Political acts are tolerated more if they are executed under the autonomy of art. Art is very confusing for the authorities and therefore it is left alone. If you are out on the street and would decide for example to burn a trash can, and would stand around and then the police would come and say: “What are you doing?” and you would say: “Oh we are artists, we are doing art, and this is a metaphor for blah blah…” Then the police would probably say: “Oh, you should ask for permission”. And you would you start some negotiation and it probably would be okay, maybe you might have to pay a fine, but, there would be no violent interaction or conflict taking place. Yet, if you were to be doing exactly the same act and the police would ask you: “What are you doing?” and you would just say: “Oh we are demonstrating against blah blah…” You would probably be arrested on the spot and there would maybe even be violence involved. It just shows that art has this autonomy, its part of the structure of these liberal democracies we live in. It’s an understood agreement that we need artists, that we need these crazy people, but then they should stay in their autonomies together, in their galleries and their museums and within their own discussions, and with their own journals.

The artists can do whatever they want and they can be as radical as they like, talking about post-Marxist revolution, or whatever they wish to talk about. We even give them funds, because it’s really good, because then we know where they all are. But as soon as the artists start walking out of the ghetto and say: “Oh no we are not happy in our ghetto, we want to go out and we want to touch society”, then the authorities would say: “You could do it on our terms and we will give you a nice allowance and then you could go to the migrant’s neighborhoods, where you can do a nice project and we might even give you a nice feature on TV” that says: “Look, there is some nice public art, look at these cute students from all over the world”, and then you have to do it on their terms. But what happens if one says: “No, we want to do it on our terms, we really want to touch society, we want art to touch life, and we don’t want it to be a separated autonomist thing”, then it turns into a political act and you’ll be repressed.

So we got to play this game, how to work out of these frames yet still stay safe, still manage to do it, not get blocked. One option is that we continue to bear the professionalized identity of “artist.” Gene Ray claims: “This choice necessarily implies a basic allegiance to the conventions and authority of the art institutions, as well as to the structure and functions of artistic autonomy. It does not follow, however, that this allegiance must be naïve, uncritical, or unfailingly obedient. A minimum of conventions must be followed; others can be questioned or transgressed. Artists can make this minimum their object and attempt to force or provoke, if not a real negotiation then at least a critical reflection of the social functions that lie behind specific conventions or institutions and the politics that follow from them. This strategy has long been known as “institutional critique.” While its origins lie in the counter-exhibitions mounted by Gustave Courbet and others in the nineteenth century, this stream of practices really began when Marcel Duchamp pseudonymously submitted a urinal to an “open” exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists in New York in 1917. In the 1960s and 70s it came into its own, as a strategic approach to be investigated and elaborated, in the exemplary works of Marcel Broodthaers, Daniel Buren, Hans Haacke, and others”.1

But I’m not interested in “institutional critique” even though I can’t deny that I’ve been inspired by these practices. What I’m claiming is the use of the professionalized identity of “artist” as a shield, a safety net. Today it’s clear where the institutions stand, their place in capitalist structures and how they use criticism as a way as affirming themselves. It is counter-productive to further discuss the institutional critique of the art world without a genuine one taking place regarding the society the institutions are representing. Yet, we can use the institutions, instrumentalizing their power and benefits for critiquing and even fighting societies evils.

The artist has a “diplomatic passport” (Hannula, 2006), a passport that opens doors and provides status, helps achieve things, reach people; get permission and free stuff. The artist could decide to use his passport or not, but the possibility is there.

“In the context of the public sphere and politics this opportunity takes an interesting turn. We get in with the help of our diplomatic status, and at first we can count on the fact that we are not taken that seriously. And yes, its lowered expectation confers huge rewards. It provides us with the shield of naiveté with which we can take up questions that have been hidden and neglected. We can ask difficult ‘stupid’ questions that the real players already know not to touch on”.2


1 Gene Ray, On the Conditions of Anti-Capitalist Art, Radical Cultural Practices and the Capitalist Art System, LinksNet.de
2 Mika Hannula, The politics of Small Gestures (2006), p. 24


[…] In principle 3, we argued that art should leave the safety of autonomy and connect with communities in order to be effective as well as activate a process of change. Medinat Weimar declares itself to be an art project that is a political movement that will lead to a state. The project has to completely believe in this, it has to act as if it believes of the possibility that its vision will come true and argue for its importance and relevance. On the other hand, at the first vulnerable stages of the project when the movement does not really exist anywhere but in the head of its creator, it needs the protection and safety of art. I needed to play this double game of being in the framework of art and desiring an organization of a group of people who would work together to achieve a political goal. I wanted to turn my absurd idea into a social organism. When asked, “do you believe in it? Are you serious? Do you really want a Jewish state in Thuringia?” My answer then is that I really do believe in the project and the discussions it wants to raise and I am therefore completely serious about the project. […]

Medinat Weimar » Blog Archive » ‘Over-identification’ with the ‘hidden reverse’ of ideology added these pithy words on Jun 17 08 at 00:58

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Utilize the autonomy of art and its institutions


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