Krisis. Journal for contemporary philosophy TABLE OF CONTENTS. Krisis, 2011, Issue 3

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1 TABLE OF CONTENTS Krisis, 2011, Issue 3 Dossier: Revisiting Benjamin s artwork essay GIJS VAN OENEN REVISITING BENJAMIN S ARTWORK ESSAY AFTER SEVENTY FIVE YEARS. AN INTRODUCTION 2-3 PASCAL GIELEN THE ART OF DEMOCRACY 4-12 THIJS LIJSTER ART AND PROPERTY JAMES MARTEL ART AND THE FETISH: SEVENTY FIVE YEARS ON ISABELL LOREY AND GERALD RAUNIG MATRIX EXAMINATRIX DISPERSION AND CONCENTRATION Dossier: De onzichtbare vijand JAAP KOOIJMAN TIEN JAAR NA 9/11: DE ONZICHTBARE VIJAND BEATRICE DE GRAAF DE STRIJD TEGEN DE ZWARTE INTERNATIONALE DE SAMENZWERING ALS VEILIGHEIDSDISPOSITIEF ROND JOOST DE BLOOIS DE POLITIEK VAN DE HYPERBOOL OVER ONZICHTBARE VIJANDEN, POPULISME EN HARDWERKENDE NEDERLANDERS MARIEKE DE GOEDE DATA-ANALYSE EN PRECRIMINELE VEILIGHEID IN DE STRIJD TEGEN TERRORISME Essay ROGIER VAN REEKUM PUTTING OUR SPACES IN ORDER THE OCCUPATION OF POLITICAL CULTURE Reviews PHILIPPO BERTONI TURNING TO SPECULATION? LONNEKE VAN DER VELDEN LAW INTERRUPTED? LATOUR SNOOPING AROUND LE CONSEIL D ETAT SIGNALEMENTEN 84-1

2 GIJS VAN OENEN REVISITING BENJAMIN S ARTWORK ESSAY AFTER SEVENTY FIVE YEARS AN INTRODUCTION Krisis, 2011, Issue 3 It is now 75 years ago that Walter Benjamin s artwork essay first appeared, an essay that has become as famous as it has remained inscrutable or if one prefers, inexhaustible. i Probably its two most central, and most celebrated, notions are those of the aura and of montage. The aura, we might say, is the thing about the artwork that resists being reproduced. Even if we can reproduce an original work of art and in modern times this is no longer an exceptional feat, as technology has made many works of art eminently reproducible its aura will irretrievably be lost in reproduction. That is to say, it will lose its uniqueness, its authenticity, and its unapproachability or Unnahbarkeit. In line with this analysis, the concept of montage indicates how the artwork is no longer directly connected to, and thus controlled by, its place of production and its immediate audience, as it was in the traditional stage play. Now dislocated, production has become montage both in the film studio, and in the factory assembly line. Montage implies the almost limitless possibility of cutting up and realigning parts in the productive process, unmooring the (art)work from its fixed place of production and reconfiguring it so as to make it amenable to mass consumption. The work is thus emancipated from its auratic-ritual productive origin. Simultaneously, the new, reproducible work of art is subject to managerial supervision and commercial imperatives. The spectator is being disempowered, because his gaze, and his perspective, are now being directed by the montage of the artwork, by the way the film is being cut; he is no longer autonomous in his contemplation of the artwork. Moreover, we tend to remain unaware of this loss because of the transparency of the new technology: when we are immersed in a movie, we do not literally perceive the machinery that produces our experience. But the work of art and its perception are also politicized. Lacking an immediate audience, the movie-actor must now struggle to retain his humanity literally in the face of technology: the camera. In this struggle, he is ultimately the representative of the masses, with whom he can be united once the process of (film) production is released from the bonds of capitalism. And famously, in both the Vorwort and the Nachwort sections that were either stricken or modified on account of Horkheimer and Adorno when the essay was first published in the Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung in 1936 Benjamin claimed that the conceptual framework he had developed in his essay was resistant to fascist purposes, while being eminently suited to the purposes of communism, or revolutionary demands in the politics of art. These are some of the transformations that, for Benjamin, were inherent in the era of the reproducibility of the work of art. His essay seems to derive its compelling force from its idiosyncratic combination of an apodictic pronouncement on the contemporary condition of art, its cavalier reduction of the concept of art to visual arts, the reckless way in which it connects artistic transformation to political radicalism, or communism, and the disharmony between the melancholic loss of artistic aura and the revolutionary possibilities opened up by art that has become mechanically reproducible. On the occasion of the 75 th anniversary of Benjamin s artwork essay, we invited a number of authors to reflect on questions such as: how should we describe the era which now shapes, or directs, the production, reception, and experience of the work of art? What implications does this have for the work of art, for politics, and for society? While taking Benjaminian 2

3 themes as reference points, we expressly did not ask authors to interpret, or comment upon, Benjamin s text. Rather, we invited them to present their own assessment of the contemporary condition of the artwork, deriving inspiration from Benjamin s questions in as far as these may be relevant to our economic, political, and cultural condition. The four essays that made their way into this issue are remarkably united in their focus on the political dimension of Benjamin s essay. Pascal Gielen argues that the post-auratic status of the contemporary work of art implies that artists are necessitated to collectively engage in a social praxis of discussion, argumentation, and debate; the contemporary work of art is therefore by nature political. And if this debate is practiced in an agonistic style, artistic practice can even be called democratic, as it constructs a democratic space in which it is shown that things can always also be otherwise. Thijs Lijster, in turn, points out that the technology and practice of new social media may open up a new space of the common, in which capitalist property rights are contested or negated, creating an artistic common, or perhaps we should say a kind of artistically grounded communism. James Martel directs our attention to the ability of the work of art to resist the fetishism through which we, captured by capitalist logic, tend to perceive it. As fetishism distorts or subverts representation and is thus inherently political, the Benjaminian challenge of politicizing art involves enhancing the power of the objects to interfere with representation, to visibly fail to represent a power of which Martel presents several examples from contemporary art. Lorey and Raunig, finally, latch on to Benjamin s ambiguous valuation of Zerstreuung as the modern form of perception art to highlight a new form of political participation that they see materializing in the practices of the Occupy movement. In the present political and economic context, dispersion takes on a new political meaning as signifying precarious singularity, and the zerstreute Versammlung that characterizes Occupy is able to constitute itself as a new kind of public. Gijs van Oenen Revisiting Benjamin s artwork essay Gijs van Oenen (1959) teaches philosophy at Erasmus University Rotterdam. His research is concerned with citizenship, public space, architecture, democracy, and especially interpassivity. His monograph Nu even niet! Over de interpassieve samenleving has recently been published by Van Gennep, Amsterdam. He is an editor of Krisis. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons License (Attribution- Noncommercial 3.0). See for more information. i For those of you who would like, on this occasion, to (re)read Benjamin s essay itself, we recommend the version with comments and other documents, published a few years ago by Suhrkamp in its new Studienbibliothek series: Walter Benjamin (2007) Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit. Kommentar von Detlev Schöttker. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp. 3

