art world – p3
p3 – policing & symbolic order
One of the most powerful and insidious roles the art world (at least as it is currently organized) plays is in the creation and maintenance of a larger symbolic order hierarchizing what are called “the arts,” creating a kind of artificial scarcity that subordinates most forms of cultural creativity.. t In doing so, the art world has powerful effects on many who are not even aware of its existence..
Other ways of organizing human creativity are possible. . t
In analyzing the artificial production of scarcity, the strategic adoption of only half of the Romantic conception of creativity—or what the Romantics themselves called “genius”—we also wanted to identify exactly what made it possible for the art world to play this role, so as to imagine a different one. What if we spent half the creativity we spend on producing new works of art on reimagining the institutional structure of the art world itself? We set out to examine the matter historically, and cross-culturally, and also take inspiration from our own daydreams and nightmares, to produce a Borges-like catalogue of possible art worlds, based on different principles of value: ie: producing: gossip; insult/hate; shame/apology; sin;..
This was a great deal of fun, and could easily have grown to hundreds, even thousands of possible other art worlds. But after the global pandemic and the veritable mass uprisings that followed, it seemed a trifle flippant. We decided to reconsider our approach.
\We came to realize that the ideas we were developing, however imaginative, were ultimately reformist. Perhaps, as Black Lives Matter has argued so cogently of the police and prison-industrial complex, the art world can’t be reformed. What would it mean to take an abolitionist position?
On Monuments and the Rules of Engagement
In the wake of the pandemic, and the killing of George Floyd, the global uprising of spring and summer 2020 found a common inspiration in Black Lives Matter in the United States, and a common language as a generalized rebellion against the police state in many local manifestations.
By summer 2020, at least two shared themes in this global movement had emerged. .1\ dismantle existing structures of state violence 2\ to simultaneously begin to imagine the kind of institutions that would have to be created in their stead. The second is the destruction of monuments. .. Monuments, like museums—or more precisely, along with museums—are mechanisms for the production and dissemination of public meaning.
Some people bemoan the destruction of monuments as an attack on history (though almost no one, interestingly, has seen it as an attack on art). Some distinguish between good and bad monuments. We, however, take the side of Nicholas Mirzoeff, who wrote a few years ago that “all monuments must fall.”
What is a monument anyway? After actions like N30 in Seattle against the WTO in 1999, the principal images that seemed to remain in public memory were: 1) anarchists dressed in black smashing Starbucks windows; and 2) colorful giant papier-mâché puppets. But why, between the two, did the police seem to hate the puppets more?
Why did the police object so violently to the “carnival bloc?” Part of the reason was that using art was seen as cheating.
From the perspective of the police, however, the Black Bloc appearing to organize a military-style confrontation, and then “defusing” or “deescalating” the situation by sending in puppets and clowns, was obviously cheating. The anarchists were demanding the right to change the rules of engagement on the field of battle. Puppets became the symbol for this demand.
But why specifically puppets? ..giant puppets—which could represent anything from gods and dragons to caricatures of politicians and corporate bureaucrats—were simultaneously divine and ridiculous. These were objects that took days, even weeks to assemble, and were put together collectively by very large numbers of people. They were gigantic but fragile, and after a day’s use, almost invariably crumbled away. In other words, they mocked the very idea of a monument. .. Such a constant kaleidoscope of possible monuments evoked the sacred in a form so powerful that it effectively had to be made silly. Otherwise, its power would be too terrifying.
In their self-satire, the giant puppets were also the most honest of monuments, because any monument that proclaims the eternity of what it represents—a sculpture, a mausoleum, a stolen Egyptian obelisk—is by definition a fraud. The things they represent are not really eternal. If they were, there would be no need to raise a monument.
Recent images of masked, heavily armed police surrounding the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC are not, perhaps, as ironic as they might seem. Police are, essentially, the guardians of the very principle of monumentality—the ability to turn control over violence into truth. Even the language police use to describe what they do (force, law, power) suggests that the ability to threaten others with sticks and guns, lock them in cages, or to place one’s knee on their neck until they stop breathing, should be considered analogous to the principles that govern the universe.
On Politics, Policy, Politeness, and Police
During the uprisings, art institutions largely played a (sometimes surprisingly) supportive role, providing food and shelter for those fleeing or recovering from encounters with police, for example. So it might seem ungracious to take an abolitionist position in relation to the art world. We should make clear that we do not intend this as a moral critique of individuals or individual complicity. .. we want to shift our own question “is another art world possible?” to focus on the very existence of “the art world” as an institutional power hierarchizing symbolic relations that extend far beyond its own reach.
When protestors say, “The police are beyond reform; they must be defunded and dismantled,” they are obviously not rejecting the idea of public safety. .. we have to understand what cops actually do, figure out which elements (if any) are actually desirable, and develop other ways, and other institutions, to do it. It’s the same with the art world ..
But what do police actually do? ..creation of what were called police functions was a key part of extending sovereign authority to the entire population. But there is also a reason for “politics,” “policy,” and “police” (and for that matter, “politeness”) all sharing the same root..t
Police at their inception had almost nothing to do with public safety, let alone “fighting crime” (which was still handled by constables and the local watch); police were there to enforce regulations, licensing, guaranteeing the food supply to cities to prevent riots, monitoring rootless populations, and, crucially, too, acting as spies. ..The new, uniformed police, while now advertising themselves as crime fighters, mainly had the dual function of protecting the rich and “prevention”—which largely meant forcing able-bodied vagrants into respectable labor.
Just like in the 1820s, the transformation was mediated by a symbolic offensive claiming the real role of police was “fighting crime”—it’s hard to remember that, prior to the 1970s, there were almost no movies, in America or perhaps anywhere in the world, where policemen were the heroes. Suddenly heroic, “maverick” cops were on screens everywhere, just as actual cops, “security professionals,” surveillance systems, and the like began appearing in places where they would once have been unheard of: schools, hospitals, beaches, playgrounds. All the while, the actual function of police remained much as it had been in the 1600s: police sociologists have long noted that real cops spend perhaps 6–11 percent of their time on matters that have anything to do with “crime,” much less violent crime; the overwhelming majority of their time and energy is spent enforcing the endless municipal regulations on who can drink, walk, sell, smoke, eat, drive what, where, and under what conditions. Police are still bureaucrats with weapons, bringing the possibility of violence, even death, into situations where it would never otherwise exist (for instance, the sale of unlicensed cigarettes). The main difference is that, as capitalism has financialized itself during this same period, police have added an additional administrative function: revenue collection. Many city governments are entirely dependent on money coming in from police enforcement of fines in order to balance their books and pay their creditors. ..increasingly, anyone who is not a creditor, is treated as a criminal.
Clearly none of this has much, if anything, to do with public safety. ..As abolitionists point out, Americans would be far safer if they eliminated police entirely, returned to largely self-organized social services, stopped employing trained killers to inform them of a broken tail light, and created a completely different organization to deal with violent crime.
What Does This Have to Do with the Art World?
Our argument is that just as police ultimately operate to maintain poverty and white supremacy, what we call “the art world” ultimately exists to maintain a structure of hierarchy. What happens inside the bubble makes little difference. The issue is the existence of the bubble itself. Or to put it slightly differently, “the arts” are organized the way they are because “art” sits on top of them.
After all, the same is true of cops. “All cops are bastards” is a structural statement; there have always been individual cops who have been well-meaning, even idealistic (Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, spent seven years working for the LAPD). The point is that their personal character or even personal politics are mostly irrelevant; they are operating within an institutional structure that does inestimable harm, and whether any particular benevolent act does more harm by validating that structure, or good by mitigating it, is a secondary consideration.
Museums Are to the Art World as Prisons Are to the Police State.. t
Virtually all museums today operate in a way that produces and maintains hierarchy. By archiving, cataloging, and reorganizing the museum’s space, they draw a line between “museum” quality and “non-museum” quality objects. .t But there is no ultimate contradiction between commoditized art and art considered inalienable and not to be sold, because they are simply two variations of the sacred as radical exclusion.
alt: museum of care
In the same way, the art world—as the apparatus for the production of objects, performances, or ideas that might someday merit being sacralized—is based on the artificial creation of scarcity. In the way that police guarantee material poverty, the existence of the art world—in its current form—could be said to guarantee spiritual poverty. What, then, would an abolitionist project directed at the art world actually look like?
ie: cure ios city
There is a great deal of discussion today about the possibility of removing public monuments and relegating them to museums, but at the same time, and in a rather contradictory fashion, of turning museums themselves into places of care, love, and social transformation.
museum of care ness
Some seek to explore the connections between art, money, and securitization itself.
Many argue that we should stop the movement of hundreds of thousands of art tourists around the globe, stop building pointless new offices, stop hosting so many exclusive presentations and dinners that serve no purpose other than self-celebration, and imagine how art could be one of many forms of care that contributes to the reproduction of human life (education, medicine, safety, different forms of knowledge, etc.). How else could it be possible for everyone to cultivate local artistic communities as ends in themselves?
ie: cure ios city
These are sensible proposals, but they lack the coherence and urgency of the demands being made to defund or abolish the police. What would any of this actually mean in practice?
Unlike Soviet museums, it only existed as a state-recognized institution for a few years, from 1917 to 1920, before being formally dismantled. Despite this, the infrastructure was so well-founded that it also, in a certain sense, survives to this day. It was the brainchild of Alexander Bogdanov, an immensely popular revolutionary who, despite being expelled from the Communist Party well before 1917, was briefly given free rein to enact his vision of art communism: Proletkult.
Proletkult aimed quite explicitly to realize Novalis’s dream that everyone should be an artist. . t
Part of the aim, too, was to reimagine the very notions of “museum” and “archive” nonhierarchically.
