Archive for April, 2009

Berlin, Reflections on the presentation of Boris Groys: After the Red Square.

April 17, 2009

Boris Groys: After the Red Square @unitednationsplaza* Berlin, October 30 through November 10, 2006

[The contemporary, post-communist situation is mostly understood as a time after the full and final victory of the market over all the attempts to put this rule into question. Accordingly, art is equated to the art market and an individual artwork is seen primarily as a commodity. Under this regime the only way for art to become “serious” is to become “critical”, which means that it tries to reflect explicitly on its own character – as – commodity. It is telling that the art of the former Communist or Socialist countries is regarded from this perspective as non-serious because it is non-critical by definition;  this art could not reflect on itself as a commodity because it was not a commodity. (It was not a commodity because there was no market, and certainly no art market under Socialism.)

But the equation between art and art market, be it critical or not, not only brings about the erasure of a substantial part of the art heritage of the 20th Century; it also – and this is the more important point – ignores the non – market dimensions of contemporary art that functions not only as commodity but also as propaganda (for example: Islamist videos), as a means to organize a new type of communal space and a new type of community itself.

The goal of the seminar is to investigate precisely these non-market aspects of contemporary art in its relationship to the long tradition of non-market uses of art, related initially to the Socialist-Communist tradition.]

Quoted from

The intellectual life here in Berlin has been invigorated by a few artist lectures. Frustrating though has been the aimless, verbal wandering, some of these talks have taken, across themes that sometimes led no where, but I did enjoy the ride as it passed though some interesting concepts, shared below.

The speaker was Russian artist, Boris Groys who addresses the role of religion since the enlightenment,through Communism and now once again transformed in the post Cold War era.  He pointed to the fact that religion had been relieved of its duty to organize societies, a role it played in medieval Europe, by the advent of the French revolution, the model of Napoleon’s strong central governmental framework, and the decline of the nobility.  It then found its mandate in bringing value to the personal life, in attending to the questions regarding meaning in life and death.

Socialist society staked a claim to the interests of the individual, as a member of the group or community and because of that saw no other purpose in death other than as a sort of sacrifice toward the goal of making way for the future generations or as a contribution to the communal common cause.

Capitalism, Groys pointed out, ignores death entirely, choosing to avoid the topic, as it is only the pleasures, and consumption of the individual, which give meaning or profit.  Death in a capitalist context is totally cast off to the church. This I found, although really nothing new, interesting to reflect upon. The thread was lost a bit, but then found its way into the idea that a common currency of the contemporary world is the erosion of the concept of truth.

This also was not new to me, in that I had recently read several commentaries from the realm of particle physics and more general science, that bemoaned the damage caused by the erosion of  the concept of empirical truth.   This due to the contested study of complex systems, most visibly in the environmental sciences and the advent of string theory, where the simple fact that the science conceptualized phenomenon residing in dimensions and scales beyond the reach of empirical analysis, found itself immune from forces, which would require it to have to submit to hypothetical proof.

These realities combined with a political landscape, where the world’s most important leaders and their governments can, and do openly lie as part of domestic and foreign policy have created a world where there exists an idea that there is no truth. The beliefs of the Left, when politically advantageous, become the beliefs of the Right, and visa versa. Truth is then only a crutch, like the church, which has be deemed in itself counterfeit and open to attack.  The ultimate result is a zero sum of belief in truth; one man’s truth is another man’s lies.  After all history itself, which is suppose to document ‘how things really were’ has been shown to be only the ‘truth’ of the victor, or the oppressor or the majority.

The question then becomes:  What role does art then play?   What role does religion then play? A comment was made that most contemporary art in the realm of the marketplace becomes opinion less.  A statement which I think is to a large part true, but there are certainly strong examples to the contrary, the work of William Kentridge accounting for one, or that of Hans Haacke as another.

Western Religion, according to the stream of thought presented, moves itself into being capable of subsuming all opinions, accommodating all as equal and therefore equally negating all.  The believer then looses his or her own ability to formulate an opinion, as ‘true faith’ must stand above opinion and it is then only the opinion of the church itself, or its pastor which is allowed currency.  (This I do find to be relevant, when reflecting upon that part of my family who are ‘born again’).   I ask anyway, where did all this good thought go? I am not certain. It seemed to peter out somewhere.

Good questions were asked though, as someone pointed out that the acts of 911 seemed to point to a very strong, and deadly counter current in the opposite directions of these trends, a counter current which insists on a specific truth and an insistent reproduction of a past anti-technological golden age, which breaks with the current.   The clash of the 21st century then being the result of the currents of these two diametrically opposed forces.  What about art?  Where does it stand, what does it say?  To be honest those questions were dropped or lost in the conversation.  It was suggested that art could be contradictory, and that this was not a bad thing, but then again how does it manage not falling into the same troubles as with contradictory science?

I contend that art in itself, regardless of its message or stand, has unfortunately been used by outside forces in ways which undermine the cohesion of society, and in fact the well being of the artist themselves;  one example, the role of the arts in driving the forces of gentrification,  playing as its spear point. Therefore even the identity of one as an artist has a corrosive impact.  Better off the pre-historic model, the role of the artist in the ‘primitive’ societies where ‘art’ was undertaken by all and the art existed as part of the communal environment, sort of like the background noise.

I could go on, but will leave the thought there. Anyway it has been good to be in an environment here where these ideas are discussed as opposed to strategies for gaining a market foothold or just staying alive as an artist which unfortunately is the premise of most dialogue in NYC.

*unitednationsplaza is a project started by Anton Vidokle following the cancellation of Manifesta 6. Unitednationsplaza is exhibition as school.

Structured as a seminar/residency program in the city of Berlin (2006–2007), it involved collaboration with more then 100 artists, writers, theorists and a wide range of audiences for a period of one year. In the tradition of Free Universities, all of its events were free and open to all those interested to take part. Unitednationsplaza was organized in collaboration with Liam Gillick, Boris Groys, Martha Rosler, Walid Raad, Jalal Toufic, Nikolaus Hirsch, Natascha Sadr Haghighian and Tirdad Zolghadr.

While its program in Berlin is now finished, the project is traveling to venues in other cities around the world. (Text taken from their web site: