DEAD OR ALIVE IN THE EMPIRE OF CULTURE (THAT ALWAYS STRIKES BACK)

OK IMAGINE THIS:

The whole of Culture is an Empire. The Empire’s collective consciousness understands and accepts things as having the function of Art. A painting, or a bronze sculpture for example are long accepted and understood as Art. An ink-jet print, a 16mm film, a “casual” arrangement of objects are also understood as art. More recently, the Empire acquired a whole new set of internet inspired aesthetic imagery which is slowly (or rapidly) subsumed into the mechanisms of cultural recognition. The collective consciousness works as a unified being and recycles, visual, philosophical, musical trends.

–laser beam sounds–

NOW, we find ourselves in an art school. We look around. Young people, trying to work through peer pressure, societal expectations and deal with a completely decayed idea of YBA artistic super-stardom. In the last seminar I became aware of a definite gap in art students conceptions of being an art student. Trying to bypass the ambivalent existential argument of “why are we doing it”, I would like to ask a different question:

WHAT IS MISSING?

Everyone wants to be good at whatever it is they are doing. Good students, successful artists. We are so desperate to make something “good” (which apparently is equivalent to “could exist in a gallery”) that we end up striving to produce things that look like art. But we missed something. I thought we are here to create something that not only cannot exist in a gallery but would require the whole structure of the gallery to change in order to be “housed”. If we believe in the possibility of change surely we should begin outside of everything that is already there. We need to fight the Empire, break its monopoly.

IMPERIAL PRESERVATIVES

Art School as I see it now, is a factory of reproductions of “art”. Personal insecurity, fear of academic failure (which somehow extends to societal failure, as with every other subject) push young students towards the art of preservation. The Empire likes to understand and categorise things. It needs to maintain the status of its understanding. Its dominance depends on FIXED MEANINGS and RIGID FUNCTIONS. By (re)producing what is already art we merely manage to illustrate, outline the picture of a corpse in an anatomy class. And this illustration could at some point earn a small place in one of the Empire’s galleries/fridges installed to maintain the meaning and understanding of art long dead.

CONCRETE PROPOSAL

I would like to propose a different way of assessing our individual/collective practices. Good or Bad is quite frankly vague and irrelevant. Instead I propose to use the words, ALIVE or DEAD. It might sound equally vague and somehow weird but I do urge you to go through your work and distinguish between the Dead and the Alive pieces, without me defining the terms. You should be able to do so without knowing the exact definitions. There is a definite power and spark in Alive things and we can instinctively tell them apart from Dead ones. The human is somehow absent in a corpse.

The Empire tends to kill things. Once something becomes understood and concrete, chances are it’s already dead. You can make a symbol out of a dead thing but you cannot really bring it back to life (Zombie art is a whole different sub-category of the Dead/Alive drama. I will not get into this now).

RETURN OF THE JEDI (plural)

Should we all be smugglers, like Hans Solo and bring stuff in and out of the Empire for personal gain? Or should we be young Skywalker fighting the Empire for noble and high purposes. The worst thing one could become is an Anakin Skywalker. Not only join the Empire but be a driving force in its stability and expansion. There are a lot of young radicals- turned middle aged agents of the Dark Side out there. Concluding I would like to add that our tutors should be incarnations of Joda or Obi Wan Kenobi and train us to be strong and kind and help us not to fear the Resistance. Be real human beings and create weird, alive, untamed stuff that in a lack of a better descriptive word, we would have to call Art.

Thank you for reading,
Margarita Athanasiou

PS I was going to end with this quote by Badiou: “It is better to do nothing than to contribute to the invention of formal ways of rendering visible that which Empire already recognises as existent” since the Empire is his metaphor but I am not going to. I am not sure if he is Princess Leia fighting the Empire from the inside or not… Too far… Too far…

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About sladeoccupation

THE OCCUPATION OF THE SLADE SCHOOL OF FINE ART We believe that the current proposed cuts to university funding threaten the existence of arts and humanities education in England and Wales. It is for this reason that we have made the decision to occupy the Slade School of Art building. We demand that the government provide the same protection for arts and humanities in universities as is provided for the sciences. We vehemently oppose the transformation of the university system into market based model; education should be a public debate, not a private economy. Therefore we the students of the Slade are offering a space for the assembly of all art colleges in England in order to organise non-violent direct action against what we view as an attack by the government on the arts. This is not a virtual exchange, this is a physical assembly. We are demonstrating the value of physical space for art education through the continuation of our day-to-day activity, as well as by inviting other colleges to participate in open events, lectures and workshops. Our occupation is not designed to be disruptive, nor will it engender any damage to the building. Rather, we want to highlight the value of intellectual and cultural exchange within art courses. This is not a boycott, it is an act of support. As well as fully supporting the demands of the existing UCL occupation of the Jeremy Bentham Room, the staff and students of the Slade School of Fine Art demand the following from UCL: A statement from the UCL provost condemning the cuts to arts and humanities courses and stating the intrinsic value of these courses within higher education. A statement from the UCL provost guaranteeing the protection of the Slade’s courses as they are. This means preserving the current staff to student ratio, protecting facilities and space and continuing funding for visiting lecturers. A statement from the UCL provost guaranteeing the survival and continued funding of all other humanities courses within UCL. Free access in and out of the building 24 hours for all students, peers and speakers for the duration of the occupation. Ensure no victimisation or repercussions for anyone participating in the occupation.
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4 Responses to DEAD OR ALIVE IN THE EMPIRE OF CULTURE (THAT ALWAYS STRIKES BACK)

