Performance, Live or Dead

The Fall 2011 edition of the venerable Art Journal (vol. 70, no. 3) contains a round table on performance, registration and reenactment edited by Amelia Jones: "Performance, Live or Dead." This is not the transcription of an actual round table session, but rather a series of short texts by various practitioners of art and theory. In my contribution, "Performing Time" (pp. 41-44), I look back on my 2005 exhibition Life, One More: forms of reenactment in contemporary art, and discuss my shift towards greater interest in the ways in which performances (reenacted or not) function within the current "economy of time." This strand of thought is developed further in the article "General Performance" and in my upcoming book History in Motion

Together with Adrian Heathfield, Amelia Jones also edited the anthology Perform, Repeat, Record: Live Art in History (published by Intellect Ltd in London; distributed in the US through University of Chicago Press), which will be released in February 2012. The selection of texts looks excellent, and in contrast to some other anthologies out there, the editors strove to present texts in their entirety, which to my mind greatly increases an anthology's use value. However, this does mean that this (massive) volume comes with a hefty price tag. Included is an essay of mine that was part of Secret Publicity: "Progressive Striptease: Performance Ideology Past and Present". Overall I'm still quite happy with this text, which was published in Secret Publicity, though I erred by turning Kristine Stiles into some sort of ideological bogeyman on the basis of a few remarks.

Texts on aspects of performance seem to come with more than the usual share of contentious exchanges — perhaps because performance attracts the attention of several academic disciplines, including art history and, of course, performance studies. Territorial battles often inform writings. This is also apparent from the reception of Life, Once More. In the catalogue essay, I attempted to think with and through a certain critical tradition that problematized the traditional theater and its perceived separation of actors and audience, comparing the “activation” of audience members in historical pageants and in the modern war reenactments that emerged in the early 1960s to the art events and happenings that emerged in the same period, analysing both as (compromised) attempts to rethink and reform performance in a period in which Debord’s “society of the spectacle” was itself undergoing a performative turn. The traditional association of “spectacle” with “passive viewing”, then, became less tenable than before, as did that of performance with liveness and uniqueness and the identification of recordings as weak derivatives of the “orginal.”

Today I would define and qualify my use of terms such “theater” and “spectacle” much more, but to suggest that my essay aligns theater as such with “slavish imitation”, as Rebecca Schneider does in Performing Remains, her bid to become the go-to reenctment scholar (we all need goals in life, I suppose), is to miss the point in a rather spectacular manner. On the basis of my characterization of Jackson Pollock's fear that, in performing for Hans Namuth’s camera, his creative act had “degenerated” into mere play-acting, Schneider proceeds to pathologize me and my supposedly deep-held aversion to the theatre. It seems that performing the part of somebody's bogeyman is part of the game.

Texte zur Kunst no. 84: Melancholia

Make of this constellation what you will: Texte zur Kunst no. 84 (December 2011),  the thematic section of which is dedicated to feminism, also contains my review of Lars von Trier's Melancholia.

Visual Postscript

I discuss Agency's Thing 000809 (Sawing a Lady in Half) in my essay "Secrets of the See-Through Factory" in the new issue of Open. This image, or "specimen," wasn't available on time and is therefore not included among the illustrations. I upload it here as a visual postscript.

Design and Transparency

The publication It's Not a Garden Table: Art and Design in the Expanded Field is an initiative of the Migros Museum and the Institute for Critical Theory in Zurich. I contributed the essay "Beyond Sign Design," which develops aspects of an article that Tom Holert commissioned a couple of years ago for Texte zur Kunst's design issue. In conjunction with a number of theoretical approaches to design, objecthood, networks and systems, "Beyond Sign Design" analyses artistic practices ranging from Frank Stella and John Armleder to Hans Haacke and Allan Sekula, and to Natascha Sadr Haghighian and Sean Snyder. As the title suggests, the aim to go beyond an analysis of design in narrowly semiotic terms.

A related text is "Secrets of the See-Through Factory: Interventions in Opaque Transparency" in the new issue of Open, no. 22 (the next-to-last issue of Open in its current form). Like the design essay, this text examines a number of art projects for their insight in and contribution to a different aesthetic/economic praxis of material things. In response to WikiLeaks, "Open 22 examines transparency as an ideology, the ideal of the free flow of information versus the fight over access to information and the intrinsic connection between publicity and secrecy." In my text, I focus on the structure of the modern work of art as a means of gaining insight into the dialectics of opacity and transparency. Works by Haacke (again), Snyder (again) as well Zachary Formwalt and Agency/Kobe Matthys are discussed in this text—plus Volkswagen's "transparent factory" and Gulf Labor's Guggenheim Boycott.
Both assignments allowed me to continue my work still rather embryonic project on objecthood and thingness, which I hope to intensify once the History in Motion book is out of the way. With the intellectual and artistic suicide of the Netherlands in full swing, it will be a bumpy ride.

