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Amber Hickey: Europeans are so far removed from who we are as a people
Mauvais Troupe: LA ZAD / THE ZONE TO DEFEND
Rachel O'Reilly & Danny Butt: Infrastructures of Autonomy on the Professional Frontier: ‘Art and the
Infrastructures of Autonomy on the Professional Frontier:
‘Art and the Boycott of/as Art'
Rachel O’Reilly & Danny Butt
Since 1992, successive Australian government policies deter boat arrivals of asylum seekers. Australia is one of the few countries in the world to enforce mandatory detention of all irregular arrivals, including children.
Since 2012, Australia has sent all marine-based arrivals of asylum seekers to detention camps in Nauru and Manus Island on Papua New Guinea (“PNG”), where their refugee status is determined under the laws of those respective countries. No right to settle in Australia.
Since 2012, the infrastructure company, Transfield Services, contracted by the Australian government to run detention camps in Nauru. It took over management of Manus Island camp in early 2014. Transfield Services is being paid 1.22 billion dollars, or about A$60m a month to run both centres: A$2m a day for about 1,500 people.
The current Liberal-National coalition government adopted Labor's policies and expanded them, introducing Operation Sovereign Borders, which put the military in control of asylum operations, refuses media access to the camps, and withholds reporting on boat arrivals.
Since 2001 there have been 18 deaths that directly relate to the mandatory detention system in Australia. These occurred in detention or happened to people who were about to be placed in detention. Eight of these since 2001 have been self-immolations.
NOTE 1: ARTISTIC INFRASTRUCTURE AND (NON)“LABOUR”
Over the last three decades, the nations of the former west have neoliberalised their cultural infrastructures and markets, to construct a speculative futurity for institutionally unbound, globally-oriented professionalism, while subtracting a historical ‘labour’ consciousness from dominant forms of production. The effect of this “turn” of production and value-generation in the visual arts has been processed on a delay in the Antipodes, partially due to its coincidence with a relatively healthy public arts funding until very recently, and to the settler-colonial tendency towards introjecting the same “no alternative” economization doctrine. More recent and radical movements of privative (deregulative) governance and further market rationalizations, only belatedly timed with official cultural policy change and program cancellations, have brought the nation’s institutionalised and para-institutional “professional” art workers more into line with a global paradigm of deskilling and proletarianisation.
Beyond re-appraising the focal borders of this traumatised statist picture is a more metaindustrial fact that artists also lack a shared vocabulary of labour and labour regulation toward organising in collectivity, given the totality of things in which art takes interest in and the heteronomy of positions it absorbs. Tirdad Zolghadr, writing about the curious lack of traction gained by the boycott against Israel (BDS) in fine art compared to other cultural industries (including film), would describe this subtraction of labour consciousness as the “dominant paradigm within contemporary art, namely, a strong and under-examined faith in indeterminacy and the resulting rejection of all particularity in terms of politics, and of all didacticism in terms of meaning .” Similarly, for Suhail Malik, any broader critique of the operations of artistic power is neutralised by contemporary art’s “meta-generic limitation”. This limitation suggests, on the one hand, that in any specific case within contemporary art one can say “this is not real, this is art”, reading the work as exceptionally singular, rather than structured through any rule of genre derived from analysis of a world outside the work. On the other hand, through the “anarcho-realist maxim”, the movement of art toward an experiential reality that is more real and more contemporary must constantly escape artificiality and incorporate ever-wider practices (including “social” practices) into contemporary art’s purview. According to Malik, the anarcho-realist maxim states that the “idealization of the contemporary of contemporary art postulates a real that surpasses it: the present.” (1) This appetite for the present is paradoxically the idealism that must be escaped, and this can only be achieved by accepting “actually existing art” as an artificial, “cultural and ordered practice that is NOT spontaneous, expressive or autonomous.”
With renewed waves of privatization, post-democratic decisionmaking, and austere re-nationalizations of culture and welfare spending, we have seen the flexibilized artistic faith in indeterminacy being challenged, in different ways, by practice and theory alike. This shift is registered in the Antipodes in a way that reflects the different ground of its colonial history of inherited cultures of state-sponsored production, yet also points toward ongoing fissures in the European forms of aesthetic autonomy that are assumed to still be adequate to contemporary conditions.