4 PASCAL GIELEN THE ART OF DEMOCRACY In the afterword of The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Walter Benjamin links cultural mass production with the aestheticization of politics and with fascism. Beside his main thesis that art has lost its aura through technical reproduction, Benjamin thus initiates in his renowned essay another interesting train of thought, one that assumes there is a specific relationship between art and society or, more specifically, between cultural production and political regimes. Earlier in his essay, Benjamin had already mentioned in passing that in the future, when its ritual function has evaporated, art will be founded in politics. This line of thinking arouses curiosity. It sets in motion a train of thought that has become highly topical nowadays. Would there also be a direct connection between a kind of art and a kind of political regime that dominates the western hemisphere? Is there a link between modern art and the democracies in which it is embedded? Is there a specific art of democracy, which consequently can only survive in democracies? But also: what is the art of realizing and maintaining a political democracy? The phrase The art of democracy can be interpreted in two ways: that of which art facilitates democracy and of which conditions should a political regime meet to be defined as democratic nowadays? These questions make it necessary to first re-examine some basic concepts, such as: What actually is democracy and, perhaps even more difficult: what is the definition of modern art? Krisis, 2011, Issue 3 as soon as the criterion of authenticity ceases to be applied to artistic production, the whole social function of art is revolutionized. Instead of being founded on ritual, it is based on a different practice: politics. Walter Benjamin (2003: ) The basic formula of democracy Although democracy harks back to principles from the year 508 B.C., it was only at the end of the eighteenth century that modern democracy was firmly outlined. In the United States, this happened with the Declaration of Independence, while Europe had to wait for the French Revolution. Remember that the polis in Athens did not include slaves, immigrants or women. Classic democracy applied to a small segment of the population only. Thus, whether we can legitimately refer to Athens as a democracy at all is a question that at least has to be posed. (Held, 2006: 19) It is important to realize that democracy is a relatively young form of government, for which, and other reasons, it is still rather fragile and vulnerable. Quite a few politicians and citizens regard it all too easily as something obvious, however. On the other hand, some political philosophers, such as Oliver Marchart, doubt whether the current liberal-capitalist regimes meet the criteria for democracy (Marchart, 2007: 158). In many cases democracy still needs to be established and in those political regimes where it already exists it requires constant maintenance. Surveying the world in a wider sense quickly reveals that not only are there still sovereign dictatorships, but also theocracies and even capitalist communist regimes. Both China and Russia demonstrate how not-very-democratic regimes are maybe even more in line with the capitalist market imperative than the democracy we are so accustomed to. According to the philosopher Peter Sloterdijk, the Chinese brand of communism may herald a fundamental development in the 21 st century: the transition to an auth- 4

5 oritarian capitalist world system (Sloterdijk, 2004: 193). This system implies the project of including all forms of labour, desire and expression of the people caught within the system in the immanence of spending power (Sloterdijk, 2004: 195). So, democracy is no more than one of many possible political regimes. But then, what exactly is democracy? Just as there are many different forms of government, there are, of course, different interpretations of democracy. The political scientist David Held, for instance, distinguishes four basic forms: the classic Athenian model, Republicanism, the liberal model and forms of direct democracy. From these, several other forms have been derived during the twentieth century (Held, 2006). This multiplicity does not, however, mean that we cannot trace every modern democracy back to a concise basic formula. Putting it simply, the bottom line of any democratic regime consists of two fundamental principles. Firstly, the assurance that the power of the demos is represented by a majority and, secondly, the guarantee of a legal framework that at least protects minorities (Lukacs, 2005: 5). At best, such a framework also supports, encourages and emancipates minorities. So, paradoxically, within a democracy the majority creates or protects the possibility of the minority becoming the majority and assuming power. This is why the political philosopher Claude Lefort says that the seat of power within a democratic form of government is in principle empty (Lefort, 1988: 17). More concretely, it can de jure always be declared vacant. Whoever occupies the seat of power must accept that there may come a time when they will have to surrender it. Not only that, but within a radical democracy the majority will even encourage this process, constantly preparing, in fact, for its own abdication. It is important to note that democracy has no fixed foundation. We can only articulate legitimizations or provide good arguments as to why democracy would be a better political regime than any other. Neither God, ideology nor scientific positivism can provide democracy with a steady foundation. And yet this form of political government is not bottomless. Its grounding lies in the very emptiness in which the foundation must be rediscovered time and again. This is why Marchart does not speak of anti-fundamental politics, but of post-fundamental politics: Democracy is to be defined as a regime that seeks, precisely, to come to terms with the ultimate failure of grounding rather than simply repressing or foreclosing it. (Marchart, 2007: ) Pascal Gielen The art of democracy Neo-liberalism and neo-nationalism The formula outlined above also defines when democracy starts to fail. As soon as politicians fail to design and pass legislation to protect minorities, democracy dwindles. There are subtle mechanisms to keep the weaker elements from coming to power. For instance, barriers to good education can be made so high that the lower social classes or less affluent migrants find it hard to get access to it. Or a government may fail to facilitate things like child care, making it harder for women to gain positions of authority in society. It can also cause the cultural and media landscape to become intellectually impoverished, so that citizens are misinformed and any critical voice is nipped in the bud by light entertainment. Establishing or maintaining obstacles to upward cultural, intellectual and social mobility reduces the opportunities for civil participation. This is why collective mechanisms of solidarity between social classes, between generations, between men and women, between immigrants and natives and even between regions or continents are essential to democracy. Ideologies or political regimes such as neo-liberalism, which argue for dismantling such collective responsibilities by placing as much as possible back on the shoulders of the individual (through private insurance and pensions, by giving out student loans rather than scholarships, et cetera), over time easily slide into a timocracy, in which the power to rule lies, if not de jure but de facto, with those better situated in society. But political programmes that only wish to ensure democratic guarantees within the borders of the nation state in fact also risk taking an undemocratic attitude towards all those outside their own political territory. Such a political stance, underwritten by all forms of nationalism, is indefensible in a globalized world. That is, as long as one still subscribes to the rules of democracy. After all, many national decisions will either directly or indirectly have an impact on the environment outside the territory of the sovereign decision-maker, according to Held quoted above (2006). Just like real or virtual viruses and nuclear fallout, cultural movements and media-scapes cannot be stopped at the gates of the nation state. Therefore, some unilateral decisions can be undemocratic for the outside world, which has no say in them. In short, in a globalized world in which large parts of the world population are networked with each other and every- 5

6 thing is connected to everything else on a worldwide scale, both neoliberalism and neo-nationalism are unable to provide satisfactory answers for the demands of democracy. When neo-liberalism and neo-nationalism cover for each other, their undemocratic tendency is even strengthened. Unlike nationalism, its predecessor, neo-nationalism practices a selfreflexive pragmatism that uses all information about globalization, including neo-liberalism, to obtain national privileges. In doing so, it no longer appeals to the heavy-handed blood-and-soil model, but rather to cultural diversity to legitimize and maintain economic advantages for its own culture. Neo-nationalism and neo-liberalism interact in a particular way here. Take the European Union, for instance. Neo-liberals have argued for the free movement of money, goods and people within the Union, whereas neo-nationalists try to obstruct transnational (and transregional) structures of solidarity wherever possible. The free flow of money, for instance, is encouraged within the European domain, but as soon as a member state runs into financial difficulties, this domain is no more than a collection of nation states in conflict. People are free to move within the European Union, until Fortress Europe is overrun by refugees. Then all of a sudden only the country where these refugees first arrive bears the full responsibility. Where neo-liberalism in some cases benefits from neo-nationalism because the latter selectively applies the freedom and rights propagated by the former, neo-nationalism can benefit from neo-liberalism by continuing to reap its benefits outside the nation state. Neo-nationalism has no qualms about international trade and even turns a blind eye towards immigration in those cases where it is good for the national economy. Neonationalism, or the political folklore of territorialism as Sloterdijk (2004: 160) calls it, also happily makes use of neo-liberal principles such as marketing strategies and branding to construct a national and cultural identity. Moreover, cultural essentialism is commonly used to gain economic benefits and to protect standards of living. Or economic arguments are presented harshly as cultural ones: They are lazy while we are a hardworking nation and they live on our pocket while we have to scrape and save. Within neo-nationalism, economic achievements are translated culturally and are essentialized as, for example, the only Dutch culture or the American way of life. In this way neo-nationalism cleverly hitches a Pascal Gielen The art of democracy ride on the wagon of neo-liberalism. And when the cross-border traffic of money and especially people gets out of hand and undermines neoliberalism s urge for accumulation, neo-nationalism comes in handy in helping to maintain a selective policy as to freedom. At least we can say that neo-nationalism and neo-liberalism can play a clever game in which the rules of a true global democracy do not apply. Finally, according to Held, the faulty forms of democratic government have everything to do with the obsolete model on which most regimes in the Western world have based themselves historically, namely, liberal, representative democracy. This model reduces democracy too much to the individual responsibility of citizens, who can only realize their democratic momentum once every few years, in elections. In other words, the model neglects its duty to nourish the civil domain. According to Held, The structures of civil society (including forms of productive and financial property, sexual and racial inequalities) misunderstood or endorsed by liberal democratic models do not create conditions for equal votes, effective participation and deliberation, proper political understanding and equal control of the political agenda; while the structures of the liberal democratic state (including large, frequently unaccountable bureaucratic apparatuses, institutional dependence on the imperatives of private capital accumulation, political representatives preoccupied with their own re-election) do not create an organizational force which can adequately regulate civil power centres. (Held, 2006: 275) So Held sees liberal representative democracy as a democracy of the majority that finds it difficult to organize citizenship. But civil initiatives in which minorities can also have a voice presuppose serious social and cultural programmes for the emancipation of citizens, enabling them to learn how to use their political voice. A democracy does, however, need a social programme to offer weaker groups every opportunity to obtain participatory power, and it needs a cultural and educational programme to generate the necessary conceptual frameworks and reflection that can produce alternative forms of government and power over and over again. This last element is necessary to safeguard the emptiness in a democracy outlined above by always filling it only temporarily. Both neo-liberalism and neo-nationalism ignore this post-fundamental condition by suggest- 6