Autonomy Symposium

On 7, 8 and 9 October the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven hosted the Autonomy Symposium, which was organized in the context of The Autonomy Project, in which I'm involved. The symposium boasted appearances by Franco Berardi, Thomas Hirschhorn, Peter Osborne, Jacques Rancière and Hito Steyerl, among others. The symposium was something of a joint venture between the Autonomy Project and Nikos Papastergiadis, who had proposed a Rancière symposium to the Van Abbe.

For once, a symposium was worthy of the name, as discussions on the ins and outs of aesthetic and/or political autonomy took on a great sense of urgency in the current state of not just this nation. Plenary lectures alternated with smaller workshops and masterclasses in the museum library and various other spaces, though the technocratic term "masterclass" (beloved by funding bodies) seems a complete misnomer for what actually transpired, as the "audience" increasingly emancipated itself and the "masters" took on the role of ignorant schoolmaster. It will no doubt have various and repercussions af in the participants' various practices. A number of publications are being planned; in the meantime, you can find archived videos at

The symposium sold out in no time and we could easily have filled a larger lecture theatre than the Van Abbe's, but the relatively intimate scale was an important factor in the success. It is disconcerting to hear that the Van Abbe is now being attacked by the social democrats (!) in Eindhoven for not following the populist blockbuster approach that has become the sole norm in the dismal Dutch museum landscape. The Autonomy Symposium, which fostered such a sense of agency in those who took part, is just one example of the Van Abbe's attempt to create forms of publicness and collaboration that go beyond an economistic and deeply contemptuous approach to audiences. If I have been critical of some of the Van Abbe's projects, it is because they deserve to be taken seriouslyand the same cannot be said of most other museums in this neck of the woods. Get ready to defend the Van Abbe!

Postscript, 18 October: In a kind of practical extension of the Autonomy Project, a lot of letters explaining and defending the value of Charles Esche's programme at the Van Abbemuseum were written in the last few days. The direct or indirect addressee of these epistles was PvdA spokesperson Arnold Raaijmakers. Rather than supporting an institution that offers one of the most convincing counter-models to a post-public sphere dominated by the destructive "creative industries" approach, this pallbearer of Holland's long Dutch social-democratic tradition obviously thinks it more strategic to mimic the populist-neoliberal logic of Halbe Zijlstra and Geert Wilders, proposing drastic budget cuts and effectively demanding that the museum become another generic machine for churning out provincial and culturally meaningless polder blockbusters. Some sent their letters and statements to the museum or to Raaijmakers directly; others to the Eindhovens Dagblad, the local rag. A selection of the latter (some in Dutch, many in English) is here. At today's debate in the culture committee of Eindhoven's city council only the PvdA and the SP supported Raaijmaker's slash-and-burn plan, yet there seems to be broad support for a less radical, watered-down version from 2013 on.

Photo by Emilio Moreno.

Open emergency issue, "On the New Politics of culture"

September 22 sees the publication of an "emergency issue" of Open, the "cahier on art and the public domain" published by SKOR. As a result of the destructive cuts in Dutch arts funding, SKOR has announced that it will stop publishing Open after the May 2012 issue. This special Dutch-language edition is a magazine-style supplement to De Groene Amsterdammer. All subscribers of this weekly will receive it, and while it will be absent from in-store copies of De Groene, it will be available for free in a number of bookstores and art spaces. You can also download it as a PDF (but beware: it's in Dutch). 

Together with Jorinde Seijdel and Merijn Oudenampsen, as well as managing editor Liesbeth Melis, I was part of the editorial team of this noodnummer (a term that can also be translated as "emergency number," as in 911). Its title is  "Over de nieuwe politiek van cultuur," or "On the New Politics of Culture," and it contains a number of incisive analyses of the reconstruction not only of the Dutch art world, but of Dutch society as a whole. For me, it is a local and more action-oriented sequel to the international survey that was the "Idiot Wind" issue of e-flux journal.

Among the contributors are Bik Van der Pol, Charles Esche, Pascal Gielen, Arnoud Holleman and Gert Jan Kocken, Wendelien van Oldenborgh, Zihni Özdil, Willem Schinkel and Lidwien van de Ven. My own text, "Autonomie in actie," is connected to my participation in The Autonomy Project, as well as to a chapter of my book-in-progress, History in Motion. On September 23, there will be a public presentation at Plein der Beschaving, Tolhuisweg 2, Amsterdam Noord.

The English Open homepage is here

Image: Willem de Rooij, Chick, 2008.

