29 05 06
Snip, Snip… Bang, Bang: Political Art, Reloaded
Pure repetition, were it to change neither
thing nor sign, carries with it an unlimited power of perversion and
It starts like this. The return of a real,
repressed not because its content was necessarily so traumatic, but because it
directs our attention towards an ellipsis within the historical record where
none is supposed to be. The gatekeepers of the artistic canon eye the detour
with trepidation. We however, recognize
that interventionist art, politically motivated art, collectivized art is more
than just another artistic genre, that its genealogy is more than a collection
of curious anomalies useful for sprucing up the same old art historical canon.
The phantom archive encircles mainstream institutions, invisibly altering them
not unlike the way cosmic dark matter prods the path of planets, stars and
galaxies. Often handed-down directly from activist to activist, interventionist
to interventionist, this counter-history reveals attempt after attempt to
re-imagine, and re-socialize, the entire practice of art from the bottom up. This “dark” history includes makeshift
institutions, radical art clubs, direct political action, labor strikes and
even snake-charmers and pie-throwers. It is peopled by artists who organize and
organizers who make art, made visible in alternative spaces transformed into
mock art galleries or political groups or businesses, realized by curators and
artists working together collectively, or who happily serve as conduits for
moving material support to activists, unions, and interventionists situated on
the far periphery of the art world. The only feature these phenomenon share
besides a mutual “outsider” status is a cavernous indeterminacy that goes well
beyond the interdisciplinary frolic of contemporary gallery art. Theorists
Stephen Wright and Brian Holmes describe the interventionist as an ontological
“secret agent” who is forced to don multiple identities: artist/activist, theorist/practitioner,
participant/viewer, organizer/organized. No doubt the interventionist curator
will find such ontological prevarication indispensable. No doubt this same
existential incertitude will also return to haunt them and their careers.
 “Ellipsis,” from the book Writing and Difference by Jacques Derrida, (University of Chicago Press, Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd, London and Henley: 1978), p 297.
 Or course modernism’s formalist firewall was breached on several fronts simultaneously. Clement Greenberg’s theoretical franchise was usurped by Feminist, Marxist, and Post-Structuralist thinkers, while many younger artists gravitated towards a gritty punk aesthetic that, together with the new wave of politicized collectivism, abandoned post-war conventions, including those of the established Left.
 Giorgio Agamben, Remnants of Auschwitz. The Witness and the Archive, p 144.
 Derrida, Op cit.
 In this sense the reified, re-creation of the 1966 "Peace Tower" for the 2006 Whitney Biennial is exactly the type of repetition we will be seeing more and more of over the next few years as the art world attempts to reign-in the potentially destabilizing energy of interventionist creativity taking place outside its parameters. (It worth noting that like so many Hollywood remakes the 2006 Peace Tower casts the senior Mark di Suvero from the original production together with younger co-star Rirkrit Tiravanija, buff and beefy with plenty of art market muscle.)