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//it's society, stupid!// - Stanisław Ruksza

it's society, stupid! - Stanisław Ruksza

‘It’s the economy, stupid!’ [1] – during the last couple of decades, the slogan repeated throughout the 1990s by many politicians, economists and so-called commonsensical neo-liberal society has become the lodestar of life in the West. Profit-driven governments and elites, disinclined to pay regard to the social costs across the board, had been encouraged by Thatcher’s rallying cry, formulated in the 1980s, ‘There is no alternative’. This stance was the culmination of the enlightened cynicism dominant amongst the elite.

Today, as the movement known as Los Indignados - The Outraged – is growing from strength to strength, it has become abundantly clear that society requires new scenarios for the future. This is where art comes in. And this is why we would like to dedicate our second edition of MOCAK Forum to the relationship between art and society.

 

***
Throughout history, art has repeatedly proved itself to have the potential for bringing about change. In 1971, Beuys founded the Organisation for Direct Democracy through Referendum, and during documenta 5 in Kassel he created the sign NO to a party state, YES for a direct democracy. He also constructed the concept of an egalitarian ‘social sculpture’ (unimplemented by the world of art), whose idea was to shape social consciousness via each individual’s creative activity (‘everyone is an artist’). About that time, members of a movement called Viennese Actionism transgressed the delineated boundaries of artistic autonomy. The Austrian artists declared vociferously their demands and their categorical protest against the status quo. Their efforts contributed to art effecting real change.

Since the 8 November 2011, we have been presenting a retrospective of the work of the Viennese Actionists at MOCAK. However, with this exhibition, we do not intend merely to refer to the past. We are well aware that action replays are not possible, and the modus operandi of the there-and-then may not be adequate for the here-and-now. Many issues taken up by the Actionists still remain up for negotiation, both in Poland and elsewhere: unrestrained sexuality (self-determination in the matters of one’s body) and broadly-conceived notions of what’s socially acceptable, civil liberties, drug legislation, the attitude to one’s own history and the relationship of the individual and the state with religion.

We are also aware that, while history does not repeat itself, it may rhyme, and that the role of artists has undergone a transformation over time. In 2003, Günter Brus stated, ‘To put it bluntly, for quite a while now, art has failed to disturb law and order. Either people have calmed down or else the perpetrators of such transgressions have exhausted themselves.’

Today, artists do not focus on their own bodies, on the ability to perceive and on the senses. Artists belong to society and, through their art, many set out to define their own stance towards the social and political framework.

Bringing to you in the present edition the work and attitudes of artists and activists who are far from indifferent towards the shape the world will assume, we want to pose the question: to what extent will current art play a part in shaping the world?

Art institutions, artists, curators – the whole system of the art world seem a powerful tool for communication and persuasion. Any yet, a considerable proportion of its representatives fail to employ this powerful mechanism which is at their disposal. Or else, they employ it in predictable ways – for successful persuasion that the only legitimate model for art to be asking questions is to pose unanswerable riddles, and the only legitimate model for an answer is – a paradox. Art could be a forceful medium, on an equal footing and as a co-initiator - in the debate about the shape of reality and the ways to experience the world. Let us dare to employ the idiom of art to formulate realistic demands and to represent the needs of the society in which we are living.

Of course, this is not about naming the one and only correct model nor is it about invalidating artistic stances which do not conform. But if artists proclaim a negation of a particular status quo, let us consider the results of their activities. Is their criticism indeed critical? Have they achieved the aims which they set themselves? We must be aware of art’s embroilment in the political or academic discourse.

It is not the case that all art does is ask questions. It also answers some. But art which is held up at the stage of formulating questions – the critical activity alone – becomes castrated,  condemned to exist exclusively in the aesthetic form and dimension.

However, in the works of many artists one can find proposals for realistic solutions and clearly formulated postulates. Unfortunately, it is frequently the case that they are not taken as answers. Most likely, a great number of artistic propositions have never been tested or applied in reality. Most of the time, artists themselves don’t take on such a responsibility. And, if they don’t, who is entitled to provide the answers? To whom do we concede the right to fantasise and to work out blueprints for the future; in real terms, for being in charge?

***
The Occupy Wall Street movement has recently extended its occupation also to New York’s ‘elitist’ (as the protesters described it) MoMa and the New Museum, accusing both of, amongst other things, commercialisation and voting for the privileged. In reality, large art plants which work at a slow pace on long-term projects are not equipped for quick interventions. They don’t seem to have their ear to the ground. Handing our readers the second edition of MOCAK Forum we reaffirm our belief that it is possible for art institutions to be valuable participants in, and stimulators of, social debate. They can be the forum for creative experiments and for the negotiation and testing of meaning.


Stanisław Ruksza - (born 1979)
Curator, art historian, writes about contemporaneity. Artistic director of the Kronika Centre for Contemporary Art in Bytom, where he produces projects which combine visual art with other cultural fields and provide a social and political academic context as well as an opportunity for practical activism. Founder of the Political Critique Club in Silesia.