Texte zur Kunst no. 83: Richard Prince

Texte zur Kunst no. 83 (September 2011) is dedicated to the collectoror more particularly that new breed, the contemporary mega-collector, a global player in an expanding marketgoing hand in hand, in Europe, with shrinking public funding--that has transformed the art world beyond recognition. I contributed a review (pp. 237-241) of Richard Prince's exhibition American Prayer at the Bibliothèque Francois Mitterand—the BnF’s sprawling fortress by the Seine. While this review is not part of the thematic section, it complements, for Prince's show showcased the artist-as-collector of books, manuscripts and cover art. From the review:

It is clear that the expansion of the art market since the 1980s has allowed Prince to collect not only first editions but also manuscripts on a grand scale. Perhaps it is only fitting, given the ascendancy of the curator in the neoliberal culture industry, that the role of artist and collector seem to be become ever more indistinguishable in Prince’s case. However, this erasure of borders makes odd class distinctions come to the fore: class distinctions between the books themselves, some of which are treasured as fetish-objects while others are integrated into the American English pieces; and between Prince and the viewers, some of whom may have similar interests but dissimilar budgets. As an art of conspicuous collecting, Prince’s work is implicated in the wealth redistribution from bottom (and middle) to top that marks the current phrase of capitalism. Few can afford Burroughs letters or Hunter S. Thompson’s manuscripts, and even when one finds a book that one owns oneself, Prince’s copy will invariably be more mint. Such social comparisons befit an exhibition that makes connections and comparisons by the dozens, from the explicit (UK version next to US version, cowboys next to cowboys, Brooke Shields next to Brooke Shields) to the gnomic." 

Smithson's Broken Circle/Spiral Hill Revisited

Welcome to the Indian Summer of Dutch public art. This fall sees a project called Land Art Contemporary, on and around Robert Smithson's 1971 earthwork Broken Circle/Spiral Hill near Emmen, Holland. Land Art Contemporary has been instigated by SKOR, the foundation for art and the public domain that will close down in 2012 due to budget cuts that are anything but apolitical.

From 17 September to 27 November, the CBK in Emmen will show the documentary exhibition Robert Smithson in Emmen - Broken Circle/Spiral Hill Revisited, as well as The Ultraperiferic, a show with work by three contemporary artists who respond to Smithson's practice and Broken Circle/Spiral Hill. Also on view at the CBK is Breaking Ground: Broken Circle/Spiral Hill 1971-2011, a video by Nancy Holt on the basis of Smithson's plans for a Broken Circle/Spiral Hill film, which was never completed. Some footage had been shot during Smithson's lifetime, but funding for several crucial extra shots was not secured; Holt's version combines old with new footage.

The final element is the publication Robert Smithson: Art in Continual Movement, which contains a rich collection of documents pertaining to Broken Circle/Spiral Hill as well as number of newly commissioned texts. Eric de Bruyn and I contributed a dense dialogue on Smithson and the cinema, which manages to take in a great deal of subject matter along its rambling way. Due not entirely to Eric and me, the publication has been delayed somewhat. Robert Smithson: Art in Continual Movement (published by Alauda Publications in Amsterdam) is now scheduled to come out in March 2012.

For more info see

Image (from the book): Lee Ranaldo at the fence. Ranaldo's notes on his searches for/visits to Broken Circle/Spiral Hill are referenced in our dialogue, and they are reprinted in this book.

Praxis 2011

The other day, Frieze asked me to select a favourite book from the last twenty years—the occasion being their twentieth birthday. I picked Hito Steyerl’s Die Farbe der Wahrheit (The Colour of Truth), a book that hasn’t been translated into English (yet). From my short blurb, which will be in the next issue and online soon: “As Steyerl notes in the postscript, the book’s essayistic structure and tone reflect an environment that is markedly different from academia: an international network of residencies and teaching jobs that produce essays that Steyerl herself reads as displaced and condensed expressions of an economy of interruption, of flexibility, and of constant de- and reskilling. As in her recent English-language essays in e-flux journal and elsewhere, Steyerl’s essays make the most of these conditions, reflecting and reflecting on them with lucidity and illuminating Gedankensprünge (which is one of those German words for which no really adequate translation seems to exist).”

Revisiting this book coincided with the drastic culture cutbacks in Holland, and with increasingly dark portents in my other biotope, academia. This conjunction offers much food for thought. Although my circumstances are different from Steyerl’s, my own writings too reflect (for better or worse; probably both) such an economy of short-term gigs. Combining a part-time academic job with freelance activities leads to a life in which the detour is the tour, as projects are shaped by whatever possibilities there are to finance them partially. I too have tried to make the most of these conditions, and attempted to develop a practice that is embedded and tactical. There are times when the strain begins to show. Periods of sloth time are few and far between, and the pressure to perform will trip you up from time to time.

