back to e-flux.com

"Is it OK to punch a Nazi (art gallery)?"


#1

http://www.amerika.org/wp-content/uploads/ld50_altar-600x401.jpg

In Mute magazine, O. D. Untermesh writes about recent accusations that a London art gallery, LD50, has been covertly advancing a white nationalist agenda through its exhibitions and speaking events. Untermesh argues that the helter-skelter pastiche of much contemporary art is in fact uniquely conducive to the “rebranding” of fascism, since this aesthetic can be used to conceal fascist content that, if expressed more directly, would not be allowed in most galleries. He goes on to offer nine theses on how to recognize and confront the emerging “art-right.” Read an excerpt below, or the full text here.

5.) It would be possible to argue that the dissolution of fascist symbols into a larger flux of anachronistic text and visual elements is reactionary only in the sense that the former conceal the latter, or because placing Pepe the Frog next to (e.g.) the Andrex puppy or a pixelated image of an elf indicates an indifference to the larger historical significance of the uses to which Pepe is now put. But the argument from disproportion misses the deeper receptiveness to fascist attitudes of much visually overloaded, deliberately obsolescent or backward-looking contemporary visual art, since the tendency of artists working in this mode to conceive of the past in terms of relentless nostalgia for a fantasised world of undamaged safety or protection (symbolised in old video games or TV advertisements), is perfectly continuous with the tendency of white nationalists to fantasise what was in fact a history of imperial aggrandisement and class struggle in the terms of undamaged communal integrity and social cohesion. In other words, in contemporary visual art, the larger the pixels, the narrower the range of historical intelligence.

6.) By contrast, the more fully self-organised and the more hostile to the marketplace of personal reputation a culture becomes, the easier it will find it to identity and to root out fascist tendencies.

7). Fascist artists are likely to proliferate over the next few years with traditional organic fecundity. The tendencies will be crypto and overt, technicist and pastoral, cyborg and social conservative, they will speak ‘from the left’ or they will claim to be apolitical, they will have great plans or they will be nihilists, they will emit notes of irony to perfume their racism or they will let racism waft insensibly into their irony. The dizzying variety of aesthetic tendencies will replicate at the level of the genre the formal overloadedness of the ideal-typical work of conservative post-internet art, and it will match the diminished attention span of an artworld whose own art of the deal is now defined by the principle that it will buy absolutely fucking anything. There are good reasons for this hyperactivity, just as, in yet another domain, a proto-fascist president has in his own terms good reason to proliferate with seemingly organic fecundity an endless series of hateful executive orders. Put simply: for those whose politics revolve around the defence of an historically regressive form of domination like the capitalist nation state, frenetic activity is the only possible means of simulating real historical dynamism. And just as with any other grotesque farce in the Rabelaisian tradition, the farce of national protectionism that Trumpism represents will lead to no more progressive development in art or politics than an unprecedented new growth in innovatively trapped wind.

Image via ld50gallery.com.


#2

“The art-right are on the rise and even the deep, market-reflexive complacency of the London artscene shows signs of being ruffled. How on earth did reactionaries get a foot hold in galleries and educational institutions, what were people thinking?, asks O.D. Untermesh, and how does the fascist aesthetic of our moment work? Most of all – how can it be opposed?”

Since the writer offers ‘scattered suggestions, open to criticism’ here are some more, fwiw:
How about start with accountability for oneself & ones own subject position (whats w the pseudonym, OD Untermesh?), understanding that ‘reflexive complacency’ is a localised phenomenon that some - even within the London art ‘scene!’ - have been fighting for a long time. Understand and acknowledge that ‘educational institutions’ like eg Goldsmiths have harbored white liberal racists & sexual harrassers for years (see also http://www.independent.co.uk/.../london-university) And now that you’ve decided that ‘post-internet’ is categorically ‘bad’ (without much reason given as to why or how, but once again, thanks to the women of color for doing this work years prior on behalf of the white artist-academics at Mute et al: http://www.academia.edu/7508373/Notes_on_Post-Internet) then maybe think about defining what ‘the fascist aesthetic of our moment’ could be, beyond - you know - a series of [white, male] shitposts with anonymous avatars - some evoking Kek and the KKK, others evoking Marx & Bataille.

“Whether it would be more correct to say that fascism had grown up within this art scene, or that the art had merely been reduced to a decorative detail in the larger fresco of fascist ‘normalisation’, has nothing to do with our immediate practical situation and is in the last instance besides the point.”

This is explicitly not besides the point imo - this is exactly the point, & a good opportunity to examine how this happened, which will in turn help [us] figure out what the writer cites as the real point: “how do we stop this from ever happening again?”