There has been a kind of rediscovery of Proletkult in artistic, activist, and academic circles of late. ..similar to the attempt to create alternative institutions currently being put forward by opponents of the police state. ..grassroots popular assemblies and the experiments in worker self-management .. Proletkult was in its origin simply the cultural manifestation of the same democratic movement. It was also more massive in its scale than the organization of popular assemblies and self-managed industries, and more lasting in its effects. .. self-organized—artistic production concentrated above all on theater (since theater brought together visual art, design, poetry, and music—effectively all branches of art in a single collective product), ..also, critically, an active educational component to the movement, which attempted to collapse the boundaries between academia, popular education, science, and the arts.
Long before the creation of Wikipedia, Bogdanov and his comrades also imagined and began to build a new infrastructure for the reproduction of knowledge, one that aimed to destroy the traditional hierarchies between students and teachers, and supplant them with horizontal networks in which anyone could find themselves in every role in a different situation: readers become writers, spectators become artists, producers, consumers, and so on. For Bogdanov, at least, the realization of a world where everyone could become an artist was communism. This destruction of hierarchies was precisely the end that the Revolution aimed to achieve..t
There is still a great deal of debate over the long-term significance of Proletkult. What’s really striking today is how Proletkult, despite its focus on art, offers remarkable parallels with some of the proposals for the creation of a new infrastructure to replace our current police state.
yeah that’s because gershenfeld something else law ness
Remember here that “police” originally refers to the imposition of “policy,” of centralized initiatives (think of all those declarations of war—on crime, drugs, terror, and so forth). The emphasis in Proletkult was the direct inverse: ie’s: not any center prioritizer; local/global, decentralized;
Remarkably, much of this is still in place in Russia. ..Even now, thirty years after the destruction and privatization following Perestroika in all Eastern Bloc countries in the 1990s, almost every small town in Russia and much of the former Eastern Bloc still has a so-called “House of Culture” where anyone can spend their free time on anything from Go clubs to drawing and singing lessons, from puppet theater to painting classes.
Like well-written computer code or beautiful urban planning, Proletkult turned out to be so tightly sewn into the social body that it is almost impossible to unravel it.
We write this at a moment when many expect governments to soon begin pouring money into the arts, perhaps as part of a Green New Deal similar to what the Roosevelt administration did as part of the original New Deal in the 1930s.
crisis to commons ness – saying can’t
This may or may not happen, but if the money is directed through the existing infrastructure of the art world, it will surely reproduce a similar professionalized elite. What if we were to redirect these funds elsewhere, along with the billion dollars the New York City Council shifted from the NYPD, and the hundreds of millions of dollars circulating in offshore and private investments and art world coffers?
otherwise spinning wheels w/in same violent infra
What if we were to create a House of Culture in every district, every street, along with a Palace of Children, a Palace of Pensioners, a Palace of Refugees, but according the original, self-organized plan?
but we don’t have to create it.. we just need an infra/org in place that would set/keep 8b people free.. in sync.. has to be everyone in sync or it won’t work.. (that’s why we haven’t yet – we can’t seem to let go enough for it to be about everyone – like beginning of this essay – has to be everyone an artist)
What if we didn’t judge what anyone did with the resources, and simply provided the means for anyone..t wishing to participate in cultural activities to sustain themselves and find others interested in the same projects—to gossip, insult each other, apologize, sell indulgences, or create a waterpark or miniature golf course out of former monuments?
exactly.. and again.. unless we do this w everyone from the get go.. we’ll just model/perpetuate tragedy of the non common.. which we’ll keep us all believing it’s just not possible.. believing that people aren’t good enough
What if we didn’t organize biennials with tiered admissions, but monthly carnivals with costumes and dances in every district and every city, as we see erupting seemingly spontaneously in any “occupation” from Zuccotti Park to Seattle, from Christiania to Rojava? Except this time, without all the cops.
better.. let’s provide the org so that the itch-in-8b-souls can instigate the carnivals.. everyday anew
At one time this threat of violence was largely organized around disciplining labor, but today it has shifted to becoming itself the principle means for the extraction of profits, which are increasingly derived from rents—capitalism sustaining itself not so much by selling us cars as distributing parking tickets and traffic tickets.
But the forms of the sacred appropriate to the police order remain the same: public monuments, museums, and the art world.
On the other hand, there are the self-organized forms of social welfare that are effectively extensions of communal care, conviviality, or the expectation of help from a neighbor in an emergency. Essentially, this is the form of communism that always exists in any community worthy of the name, if only in our lack of desire to hurt each other and the fact that most pleasures aren’t very pleasurable unless they’re shared. This communal notion of social welfare invariably, as Kurdish activists point out, generates its own notion of security and self-defense.
The question that remains unanswered is: What precisely are the forms of the sacred appropriate to the communal notion of social welfare? ..t
ie: maté basic needs (essence of human being).. let’s org around that
“The earth,” according to Nikolai Fyodorov, “is a museum of humanity,” with the emphasis on “humanity” more than “museum.” Everyone deserves the same care and attention that we direct towards monuments and masterpieces, and should for all eternity.