Thank You, Louis!
Instead of writing about my Wikipedia entry, which was quickly accepted, as it was about such a marginal and unimportant topic that it could not be ‘biased,’ i.e. nobody cared, I would rather ventilate my frustrations caused by a lecture I witnessed today at the conference “Media Squares” in de Balie by Nadia Plesner about her work “Darfurnica.” (an otherwise interesting conference still a-live)
The Artist Formerly Known As Louis
What was apparently just a small and probably not well-appreciated assignment for the Rietveld Academy, has grown into a big controversy and subsequent success of the artist, thanks to a lawsuit started by Louis Vuitton. You can read about it here. I can’t wrap my head around the naivety of the way it was received by the (often) incestuous community of artists and academics, and of the lack of understanding of the truly perverse ‘dialectic’ (or feedback circuit) at work here.
The rare (and I mean rare) moment a big company is still taking the (unfortunate or fortunate?) effort to intervene in the murmuring of ‘the little people’ (in this case, artists), actively tampering with ‘free speech’ and so on, the critical ‘leftists’ (with whom I do feel associated, don’t get me wrong) are ready to stand up and embrace the ‘victim’ as some kind of left-over hero, fighting the corporate dragons, thereby temporarily setting aside all ‘nuanced’ analyses of the ‘contemporary situation’ normally discussed in the inner circles, where a relation to actual power has long been cut off.
Basically, by giving this artist a platform, the organizers of this conference operate by the same media logic that the work tries to address. But the work itself is also contradictory in this very form: it lends itself to the prostitution and media ‘flatness’ it critically addresses on the level of its content. The work in question is basically bad, aesthetically and conceptually, and it has a quite boring and numbing message, something we have known for so long: we are sitting on our asses watching Paris Hilton whilst people are being slaughtered in Africa. The drawing itself was a contingent and metaphorical illustration of this message. Never does it address what Peter Sloterdijk calls the media-induced cynicism: we already know quite well that it is wrong, but there is no meaningful path leading from this recognition to establishing a position and practice, individually and collectively, in accordance with this cynical knowledge. Luis Vuitton is evil, what is happening in Darfur is evil, we are evil, x is y: all the subjects and predicates can be substituted for anything else, everybody wins. It is perverse because this path was opened up by…Louis Vuitton! The company is therefore the artist of the work qua controversy. Never does it address the adequacy of its form (or medium) vis-à-vis its critical content, its message. This contradiction explains the media attention the work and the artist received. The only way I could appreciate this work is if it was intentionally and ironically designed to provoke the response it ultimately got, i.e. where the controversy is the intended artwork. To be fair, this might be so in the case of the Darfurnica painting, created after the first lawsuit.
Can I sleep on your futon, Louis?
Nevertheless, it’s not so idiotic to suspect a conspiracy, a secret bond between the artist and Louis Vuitton: you make a controversial artwork, we sue you, the media and academia will take the bait, and we both win. We are able to believe such a story. In this case of course, I do not question the integrity of the artist, but the point is that, as a thought experiment, it is not unimaginable.
Secretly, we (in the academic and artistic world) are all too hungry for what is left of friction and conflict between normally autonomous spheres (economic, legal, social, cultural), all too eager to ‘choose sides’ when the opportunities of such fundamental choices are almost completely eradicated or neutralized in the current mediascape. Something similar can be seen in the attention for the “Arab Spring.” Through this, we can once again retroactively legitimate our own contemplative stall.
Any resistance from the big evil companies, every time they make the mistake to re-enter and play along in the game of ‘representation’ and ‘dialogue’ going on in the cultural margins formerly known as the public sphere, any controversy whatsoever that reinvigorates the good ol’ days of revolutionary being-productively-against, of being able to take a position essentially incompatible with and unacceptable to, the ‘establishment,’ any time they learn, and we learn, that these strategies are becoming more and more redundant as they are absorbed into the spectacle, beyond the event-horizon of any dialectical or representational relation.
The eternal question of ‘critical’ art returns: should we participate in the spheres we try to critically address and go against, to operate from within, as this is supposedly the only means by which to generate publicity and thus change, or should we hold to our principles and accept a life in the shadows? With the rise of the Internet, merely potentially until now, this either/or question becomes more fluid, since distribution and effectiveness are (once again: potentially) disconnected from the media logic mentioned above. Importantly however, we still have seen no proof that there is, online or offline, a definite relation between publicity and distribution (level of exposure) and effectiveness in practice (a transformation of the constitution and distribution of socio-economic relations, injustices, etc.). The techno-social experiments to establish this disconnection is far more interesting than the 15 minutes of fame for an art student who made a drawing referencing the obvious, incidentally becoming the empty sign of a still absent productive resistance. It does however show that some companies also do not yet understand what ‘it’ is all about, i.e. to operate from the shadows, the corporate underground, the ‘alternative scene’.