7 ing that there actually is a foundation. Neo-nationalism sees the individuality of a cultural identity as the ultimate basis, while neo-liberalism elevates the laws of the free market to a transcendental level. In doing so, both philosophies harden their external legitimization into a kind of second nature. For neo-nationalism, nationality acquires the quality of an unchanging culture, while neo-liberalism practices the metaphysics of finance within a Darwinist model. As such, both political movements suggest that the reasons for political actions lie outside of the political realm and is therefore very hard to influence. To them, good politics are much more a matter of tuning into the laws of external reality. In agreement with the political philosopher Chantal Mouffe (2005), we could therefore label these movements as post-political. Among other things, Mouffe applies the term to political movements that no longer legitimize their policy by referring to an ideology but by referring to external or seemingly non-political social factors, such as the market, the economic climate, or cultural identity. In such a framework politicians give the impression of being forced to take certain decisions, while relegating their ideological and active freedom of choice to the background. But how do these political issues relate to art? The singular dismeasure Articulating a definition of art is a tricky undertaking at best. Historically, art has covered many fields and taken on many different shapes. Benjamin, for instance, refers to the ritual function that artistic artefacts once had, but he also talks about how the perception of art is transmuted by technological developments (2003: ). When speaking of modern art here, it s important to point out that the word is used for art that lost its aura, as Benjamin has described. This art will be mentioned in this essay as post-auratic, to point at art that has its origins in modernity or in the historical avant-garde not coincidentally the same period in which photography and film came to flourish. So although this may include art that is created in unique shapes and in authentic fashion, it is art that is created in Benjamin's words with an eye to its reproducibility (Benjamin, 2003: 256). Benjamin's distinction between auratic and non-auratic art is also Pascal Gielen The art of democracy clearly postulated in his 1931 essay A Small History of Photography, in which he lucidly explains how the auratic work pretends to exist outside of history. It therefore denies its own transitoriness, or at least its potential transformation. This is why Benjamin calls it monumental art (1999: 169). The post-auratic artefact, on the contrary, emancipated itself from the aura. Among other things, this means that it is open to the future and to the transformations that may befall it there (1999: 157). In short, postauratic art is contingent. The French art sociologist Nathalie Heinich adds that this post-auratic art aims at transgression, ever since the demise of the academic system (the Académie française) and its rules (Heinich, 1991). This is why today we may speak of not only post-auratic art but also of post-academic art. The philosopher Paolo Virno has coined this principle of transgression as dismeasure (Paolo Virno, in Gielen and Lavaert, 2009). According to him, modern art introduces a dismeasure inside the general measure or common sense of a culture. This dismeasure is not necessarily only aesthetic or formal in nature. It can also be political or as Virno suggests cognitive and affective in nature. When, for instance, the Belgian artist Jan Fabre binds the hands of his dancers to their ballet shoes and makes them dance un-virtuoso, he introduces a dismeasure into the idiom of classical ballet. In doing so, Fabre produced a formal or aesthetical dismeasure. The Italian artist Michelangelo Pistoletti takes this even one step further by proclaiming his organization Cittadellarte in which scientists and businesses develop and implement practical new economic methods of productions and production relationships (Gielen, 2009: ) to be a work of art. In doing so, Pistoletto in any case makes an attempt to install a different measure outside of art as well. The German sociologist Niklas Luhmann s view on art enables us to better frame the views of Benjamin, Heinich and Virno in a sociological sense. When he asks himself what role art plays in contemporary society art that is often regarded by society as useless and therefore without function Luhmann concludes that art creates a sense of possibilities (Möglichkeitssinn). Nothing is either necessary or impossible or Everything that is, can also always be otherwise, is the message that art brings to contemporary society (Luhmann, 1995). With this functional definition of modern art Luhmann also makes room for dismeasure as one of the possibilities of art. Moreover, when the measure is defined by everything 7

8 that exists or by everything that is regarded as culturally obvious, then something can only be labelled as art if it deviates from this standard and thereby introduces a dismeasure. Within the dominant measure there's always the chance of dismeasure occurring. Whether this dismeasure will be recognized as art, however, depends on its historic and cultural context. And this is exactly where the connection lies between post-auratic and post-academic art, between Benjamin and Luhmann. Both views on art share the notion that the modern artwork is contingent. Pascal Gielen The art of democracy This constant possibility of dismeasure is why confrontations with modern artistic expressions often lead to debate and dissent. It is precisely this debate that has been at the core of the artistic ever since modernity: the principle of contingency makes it necessary to argue that other visions, opinions and interpretations are always possible. The point is not so much whether this alternate vision is more beautiful or more interesting or comes closer to the truth, but rather that there is always another way of looking at things. Just like democracy, modern art is also polyphonic and post-fundamental. Artists always propose other possibilities, which then have to be grounded each time again. After all, when neither religious or political representation nor virtuoso craftsmanship or the rules of the Académie française apply any longer, art loses the ground beneath its feet. This leads some populist voices to conclude that anything goes and that modern art is therefore anti-fundamental. However, the postfundamental interpretation of modern art realises that the only way for artists to get credit within the art world is by postulating a dismeasure based on their own singular gesture. In other words, they must take the risk of making their own artistic gesture and in doing so they make their own position as artists the subject of debate. It should be noted that, following Heinich (1991), I have deliberately chosen to use the notion of singularity here, rather than that of individual art, as the latter is associated too much with the idea of the isolated talent, personal genius or psyche from which the work of art originates. It carries a notion that is also echoed in political philosophy: The difference lies in the fact that the individual is modelled upon the self-sufficient modern subject which, in its monadic existence, does not rely on other individuals, it does not relate, it does not compare and it does not share. Singularities, on the other hand, are exposed to the in-between through their relation of sharing. (Marchart, 2007: 73-74) Finally, it should be noted that according to Heinich a collective can also defend a unique and singular position (Heinich, 2000 and 2002). It is not the artist who has to be individual, but the artistic gesture the work of art must be singular, whether it is proposed by an individual or a collective. At the core of modern art lies the movement from non-art to art that offers the singular position a place within a (sometimes limited) collectivity. The post-fundamental nature of post-auratic art lies in this grounding movement that has to be performed time and again from a position of singularity. This is precisely why anyone who is even slightly familiar with the current professional art world knows that definitely not anything goes. To be on the left side of the dichotomy art/non-art, artists often have to make their own difficult, lonesome and argumentative way to find their footing. When art is no longer embedded in religion or rituals and therefore is post-auratic and contingent, in the words of Benjamin, it has to be argued from every idiosyncratic artistic position. This is perhaps most evident in the visual arts, where nowadays craftsmanship or artistic skills are not necessarily required to make a work of art. Artists must then first and foremost find a social base for their artistic gesture and the only way to do this is by publicizing their work and by providing arguments as to why the things they make or, in the case of ready-mades, select should be accepted as art. It is only when others are convinced of this artistic gesture that the proposed artefact or idea may enter the realm of art in the dichotomy of art/non-art. And precisely this movement from the singular, idiosyncratic position to a collective base is a quest for a foundation which has to be undertaken with every new work of art. Art would be anti-fundamental if anything goes and if, for instance, the individual intention of the artist would suffice to call something a work of art. This, however, is not the case. All artists also have to find a collective base for their intentions by searching for a foundation that can legitimize their art. Art would be fundamental if there were fixed rules that would decide beforehand the distinction of art/non-art. Such was the case with the Académie française, that had clearly defined rules with which, for instance, a landscape or a genre piece had to comply. Within postfundamental art such rules do not exist. On the contrary, artists have to reinvent or make them themselves time and again and find a collective 8

