Just a couple of comments, adding to this fascinating discussion on equally valuable book. When I read the excerpts of Yates McKee publication and think about responses to Greg’s insightful question, while living and working in Warsaw, Poland, one reflection pops up. Wouldn’t it be more appropriate, if the book’s title contained a bit more specific denotation of what it describes, like “Contemporary American art and post-Occupy condition” or maybe even “New York art scene before, during and after Occupy Wall Street” ? (I was writing this comment in parallel to @DSWang posting his very insightful critique re. Rust Belt and an American cycle of struggles).
This book is obviously a thick description and a self-ethnographic account of the political and artistic process, written from a position of an engaged practitioner. The title emphasizing the specificity of a context, to which the account refers and in which it is embedded, would make this narrative a great service. It would deflate some of the claims, which might be read, against the character of this narrative, as unjustified generalizations, like the one about the “end” of “socially engaged art” (is this claim valid everywhere, from Poland to Argentina? for everyone? why so? and why now?).
Such specificity would divert potential discussions from a well trodden path of ART versus POLITICS (always in capitals) debate. The problem with such dispute is that certain positions are entrenched on discursive battle lines, the concepts are there to be armed and fired, arguments are well rehearsed and ready to be performed. However, rituals are not particularly well suited to grasp new dynamics, which, I am pretty certain, post-artistic condition of Occupy Wall Street is an example of.
I do not think it makes sense to present and defend OWS as a cosmic EVENT (in capitals) which changed everything. Such thesis is neither defendable nor worthy to be defended. Our history is littered with such “events that changed everything”, just to name well known examples: for Spain it was 15M, for UK students protests, for Europe generally anti-austerity movements, for Argentina crash of early 2000’s, etc. Instead, one might draw theoretical conclusions in a midrange between bird’s view and wormhole perspective, in a direct relation with the granular reality of people involved in post-Occupy NY conundrum (so well documented in the book).
For example, one might ask, whether the contemporary fusions of artistic idioms and various life worlds and/or social fields, are a condition of emergence rather than an effect of OWS? (question asked many times here already, in different forms). Already in 1971 Jerzy Ludwiński, Polish theoretician of post-artistic times and a spectral patron of our current exhibition “Making use. Life in post-artistic times” (curated together with Sebastian Cichocki, at the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw), wrote “Perhaps, even today, we do not deal with art. We might have overlooked the moment when it transformed itself into something else, something which we cannot yet name. It is certain, however, that what we deal with offers greater possibilities.” In this sense, OWS might be considered as a fruition of tendencies prompted by aesthetical revolutions eons ago, as an environment (not the first and one of many), where disobedient potentials embedded in what Ranciere calls “aesthetical regime of sensible” come into realization as a form of praxis. If we embrace their specificity, we might ask how do such environments emerge and what are their specific qualities, and to read them in a distinctive affinity with other emergent idioms.
By adopting a wormhole perspective (on the level of theory and claims), we would be able to conceptualize how, why and where do people formulate progressive responses to the general “expediency of culture” (industrialization of creativity, transformations of a class composition) in cognitive capitalism? We also might ask why does it happen so rarely, considering the scale on which art and creativity are currently subsumed in capitalistic circles of production and valorization? We also might skip the general notion that art is impregnable to an utilitarian capture. A more embedded theoretical perspective could prove helpful in discussing uses of art, distinguishing between various modes of usership (from below) and forms of its instrumentalization (from the top), referring to Stephen Wright’s interesting take on cultures of usership.
One might also read the history of New York Occupy as a formative moment for the emergence of yet another art world. I do not mean here the progressive transformation of “the art system” or taking over the infrastructures of artistic mainstream, in their totality. Again, I do not think that the binary concepts of mainstream versus off-scene, or totalizing misappropriations of Bourdieu’s theory of social fields (vide Fraser’s “1% is me”), are particularly productive to analyze the social complexity of post-Occupy condition of New York and American art worlds, 2011onwards.
I would propose to read post-Occupy art scene as one of many actually existing art worlds, some of which are alternative to the gallery-exhibition nexus (a current, capitalistic incarnation of a critic-gallery system). I prefer to use this last term, as it is more precise in pinning down and deconstructing so called “artistic mainstream”. The book of McKee meticulously documents this formative process, and is doing a fantastic job at it. Still, this process, instead of using binary categories (like a “movement of 99%” versus “institutions of 1%”) might be more insightfully analyzed without replicating a current ideological capture, which tends to present gallery-exhibition nexus as the only possible art world. Even the term “art system” suggests a social totality, which can be dominated by one specific mode of circulation and valorization. Interestingly though, the book of McKee provides yet another strong evidence in case against such misleading cosmology of art.
Art-related sections of OWS can be analyzed by referring to such concepts as Stephen Wright’s “art sustaining environments”, Basekamp’s notion of “plausible art worlds”, Greg Sholette’s analysis of mock institutions, or Gerald Raunig and Universidad Nomada’s notions of “monster institutions” or “institutions of exodus”. In so doing we could avoid repeating rather ritualistic debates about cooptation and recuperation, while not “falling in love” with fantasies about taking over the “infrsastructures of 1%”.