The calls for and against a boycott of the 2014 Sydney Biennale due to principal sponsor Transfield’s contracts for mandatory detention of asylum seekers and refugees have been an illuminating event through which to revisit public re-investment in what we call an ‘image-space’ of contemporary art practice that contains within it, the post-fordist border of artistic mobilities (2). The event has raised for us further questions of what can be considered ‘autonomous’ in artistic and/or political production, particularly in the questions of response, responsivity, responsibility (response-ability). It has also involved a grappling for discourse from varied, non-alignable heritages and histories of artistic and political autonomy by all parties and sides of the conflicts, including within the Artists’ Working Group themselves (3), as they have reckoned with their shared structural position in relation to the event and activated this discourse through public statements operating inside and outside the artworld. Our attention here is to the specificity of artistic labour in present conditions of contemporary art and the art industrial economy. It is specifically to the drama of contract enforcement — between detention and the artistic wager — that we wish to attend, whereby the state and the company Transfield, figured as a juridical person, and the artist as an ideologically ‘freedom’-oriented contracted agent, reveal their interests to the analytical stage.
Performativity in Neoliberal Contractualism
The contract is a central and proliferating form of neoliberal governance that undergirds all analysis of contemporary political economy. By neoliberalism we wish to especially indicate two dynamics, that McNay summarises as i) “regulatory or massification techniques” to manage populations, and ii) co-constituting “individualising, disciplinary mechanisms” that regulate behaviour (4). Firstly, programs of structural adjustment anchored in the principles of the free-market economics that after the 1970s global period of stagflation, have delivered more of the economy to the private sector, through privatization, fiscal austerity, dereuglation, free trade agreements, reductions in government spending, and a changed role for the state from planning and provisioning to being majoritatively an enforcer of private contracts and trade security. The market here is not a site of free exchange but a "grid of intelligibility" that is enforced by the state as the sole means and measure of humanity at both mass and individual scales. Michel Foucault tracks the extension of market rationality by neoliberal economists such as Becker to the privatised sphere of the modernist liberal family and the quantifiable self. The individual does not "go to market" for exchange but becomes the “entrepreneur of himself, being for himself his own capital, being for himself his own producer, being for himself the source of [his] earnings.” (5) Wendy Brown extends Foucault’s insight into this constant demand for productive performance, describing today’s homo oeconomicus as “an intensely constructed and governed bit of human capital tasked with improving and leveraging its competitive positioning and with enhancing its (monetary and nonmonetary) portfolio value across all of its endeavors and venues.” (6) This enterprising self should not simply “naturally” maximise its own production for its own purposes, but this productivity will be stimulated by the neoliberal state "for the greater good."
Sven Lutticken has recently addressed the complex rise of the ‘performative’ as a labour question that crosses all of our roles in contemporary art history. As an artist, writer, or curator, “you perform when you do your job, but your job also includes giving talks, going to openings, being in the right place at the right time,” in this way “transcending the limits of the specific domain of performance art,” and embracing a culture of “generalized” performance key to the broader new economy of post-fordist labour. The point is not just that all artists must now also perform their artisthood but that the economization of culture and culturalization of economy involves distinctive forms of value creation. Further, artists’ common position in the rise of the performativity of work also has political potential (7), regardless of whether the artists consider themselves ‘politicized’, or ‘performative’ or not. To process the situation of the Biennale of Sydney boycott as somehow an exemplary or symptomatic attack or defence of a singular art institution - or ‘bad’ contract ‘at risk’ – would be to limit the frame of what’s actually happening to art’s own embeddedness in broader material worlds, while we suggest these new regimes of production and accumulation require expanded modes of action and theorisation. A (pre)occupation with biennale conditions exceeds the boundaries of the supposedly ‘proper’ material role of contracted artists, in creating surplus value only within allotted spaces of presentation, because, in fact, artists and others’ actual conditions of labour lead to this common position in relation to the contract. More specifically, distinct from the creative industries only in this sense, artists’ own ‘occupation’ of unregulated time and their eccentric uncoupling from just-in-time and normatively measured production - already “exceeds the ’proper’ boundaries of the culturalized economy.” (8) This fact has brought artists unpredictably inflated powers of negotiation (i.e. speculatively, more symmetrical) to their contractual participation in the capital flows of sponsors, as seen in this and other major boycotts’ efforts to raise questions around, precisely, the post-fordist bordering of their work. Here then, we need to take a closer look at theoretical work around neoliberalization and the contract form, in its application to the deregulated and corporatized detention scenario.