9 basis through public argumentation. This is necessary because the mother work of art is fundamentally undecided or contingent. The art of democracy: modern art is only possible in a democracy Precisely because it seeks a dismeasure in both the art world and society, modern art always occupies the position of the minority or heterodoxy, in the words of cultural sociologist Pierre Bourdieu (1977). Those who confront society with something different or possibly otherwise find themselves alone, especially in the beginning. The dismeasure may become more acceptable over time or even come to belong to the orthodoxy within the artistic field, but the dynamic within the modern art world is only guaranteed by the constant arrival of new dismeasures. And it is precisely this law of transgression that leads to so much discussion, debate and writing in the art world. After all, those who cross the line constantly have to legitimize their actions in public, while those who excel within the rules do not. Therefore, art needs a civil framework for discussion, argumentation and debate. Without arguments and the room for counter-arguments to decide the distinction between art and non-art, there can be no modern art. This is why post-auratic art can only survive socially by leaning on politics, as suggested by Benjamin (2003: 257). However, politics can become aestheticized themselves, as in fascism. What Benjamin means is that fascism presents itself, like the auratic work of art, as monumental or timeless. So, in an artificial way, fascism tries to reinstall aura and does so by using technical means of reproduction such as mass media. The answer of communism to that is via an opposite movement, especially the politicization of art. Communism affirms the mobility of identities and a permanent transformation of experience, whereas fascism, according to Benjamin, tries to fixate and monumentalize identities (Caygill, 1998: 103). By now, 75 years on, we know the results of communism. It is highly disputable whether the political art of, for instance, the former Soviet Union produced openness and contingency. But perhaps Benjamin envisioned a communism that was different from the bureaucratic and technocratic variation that eventually became the historic reality. The openness and sense of contingency that Benjamin ascribes to Pascal Gielen The art of democracy communism are nowadays perhaps more easily found in the ideal of democracy. This is why I state here that the post-auratic and post-academic or modern art which came into being after and outside of the standardized rules for works of art of the Académie française and similar institutes in, mostly, Europe can only be supported by democratic politics. Not only because democracy allows for contingency but also because art as dismeasure occupies the position of a minority within wider society and it will only stand a chance within a political system offering guarantees, as noted before. Artists who constantly remind society of what could be possibly otherwise will always go against common sense. Consequently, those who choose to make art opt for a minority position in society, even if that minority is dismissed as elitist. For that matter, an elite can also be part of a minority and a cultural elite is therefore not necessarily a political or economic elite, as Bourdieu tells us (1979). Elitist or not, postauratic and post-academic art can only survive by the grace of democracy. The art of democracy: the modern art world as a model for a minority democracy But modern art also demonstrates quite a few parallels with political democracy, such as its post-fundamental nature noted earlier. That doesn't make art into politics, but it does belong to the domain of the political, especially if we see this notion, as Jacques Rancière puts it, as expressing living together in form (2000). Interventions by artists and activities by art institutes also mould social interaction. If on top of that we characterize modern art as the provider of a dismeasure, it does not have to be limited to so-called high culture. When standard formats are deserted or molested, dismeasure can also be detected in popular cultural expressions such as film or pop music. In this respect, the direct impact of art as a shaping force of society may be bigger than we think. As post-auratic art s rationale is that it points out that things can always also be otherwise, the modern art world has even more things in common with politics. To conquer a position each time again by providing arguments from the singularity proposition presupposes a polemic domain of many voices, all competing for a place for their own singular work. Those visiting an art 9

10 biennial or a theatre festival can easily observe how contradictory artistic styles and voices often go side-by-side. In this sense, the modern art world cultivates an agonistic way of (at least temporary) togetherness, as within art scenes, and even within one exhibition, we often see a multitude of contradictions, diverging cultures and conflicting visions co-existing without their constantly denying each other's rationale or legitimacy (Gielen 2009). Artists may fight against any compromise from their singular position, and relationships within the art world can often be irreconcilable, but they are rarely hostile. According to the Belgian political philosopher Chantal Mouffe who gave the term agony a politicalphilosophical twist this attitude is only possible when we see each other as taking part in a shared symbolic space that contains the conflict (Mouffe, 2005: 26). Just as in a democratic political domain, antagonism in the art world is sublimated into an agonistic way of co-existence. The singular minority position within this domain is, however, only accepted on the basis of the arguments that support it. Argumentation here refers to the activity by which one tries to obtain public support (however limited) from the singular artistic gesture. Such arguments may be rational, theoretical, emotional, or aesthetic, but they can also reside within the artistic gesture itself. The agonistic democratic space is always constructed from a multitude of such singular argumentation activities, which mostly come from a minority position. In that sense, the modern art domain is very much different from the liberal representative (majority) democracy outlined earlier. The latter, after all, is not grounded on the voiced argumentation of the voters but on an anonymized act in a polling booth that is not publicly substantiated. In liberal representative democracy only the numbers count. All voters can vote without ever having to defend their vote in public. Within the agonistic space of the artistic domain, however, people are allergic to democratically elected works of art, because any dismeasure that is preferred by the majority ceases to be a dismeasure and becomes measure. Within the democracy of the art world, the only way to convincingly obtain a position for dismeasure is by means of argumentation or publicizing the singular artistic gesture. This is why we could also speak of a minority democracy, in contrast to the liberal democracy of the majority. Within a minority model one can only gain a position or obtain a broader social basis by Pascal Gielen The art of democracy means of argumentation. One only gains a voice by making one's choices public, not by anonymously checking a box in a polling booth. If one seeks one's way by argumentation, however, a confrontation with other minorities who are also claiming a position is inevitable. In other words, a minority democracy is agonistic. Because it is continuously confronted with always changing possible minorities it does, however, acknowledge its modest place in the world. Because of this confrontation with the always possibly otherwise, a minority democracy is much more a continuous, self-reflexive search for democratic forms than a consolidation of power by a majority. Minority democracies do not see democracy as an entitlement but as goal worth striving for. Perhaps this minority democracy does offer some handles for a future political democracy. If we are to believe Held, not a single classical, republican, liberal or direct democracy would survive in a globalized world. Only a democratic autonomous model would have any chance of success, according to this political scientist (Held, 2006). Held is referring to a democracy that stimulates and organizes a multitude of singular civil voices; a formula that experiments on a large scale with self-government by individuals, businesses, civil initiatives, organizations and all sorts of collectives. In other words, a democratic autonomy is a form of government that constantly promotes and facilitates the autonomous economic, social and cultural development of a range of minorities. This multitude of singular initiatives in turn makes every effort to reach democratic self-rule. And it is precisely this multitude of diverging initiatives that brings them into an ever more symmetrical negotiating position with states, transnational governments, local authorities, civil initiatives, et cetera. The state or supranational governing bodies are just democratic decision-making systems like so many others. In the future, democracy can only maintain its legitimacy if it makes the transformation of inequalities the core of its politics, according to Held. Among other things, this means that it must declare the minority as the focal point of its policies. 10

