Boris Groys – On Art Activism

Michael Rakowitz, Joe Heywood’s paraSITE shelter, 2000. Battery Park City, Manhattan. Plastic bags, polyethylene tubing, hooks, tape. Courtesy of the artist and Lombard Freid Gallery, NY

Excelente texto de Boris Grois sobre Arte e Ativismo: Pode ser lido aqui: http://www.e-flux.com/journal/on-art-activism/

Art activism’s attempts to combine art and social action come under attack from both of these opposite perspectives—traditionally artistic and traditionally activist ones. Traditional artistic criticism operates according to the notion of artistic quality. From this point of view, art activism seems to be artistically not good enough: many critics say that the morally good intentions of art activism substitute for artistic quality. This kind of criticism is, actually, easy to reject. In the twentieth century, all criteria of quality and taste were abolished by different artistic avant-gardes—so, today, it makes no sense to appeal to them again. However, criticism from the other side is much more serious and demands an elaborate critical answer. This criticism mainly operates according to notions of “aestheticization” and “spectacularity.” A certain intellectual tradition rooted in the writings of Walter Benjamin and Guy Debord states that the aestheticization and spectacularization of politics, including political protest, are bad things because they divert attention away from the practical goals of political protest and towards its aesthetic form. And this means that art cannot be used as a medium of a genuine political protest—because the use of art for political action necessarily aestheticizes this action, turns this action into a spectacle and, thus, neutralizes the practical effect of this action. As an example, it is enough to remember the recent Berlin Biennale curated by Artur Żmijewski and the criticism it provoked—described as it was by different ideological sides as a zoo for art activists.

In other words, the art component of art activism is often seen as the main reason why this activism fails on the pragmatic, practical level—on the level of its immediate social and political impact. In our society, art is traditionally seen as useless. So it seems that this quasi-ontological uselessness infects art activism and dooms it to failure. At the same time, art is seen as ultimately celebrating and aestheticizing the status quo—and thus undermining our will to change it. So the way out of this situation is seen mostly in the abandoning of art altogether—as if social and political activism never fails as long as it is not infected by art viruses.

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