My recent attempt at getting a research project funded having been squashed, it looks I will have to continue working the way I do—which will not become any easier in the Netherlands. Of course, I’m still relatively privileged. What is truly maddening is the situation of the bright graduates of today, whose possibilities in and outside academia have dwindled drastically. They will have to develop new forms that practice that are no, perhaps, fully imaginable as of yet. We know what happened to a certain German philosopher when, in the early 1840s, the Prussian clampdown on the Left Hegelians forced him to abandon his plans for an academic career—and to that other German intellectual whose Habilitation on the German tragic drama was rejected by more than one faculty in 1925. But the current upheavals may well mean that even those that will have a more or less conventional academic biography (in Holland or, the way things are going, more likely elsewhere) will reject a business-as-usual approach to scholarship. Marked by their present experiences, they will hopefully keep reflecting and acting on and against the limits and frontiers of their proper practice—thus making it a true praxis.

Image: scene from the second Autonomy Summer School (July 2011).

Stan Douglas & Gerard Byrne

Summer is taken up not only by work on my book-in-progress, but also by activities triggered by the dismal political situation in Holland. With Jorinde Seijdel and Merijn Oudenampsen, I'm working on an "emergency issue" of the journal Open, whose existence is under threat. This special issue will come out in September and be distributed as a supplement to a Dutch weekly.

Meanwhile, in other news, I have contributed more or less monographic essays to two upcoming publications. I don't write a lot of such texts, and one reason is the insane pace at which many exhibition catalogues and related publications are put together - with the commissioning of essays often being something of an afterthought. In the case of these publications on Stan Douglas and Gerard Byrne, the whole process was fortunately more professional and the time frame more generous. Stan Douglas: Abbott & Cordova, 7 August 1971 is a book that focusses on said photograph by Stan Douglas, and my text "Performing Photography After Film" investigates the interplay of media in Douglas's work and the dialectic of (immaterial) image and its concretization or "performance" in the form of a (material) picture. The book also includes an essay by Serge Guilbaut and a conversation between Stan and Alex Alberro.

Later this month a Gerard Byrne retrospective will open in at the Irish Museum of Modern art, and later it will travel to Lisbon and London. At one point the Kröller-Müller Museum, where part of 1984 and Beyond was shot (see image), seemed to be interested in bringing the show to the Netherlands, but this seems to have fallen through. What a surprise. The Kröller-Müller truly is heaven—if one's definition of heaven is the one given by Talking Heads in their song of that name. The catalogue is titled Images or Shadows. Rather than attempting to represent the work in question in the usual manner,  this publication examines it by deconstructing and rearticulating it in the form of a dense network of texts and images, including many reference images, complete with captions written in a mid-twentieth century magazine style. There is of course the danger of self-congratulatory referentialism, of slyly suggesting "importance by association," but the choices and combinations are sharp enough to generate an interplay, a dialogue, that itself takes on a real critical quality.

As editor Pablo Lafuente puts it in his meta-foreword: "All these works, the texts printed in this book and the images that accompany them present, hopefully, more than a set of intertextual references, quotations and allusions to literary, artistic and intellectual history, but a transtextual range of articulations that show not only how a work can explicitly refer to bother, but how it can also elaborate, expand, modify or transform the grounds where it stands."My essay, "Gerard Byrne's Talking Pictures: Different repetitions in New Sexual Lifestyles and 1984 and Beyond," obviously focusses on these two works and on their intervention in the shifting relation between the printed and the spoken word, as the Gutenberg Galaxy fades and a new orality and performativity gain strength.

A somewhat different version of this essay is included in Witte de With's Cornerstones book, a collection of more or less monographic essays, many of which (though not mine) have been delivered as lectures at Witte de With.

Polderland ist abgebrannt

The demonstration in The Hague against disproportionate, arbitrary and punitive cutbacks was a predictable failure in that it did not sway parliament. Zijlstra's plan was debated in the Second Chamber immediately after the demonstration ended officially. A smaller, unofficial demonstration moved from the Malieveld, where the large gathering had taken place, to the parliament buildings at the Binnenhof - where charming encounters with the riot police ensued. As was to be expected, the debate did not see the government budge on any of the major issues. A few symbolic sweets to the provinces outside the metropolitan Randstad area, but that was about it. All the institutions and media that have been mentioned before remain under acute threat.

That being said, the demonstration was a success in that it gathered seven to ten thousand people and instilled in them (well, perhaps not all of them, but lots of them) the need to engage in long-term activism that cannot simply be a fight for funding. Rather, they have to attack this coalition in its entirety, on points ranging from the crusade against halal meat to a flurry of measures that increase social inequality - and attack it with acts of the imagination that forge new social montages. Consensus-driven polder culture has been dead for some time now, and it is now patently clear that clinging on to the illusion of "business as usual" is no longer an option. (See also Dominiek Ruyters's piece on the Metropolis site, in Dutch.)

Of course, the material basis for a lot of crucial practices is still being undermined. It remains to be seen to which extent intellectual and artistic life will remain viable in the land of Wilders. That they will morph and mutate is certain.

Image by Gert-Jan Kocken (banner by Willum Geerts).

Protest in and between Rotterdam and The Hague

"Finally Less Art" was the massive June 22 front-page headline of a national Dutch newspaper whose "trendy" name, nrc next, says a lot about the state of the media and public debate in Holland. The article raised some valid points about the high number of art schools in the country, but the headline created the pernicious suggestion that the proposed cutbacks are a salutary measure rather than a destructive attack on an entire infrastructure. In general, even the so-called "quality newspapers" have hardly conveyed any sense of urgency over "Butcher" Zijlstra's measures.

In France or Germany, the middle class has still has a bourgeois self-image which, ideologically suspect and self-deceiving as it may be, makes appreciation for art de rigueur. The Dutch press response, such as it is, shows that the Dutch bourgeoisie has abolished itself, leaving behind a middle class defined in purely economic terms, without an ideological Überbau—apart from some perfunctory belief in a Dutch a "culture" that is identified with a whitewashed past. Attempts to mobilize the opera-visiting faction of the VVD (the right-wing liberals) have proven futile. Hence the rather desperate attempts from the cultural field to appeal to the only rationale for anything: the economic rationale. Hey, we're already generating extra funding! We're being business-like! We're part of the creative industries—they were supposed to be important, right? And in any case, if we're all going to be unemployed we'll just cost the state more money. Meanwhile, art institutions have predictably started a lot of individual petitions to save their respective skins. It is tempting to attack them and to accuse them of ditching solidarity for "each man for himself" politics, but the existence of these petitions is not the problem. Rather, the problem is the lack of a general strategy to influence what remains with the public sphere with a discourse that refuses to accept the ideological framework created by Zijlstra.

This also means that the art cutbacks in their present form must be seen as one form of social engineering among others employed by this government. Far from being a "natural" consequence of market imperatives, these post-political policies must be questioned—must be politicized. In the process, the legitimacy and necessity of art must redefined. One can no longer count either on nineteenth-century bourgeois reflexes or on late-twentieth-century narratives (that were historical compromises between social-democratic ideals and neo-liberal dogma) about the support of art as part of the creative industries. Obviously this is easier said than done, especially given the plurality of actors involved, and it is getting late. The decisive day in parliament is coming Monday, and the signs are not good at all - which is why everyone should support and participate in the last-ditch effort to mount a protest that will at the very least be highly visible. The so-called Mars der beschaving will march from Rotterdam on June 26 to The Hague on June 27; see On Monday afternoon a big demonstration will take place on the Malieveld:

Update: Jorinde Seijdel has published an excellent analysis (in Dutch) on the Metropolis site. She stresses the bankruptcy of a certain Dutch art world habitus, which suffered from ideological over-identification with the state apparatus. The Dutch art world has long been riddled with members and voters of D66, the liberal-with-a-social-touch party that engineered the "Purple" coalition of the 1990s, whose "end of ideology" Third Way agenda suggested that a post-political paradise was within reach by combining liberal economic policies with a stripped-down version of the welfare state. The upheavals the Fortuyn era put an end to that pipe-dream, though D66 remained the party of choice for the managerial layer of the cultural field - the last stand of an enlightened bourgeoisie that refused to problematize its own brand of technocratic post-politics.

Bankruptcy has one advantage: structural problems can no longer be denied. As Jorinde suggests, the time has come to form coalitions with groups and individuals in other fields, and between fields; to organize. Issues of visibility have proved to be a fruitful point of departure for forms of aesthetic activism such as Petra Bauer and Annette Krauss's Read the Masks, Tradition Is Not Given, and the collaborations by Matthijs de Bruijne and others with cleaners and domestic workers. At the "Populist Front" symposium that Open organized in March (Open being the journal edited by Jorinde, which is now under threat), I was struck by the unwillingness or inability of many speakers to discuss concrete tactics and strategies. Apparently on March 18, Wilders-style populism could still be regarded as a quaint phenomenon in need of leisurely analysis. How things have changed.

Image: Detail of Matthijs de Bruijne's Thrash Museum, installed at Hoog Catharijne in Utrecht as part of a manifestation of the Cleaners' union, March 19, 2011.

