[Thesis five, six and seven (of eleven)]:
5. Trinketization would be a diagnosis of limited responses to global reconfigurations of commodity fetishism, where affect and shopping disguise an unbroken deal with hierarchical social relations locked in, unchallenged. Where class/race/gender politics was, we now have lip-service mockery of these same themes, articulated by the celebrity/televisual machine. The contradictions of news entertainment stand starkly exposed and still without purchase. Participation in conceptual politics is voluntary and belongs to an economy of contribution (Boutang 2009) or the ‘attention theory of value’ (Beller 2006). Here circulation, valourization and expression are governed as the activity of bees – who are dying out, but architectural reflection on this process is in even shorter supply.
The contribution economy is appropriate to a Google mode of production – algorithms are enhanced by voluntary activity of ‘political’ subjects – even ones professing artistic opposition to the system. Accumulated hits (like bees visiting plants for pollen) are aggregated in the hive mind of the virtual. My attention to images accrues value for some rather than other scenes. A calculus of image and attention operates to place some scenes before us and to erase others – the significance of Mao or of the collapse of the Berlin wall would be examples.
Surplus attention, surplus value and conceptual elaboration are the machineries of representation as productivity. It is no longer a case of ‘they cannot represent themselves’ but that they are represented by way of their own activity – the algorithm is Napoleon. In the 18th Brumaire Marx offered this formula as a critique of the little nephew, not an indictment of the lumpen and the peasantry who were unorganised, but a condemnation of the opportunist organiser – that Louis Bonaparte who stood above them as their advocate, while all the time advocating only himself as Queen Bee.
6. Art engaged with politics must engage with institutions – galleries, art books, colleges, conferences – and commerce infiltrates and orchestrates every corner of this quadrant so as to show over and over again that the connection politics-to-market is reinforced with steel. Evaluations of art are then always invested, and self-awareness a false economy, still for sale, worked by the hive-mind. In London, even the most ‘political’ of (art) institutions – the Stephen Lawrence Gallery – which at present hosts a show called ‘Re-Framed’ contrasting and dialoguing between street artists and conceptual artists – stages its own branding niche marketing commercialization for attention’s sake on the basis of the old high and low art façade. Adorno had stressed that these two halves are neither halves of any particular whole, nor either immune to the saturation of industrial processes that diminish them and threaten that secret omnipresence. His critique of Benjamin should be read in full.
it would border on anarchism to revoke the reification of a great work of art in the spirit of immediate use-values. ‘Les extrèmes me touchent ’ [Gide], just as they touch you—but only if the dialectic of the undermost is equivalent to the dialectic of the uppermost, rather than the latter simply decaying. Both bear the stigmata of capitalism, both contain elements of change (naturally never and nowhere the middle-term between Schönberg and the American film). Both are torn halves of an integral freedom, to which however they do not add up. It would be romantic to sacrifice one to the other, either as the bourgeois romanticism of the conservation of personality and all that stuff, or as the anarchistic romanticism of blind confidence in the spontaneous power of the proletariat in the historical process—a proletariat which is itself a product of bourgeois society.To a certain extent I must accuse your essay of this second romanticism. (Adorno to Benjamin 18 March, 1936).
7. But what is bad art? What judgement will be made of art when if fails in the service of politics because politics fails and falls short in terms of:
– aesthetic excellence, technical competence, significance, relevance, impact
The most political points made inside a certain frame – gallery, exhibition, border, cartoon – invalidates politics to the degree that it is art, even at its most critical. Billie Holiday only sings ‘Strange Fruit’. Bob Dylan’s times did not a change – and it is no real concern that this jingle now sells automobiles at a time when the automobile industry is in disarray.
Art as decoration is a demystifying containment. Desecration of art contains politics for the domestic. Wallpapers design is now as much a historical condemnation as was Duchamp’s urinal, as Jarry’s Pere Ubu. Merde. No-one even laughs uncomfortably anymore.
Art as insult. The occasions where inwardness or introspection makes for art that exceeds its own containment are the points at which we might be interested.