Brian — 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover,

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50 Ways To Leave Your Lover,
Or, let’s find a completely new art criticism
For most of the twentieth century, art was judged with respect to the
previously existing state of the medium. What mattered was the kind of
rupture it made, the unexpected formal or semiotic elements that it
brought into play, the way it displaced the conventions of the genre or
the tradition. The prize at the end of the evaluative process was a
different sense of what art could be, a new realm of possibility for the
aesthetic. Let’s take it as axiomatic that all that has changed,
The backdrop against which art stands out now is a particular state of
society. What an installation, a performance, a concept or a mediated
representation can do with its formal, affective and semiotic means is
to mark out a possible or effective shift with respect to the laws, the
customs, the measures, the mores, the technical and organizational
devices that define how we must behave and how we can relate to each
other at a given time and in a given place. What you look for in art is
a different way to live, a fresh chance at coexistence. Anything less is
just the seduction of novelty – the hedonism of insignificance.
If that’s the case (if the axiom really holds), then a number of
fascinating questions arise – for the artist, of course, but also for
the critic. Where the critic is concerned, one good question is this:
How do you address yourself to artists or publics or potential peers
across the dividing lines that separate entire societies? How do you
evaluate what counts as a positive or at least a promising change in the
existing balance of a foreign culture?
I’m sure you immediately see how difficult this is. Already in the past,
it was hard enough to say that a particular aesthetic tradition and a
particular state of the medium defined the leading edge, the point at
which a rupture became interesting. Yet still there were times when all
the painters seemed to flock to Rome, then later to Paris, then later to
New York City; and so through the sheer aggregation of techniques and
styles, the fiction of a leading edge could be maintained, at least by
some. But in the face of a simultaneous splintering and decline of what
used to be called “the West,” and a correlative rise of some of “the
Rest,” who could seriously say that certain local, national or regional
laws, customs, measures, mores and technical or organizational devices
are really the most interesting ones to transgress or even break into
pieces, in hopes of a better way of being? Or to be even cruder about
it, and closer to the actual state of things: Who can seriously claim
that the Euro-American forms of society are the benchmark against which
change must be measured – even if those societies are still the most
opulent and most developed and most heavily armed with all the nastiest
of technological weapons?
Let’s face it, the task of a transnational critique for the new arts of
living within, against and beyond the existing states of the world’s
societies is daunting to say the least. However, I think all is not lost
in this domain, for three connected reasons. The first is that over the
last, say, fifty years, and particularly over the last fifteen, we have
seen the still very superficial but nonetheless real emergence of
something like a world society. To put it another way, there is now some
kind of connective tissue (call it the transnational economy, the
transportation system and global English) that does bind our
possibilities of life together, though without in any way reducing them
to being identical. The second is that the vast proliferation of readily
accessible archives (libraries, web pages, video banks, record
collections, museums) offers at least some chance to rapidly sample all
sorts of information and impressions about what kind of shape a
particular society is in, and even what kinds of steps are being made to
try and change it. And third, given the above and maybe a good
translator too, what you can do is actually try to stage a dialogue with
the people you are meeting, and hope that some of them respond, give you
pointers, correct your mistakes, calm down your unconscious arrogance
and add their own reflections and aesthetic productions into the mix –
not only to obtain a better and more useful critique of their society,
but also of yours. Which last, I might add, is something essential and
desperately needed, particularly if you are a European or an American.
The above is a theoretical program, but also just a reflection on some
experiences as a critic and activist out in the wide world. The most
recent of these experiences was particularly interesting: I was invited
to participate in and to evaluate a project of artistic remembrance and
envisioning, focused on the American military bases that are now (maybe)
in the process of closing and moving out of the South Korean city of
Dongducheon, and indeed of a range of sites around the DMZ, even as a
new megabase is prepared further to the south in a place called
Pyeongtaek. This was an incredible chance to get a first-hand look at
what I think is the scourge of American and Western democracy, namely
what Chalmers Johnson calls the “empire of bases.” (And I happen to
think that the first-hand look, however fleeting and superficial, is of
tremendous importance whenever you really want to learn anything). As it
turned out though, this was also an incredible chance to start getting
to know a unique spot on the earth, South Korea, which for the worst of
reasons has been particularly close to the U.S. over the last six
decades, despite the fact that many many Koreans would really rather
close that never-ending chapter called the Cold War on the Korean Peninsula.
The trip was too short, but still amazing, and it got me to do some new
things in criticism (maybe dubious ones), like using a pop song for
starters rather than a quote from Foucault, and approaching street
demonstrations via Korean feminists rather than Toni Negri. In the end I
had to conclude that the old French saying, “Celui qui aime a toujours
raison” (those who love something are always right), is in fact wrong,
since we humans are capable of awful loves, and not only in aesthetics.
That said, we’re also uniquely capable of starting all over again, as
y’all probably know in your intimate experience. And so let’s ask the
question: What would tomorrow look like without 750+ American military
bases scattered across the earth? With a little help from some new
friends, I tried to go further with that line of inquiry, as you can see
right here:
And now the dialogue is open for whoever has inspiration.
best, Brian