Abstract This article looks at developments in post‐Stalinist communist theory in recent continental political philosophy (Félix Guattari, Jean‐Luc Nancy, Antonio Negri, Alain Badiou and Slavoj Žižek) and the emergence of utopian ‘enclave’ theory and practices (spaces of autonomous cultural resistance) as they relate to new forms of sociability and criticality in contemporary art. As such it connects a discussion of key notions of the ‘new communist’ theory, such as ‘communist form’ and a ‘communism of the senses’, to the social, political and discursive ambitions of the new relational and post‐relational artistic milieu. The article argues that new forms of social practice engaged with critical notions of community share a political and cultural framework with post‐Stalinist and post‐capitalist notions of community in the ‘new communist’ theory (in particular Nancy).
Abstract Through a detailed reading of Antonio Negri’s collection of letters on art, Arte e Multitudo, this article enquires into the place and the uses of art in his writings. It identifies abstraction as the pivotal theme in the Italian philosopher’s reflections on aesthetics. Abstraction is a cipher for the defeats of the extra‐parliamentary left and the imposition of a seemingly inescapable postmodern capitalism, but it is also the starting‐point for an attempt to reconstruct a potent political subject in the midst of a world wholly subsumed by capital and the commodity‐form. The article critically explores Negri’s attempt to tie together a theory of the periodisation of capitalism (and anti‐capitalism) with a prophetic discourse on sensuous politics which explicitly repeats the early German Idealists’ search for a ‘sensuous religion’ that would serve as the prelude to a new politics.
Abstract Alain Badiou offers a thinking of aesthetics geared to the invention of the new, against what he regards as the conformism of contemporary cultural production. His conception of a revived modernism, unafraid of ‘monumental construction’, challenges the modesty of many contemporary conceptions of art. Badiou remains faithful to the ‘modernist moment’, at the same time as arguing the need for a re‐conceptualisation of the modern. This involves a singular historical periodisation and complicated negotiation with the ‘negative’ or ‘destructive’ impulses of modernism, which Badiou claims need to be surpassed by a new ‘subtractive’ orientation. While undeniably bold, such a re‐conceptualisation encounters difficulties in its specification of the new against the background of a capitalism itself dominated by an ideology of production, creation and invention. This difficulty is signalled most prominently by Badiou’s refusal to really identify any contemporary forms that would conform to his call for ‘monumental construction’.
Abstract Addressing recent attempts to articulate the social dimensions of the aesthetic within accounts of contemporary art, this article considers how the type of understanding generated has, contrary to the socially pertinent claims ostensibly being proposed, demonstrated an ongoing distrust and fear of heteronomy. It is argued that far from offering a corrective to asocial notions of autonomy, such perspectives on the debates over ‘art and politics’ do not even deliver an adequate conception of ‘social autonomy’, but instead contain, and thereby neutralise, the very heteronomous forces to which they appeal to enliven the discourse of contemporary practice. The essay tracks how this privileging of autonomy can be found in Jacques Rancière’s discussions of the avant‐garde, and suggests that this approach circumscribes an aporia whose dynamics are one‐sidedly weighted and which evacuates content from heteronomy’s moments of transitivity.
Abstract This article examines the impact of May 1968 (Paris) on the evolution of contemporary critical theory, and its subsequent influence on contemporary art practice. The perceived failure of May 1968 led to a pervasive belief that political change must be preceded by a transformation of human subjectivity that is most readily produced by the experience of experimental forms of art and writing. This was paired with a general scepticism regarding the efficacy of more direct forms of political action and organisation. The second half of the essay examines the work of Belgian artist Francis Alÿs in light of this tradition, and the increasingly canonical form it has taken in recent art theory.
Abstract The division between art and political activism becomes increasingly blurred when artists’ groups develop ways of working which draw on the tactics of campaigning groups. This follows a collapsing of the boundaries between art, architecture, design, fashion and communications media through the past two decades. But while the arts have merged into the creative industries, art activism emerges now as a dissident practice. The article begins by noting two contemporary artists’ groups – in the UK and Argentina – for whom art offers a means of politicised intervention. It then examines various critical positions on such art and its relation to diverse publics and questions the viability of recent arguments for relational aesthetics in the face of current political emergencies.
Abstract If relational aesthetics aims at fostering connections between atomised individuals, how can this be compared to reconceived philosophies of community, especially as trends connected with relational art have paradoxically reinforced both the authorial presence of the artist, and competitive individualism amongst artists? The author considers Claire Bishop’s critique of relational aesthetics, and, through an analysis of Santiago Sierra’s ‘remunerative’ method, finds that her necessary introduction of ‘antagonism’ into any meaningful discussion of social relations nevertheless ends up reinforcing the status and divisions of art. By conceiving of antagonism in terms of quality rather than equality (aesthetics rather than politics), Bishop’s focus remains stuck on the individual reception of artworks, rather than on the possibility of transforming artworld structures. Examining the work of Paul McCarthy, the author describes how an attack on individualism might be accomplished through ‘self‐ridicule’, whereby the artist is exposed as ‘absent’ – atomised competitor; figure without social function – through his/her physical presence.
Abstract Drawing on Marxist historiography, this essay examines the crowd as a marker for collective life in contemporary photography. In contrast to the mass media’s demonisation of the ‘mob’ and art photography’s evacuation of the crowd, it looks at three critical projects – Chris Marker’s Staring Back; Allan Sekula’s Waiting for Tear Gas (White Globe to Black); and Joel Sternfeld’s Treading on Kings: Protesting the G8 in Genoa – that present a ‘horizontal’ image of the crowd from below which disfigures the view from above.
Abstract It is still possible to posit the ‘hypothesis of communism’ (Alain Badiou) but not without realising that creative capitalism subsumes and distorts classical Communist ideas, such as the supersession of the division of labour or the universalisation of creativity. Collaborative activist practices in art that still posit a communist hypothesis must negotiate these obstacles. In the present dialogue, two members of Chto Delat?, a group of artists and intellectuals from Petersburg and Moscow, discuss how to resist and work through the atomisation that inevitably affects any collective, interdisciplinary practice. It is very important to create one’s own context without succumbing to the religious pathos of an ‘exodus’, and it is very important to work through a radically new class composition of society by inventing new transversal organisational forms, finding the link to the historical avant‐garde as a source of both meaningful aesthetic pleasure and a new form of political discipline.
Abstract This essay proposes a contribution to the critique of contemporary capitalism, particularly with regard to its entwinement with culture and, thereby, its creeping subsumption of life more generally – a formation it nominates ‘artistic capitalism’. This is confronted by an attempt to reconstruct the deep affinity between the modern ideas of art and communism, especially in the unspoken correspondences between post‐Kantian aesthetics and Marx’s early writings – the essay formulates the idea of ‘artistic communism’ to grasp this affinity. But this reconstruction also has the aim of revealing how contemporary capitalist culture comes to appropriate and invert artistic communism, something elaborated through reflecting on the diagnoses of ‘culture industry’ (Adorno and Horkheimer), ‘society of spectacle’ (Debord) and labour as ‘virtuosity’ (Virno). The contention of the essay is that the anti‐capitalist re‐imagination of communism and art needs to negotiate this appropriation and inversion.
Third Text is published in print and online by Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.