I try to reply a little to Greg's last “ethos of radical scholarship” question, and then play catch-up below on the other two questions.
The “liberation of a a general creativity” is indeed a noble aim. Helping the people to find their voice, and, in the face of a jobless future, to find their vocation is something artists can do. But this kind of mission is not the same as seeking a hermeneutics, a philosophy of communication, for “different species of artistic object/action/thing/practice.” (In fact, this isn't new; I recall Martha Wilson's turn of the century development group for an archival system adapted for experimental intermedia, performance and hybrid forms, which is a kindred problem.)
Dan Wang expresses skepticism, rooted again it seems in the alienation of social movements and political infrastructure from academia. Sure, “social practice attracted capital,” but my guess is its hold on university resources is tenuous and slippery. It's an old west false front on what is really a tiny town. Stephen Duncombe's emphasis on “socialization and mobilization,” the production of “self-help” books like “Beautiful Trouble” is part of the answer. But there needs also to be a network of popular universities, workers free schools, what the Spanish call “ateneos” to present and discuss these playbooks.
What we are confronted with now is not the “liberation” of general creativity, but its systematic and overarching commoditization, its mobilization as the new field of popular culture, its instrumentalization, and “farming” – the relentless extraction of an attention tax on every moment of its exchange. This is profoundly confusing.
Blake Stimson seems to suggest resolving the “bourgeois contradiction” by (sigh) simply remaining bourgeois. He reads the “tent cities and ad-hoc libraries” of OWS as only seeming like “harbingers of a new and better world.” Somehow, this global appearance of instant social centers (i.e., pop-ups of venerable forms of modernist left organizing) meant “we had already lost the fight.” Heaven forfend that in “reaching for need” (vital, indeed) we should sink into the “fetid feudal dark matter of the art world and below.” Gee, no liberation there! Only the stuffy, smelly, tedious solidarity of slaves. All righty, then. Very many of us are there already.
Joanna Warsza writes of what Yates calls the “moment of breakage” between art institutions and “the new space opened by Occupy.” She says these moments don't last long, which is true. But this 2011 was a crest, a coming into public view of stuff that was going on for a long long time. This cresting left art and subculture behind, and became functionally political (15M into Podemos and related formations).
Derszer's suggestion, based on the “Making Use: Life in Postartistic Times” exhibition in Warsaw, that museums can be information points to “report on practices” which are “an-art, post-art” etc., is very European. EU art institutions are largely publicly supported. U.S. institutions, which are funded by the 1% mostly in finance and real estate, are not about to serve as infoshops for post-capitalist development.
Finally, my own “radical scholarship,” since I am involuntarily retired from academia, revolves more around questions of militant research. My “House Magic” zine project has been dedicated to propagandizing the political squatting movement, and recovering the extraordinary histories of the movement's projects. These are not just forgotten; they've been suppressed. Our group, Squatting Europe Research Kollective (SqEK), is committed to returning academic knowledge to the movement. How exactly that practical ethic of research and publication translates into the world of art, both market and institutional, is rather up for grabs.
And then, while I was traveling I had a chance to reflect some on the earlier questions, #2 in particular, which I can only post now:
Yates' description of Zucotti Park quoted by Greg could be compared with the occupation of Gezi Park in Istanbul, which happened in part during an international art exhibition, and in which numerous artists took part. This is an important conjunction – a moment – which needs more scrutiny, despite that it is now drowned in a torrent of government reaction. Yes, “moment” as Nato observes, in evolving a criticism germane to the art and activism conjunction, we must respect its fluidity, its mixing, and talk less about genres or technical practices than about these moments.
In this centennial year (2016), Claire Bishop observes that Dada was connected to anarchism, but loosely (um, directly in Hugo Ball's researches), and was “rejective” of art tradition – I think not, but rejective of contemporary art practice, yes! Now, as mjleger put it, “Strike Art uses a Derridean deconstructive register to place the word Art 'under erasure.'” It's all there, but artists are undercover, artists without portfolio. All the old traces of rebellion are there in tradition, even unto the Cathars. Not the Dadas, but the Surrealists mobilized them all more coherently (for 2021!). Among allusions to classic “artpol actions” as Dan Wang mentioned, we must include the activist clubs Rodchenko modelled in 1925 and Dmitry Vilensky explains in his texts directly in relation to social centers. Chto Delat has recently reconstructed these in museums in a kind of hot rod artpol antiquarianism
Claire's reference to “Hirschhornesque hand-made signs” of OWS, as others have observed, reverses the flow of influence, from artist to social movement. I am happy that Hirschhorn's unacknowledged appropriation of the social center movement tradition and form has at last been recognized, even if only in these replies. But that phrase betokens also the moment of recognition, when the function of a fetish is understood. It's an evolution; Hirschhorn hires his collective.
Looking for coherence in the field of creative production in the thick of a social movement is going to be unrewarding. Artists can make that coherence, but only as a simulation, and only retroactively, as camp followers. In the thick of struggles, it makes more sense to me to search rather for the texture of engagement, the gyrations in the ethos that are underway. It's a question of working on a kind of listening rather than precepting and propounding.
For the larger social issues, the futurology we work under the banners of utopia – Stevphen Shukaitis is succinct: “OWS represented the visible manifestation of a shift in class composition more broadly.” Just as Dadas and Constructivists exalted the engineer as the Fordist era with all its dislocations kicked in, artists now might exult the employment counselor for the jobless future as the age of robots and artificial intelligence swamps the world's working stiffs.
As for the Occupy movements as moments of supersession, I am so happy I was there! Happy too that it all seemed so familiar, those camps, from the many social centers I had visited. It was simply normal! As to what was occurring, it was the return of the historically repressed, the 'parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme' of the commons, the fair. Again as mjleger said: “the operative term here is the commons, a concept that acts as an ontological placeholder,” yes a way of being, and an ethos, even an imperative, for acting.
It is a term in legal philosophy, historically explicated by Peter Linebaugh, and developed in Italy as a constitutional proposal by Ugo Mattei. Many today, like the young Lucy Finchett-Maddock are working to make this more real. Artist Adelita Husni-Bey's project on devising a “convention,” or proposed law on squatting for governments to adapt, using an assembly-based process of composition, as an art project – is an important prefigure, and even more, a real job of work. And there is even an art product! (Made with Casco Projects, Utrecht, as an outgrowth of their long-running Grand Domestic Revolution investigations.)
Vilensky's texts continually ask the artist: “What is the use of what you do?” While I sympathize that to confront such a question might drive some to suicide – we all need something to do, even if it's not “useful” – it's a good, if Soviet-hard rule of thumb for artpol. So, are we serving the movements? If so, we must understand them.
Dan Wang writes, “By the fall of 2011, all the insurgencies were visible to one another.” (Yes, but they remained invisible to the public of the Spectacle, and the U.S. TV pundits were baffled, turning for the first and last time to the likes of David Harvey and David Graeber to explain it to them.) The work of understanding them, involving much cross-comparison, is quite important. I am thinking of what I know but don't understand – the Agora 99 in Europe before Occupy, or even in the Spanish context, 15M; and of the student movement organizers' visit to Tunis even before the Arab Spring. There is a track of major organizing going on which is the job of social movement analysis to uncover and make clear. I doubt that this could really be part of art history. When I was teaching survey art history, I had only the vaguest of notions what the Holy Roman Empire was, much less the political conditions in most of the countries and epochs I was teaching.
What can be done, especially in teaching, is to undertake a real analysis of collective practice. This can be put together with recent political analyses, like those of “constituent power” and culture, like Luis Moreno-Caballud's recent “Cultures of Anyone.” This should be an emerging concern of art theory, even though it is in a sense management theory. (That's why already there are anarchists in business schools.)
If artists working collectively, working in service of movements, understand themselves and the way they work, then they will not be so easily subsumed by the demands of the Political, nor exploited by the libtards* of Silicon Alley (*that's “libertarian bastards”). Dan notes that suppressive effect in OWS: the “libidinal energy of an avant garde worth the name seemed absent, replaced by the General Assembly, a collective performance of radical civility and radically respectful multi-logue.” A strong critique of the GA came out of the Occupy Artists Space action, which Andrea Liu has continued to work on. So, no, you don't have to go to all those meetings – but you do have to go to your own.
So far as Dan's reading of “the history of New York Occupy as a formative moment for the emergence of yet another art world” goes – I don't see that on the ground around the USA, as it were. There are people, and online projects, and scattered pockets in academia. But the kind of networks that existed in the '70s and into the '80s for politicized cultural work I do not see. I have recently seen the melting away of the post-Global Justice movement infrastructure, infoshops and the like, and its replacement by a demographically bounded music culture scene (white punks on dope), and pockets of anarchists.
The academic art world is a place where some politics can live, yes, but under heavy constraint. Academia does not build any networks but its own, and the centripetal force is tremendous. The big job is always to get outside the walls – but, as everyone knows, you might get stuck out there when the drawbridge goes up.
Thanks to Gregory and every poster for this very stimulating discussion.