Art as Commitment
International Conference, December 7, 2013, Ljubljana
Location: Museum of Contemporary Art Metelkova, Maistrova 3, Ljubljana
From 9.30 a.m. till 5.30 p.m.
Keti Chukhrov (an art theorist and philosopher, Moscow), Miklavž Komelj (an art historian, poet and translator, Ljubljana), Hito Steyerl (an artist, Berlin), Ravi Sundaram (a Senior Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), New Delhi), Raluca Voinea (an art critic and curator, Bucharest)
The conference is organized by the Igor Zabel Association for Culture and Theory in cooperation with the Moderna galerija. The conference is supported by the ERSTE Foundation.
About the conference
The aim of the conference is to reflect on the role and position of committed art today, to discuss what committed art should be today and what the difference is when we talk about art as commitment.
Today, in a time when everything indicates that the crisis – economic, financial, political, environmental and social – will only intensify, when numerous artistic, cultural, political and social forms of resistance and critical assessments are bursting out globally in a search and demand for a world beyond the neoliberal order, art and the art system are again confronted with the urge to reflect upon their role and status in these challenging conditions. This seems to be even more pressing since for more than two decades contemporary art’s development went hand in hand with the processes of globalisation that the “old first world” used to triumphantly spread the doctrine of neoliberal capitalism after 1989.
In the frame of these departure points, we would like to reflect upon the role and position of committed art today. We do not consider committed art solely as something that exists necessarily outside institutional frames and discourses and as something opposite of so-called autonomous art. Instead, we propose to take into consideration various contemporary economic, ideological or political perspectives, such as the conditions of art production, the blurred division of labour between artistic work and so-called regular work, new formats of exhibitions, new institutional models and so on.
Committed art in this sense has the capacity to subvert “units of measure” – time that is perceived on two levels: on the level of artwork and on the level of labour. As Maurizio Lazzarato has noted, art can interrupt capitalist time, introduce an “order of difference” into this rationalized time and produce new meanings. Many artists have dealt with disruptions of time through the topics of laziness, play, stepping out of the art system, or making their own archives, exhibitions, spaces, etc. Our interpretation of committed art would therefore consider not only artistic production as such, but would also extend to the relationship between artistic work and social labour as a whole.
The question to be asked is: how can art be socially and politically viable and emancipatory and, at the same time, overcome pure social and political utilitarianism on the one side, and being trapped within political, economic and other power systems that art tends to criticize on the other side?
In his text “Commitment”, Igor Zabel, art historian and curator from Slovenia (1958–2005), deals with these questions by examining the complex and internally contradictory relationship between so-called committed and autonomous art, which, according to him, should be re-thought through, conceptualizing both concepts in relation to each other: "On the one hand, in the light of critical art, we realize that a pure, autonomous art cannot remain outside political reality and that it is precisely the autonomy of this art that allows it to be appropriated by dominant – and sometimes repressive – political regimes. On the other hand, it also appears that a critical and political art (which is based on a clear awareness of its social and political position and role) cannot escape being exploited by the system. Precisely because it is art, it can be appropriated by the very powers it tries to fight against. ... Such tension and contradiction between the two poles, however, are what still allow art to create values that cannot be completely absorbed either by the marketplace or by ideological functions, with the result that art continues to act as a point of resistance in society.”
According to Zabel, art is able to create specific values despite being trapped in political, economic and other power systems that exploit it. Zabel opts for the social and political viability of art and at the same time (by critically re-reading Adorno) puts an emphasis on the political use of autonomous art. According to him, autonomous art can, or rather, should again, have a political function and also act as a point of resistance. Today, these questions might acquire new importance, especially if we take into consideration that, on the one side, critical deconstruction of the practices and discourses of power has become an extremely powerful current in contemporary art (which is in itself an indication that the art system has already managed to absorb quite a lot) and, on the other side, the fact that art is often evaluated and supported in relation to its usefulness – be it in an economic sense by generating economic value (art as commodity or, for example, projects of urban renewal and cultural industries), in an ideological sense (e.g. projects for supporting social cohesion, sustainable development, etc.) as well as in a political sense, since critical art practices are nowadays as much a part of strategies, questions and demands as social movements are.
Questions which will be addressed:
- What committed art should be today and what the difference is when we talk about art as commitment?
- How can art be socially and politically viable and emancipatory and at the same time overcome pure social and political utilitarianism?
- How can art create specific values despite being trapped within political, economic and other power systems that exploit it?
- What are the possible artistic and curatorial strategies toward autonomous art and its political effects today?
- Has conceptualization of art as an autonomous field finally become a matter of history, or is it precisely in this direction that one should seek its power in the future?
- Which are the practices that we could learn from?