9.5-Theses-on-Art-and-Class

It just makes a point that there is a subtext to the universalizing of Koons’s message about turning off the critical mind and just embracing what makes you happy. You really realize that you can only get away with it as a white guy, because people are only willing to read the kinds of simple pleasures you are into as universal if you are coded as universal yourself.
—  From our interview with art critic Ben Davis, part of the American Empires special issues of Guernica.
Our creative lives, like our love lives, bear the burden of representing the good part of our existence, of standing in for the richness of an unalienated world we lack; without the prospect of companionship or of creative fulfillment there’s just the unending abyss of working for someone else in return for being able to survive another day to do it again.
—  Ben Davis
class position relates not to how much one happens to be paid but to the kind of labor one does and how this labor relates to the economy. The working class is distinguished from the middle class not by how its members have more modest houses or watch different TV shows but by the level of authority they have over the conditions of their own work.
—  Ben Davis
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9.5 Theses on Art and Class
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Stealing Art, the Lenin Yacht Club, the Red Death

As part of our effort to create a nexus for the reformation of a radical political art – and art informed by radical politics – we are compiling a semi-regular round-up of articles/postings for our intrepid readers as part of our editors’ blog. This first week’s round-up comes from editors Adam Turl and Alexander Billet.

The Art Burglars

Art critic and author – and periodic Red Wedge contributor – Ben Davis had the official launch for his new book 9.5 Theses on Art and Class in New York in early September. He spoke on a panel with artists Jennifer Dalton and William Powhida among others. Christopher Howard wrote this article about that night’s events and discussions – and you should read it. Read it now. We will wait for you to finish.

It also seems Ben Davis’s International Socialist Review article, “A critique of social practice art” has sparked some interesting debates. The Blades of Grass blog posted numerous responses to the ISR article in a collection titled, “What is the effectiveness of socially engaged art.” Ben responded here. Nato Thompson responded again here. Every radical or socially engaged artist should read this exchange.

Poetry is dead but it is online

Poetry is dead – according to quite a few poets – marginalized from the rhythms of everyday life that once gave poems their vibrancy and life. Of course part of the problem is technological. New forms of culture have taken over poetry’s historic functions.

There is also an ideological problem. Most poets, ensconced in academia plagued with a post-modern hangover have tended to avoid a polemical approach to their craft. A disbelief in master narratives combined with professional politeness has compounded the sense that poetry just doesn’t matter anymore—certainly not enough to fight about it.

This article on Hypellergic, while treading too close to that weird futurism embraced by too many in semi-anachronistic art forms, reports on some interesting online poetry initiatives. They won’t solve the crisis of poetry but they are pretty cool.

The Lenin Yacht Club

El Lissitzky, the Bolshevik artist and architect, was a co-founder of supremiticism,associated with the constructivist movement, and arguably one of the most important artists of the early 20th century. Evidently, in 1925 Lissitzky produced a design for a workers’ yacht club – you know, for after we have nationalized the bourgeoisie’s yachts.

Escaping the ongoing catastrophe

The end of the world has become a cliché – in both visual art and popular culture. But as things grow more onerous the idea of escape is gaining ground – or regaining lost historical footing. As artist Rashid Johnson told The St. Louis American, “I think the black experience is very much invested in the history of escapism. You have blacks wanting to go from the South to the North. Then you have Marcus Garvey and he says, ‘Let’s go back to Africa,’ and then you Sun Ra and he says, ‘Don’t worry about it, we’re going to Saturn.” 

The work of Rashid Johnson, the Chicago-born, New York based artist, is being surveyed at the Kemper Art Museum in St. Louis through January.

“The Masque of the Red Death”

Two things will likely strike the average art-loving American radical when looking through artinfo.com’s slideshow of Chinese art hotels:

1.) The United States is full of philistines. Why can’t we have more art hotels?

2.) So these are the hotels built by the exploitation of Apple/Foxconn (insert other corporate bogey here) workers.

Some of the work is absolutely stunning. Some is mediocre but good looking. But it all looks like post-modern Matisse: Gorgeous and devoid of meaning. That is because the art is merely the fabulous décor surrounding the true subjects of the space: the businessmen, the rich and powerful, domestic and international parasites that roam the hotel’s halls.