Angela Mitropolous describes the contract as an“often-violent projection of a genealogy and an infrastructure of obligation or – put in simultaneously moral and economic terms – of indebtedness. (”9) “Infrastructure” is here defined through an expanded feminist lens as “an answer to the question of movement and relation”, connecting the efforts of global logistics companies and family patriarchs (10). Who provides these answers, and how, underwrites the spatialisation of artistic professionalisation and its global effects and arrangements. Broadspectrum, the name taken by Transfield Services in a rebranding effort prompted in part by the boycott, describes itself as a “global provider of operations, maintenance and construction services to the resources, energy, industrial, infrastructure, property and defence sectors.” Companies in the field of “Global infrastructure asset services” (such as G4S, Serco, et. al) have become one of of the most prominent forms of economic life, profiting from contracts for a vast array of services that in the European colonies were formerly the tasks of the state. In doing so, they assume and neutralise risk by removing the management of these services from democratic accountability, absorbing political risk and instead returning financial risk to a government whose problem becomes simply how to fund: an electorially safe numericised problem. Infrastructure companies in turn establish and enforce sub-contracts to meet their contracted objectives, displacing accountability to labour onto the naturalised contract form. Branding and rebranding is essential to infrastructure’s ability to appear invisible and normalised, and the large scale exhibition is a powerful vehicle for the suppression of the significance of capital’s productive operations.
Over the last two decades neoliberal investments in a multicultural agenda have extended into the consumer sphere of exhibitions and festivals, shadowed by a growing “underground” of blocked migration passages and automatic and extra-judicial desert and offshore detention, criminalizing undocumented migrants and asylum seekers, i.e. those pre-emptively scapegoatable. The proliferations of private contracting as the dominant mode of governance arrive this time with the globalization and professionalization of artistic labour. As the large scale international exhibition becomes a ubiquitous format, it is relevant that its philosophical heritages, as theoretical utilities, tend to still be extracted from edifices of post-war european internationalist discourses, as a kind of aesthetic cosmopolitanism that suspends any possibility of participation in the governance of artistic infrastructure.
Stewart Martin (11) has argued that when at its most radical in the conditions that it has, the biennale form tends to problematize not the liberalism of global capitalist ideology, but representational democracy and the nation form container. This creates a “contemporary” disjunction between the practices and discourses mobilized for the biennale ‘now’, and the inherited legacies of radical European political approaches to the aesthetic, which tarried with “a more or less dissident communism”. This internationalist trend has tended to oppose the global conditions of production to the nationalist culture-state, with the migratory artist - precisely this figure - as the harbinger of cultural transformation. These conditions of production do not aid artists well in their scramble for critical resources to deal with, including but not limited to defaulting contractually on, the large scale exhibition’s geopolitical and economic articulations. Here, sponsorship as social licensing asks us to think through the social field of the global corporate contract, alongside that of artistic work. This thinking of large-scale participation exists beyond the reductive sociological framing of contemporary art/ist’s role in “culture washing.” The larger picture, under global electronic capitalism, the extraction and circulation of value via the global brand is amplified rather than escaped through the representation of artistic practices.
New confusions emerge from a perceptual non-alignment or what Lauren Berlant calls a “juxtapolitical” intersection of regimes of artistic, political and entrepreneurial autonomy that are in basic competition with each other for narrative supremacy in the contract. In response to the statements of the BoS19 Artists Working Group , the dominant refrain from those associated with Transfield Holdings and the Biennale Board was a reinforcement of the delimited autonomous area of investigation made available to the artist (the exhibition space/ their ‘work’), as the “proper” place for their concerns to be raised. Any other speculation as to where artists might deploy their artistic labour as labour, such as toward the material terms under which contracted artistic autonomy is negotiated, was viewed as improper. Yet, it is the contract form that secures the division between the ethical work of artists defined as merely-cultural service provider, and the financial commitment of the corporation as risk manager, displacing much critical attention to their shared institutional base. The naturalization of professionalised artistic ‘licence’ in sponsorship/patronage is aspirationally eliminative of other possible forms and lineages of aesthetic/political autonomy, and it is the critical possibility of such autonomy that requires further elaboration.
NOTE 2: THE ENDS OF AUTONOMY
Autonomy becomes a renewed concern for contemporary artistic practice, organising and theory when the actual options for it are increasingly thrown into abeyance. Clearly competing definitions of art’s autonomy were at stake when the Artists Working Group used their performed autonomy to raise the question of the lineage of sponsor Transfield’s funding. Public funding, public events and public exhibition space, formerly/formally considered governmentally neutral, are now politically and economically compromised as the Cold War rationales for state-supported territorial (12)cultural development wane in new configurations of globalisation. In recent theoretical writings on the contradictions of art’s various investments in ‘autonomy’ in an austerity-inflicted Europe, the autonomy of art is insubstantial, that is, a concept that needs to be be performatively erected in order to be ‘(up)taken’ or defended, as such, at all. (13) It is the speculative modality implied by the actions of the Working Group that is our interest here, the degree to which these practices point to the emergence of different ways of approaching autonomy and heteronomy, thinking political discourses within a residual cultural nationalist paradigm refracted through the biennial form. To think this problematic it is necessary to briefly revisit the postwar version of artistic autonomy from the era that bequeathed contemporary art as the privileged institution of cultural display.