The writer also asks (somewhat rhetorically, since the evident pleasure in the language of revulsion and rejection produces a sense that really it’s more fun to speculate & self-exonerate than to act) “how do we reconceive our own art to ensure that it never again serves as a conveniently indeterminate incubator for those who would gladly destroy us, our friends and neighbours and comrades, along with any latent possibility of a genuinely open and revolutionary culture or emancipated society?”

To which I would also ask:
who is this ‘us’ of which the writer speaks?
And in what way does the writer conceive of a gallery’s fascist speaker program as a radical break in a culture of eurocentric white supremacy to which the writer’s own microculture - ie [para]academic left art criticism - owes a significant debt as regards its conception of eg ‘freedom’, ‘revolution’, and subjectivity - as evidenced, once again, by the writer’s own assertion that they are in immediate danger from the radical break, or regime change, imagined as corollary of small gallery’s fascist speaker program?

& finally -
“The idea that things are always so complex (and all variants thereof) is an intellectual mystification of a pre-existing situation of competitiveness. It turns the acknowledgement of the simple from a source of basic human solidarity against reaction into a source of anxiety and self-doubt in the face of loss of distinction.”

There is a good clean sense of absolute correctness in this righteously enlightened missive - in which ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are imagined as ‘the right’ and ‘the left’ in keeping with the delicious cowboys-and-indians heroism beloved of all white would-be radicals since it makes one’s own position seductively simple and celebratory. However: it seems like the idea of complexity is, simply, an admission of complicity, and if this - the idea that one’s ‘basic human solidarity’ is already flawed, that [we] are all beneficiaries or instruments of an outdated system whose founding principles disallow any ‘latent possibility of a genuinely open and emancipated society’ is a source of anxiety and self-doubt, it seems only to reveal an unreadiness to confront the ways in which one perpetrates the principles of this outdated system every day.
The call to deconstruct one’s own institutions - which is what happens when you ask the long-historic question of how ‘reactionaries’ got a foothold in these, rather than doing the whole “shocked and appalled of Mute Magazine,” thing - including the institutions of whiteness and patriarchy, seems like its gonna be long ugly work. To be absolutely clear: lets all act against fascism (aka the organic culmination of austerity policies, racial capitalism, the exhausted straining of an enlightenment ideology, and the fallout at end of empire/sovereignty) but don’t imagine that it is somewhere far from where you are and what you are. That [set of] disidentification/s is what got [us] here. If you don’t want it to happen again, you have to ask: why have I suffered it to happen so often already?


#3

Excellent reply, thank you.


#4

A useful addition to the discourse around LD50 from HorribleGIF:

http://horriblegif.com/post/157189463814/level-drama-50

Because a lot of us in the London art scene are white and generally not on the breadline of poverty we’re kind of unaffected by LD50s fascism, there is a reluctance to stake out a vocal position because we’re taught to court ambiguity as successful methodology, or something like that. The non-position position, the entrepreneurial cloak, logic mazes eating themselves as the apex form to attitude. The gallery have since changed their trading name to TIVERSE LTD but their prognosis can’t be long-term survival, unless their instagram weirdness really galvanises the turncoats and creeps or finds some very rich David Ike fanboy to invest. Ignoring bad smells is never a great idea, our whole biological purpose of smell to detect invisible malaise and thus act upon removing the harm it can do to our bodies. Not the most high-brow parallel, can we get a point across without retweeting our twitter bot making garbled Bifo and Deleuze references?

What is the fear that forces us to hold back on committing to our views… views that SHOULD by default be progressive, inclusive and reformative? It’s not fucking Serpico, it’s art, but the stakes aren’t wildly different.


#6

From the Shut Down LD50 campaign: the speakers who’ve appeared at the gallery reveal its rightward shift.

ABOUT LD50’S REACTIONARY TURN

The LD50 gallery in Dalston, London last year ran this series of talks featuring 6 high profile far right reactionary speakers:

  1. Sunday – 7th August 2016– 12pm
    NICK LAND on
    Techno-Commercial NRx
  1. Saturday – 6th August 2016 – 6pm
    MARK CITADEL [as virtual avatar]
    ‘Christianity, Progressivism, and the Occidental Soul’
    watch here
  1. Saturday – 6th August 2016 – 6pm
    BRETT STEVENS [as virtual avatar]
    ‘The Black Pill’
    watch here
  1. Sunday – 31st July 2016– 6pm
    PETER BRIMELOW on
    Imigration, Ethnicity and Economics
    listen here
  1. Sunday – 24th July 2016 – 6pm
    IBEN THRANHOLM on
    The Sanctuary of Traditionalism in Russia and the West
    listen here
  1. Saturday – 28th May 2016 – 6pm
    Dr PETER SAUNDERS
    ‘Epigenetics and Evolution Theory’
    screening: The Monk and the Honeybee (1989)
    listen here
  1. Saturday – 21st May 2016 – 6pm
    Dr FLORIAN PLATTNER
    ‘Can we enhance memory?’
    screening: TransHumanism ( h+) / Genetic Modification of Life (2010)
    listen here
  1. Wednesday – 18th May 2016 – 6pm
    ‘Autoimmunity’
    (hosted by Goldsmiths university)
    watch here
  1. Saturday – 7th May 2016 – 6pm
    Dr SILVIA CAMPORESI
    ‘CRISPR Genome Editing Technologies: Which possible futures?’
    screening: Gattaca (1997)
    listen here

http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache%3Ahttps%3A%2F%2Fwww.ld50gallery.com%2Ftalks%2F

ABOUT THE SPEAKERS

The talks programme mixes straight up fascists and reactionaries with other innocuous seeming figures with no known right wing affiliation or convictions.