  1. The culture of empire is from the top down and oppresses and steals. A radical cultural practice is the opposite.

  2. tomrees says:

    Thanks for posting this Margarita, it was exciting to read.

    “Could exist in a gallery” or “let’s think of this in a gallery context” are useful phrases to a certain end – they help us think beyond the protective bubble of the seminar room – but they might also create the illusion of everything within art college being ‘unreal’ or not fully realised, forever reliant on its full realisation within a ‘gallery space’. Its good to recognise why some constructs hang around and not necessarily throw them off too quickly. So long as we can all have an expressed understanding of why it is we do these things i.e. show in a room/ have tutorials one on one/ have art theory lecturers who are separate to our tutors, then we should feel reasonably empowered.

    Our experience at art school can sometimes be the acting out of certain identities, aligned with certain world views and ideas about what art should be; people choose different characters and debates ensue. Maybe this is just a necessary adolescent period some of us have to go through (I did). Perhaps it doesn’t describe everyone’s experience. I certainly think we could get past a lot of the posturing that uncertainty encourages if seminars are shown to be critical and collective rather than critical and competitive.

    What do we mean when we speak of changing art making and ideas about art by beginning “outside of everything that is already there”? I think we should think of definitive aspects of art making that we want to change and go about that in a tactical way. For example, let’s be more critical of the terminology we use to describe all this stuff; is it really representative to talk of ‘art’ as one entity? ‘Art’ is such a well trodden word that a singular meaning is problematic.

    I feel that what Margarita has described with regards to the way in which culture functions – its parameters and its enforcement of certain criteria – is very relevant to the discussion we have about our work and the making itself. I think its complex, though.

    “It needs to maintain the status of its understanding. Its dominance depends on FIXED MEANINGS and RIGID FUNCTIONS”. – we shouldn’t underestimate how far we may sometimes work within those fixed meanings when it is convenient. I don’t think the functions allowed for it are rigid per se, but i do think art’s scope and its meaningful presence may be limited by a lot of factors.

  3. Ninum says:

    Tourist on the slade occupation website says:

    I think that as long as their is conversation around the EMPIRE the discourse created is also a form of action. Precisely, this text and the churning conversations it will produce and the reverberating comments and reflections bouncing off-it and on it are a means to change these existing problematic structures, or a least consistently diagnose the problem in an effort for movement.

  4. tomrees says:

    I think that is a really important point raised by Ninum: the conversation that you have around an artwork can be the means by which you try to step outside of the ’empire’ and try to look around.

    What’s more, a thought can be translated into speech, which can be then formed into an action ‘out there’, in the social sphere or whatever you wish to call it; the possibilities increase exponentially as the initial ideas are bounced around more people and places. That was one thing the occupation helped me understand.

    One advantage to studying in an ‘institution’ such as an art college is that it encourages all our expressions to sit within a structure that holds things together. A point in a seminar can generate a reading group which can make a sound recording that then gets broadcasted on the radio which is then heard by another institution, leading to the two colleges getting together and merging resources…

    I started making an image to illustrate this, with several paths in the dark not touching but with the potential to connect. Whereas it can often feel very difficult to connect with the reality of the world on a day to day basis, there are certain places – your place of study is one – where you can work with others to create the structures and ‘reality’ of that place as you see fit. This is something you can then build on, an image of success that might be carried away to other situations. To secure a reality that is different to the dominant one is also a great way to begin to envision wider changes, I feel.

    Margarita, did you intend the Star Wars metaphor to imply a type of resistance that exists as an image of rebellion, rather than as a real manifestation of the thing – or perhaps a situation where it feels like actions of resistance often end up existing more finally as ‘images’, whatever the initial intentions? I was talking to fellow Slade student Harriet (not being formal but just for those that don’t know Harriet) and we were thinking about what 1968 meant in our heads, what it made us think of. I found it was more an image of something, a certain aesthetic of that belongs very much to an age that has passed – rather than a set of ideas which I feel I could delve into and transfer to the time we live in now. Isn’t it interesting where these images of resistance or change come from, and what it means?

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