Dear Truls, Ever since you as an editor gave me the opportunity to write for Le Monde diplomatique, we have had many conversations about art and capitalism. Something that also finds expression in your MODERN TIMES. For me, these publications have not only been journalistic writing spaces, but also platforms for a way of life. The common interests and inspirations have over the years helped to create a continuous energy. A conversation slides into the script, amplifies a conversation, supports a movement that is already in progress. Some of it slips into one's other writings, one's book projects which are also underway. And maybe it helps to create a way of life? Where what you do contains more than just a finished product or work. Perhaps more of a dialogue that nurtures a way of life, of being alive simply. All of this was something I was reminded of while reading Chris Kraus' book Where art belongs, a book that has just been translated into Danish and published by the online magazine ATLAS.
Because it touches us
In a world after thirty years of neoliberal shock therapy and omnivorous commercialism, she gets shaken up well and thoroughly in the art world's melancholy hangover. She kicks us to where life strikes a chord, where art in a way acts as an arena for people who actually believe in life, who are hungry to feel life – and not put her life in the slipstream of the adults' race, a life controlled of status, safety, consumption and boredom.
In a world where most people think of raving about themselves, art is a generous opening to life. It is hard wear and there is almost no money in it and yet there are people who do it, create art. And already here one must actually stop, understand that there are people who choose this life. Ask yourself how it can be though. Basically: You do it to reach out, to share a world that is subtle, beautiful, ugly and strange. To share a life.
Let us not forget it: that it begins with devotion, the love of the incomprehensibility of this world. What art can do is not, first and foremost, only a work, an autonomously exalted work. Yes, it must be. But we must take a step back. Being closer to life, where it begins, where we see and feel the world differently, because it touches us, because things and the composition of things, signs and images, awaken us. A sensual revival, the best kind of spirituality! What makes us say, shut up, now, something's happening. Now I wake up, and so does the world. And when it happens, once you have helped create something that just moves, then you want to return to this rush. Then you do not bother to run around and spend all your time making money and buying things you do not need.
Art is conceptual for Kraus, but it is not theoretical. It's actually the only way we get out of the reserve. It's really just saying: make a frame, cultivate it, enter into a dialogue with others, other works, other life. Off. Art is «a state of tension» as she writes, a way of «inviting the audience into a free series of associations». A heat flow where the most banal substance can be registered with amazement. What matters in the long run is whether it is interesting.
As such, Kraus is not afraid of the commercialization and consulting of art. That just as much creativity has been put into the marketing as into the product. That it is often not the work that is at the center, but the dialogue, the conversation and the possible signal values around the work. Even a presentation video of an upcoming idea can be a work in progress! She does not see Bojana Kunst and Boris Groys, the artist's project life characterized by self-management, networking, communication and visibility as exclusively negative. And this regardless of the fact that all this takes time from the creative work, for Kraus it is about sharpening the awareness of what it means to be in a process, to fail, to be in a dialogue, to build a bridge between one's own other people's activities and works .
"City life becomes so sad that we might as well sell it for money."
Kraus does not just ride with this post-Marxist critique of art: that all artists have ended up as consultants; that they do not have time to be creative because they have to market and network; that neoliberalism has made life empty and the artist's life filled with life-suffering and depression; that it has become increasingly difficult to create a distance and an interruption to a targeted work; to step out of the instrumental life chain where all activities are directed towards a goal. That which permeates the whole working society. That the economy is running and pulsating in the blood and everything and everyone is being hunted wild – not least the unemployed and the artists.
Yes, Kraus believes that the ability of art to explore a common life precisely requires autonomy, peace of mind, a life practice, associated with listening, wonder, waiting, hesitation and sleep. She knows all this well, she who has formed a life partner with publisher (Semiotexte) and cultural critic Sylvére Lotringer and lived with Baudrillard, Guattari, Deleuze, Foucault and Lacan in her backyard morning, noon and evening while for decades she has tuned in to what various artists and galleries are now underway.
The many examples
But to all those who just walk around and spend their time complaining about the artist's working conditions or living in an empty neoliberal aquarium, to them she will say, if you want to live differently, think differently, then you have to do it yourself. It went i.a. up for the poetic collective Bernadotte Cooperation, where the «mutual relationship with each other became part of an explosive force», that which created a gesturing poetry. Rather than a programmatic critique, the "task of good poetry is to say the obvious in all its complexity." Sometimes a kind of sought branding:
What a beautiful chorus it is
I hear as I pour the water from my capers
It's Bellini on CD
But otherwise you really just look back to the mundane as the raw material of poetry:
… Sitting with the first
cup of coffee in front
the window, in the morning idyll
is everything wonderful…
Died for eight hours,
And now I'm here…
To deal with art is also to deal with a way of life. One of the most important experiences of May 68 was this "outburst of spontaneity in public life and thus the notion that – even in the late form of the consumer society – it might be possible to live differently." She quotes the Fluxus artist William de Ridder, who in 2005 described his own post-war generation: “Our upbringing was dead. Dad was the boss, strict rules, the word 'sex' alone was enough to give you red ears. " Sexuality became a key, not so much to a study of the inner life, but an "escape from the inevitable 'productive boredom' that characterizes the monogamous heterosexual life."
And further from Kraus: Magazine Suck and Germaine Greer did away with the confessional therapeutic approach to sexuality in the 70s in favor of a political awareness of a liberating practice. The gay movement FHAR launched the slogan "Workers worldwide, pamper yourself". Deleuze and Guattari wrote in Anti-Oedipus (1972/2002): "To love is not just to become one, or even two, but to become a hundred thousand."