For professionalized art of the white cube, and especially the producers and administrators of aesthetic relationalities needing to maintain political neutrality in public, it is still remnantly liberal modernist investments that are used to justify art’s autonomy from economic rationalization’s realpolitik. These arrive via Kantian legacies, whether by way of Adorno’s autonomy from the capitalist mode of production or, differently, through Rancière’s autonomy of aesthetic experience. Written in 1790, Kant’s Critique of Judgement furnishes the enduring Enlightenment link between aesthetic appreciation and human freedom, through a lack of determination or “purposeless purposiveness” that precisely eludes specification in advance. For Kant artistic works hold a knowledge, or a social purpose, but the artist themselves should not or cannot be aware of it - the constraints on the “free play of concepts” are placed outside art itself:
We thus see (1) that genius is a talent for producing that for which no definite rule can be given; it is not a mere aptitude for what can be learnt by a rule. Hence originality must be its first property. (2) But since it also can produce original nonsense, its products must be models, i.e. exemplary; and they consequently ought not to spring from imitation, but must serve as a standard or rule of judgement for others. (3) It cannot describe or indicate scientifically how it brings about its products, but it gives the rule just as nature does. Hence the author of a product for which he is indebted to his genius does not himself know how he has come by his Ideas; and he has not the power to devise the like at pleasure or in accordance with a plan, and to communicate it to others in precepts that will enable them to produce similar products. (14)
This freedom that Kant inaugurates here seeks escape from the disciplining of church and state, but in the end, as critic Marina Vishmidt describes it, the utility of Kantianism becomes an “auto-immunising boundary marker.” For Vishmidt, Kant’s distanciated set-up of art’s autonomy comes to be, “instrumental in the 'last instance' …(that is) in so far as it forms a “universal subject” that is fully appropriate to the bourgeois era. Indeed this is for Vishmidt “the basic contradiction of bourgeois subjectivity – it is instrumental in its non-instrumentality, purposeful in its purposelessness.” (15) Kant places art “in the service of a ‘higher’ instrumentality” in “displacing and reconciling” high capitalist contradictions, and taming contingent players.
The issue here is not so much Kant’s attempt with the aesthetic to create an “ambivalent refuge” between creative flourishing and the stern logic of philosophical reason (16) - for Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, any political programme that attempts to organise the social imagination directly without attention to the developmental aspects of spectatorship can only fail. Yet, while the instrumentality of the bourgeois subject position is today reconfigured as a model for the “creative” citizen-consumer, the constitutive parameters of the type of individual human who is given Kant’s freedom of the aesthetic has become subject to extensive critique. Today, art as a marker of the “cultured” free citizen gives way to a massified “inclusive” artistic infrastructure that imbricates human and financial capital in ever-larger circuits of labour and life. The large-scale art event’s geographic reach of included practitioners and audiences; its openness to ‘public’ participation and education programmes; and the art industry’s overall “expansion” - occurs among by way of a secessionist class of artistic managers whose financial and knowledge-sharing infrastructures are underwritten by industries that profit from the strict policing of the border between legitimate and illegitimate subjects. We see this most explicitly in the case of mandatory detention of asylum seekers, but we can also see this at work in the attacks on indigenous sovereignty through mining and governmental reoccupations such as the Northern Territory intervention. The rationales for autonomy vis a vis Kantian universality thus enact a performativity that silences those on the wrong side of economic and political divisions of labour, and thus against political struggles that cross those divisions. The ‘civic’ question of ‘class’/ labour in artistic autonomy is spatialised in this way - mobilizing the racial and gendered logics of colonialism in turn. In her reading of the Critique of Judgement, Spivak notes that Kant himself senses these limits, particularly when approaching the most properly “philosophical” question of man in light of Aboriginal Australians:
Grass is needful for the ox, which again is needful for man as a means of existence; but then we do not see why it is necessary that men should exist (a question which is not so easy to answer if we cast our thoughts by chance [wenn manetwa… in Gedanken hat] on the New Hollanders or the inhabitants of Tierra del Fuego). Such a thing is then [alsdem ist einsolches Ding] not even a natural purpose; for it (or its entire species [Gattung—the connotation of “race” as in “human race” cannot be disregarded here]) is not to be regarded as a natural product (17)
Kant here justifies the rationally produced system of “culture” as the grounds for the bourgeois judging subject, a culture produced through a social system of modernity from which indigenous peoples are excluded as insufficiently non-natural. Here “species-thinking” is taken for “cultural thinking” – some bodies are properly political and capable of liberal democratic speech and others are not — in a self-enobling regime of indentification/spectatorship aimed at cultural autonomy for those deemed fit for society.
