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Super-smart Kim Simon has directed my attention to Arthur Żmijewski’s open call for the 7th Berlin Biennale for which he is acting as curator. In addition to all the predictable information, Żmijewski is asking artists to submit a statement that outlines their political inclinations. He explains it this way:

Usually, artists are not asked to identify their political positions. But this time it’s different. In my opinion, all artists represent particular political standpoints, even if they don’t want to identify them clearly. There is this invisible rule for artists to produce so-called “political art” from an unidentified political position and to keep neutrality, even if it is obvious that they are not neutral.

Our reality is structured by politics; this means that art is also structured by them. Let’s present this invisible/hidden structure, this obscene background of art. Politics are not, as politicians would like to convince us, fights for power or dirty games. They are the language of our collective needs which people share.

We are not only human beings, we are also political beings, as Hannah Arendt said. Let’s describe what we are doing as artists also in pure political terms. That’s why I ask about this “secret” and “private” information. Let’s give it a public body.

It doesn’t mean that the curatorial choice will be based on preferred political identity—no, it will be based as always on intuition and ambiguity. But this time intuition and ambiguity will be a little deformed by this over-obvious political element. So, we will see what happens.

Taking Żmijewski’s claim that “all artists represent particular political standpoints, even if they don’t want to identify them clearly” seriously, then it should be possible to somehow work backwards from the art object to the intentionality that informed it. But I appreciate this call to be explicit, and in doing so maybe my previous assumption will be proven false: perhaps it is not so easy to link politics and praxis; conceivably, their interconnection is unpredictable.

So what will staking out an artist’s political position do? It will reveal the power dynamics at play between art and politics, absolving the idea of a hard distinction between them. Elsewhere, Żmijewski has said that “having an effect implies some kind of power, and having power is what art is most afraid of. The problem being that it already has power. Art has the power to name and define, the intervene in the workings of culture, exert pressure on elements of the social structure by turning them into artefacts (art works). And every artefact is after all an apparatus for actively modelling fragments of reality. If politics is the power to name things, art has that power–perhaps even in spite of itself.” By forcibly equating art with politics, there is less room to deny the agency of the artefact out in the world. I can only imagine that this move of Żmijewski’s is to insist that art is not politically benign, even when it might appear to be. Politics is one other means by which to practice art.

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  1. The Visual Arts program at MIT will soon be presenting the Disobedience Archive. This is from their characterization of the project:

    What the Disobedience Archive intends to represent is the set of artistic strategies and dissent tactics that have been brought to bear over the past few years as a way of overcoming classic modernist dichotomies. In particular, this is a way to escape an idea of art and culture that, in a modernist manner, recognizes only its use—but not its intrinsic nature—in political terms. Disobedience Archive, on the contrary, shows how the political status of the image today is bound up with recognition of the aesthetic character of its manifestation. What matters in Disobedience is not so much an “alliance” between activist demands and artistic practices in order to achieve common goals, it is more that of a common space or a common base that is emerging. This space is not clearly defined, thus making it impossible to draw a precise line between forces and signs, between language and labor, between intellectual production and political action. Disobedience Archive brings together a series of practices and forms of self-representation whose practitioners are finding the key to their strength in an alliance of art and activism: a transformation in the languages that society produces as a political subject and as a media object.

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