Issue 8, November 2011
Someone once said that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism
- Fredric Jameson
Reading this issue1
the general and the specific
The articles within this issue 8 of the Journal of Aesthetics & Protest attest, as a collection, to our belief in the utility of a multiplicity of approaches. A multiplicity of tactics is sometimes used to pragmatically cover for unsolvable differences in what is to be considered as appropriate action within a single protest. We do not use it as a cover though, instead we suggest (as many others have) that it is rich layers of often antagonistic relationships within generally broad trends that make a movement more successful, not less. Nevertheless, to intelligently understand the impact of potential actions is the task of all involved in the movements.Let us explore this multiplicity to its most creative, least reductive potential.
a chart to read through the issue
The term general has attained a lot of meaning for this issue. By general, we refer to the idea of the general as in a general strike. As Angelinos, we experienced a general strike on May Day 2006 where a broad swath of the population (estimates range between 500,000 and 1,000,000) participated in real resistance through seemingly simple and singular actions. In this strike, the specific reasons for individual actions taken by participants (be they conservative notions of rights, liberal notions of economic inclusion or radical notions of transformation) are less important then the cumulative effect of the action. In this case, LA was shut down.
Importantly though, many issue 8 articles are immediately disinterested in the general. Instead they focus on the general's converse-- the specific. Issue 8, in the sloppy and scattershot way our journal proudly does, looks at in the very specific mechanics of how knots of power are broken up and/or re-bound.
The general reappears in the formations of the Occupy movement. We precariates share a common goal (which #Occupy's multitude partially demonstrates). Broadly speaking, movements are successful not because of a unified ideology but because of the common dream we maintain before us. We bat at it as a moving target on the horizon. We attempt to achieve it through making things. We make artwork, situations, events, proposals, laws, procedures, non-profits, broken newspaper boxes, gardens. We write manifestos and statements, songs and barricades. Each act, real, spectacularly real, structural, spectacular, contributes to the institutionalization of forms in the production of social meaning.
Perhaps it is there, in the conflict between the general and the specific where this issue is located; at its core, issue 8 is concerned with the dynamic tension between autonomy and sociality. We investigate how this tension expressed through cultural work and organizing manifests in forms that can either generate growth, stability, or creative destruction. Instead of ideologically siding with either autonomy or socializing as the proper approach to activate growth, stability or destruction, we focus on the aesthetic and affective conditions that facilitate both resistance and transformation of this bare life which constitutes our worlds.
In editing the broad range of content within the issue, our questions were simple-“what does this do and how does it do it?” “how do we breath into this?”
We understand how neoliberal ideology from the most cellular level inside our wee bodies on up, has crushed solidarity, denied collective right to a good life, obliterated common interests. Yet as editors, we know that practice within grassroots communities, studios and movements best clarify these notions by demonstrating neoliberalism's creative undoings.- excerpt from the issue 8 submission call, February 2011.
We are looking for critique and reflection on what does and does not work. Now that tomorrow is a reality and our ideals are a possibility... especially when our strategies, tactics, dreams and beauties come into effect.”
Within editorial chats, we've found that we sometimes confuse criticality for professional jealousy and/or a knee jerk distrust of institutions that we don't know. In this issue, we've tried to stop doing that. Instead we committed to forcefully understanding how things with varying forms and definitions of “grassroots” or “community” might be effective. We came to respect how that in order to achieve the complex transformations required for a just, sustainable, equitable and joyous world , an equally complex and multi-layered movement is required. We need both the solidifying structures and liquid dreams that the arts might provide and culture does.
“What does it mean, this confrontation? Why is it real?” And so it also becomes spectacle.
“What does it actualize, This non profit?” And so it becomes a site for something felt, a thought partially understood--meaning made.
to guide you into this issue, we offer a chart
The chart shows how we editors understand how each writer's article functionalizes distrust/trust of institutionality in relationship to how much mediation they understand is useful in reflecting on the complexity of culture.
With increased institutionality, the work transforms from an isolated autonomous actor towards more socialized formations, be the formations consciously organized community groups or general mass cultures operating with less conscious collective arrangements.
With increased mediation, the project of sharing dreams, ideas, critiques and meaning goes from something very intimate (a kiss, a whisper or a slap in the face) to something that is milled through various representational machines.
