Stefa Govaart

It's Hard to be Art: On the Advantages and Disadvantages of Art for Life

In 2019, it might be easier to agree about the problems we have with art than to band together under a common cause or passion. Adorno’s oft-cited predicament from 1970 that “nothing concerning art is self-evident anymore, not its inner life, not its relation to the world, not even its right to exist,” echoes in the diagnosis of art’s multifaceted crisis today, at least as it concerns the global outreach of art’s Western legacy and market economy. Reeling from budget cuts, closures of production sites and venues where nothing will be seen, next door a blockbuster attraction inflates popular participation and we ask: What should we do when society loses interest for experiments, speculative thought, useless imaginaries and problems, which art can pose? What is art capable of – in distinction from political activism, social practice or philosophy - now? If the artist and the political activist-entrepreneur use the same speech to different ends, what is the work of the artist and why should we care? What is the work of the researcher and activist that the artist should care about?

For SpringMeeting 2019, we have invited researchers and activists, living and dead artists, whose fields of engagement include poetry, writing and orature, visual arts, performance and dance, research architecture, decolonial and queer activism. We situate their work on the spectrum between two opposite views regarding the question of advantages or disadvantages of art for our concerns today.

On the one hand, making an artwork is about creating an object, something literally thrown into or put against this world, which enjoys a relative autonomy from all other purposes. It isn’t there to mend social relations, inform and resolve political conflicts, psychologically reassure troubled souls, or morally absolve people from guilt. Yet, despite its indifference to social and political concerns, the work of art can be an object from which we can imagine another world in aesthetic terms. A test for every work of art: what would society be like after this choreography, film, exhibition (and so on)?

On the other hand, the site of art can be hijacked and its competences deployed as instruments to show, prove and speak truth to those places that ignore or prohibit it. Some contemporary art proclaims to use the space of art, however compromised it might be, to do work which can no longer be accommodated by classical sites of power. In such cases, art’s means turn out to be useful beyond its autonomy and aesthetic indifference.  

Is art something we can think and act upon together? This presupposes we exert a power on the thing discussed in order to be constructive or destructive. Which registers of ‘we’ can we imagine? How to use our power and not to fear responsibility? How to not reproduce the modes of domination which to a large extent determine what is recognised as valid subjectivity, art or habitus? How to (re)produce and distribute non-dominative subjectivity without abolishing the position of the subject?

We would like to spend eight and a half days studying and working with the invited artists, but also with a few invited artworks (minus their authors), while experimenting with modes of collaboration with all participants.