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In his book "Einbahnstrasse" Walter Benjamin wrote about the technique of the critic in thirteen theses (2). In thesis VII. it is said, that the higher authorities of a critic are for sure not the posterity and also not the audience but his colleges. Well, the earth has kept turning around some times in that 79 years - but this thesis is quite actual in its meaning.
Let us have a look at a text of Brian Holmes, who is writer of correspondences too. One of his texts (3) is evidently an excellent example for being corresponded, because it is ending specially with this ask: "Next time we meet, in whatever space or medium, please tell me your idea." And such a directly expressed seek is demanding for response.
Although I am addressed by the book (4) at all - because my own work in the field of arts has been characterized through collective processes since 1994 and because this book could be called an extraordinary one through its design - and I am especially addressed by Holmes´ text, because it is in some points a quite personal speaking text; and although I am addressed by the questions which are rose in particular I got stuck into the first two sentences. Namely Brian Holmes starts with following words: "Sometimes you have to face the facts, the ones you do not choose. I am what is called an art critic." And the whole thing which causes irritation is probably resulting through little differences. Let me first try to work that out:
1. I am what is called "woman".
Being called "woman" categorizes you in this worldwide fundamental bipolar system of woman/men. And being called "woman" is one of those facts you do not choose. It´ s a fundamental difference whether you are called woman or man. And until the times will had come when women reached the same strong social identities than men, I see the necessity to remember that fact.
2. Another non-choose fact is the one that I am actually what is called "arbeitslos". I do not want to shock you with horrible or spectacular stories telling detailed about dates as a female customer (5) at different institutions here in Austria through which un-employed people are controlled. But let me tell you, what an unemployed woman who has studied painting is (also) doing:
After discussions in our Euromayday group sessions in Vienna over the period of nearly 3 years, after discussions with the editorial staff of the magazine grundrisse and after a conference where different Austrian groups had met, which are fighting for the rights of unemployed people, trying to organize, and after real social experience I got the impressions that it gets more and more difficult for single persons to resist decisions of the administrative authority. And that´ s indeed not a sign of a lively democracy. Moreover I think that we actually do not need institutions which work in prolongation of another fundamental bipolar system - the one of being employed/ un-employed- and the fatal stereotypes which follow this bipolar thinking, for example the probably most wide spread one that the employed are the diligent ones - the unemployed are the spongers ( not to forget here the ones who are not allowed to work at all ).
A basic income for all would possibly solve problems like this.
3. Let´ s now face the questions Brian Holmes rose and try answers:
- "What is art today ?"
The most interesting pieces of lively interventions/installations in public space I have seen in the last weeks attracted my attention on my ritual walks to a lake near my home, passing a district of concentrated schools and education institutions, a kind of camp. Vis-à-vis of a kindergarten I suddenly recognized a huge amount of little blue and white paper circles hanging in the branches and twigs of the leafless trees, whirling in the wind. Attracted through the air-moved coloured points I went nearer and could threw a view on the drawings on the little "globes" which had been done by childrens hands: they were full of angels, stars and above all yellow stars (6) .
You may think now, this is the traditional view of a historical vanguard thinker if my ambition here is "overcoming the beaux-arts frame" (7) and telling a daily-life plot. Yes, I prefer to walk through the streets and prefer not to chase after art pieces through different exhibition spaces. But I want to place a link to some doubtless interesting collective process in the field of visual arts which is going on in my favourite Viennese art institution, the IG Bildende Kunst (8), and I place it more as a friend than a critic. The present exhibition "Strategic universalism and political drawing" in the gallery of the institution shows a very playful work about the career of the term precarity , a work which is picked out here. Theory fragments are drawn/ handwritten directly on the wall - which means a revival of the old painting tradition of the muralists "creating an art which serves the needs of the people" (9) .
- "How is art critic carried out ?"
I see only one possibility: it´ s carried out through language, language and language.
- "For whom can it be useful ?"
Maybe it is useful especially for all those who are able to feel the pleasures of unfolding endless critical discourses about art, for all the ones who deliberately reduce art to critic ? (10).
- "Can the anxiety about the artistic frame, about what art is today, not become something more interesting, more passionate, more useful ?"
I am sorry - I do not have any idea except the one of reduction. A reduction not in the capitalistic sense of pressing everyone and everything to a buyable piece of something, but a kind of self-reduction in consuming and producing, sharing time and space and labour in an egalitarian culture.
