New publication on art theory
"The Art of Direct Action": Karen van den Berg registers new forms of political art in her art-theoretical anthology.
Twenty-four gray concrete pillars. Björn Höcke should have been amazed when he stepped outside his house in Bornhagen in Thuringia in November 2017. To protest against his saying that the Berlin Holocaust Memorial is a “monument of shame” the Berlin Center for Political Beauty the AfD politician demonstratively put his personal memorial in front of the door.
The action of the controversial group is considered one of the highlights of the newer political action art. As successful as it may have been in the media, it has divided public attitudes towards this art form. Since then there have been either supporters or rejectors.
One of the advantages of the book "The Art of Direct Action" is to dissolve the binary structure of the discourse field "politically engaged art". Because Karen van den Berg, the band's editor and art professor at the Zeppelin University in Friedrichshafen, is not primarily about the political pros and cons of such actions.
The scientist hopes more of categorizing these new forms in which art and politics mix. It is indeed more fruitful to discuss and not to discuss actions of the "center", but also those of artists such as Ai Weiwei, the Cuban artist Tania Bruguera or the Berlin architectural collective raumlabor under the rubric of a fundamental "turn from representation to action" always under a moral sign.
Van den Berg analyzes this aesthetic change in tide as being equal to the classic aesthetic values that have so far defined art and the art system, “political values”.
She sees the shift away from spectator art or spectator art, that is, the art that works through the interaction between viewer and object, towards an "aesthetic of action and social design" – analogous to "linguistic", "iconic" or “Performative turn” that the humanities have declared in the past 25 years – a “social turn”.
Van den Berg's theses sound spectacular. Of course, they are not entirely new. Otherwise it would not have made Joseph Beuys the linchpin of the tape. With her idea of making the guru of "social sculpture" the spiritual and practical ancestor of new political art, she does not get away with it.
Not only because the artists and initiatives she interviews to compare their theses are extremely vague on this subject. Skepticism is also more fundamental. The New York artist Gregory Sholette and van der Berg's colleague from Friedrichshafen, the German philosopher Philipp Kleinmichel, work out quite plausibly how compatible Beuys' idea of arousing the creative potential of every person is with the needs of the neoliberal paradigm like him Eve Chiapello and Luc Boltanski analyzed in their 2005 book "The Spirit of Capitalism".
There is no Beuys legacy in the United States
The example of the USA also shows the distance to Beuys. There are innumerable initiatives of artistically inspired “social practice” from neighborhood meetings to alternative schools. The Californian artist Daniel Joseph Martinez still believes that there are "no Beuys legacy" in the USA.
Most of the initiatives that acted like the master of the office for direct democracy, however, were hardly able to look outside the box of their respective communities, while Beuys always kept an eye on the whole society, indeed the cosmos. Finally, New York art historian Cara Jorden traces the reserve of feminist US artists in an insightful essay.
Karen van den Berg honors how she tries to transcend the boundaries of her field. Nice in their 2013 volume "Art Production beyond the Art Market" has helpfully analyzed the conditions and possibilities of an "art beyond the market" that is so often only ritually invoked.
For Kleinmichel, the line between art and politics runs where a “surplus of meaning and symbolic value” appears during an action
In her new book, however, it is Philipp Kleinmichel who provides the decisive definition for dealing with and the perspectives of politically committed art. For him, the boundary between art and politics runs where a "surplus of meaning and symbolic value" appears in a project or an action.
If you measure the Bornhagen coup by this criterion, it quickly becomes clear that it has not yet shown the way to the "Beyond" that the band is aiming for again.