Bishop’s “The Social Turn”

[I inaugurate the new category “notes”. Posts in this category are for internal communication, and will mostly consist of sentences and excerpts taken from papers/articles I’m reading, and a few fast comments. From time to time I might go back to these notes for further commentaries]

Claire Bishop, The Social Turn: Collaboration and Its Discontents, Artforum 44, 178 (2005).

This constitutes material for the first chapter of the much lengthier book by the same author Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship. A trend in contemporary art has been that of social projects where the authorship of the artist is neutralized in favour of collaborative action [as a physicist, I would say: as if it were possible! Abolishing authorship actually means to make it even much more subtle and violent, as the final figure drawn from Dogville suggests]. This in reaction to what is perceived to be the capitalist arts market, where the product is placed above the process.
The paper takes off with the following quote

“All artists are alike. They dream of doing something that’s more social, more collaborative, and more real than art. —Dan Graham”

[which we could turn it into “All scientists are alike. They dream of doing something that’s more social, more collaborative, and more useful than science”].

A few excerpts:

“There can be no failed, unsuccessful, unresolved, or boring works of collaborative art because all are equally essential to the task of strengthening the social bond. While I am broadly sympathetic to that ambition, I would argue that it is also crucial to discuss, analyze, and compare such work critically as art.”

“This emphasis on process over product (i.e., means over ends) is justified as oppositional to capitalism’s predilection for the contrary.”

“Accusations of mastery and egocentrism are leveled at artists who work with participants to realize a project instead of allowing it to emerge through consensual collaboration.”

“aesthetic judgments have been overtaken by ethical criteria”

“If the aesthetic is dangerous, isn’t that all the more the reason it should be interrogated?”

“Ethics of authorial renunciation”.

“Emphasis is shifted away from the disruptive specificity of a given work and onto a generalized set of moral precepts.”

“In the absence of a commitment to the aesthetic, Kester’s position adds up to a familiar summary of the intellectual trends inaugurated by identity politics: respect for the other, recognition of difference, protection of fundamental liberties, and an inflexible mode of political correctness.”

“We can only ever have limited access to others’ emotional and social experiences, and the opacity of this knowledge obstructs any analysis founded on such assumptions”

“Deller, Collins, Zmijewski, and Höller do not make the “correct” ethical choice, they do not embrace the Christian ideal of self-sacrifice; instead, they act on their desire without the incapacitating restrictions of guilt. In so doing, their work joins a tradition of highly authored situations that fuse social reality with carefully calculated artifice.”

“In this schema, self-sacrifice is triumphant: The artist should renounce authorial presence in favor of allowing participants to speak through him or her. This self-sacrifice is accompanied by the idea that art should extract itself from the “useless” domain of the aesthetic and be fused with social praxis”

“this denigration of the aesthetic ignores the fact that the system of art as we understand it in the West—the “aesthetic regime of art” inaugurated by Friedrich Schiller and the Romantics and still operative to this day—is predicated precisely on a confusion between art’s autonomy (its position at one remove from instrumental rationality) and heteronomy (its blurring of art and life). Untangling this knot—or ignoring it by seeking more concrete ends for art—is slightly to miss the point, since the aesthetic is, according to Rancière, the ability to think contradiction”

“For Rancière the aesthetic doesn’t need to be sacrificed at the altar of social change, as it already inherently contains this ameliorative promise.”

“Dogville: Her desire to serve the local community is inseparable from her guilty position of privilege, and her exemplary gestures perturbingly provoke an evil eradicable only by further evil. Von Trier’s film doesn’t present a straightforward moral, but articulates—through a reductio ad absurdum—one terrifying implication of the self- sacrificial position.”

“good intentions shouldn’t render art immune to critical analysis”

“these homilies unwittingly push us toward a Platonic regime in which art is valued for its truthfulness and educational efficacy rather than for inviting us—as Dogville did—to confront darker, more painfully complicated considerations of our predicament.”

[Overall, I think there never exists an aesthetics without ethics (which would make for a Platonic concept). This is a fake dualism that this paper does not resolve nor tackle. The other problem is that the paper is tailored on this particular experience without going deeper into the context of the arts in general. But still, very stimulating.]


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