Since the summer of 1995 I've been involved in a mail-art project, which means I send off letters or messages to 25 subscribers, leading art critics and journalists, in which I analyze the current art process and interpret some of the most radical gestures in radical Moscow art. My method focuses attention not on the scheduled presentations of radical artists but on the details of their experiences in everyday life and the inner designs that influence their choice when adopting a particular stance (or the rejection of a choice). The project's main objective is to establish understanding among art societies and Moscow „extreme" artists, and to shed light upon and reveal the inner motivations of current radicalism. I understand this long-term project as being the second issue of my magazine Radek, which, due to a lack of funds, now comes out in this untraditional manner.
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"Artists, owners of galleries, critics, and audiences come together there where 'something is happening.' However, the true reality of that 'something happening' is the reality of money: when esthetic criteria are missing it seems to be possible and useful to set the value of artworks according to the profit they generate. A similar reality reconciles everything, including the most contradictory tendencies in art, under the condition that such tendencies and needs have purchasing power." Jean-Francois Lyotard, The Postmodern Explained
General opinion has it that the current artistic situation now finds itself in a state of crisis. This crisis becomes deeper every year as the infrastructure built in the 1980s collapses. The art community is experiencing a lack of new ideas. Thousands of people employed in the art system change their profile. There is a feeling that visual art which has for years represented an experiment and innovation is now passing its position onto other forms of activity. Indeed, the general cultural background has changed in such a radical way that the basic functions of contemporary art can no longer be required. We cannot overlook the obvious fact that contemporary visual art has over the years accumulated colossal strategic experience in interaction with society. No other form of activity disposes with such experience. It is the modern artist who knows how the world is structured and what makes modern society tick. The modern artist is a communication specialist. While the artist expends a minimum of resources, the maximum effect is achieved through the distribution of information. Modern art is a realm for processing the most shocking, the most paradoxical and the most fantastic methods and forms of presentation. Presentation itself is never neutral; inherent in it is a certain way of perceiving reality and the contemporary artist is concerned precisely with the formation of the methods in which consumers perceive. This process has continued uninterrupted throughout the 20th century and there is no evidence that other forms of human activity are ready to take on this role. We could say that it is not modern art that finds itself in a crisis but that the model of its functioning, a model created in the 1980s, has become obsolete. This model incorporates several stereotypes:
1.A claim to innovation that created the market nature of products of art on the art market.
2.Betting on the market system of production and the distribution of art as the main key to determining the promise and universality of art and the resulting orientation on creating high quality art products.
3.The mandatory achievement of museum status as a guarantee of historic justification.
All these points share one basic determination: the conviction that art has some value beyond the limits of the communicative event. If postmodernists accused classical modernism of having disproportionately inflated ambitions not based on a real state of affairs (the criticism of the position of a genius making art from nothing; the criticism of the claim to independence, etc.) the most recent art could then present similar objections to the postmodern culture of contemporary art and accuse it of having inflated ambitions to be preserved and cost money. In fact, art's only value is in the event, within the limits of its own procedural act. Outside the limits of the event, it is necessary to view any artifact (work of art) only as a documentation of this event, which itself lies outside relationships with previous artifacts and works of art. Art with this kind of value orientation could be called actual art, its main task being the ability of maximum communication.
Actual art-it is not goods, it is not innovation and it is not a universal value worthy of being preserved. What is it then?
In order to become actual, art must be extremely concrete and functional. It must find ways into the real world-the world of politics, showbusiness, music, analytical practices, medicine, and so on. By this I don't mean that art should submit to all those forms of activities. I'm talking about their mutual transgression. When art invades politics, we are saving art from art and politics from politics. When art blends with any analytical practice, we gain a new form of activity. Out of the number of contemporary art genres, the most actual are the ones that are most charged with function and communication. They include, above all: performances, poster art, the strategic planning of representational activity, various kinds of design, club and institutional practice. An artist's chief goal is to synthesize various art genres into a uniform system and inject this entity into another sphere of human activity. I don't necessarily understand the functional qualities of representing the positive "usefulness" of art as the Russian constructivists did. I understand it to be a search for a new mode of existence in art. The injection of art into real life may be destructive; it may cause confusion and chaos. Oliviero Toscani demonstrates one of the clear examples of such an approach. His advertisements for United Colors of Benetton blend artistic practice and advertising aimed at mass viewers. Toscani does not define himself through the system of contemporary art; he is independent of museums, galleries and curators. He shows us a brand new mode of artistic function. Visual images made by Toscani literally penetrate all United Colors of Benetton stores but they have an immediate relationship to art and at the same time they fulfill a certain function (in this case, advertising). We could also look at this activity in a broader context and say that Benetton, as a company, became Toscani's art project. Toscani's efforts are noteworthy for placing art in relation to other forms of activities, an attempt at constructing new relationships with society.