Kraus himself described his own performative triangular drama in the novel I love Dick, performed as a play last year in Copenhagen. The particular resonance between art and way of life is also evident in Moyra Davis 'Paris constellation, which consists of photographs from Paris My Necropolis, parts of the correspondence between W. Benjamin, G. Scholem and Index Cart – which are Davis' reflections on illness, sleep, speed and mortality. Davis collects things – maps, tombs, books, apartments, but it is the encounter with these things, with the transience and the decadent, that adds a poetic expression. Kraus calls this practice a "psychogeography."
The writing on the wall in a post-post time
Where art belongs, the writing is on the wall in a post-post time. At a time when established art criticism and societal criticism (post-Marxism, critical theory and other Old School) have lost their ability to capture and accommodate our contemporaries, a contemporaneity born of uncertainty in politics and economics – we are all vulnerable. Art is actually the place that shows it. Nowhere else does it happen. Not even in our educational and cultural institutions that are soaked in a communication strategic language.
Kraus shows tenderness and vitality. She is preoccupied with what surprises, rather than sublime art. If you want something with art (and the world), you must not start and end with the isolated work, you must also address everything else – the work, the materials, the friendships, the sudden encounters, the conversations, the craftsmanship. One must have an eye for everything outside that has to do with life, life as a clash of signs and images, as a place outside, because it is the only life that appeals to one. No matter how hard it is, how much one is often on the ass. You discover that you not only create art, but a way of life.
What becomes hip often lasts no more than a day, a minute, it says somewhere. Her description of the story of the small artistic side gallery Tiny Creatures on the outskirts of Los Angeles – its few years of life, its small glimpse of an ozone-stricken sky and rapid collapse outside the established art circles – is memorable. As vivid as it is, as fragile as it is. It only lasted a few years and one should not ask for more. One must learn to love, the fleeting, the temporary, for that is life. As the Korean-born curator Janet Kim, who was behind the site located in Echo Park on an empty building site for the merging of four highway entrances, writes in his manifesto to the small gallery:
tiny creatures er
a longing to live in our own way
to feel a sense of community
to look at each other while we are on the planet
to share our lives, our pain, our talents, our thoughts
to encapsulate a moment that will be forgotten or disappear
and fill it with beauty, love, sorrow and all that,
we can feel like humans
Somewhere Kraus writes about collective poetry as another way of creating not political art, but a thinking for the political, understood as a way of working and capturing the present, to make form a common weapon: «All art is conceptually defined in relation to other works ». It is the tension or state of tension between things and people, surprising feedbacks that make art possible. It was not about having long educations, as Janet Kim said, but about «finding some people I could dream of».
Kraus also writes about the difference between the digital and analog world, the difference in rhythm of life, inspirations and working method, but that is the last thing to focus on. In other words: "Technology makes the world a matrix", she writes. It creates «tools for increased mobility», but it also creates self-seduction of an eternal stream.
The 80s and 90s became decades of video art, which raised questions such as: Is there a time of one's own life? (Bill Viola); Do I see anything other than a fleeting materiality (Stan Brakhage and Should It Be Art? Nine Minutes of Steam?) Or are we even flooded with images put together in shifts (Nam June Paik)? Issues and issues that, according to Kraus, later slip into feature films, marketing and shopping culture. For example, the clothing factory American Apparel (Los Angeles) that uses the self-reflexivity of concept art that makes shopping more than a purchase of an item, it is a voice, a way of life. For example, anti-brand t-shirts, visibility of the cultural connections between LA and Mexico City, as well as employees' own photos as an integral part of the marketing.
The crucial thing is no longer to have things, but to use them. And therefore art can appear in the most unexpected places: Dutch Jan Ader's art reminds us how banal the subject area of art can be. At one point, he made a postcard depicting a close-up of his own tear-soaked face with the title: I am Too Sad to Tell You. Ader belongs to a generation of artists after World War II who cultivated the myth of disappearance, of becoming another – preferably disappearing from Western culture and the atomic bombs, out to the tropical islands and other utopian notions of paradise. Ader himself disappeared in the waves of the Atlantic on a long one-man voyage. But it is not this mythology that interests Kraus, but the subsequent artists who have taken up his and others' history to re-examine what it means to be different – rather than more utopias.
Tender, wild, but also fragile
Yes, we must feel life, we must be surprised, let ourselves be seized by the incomprehensibility of the world and we must not repeat the mistakes of avant-garde that art and life must merge completely in one great everyday situationism. Kraus cultivates neither total collapse nor collapse.
The mention of Murray Huys digital image installation, she sees as an "indictment of the boredom over the images of 21st century crowds and architectural surfaces by Andreas Gursky and an army of imitators on the threshold of the next millennium." Herein lies the potential of many of Kraus' works: they use the production potential of capitalism – here the digital image culture – by exposing the aspects of money and consumer life that empty life of joy, ingenuity and the desire to explore. She quotes the media thinker Franco «Bifo» Berardi: "We renew our love of work because economic survival becomes more difficult and everyday life becomes lonely and boring: City life becomes so sad that we might as well sell it for money."
… The work, the materials, the friendships, the sudden encounters, the conversations, the craftsmanship.
Against this Kraus puts a form of vitalism: “It is possible both to be wildly intelligent and at the same time to have no knowledge. This condition – which is usually associated with adolescence or prolonged puberty – often results in boredom, the existential ancestor of virtually all major art and cultural movements. " It is tender, wild, but also fragile. And of course it is also the weakness of a book that equates art with the conceptual. The danger is too much speed, too little lingering. Too many technological combinations and too little understanding of craftsmanship. But the scoop is Kraus' gaze for art as a place that gives birth to something new, a new way of looking at the world, emphasizing the importance of actually being alive.
Many young and old do not see it, because they have jumped on a train running bars, a train with deadlines and monotonous work. Suddenly one day they look in the mirror and look back at what happened.