After going to the hottest hot tub I have ever been in, John and I stayed up til after the roosters crowed talking about where we are, as people, as culture, and the ideas that in describing our lives makes it both harder and easier to allow ourselves to go on living. I wrote this a year ago today. What's funny is that I think about these conclusions and what lead me there everyday - absolutely.
In this form of relational art, the art becomes not a form of relation but actually in continuous support of it. In these networks, the role of producer, artist, reader, publisher, curator, drinking buddy, musician and audience are constantly in flux. “This is what emancipation means: the blurring of the opposition between those who look and those who act, between those who are individuals and those who are members of a collective body” (Ranciere 279). By allowing for a continuous rotation of roles, where people’s positions do not become invested with cultural capital, these networks become the outgrowth and the breeding ground for the kinds of social engagements the members desire. By avoiding the situating of artist-as-teacher, these fluid relationships, where the status of creator is not fetishized, become the sorts of productive friendships and practices that do not take down the spectacle but get closer to providing what would come after it.
To make art that is not about exclusively reflecting the spectacle is not to deny its existence or further its hold necessarily any more than making art that does attempt to reflect a certain feature or moment in or of the spectacle. The reason the spectacle is a problem is not a moral one –it is not an a priori bad. It is the continuing cause of the impoverishment of life. Daily life, as we know, is what is at stake in the perpetuation of the spectacle. But what is less emphasized is that is the site of contestation as well. Thus the emphasis becomes about the relation between art and daily life.
We can return to the avant-garde to try to understand how to revolutionize more than the aesthetics of daily life, or we can examine the relation between our daily lives and the fulfillment of our desires. What does art give us? A privileged space potentially of criticality, of independent and intentional production. We get to make the things we want to make. We get to create the form of sociality we want to experience. This is at the heart of spectacle critique: sabotaging the impoverishment of life. The thwarting of spectacle is not achieved through hyper-critical discourse alone. It comes through a reengagment with production, with desires, with spaces. It doesn’t require fancy language or meta-anything. It does require simple, direct, and self-aware production. It requires an attempt to better one’s own life through a direct and collective engagement with the world.
This art has a politic. It is not on the same cultural and theoretical level as, say, Rirkrit Tiravanja’s work. It has an intended and enacted politic that is precisely local. An individual or small collective cannot -through art or anything else- overthrow systems of global capital and their nefarious effects. This doesn’t mean we have to give up. We can harness the power of art as a privileged zone of engagement –thinking, making, generating- to provide for ourselves a better possibility. We can work to enact these changes on a wider scale through intentionally created networks. While there is no massive toppling, there is still value in providing for ourselves the things we need and desire. This is endlessly more valuable than a meticulous reading about whether the use of spectacle is thwarting, serving or oblivious to the spectacle itself. By creating exhibitions, resources, and a culture of friendly, funny, and intelligent creation, people are able to forge new spaces for the kinds of work, relations and participation that they are seeking. No amount of writing about the social possibilities of Pad Thai could ever do that.
I sometimes wonder what would happen if I kept writing.