Autonomy ghosts, in this paradigm, while also being free and able yet unobligated to “cast one’s thoughts by chance” toward those outside the assumed subject position. It is a freedom based on the unfreedom of those who may by chance receive our sideways thoughts, or not. Thus we have the necessity to rethink our habit of optionally attending to other lives, and what form that option is imagined as, a task which one can only take on through the opening out of autonomy to its heteronomous underpinnings. To read artists’ engagement only in its legal-contractual dimension then - that is, outside of any performed autonomy or ideality of art per se - we can say that the contract for artistic work both indivdiualizes and socializes the agents of production and support into the mis en scene of a game of contingency that valorizes the speculative form as such. The attempt to organise artists as a group to lever their shared position - in other words, to make the contract itself the fulcrum of negotiation, is explicitly a departure from the bourgeois model, and of the indenturing of artistic labour to corporate interests, as it points artistic gestures outside the contract. Whether this effectively addresses the more intractable dilemma of how to inaugurate conditions of aesthetic subjectivity that include the camps in an imagined public remains, but the artists’ second performance of autonomy (that is, as autonomous from indentured corporate autonomy) perhaps prefigures such moves.
The Freedom of Labour in the modern ideality of art’s autonomy, is thus put into a dialectical arrangement with interment. Mitropolous describes this precisely as the border’s ideology of post-fordist competitiveness. In this sense interment is a “spatio-legal technique” that organizes labour by ascribing social and political living death to ocean-flows of migrants - through taking the promise of labour away from the migrant figure, while citizenship rights are recoded and naturalised in terms of base opportunities to work. In the era of deregulated contracts, the exceptional condition of offshore detention sets those detained bodies up to perform maligned individualized agency and failed self will in even aiming to be claiming Australian space. The border is postfordist in this filtering of antagonism into competition (e.g. the “economic migrant”), difference into niche markets, and the framing of the nation as a household firm with the status of a master and a front and back door, and so on.
Note 3. THE THREAT OF GENERALIZED PERFORMANCE
Mitropoulos calls the contract “ capitalism’s most cherished axiom. It is a projective geometry of obligation and its interiorized calculus... crucial, among other things, to the organization of private property and the subjective dispositions of capitalist legal architecture.” In Mitropoulos’ analysis of Rousseau, the rise of the social contract ‘democratically’ substitutes “the figure of the ‘born slave with the faceless ‘foreigner by choice’” (18). We can see this rationalized asymmetry as a recoding of our shared sociality as a market, that will be organised through the aesthetic via complex ensembles of performance. What does this history imply for the gestures of boycott, occurring alongside commitments to the “properly artistic” wager, at the biennale's unfolding? It articulates the productivity of the tension between a democratic/aesthetic individualist registration of conscience as boycott, alongside the promise of the artistic community’s affiliation and affection as a site of potential labour-power. These both potentially operate as a negation of the individualizing forces of the ‘properly-contractual’ aesthetic sociality that normatively imposes materialist “equanimity” with coevally ‘presented’ violences of detainment in sponsorship.
More specifically, there is at stake a possible double negation of both the teleology and promise of a social democracy of the camps, and a politically contaminating contract, but with an added provisio that did not receive extensive attention in critical discussion of the boycott: an other performance of autonomy in concerted refrain from fully renaturalized or ‘cured’ capitalist contractuality. That is to say, in addition to negotiating the politics of artistic investments in mandatory detention, and the interlocking scales of relation established through the given economy of the Biennale, the artists also refused to clearly accept the terms under which they were called into the calculation, keeping both the event and the possibility of art open.
Lauren Berlant notes that “events are not self-present, but incidental, smaller dents that are always becoming-event” - describing criticism as a “performance of a virtual realism about living on, with all its overdetermined constitutive antagonisms and attachments.” (19) The reflexive performance of autonomy from the Working Group in this way is directed against the subjectivity implied by professionalisation where the self is composed as potentially contractable within the field of art. This performance also, improperly, reflects the Kantian legacy by not clearly aligning itself with any of the statements diverse groups calling for boycott - whether from asylum-seeker organisations such as RISE, or those from the academy - some of which suggested that the juxtaposition of funded art and illegal detainment made any decision on boycott self-evident. The boycott appears in this context, as partial, tactical, and target attentive - which is its critique but also its value - because its purchase is precisely the arousal of the negative against the machinery of disappearance enacted by the corporate state.
To hold the shifting scales of this dynamic in effective relation requires an ability to negotiate complicity in the service of the unconditional. Here we seek to avoid the collapsing of ends and means, as if divestment was a state to be achieved for the curing of the artistic contract back into the full contingent emptiness of market neutrality, with the debate on strategy simply being a question of how to achieve this end. Furthermore, the critical strategies distributed between differently institutionalised artists and activists are cheapened if read as a contest over “whose sword is sharper”. (20). We who are institutionalised into the arts - if we are lucky - comprehend the fullness of the boycott as an aesthetic phenomenon, which is to say as an encounter, and dramatization, where our habit of forgetting our collective habits (of not attending to the financial conditions of artistic production that compose us) can be shaken. (21) The Working Group artists' most aesthetic move is to hold the event open in this way, refusing to let it not NOT be an aesthetic situation that could turn the biennale into a site - a performance of placemaking that appears while the boycott is in play, rather than having been achieved.
Note 4: IMAGES-WITHOUT-ORGANIZATION: ‘THE IMAGE-SPACE’ BEYOND ‘DISPLAY’
What are images without organization? Artists and curators tarry with this economically ‘conditioned’ infrastructural real of presentation investments with fine-grained philosophies of speculative materiality already. A certain strain, coming from mis-used Benjaminian surrealism, grapples with the commodity in the contemporary in ways that, as Benjamin Noys has pointed out, produce comforting moves that make capitalism secondary to the object’s vitalism and thus make capital's coding of life appear potentially magically displaceable. (22) The social democratic teleology underlying professionalized curation of this era couples with an internal theological shimmer of historical materialism here, such that art plays a reformist role in the surreal indirections of object-oriented ‘investments’. Benjamin’s secular messianism, conceptions of natural history, and articulations of the surreality of matter in particular, are put to work frequently in this way to interpolate such practices’ immanent politics for art’s ‘general public’ audiences. This evasive lack of defection from the immaculately concepted commodity in curation is captured in the prominent artist Hito Steyerl’s wording, that curating is now the name given to the system that “translates the language of things onto aesthetic relationalities” that have immanent potential.” (23)
Karyn Ball has addressed this industry of Benjaminian mistranslation via Judith Butler, and notes that “a desire to take recourse in a materiality that ‘prefigures’ discourse in order to protect the reality of a history of violations” is calling out for deconstruction (24). In her robust articulation, such investments tendentially suppress the discursive programming of the repetition of violation that underpins curatorial and aesthetic autonomy, precisely by implying that a “materialist” artistic analysis will confine itself to the scene of the work, rather than make any address to the curatorial, infrastructural or metapolitical frame.
Benjamin’s astute awareness of such potential for misinterpretation is succinctly flagged in his alternative version of thesis 17 On the Concept of History. (25) He wrote:
In the idea of classless society, Marx secularized the idea of messianic time. And that was a good thing. It was only when the Social Democrats elevated this idea to an ‘ideal’ that the trouble began. [...] Once the classless society had been defined as an infinite task, the empty and homogeneous time was transformed into an anteroom, so to speak, in which one could wait for the emergence of the revolutionary situation with more or less equanimity. In reality, there is not a moment that would not carry with it its revolutionary chance – provided only that it is defined in a specific way, namely as the chance for a completely new resolution of a completely new task (SW 4: 401f.).
Choosing ‘the classless infinite/infinity’ as a hegemonic affinity, curatorial and artistic-professional composures are especially trained towards complex, material-symbolic practices of self-management, in so far as they must align with such infrastructural suspensions of classlessness while investing in ‘mattering’ in terms of only allegorical communions with material reals. This is reinforced by the delinking of the art professional’s autonomy from any shared position of a labour structure, labour struggles or expectations for autonomous production. Under such regimes, specifically political and even tactical investments tend to still be comprehended as aesthetic “content” for circulation, inoculating, especially, the institution itself from the perceived inaesthetic banality of (labour) critique.
Note 5: IN CONCLUSION
Lamentations of the efficacy of civil disobedience point to the fact that divestment from existing forms of corporate governance is always-already complexly distributed into different techniques and apparatuses, just as corporate governance is. Such negations are as a position non-universal and non-totalizable in their productivity, and must be read within specific materialities that nevertheless work a genre.
