Monday, 26 November 2012

local and global/ part 1

Lee has started writing his blog again.

There is an interesting post up there at the moment which touches on, amongst other things, the distinction between the local and the global.

This is a duality that I have found interesting for a long time. Really it's  a series of dualities.

I think first about the individual and the group. The political split that assigns primacy to the respective halves of that equation could be argued as being "first politics", and it is something that has troubled me for as long as I can remember. A while ago I was at a conference on Deleuze and the simple distinction was made (quoted?) that the right starts with the self and radiates out, while the left starts with the out and narrows down to the self. From here we can smoothly move to Identity Politics, the power games inherent in both (remember Adam Curtis's Century of The Self and the pivot point of Anti-Psychiatry and the distrust this provokes in other groups). Now we can think about how collective responsibility is frequently imposed from without that collective (See all instances of Communism realised as State Capitalism or secular feudalism) and the basic contradiction that Materialism is itself an Ideal.

I have been talking to Stuart Tait, of among other things, AAS Group, since Spring this year. These discussions has mainly focused on other related dualities, like that of the the artist and the audience, or the teacher and the student. What makes AAS a unique entity in my personal experience is a sincere and thorough approach to the flat plane of the collective. In a time where farcical and utterly insincere terms like "social engaged practice"(1), the still-born buzzword that never-was "Relational Aesthetics" and all variations on "collaboration" and "participation" are everywhere (2), it is refreshing to see a practice that is continually recalibrating itself in relation to its environment, including the allowing for the impact that it has on this environment. An so on and so on.

The point I would like to make about AAS is that it is significantly less formed, less formalised, less Idealised and more fluid, amorphous and molecular.

This is a collective that has no agenda other than to respond to situations. It makes no priority for presented situations which contain an audience (though it does sometimes perform in these situations) and can equally operate with only the four most constant parts present or with an expanded AAS with further additional parts.

The individual/collective and the local/global are both false distinctions, as Lee puts it here

"Decision making needs to ignore artificial borders and boundaries and simply treat humanity as an individual and a collective of individuals at the same time. "

Bruno Latour has talked about the false local/global distinction extensively.

"Is a railroad local or global? Neither. it is local at all points, since you always find sleepers and railroad workers, and you have stations and automatic ticket machines scattered along the way. Yet it is global, since it takes you form Madrid to Berlin or form Brest to Vladivostok. However it is not universal enough to take you just anywhere. However, it is not universal enough to take you just anywhere. it is impossible to reach the little Auvergnat village of Malpy by train, or the little Staffordshire village of Market Drayton. There are continuous paths that lead form the local to the global, the the circumstantial to the universal, from the contingent to the necessary, only so long as the branch lines are paid for."
Latour - We Have Never Been Modern - Harvard - 1993

There is no real duality in Latour model. Networks, which for Latour everything is a part of are always a monsterous mixture of the local and the global, of the immanent and the transcendental. The local of Cardiff is threaded to the global of Biennales, they can't be separated.

So the issue here for me is how can, for example, art, negotiate this singularity? The first point would be that there is no isolated entity called "art".

Much of the defined art discourse and art practice focuses on a sphere that it positions directly in front of itself. That is to say, an agreed territory of what art is about. A week or so ago I had an interesting conversation with Adam Sutherland of Grizedale (3) on how to move art from the position it has occupied for the past 200 or so years, namely the segregated self-fascination best demonstrated by the Romantic era, and redefine it as a thing of use which is connected to all other things.

My position on this has been pretty stable for the past few years; art rarely engages with anything in any manner other than appropriation and (Capitalist) detournement. The Grizedale stance is that art has been about itself. I would argue that this is not even the case. Some art is explicitly about it's own production, and much if not most, is built upon knowledge of and delicate deviations from it's own (historical/theoretical) narrative (4) this is true. However art rarely, if ever, engages with its material self. This is why I say that it is concerned with a sphere just in front of it, because the real practicalities of networking, form filling, strategic compromise, the great unspoken of artist's labour value, of fees, of careers, is left off the table.

Grizedale and Marcus Coate's current exhibition at The Jerwood Space in Borough is an exception. 

At times, these domestic issues of art reality do surface within work, but in my experience these mostly retain the distancing effect of performance, frequently through irony. It is like a partial, Kippenburgerian disclose.

1. As though any practice is not "socially engaged". As though "socially engaged" was categorically superior to an other that is not. As though "socially engaged" means anything than a patronising late-90s style aesthetic of usefulness. As though "socially engaged" means anything other than prepared and equipped to exploit the most vulnerable and extract the state resources allocated to them.  

2. These terms, and the practices which drift between them frequently share an approach to the collective which is comparable to State Capitalism. The artist or artist group or curator engineers a situation for "participants" to engage, frequently with each other in an imitation of a flat structure.  The artist, as shepherd may stay outside of this structure, or may involve themselves within group. In either case the outcome of the project is always subservient to the fact that it was orchestrated. The collective is never more than the material resource of the lead artist.

3. Grizedale is a fairly unique example of an institution that has managed to create a situation in which art discourse and production can engage with things outside of itself in a manner other than domination and recoding. Grizedale's operations are simultaneously amorphous and practical.

4. Here a complete career could be made out of examining why Art is perhaps the most conservative industry.  Cultural Hegemony does not even begin to cover it.