11 To conclude: modern art as a test for democracy? Regardless of this second speculative idea of the art of democracy in which it is suggested that an art world could provide handles for a future agonistic democracy, the first thesis of the art of democracy still holds true that the post-auratic and post-academic art of dismeasure can only survive by the grace of democracy. Neo-nationalism will always suppress this type of art because it undermines the alleged foundation of a stable national culture from within, which it tries to monumentalize. This is why modern art may appear as even more threatening to neo-nationalists than the migrant who brings a possibly otherwise culture from the outside. Neoliberalism, in turn, is not quite sure how to deal with the art of dismeasure because this art can hardly be legitimized through the power of measure or numbers, regardless of whether those numbers represent money, audiences, or opinion polls. The numeric democracy of neo-liberalism is also at odds with an argumentative democracy, as it still assumes a fixed and therefore not arguable foundation outside of politics, especially that of the laws of the free market. Within this neo-national and neo-liberal context of fundamentalisms, post-auratic and post-academic art may well prove to be a test for democracy. In any case, modern art is one of the domains in which the post-fundamental idea of contingency that anything that is, can also always be otherwise is very much alive. Pascal Gielen (1970) is director of the research center Arts in Society at the Groniningen University where he is associate Professor of sociology of art. He also leads the research group and book series Arts in Society (Fontys College for the Arts, Tilburg). Gielen has written serveral books on contemporary art, cultural heritage and cultural politics. In 2009 Gielen edited together with Paul De Bruyne the book Being an Artist in Post- Fordist Times (NAi) and he published his new monograph The Murmuring of the Artistic Multitude. Global Art, Memory and Post-Fordism (Valiz). In 2011 De Bruyne and Gielen edited the book Community Art. The Politics of Trespassing and in January 2012 their new book Teaching Art in the Neoliberal Realm. Realism versus Cynicism will be launched. Pascal Gielen The art of democracy Bibliography Bejamin, W. (1999) Selected Writngs. Volume Harvard: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. Benjamin, W. (2003) Selected Writings. Volume Harvard: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. Bourdieu, P. (1977) La production de la croyance: contribution à une économie de biens symboliques, in: Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales, 13. Bourdieu, P. (1979) La Distinction: Critique sociale du jugement. Paris: Les Editions de Minuit. Caygill, H. (1998) Walter Benjamin. The Colour of Experience. London and New York: Routledge. Danto, A. (1986) The Philosophical Disenfranchisement of Art. New York: Columbia University Press. De Duve, T. (1998) Kant after Duchamp. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Gielen, P. (2003) Kunst in netwerken. Artistieke selecties in de hedendaagse dans en de beeldende kunst (Art in Networks. Artistic Selections in Contemporary Dance and Visual Art). Leuven: Lannoo Campus. Gielen, P. (2009) The Murmuring of the Artistic Multitude. Global Art, Memory and Post-Fordism. Amsterdam: Valiz. Gielen, P. and S. Lavaert (2009) The Dismeasure of Art. An interview with Paulo Virno, in: P. Gielen and P. De Bruyne (eds.) Being an Artist in Post- Fordist Times. Rotterdam: NAi-Publishers, Heinich, N. (1991) La Gloire de Van Gogh. Essai d antropologie de l admiration. Paris: Editions de Minuit. 11

12 Heinich, N. (2000) What is an artistic event? A new approach to sociological discourse, in: Boekmancahier 12 (44), Heinich, N. (2002) Let us try to understand each other. Reply to Crane, Laermans, Marontate and Schinkel, in: Boekmancahier 14 (52), Pascal Gielen The art of democracy This work is licensed under the Creative Commons License (Attribution- Noncommercial 3.0). See for more information. Held, D. (2006) Models of Democracy. Cambridge: Polity Press. Laclau, E. (1996), Emancipation(s). London and New York: Verso. Laermans, R. (2011) De democratie van de kunst (The Democracy of Art), in: L. Van Heteren, Q. Van der Hogen, And P. Gielen (eds.) A Fight for the Arts. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press (in press). Lefort, C. (1988) Democracy and Political Theory. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Luhmann, N. (1995) Die Kunst der Gesellschaft. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag. Lukacs, J. (2005) Democracy and Populism. Fear and Hatred. New Haven & London: Yale University Press. Marchart, O. (2007) Post-Foundational Political Thought: Political Difference in Nancy, Lefort, Badiou and Laclau. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Mouffe, C. (2005) On the Political. London and New York: Routledge. Rancière, J. (2000) Le partage de sensible. Esthétique et politique. Paris: Editions La fabrique. Sloterdijk, P. (2004) Im Weltinnenraum des Kapitals. Für eine philosophische Theorie der Globalisierung. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag. 12

13 THIJS LIJSTER ART AND PROPERTY Krisis, 2011, Issue 3 Introduction: Plessner vs. Vuitton In January 2011 the Danish artist Nadia Plessner exhibited her painting Darfurnica in the Galleri Esplanaden in Copenhagen. Referring to Pablo Picasso s Guernica both in name, theme and style, the work seeks to draw attention to the conflict in Darfur, while at the same time addressing the fact that mass media in the western world have closed their eyes to it, directing their attention to celebrities instead. Hence, next to players in the conflict like president Al-Bashir, Barack Obama, Janjaweed militia and Chinese oil companies, the picture shows paparazzi chasing stars like Victoria Beckham, Paris Hilton, and Britney Spears (shaving her head). Most importantly, in the center of the painting the two themes collide in the shape of an emaciated black child carrying a Chihuahua and a Louis Vuitton Audra-model handbag. The famous logo with the designer s initials is replaced by the letters S and L, referring to Simple Living, the title of a 2007 drawing by Plessner depicting the same boy. 1 Then she wrote: Since doing nothing but wearing designer bags and small ugly dogs apparently is enough to get you on a magazine cover, maybe it is worth a try for people who actually deserve and need attention. If you can t beat them, join them! On the basis of the 2007 drawing and the distribution of it on the Internet and on T-shirts, Louis Vuitton had already accused the artist of violating intellectual property rights. The court in Paris had decided in favor of the multinational bag manufacturer. Plessner stopped using her drawing. Until 2011, that is, when the boy with the bag reappears in Darfurnica, as well as on posters and advertisements that went with the exhibition. Once more Louis Vuitton takes legal action, this time at the court in The Hague, since the artist lives and works in the Netherlands. In a so called ex parte case, in which the claimant can ask for a preliminary decision to defend his or her intellectual property rights and which neither requires the presence nor even the notification of the defendant, the judge forbids Plessner continuous use of the bag. In a subsequent preliminary injunction filed by the artist, however, the court of The Hague decides in favor of Plessner. According to the judge, there is a conflict between intellectual property rights and freedom of expression, but since the artist s usage of the bag is not of a purely commercial kind, and since it lies in the nature of art to offend, shock, or disturb, he considers it functional and proportional. Plessner is allowed to use the bag, in her art as well as in publicity. 2 The themes of Plessner s work together with her political commitment as an artist already form an interesting example of how global politics finds its way into the arts. Even more relevant, however, is the court case between Plessner and Vuitton, which has nothing to do with Darfur, but draws our attention to a fundamental relation between art and politics. The case raises the question: to whom does art belong? This concerns not so much the simple question of who owns a work of art, but rather the more important one of who can lay claim to the various images, icons and ideas which are present in art, but which are also part of our everyday lives? This question becomes all the more urgent now that digital reproduction makes images potentially ubiquitous. The question of the relation between intellectual property and artistic (re)production can be formulated in old-fashioned Marxist terminology: 13

