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Positively Protest Aesthetics Revisited

The relationship between picturing and politicking has long been a concern of political movements, as well as of politically minded artists. And so both asked: how to make representations political without being caught up in the politics of representation? How to be politically “correct” in one’s production of images? These were, famously, the problems posed by Walter Benjamin’s essay on the artist as producer, a text that Hito Steyerl deliberately mirrors, if not quotes, in her polemical essay “The Articulation of Protest.” Her text also gained notoriety almost instantaneously when it was first published on the by-now-legendary republicart website shortly after the WTO protests in Seattle in 1999, an event—most crucially, one that was broadcasted through Indymedia—that became one of the two examples employed by Steyerl in her investigation of two terms: articulation and montage.

The first term, articulation, stems from political theory, and the second, montage, from filmmaking, and together as well as apart they are put into play by Steyerl in connection with political action. And this is exactly where the polemics and controversy lie: how does one depict a political movement, and how does a movement visualize itself? If there is an aesthetics of protest—as suggested by the Indymedia film production Showdown in Seattle, as well as the historical example Steyerl contrasts it with, Godard and Mieville’s Here and Elsewhere—is there also a set of images produced by the protest itself, and not only through representations of it? In other words, Steyerl asks if a movement organizes itself around a sequence of images, around what she calls a montage:

How are different protest movements mediated with one another? Are they placed next to one another, in other words simply added together, or related to one another in some other way?

Although both examples are used as just that, as examples of political imagery, it is clear that Steyerl has more sympathy for Godard and Mieville’s agonizing over possible juxtapositions of images than for Indymedia’s journalistic claims of authenticity, which have obviously irked many media activists and Indymedia associates alike.

Read the full article here.