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Kooperative Kunstpraxis | The Capacity of Art


Cultural systems of meaning determine the social environment in everyday life as well as in the artistic realm. As descendants of previous generations, we have been born into existing political realities, dominant moral conceptions, and economic relations.

An individual life concept can only emerge from an awareness of our own social conditions. Otherwise, we merely subject our self to historically contingent foreign purposes. Recognizing our own conditions of existence and the formulation of alternatives opposes the totality of capitalist life world, which engenders indifference. The structure of capitalist society essentially consists in the transformation of all goods into an interest-bound valorizability. The resulting property relations dissolve the value system of the community into the right to shares of a commoditized world. In capitalism, value formation is replaced by the determination of exchange values.

Other values, like social justice or cultural multiplicity, are assimilated or repressed by the social-economic logic. This pattern of market-oriented thought and action is the ideology of capitalism, and lets the action of the individual appear useless in light of the functional unity of the social whole. In the field of art, indifference results from the separation of the aesthetic sphere from the sphere of ethics. The preferred attitude in which art is produced and perceived today is that of contemplative beholding. Here, the engagement between artists and audience is divided by the work, and the question of common interest in the sense of practiced democracy is put on hold or reduced to an aspect of contemplative absorption in work forms. Instead of a political practice, our gaze remains limited to the world of technical possibilities. As soon as artistic autonomy is realized without relation to anything else, it can be instrumentalized for purposes that the work cannot exclude by means of its statement.

Art, which understands freedom as taking a place in a predefined free space, is vulnerable to having its statements appropriated, for a social logic in the form of economic reality runs through the supposedly distinct artistic realm as well. Free, individual action finds its counterpart in social practice. Artistic production that seeks to fulfill its claim to freedom cannot do without transgressing society's restrictions. By showing the contradictory nature of social relations, art represents an individual attempt at differentiation within the dominant indifference. Often, art that is committed to shaping political realities is criticized as an ideological limitation of artistic freedom. This way of thinking has its origins in an absolute concept of freedom.

But freedom can never be realized absolutely, but only in relation to the existent. Only if we understand our actions in the present as a continuation of the light of history can they develop into a political act. Daily action is then an investment in the better relations of the future. As a current interface between the past and future, the present offers the option of shaping reality in concrete action. The present is the moment of history's formation. As individually acting subjects, we participate in the formation of history. A situation is marked by the subject that stands and acts within it. Situations that are confirmed in their actual existence grow into relations by way of successive situations. Society forms itself from these relations. Social forms have thus always emerged from a multiplicity of historical situations.

Currently, we are prisoners of many historical decisions, with a hope for the situations that lie ahead of us. As subjects that articulate and act, we are partially responsible for the reality within which we exist. All art works are produced and read before the horizon of world events as well as the personal sphere of everyday life. It is a mistake to value art's conditions of production as merely secondary, for in the operation of social logic political reality becomes everyday practice. The impact of social conditions on individual artistic practice is most clearly shown in the operation of acceptance and denial. The criterion for selection is thus an instrumental aesthetic, which allow destabilizing ethical debates to be concealed.

Artistic work is work on the conditions of production. Only if the artist is conscious of these conditions of production, and if the conditions of production can be grasped on the level of artworks, can they emancipate themselves from foreign interests of representation. A key quality of artworks consists in not concealing the structure of their emergence, the conditions of production. Art production that neglects to reflect its socially determined nature represents the loss of its independent anchoring in society.

An example of how the art world blocks out reality is the white cube, where a form of art that conforms to the system has installed itself. Art becomes a reference to reality, a utopian act of imagination without any utopian content. An art defined transhistorically and transsocially sees itself as divorced from social relations. It is utopicized, idealized, romanticized and communicated as the unknown, unapproachable, und indefinable. Its scholarly explanation rests on art's undefinability as its definitional characteristic.

A monopoly on concepts is secured by the academic apparatus in symbiosis with collectors and museums. Whoever buys art, collects, orders, systematically saves and academically supported, signalizes need and creates follow up products. Artists who do not develop in their practice guidelines towards on self-determination degrade themselves to exchangeable employees of an art world carousel who hope to get their chance, just like winning the lottery, and are only rewarded with a successful career if they adapt to the system's needs. The artists do not control the system, the system controls the artists.

Today, art's promise to be a socially relevant realm stands in no relation to the actual works it produces. Interests lurking behind art determine its form of appearance. They offer the most reliable orientation on why things are produced in the name of art. A sensible definition of art should begin with a theory of art's conditions of production and representation interests, because artistic freedom, and thus artistic sovereignty, can only be defined in relation to these conditions of production and representational interests. Socially relevant art acts in the interest of society in general, but does not follow a general recognition in the sense of a populist affirmation.

The capacity of artists is to grasp the nature of society in the situations of their practice. The practical failure of artistic ideas is often misunderstood as a failure in aesthetic, technical or interpersonal terms; in so doing, the late capitalist ideology of art is reproduced with no contradiction. While society becomes increasingly restrictive, the art world raises the question of meaning in well-protected refuges of the affluent society. In democracies with a capitalist economy, the related contradictions are immanent to the system. Each artwork then emerges from and with these contradictions—it represents them. An increase in knowledge and clarity can only take place if artists deconstruct the dominant indifference and exposes social contradictions.

(Kooperative Kunstpraxis  |  The Capacity of Art)

// Octocer 2006
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