"Contemporary mass-culture is historically necessary not merely as a result of the encompassment of life in its totality by monster enterprises, but as a consequence of what seems most utterly opposed to the standardization of consciousness predominat today, aesthetic subjectivism. True, the more artists have journeyed into the interior, the more they have learned to forgo the infantile fun of imitating external reality. But at the same time, by dint of reflecting on the psyche, they have found out more and more how to control themselves. The progress in technique that brought them ever greater freedom and independence of anything heterogeneous, has resulted in a kind of reification, technification of the inward as such. The more masterfully the artist expresses himself, the less he has to 'be' what he expresses, and the more what he expresses, indeed the content of subjectivity itself, becomes a mere function of the production process…"
Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia Part Three, 1946 - 1947
Art is politics. It is political as opposed to politics as management (ie. of state), a profession, a power play, manipulation or propaganda. As a matter of existence, art aims at the political as the ultimate means of emancipation, absolute freedom from commodification, if such is still possible. Art is a critical necessity as long as it fights being a part of the spectacle, as it aims to turn the spectacle upside down, as it exposes the 'culture industry.'
The crisis of art and with it the artist in the 'center' (West) stems from the impossibility of politics as such, within the captured psyche of the consumer culture. Political correctness without the political agenda, or art as expression of the ethnic and sexual self is bound to be neutralized through the all encompassing spectacle. While this appears, as it did to Baudrillard, as the 'complete liberation' of art and the artist, free from the historical drive that kept the tradition alive, it also marks the disappearance of the impulse, the loss of the cause: Not that of a liberation en masse (a revolution), but it renders the production (ie. of culture) irrelevant as such.
In the periphery the situation is just as bleak, as the tranquillized masses are more prone to turn into a mob of fascist/nationalist/religious thugs. The lie of globalisation, besides creating a monster as such, aims at a liberation of a different order, that of the capital and free enterprise. While it is business as usual, the power (ie government), already corrupted, becomes more oppressive, more violent. Yet still, if 'pockets of resistance' are a possibility, they are possible within the very pores of the military-police state, as the unavoidable necessity of existence, of simply 'being.'
Ironically, the last refuge of art as politics comes around a full circle, to that of the historical avant-garde in the time of crisis, but with a difference, not as the history repeating itself in the historicism's bordello. To expand on Benjamin's 'optical unconscious' one demands a 'geographical unconscious', a slip of the tongue apart from the genetic, folkloric, regional, traditional and 'oriental.' In these parts of the world, the 'reflexes' of the totalitarian regimes are without a doubt on the oppressive side. But for the ordinary man, the accidental/instinctive favors a special blend of violence, pity and a deeper sensation of poverty that is peculiarly geographical. Already in Istanbul, owing to a long tradition, the civil organization of social space displays an autonomous charity of its own, rarely disturbed by the authority. While the post colonial sphere is marked by inept institutions of the western kind, Istanbul leads a life of its own, again disjunct between tradition and change, but nevertheless with a sense of decency, a comraderie as it surfaced after the 1999 earthquakes. The will of the artist-intellectual in this geography should follow from this, that is an acknowledged belief in the best intentions of the civillian majority, a kind of third world humanism.
Hence the imposibility to turn inwards, a subjectivity of the work of art that misses the catastrophic existence, the scar of social consciousness. Only here the artist avoids being a proffessional and can afford to be a dilettante in order to defy being part of the spectacle as such. The bliss (as in ignorance) is the lack of institutionalized art that turns one's self into a 'specialist' in the specialized sphere of the production at large. Just as Istanbul still resists the logic of late capitalism and the multi-national corporation with its fractured economic organization, so can the artist produce without the burden of consistent, synchronised mode of professionalism that is demanded by the 'industry.' The amateur fascination with 'real life' out on the street leads to an affirmation of sorts: While life supercedes art along the way, emancipation should be sought on varied fronts, indeed through the phantasmagorical fraternity of the cyberspace.
The phantasm of equality in the domain of the great equalizer, that is the world wide web, is bound to give way to a new alliance of the nodes of resistence that demand the recognition of differences. Once the dust is settled and the hype is over, and the commercialization of the cyberspace is complete, the second wave of the telematic revolution should aim at the politicizing of the web via truly artistic means. Referring back to Adorno, if the technique of the concentration camp is to make the prisoners like their guards, the murdered, murderers; and to abolish the difference to an absolute in the sense that nothing different survives, then the resistence is to find its path through the counter-flow of the information technologies, crisscrossing the popular media on the way in order to gather the momentum to overturn the tide. The inverse flow is where the collectivity finds its expression of being simply political, different.
Text originally published in Xurban.Net, http://www.xurban.net/notion/art_politics.htm
pope@xurban, February 2001, xurban