In Australia, heritages of mostly English-language but globally reconfigured discourses of aesthetic and political autonomy hover next to the specificity and intractable complexity of indigenous self-determination. The proximity of these reduce the settler left’s openness to any deep understanding of and literacy in the juxtapolitical nuances of autonomy as differentially enacted modes and crafts of survivance. In other words, the failure to engage indigenous autonomy prevents the settler colonial cultural worker from dealing materially enough with the political economic registers and dispossessions in our own practices. As it was for Kant, the distanced subjectivation from indigenous autonomy leads to its reservation as managed content, rather than a genre to be engaged in practice and protocol. Frontier ‘professionalism’ furthermore hybridizes this thinly conceived anthropological comprehension of art as ever-positivist practice and surivivance with a useful but basically privatized internationalist cultural development mentality, no longer reigning in the EU. This knot of positivity, neutrality and pedagogical distanciation has put historic and situated limits on the productive force of the negative in a dominant critical culture, while the negative appears re-raised as a question by a next generation of artists with their much thicker discourses of artistic-crossed-with-political autonomy.
Meanwhile in Australia, artistic beneficience survives to be carried over as a near-neutral development discourse that is still the regime of aesthetic literacy that accumulates professional value. As some of the more predictable undercurrents of the boycott made clear, the artistic labourer has trouble thinking autonomy outside of their individual experience, such that thin discourses of sociality spread concern into spaces not far enough from things actively oppressing ‘them’ in ‘their’ field. Yet, professionalism also demands that autonomy is not thought close to the site of its auto-production. This non-thought is perhaps the ironic leftist version of the historic cultural cringe, where a focus on the nation as cultural form distinct from Europe now appears as a protocological middle-ground that can neither learn from those who have always lived here, nor speak to the historical archive in the Christian homelands that authorised the colonial nation with a culturally-mandated right to improve the land and its original inhabitants. But perhaps this can be changing.
With the restoration of a “less ethically compromised” contractual prospect in the wake of Transfield’s withdrawal, the contradictions of contractual form are in any case reinscribed. Clearly it is possible to tarry again with discrepancies between the politics of immanence ascribed to critical art, and the securitisation of artistic industriousness in post-political cleanliness. If what was renewed or resolved by the boycott was the biennale’s promise as a re-naturalised format-infrastructure for fine art, then this would take the form of a return to ‘business as usual’, annulling any ongoing critique of the larger contexts and logics of the neocontractual and post-regulatory political economy. Yet in this economy detention-oriented immigration management and dispossessive management of indigenous geography- made most explicit in the rise of arts sponsorship activities of coal seam gas company Santos - have become a problem for ‘art’ / aesthetics in being a problem for bodies in the wider image space.
What if art and cultural practice are revealed here as at best formally unprofessional in being non-securitizable promises of excess and subversion of boundary conditions, and around the contract form especially? Reading “art AND the boycott of/as art” together as the Working Group (perhaps) suggests they are meant to be read, the aim seems never to have been the mere political neutralisation of the Biennale of Sydney as a major eventalized vehicle for the display and commissioning infrastructure of international art. If it touched us beyond this horizon, then we have to ask which gestures within and beyond negation tarry out of professionalized attention to the lives that continue to be lived in this utterly aesthetic relation. As Moten and Harney establish the settler metaphor, professionalization can be seen here as an “encircling of war wagons” that begins by accepting normative and positivistic categories that “precisely so competence can be invoked, a competence that at the same time guards its own foundation.” (26) For Moten, to keep on pushing “over the edge of refusal” is to do the opposite of renaturalizing the contract for art as an experience of its fine-ness, and instead to be driven by a “visionary impetus” that artistic work “requires and allows us to try and see and hear and feel.” (27) Here, if art persists in attentiveness to the politics of aesthetic that fall ever outside of the contractual, then pushing over the edge and to the side of both pure refusal and the properly contractual form seems the only viable option for art with a future.
The achievement of a formal divestment from mandatory detention will not solve art’s historical and continuing appeal as a field for capital to symbolically neutralise the antagonisms at the heart of neoliberal accumulation - whether they be from war, detention, extractive industries, or the many other profitable forms of destruction. The attempts by capital to neutralise these antagonisms, and the professional massaging of these attempts, will fail to consider the intersubjective struggle (which is the best that art can do qua art) towards detention abolition as the professional negation that we read it as here. Such struggle risks combining the “fancy and analytical precision” of ‘art’ and the aesthetic relation towards a persistently pathogenic, but not pathological relation across the border in any place and location, in whatever event.
(1) Suhail Malik, “On the Necessity of Art's Exit from Contemporary Art”. Artist’s Space in New York in 2013 (Lecture 4, 1:04). While Malik’s diagnosis attends to impasses of critique and critical practice in the contemporary art sphere, it’s programmatic nature has the unfortunate effect of universalising a specific Euromodernist formation of the artistic subject and object through denying its existence. The effect becomes more evident in Malik's applied use of Dipesh Chakrabarty’s Provincializing Europe morphologically to posit an equivalence between the position of the artist and the subaltern in postcolonial theory (See 'Where is Contemporary Art' Lecture at Dutch Art Institute, Roaming Assembly 2,17.02.16. Online at: https://dutchartinstitute.eu/page/8102/2016-sunday-january-10-roaming-assembly-2-monotopia-where-is-contempora ),and in turn dismiss the possibility of the entirety of the postcolonial theory archive’s relevance to artistic critique. Our aim in this paper is to precisely materialise these dynamics of subjective infrastructure in order to break such figurations which reproduce the fantasy of the concept of contemporary art’s theoretical access to globality.
(2) For information and an overview of the issues and, see Helen Hughes, “On the Boycott of the 2014 Biennale of Sydney” <http://blog.frieze.com/on-the-boycott-of-the-2014-biennale-of-sydney/> and Danny Butt “Transfield, Biennale of Sydney, and artistic complicity” <http://dannybutt.net/transfield-biennale-of-sydney-artistic-complicity/>
(3) The statements of the Working Group and responses from the Biennale Board are archived on their webblog - http://19boswg.blogspot.com.au/, and collected in There is No Now Now reader. 2014. [Letters from Biennale of Sydney 19 Artists Working Group] January 29, 2014. <http://aaaaarg.org/thing/53489813334fe0078b2164d4>.
(4) McNay, L. (2009). Self as Enterprise: Dilemmas of Control and Resistance in Foucault's The Birth of Biopolitics. _Theory, Culture and Society_ 26 (6):55-77.(page 57)
(5) Foucault, Michel. The Birth of Biopolitics : Lectures at the Collège De France, 1978-79. Ed. Senellart, Michel. trans. Burchell, Graham. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008. (page 226)
(6) Wendy Brown, Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism's Stealth Revolution. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2015. (page 10)
(9) Mitropoulos, Angela. Contract and Contagion: From Biopolitics to Oikonomia. (London: Minor Compositions, 2012). (p22)
(10) Ibid., p117.
(11) Martin, Stewart. ‘A New World Art?: Documenting Documenta 11’, Radical Philosophy, 122 Nov/Dec 2003, https://www.radicalphilosophy.com/article/a-new-world-art.
(12) see the collection of essays in:
Open 23: Autonomy: New Forms of Freedom and Independence in Art and Culture Paperback – September 30, 2012 by Jorinde Seijdel (Editor), Liesbeth Melis (Editor)
(13) See especially Stakemeier, Kerstin, and Vishmidt, Marina, Reproducing Autonomy: Work, Money, Crisis and Contemporary Art, Mute Books, May 2016.
(14) Kant, Immanuel. Critique of Judgement. Translated by J. H. Bernard. London: Macmillan and Co, 1914. §46
(15) Marina Vishmidt, 'Speculation as a Mode of Production in Art and Capital' Unpublished Phd Thesis, Queen Mary University of London.
(16) Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. An Aesthetic Education in the Era of Globalization. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2011.p24
17 Kant, quoted and translated in Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. A Critique of Postcolonial Reason: Toward a History of the Vanishing Present. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1999. Page 26
(18) Mitropolous, p23
(19) Berlant, Lauren. Cruel Optimism, Becoming Event: A Response. published December 10, 2012 at: http://bcrw.barnard.edu/wp-content/uploads/2012/Public-Feelings-Responses/Lauren-Berlant-Cruel-Optimism-Becoming-Event.pdf
(20) Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty, ‘Responsibility’, boundary 2, 21.3 (1994), 19–64.(p35)
(21) See Spivak, An Aesthetic Education. for the argument about the Romantic tradition of the aesthetic’s potential for disrupting habit.
(23) Steyerl, Hito. “The language of things” translate (June 2006). http://translate.eipcp.net/transversal/0606/steyerl/en
(24) Ball, Karyn. The Longing for the Material, differences.2006; 17: 47-87. (p53)
(25) Pointed to this by the work of Sami Khatib, in ‘The Time of Capital and the Messianicity of Time. Marx with Benjamin.
(26) Harney Stefano and Fred Moten The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study. (London: Minor Compositions, 2013). p.36
(27) Moten, Fred. “Blackness and Nothingness (Mysticism in the Flesh)” The South Atlantic Quarterly 112:4, Fall 2013. P737-780. p.737.