14 what is the nature of the contemporary relations of production and property in the arts, and how do they relate to the means of production? This question, posed in this way, may seem highly untimely, but it should be of interest to any aesthetic theory that pretends to be thoroughly materialist, which means one that is concerned with the relation between art and the (re)production of human life and of social relations. So what does it mean to ask this question? Art and Intellectual Property Property relations in the arts have been defined, since the eighteenth and nineteenth century, by copyrights and intellectual property rights. These seemingly self-evident institutions, in other words, have existed for barely two hundred years. According to Martin Luther, for instance, there is no such thing as intellectual property, since all ideas belong to God and can therefore neither be claimed nor owned by individuals (cf. Woodmansee 1994, 42). The dawn of modernity witnesses the birth of the aesthetics of genius (for instance in Kant and Schopenhauer): the idea that artists make their own rules and that art is good art if it is original and authentic. Nathalie Heinich calls this the vocational regime of art (Heinich 1996, 35). This regime is closely related to the importance of the individual in other spheres of society, such as politics and economy. One can argue, as Paul de Bruyne and Pascal Gielen do, that the myth of the individual artist is a product of the mental space of free market capitalism (De Bruyne and Gielen 2011, 5). Indeed, unlike those of the Middle Ages, ideas of scholarly and artistic nature are from now on thought to belong to their inventor like commodities belong to their owner; and the creative genius, like the property owner, needs to be protected by the law. Within the arts, the notion of creative genius is challenged by the avantgardes of the twentieth century. Dadaism and Surrealism, for instance, mock the idea of originality by producing nonsensical artworks and performances, poems made from newspaper scraps, and automatic writing. Coincidence and the subconscious rule their art instead of the strong artistic subject. The surrealist painter Max Ernst writes that the fairy-tale Thijs Lijster Art and property of artistic creativity, this pitiful relic of the myth of divine creation, has remained the last delusion of Western culture (Ernst 1992, 492) a delusion that the avant-gardes are intent to do away with. Not only did the avant-gardes criticize the idea of artistic genius, but they deliberately refrained from originality by presenting as artworks ordinary objects (readymade), advertisement and popular culture (pop-art), or exact copies of other artworks (copy or appropriation art). After Walker Evans (1979) by Sherrie Levine, for instance, is a photo of a photo by Walker Evans from 1936, and hardly discernible from the original. She herself is copied, in turn, by Michael Mandiberg, who scanned the pictures and placed them on the website (2001), where one can download an original Levine (or Evans) complete with a certificate of authenticity. In spite of its revolutionary spirit and frivolous jests, the avant-garde has not succeeded in overthrowing our modern understanding of art and the artist completely. Rather, as is quite common in history, the new paradigm or regime coexists with and runs parallel to the old one. As Boris Groys argues, the artist today has to be both creator and selector. The artist s selection is his creation, but what he creates has to be first selected to become a work of art: [T]he creative act has become the act of selection: since Duchamp, producing an object is no longer sufficient for its producer to be considered an artist. One must also select the object one has made oneself and declare it an artwork. Accordingly, since Duchamp there is no longer any difference between an object one produces oneself and one produced by someone else both have to be selected in order to be considered artworks. Today an author is someone who selects, who authorizes. Since Duchamp the author has become a curator. The artist is primarily the curator of himself, because he selects his own art. And he also selects others: other objects, other artists. (Groys 2008, 93-94) Groys fails to note, however, that there is a tension between these two identities of the artist; between what one could call the modern and the avant-gardist side of contemporary art. After all, even though the avant- 14

15 garde artist rejects the idea of genius, he still depends on it. One could even say that he is an extreme form of it: as with a magic wand, the avantgardist turns a urinal into a work of art. There is no skill involved; only the touch of the artist. The contemporary artist, as Groys describes him, therefore has two souls in his chest: he bears traces both of the creative genius and of its negation, the frivolous copyist. His products are at the same time masterpieces and heaps of trash. This tension expresses itself, among other things, in the problematic attitude of contemporary art towards intellectual property rights, of which the Plessner case is but one example. On the one hand, intellectual property is, as we have seen, the very condition of possibility of the figure of the artist in modernity, and is inseparably connected with our notions of originality and creativity. On the other hand, intellectual property forms a problem for contemporary art practices, which involve copying, appropriation, and montage of existing fragments of the world as well as of other works of art. One could reformulate this problem in Marxist terms, as a conflict in the mode of production caused by the development of artistic means of production (cf. Tucker 1978, 4). Relations of production intellectual property rights have been more of less static since the nineteenth century. To be sure, laws of copyright and intellectual property have developed and have become increasingly detailed. However, its basic premise (creative expressions are commodities) and goal (to protect these commodities) have remained the same. Means of production that is, artistic techniques have, on the contrary, altered drastically. This was already true for the historical avant-gardes, and even more so for our time. Technique should here be understood in its broad meaning, not merely entailing styles of painting, composing etc., but also materials, instruments, sources, and technologies of (re)production. The Internet, obviously, plays a key role, since it makes possible the digital reproduction and distribution of images, texts, music, and ideas. As a consequence, questions concerning copyrights, intellectual property and free use are the subject of hot debate within the arts. On one side are industries (most notably the film and music industries) as well as several Thijs Lijster Art and property artists that disapprove of free exchange, which would deprive them of their income. They conceive of it as criminal activity, labeling it as piracy, theft, or plagiarism. Court cases are held against creators of peer-to-peer networks such as Napster (successfully) and torrent-websites such as the Pirate Bay (unsuccessfully), as well as against some of their users. 3 On the other side are artists who see in the Internet not a threat to their intellectual property, but rather the possibility to reach their audiences in new ways, without the interference of institutional mediators such as museums, record companies, or publishing houses. 4 Initiatives such as Creative Commons and Wiki loves art promote the free exchange of the products of intellectual labor. Some artists, such as the remix artist Girl Talk and cartoonist Dan O Neill, criticize the notion of intellectual property, which, so they argue, was once meant to protect artists, but now mostly functions for the profit of big companies. 5 They consider themselves an artistic vanguard, striving to initiate a political debate on the use and misuse of intellectual property for art. For audiences, finally, and especially for young audiences, illegal downloading and file sharing seems to be the norm. Polls show that few think of it as criminal activity. 6 During the elections for the European Parliament in Sweden in 2009, the Pirate Party, affiliated with the website The Pirate Bay, even received enough votes for two seats. But not only do many share the intellectual property of others. Web 2.0 depends on people sharing the output of their own creativity music, movies, pictures, ideas, news by means of YouTube, Twitter, Flickr, Facebook, Wikipedia, etc. How should we understand these developments? It appears as though new media, and most notably social media, are causing a shift in the artistic relations of production, undermining intellectual property and copyright laws and blurring the difference between artist and audience. Are we indeed on the brink of an age in which, as Joseph Beuys once said, everyone is an artist? Do the internal dynamic of Internet use and consumer demand make intellectual property moribund? Or will capitalism tighten its grip and will all these debates merely lead to the setting of new boundaries, the production of new legislation? 15