Petition Inflation

Predictably, there´s a wave of online petitions responding to the draconian and destructive cutbacks. The wording of some of them is more than a little dubious, as they seem to go out of their way to mimic the government´s neo-liberal phraseology and ideologyarguing that a little bit of subsidy actually produces great economic gains, and so on. But in advance of and in addition to (hopefully) more fundamental forms of contestation, these petitions are still highly necessary, and there is no excuse for not signing them, if necessary with clenched teeth. Note that the deadline is the 20th of June, so make haste!
The general petition against the culture cutbacks, which is in Dutch and appears to be aimed exclusively at Dutch citizens, is here: 

The same procedure is followed by the petition in support of SKOR and the journal Open:

SKOR also encourages its international supporters to sign this petition. If you don't read Dutch, you can find instructions on how to do this (it's a tad complicated) here:
An international petition in support of the Rijksakademie can be found via, while De Ateliers is here:

Edit: An open letter in English has just been distributed via e-flux. You can sign it here: 

And you can leave a statement in support of the Jan van Eyck here: 

Slash & Burn

The Dutch secretary of state for culture, Halbe Zijlstra, has published his policy plan for coming years. In contrast to the official recommendations given to him by the Raad voor Cultuur (an advisory body), the cutbacks will not be spread out over a number of years, but will take immediate effect in 2013. The budget for visual art will shrink from 53,3 to 31 million. If Dutch politics is marked by a tension between populist rhetoric and neoliberal dreams of market-driven excellence, this paper is dominated squarely by the latter, though it takes the form of a kind of scorched earth politics that will find the approval of Zijlstra’s de facto coalition partner, Geert Wilders’ PVV.

Among the more damaging and destructive decisions is the complete cutting of funding for the following (which in most cases will mean their disappearance):

-The so-called post-academic art schools; these include the De Ateliers, the Rijksakademie and the Jan van Eyck Academie. These institutions have been instrumental in fostering international exchange among young artists and a less anti-intellectual, more discursive culture in the Dutch art world. They offer a number of young artists (and, in the case of the Jan van Eyck, theorists) a stimulating context for residencies during which they can continue to develop their practice. Their disappearance would leave a gaping hole.

-The NIMK (formerly Montevideo), an institution for video and media art. It seems that museums should simply take over the collection. Media art as a field with specific requirements is history—a history that will of course not be written, for the happy people of Polderland under VVD, CDA and PVV have no need for history. A national canon is more than enough.

-All but six “presentation institutions” (as local jargon has it). To be precise, six of these institutions will be allowed into the “Basisinfrastructuur” and get structural funding. Others will be left to fend for themselves (for specific projects, they may be able to get incidental funding from a diminished Mondriaan Fonds—the merged Mondriaan Stichting and Fonds BKVB). On the Metropolis M website, Dominiek Ruyters speculates that these six institutions will be Witte de With, de Appel, BAK, Marres, Noorderlicht, De Vleeshal. Some of these names would seem to be on the list mainly because of a holy cow called “cultuurspreiding” (spread of culture). This cow is worshiped with particular zeal by Zijlstra’s Christian democratic collation partners of the CDA. In short: art for the provinces, where the CDA’s remaining voters reside. Hence (supposedly) Noorderlicht in Groningen, De Vleeshal in Middelburg and Marres in Maastricht. That the first two in particular are far less relevant than a number of institutions based in the main cities is irrelevant. It has also been decided that each of the main cities can only have one institution in the Basisinfrastructuur, so if De Appel is in this means automatically that no other Amsterdam-based institution can be, for that reason alone. What was that thing about excellence again?

-SKOR, the Dutch foundation for public art and its journal Open. The Sekula and Burch film the Forgotten Space, which I review in the new Texte zur Kunst, would not exist without SKOR. While I have been extremely critical of the Dutch tradition of "public art" in which art is often supposed to stand in for the social, in recent years SKOR has started to develop in an interesting way. It is now called "Foundation for Art and Public Domain," indicating the transition from a narrow understanding of “public art” to a more fundamental engagement with the notion of publicness in different fields, virtual as well as physical. Open, published by SKOR, spearheaded this transition under Jorinde Seijdel’s editorship, and it has been a rare local publication (published in a Dutch and an English edition) that can articulate important issues and shape debates in a way that goes beyond the horizon of neo-provincialism.

The Dutch art world is marked by a plethora of frequently complacent institutions and an arcane array of subsidy channels, so some downsizing need not be disastrous. However, almost halving the budget is patently disproportionate and wantonly destructive. What's more, in many ways this plan is an unholy alliance of ideological dogmatism and cowardly compromises. Excellence and the market, yes, but let’s not forget about the people in the province of Zeeland. Let’s glorify international success as the ultimate proof of excellence while abolishing the Rijksakademie and the Jan Van Eyck and turn Holland into a stagnant backwater. Let’s claim to be confident that “the market” can fix things on short notice and stand by the dogma that noble private patrons are just itching to support the arts while showing our contempt for these arts with every gesture and every utterance, suggesting that potential patrons would really be better off buying a yacht.

There is an odd proposal in Zijlstra’s plan to offer support for fifty “top talents,” again using the language of excellence; but if these are the top talents, shouldn’t they of all people be able to fend for themselves, according to Zijlstra’s logic? And where will these talents be allowed to develop if not at the Jan van Eyck, De Ateliers or the Rijksakademie, which will be eligible for these 50 places but devoid of much-needed structural funding? Far from stemming purely from the need for financial cutbacks, these are punitive and vindictive measures that appear to be designed to destroy all that stands in the way the reduction of art to mind-numbing blockbuster events and glossy decoration. Nothing could be more political and ideological than this brand of economism.

Meanwhile, the situation at the universities is hardly less grim. Suddenly notions such as "the knowledge economy" and "creative industries," which have been crucial shibboleths of the Dutch version of social-democratically inflected neo-liberal politicy-making, don’t seem to be worth a penny. Or rather, they show their true face: they always were at the service of imposing a relentlessly economistic logic on education and art, resulting in a re-establishment of strong class divisions. Either you can afford education and art or art education, or you can’t. Bright young art and humanities students today face becoming a lost generation. That’s the culture of excellence for you: social engineering under the guise of letting “the market” take its "natural" course. 

Domeniek Ruyters's Metropolis M article, with some interesting responses, is here (in Dutch). A joint public response to Zijlstra's plans by various institutions and organizations is here (again in Dutch).

An online petition is at

Images from Zachary Formwalt's videos At Face Value (2008) and In Place of Capital (2009). 

Texte zur Kunst no. 82: The Forgotten Space

Texte zur Kunst no. 82 (June 2011), an issue on artistic research guest-edited by Tom Holert, contains my review of Allan Sekula and Noël Burch's film The Forgotten Space, which was finally completed last year after an extended stay in development hell. The Forgotten Space is a filmic continuation of Sekula's Fish Story project, and investigates the impact of container shipping in Europe, the US and Asia, charting the "forgotten space" of the ocean and ports. My text relates The Forgotten Space, as a Marxian essay film, to recent film projects by Alexander Kluge (Nachrichten aus der ideologischen Antike) and Hito Steyerl (In Free Fall).

In related news, New Left Review no. 69 (May/June 2011) contains some of Sekula and Burch's notes for the film, and issue no. 21 of Open, which is dedicated to the topic of  (Im)mobility, features an essay by Brian Holmes on containerization which is accompanied by stills from The Forgotten Space.

The film's official web site is here:

Abstract Possible

The second installment of Maria Lind's group exhibition Abstract Possible can currently be seen at the Museo Tamayo in Mexico City; later this year the third version will be on view in Zurich. This series of exhibitions is the most visible manifestation of a research project examines three forms of abstraction: formal abstraction, economical abstraction - and withdrawal, the latter being "intimately connected with the etymology of the latin term abstrahere". Maria has edited a reader in Spanish and English, the third in the museum's Microhistorias y Macromundas series.

It is an excellent selection of texts by authors including Ina Blom, Liam Gillick, Peter Halley, Brian Holmes and Gerald Raunig. Meyer Schapiro's classic text "Nature of Abstract Art" is also part of the mix, as is my less classic essay "Living With Abstraction" (the version from Texte zur Kunst, not the longer book chapter from Idols of the Market). The book's design has negative effect on the readability of the English texts, which have been relegated to rather narrow colums, but no doubt the book is mostly aimed at Spanish-speaking (and, more to the point, Spanish-reading) audiences.

McGuggenheim Boycott

Some time ago, 130 artists called for a boycott of the Guggenheim if the abuse of migrant workers on the construction site of McGuggenheim's new franchise on Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi would continue.

While the threat of a boycott obviously can only hope to be effective if those who do the threatening have a relatively high profile and hence plenty of symbolic capital in the US cultural field and/or that of the Middle East, there is an online petition at that anyone can sign if they want to register their support and contribute to showing how widespread the rejection of these practices is.

This initiative is an interesting case in a number of respects. It counters one form of globalization with another; it opposes to art as circulation of image-commodities an investigation into the conditions of arts seemingly magical apparition in yet another place or nonplace.I hope to write more about this boycott at some point in the future. For the time being, more information is here:

And (in German) here:

The Marx Lounge

Idols of the Market is among the books in the Dutch version of Alfredo Jaar's The Marx Lounge, which is on view at Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam until 5 June. The project involves a great number of lectures, seminars and other events - including a screening of Allan Sekula and Noël Burch's film The Forgotten Space on the 19th of May, which I will introduce. [Edit: the screening has been moved to May 24, and co-director Noël Burch will participate.]

