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Tyler Coburn: Live Coverage of Boris Groys on "The Truth of Art"


Join us tonight for a talk by Boris Groys on “The Truth of Art,” expanding on his text by the same title in the March issue of e-flux journal:

“If artists want to change the world the following question arises: In what way is art able to influence the world in which we live? There are basically two possible answers to this question. The first answer: art can capture the imagination and change the consciousness of people. If the consciousness of people changes, then the changed people will also change the world in which they live. Here art is understood as a kind of language that allows artists to send a message. And this message is supposed to enter the souls of the recipients, change their sensibility, their attitudes, their ethics. It is, let’s say, an idealistic understanding of art—similar to our understanding of religion and its impact on the world.”

We look forward to seeing you right here on ustream. On this very thread, Tyler Coburn <<@tylercoburn>> will be live-commenting during Groys’s talk.

*Image above: Dziga Vertov kneels to shoot a train in Man with a Movie Camera (1929).



Good evening, e-conversants. The audience is waiting with bated breath for the start of Boris Groys’s talk, “The Truth of Art,” though arguably, you have the most fitting “seats” in the house. As Groys discusses in his essay of the same name, recently published in e-flux journal, the question of whether art is “capable of being a medium of truth” can’t ignore consideration of the internet: “the place of the production and exposure of art at the same time.” The internet provides the new “profane” space for art—in which artists and institutions realize unprecedented scales of self-representation—and yet its conditions are such that artists “lose their extraordinary position,” becoming representative of what Groys provocatively calls “mass cultural production.” Our conversation will thus occupy a charged space, between discussing this claim and, potentially, enacting it. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Groys is a regular contributor to e-flux journal (see here, here and here), so take a moment to peruse, then check back in for more coverage.



A hot pot of coffee has been delivered to the table, and things are off and running.

Stephen Squibb is conducting the event as a conversation with Groys, beginning with the most pertinent question of the evening: “Is art capable of being a medium of truth?”

In responding, Groys tracks through history, noting how different contexts and systems (for instance, religion) have framed art’s truthfulness. By the 19th Century, he notes, Hegel argued that the truth of art was already a thing of the past. For Hegel, the only possibility for art to approach truth lay in performing its very inability or incapacity to be a medium of truth.

I’m mulling over this claim—and racking my brain for artworks that reflexively engage this logic. Any ideas?


“Art is not something that can remain invisible,” Groys claims, in contrast to the silent prayer—the internal conversation—between a believer and a divinity. Appearance and manifestation are its minimum conditions; when we describe these conditions, we’re describing actions, verbs. In other words: As a verb, art creates things that haven’t previously existed in the world.

Moreover, these minimum conditions both imply and rely upon public space. Art can only appear and manifest before publics.


Provocatively, Groys proposes that the only emancipation, vis-à-vis the Internet, is “emancipation from the Internet.” After all, we’re working for the corporate entities of the Internet; we’re providing the value, but seeing nothing of “the gold,” or the return. And we are not lacking in rationalizations for this status quo. As Chris Anderson remarks in his 2009 book, Free: the Future of a Radical Price, the “freeconomy” is merely “the hole where the wage should be.” Indeed, we can find many projects that call attention to these inequities, i.e. Laurel Ptak’s Wages for Facebook.

Groys’s argument is categorical, but I wonder: Is exit the only form of emancipation from the strictures of Web 2.0?


Squibb asks: Is there a world in which the algorithm can be a work of art, given that it dominates the visuality of the internet? Groys replies that to answer, we first need to contextualize the present. In The Society of the Spectacle (1967), Guy Debord characterized spectacle in terms of mass consumption. But in our era—when the public, with its available devices, not only participates in audiovisual culture, but generates the value-rich content that social media platforms monetize—we need to speak instead of mass production.

What creative possibilities do these conditions potentiate? Groys, for his part, is skeptical about what might be rising on the cultural horizon. And in his pessimism, he’s certainly not alone (cf. the camp that Adam Gopnik, in The New Yorker, has called the “Better-Nevers”). I’m curious where the rest of you weigh in on this topic.


From mass consumption…


…to “mass production.”


Yes folks, to conduct a rigorous conversation about the Internet, one cannot avoid the subject of the cat. We’re chatting about it IRL, so now’s the time to watch your favorite feline video.


The cat didn’t "break the internet,” but it did bring Squibb and Groys’s conversation to a close. Squibb has now opened things up to the audience. Let me summarize some salient points:

One questioner mentioned various activities of social media users—likes, shares, public discussion—that seem to exceed the monetizable constraints Groys has set. Groys doesn’t deny the value of these activities, but reiterates that if we’re thinking from the perspective of algorithmic and economic interests, we need to recognize that what they define as the meaningfulness of our online content may differ from how we define it.

Another questioner is doubtful about Groys’s claim that the internet has undermined the museum. After all, museum exhibitions on a CV provide comparable means of legitimation in the online and offline worlds. Groys responds that he’s thinking less in terms of undermining than expansion—that the internet is “expanding the field of art.” We see evidence of this expansion, for example, in museums making available larger swathes of their collections than can be shown in their physical galleries. Thinking speculatively, what future “expansions” might occur, as art institutions increasingly try to make the internet not an exception to, but a component part of their identities?

I’ll leave it at that—and I look forward to hearing your thoughts.



This claim is so informed by the truism of the overall dominance of the Romantic notion of the taboo of the Absolute, that indeed if seen through this prism, all art is foreclosed to its role as medium to represent truth. This again though constitutes a truth, as well as the remaining task for art: to perform precisely this inability.


As I understand there are two meanings to the word value-rich. Firstly as Groys indicates it refers to the financial value of user generated content when it is monetized by corporations. Looking at it as mass production strongly links back to the concept of division of labour, which reminds me of men’s estrangement from his products. Something that the aforementioned “Wages for Facebook” shines a light on: “new forms of value creation and exploitation online” happen without the screenworker taking notice. Also this understanding of work - I think - distinguishes what we are talking about from creativity or art.

If you look at the term value-rich from another another point of view, it sounds as if user generated content is equated with being creatively or intellectually valuable. Following Debord’s negative perception of mediated mass consumption, the partaking in the creation of mediated content would supposedly add up to our distraction and estrangement from the world. I’d have to look at the text in great detail to make a point, but roughly speaking he’d probably argue against our contemporary means’ usefulness in potentiating our creativity. I wonder if and how he would even distinguish between art and other content mediated through various channels. (He writes about culture and art in chapter 8.)

Personally I think it’s really hard to tell, if the internet fosters our creativity, extends our means of representation or most of it disappears into the void or drowns in a see of voices.



I have the feeling that Debord would have seen the internet as just an extension of the spectacle. The Spectacle for Debord was able to recuperate (absorb) creative expression, criticism or dissent. The idea that we are moving into a situation of mass-production means perhaps that the internet has simply integrated this “recuperation” into its basic infrastructure. Every future creative act is pre-destined to become spectacular before we even sit down to type / film / shoot.
(I hope not)
x Carl