“El estado no somos todos”

I just wanted to share Santiago Sierra’s letter in which he rejects the the Spanish National Art prize he won last year (along with the 30,000 euros that went along with it). I thinks it really represents a different posture towards the disappointing conventions of the art world that I have seen a lot of people talking about in this blog. I posted the original for those few that know some Spanish, because I think a lot gets lost in the translation and also cause I love that bad ass signature at the end (haha). The translated version is here, along with a video of the Global Tour he did.

I understand people being put off by the reference to Santiago Sierra in Bishop’s article. “He is a coked-out asshole” was my friend’s remark when he worked with him once… and I’m sure he is, most Spanish anarcos are (although they prefer speed to coke). But I think that precisely in this frank assholeness is where we can rescue a lot of important value in SS’s works. And I’m not talking about being concerned of not throwing away the baby with the bathwater, but of the risk of not appreciating the lesson to be learned in the bathwater, the metaphor it can present of our non-holistic understanding of human nature in social thinking, or at least of the human unfolding in capitalistic society.

If the art world is catering to the educated elites like Stephanie mentioned earlier, what type of shared experience do we want to have them live through? A sheltered space of consensus, where we all sit around eating pad thai creating utopian relations with our upstate neighbors? A more interactive, art-related Starbucks? To recreate pleasing feelings of social responsibility in secure local utopias constitutes the worst threat to social change. It’s the illusion of things not being fucked up. It’s creating self-indulgent environments that calm the disgust and violence necessary for revolution. It’s what we do when we move to the suburbs (or from Caracas to New York :S). it’s electing a black president and thinking that will be the end of racism. It’s the reason why revolutionaries will always be resentful against social democracy and reformism.

We are at a point where ugliness and death has to be splattered in the face of the accommodated… still  in the name of a longing for beauty.  We are at a moment where ecologists should throw garbage in the streets as the greatest statement against waste. Recycling is the ideological comfort of the wasteful.

Actually this is kinda stolen from Zizek.

(I like the whole piece, but if you are short on time, please watch from 0:25 to 1:35 and  9:13 to end to understand what I’m trying to point at. I think the last part really express the power that Santiago Sierra’s work can have. The importance of poetics in ugliness….)

Relational Aesthetics (or the idea of “microutopias” to be more precise) is the expression of the delusional comfort notion that shit disappears when flushed. Antagonism is laying that turd in the sun, allowing decay and decomposition to turn it into fertility.

Don’t get me wrong, I do believe in the “think global, act local” idea that we should try to re-create our political ideals in our most intimate personal relations. I believe that the sentimental superstructure is the only thing that could change the materialist structure. But as artists, as precursors of art and meaning within a particular time period, I think that there is more to be said about the misery than the joy in a society of savage capitalism; or at least the exposure of misery can excite a more productive movement towards action, if we wish to frame this in the relational aesthetics paradigm that we started out with and maybe in the notion of “good and bad” of Spinoza that we talked about yesterday. In that sense, I do believe that the use of misery and joy can be arbitrary if you are framing democratic ideals in your work (it is just as important to expose the misery as it is to promote the joy), but what is important to discuss here is what type of art practices can actually stimulate affects and precepts that could lead to true reflection and change.

With this in mind, I feel that Tiravanija’s work (or maybe just the idea of micro-utopias that Bourriard attaches to it) is of a more stale effect because it relies on some sort of notion “achievement made,” of success in ideals even if it is only in a localized and specific environment; while on the other hand, Sierra’s work in my opinion express the powers of dynamic emotivity. In the statement of failure and explicit assholenes, there lives a movement which is inherent to irresolution… the movement of constant becoming in the frameworks of a recognized complex struggle.

It’s not the reassuring feeling of the local victory (that hides the global failure of your struggle), but the unsettling nausea of the ubiquity of evil and injustice in our world (that stresses the importance of overcoming your present failures).

This all reminds me of one of my favorite parts in Albert Camus’ “The Rebel”:

“Those who weep for the happy periods which they encounter in history acknowledge what they really want; not the alleviation but the silencing of misery. Praised, on the contrary, this time in which the misery screams and delays the dreams of the sated” (excuse my choppy translation from Spanish)

I do not speak in the name of (negative) nihilism or cynical inactivity, or a cynical attitude toward do-gooders. I think that this state of world crappyness is a great incentive for action and creation.  What we have to be wary of is of the ambitions of resolution in these actions. We must see that the powers of creation are not in the ability to fix a solid ideal or to draw the coordinates (at least not in euclidean geometry) for reaching utopia, but rather in the use of difference and otherness to expose “the limits of society’s ability to fully constitute itself” (Bishop, p.66). Camus also calls out for action in the following way:

“Rebellion in fact says, and it will continually say it louder, that we must try to do, not to start being one day, in the eyes of a world reduced to its consent, but for that dark being that is discovered in the moment of insurrection.” (another crappy translation)