An Image from Wendelien van Oldenborgh

In lieu of publication news: a production still of Wendelien van Oldenborgh's current work-in-progress, which has been commissioned for the Danish Pavilion at the upcoming Venice Biennale.

Sloth Time

Things will be a bit slow during the first half of 2011, though some publications (most of them having been underway for some time) will see the light of day. Aside from teaching one class this semester, I'm trying to keep my time free for my next book, History in Motion. Like the sloth, that unfairly named and unjustly maligned animal, the book writer needs to exist in a different temporality, a duration without obligations and deadlines, or at least as few as possible - making slow progress that often seems futile to foreign eyes.

History in Motion deals with the impact of time-based media (film, video and television, live performance) on the representation and the production of history. The book will contain the following chapters, most of them radically reworked and expanded articles: 1. "Transforming Time," 2. "Suspense and Shock," 3. "Playtimes," 4. "Performance After Television," 5. "Art After the Event," 6. "Unnatural History."

Meanwhile, I'm engaged in invisible work on the Autonomy Project, which moves on apace with a second summer school and a large public conference in the fall, from 7 till 9 October at the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven. For more information on the Autonomy Project, see For the fall semester, Eric de Bruyn and I are also developing a joint academic seminar (both at VU University and at the University of Leiden) on film screenings (or film séances,to use our terminology) from the 1920s to the present, which will hopefully be accompanied by a series of public events, and possibly a small exhibition. The project reflects my growing interest in forging connections between different types of intellectual and educational activity: teaching, writing, curating, and the research they all involve.

Additionally, and connected to this "séance" project, I'll be participating in the "Performance in Residence" programme of the curatorial platform If I Can't Dance, I Don't Want to Be Part of Your Revolution. For this programme, a researcher investigates one historical performance during a period of six months, and presents the piece and the research in public. My turn will start in September. Hopefully I'll be able to emerge from sloth time by that point.

Image: Barbara Visser with Veronica Ditting, Slothism (poster), 2008.

How We Spent Our Christmas Vacations

Issue no. 22 of e-flux journal is now online (January/February 2011). Titled "Idiot Wind," this special issue was guest-edited by Paul Chan and and myself. It examines various right-wing populisms in Europe and in the US from the perspectives of contemporary artists, critics and theorists. It contains texts by, among others, Claire Bishop, Gregg Bordowitz, Renée Green, Tom Holert, Brian Holmes, Wendelien van Oldenborgh and Hito Steyerl, as well as images provided by a numerous contemporary artists. My own article in this issue, "A Heteronomous Hobby", is a report from the Netherlands.

From the introduction to this issue, written by Paul and myself:

"Populism lays claim to channeling the vox populi; this is its strength against established political orders mired in compromise and careerism. Tea Party favorite Sarah Palin is famous for her public gaffes like “refudiate,” but they only increase her political capital as someone who is “of the people.” And yet, many populists hardly affect a folksy demeanor; the late Dutch populist Pim Fortuyn was a dandy who lived in a villa called “Palazzo di Pietro,” and Thilo Sarrazin in Germany is an establishment figure whose core constituency—as evinced by the audiences at his public appearances—consists of an angry and beleaguered bourgeoisie. However one dresses it, populism is class warfare from above—waged by upper and middle classes, along with a beleaguered white working class, against minorities, immigrants, the poor, and the unemployed. It is telling that populist rage focuses on political and cultural elites, while remaining suspiciously silent on economic and financial elites. In a stagnant economy, the redistribution of wealth from bottom to top comes to function as an alternative to the logic of expansion. Promising to safeguard pensions and tax deductions while bashing welfare and various threats to the nation, populists deflect attention from—or actively collude with—this ongoing redistribution of wealth.

"In addition to class warfare, most populisms are based on a return to national and ideological origins, leading to characteristic uses and abuses of culture, and of art in particular. If the recent battle around the removal of David Wojnarowicz’s video from an exhibition in Washington, DC is any indication, art’s main role is that of a convenient target for reactionaries looking to energize their political base. Art is defined as alien to “authentic” culture, since it does not explicitly express and affirm the values that embody the country. In some European countries, art is seen as a heavily subsidized field that steals tax Euros away from “the hard-working citizen,” similar to unemployment benefits and other “left-wing hobbies.” On the other hand, art is implicated in a global speculative economy in which it is one more investment option, and in this respect, it is again vulnerable, coming to function as the concrete manifestation of abstract financial forces that weaken national economic sovereignty; an uncommon luxury lacking in both culture and rootedness."

Image: Lidwien van de Ven, Berlin, 02/10/2010 (Die Freiheit)