The starting point for HOW TO DO THINGS BY THEORY are "the Belgrade" of TkH and "the Paris" of Les Laboratoires d'Aubervilliers – two contexts, situations and realities, the power of whose margins and minorities are not evident. As we are unfamiliar with one another’s frames of reference and belonging, the productive way to learn or teach about the context we consider ourselves as belonging to, or wish we did, is to transform it!
Wanting to dedicate ourselves entirely to the topics from the very beginning of the project, we organized the long-term laboratory research entitled "Rehallucinating Contexts Paris–Belgrade", facilitated by Bojana Cvejić, in collaboration with Ana Vujanović. However, this hasn’t only involved internal research by TkH collaborators, we have also invited workers of the Parisian performance scene (and whoever is interested) to join our investigation. That is how an open working group of seven to fifteen people from both Belgrade and Paris was formed, and has worked together through live working sessions and exchanges via e-mails since January 2010.
These sessions led to the creation of several maps of the Ile-de-France artistic scene, gathered in a document named Diagrams of Paris
The first key words that have been proposed for discussion or have come out of the discussions were: "context", "independent scene", "minority and minoritarian", and "belonging / non-belonging".
Our first discussion about the term "independent scene" was symptomatic, indicating differences, misunderstanding, difficulties, and incompatibilities. Therefore, the most adequate way to operate was to call it just "the scene" and focus on the partitioning of the cities (Paris / Belgrade) into places, and on the distribution of roles, rules, possibilities, boundaries, and zones of passage. In this way we have moved toward seeking more than one divisive (binary) difference, yet our multiplicity wasn't value–free and liberal but was measured by a political awareness of constituted power, visibility, and strength of becoming.
Afterwards Bojana and Ana elaborated on the "context" and the "contextual approach to art". Here we supply some of the theses and questions from their introduction, which might be interesting for a wider audience as well.
WHAT CONTEXT, WHOSE CONTEXT, AND WHAT IS TO BE DONE?
by Bojana Cvejić
• What, which context?
(Context is structured by power relations)
Scene (performance), site (inscription), environment (atmosphere):
– scene: magazines, festival and venue networks, conferences, dynamic of trends and fashions;
– site: leaving traces, possibility of structural changes, writing history;
– Environment: general opinion or doxa (Roland Barthes), dominant fiction (Kaja Silverman).
Constraints as limiting factors or as enabling conditions?
Difference between contingency (matter of circumstances, what's given) and choice of position (the choice of taking a position).
Being familiar (native, or learnt, assimilated) and unfamiliar (new, to be explored).
• Whose context?
(Who is the subject of the context? In whose name do I speak? What is my relation of belonging to the context? In which grammatical person do I speak? When do I say "I" and when "we"?):
– identifying your position: the place and role (given by circumstances, or acquired);
– identifying with your position or not;
– recognized or misrecognized (ideological difference) – Rancière (La mésentente): there's always a miscount (included / excluded);
– "what I claim is what I belong to" – aspiration (ambition), entitlement (inherited right, patrimony), ownership / dispossession;
– what is the relation of belonging of a minority? Can one be a minority and not marginal?
• What is to be done?
(From critique to construction):
– examining the context: boundaries (positioning the context on a larger–scale map), horizon (the limit of visibility), advantages by comparison, possibilities yet to be explored (eliminating disadvantages), potentialities;
– critical analysis: diagnosis, posing (a) problem(s);
– problem isn't always a trauma either – repetition of posing without solving a problem leads to "being a parasite of negation";
– problems: the importance of the concrete, vs. pseudo–problems;
– how to intervene: exposure and experiment;
– the procedure of over-identification (in totalitarian regimes) (NSK, the project of appropriating the name Janez Janša);
– simulation, subversion, deconstruction (TkH) – exposing and changing a logic in order to bring on political effects;
– constructing another context within the given – self–organization (everybodys, project 6M1L, TkH and The Other Scene); the goal of setting another standard – dangers of consolidation (in re–territorialization)?
