Academic journal article Afterimage

Post-Marxist Aesthetics Anyone?

Academic journal article Afterimage

Post-Marxist Aesthetics Anyone?

Article excerpt

It's the Political Economy, Stupid: The Global Financial Crisis in Art and Theory

Edited by Gregory Sholette and Oliver Ressler

London: Pluto Press, 2013

192 pp./$30.00 (hb)

It's the Political Economy, Stupid is the title of an exhibition curated by Gregory Sholette and Oliver Ressler. First presented in Vienna in 2011, the exhibition includes 'works by four artists/artist groups. These works examine the ways in which art can represent and resist the penetration of everyday life by deregulated capitalism. Organized after the global financial economic crisis of 2008 and occurring at the same time as the social rebellions of the Arab Spring and the urban encampments of Southern Europe and the Occupy Wall Street movement, the exhibition traveled to New York City, Thessaloniki, and Pori (Finland), along the way incorporating the work of eleven more artists/groups. The book functions as a catalog for the exhibition, featuring three essays that provide descriptions and images of the artworks, as well as a snappy theoretical toolkit, with essays by a small but representative collection of artists and theorists on the left.

"It's the Political Economy, Stupid" is also the name of a 2009 essay by Slavoj Zizek that is reprinted at the beginning of the book. The editors/curators refer to this essay as an exercise in backtalk and a useful reference point for art that seeks to disable capitalist "econospeak" (10). The assertion made in the introduction is that economic determinism "has become an inescapable visage within the realm of the cultural superstructure ... making it impossible to avoid previously ignored processes of value formation" (11). Marxist political economy is thus presented as the first line of defense against narratives that reinforce economic austerity and military imperialism. The book avoids orthodoxy, however. Following Zizek's essay, a typically brilliant exercise in ideology critique, Liz Park challenges Marxist universalism with Chantal Mouffe's agonistic pluralism, a postmodern difference politics that is echoed later in the book by Julia Bryan-Wilson. A short piece by the anarchist figurehead of Occupy Wall Street, David Graeber, chides Marxism as a joyless dedication to ballistic missile systems, and a reprint of an essay by Judith Butler is equally questioning of ideology as it emphasizes the simultaneous creation and disturbance of public space through the agency of vulnerable bodies coming together to make demands.

While this exhibition and catalog corresponds to the events mentioned above, its more general frame of reference is the anti-globalization movement that emerged in the years after the defeat of Soviet Communism and the hegemonic rise of neoliberal governmentality. In this respect it makes sense as a follow-up to, and perhaps even a theoretical sharpening of, the concerns of Ressler's previous curatorial project, A World Where Many Worlds Fu (2008-11), an exhibition dedicated to art made in the context of anti-globalization protest. In this regard, it resembles at least one show that I know of; Crime Seen: Art Against Corporate Globalization (in 2001 at Gallery 101, Ottawa), which featured some thirty-eight artists and artist groups, and explicitly confronted economic and political globalization. One could also mention Capital Offense: The End(s) of Capitalism (in 2012 at the Beacon Arts Building, Inglewood, California), a project curated by Jennifer Gradecki and Renee Fox. The contradiction that is amplified by this show to its impossible aporetic climax is the fact that, as contributor Kerstin Stakemeier plainly states, all commodity production under capitalism, including art production, is subsumed by capitalist relations. …

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