetical.

 

On the other side there is the pathos of crossing borders, of exodus to the other side, transgression in the sense of a transcendence into another world, analogous to the fantasy of the separation dissolving in something beyond power relations, beyond capitalism, etc. Overcoming the border, eliminating it or simply crossing it may sound seducing at first. Yet the cathartic practice of carnivalesque, Dionysian transgression results in the hangover of integration, and when the Gesamtkunstwerk comes into play, then the total state is not far away.

 

Nevertheless, i think it is worth while to take a closer look at overlapping forms of art and activism that overcome simplistic ideas of transcendent transgression. But how could transgression be imagined as both a non-totalitarian and non-transcendental phenomenon, as transgression in the plane of immanence? How could a kind of immanent transgression be imagined, in which masks cover nothing other than more masks , in which transgression is not a matter of a prefigured border separating two identities from one another, nor a matter of destroying that border, but rather of changing its quality?

 

Biography- Gerald Raunig

Gerald Raunig is a philosopher is an art theoretician, living in Vienna. He is co- director of eipcp (European Institute for Progressive Cultural Policies), Vienna; co-ordinator of the transnational research projects /republicart/ ( http://republicart.net , 2002-2005) and /transform/ ( http://transform.eipcp.net , 2005-2008); lecturer on political aesthetics at the Institute for Philosophy, University of Klagenfurt/A and at the Department of Visual Studies, University of Lüneburg/D, member of the editorial board of the Austrian journal for radical democratic cultural politics, /Kulturrisse/ ( http://www.igkultur.at/igkultur/kulturrisse ) and (co-)editor of two series of books at Turia+Kant, Vienna: "republicart. Kunst und Öffentlichkeit" and "es kommt darauf an. Texte zur Theorie der politischen Praxis"; numerous lectures, essays and publications in the fields of contemporary philosophy, art theory, political aesthetics and cultural politics.

Recent books: /Kunst und Revolution. //Künstlerischer Aktivismus im langen 20. Jahrhundert/, Wien: Turia+Kant 2005; /PUBLICUM. Theorien der Öffentlichkeit/, Wien: Turia+Kant 2005 (ed. by Gerald Raunig and Ulf Wuggenig).