CONTEXTUAL APPROACH IN / TO ART: HISTORICAL LEGACY AND NOWADAYS POTENTIALS
by Ana Vujanović
• Modern Western art paradigm (from the 18th century on)
Art as praxis (not poïesis as it has been since ancient Greece: see Aristotle’s Poetics). But the notion praxis doesn’t mean a public act dedicated to the transformation of the social field and relations anymore, but an act of expression of an individual’s creative will (see Giorgio Agamben, The Man Without Content, Stanford Ca.: Stanford University Press, 1999). Agamben: "The metaphysics of will has penetrated our conception of art to such an extent that even the most radical critiques of aesthetics have not questioned its founding principle, that is, the idea that art is the expression of the artist’s creative will."
• After the WWII – division to (socialist) East and (capitalist) West
Divergences in the abovementioned tradition of art. A trial to systematize the differences (they have never existed as binary oppositions, rather, the list is a working scheme):
– private property
– individual prosperity
– art as emancipation (of an individual)
– unique artwork
– artist as genius
– individual intuitions
– communism / socialism
– social property / common good
– general social prosperity
– art as social engineering (projection of its future)
– typical artwork (Lukacz’s term)
– artist as cultural worker
– structural thinking
• After the fall of the Berlin wall, 1990s and 2000s
Process of transition, erasing the borders between East and West (globalization, NATO, EU...)
The contextual approach has its historical and epistemic background in communist / socialist contexts. However, it's no longer specific to the "Eastern block", and is not "commissioned" by (communist) countries. Today, it can be considered a critical leftist and artistic set of tactics that might be found or implemented in any cultural context in the neo-liberal capitalist worlds.
We see it as valuable and important, because it emphasizes: politicality of art, its social function, position and responsibility, its discursive power, its ideological nature + it promotes the ideas of solidarity and collaboration (in art, culture and society) as a real alternative to the capitalist Darwinist idea of competition as the only way of surviving and living together.
It’s a tactic that tries to re-politicize art in a de-politicized ("apolitical") neoliberal capitalist social macro-context (see more about the disappearance of politics in nowadays societies as a specific practice in Hannah Arendt, Vita activa and Paolo Virno, Grammar of the Multitude).
It is an approach of resistance, in opposition to what is offered by the capitalist artworld machine.
Differentiation between strategy and tactics according to Michel de Certeau’s Practice of Everyday Life / similar to Rancière’s differentiation between policy and police vs. politics (in Disagreement)
Contextual approach and / vs. community art
There is already the concept of "contextual art" as articulated by Paul Ardenne in Contextual Art, which emerges from the modern Western art tradition. Its main form is "community art". In spite of its intention to emancipate or, maybe, precisely because of it, it still sees an artist principally as an individual opposing society. This artist has a privileged position in society (that of an "insider"), and decides to engage her / himself in resolving social problems and in dealing with marginal social groups ("outsiders"). Her / his intention is basically to emancipate those groups and to help their integration in the society. There are two problematics: s / he takes the patronizing position of knowing what is good for them; s / he skips the question "Is the society so well designed that it shouldn’t be problematized, in which case the only thing we need to do is to facilitate the integration of outsiders into it?"
According to Ardenne, in contextual art social reality is a terrain to be explored and conquered. According to what we identify as the contextual approach with socialist background, social reality is what we all share, a space wherein an artist too already exists. And her / his intention is to reveal, redefine and transform non-transparent social rules. There is no outside to be explored from a clear and stable position of here (inside). The context in which we exist can only be a subject of research and inside intervention.
According to Ardenne, contextual art is the art of a discovered world. Isn’t there a tone of colonial discourse hiding here? The contextual approach to art would ask, in contrast: why don’t we search for our own world(s), lost or new? Here, it introduces the claim, which is the crucial difference with Ardenne’s concept: the social context does not belong to an(y) individual, it’s a social property, a common good.
In the next period of the research we focused on creating a map of the Parisian and Belgrade independent performing arts scenes. We started with the following proposals:
– limit the context (performing arts, theater, dance, film and visual art? Which cases should considered); location (Paris, in relation to France, in relation to international framework);
– beginning: unimportant where you start, we will develop a rhizomatic logic anyway.
The maps items may include names and concepts:
– institution, venues, figure, initiative, project, association, events;
– terms, notions, ideas, theory, ideology.
Mapping will entail drawing:
– connections and missing connections;
However, immediately after we tried to map the contexts with concrete items, we were faced with the difference between the "independent scene" in Belgrade and the "alternative scene" in Paris.
The crucial question was: what are we talking about when we say "independent scene"?
The attribute "independent" appears as inappropriate for two reasons:
1) independence suggests a fantasy about being "outside" institutions, isolation and self–sufficiency, as in autarchy (economic independence);
2) the latter is related to the historical usage "independent artist" – the artist who produces her/his work through her/his own company, as opposed to the artist who is employed by a state institution. It's associated today with the much contested status of the self–employed "free entrepreneur", and hence, has a liberal capitalist meaning.
Instead, Bojana Cvejić proposed replacing "independence" with "relative autonomy", and thus claimed that in every context of the global world there are semi-autonomous artists, possibly also forming a relatively autonomous scene: relatively autonomous or semi-autonomous individual artists, groups and collectives, projects, initiatives, organizations, movements, spaces etc.
SOME THESES ON THE "RELATIVELY–AUTONOMOUS SCENE"
by Bojana Cvejić
"Autonomy" is not a problem–free term, either like "independence", it also begs for careful deliberation.
The idea and popular notion of "autonomy" dates back to the establishment of the aesthetic regime of art, to use Rancière's scheme of dividing up mega–cultural and art epochs. Autonomy is the historical condition (ca. 1800) of separating art from the function of social service and establishing its function of not having a function (Theodor Adorno, The Sociology of Music), purported in the Kantian aesthetic judgment to be disinterested pleasure: this notion of autonomy, which casts art in the extremes, as either dedicated to self-perfection for its own sake and thus free from engagement with social reality, or, for precisely the same reason, as not engaging with realities outside of its medium.
However, I hereby mean an entirely other set of issues. From the term "autonomy" I'd like to draw its etymological meaning first: "auto" (by oneself, on one's own) + "nomos" (law). Semi-autonomous artists, projects, spaces etc. seek to establish their own conditions and terms of labor, representation, distribution of work, and even reception. Instead of refusing or complying with, they clearly enter a dialectical struggle and negotiation with / against institutional laws and mechanisms. They aren't independent – capable of existing "on their own" – as they partly depend on the means and structures of production. In addition, they inversely make institutions dependent on their own work. This rationale is similar to "workerism" or "autonomia" – the movement of workers claiming their workplace in the Fiat factories in Italy in the 1970s.
This autonomy is "relative" as it implies an incomplete reciprocity of relations. It can be compared with Louis Althusser's theory of ideological state apparatuses (Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses). I would like to draw out the semi–autonomous scene from the overall performing arts scene using the same logic: it's constituted by this overall scene, by the power of the state or capital to determine it economically (and politically), but it also constitutes itself, and hence, is constitutive of others. Its main trait is the power of constituting, rather than only being constituted – so, its power lies in the process and struggle of becoming.
This last research period (the end of June) has been dedicated to collecting and describing the items for the maps, to visiting spaces and venues that have appeared on the Paris map, and to discussion within the working group, and also with guests Goran Sergej Pristas and Franck Leibovici, the principles of cartography and artistic map-making procedures. This was intended to sharpen the direction and purpose of making a map of the "relatively autonomous" scenes of Paris and Belgrade. We plan to publish the map so that it may be used by others. The decision to publish it begged for the question: could our map guide a navigation that would really re-hallucinate the scenes?
The question is still open, and the map is in process. You can see the items list at the: http://www.howtodothingsbytheory.info/2010/06/18/re-hallucinating-contex...
We plan to complete the map during the Fall (September / October 2010).