- "Is there not another way of telling the story of art´ s development over the last ten years ? The rupture, in my experience, was brought by history ( the massive transport strikes in France in winter of 1995-1996 )"
The most important rupture - in my experience there is more than one - was also brought by history - it is the falling of the so-called Iron Curtain between the two Germanys in 1989. I think there should be as much stories about art´ s development as possible. If I would write my own story of art history ( it would be a herstory with as much as female artists named in it as possible ) I will probably start with the first movies I have seen in awareness. And if we mention Marcel Duchamp (11) , one of the stars of the 20th century, we should at least mention Charlie Chaplin as well (12). Speaking exclusively about the last ten years I have to mention the Viennese publix theatre (caravan) which was founded in 1993/4 and which influenced my life and labour deeply.
- "But maybe the question to ask right now is, for whom is all this verbiage potentially useful ?"
As a mourning about the loneliness of a writer or an expression of self-critic Brian Holmes will have my solidarity as college - but do repeated asks after usefulness not cause a certain unease ?
- "Who can say "we", or at least feel uncomfortable with the use of the "we" in the discourse I am now producing ?"
Here Brian Holmes gives us following answer: "We - the producers of the show- are nothing more or less than the increasingly fragile middle classes, the so-called planetary petty bourgeoisie" (13). Well, I guess, I have never been middle class, although a huge part of the education I got the benefit of tried to make me middle-class and goes on trying it. We all know it: Education has no ending! And even in the moment when we will be in the state of leaving this planet and get the overbearing idea to tell someone about our decision, our wish to leave the earth now, I guess the probability will be very huge that there is someone next to us who will answer: "No, I do not believe that!" Which I would call the essence of a uncritical hegemonic sermon.
But let´s leave this middle-class discussion to the producers/ consumers of automobiles and come back to Walter Benjamin and his theses about the technique of the critic, point XII. means that: "the art of critic in nuce: coining catchwords without giving away the idea. Catchwords of an inadequate critic flog the thought to fashion".
And thanks for asking me.
1 "perek" is the indo-germane two-syllable root of the word "precarious". "precarious" derives from the Latin word "precari" ( bitten, betteln ) which is a cognate word to the German word "fragen". Etymologically there is moreover a deep connection between the German verbs "fragen, bitten" ( to ask, to beg ) and "wühlen" ( to dig ). In English language the act or the labour of digging also means -in a figurative sense- "subversive activity" or "agitation".
2 Einbahnstrasse / Walter Benjamin / Ernst Rowohlt Verlag Berlin / 1928
facsimile of the first print: 1983 Verlag Brinkmann & Bose Berlin / page 35
3 An egalitarian culture, through participatory means, for all those willing to start right now. Brian Holmes / in: collective creativity/ René Block, Angelika Nollert / 2005 / revolver book / German and English / S. 82- 91
it is the fourth book in the third line
5 unemployed people are officially called customers.
In the English/German dictionary which I am using the German word "Kundin" ( female customer ) is put at first position - the male "Kunde" comes afterwards. That´ s probably an exception in the whole book.
6 And because I am an adult who always tends to rationalize pictures which occur, I put a sentence here: "To collect the stars which are falling from the never dreamt sky of humanity is the task of communism" Giorgio Agamben / Idea della Prosa 1985 Milano / German Translation 1987 / p. 52
7 Brian Holmes / an egalitarian culture p. 87
9 Jacinto Quirarte in the catalogue "Latin American Spirits: Art and artists in the United States" 1920 - 1970. Bronx Museum of the Arts, New York 1988
the exhibition design shows that it is done by toledo´s i dertschei´s hands: www.tid.nextroom.at
10 Roland Barthes / Le Plaisir du Texte / 1973 German translation / 1986 / Suhrkamp / p 81
11 Duchamp is the only artist named twice in Brian Holmes´ summary of 20th century arts development - and the name is printed in bold-faced type. page 82/84 ( English version page 87 and 88 ).
12 There is a photo of Chaplin called "Portrait of a woman" from the year 1915. It is "Charly Chaplin´ s most accomplished female impersonation" ( Movie Icons, Chaplin, Paul Duncan 2006 ).
By comparison the famous photo-portrait of Marcel Duchamp made by Man Ray and titled "Rrose Selavy" - showing Duchamp dressed as a female person - is absolutely similar to those of Chaplin, and dates just a few years later in 1921. I think there is never a "one-man-show" dealing with the relevant themes of art: "There is no such thing as a single issue struggle because we don´t live single issue lives." A statement of Audre Lorde, you can read on a queersnack picknick cloth in the Viennese exhibition ( shown by Persson B. Baumgartinger, Erika Doucette and Marty Huber ).
13 Brian Holmes / an egalitarian culture p. 90