According to artinfo.com:

“’Hotels used to be about selling sleep, but by the end of the 1990s the more intimate, better defined boutique hotels started to attract a different kind of discerning traveler. People will start to choose their hotels today based on design and ambience,’ says Alison Pickett.”

The magical ambiance that surrounds these travelers should, for a time, insulate them from the suffering they produce beyond the hotel lobbies. Until, to paraphrase Edgar Allen Poe, darkness and decay and the red death holds illimitable dominion over all.

Not everything that glitters is gold; not everything glitters

Not everything is so bright and shiny. 

This week on the obligatory art(y) website round-up blog we are featuring an excerpt from video artist Husni Ashiku’s Cairo Index Series — about the impoverished Southern Illinois town of Cairo, Illinois.

Cairo first became a city as it operated as a union base in the Civil War. It became a hub of ferry and rail traffic until bridges bypassed the city in the early 20th century. In the late 1960s and 1970s the city was the center of a massive and ongoing civil rights battle. In recent years the city’s largely African American population has declined. Nevertheless, thousands of people still call Cairo home.

As Ashiku argued of his video:

“I have personally always been interested in other people’s first memories. A first memory is something nearly all of us possess and I set out to excavate them from people. My intention is to do a series of videos based on first memories.”

“Centering around the residents of Cairo, Illinois, from Dec 2012 to February 2013, I catalogued several recordings of first memories. I chose four stories and then photographed their approximate location in town.”

“As dramatic and aesthetic choice I recorded the destruction of these photos atop a hotplate. In the final edit we hear the stories of first memories from the subjects as the images are destroyed.”

Punk rock is rolling in its grave (again)

Dan Ozzi’s article, “Miley Cyrus is punk as fuck,” raises the questions:

1) Is Dan Ozzi a complete idiot?

2) If he is right does that mean the cultural logics associated with punk are completely useless? (and by extension many of the “shock” logics still sublimated in contemporary art practice)

3) Why do sane, anti-racist, anti-sexist, otherwise intelligent and sensitive souls still read crap about Miley Cyrus?

4) Is it time for Vice to disappear without explanation? Call them the Salvatore Bonpensiero of obnoxious media enterprises.

Psycho financials!

In what may be the greatest piece of financial journalism ever, the A.V. Club reports that the Insane Clown Posse’s Psychopathic Records paid for this year’s Gathering Of the Juggalos with a series of bounced checks. When dealing with a situation in which a duo of rap-metal clowns are failing to make their payments to Tidy Bowl, the comedic fodder really is endless.

This isn’t the only hot water that ICP and company find themselves in of late. Far more troubling and frankly horrifying are the allegations of sexual harassment and threats of violence against a female employee at Psychopathic Records.

Honestly, it’s not completely surprising; ICP and other acts like them trade in a rather obscene amount of machismo, and this year’s fest featured, among other things, a kid sent to the Gathering by the Make-a-Wish Foundation getting a lap dance. Just goes to show – once again – that the realities of capitalism and virulent misogyny aren’t suddenly suspended in the music world, no matter how much Faygo you can get your hands on.

Adam Turl reviews Ben Davis’ newly published 9.5 Theses on Art and Class.

Art is in crisis.

First of all, contemporary art exists in a world of multiple crises – a world of rapid industrialization (resembling something from a Dickens novel) as well as a world of “post-industrial” ruins. It exists amidst racism, sexism, inequality and economic chaos.

Contemporary art is also riddled with its own contradictions – related to the “real world” problems above. What is the role of art when its audience is a small minority of the general population? What is the role of art produced by an individual – or a small group – when millions of images are now instantly available at the push of a button? What is art’s answer to the growing consciousness of social class, inequality, crass commercialism, racism, sexism, and so on? How do art’s “spiritual” roles – for lack of a better term – relate to its social roles and its present economic location?

(via Art and Class: In Defense of the World - Red Wedge Magazine)

9.5 Theses on Art and Class, by Ben Davis, is available from Haymarket Books

Both Turl and Davis will be speaking at this weekend's Socialism 2013 conference