What we have to be wary of is of the positioning of those actions within the power structures of the times we are living in. Obviously, as it has been pointed out many times in this blog, the biggest contradiction we have to face is the fact that we are reviewing the powers that artists have in the resolution of this dilemma (or to tackle it at least), but actually what constitutes art practice (or the present “art-world”) is the most disgusting and vile representation of the status quo that promotes death and stupidity. With this in mind and to finish, I want to share some lines of Hakim Bey’s manifesto of Ontological Anarchy, specifically the part of “Art Sabotage,” which I think speaks directly to the notions of “awakeness” that art of antagonism can produce:

ART SABOTAGE STRIVES TO be perfectly exemplary but at the same time retain an element of opacity–not propaganda but aesthetic shock–appallingly direct yet also subtly angled– action-as-metaphor.

Art Sabotage is the dark side of Poetic Terrorism–creation- through-destruction–but it cannot serve any Party, nor any nihilism, nor even art itself. Just as the banishment of illusion enhances awareness, so the demolition of aesthetic blight sweetens the air of the world of discourse, of the Other. Art Sabotage serves only consciousness, attentiveness, awakeness.

A-S goes beyond paranoia, beyond deconstruction–the ultimate criticism–physical attack on offensive art– aesthetic jihad. The slightest taint of petty ego-icity or even of personal taste spoils its purity & vitiates its force. A-S can never seek power–only release it.”

The best way to fight the evil empires is not by trying to empower your opposing ideals, but by mocking and making ridiculous precisely the power structure which they depend on. Your best weapon is the nakedness of the emperor.

-Alexander Chaparro

[the whole CAOS Manifesto here]

3 Responses to ““El estado no somos todos””

  1. immanentterrainsp11 Says:

    I really just want to say Thank You! This post was straight to the point, and I was laughing and nodding all along.
    Also, in a similar spirit, I want to say that the reason that I love to read radical philosophies is because they make me get excited. They make me feel like I’m not alone in the world. They articulate what I have already been feeling and thinking for a long time, but the difference is that they have articulated it in a more sophisticated way than myself. Or at least they have taken the time to put their observations and ideas to pen and paper. I became interested in art for the same reason. I love looking at the creative expressions of others. This is partly because I too have an inner need to create, and seeing other art drives this creative energy deeper (usually). These interests (and an inherent distrust of authority) have given me an acute awareness of the social/political/economic globalized capitalistic world. It seems that it is always through art and philosophy that a rebellious idea can sneak past the powers that be, and as these ideas circulate and grow other ideas are born. In this way, Kropotkin inspired a Revolution in Spain, the Situationists became the springboard for punk rock, and so on… However, this is all good and well, and revisiting such affirmations gives me hope, but the times we are living in are strange. Strange because there is an overwhelming sense of despair, but this despair isn’t connected to just one singular dilemma or tragedy. Everything is connected, and everyone is being exploited and exploiting. It is truly terrifying, and I don’t know how to oppose it. I know that I can pick my battles, stay informed, try not to be a hypocrite, etc… But so much seems futile when our governments have been traded in for corporate agendas, we fight directionless wars against concepts for money, higher education has become for profit, public education has become standardized to the point where the student is secondary and what is primary is getting them to pass a test so that the school maintains accreditation and funding, jobs are scarce, we have passed peak oil and no one is saying boo, global warming is devastating our planet, etc… Too much is happening at once, and the average person overwhelmed by the magnitude chooses ignorance as bliss in an effort to stave off loosing whatever it is they are afraid of loosing. This attitude relaxes any urgency for figuring out why a lot of art is full of shit or why so many people don’t know what they are talking about. Ironically this mentality further perpetuates false value systems and most of the population allows itself to be swept up by hyper real and hypnotizing consumer culture.
    There are others, though, who feel a real sense of urgency, and in certain ways art becomes one of the few spaces of resistance for them. However, when I speak of art as resistance I am talking rather specifically not of the “art world”, but the D.I.Y. counter culture(s). This includes, underground music and art spaces where bands play, artists perform, shit happens for the sake of itself. It doesn’t serve any greater good other than offering an alternative to the main stream. Graffiti, also, I think fits into this space, because it isn’t about much more than getting a message out. These spaces are the spaces that give me hope, but as our society becomes more obsessed with rules and restrictions, the spaces for this kind of expression get squeezed out. Also, in our Globalized Capitalists times these spaces are ripe for exploitation in many many ways.
    I think we could also refer to cyber spaces on the Internet as well for fulfilling some of this, but this is not at all what I’m interested in.

  2. immanentterrainsp11 Says:

    This first comment was by, Stephanie.
    Sorry, I forgot to ad my name.