16 Intellectual Property and the Common To appreciate fully the range of this problem, one should broaden one s scope beyond art and look at shifts in the structure of capitalist production per se. Intellectual property has been one of the key issues in recent debates in political philosophy and social theory about what is called the common. Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, following eighteenth century political and economic theory, use the concept of the common to refer to goods that are neither private property, owned by individuals, nor public property, owned by a government. In earlier days the commons referred to the meadows where everyone could graze their cattle and the forests where everyone could collect firewood. In their most recent book Commonwealth (2009) Hardt and Negri distinguish between two different kinds of common. The first concerns the common in the traditional sense of natural resources: air, water, the fruits of the soil, etc. More important, however, is their introduction of what they call a dynamic, artificial, or human common, existing of, among other things, language, knowledges, codes, images, affects in short those things which form the fabric of social interaction and communication (Hardt and Negri 2009, 139). Unlike the first type of common, the second type has no scarcity. If I share an idea with someone, this does not reduce my possibilities of using this idea. On the contrary, in most cases the possibilities of a successful appropriation of an idea increase the more it is shared. As many theorists have argued, capitalism today increasingly depends on information, communication, ideas and knowledge (cf. Virno 2004, Boltanski and Chiapello 2005, Hardt and Negri 2009). In what is called postindustrial, post-fordist, or biopolitical production, the main products and resources are no longer material goods, but rather codes, interactions, information, social relations and forms of life. Obviously, this does not mean that production of material goods, or the exploitation of natural resources have ceased to exist; it means, rather, that immaterial production has become hegemonic, in other words, it has become the driving force behind those other forms of production. According to Hardt and Negri this implies that capitalist production increasingly depends on the common. Thijs Lijster Art and property Marx referred to the exploitation of common property as primitive or original accumulation. Drawing on Rosa Luxemburg and Hannah Arendt, David Harvey argues that this kind of accumulation should not be considered a transitory phase of capitalism that is no longer relevant, but rather as a continuous condition and source of capitalist creation of surplus value. This is why he prefers to call it accumulation by dispossession (Harvey 2005, 144). Indeed, several theorists have argued that today we are witnessing a new wave of enclosing the commons (Harvey 2005, 148; Žižek 2009a, 92). In contrast to the eighteenth century, however, today people are not merely dispossessed of natural resources on which they depend for their very lives; they are also deprived of common knowledge, information, images, and codes, which are turned into private property through patenting and copyrights. Commodification extends from human interaction such as care, culture, and communication, to life in the most literal sense, since genetic codes are considered types of information too. According to Slavoj Žižek this new wave of accumulation, of harvesting and enclosing the common, poses the threat that we will be reduced to abstract subjects devoid of all substantial content, dispossessed of our symbolic substance, our genetic base heavily manipulated, vegetating in an unlivable environment (Žižek 2009a, 92). Hardt and Negri, by contrast, are more optimistic. They argue that capitalism in the age of biopolitical production is haunted by an internal contradiction. Capitalism benefits from, and even depends on, the free and frictionless exchange of information and ideas, on creativity and communication. Scientific developments, for instance, would be unthinkable without the free exchange of ideas and knowledge in journals and in conferences. The relations of property ruling the common, however, contradict capitalist relations. Exploiting the common, capitalism destroys the very basis of biopolitical labor, reduces its productivity, and therefore forms its own obstacle. In the shape of biopolitical production, Hardt and Negri argue, capitalism provides the tools or weapons that could be wielded in a project of liberation (Hardt and Negri 2009, 137). Biopolitical production, in other words, empowers the multitude of workers and expands the common: 16

17 This is how capital creates its own gravediggers: pursuing its own interest and trying to preserve its own survival, it must foster the increasing power and autonomy of the productive multitude. And when that accumulation of powers crosses a certain threshold, the multitude will emerge with the ability to rule common wealth. (Hardt and Negri 2009, 311) Several theorists have criticized Hardt and Negri s analysis of capitalism, and especially their expectation of its transition or transfiguration into communism. Žižek argues, for instance, that the way they turn the flexibility of work relations and the mobility of financial capitalism into the power of the multitude is nothing more than a purely formal inversion. Moreover, they have fallen prey to the old Marxist dream of historical progress, assuming the existence of an internal dynamic within capitalism which causes its inevitable downfall. Hardt and Negri, he argues, return to the idea that history is on our side (Žižek 2009b, 266). According to Harvey, capitalist accumulation thrives on having something outside of itself. If this other is not given in the form of non-capitalist societies, it can even create it itself, as in Marx s notion of the industrial reserve army (Harvey 2005, 141). Consequently, it would be highly naïve to believe that capitalism will take care of its own demise. Similarly, Franck Fischbach, Étienne Balibar, and Jacques Rancière reject any kind of thinking in terms of historical necessity (Fischbach 2011, Balibar 2011, Rancière 2010). This is not the place to go into the details of this complex politicalphilosophical debate. However, it is clear that the debate on the developments of capitalism towards post-fordist or biopolitical production, and the shifts in the mode of production that these developments entail, are of great importance to certain pressing questions within the field of art. One can easily draw a parallel between the scientific common and an artistic common, which would then exist of shared expressions, images, tunes, stories, etc. Likewise, culture and art depends on the common, on the free exchange, sharing and combining of these cultural goods. Art, especially since the avant-gardes, involves varying on a theme, copying, parodying, pastiche, montage, etc. An enclosure of the artistic common, such as we are witnessing today, would seriously jeopardize a vital artistic practice. Thijs Lijster Art and property Formulated in terms of the above mentioned debate in political philosophy, then, we can now ask the following question: will intellectual property rights eventually collapse under the weight of new technological developments, dissolving into an artistic and cultural common or will artistic practices be continuously and increasingly frustrated by patenting and privatization, in short by the enclosure of the common? The Artist as Producer In light of this question it is worthwhile to take a look at one of the first texts concerned with art and the common, namely Walter Benjamin s 1936 essay The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility. Although Benjamin never explicitly uses the concept, it will prove fruitful to read his essay through the lens of our present situation. Perhaps Benjamin s essay, written on the threshold of an earlier shift in the means of artistic production, will provide our contemporary discussions with a dialectical image, wherein what has been comes together in a flash with the now to form a constellation (Benjamin 1999, 462; V.1, 576). 7 The thesis of the artwork essay is familiar enough: technological reproducibility, most notably through photography and film, destroys the artwork s unique appearance in time and space, and consequently the magical remnant Benjamin calls aura. The artwork s emancipation from ritual makes its foundation in politics possible. This connection between aesthetics and politics, however, is only partly understood in most of the literature. Most readings focus on the democratic potential of technological reproduction: the sheer ubiquity of technologically reproducible art makes it available to many at once, providing the masses access to works of art traditionally reserved for the happy few. While this is certainly one of the ways Benjamin conceives of the relation between aesthetics and politics, it is not the whole story. An extension of the audience alone is not a sufficient condition for what he famously calls the politicizing of art by communism (SW 3, 122; VII.1, 384). 8 His remarks on communism are often regarded with unease, ignored, or considered to 17

18 belong to the context of his time and hence unimportant for ours. Nevertheless, it is precisely the communist thesis of the artwork essay that makes it relevant for our present purposes. What is, then, the relation between technological reproducibility and communism? Benjamin is primarily concerned with a shift in the means of production of art (i.e. the technological reproducibility of art) and its possible consequences for the relations of production. The latter he analyzes, broadly speaking, in two terms: in terms of an inversion of authority and in terms of a redistribution of property. With regard to the first, the artwork s authority consists of its aura. While in primitive times, this authority was granted by the ritual character of the work of art, in modernity this has been replaced by its uniqueness and its eternal beauty. When one admires the beauty of an artwork, Benjamin argues, one really admires the judgment of one s ancestors, hence affirming the authority of tradition (see the important note in the essay On Some Motifs in Baudelaire, SW 4, ; I.2, ). Reproducible art departs from the notion of eternal beauty. While Greek sculpture is necessarily created in a single stroke, a finished film is, by contrast, the result of the selection and montage of an abundance of material (SW 3, 109; VII.1, 362). Likewise, the movie actor playing in front of the camera does not give a single and unified performance, since his role in the film consists of a series of discrete moments. The camera, for which the actor is playing, as he himself is well aware of, is in fact the invisible eye of the masses. They control him, test him, as it were, through the apparatus, and their invisibility heightens the authority of their control (SW 3, 113; VII.1, 370). Hence, the traditional relation of authority between performer and audience, in which the latter is enchanted and controlled by the former, is reversed, placing the audience in control. More important for our present purposes, however, is the way Benjamin considers the shift in the relations of production with regard to property. Referring to Russian documentary films, he argues that any person today can lay claim to being filmed (SW 3, 114; VII.1, 371), thus transposing Marx s call to place the means of production in the hands of the proletariat to the realm of art. According to Benjamin, art too is an industry, in Thijs Lijster Art and property which the relations between artist, artwork and public are mediated by record companies, studios, and publishing houses. A truly revolutionary art, he argues, not merely (and not even necessarily) has property relations as its theme: it will in itself, by means of artistic technology, contribute to a revolution in property relations. It is here where one should locate the link between technological reproducibility and communism or the common. According to Benjamin, means of technological reproduction have the potential of granting everyone equal access to artistic means of production creating the possibility not only of becoming the subject of an artwork, but also of becoming an artist. Furthermore, reproduction techniques enlarge the reservoir of accessible images, tunes, etc., of which the artistic common exists, to an unprecedented scale. Benjamin refers to a similar shift in the means of literary production that occurs with the emergence of journalism. Every reader has the potential to become a writer, and hence the distinction between author and public is about to lose its axiomatic character (SW 3, 114; VII.1, 371). These remarks refer back to Benjamin s lecture The Author as Producer (1934) where he writes the following: Rather than asking, What is the attitude of a work to the relations of production of its time? I would like to ask, What is its position in them? This question directly concerns the function the work has within the literary relations of production of its time. It is concerned, in other words, directly with the literary technique of works. (SW 2, 770; II.1, 686) As an example he mentions the Russian operative writer Sergei Tretyakov, who in his literary experiments actively participated in agricultural communities, and engaged these communities for writing literature. What distinguishes Tretyakov from other forms of committed literature such as Activism and New Objectivism is the fact that politics is not so much the subject of his literature as it is the objective of his technique. Likewise, a truly revolutionary form of visual art would be one that places the means of production in the hands of the many, turning the audience into a producer. 18