Thus, Olive McKeon's article Look at the Mess I've Made which challenges artists (and others) to express the beauty of conflict by actualizing the agitations within immediate protest in something beyond performance serves as one extreme (distrust of the institutions of representation and language, no mediation besides the individual in conflict with structural reality), while Mathias Regan's piece Playing (with) the Impossible: Modernism's Populist Poetics serves the other extreme (a deep trust in the institutionalizing power of published and read popular poetry to institutionalize resistant and radical models of consciousness among the working class and poor). Jaleh Mansoor's work is an inverse of Mathias', conversely suggesting (among other things) how poetic form can uncomfortably destabilize commonly held notions along with the regime of the sensible. Tim Jenson's article spans Mathias and Jaleh's position, identifying ways in which mediated affect can be tactically instigated.
It is interesting that while both Ultra-red and the Protest and Stagnation Collective's articles document self-generated collective knowledge production, Ultra-red functionalizes the communal act of self-learning towards political organizing (socializing power) while Austrian based Protest And Stagnation functionalize towards a generative self-interrogation and critique of protest forms (which ends up with a similar function to conceptual art).
Sue Bell Yank writes about the productive role that large art institutions have in spreading mediated and destabilizing imagery and ideals. Libertad Guerra's article is affirmative of both institutionalization and mediation while proposing a refreshing re-negotiation of the terms of power based on a history of Bronx NY-based art galleries. Conversely, Meg Wade affirms the power of individual and coopertives when they choose to act as a counter-power to and revolution against spectacular social relations..
More mechanically, The Survival Kit Collective present particular material forms and processes that can be routinized to respond site-specifically towards environmental sustainability. While also suggesting a mechanical form in his article Frontlining Currency, graphic designer Chris Lee suggests a mechanical form but grounds its utilization as an innately counter-capitalist DIY practice. With their balloon powered Grassroots Mapping project too, Public Laboratories outline how they navigate a professional practice towards supporting the grassroots over major NGO's. In process, Khristopher Flack narrates how his collectives' community based project actively reroutes and power-relations in his rural Vermont town. In a more theoretical mode of production, Luis Guerra's The Bomb Case details how, through recent events, autonomous actors have destabilized Chilean power structures and then how more collective practices among these autonomous movements have been able to contain this instability and (hopefully) move popular struggles forward.
Marco Cuevas-Hewitt outlines a productive mode of political writing that (which like the Janus Mask atop issue 8's table of contents...) relates the present, past and future in more fluid ways then normative politics and philosophies might suggest. He suggests that these changes in perspectives would radically alter our relationship to institutions for liberation and oppression. Gabriel Mindel Saloman describes the creative work of queer rights icon Harry Hay and how he worked to create, through several institutionalized identity forms, in order to re-encounter personal and collective transformations both deeply personal and mediagenic.
Victor Tupitsyn, Marc James Léger and Ian Milliss' articles share with Luis Guerra and Mindel Saloman a position that grinds against power. Tupitsyn describes specific instances of how radical subjectivities and cultural production react with hegemonic (mediatic and institutional) power starting from the Soviet era Constructivists. Describing his own path, Ian Milliss traces his own transformation as pretty young thing of the Austrialian artworld who realizes his conceptual work alone would not change the world. Milliss narrates his move from "the artworld" into more realized realms of actual struggle- the world of unions, of environmental fights etc. He does this all-the-while owning his own definition of what it is to be an artist. In his short piece, Marc James Léger suggests a need for people to overcome their professional boundaries and operate within (self)-organized political groups. His text's sensibility projects an attitude of one who appreciates collectivity and a criticality toward it.
In detailing Dadaist performance in insurrectionary Berlin 1918, Gavin Grindon suggests that many art historians (starting with Peter Bürger) don't appreciate the true nature of conflict between the avant garde and normativity. Sharing similar sensibilities with the Chicago Surrealists, he describes how Dadaists worked psychadelicly in clearly revolutionary contexts in efforts to change the world, not the artworld.
A snap-shot: a movement up from bed and out the door into the morning. The alarm was set – you submit your body to a discipline giving entry to a normal routine of work and school and its possible, eventual subversions. Or we sleep in- revert to a more natural sleep cycle (warm blankets), avoiding external discipline but also the socializing elements of knowing others' routine, getting work done, bringing children to school. All too quickly, either way, it all piles up. The multiple decisions regarding how one person or a group of pals might intentionally interact with a system.
We understand that the corporations which buffer our actual economies unwittingly or purposefully limit our potential. It happens either through economic or physical discipline but also by just being incapable of noting the wholeness of our intentions, desires and capacities. In 2009, we saw an opening for DIY economies and self-institutions but failed to fully recognized how “social practice” had become limited by its own representation. Museums and City Government's rush to vertically mediate and not support the horizontal occupation of social practice clearly drained it of something... was it the awareness that at its core, we are talking about survival and not a career? At this point, representational artwork seemed at least as sincere as the muddying of human relations for profit.
By producing and casting off (failed, complicit, successful, useful) institutionalizations of power in the form of non-profits, rules, laws, internal (in)formal structure etc... movements structurally maintain themselves in non-idealized ways. Reality is complicit in creation.
From Seattle one could imagine the radical expansion beyond horizontal consensus, Indymedia and the spatial transformations suggested by Reclaim the Streets. One could imagine this alongside a collapse of the WTO and a canceling of debt concurrent with a leveling of post-colonial relationships.
Instead, they scattered the Clinton Era dream of global financial control into neo-liberalism's spacial transformation of the “creative” city/marginal slum, impoverishing all that is not central. In our paralysis of a post-911 world, it seemed like we just could not keep up. Grassroots Modernism responds site-by-site, at the very explicit sites of exploitation while oriented towards some inchoate international horizon.
In this celebration we offer our readers Grassroots Modernism. We are interested in a praxis defined in local contexts but built along-side a transnational horizon of liberation.
We defer to localized situations in our acknowledgement to the complexity of the bare life- the choices people feel they must make in relationship to their immediate environments, , social histories etc... But we maintain the ability as other people, as correspondents, as co-dreamers and comrades to critique, criticize, scrutinize and antagonize. When you, our readers, as cultural instigators deftly situate your desire and production in dynamic tension somewhere along the ever-alienating edge of mediation, we think your efforts will find effect.
We embrace modernism not necessarily in its historic form (the old “isms”of the 20th century) because of our understanding that people can work sensitively, creatively and intelligently together to change things for the better. We have to. What are our other possible futures?
Our Editorial Context
Production, procedures, perspectives or notions have hardened into effective spheres. It is important to remember how indignant but pathetic we all felt 6 months ago.
In the narrow times before now, we editors encountered truly productive resistances in the University of California Occupations of 2009/2010. Individual resistances seemed couched in a distrust of the creative human capacities outside of the immediate moments of resistance and struggle. In this way, it seemed that all things other then of the negation of the very-real-trainwreck-known-as-reality amounted to emergent routes of capitalist exploitation.
In response and as active participants in the Southern California echo to the Northern California Occupations, we came to reify our role as one that critically insisted on culture and cultural production; immediate cultural production like a barricade and its effect, or more reflective and routinized cultural forms that make it possible for people to understand how and why to do such a thing--educationally, with solidarity, with sustenance
Goldman Sachs doesn't care if you're raising chickens 2, or not (?).
1. So many texts have influenced in the course of editing this issue, we highlight five here whose affinities or antagonisms with our own position we found quite useful;
Lauren Berlant, Gesa Helms, Marina Vishmidt. “Affect & the Politics of Austerity.” Variant Volume 39-40.
Jodie Dean, “The Communist Horizon”, lecture at Change You Want to See Gallery/ Not an Alternative, Brooklyn New York, 2011.
Available at http://vimeo.com/27327373
Brian Holmes, "Guattari’s Schizoanalytic Cartographies", Continental Drift blog, 2010.
Gerald Raunig. A Thousand Machines: A Concise Philosophy of the Machine as Social Movement. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2010.
Paulo Virno. Grammar of the Multitude. New York: Semiotext(e), 2004.
online at http://www.generation-online.org/c/fcmultitude3.htm#GrammarOfTheMultitude-div1-id2844353
Endnotes 1 Preliminary Materials For A Balance Sheet of the 20th Century, 2008
2. from Jodie Dean's Change You Want to See Gallery/Not An Alternative lecture. See above footnote. (back)