  3. immanentterrainsp11 Says:

    Stephanie, thank you for such a rich reply. you kinda said in real terms everything I wanted to, but was too intimidated to do so without hiding behind rhetorics and (bad) humor. It was crazy that you mentioned graffiti cause in some sense it’s what I have been secretly trying to talk about all along. People can put it down as just some kids on an ego-trip wanting to put their nickname on your door… but I think that there is something really amazing in the fact that for the last couple of generation these legion of kids keep popping up, who spend all there time and effort doing something that is dirty, ilegal and dangerous… just because they think its fun and meaningful. there is no reward but the admiration of your peers. In a material sense, there is no aspiration of creating a career or constructing future from it (…your thinking of street art), there is no expectation of the pat in the back from the people on top. there is not even the hope for transcendence: you know your work (not in the “art portafolio” sense, but in the “you worked it” sense) is ephemeral: it will get buffed or lost in the city’s enternal mutations. You will get arrested and beaten by the cops (at least in venezuela), you will loose your girlfiend, and your always going to be broke on weekends….For me, that non utilitarian creative spirit of playing a loosing game really sums up the notion of “negative economy” that Bataille talks about, the “principle of loss” which I think is fundamental for the practice of true love (sorry for getting sappy, but its true), and can represent the crazy destruction of our most fundamental shared logics that quietly support capitalism and savage stupidity.

    To do antagonism in a non intellectual fashion, for nothing more that the joy within the joy, really sums up that last phrase of Art Sabotage in CAOS:

    “Don’t picket–vandalize. Don’t protest–deface. When ugliness, poor design & stupid waste are forced upon you, turn Luddite, throw your shoe in the works, retaliate. Smash the symbols of the Empire in the name of nothing but the heart’s longing for grace”.

    … “in name of nothing but the heart’s longing for grace”… love that shit. I think that right there is the ground from which to construct any true and sustainable revolutionary spirit. All ethical and fixed political ideals that deem themselves worthy of power or of knowing “what is right for this society”…eventually turn into fascism or a passive complicity with the system.

    But I didn’t want to reply to be apologetic about Graffiti (although I love that shit)… what I wanted is to agree with you in what you said about living in strange times…. we are in times of despair, not only of the “state of affairs”, but despair within the possibilities of resistance. Things are fucked up, and one tries to find little niches of hope, little nodes of opposition to this vile sentiment that we don’t wish to accept as our only choice. There is the urgency to create some sort of counter weight to what tries to be hegemonic.

    but then comes the unavoidable disillusion that returns over and over again…

    I honestly too have been really inspired by counter cultures and DIY movements. I love the part in the “American Hardcore” documentary where some dude says: “America didn’t have a unified left movement in the 80’s….but it had hardcore”…. to be honest I see a lot more hope in kids actually experimenting with ways of life that are truly opposed to the script of the bourgeois, than actually some fools setting up some “american communist party” and reading marx or some shit like that.

    but then… comes the despair… (well at least in my case it does)… “are all these rebellious spaces just self indulgent parentheses in my other wise standard life style?… do they just hide the fact that I’m actually not doing shit for change?”…. “am I falling into some “micro-utopia” illusion shit?”… “is this just another “illusion of choice” that the consumer culture has given me?: “the anti-system schmuck identity””… it’s hard to find any resolution to all these dilemmas. but they are very present in me, all the time. I want to give a complex answer to all this shit around me, but this idea of the “eternal irresolution” (which I love), is also scary to think that I might be hiding behind it to not get my hands dirty…. you know?

    I don’t know. I might never. But right now what I think is important is to try to recognize the true sentiment of resistance and antagonism hidden behind all the bullshit, and trying to view it not just as some thing you should relate to to feel better about your self, but as a powerful force of change that has to be articulated like some epic next level shit that affects every aspect of human life… not to try to “change it” to its image (that would be fascist)… but to have to face it as a an eternal principle of difference… a powerful force of dynamism… a powerful force of life… of erotic power (not only in the sexual, but not excluding it either ;))… of insurrection.

    I think I already got to the point of perpetual bullshitness that I get lost in. but I do want to refer to some guys that articulate the feeling in a more sophisticated way. They are a political movement I meet in Spain called “Dinero Gratis” (free money). they said that all the political movements of their fathers fighted for work and workers rights, they on the other hand hated work cause it represents to them the most horrible representation of the system they are fighting… they didnt want work, they wanted money… I know the idea seems silly, but it encloses a wonderfully interesting political stance that I think is important to take into consideration if we want to create resistance in this general despair. To combat in these strange times you need strange weapons. here is their manifesto (also check out their imagery which I find amazing):


    Thanks again for taking time to reply to all of this silliness. I might make it out like it’s all fun and games to me, but its just me hidding behind (terrible) humor. Honestly it is something really important to me and I think that everything you mentioned is in the core of what makes it such a hard thing for me feel to feel comfortable and satisfied with, but at the same time the reason why it stimulates me and excites me so much.

    hope you invite me to one of those shows… I wanna see what these NY kids are up too. I could use a little hope.



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