In my view visual art should not ask the question of how art can represent or document politics, but how visual art is inextricably intertwined with the politics of production. One could say that visual art is a kind of celebration of production, it is a production which has no primary use value, but a production which is a reflection of production in general. In consequence visual art has always reflected, consciously or not, the latest in technology: from the very beginnings of civilization with the recognition of stones as a tool enabling cave drawing until the latest in military technology resulting in video or internet art.
But what does it mean for visual art if the cultural technique or very idea of technology itself becomes problematic? The development of technology has always meant progress in how to transform material or natural resources via human labour. The transformation of material is the key mode of production of any society up to date. It transforms ‘nature’ into supply goods in order to decrease supply shortage and to diminish the treats of nature, both of course aiming at enhancing quality of life. But since the middle of the 20th century with the appearance of excess supply in western societies as well as mankind endangering of the specific disposition of nature in which human life seems possible, the hegemoniality of the transformation of material as the mode of production has been deeply questioned. So, equally the development of this mode of production, technological progress, has become problematic.
Basically, all visual art works are produced by transformations of material, there are only very few exceptions (e. g. some of Michael Asher’s works). For visual art to keep on affirming this mode of production and following its development does not seem very interesting to me.
Art that does not address this politicity of its own medium, but all the same puts itself underneath the banner of progressive politics, performs a gesture which is dangerously reactionary on the one hand, because it proposes that there can be critique without self-critique (which implies the possibility of a place outside of society, a site of disinvolvement), and on the other because it proposes that art has to actively connect itself to politics, implying that there is no apriori connection between art and politics. Jacques Rancière has commented on the problematicness of the latter when saying that just as proclaiming ‘the end of politics’ the proclamation of ‘the return of politics’ is equally just another way of cancelling out politics, which in this particular case would be the cancelling out of the intrinsic connection between visual art and economical production.
The question I would prefer visual art to pose itself is, how can it help in developing and promoting alternative modes of production or other approached to production instead of constantly reaffirming the dominant and highly problematic ones? So that in a Rancièrean sense a new voice ruptures the hegemonic discourse on production of which visual art is until now a chief representative.
Dieser Text erschien zuerst in: noroomgallery (Hrsg.): Den Letzten beißen die Hunde. Was man in der Kunst tun sollte/könnte/müsste. Visionen künstlerischer Praxis, Hamburg 2008.
[Dieser Text findet sich im Reader Nr. 1 auf S. 526.]