Giving Form to the Impatience of Liberty


The politicization of the arts today—in the context of a seemingly omnipotent and omnipresent neoliberalism—is exposed to a series of charges and suspicions that are sometimes more and sometimes less justified. Alongside the opinion that the influence exerted on the world by art is infinitesimally low anyhow, this includes the charge that art does little more than compensate, aestheticize, downplay, or banalize social faults and injustices. Or that art, so long as it remains rooted in its traditional context, is nothing more than political décor. Conversely, art is accused of letting itself be instrumentalized for ideological purposes, and ultimately of not being capable of doing anything but fully embodying the “new specter of capitalism”: that is, not only to embrace total commodification, but also to become complicit with the effectual powers of neoliberalism.

The two great antagonistic politics of aesthetics, as proclaimed by modernism, long since can no longer be joined unabatedly in their absolute nature. The belief in an aesthetic revolution that could change society and lead to a new life—one with which art might merge—was presumably discredited by the totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century or dissipated through the aestheticization of commodities and everyday life. And likewise the l’art pour l’art, whose resistance was meant to be reflected by liberation from any and all lifeworld contexts, proved to be untenable.

A strong measure of diffidence regarding art’s potential for changing the world, or for even just being critical, has meanwhile become established in contemporary art. Here a certain ironic distance and detachment vis-à-vis any kind of aesthetic and political utopia can be noted. The parody as critique turned into a parody of critique. The aim of the exhibition is to counteract the lethargy and cynicism that accompany this stance.

But what form might this counteraction take? How can a resistive art evolve if it is not insignificantly entangled in those economic structures against which it aims to criticize and fight? And what about the pitfalls harbored by the ties between art and politics? What other knowledge and which other communities can art yield? Which tools and weapons does it have to offer? Or must it depart the field of art entirely in order to become political?

For the French philosopher Jacques Rancière, art and politics likewise do not represent separate realities that first need to be interrelated. Instead, he considers them to be two entwined forms of orders of the sensible—the visible, the audible and the sayable—and the struggle for the “share of the shareless”: meaning those who are excluded from the spaces and arithmetic of the sensible that don’t take place there. Political and aesthetic agency lies in “reconfiguring the distribution of the sensible which defines the common of a community, to introduce into it new subjects and objects, to render visible what had not been, and to make heard as speakers those who had been perceived as mere noisy animals” (Rancière 2009, 25). In the eyes of Rancière, it is not the suspension of the two great politics of aesthetics that is decisive, but actually the inextricable tension and the confusion among the two—among the “politics of the becoming life of art” and the “politics of the resistant form,” among political and apolitical, self-determined and other-directed art.

Against the background of these reflections the exhibition Giving Form to the Impatience of Liberty fathoms the potentialities opened up by the boundary shifts between the liberty of art and its involvedness in sociopolitical fields of conflict.

Jacques Rancière, The Emancipated Spectator (London, 2009). Originally published as Le Spectateur émancipé (Paris, 2008)

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