In the same way, Jeff Koons represents a complement to one of the most important phases in modern art. Using the esthetics of kitsch and camp, Koons has achieved a fairytale conclusion to the tendency in art to strive to create a quality artifact intended for long-term preservation. In Koons's work, art says farewell to the Museum as one form of transcendence. Cindy Sherman, in my opinion, represented another key figure of the 1980s. Using the medium of photography, she achieved the effects of classical paintings in museums. However, the works of those two artists implicitly contained Museum ideology. In contrast, an actual artist is through with such implicity. Success is measured by participation in social processes, the ability to synthesize creative environments.
If I am to try and formalize the work of an actual artist using "genres," I would have to name the situation to be the most elementary form of such an activity. Formulated first by the Situationist International, the term means constructing a certain social event. The situation is not a performance, nor is it a happening. Instead, it is a hooligan stunt, a provocation that has an impact on the sphere of political legitimacy (in the broad sense of the word) rather than the esthetic sphere of the art system. The "E. T. I." movement and Alexander Brener worked with this "genre" in Moscow. One of Brener's last situations, which became quite known, was at the international biennial Manifesta in Rotterdam. During the main sponsor's speech, Brener stepped up to the microphone and commented on the speech by saying, "that's a lie/this is true." By doing this, he pointed out the absurdity of such "accusations" and at the same time, precisely because of this absurdity, their convenience. It seems to me that because the gesture was unplanned and surprising, it represented one of its most important components. This factor allows one to define the gesture as creating a situation-it was not a performance. The gallerist Marat Guelman works in a similar, yet a bit more complicated "genre." His project, using a variation of new Russian money, was definitely a situation and not just another exhibition.
An actual artist is also characterized by project thinking. The author does not consider the art to be a sequence of independent art works but one single project incorporating various works (his or her own and other artists'), documentation, and so on. Oleg Kulik & the "Animal Party," Dmitry Gutov & "M. Livshits Institute" represent a clear example of such an approach. Oliviero Toscani, I believe, also uses project thinking. Project thinking is an attempt to think of art as a process, as opposed to a body of art objects.
And finally, we can say that creating an environment is the most complex "genre" of actual art. It is a certain creative space made up of the activities of several people, blending in a disjunctive synthesis. Quentin Tarantino is the most famous artist representing this genre. The task of such an artist is to create art in which it is not important for the participants through what form they channel their streams of desire and creativity: literature, performance, objects, posters, organizing exhibitions, films, theoretical essays, reviews, and so on.
The task of an actual artist lies in initiating the processes of positive disjunctive synthesis while oscillating among various forms of activity, taking part in completely different events: musical, political, theatrical, analytical, publishing, and curatorial events. The space of the contemporary artist is ever expanding and it now comprises practically all kinds of humane activity; from the author of visual images, the artist is becoming the creator of environments and situations. Similar activity was done in the past; let's mention here André Breton, David Burlyuk, and others. This type of creative activity, however, has never been formalized as creative.
On the other hand, the process of constructing situations and creative environments is connected to political activity as it touches upon the economic and legal foundations of society and the state. It is impossible for the process not to come into conflict with the law and order in late capitalist society whose essence has not changed since Karl Marx's Capital.
contrast to the three above-mentioned points of the 1980s we could place the
1. Communicaton instead of innovation.
2. Synthesis of social processes, environments and situations instead of market products.
3. Maximum social function as a guarantee of historic and social justification.
it has let go of its museum ambitions, art relies on situation, on establishing
communication here and now. Actual art stives to become a permanent event in
the arts, not only a memory of this event preserved in a museum.
Translated by Vladan Sir, first published in Umelec Magazine, Czech Republic, 2000.
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