19 Technological Determinism Benjamin has often been accused of vulgar Marxism and technological determinism. Many criticize his naïve optimism, reading the artwork essay as a prediction of how reproduction technologies will necessarily bring about a democratic culture (cf. Bürger 1974, 38-42; Jameson 1981, 25; Rochlitz 1996, 161). This reading, however, is incorrect. Not only would this kind of technological determinism contradict Benjamin s suspicion of the notion of progress (cf. Lijster 2010), it also contradicts his intentions in the artwork essay. Writing to a friend about the Arcades Project Benjamin tells that he is pointing [his] telescope through the mist of blood towards a mirage of the nineteenth century, which I am trying to paint in the strokes that it will have for a future state of the world, one freed from magic. Of course I will first have to build this telescope myself (Benjamin 1966, 698). The artwork essay, he adds, is meant to be this telescope. In other words, the essay is the attempt to rewrite history from the perspective of a redeemed future. It is therefore neither a description nor a prediction, but should be understood as emphatically messianic. Benjamin did not believe that the new means of technological reproduction would necessarily bring about social progress, nor a definitive destruction of the aura; he believed, however, that they constituted a unique historical chance. 9 Thijs Lijster Art and property To understand what Benjamin means by a world freed from magic we should consider his distinction between two kinds of technology a distinction often overlooked, since it is absent from the third and most familiar essay version of Technology, he argues, mediates between humanity and nature, but can do this in different ways. The first technology, based on magic, seeks to master nature. In doing so, however, it makes maximum use of human beings, culminating in sacrificial death. By contrast, the second technology, based on play, aims rather at an interplay between nature and humanity (SW 3, 107; VII.1, 359). It aims, in other words, not at mastery over nature, but rather mastery over the relationship between nature and humanity. 10 Art, according to Benjamin, is part of both the first, magical, and the second, playful, technology. The artwork s aura, its enchanting semblance, and its uniqueness and inapproachability, subject the beholder to the authority of tradition. Its playful side, on the other hand, entails its ability to create and facilitate new forms of intersubjectivity and perception. Film, according to Benjamin, constitutes a potential breakthrough of the latter: In film, the element of semblance has yielded its place to the element of play, which is allied to the second technology (SW 3, 127; VII.1, 369). But again, for Benjamin this is a mere potentiality, and is neither the actual situation, nor is it something very likely to happen. Even the most advanced human technologies of this he is acutely aware can be employed for the goal of a mastery of nature, and subsequently result in human sacrifice. Likewise, artistic technologies are ever threatened to be absorbed by magical practices. Western film industries, Benjamin notes, recreate a false aura for the movie star to compensate for the his loss of aura and authority inside the studio, while fascist politics answer to the withering of aura with the cult of the leader and the cult of the masses, thus fixating traditional relations of authority and property. Benjamin s point in the artwork essay is not that the technological reproduction of art necessarily resists this process of re-enchantment. His effort, as he makes clear in the introduction, is to neutralize a number of traditional concepts such as creativity and genius, eternal value and mystery which, used in an uncontrolled way [ ] allow factual material to be manipulated in the interests of fascism (SW 3, ; VII.1, 350). The essay, in other words, attempts to provide the present with critical force. It is not the description of a politics of art, but the execution thereof. Conclusion: Art and Revolution The question, then, whether shifts in the means of production of art, such as the one Benjamin detected in his day and the ones which we are witnessing today, will bring about a shift in the relations of production of art has to remain open. We cannot rely, in other words, on an internal dynamic or necessary course of history, and it is not to be expected that new means of (re)production and the subsequent dependency on the artistic 19

20 common will cause the end of intellectual property. On the contrary: in the case of literature, the developments of reproduction technologies resulted in the implementation of laws of intellectual property, which until then had been superfluous. New technologies, new means of production can be exploited by and implemented in existing relations of production. Of this Benjamin was well aware: his Arcades Project was to become an archeology of nineteenthcentury technologies which never reached their full potential due to the fact that they were incorporated in existing power relations, and fettered by the range of possibilities of older technologies (what today we would call the horseless carriage syndrome) (Benjamin 1999, 4-5; V.1, 46-47). The lessons we can learn from Benjamin s artwork essay for the contemporary discussions concerning art and intellectual property are the following. First, there is no straight line from digital reproducibility or any other technological development to a revolution in intellectual property relations. If anything, these technologies provide an opportunity to ask questions that before could not be asked. They create and expand the artistic common which is however always in danger of being exploited and enclosed by capital. Second, political commitment does not mean that the artist, as a prophet or saint, discloses the truth about society, but rather means that he is involved in revolutionizing the artistic production process by redistributing the means of production. 11 This implies, however, that we understand this debate not merely in terms of intellectual property rights, but in terms of private property per se. As Žižek argues, to disconnect these issues means to strip this debate of its genuinely revolutionary and subversive edge (Žižek 2009a, 98). Third, to rethink artistic modes of production a new theory of art is required. As earlier remarked, intellectual property is fully entangled with a discourse on art, still quite dominant today, that revolves around the creative genius, eternal beauty and the masterpiece. Benjamin s artwork essay was an attempt to formulate a theory of art that would no longer depend on these notions. They have proven to be quite stubborn, however, Thijs Lijster Art and property not least because they are related to the way in which art and authorship is organized in our society. Within this theoretical framework, it will be impossible to come up with alternative ways of organizing intellectual property. Stepping out of it, however, may mean getting rid of the idea of the individual artist altogether. And this is a step that few even of the opponents of intellectual property rights would be willing to take. Thijs Lijster is researcher at Arts in Society, an interdisciplinary research centre of the University of Groningen. In several research projects the relation of the arts in society is studied with regard to art politics, education, (new) media, ethics and cognitive theory. In the spring of 2012 he will defend his PhD thesis Critique of Art. Walter Benjamin and Theodor W. Adorno on the Value and Function of Art and Art Criticism. References: Balibar, É. (2011) Occasional Notes on Communism in Krisis. Journal for Contemporary Philosophy, issue 1, Benjamin, W. (1966) Briefe Edited by Th. W. Adorno and G. Scholem. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp. Benjamin, W. ( ) Gesammelte Schriften (I-VII). Edited by R. Tiedemann en H. Schweppenhäuser. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp. Benjamin, W. ( ) Selected Writings 1-4. Translated by E. Jephcott et al. Edited by Michael Jennings et al. Cambridge MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. Benjamin, W. (1999) The Arcades Project. Translated by H. Eiland and K. McLaughlin. Cambridge MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. 20

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