Lebenskünstler

The prison of artlike art – Stephen Wright on Rasheed Araeen’s Art Beyond Art

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 08/09/2013

The Escapologist. Rasheed Araeen and the transformative potential of art beyond art – Stephen Wright

[To be clear – I love the field Wright stakes out even though I would argue with many of the details. One specific objection would be the idea of art as an inherently “critical” enterprise. This seems to be demonstrably false as a historical matter and an unnecessary notion ideologically. That is, one might ask – “Wouldn’t it be important to escape capture by the empire of criticality too?” ]

…Third Text’s controlled coefficient of specific visibility as a collective, conceptual artwork situated it in the “art-beyond-art” category — that is, of practices whose self-understanding is as art, but which manage to avoid being performed as art, somehow foiling the powerful apparatus of performative capture within what Araeen calls “the legitimising prisonhouse” of bourgeois aesthetics. Though Third Text, as we know, has since been captured by those very forces it had set out to challenge, Rasheed Araeen, we can be sure, eludes capture.

What’s most important about Art Beyond Art, though, is its discussion of the obstacles art faces today, and how it might elude them. Given Araeen’s experience in escapology — not of the Harry-Houdini variety of cuffs and chains, that wouldn’t be his style, but in escaping institutional, epistemic and performative capture — he has some important points to make. Here’s how he sets the stage:

“At the end of the sixties there emerged a concept of art whose true significance has not been generally and fully understood of recognized. Its significance was not in its newness or innovation, but what was conceptually a radical shift from art as displayable objects that can be looked at and contemplated — painting, scultupre, installations, photography, etc — to art as a process of transformation within the everyday. Historically, it was a movement of the idea that entered human imagination with a consciousness that sought integration of art with life, so that it would by becoming part of life’s everyday energy and creativity join its journey towards what for Hegel was its ultimate fulfillment. But this was not to happen. The journey was halted as it entered the cultural citadel of bourgeois capitalist society to seek legitimation. And, as it succumbed and capitulated to the privileges that the bourgeois art institution offered, the idea became trapped with in the logic of the very institutional space it was allowed to enter and occupy.”

“What is fundamental to my suggestion is the idea that it is possible to perceive or produce art in a radically different content, an art which locates itself away from the bourgeois institution and is not necessarily dependent on its mediation and legitimation.” This involves, amongst other things, making theory a practice, wresting it away from the academy: “It is with the imaginative power of art that I want to move forward; with a proposition that may lead to a new kind of thinking and produce a new kind of critical practice, out of which may also emerge a revolutionary concept of art based on the nominalism of the everyday work carried out by people themselves or their material production.” …

art, he writes, “must lead a double life.” “On the one hand, it is a conceptual artwork but, on the other, its material form must become independent of whether it is a work of art or not. Only when it can escape from being merely an art concept or form that it can avoid its reification, and only then can it continue to maintain its transformative function within the productive force of everyday life.”

Although what I propose as a collaborative practice results in a material form — it may be a farm, a factory, a supermarket, a transport system, etc, collectively run and owned by the workers themselves — I continue to call it a conceptual artwork. Why? Because it is not possible to get rid of art as a special category or completely dissolve it in other things so long as there exists capitalism and its division of labour. The complete dissolution of art into life so that art loses its identity as art will deprive it of its transformative function. If it is allowed to become like any other thing, without maintaining its specific non-instrumental imaginative power, art will not be able to act upon those things which are the products of consumer culture and turn them into a critical force capable of confronting the bourgeois society. In other s words, art’s function as a liberating force is dependent not only on its becoming something other than art but also maintaining its identity as a specific material as well as a symbolic practice.”

In essence, art secretes a kind of invisible but conceptual otherness within the everyday life processes that it permeates. Acting as a kind of yeast, the idea of art brings about a minimal shift within sameness. Though its dissolution into life may be impossible, it may act like a solvent upon ontologically stable relations. Like mycelium in a mineral, the idea steadily, “without complaint or resentment,” dissolves the obstacle.

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