Nobody gives a shit about your art. The average amount of time spent looking at a piece in a gallery or museum is around four to seven seconds. The traditional formats just don’t fucking cut it anymore. At best, they blend in with the millions of advertisements blared at us incessantly. At worst, they’re just boring. Face it. You’re competing with YouTube and The Lorax in 3D for the attention of generations increasingly tweaked out on Adderal and smart phones. As for your big opening, for most, it’s just an excuse to go out and socialize, except for a few that will feign interest in your work in the hopes that they can interject and waffle on about theirs. These are the ones that dream of hitting it big in the art world; those ambitious individuals that look forward to the day they can have an unpaid intern take a piss on a canvas and sell it to a Russian oil tycoon for a few million. Oh, and the economy is collapsing.
Art has always existed to awe and astound, to inspire and make us reflect on the sheer creative genius of the human being, to connect us through our symbolism to the fullness of our present. Whether the caves of Lascaux, the freezes of the Parthenon, or the Sistine Chapel, art is meant to be spectacular. That is why the old forms are failing. They can no longer captivate and communicate with the same intensity, for we are all presently caught up in the most vast and omnipresent spectacle ever created by human culture. We are forced to negotiate a nearly unending procession. Imagery and sound bytes invade every aspect of our daily lives: Coca Cola commercials, Egyptians kneeling in prayer before water cannons, your co-worker’s status update about their great aunt’s urinary tract infection. We consume narratives and myths about our identities and relationships; we play into and become the various archetypes we have been fed; our lives have become little more than mass-produced scripts in a cultural factory. Our lovers and vocation, our activism and art, all of it just becomes the symbolic touchstones by which we can fuel the spectacle of our own identities. As Guy Debord explains, “The spectacle is not a collection of images, rather, it is a social relationship between people that is mediated by images… All that was once directly lived has become mere representation,” (thesis 4, 1994).
Oh, and the economy is collapsing. While we are busy consuming our own manufactured identities with which we might impress the other products of the assembly line, across the world the system is failing with spectacular consequence. The marble of the Acropolis is regularly bathed in the light of fire from the riots that ebb and flow across Athens. Youth unemployment in core European economies is hitting as high as 50% in some areas. Fukushima and the fallout over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands has pushed Japan’s economy to the precipice. Global food prices are skyrocketing due to catastrophic droughts and crop failures on a scale not seen in nearly a century. Nation after nation is beginning to unravel as the pressure begins to hit critical mass; Syria to Spain, Mexico to Detroit. Increasingly things are spinning out of control. Our societies’ demands far exceed the capacity of the planet to support it, and the collapse of our world order is coming down to simple maths. Our high priests of Economics, the grand wizards of the spectacle, fiercely deny this and demand ever more blood sacrifice from us in order to end the eclipse of their infinite future.
So what is left for art? Existence has been replaced with representation, meaning replaced with mimicry, and depth replaced with the derivative. Art has become little more than the signifier of a social niche. Art is no longer identified with catharsis and poesis. It is now identified by a price tag. We have become more interested in the aesthetic value of that string of digits. Indeed, the price tag has become the art’s true content. What is left for those of us who truly love art, not for how it identifies us to the world but for how it allows us to engage with the world?
Over the past few decades, concepts about the role and nature of art itself have begun to shift radically. Art has begun to use the social sphere as a point of departure. It has begun to extend authorship through participatory processes. Artistic processes such as social sculpture, relational aesthetics and new genre public art have ushered in a new era. It is a re-conceptualization of the artistic process. As the group WochenKlausur states, “Artistic creativity is no longer seen as a formal act but as an intervention into society.”
This new process celebrates the capacity for art to be an active, generative process that produces social change, rather than suggesting it. By exploring complex systems of cultural context, human engagement, and knowledge, it is becoming an art form focused on the production of context, rather than content. It’s process is collaborative and participatory, manifesting through things such as community supported interventions, shared resources, collective decision making, and lateral social structures. The process is an inquiry with the participants, and is executed through constructing formalized structures that ensure community participation. It advocates for social regeneration with the recognition that the society we wish to live in is not an end goal, but an active process of creation.
Thus the content is simply the armature of a sculpture in which the context of human interaction becomes the form. It is the democratization of art, the extension of ownership, the participation in our own lives and our ability to create our own aesthetic context through relationship. There is only one more point to make. You don’t matter. Your brand, your spectacle, it’s irrelevant. It’s about the fucking art.
“Only on condition of a radical widening of definitions will it be possible for art and activities related to art [to] provide evidence that art is now the only evolutionary-revolutionary power. Only art is capable of dismantling the repressive effects of a senile social system that continues to totter along the death-line: to dismantle in order to build ‘a social organism as a work of art’… Every human being is an artist, who – from his state of freedom – the position of freedom that he experiences at first-hand – learns to determine the other positions of the total artwork of the future social order.” – Joseph Beuys (Art into Society, Society into Art (ICA, London, 1974), p.48.)
Courtesy of Wildfire Collective, a collective of decentralized community empowerment programs, providing resources for multi-generational advocacy and a re-localized sustainable future.
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