Peter Brimelow is hardcore fascist: https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/individual/peter-brimelow

As is Brett Stevens: https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2011/07/26/american-blogger-praises-oslo-shooter

Mark Citadel seems to be part of the 'Return of Kings’ manosphere blog, so is clearly another reactionary voice. (‘Return Of Kings is a blog for heterosexual, masculine men. […] men should be masculine and women should be feminine.’ – to quote their own philosophically self-undermining self-description.)

Iben Thranholm is a proponent of racist, anti-Islamic, anti-immigrant, homophobic and misogynist politics. She routinely discourses on the need to resurrect strong ‘european’ gender binaries and ‘strong men’ to ‘protect women’ from 'male immigrants’ who she presents as a violent sexual threat: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GaOLgy3YKtA

Nick Land: One can split hairs by saying that Nick Land isn’t a white supremacist and is just into eugenic selection for intelligence so we can survive the coming AI singularity. However, a close reading of his recent writing reveals he just doesn’t like immigrants and black people. He likes Asians because they are deemed to be smart and polite, and he likes Japanese because they’ve resisted immigration. Racism is an aura around all his other pronouncements.

The first three named speakers in the talks series – Peter Saunders, Silvia Camporesi, and Florian Plattner – are all reputable scholars. The topic of epigenetics (Saunders’ subject) is a hot button one for the new biological racists, because it shortens timelines over which evolutionary change can potentially happen, meaning that changes in historical time can have significant effects on human populations. This is usually used to argue that evolution within NW European populations has led to the wonders of the Enlightenment and enhanced IQ, while everyone else are just cousin-marrying knuckle draggers who are resistant to democracy because they haven’t selected for non kin altruistic behaviour. The fact that HBD (human biodiversity) proponents use and sometimes misuse epigenetics doesn’t mean anyone talking about it is necessarily fascist.

Considering the rest of the line up, however, it seems these figures fulfilled a kind of legitimating function for LD50’s project. Openly reactionary speakers could enjoy credibility by association with reputable academics. However innocent, they became tools in what appears to be a conscious and extended attempt to promote extremely reactionary ideas by introducing them, uncritically and indeed enthusiastically, to an art world and art educational context.

The live streams still available on the gallery’s blog testify to LD50’s gushing reception of and advocacy for racist, white supremacist, misogynist and homophobic views. If we can learn one thing from the above, it is the need to stop assuming everything programmed by small or large galleries is at worst ‘exploratory’, ironic or even critical – either an intellectual provocation or contribution to ‘discussion’. This programme appears to have been part of a wider far right push to infiltrate academic institutions, and to normalise and promote extremely reactionary ideas.


#7

In a piece entitled “Useful Idiots of the Art World,” published on The Baffler website, Megan Nolan argues that the LD50 affair illustrates “the dithery political ambivalence of much of the art world,” where even the most repugnant politics can find expression as long as they’re couched in an aesthetic of ironic meaninglessness. Here’s an excerpt:

Art has a talent for mystification, for muddying meaning—prides itself on it even. That its insistence on the endless interpretability of words, gestures, and images lends itself to manipulation is not surprising. There is strong evidence to suggest that Diego is and has been for some time personally sympathetic to the far right. But even if she wasn’t, the dithery political ambivalence of much of the art world leaves it available as a useful idiot for the right. As the Shutdown LD50 website says, the alt-right are making moves to speak more directly to white middle class “progressives,” and what better place to start than here; here, where any and everything goes, so long as it can plausibly be called ironic or discursive; here, where you can be guaranteed a column crying censorship if you object. It could hardly be easier.

Art is not abstracted from human life. A gallery is not a vacuum in which ideology is stripped of meaning, and beyond attack. I do believe that art is sacred, is special, but it is so because it is of humanity, not above it. When art, or fascism in art’s clothing, appears which disrespects and threatens the humanity of us, our friends, and neighbors, it is not only acceptable but obligatory to refuse it.


#8

LD50 has reportedly been been shut down, after the landlord of the space asked the gallery owners to vacate the premises. For more on the tactics and rationale behind the shutdown, visit the Shut Down LD50 website: