A manifesto on Politics and Political Art
December 2014. Edition 1
Political art is inseparable from politics. It implies art’s danger for it wishes to enter into the field of antagonism that politics is posited. ‘To do political art is also to do an art that talks to politicians, it is to enter their territory’.
I know that political art nowadays has become entangled in a dangerous moralism of neoliberal efforts, which suggests and promotes political art as another product of free-market. But I want to suggest another approach from what political art was or has been turned nowadays to be; for I find the first and foremost feature of political art to be that of “dissensus” and thus here, a dissensus with-it-self.
‘How man, if he is to live in a ‘polis’, can live outside of politics?’ And how political art reflects the importance that politics play today?
Political art addresses always a ‘we’, that is a multitude. For political art’s kernel is not the action itself, whatever this might be in terms of materiality or performativity; for the action itself can never be political neither in its conception nor in its occurrence. An action becomes political and acquires its political essence only in its sociability; and thus the kernel of political art is the relationship that one seeks through their actions to or with a multitude. Political art is extroverted, it exposes itself and moreover it invites for engagement through and with its exposure. I must insist and clarify that the multitude that I’m talking about here is a vast and variformed group of people that does not converge into One, it is not a unity. Rather it is a group that maintains its heterogeneity and individuality; a group that consists of individuals who are not only related to art, namely, artists or people who are interested in art, but moreover by non-artists and individuals who are not involved in art matters.
Thus the consequential question that is generated here is what would be of common interest to artists and to people who are not interested in art in order to meet and for what purpose? Only social and political concerns that touch directly both of them can bring them together and of course, the purpose is only one: claim for social change. And the space that political art claims is that of public space, because it is there that a multitude can be more easily approached. Needless-to-say that in political art aesthetics comes second in importance, yet without necessarily to eliminate.
But because I know that some will argue for an inevitable accumulation of power by the ‘Arkhein’, namely, by the ‘beginning’ whether this is expressed as the initiator, director, Author, leader or collective, group, etc., then I say that this is not that kind of political art that I’m suggesting here. The political art that I’m talking about questions first and foremost itself, again and again and again; for political art is dangerous to itself, since it is located on the border between social change and spectacle. Thus those who claim for political art must redistribute the power of arkhe by blurring the dynamic between the one who is considered the active and the one who is considered the passive, between the one who knows and the one who doesn’t, between Author and multitude. ‘The birth of the reader must be at the cost of the Author’ explains perfectly what I mean, if I clarify only that in political art the ‘Author’ becomes the ‘author’. That is to say, the author’s initial position can differ before, during and after the arkhein. No proper political art is then; no right or wrong and no good or bad political art exists. Political art is only an intuition for the break with the logic of the arkhe.
But when a multitude is composed, a ‘new’ language is needed, perhaps each time a different one; a new language that will be ‘common’ to all who are engaged. To clarify that by ‘new’ I do not mean to conceive a new alphabet, neither by ‘common’ do I suggest a universal language. By ‘new’ and ‘common’ language I imply the intention of the involved people for mutual communication; a communication where thought, speech and action are claimed and can potentially clash. Political art and the multitude it addresses acquire a reciprocal relation in which both become exposed to each other and thus open to each other’s criticism. Herein, this is the ambivalent feature of political art that I want to highlight, its strength and its weakness, both at the same time; the very fact that it can be uplifted or shattered depending by the reception and reaction of the multitude.
If political art is circulated in a limited public and if political art hesitates or is afraid of the criticism and the reactions from a vast variformed and unpredictable group of people, then it is better to find a different name for that genre of political art that claims to be political without sharing the qualities of politics. This is the difference ‘between creating art about politics and creating art that works politically‘. I suggest calling that genre of art about politics ‘good-for-nothing’ political art.
Good-for-nothing political art is that genre of political art that reduces itself only to comment; good-for-nothing political art is that genre of political art that ‘talks about’; good-for-nothing political art is that genre of political art that re-imagines according to what political art has so-far-been; good-for-nothing political art is that genre of political art that addresses a limited audience and not a multitude, that is, the audience of the art-world; good-for-nothing political art is that genre of political art that submits itself to neoliberal efforts, that is, efforts that twist political art into commodity and reiterate political art as such.
For if politics bears a responsibility, then undoubtedly, so must political art; a must that is not reduced to moral values, but a must that claims and doubts, seeks and demands. Political art that works politically is ‘good-as-beneficial’, namely, it can be applied in the everyday life and it has an element of use in itself, that is, to long for the political imaginary. If one wants to make political art, then they must cogitate first the burden of and the cost for such a decision. In-other-words they must take the responsibility to claim the politicality for the action they want to take. I here use the term politicality to signify the essence I see in political art; that is, the amalgamation of the notions of art, philosophy and politics.
Those who claim for politicality in their work must always question themselves. Those who claim for politicality in their work must always question those who are at power. Those who claim for politicality in their work must redistribute the power of the Arkhein. Those who claim for politicality in their work must bear the political responsibility for claiming the work’s politicality. Those who claim for politicality in their work must always seek ways to expose and communicate their work in a broad public, that is a multitude, no-matter-what. And those who claim for politicality in their work must always claim for the political imaginary.
And the political imaginary is what democracy is for the chasers of democracy; but it is the halt of democracy today that limits politics only to a here-and-now and thus severs the latter from its utopic potentiality, from its horizon. And if politics has come to be the border that attests the halt of democracy, then political art must enter into that same border and claim its anger for the political imaginary; it is within that same border that political art must counter-act politics; and it is within that same border that political art and politics must clash.
And let me say thus that the political imaginary looks towards a horizon. For horizon is the thin line in which the earth’s surface and the sky appear to meet; it is a meeting place, a place where the rising and the sunset come together; Yet-one-to-see and contemplate on horizon a sufficient distance is needed, which in return means that horizon is ‘not-here-yet’. But this is the issue here, this is what I’m arguing for; the-very-fact that our horizon has been not only restricted by and guided to pseudo-democratic promises, but has been moreover disappeared from people’s imaginary, that is, from people’s thought. People have lost their urge for a horizon, for a better future; some have perhaps forgotten its very existence or are too busy with their hectic lives and their own daily problems, too tired or too comfortable. How and why one to get involved in common issues in his neighborhood, community, city, country or globally when they have so many personal and familial issues to deal with?
It is the idea of privatization that is at core; for privatization occurs not only in its physicality, meaning, in its material and spatial aspect, but it also occurs mentally, in each individual’s thought and thus, to the society as a whole, if society is seen as a broader conceptual body that is hold mentally deficient by the privatized. The word ‘private’ derives from the word ‘idiotes’, which means a private person, individual, one in a private station; from ‘idios’, one’s own, separate, removed from social responsibility. And-yet-the root of the word ‘idiot’ derives also from ‘idiotes’; and along this line the ‘private’ and the ‘idiot’ have come today to mean the same.
If thus politics cannot provide ‘stability’ to multitude, then it is on multitude’s hands to do something about it. That is to say, it is about us doubting the efficacy of the State to provide a welfare life. Doubt was the method used by Descartes. He ‘doubts everything he can manage to doubt -all traditional knowledge, the impressions of his senses, and even the fact that he has a body- until he reaches one thing he cannot doubt, the existence of himself as a thinker’. That is how Descartes arrived at his statement ‘I think, therefore I exist’. The potentiality of thought is what I pay attention on here and only, the notion of which today, perhaps more than ever, is under restrain and control. And this is precisely what I mean by saying that the imaginary has been disappeared from our horizon; that our thought is subject to guidance and control towards a way that renders our horizon out-of-sight; it is the loss of horizon that signifies the ‘privatization of thought’.
Claim your Anger questions Descartes saying ‘I think, therefore I exist’, which through this manifesto I translate as ‘I have anger, thus, I live’. But it is an ‘I’ that wants to ‘disappear’ within a ‘we’, a multitude, and it is an Anger that rises from what we do not have and for what we imagine; it is an Anger that questions and defies, disagrees and claims. For the Anger that I, am talking about, WILL-come-back again-and-again to haunt us as ghost; for the Anger that I, am talking about, WILL-come-back to irritate our thought and activate our memory; for the Anger that I, am talking about, turns our loss and disaffection in-to-claim; for the Anger that I, am talking about is an Anger of political force.
And it is here where I see the essence of political art; it is to open a ‘gap’ to the privatization of thought towards a new horizon; it is the puncture of thought for the political imaginary; for-indeed-is in art that I see the ‘sperm’ for the imaginary; it is in political art that I see the potentiality for the manifestation of the political imaginary. For political art is NOT here-and-now, it is NOT there-and-then; political art is the manifestation of itself here-and-now for there-and-then; a for that entails process; a for that denotes claim; and a for that proclaims the potentiality to a futurity. Political art is the spark. Claim your Anger is a polemic stance towards the implications of neoliberalism in artistic and non-artistic level. It calls for restlessness, a restlessness of the multitude for the multitude itself, to seek its own horizon and its own voice, each one individually or collectively, as wemagine.
Thanks for the inspiration:
José Esteban Muñoz
Special thanks to: