Interventionist Art, Dark Matter, and the Rise of Enterprise Culture -seminar by Gregory Sholette

free school for art theory and practice

Art made to attach to buildings or to be given away? Wearable art for street demonstrations? Artists disguised as corporate CEO´s to infiltrate the BBC? This is the art of the interventionists, a new wave of politically committed art practices that are less concerned with demystifying ideology than with ´creatively disrupting´ it. Unlike most of the critical art practices of the 1970s and 1980s in which dominant representational forms were systematically analyzed through a variety of methods ranging from Semiotics to Marxism to Psychoanalysis, the new approach plows directly, some would say even gleefully, into what Guy Debord described as the Society of the Spectacle. Groups such as RTmark, The Yes Men, Yomango, and the Critical Art Ensemble take full advantage of increasingly widespread and affordable digital technologies in order to practice what they call Tactical Media, a concept inspired as much by the Zapatista rebellion as it is by the Situationists. What is unique to these more recent, antagonistic practices is the way they mobilize flexible organizational structures, communicative networks, and economies of giving in order to produce a critical disruption of everyday life. And yet at the same time, the new interventionist art reveals some curious similarities to the entrepreneurial spirit of the neo-liberal economy, including a highly plastic sense of collective identity, and a romantic distrust of comprehensive administrative structures.

My research into politically-engaged artists´ collectives raises the following proposition: What if the majority of creative activity in our post-industrial world is secretly dependent on a larger sphere of production that those charged with managing and interpreting contemporary culture --art historians, collectors, critics, dealers, museum directors, curators and arts administrators-- must refuse to acknowledge? My thesis assumes that post-industrial economies are secretly dependent upon a hidden sphere of informal, social production involving cooperative networks, systems of gift exchange, and un-waged labor. If we think of these informal modes of production as a type of missing mass, or invisible "dark matter," then their relationship to the formal economy is that of an unseen gravitational force that invisibly anchors more visible modes of production, but simultaneously lacks any significant representational presence within the mainstream, market economy.

Applying this thesis to the realm of visual arts raises a series of questions. What would happen to our hierarchical notions of artistic value if dark matter was to become visible? How might this revelation alter, or even undermine, orthodox concepts of aesthetic privilege, valorization, and artistic production? These questions are in fact becoming unavoidable thanks to the communication needs of globalization and the so-called structural adjustment of neoliberalism, which are forcing this dark matter into the light. This process of materialization is fomenting a crisis within the worlds of business, politics, and the arts (relational aesthetics is but one attempt to re-normalize this situation for the market).

By looking at the changing organizational function of contemporary artists´ collectives over the past thirty years my research attempts to map this materializing dark matter politically, as part of a broader notion of a history from below.

To take part in the seminar, please send a motivation letter to the address until the 3rd of October.
Participation in the seminar is free.

Gregory Sholette is a New York-based artist, writer, and founding member of Political Art Documentation/Distribution (PAD/D: 1980-1988) and REPOhistory (1989-2000). Recent books include Collectivism After Modernism: The Art of Social Imagination after 1945, with Blake Stimson (University of Minnesota, 2007), The Interventionists: A Users Manual for the Creative Disruption of Everyday Life, with Nato Thompson (MassMoCA/MIT Press, 2004, 2006, 2008). He is an Assistant Professor of Sculpture at Queens College, New York and currently writing a book on the political economy of art for Pluto Press.