A conference organised by e-flux, a publishing platform and archive, artist project, curatorial platform, and enterprise which was founded in 1998, invites artists and theorists, among the most interesting of our times on a global scale, to discuss about Art After Culture. We publish e-flux introduction to the conference and discussion as an extremely important and urgent argument of reflection to face with a trasversal gaze.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, a “global” art world began to form. Sure, there were already a number of world’s fairs and established international biennials, but this would be different. From the 1990s onward, national boundaries would dissolve, centers and peripheries would level out, and the internet would host worldwide cultural exchange. In many ways this really did happen, but some other things also happened. As people and ideas began to move across borders, money did too. Faced with an unmanageable planetary scale, capital became a more efficient regulator of flows than laws or nations. Suddenly, capital rises to become the primary form of representation and expression for the global community, and its flair for flexibility and recombination would even be mistaken for a democratic, autonomous, or anti-authoritarian character, sealing it in as a new form of sublime non-governance. Capital’s twin, the internet, would also democratize many scarce resources and forms of representation just as efficiently as it would mask its control by state agencies and some of the largest corporations in human history.
In art, the call to join with the global would be answered by a vast industry of events—pop-up museological exhibitions across the world—that would animate a thriving art market. Artworks would be produced and exhibited on a previously unimagined scale, and newspapers would distinguish works by their relation to capital (record-setting prices). Better-informed practitioners in the field of art who might once have used politics or history to engage with artworks found themselves faced with cultures they did not understand, and by no fault of their own. Suddenly, the passage to any political or historical understanding would be covered over by the abstraction of cultural exchange—a mode of communication that supposes that you don’t really understand where I am from or what I have been through. Forced to pander to a global community with unlimited resources but limited access to the forces and urgencies that animate my own work and thinking, I may even become foreign to myself. I may seek global approval to accept that my own politics, my own history, even exist. Without that recognition, I might need to enlarge the spectacle—add violence, sharper colors, car chases, happy endings, a whiff of fascism, or a full sectarian withdrawal from the superstate.
But the mandate to become cultural becomes far more complex than this when the globe tells us what we already know to be to true: that with or without the recognition of a planet of others, we still do not understand what we ourselves have been through. An art aligned with modern and humanist traditions and ambitions appears unhelpful. The cultural peculiarities of European scientific, industrial, and political revolutions seem only to deepen the problem. Faced with looming planetary ecological meltdown, when institutions that were not qualified to blaze pathways for all of humankind to begin with come down from their galactic ambitions, they too land on culture—not as a project or technology, but as a naturalized way of including politics and histories they are unable or unwilling to understand. They, too, forfeit questions of scale to global flows of spectacle and capital.
The cumulative conference at e-flux asks: If we remember the artistic avant-garde tradition and its iconoclastic contempt for culture, how can we reconcile our own unknown culture with apparently simultaneous traditionalist fetishes? If we are now chained to an apparatus of representation that can only be spectacular in its scale, what is the project that art must necessarily undertake against reactionary self-homogenizing withdrawals? Can art still gain access to something larger than the culture it was born into? If staging mass ecological self-extinction is the ultimate spectacle, perhaps we should pause for a moment to see it not as human death but as a cultural endpoint. And if art—ancient, modern, or whatever—was always able to project past these endpoints, then what is art after culture? (from e-flux press release)
Art After Culture. Conference. June 14-15, 2019 (Friday,June 14: 7–9pm – Saturday, June 15: 10:30am–8pm. Please visit here e-flux website for the program. With: Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abu Rahme, Franco “Bifo” Berardi, Mary Walling Blackburn, Kaye Cain-Nielsen, Keller Easterling, Irmgard Emmelhainz, Liam Gillick, Boris Groys, New Red Order, Charles Mudede, Reza Negarestani, The Otolith Group,Hito Steyerl, Anton Vidokle, and Brian Kuan Wood.