 


[1] Slogan invented by Bill Clinton's strategist James Carville for his 1992 presidential campaign.

‘It’s the economy, stupid!’ [1] – during the last couple of decades, the slogan repeated throughout the 1990s by many politicians, economists and so-called commonsensical neo-liberal society has become the lodestar of life in the West. Profit-driven governments and elites, disinclined to pay regard to the social costs across the board, had been encouraged by Thatcher’s rallying cry, formulated in the 1980s, ‘There is no alternative’. This stance was the culmination of the enlightened cynicism dominant amongst the elite.

Today, as the movement known as Los Indignados - The Outraged – is growing from strength to strength, it has become abundantly clear that society requires new scenarios for the future. This is where art comes in. And this is why we would like to dedicate our second edition of MOCAK Forum to the relationship between art and society.

 

***
Throughout history, art has repeatedly proved itself to have the potential for bringing about change. In 1971, Beuys founded the Organisation for Direct Democracy through Referendum, and during documenta 5 in Kassel he created the sign NO to a party state, YES for a direct democracy. He also constructed the concept of an egalitarian ‘social sculpture’ (unimplemented by the world of art), whose idea was to shape social consciousness via each individual’s creative activity (‘everyone is an artist’). About that time, members of a movement called Viennese Actionism transgressed the delineated boundaries of artistic autonomy. The Austrian artists declared vociferously their demands and their categorical protest against the status quo. Their efforts contributed to art effecting real change.

Since the 8 November 2011, we have been presenting a retrospective of the work of the Viennese Actionists at MOCAK. However, with this exhibition, we do not intend merely to refer to the past. We are well aware that action replays are not possible, and the modus operandi of the there-and-then may not be adequate for the here-and-now. Many issues taken up by the Actionists still remain up for negotiation, both in Poland and elsewhere: unrestrained sexuality (self-determination in the matters of one’s body) and broadly-conceived notions of what’s socially acceptable, civil liberties, drug legislation, the attitude to one’s own history and the relationship of the individual and the state with religion.

We are also aware that, while history does not repeat itself, it may rhyme, and that the role of artists has undergone a transformation over time. In 2003, Günter Brus stated, ‘To put it bluntly, for quite a while now, art has failed to disturb law and order. Either people have calmed down or else the perpetrators of such transgressions have exhausted themselves.’

Today, artists do not focus on their own bodies, on the ability to perceive and on the senses. Artists belong to society and, through their art, many set out to define their own stance towards the social and political framework.

Bringing to you in the present edition the work and attitudes of artists and activists who are far from indifferent towards the shape the world will assume, we want to pose the question: to what extent will current art play a part in shaping the world?

Art institutions, artists, curators – the whole system of the art world seem a powerful tool for communication and persuasion. Any yet, a considerable proportion of its representatives fail to employ this powerful mechanism which is at their disposal. Or else, they employ it in predictable ways – for successful persuasion that the only legitimate model for art to be asking questions is to pose unanswerable riddles, and the only legitimate model for an answer is – a paradox. Art could be a forceful medium, on an equal footing and as a co-initiator - in the debate about the shape of reality and the ways to experience the world. Let us dare to employ the idiom of art to formulate realistic demands and to represent the needs of the society in which we are living.

Of course, this is not about naming the one and only correct model nor is it about invalidating artistic stances which do not conform. But if artists proclaim a negation of a particular status quo, let us consider the results of their activities. Is their criticism indeed critical? Have they achieved the aims which they set themselves? We must be aware of art’s embroilment in the political or academic discourse.

It is not the case that all art does is ask questions. It also answers some. But art which is held up at the stage of formulating questions – the critical activity alone – becomes castrated,  condemned to exist exclusively in the aesthetic form and dimension.

However, in the works of many artists one can find proposals for realistic solutions and clearly formulated postulates. Unfortunately, it is frequently the case that they are not taken as answers. Most likely, a great number of artistic propositions have never been tested or applied in reality. Most of the time, artists themselves don’t take on such a responsibility. And, if they don’t, who is entitled to provide the answers? To whom do we concede the right to fantasise and to work out blueprints for the future; in real terms, for being in charge?

***
The Occupy Wall Street movement has recently extended its occupation also to New York’s ‘elitist’ (as the protesters described it) MoMa and the New Museum, accusing both of, amongst other things, commercialisation and voting for the privileged. In reality, large art plants which work at a slow pace on long-term projects are not equipped for quick interventions. They don’t seem to have their ear to the ground. Handing our readers the second edition of MOCAK Forum we reaffirm our belief that it is possible for art institutions to be valuable participants in, and stimulators of, social debate. They can be the forum for creative experiments and for the negotiation and testing of meaning.


Stanisław Ruksza - (born 1979)
Curator, art historian, writes about contemporaneity. Artistic director of the Kronika Centre for Contemporary Art in Bytom, where he produces projects which combine visual art with other cultural fields and provide a social and political academic context as well as an opportunity for practical activism. Founder of the Political Critique Club in Silesia.

 


[1] Slogan invented by Bill Clinton's strategist James Carville for his 1992 presidential campaign.