Reading about the research threads on a new blog, The Necessary, has prompted us to gather some thoughts on the notion of critically negotiating various activities "as art" rather than constructing some other framework for comprehending them.
In The Mirror of Production, Jean Baudrillard writes about the colonial intellectual impulses of the West. Concerning the criticality of Western culture he notes:
"...it [Western culture] reflected on itself in the universal, and thus all other cultures were entered in its museum as vestiges of its own image. It 'estheticized' them, reinterpreted them on its own model, and thus precluded the radical interrogation these 'different' cultures implied for it."
"Without bias, they have attempted to 'relocate' these 'works' [so called primitive art] into their magical and religious 'context.' In the kindest yet most radical way the world has ever seen, they have placed these objects in a museum by implanting them in an esthetic category. But these objects are not art at all [Emphasis ours]. And, precisely their non-esthetic character could at last have been the starting point for a radical perspective on (and not an internal critical perspective leading to a broadened reproduction of) Western culture. "
This critique can easily be applied to the critical appropriation of any number of new "art" practices, most notably relational art. We see quite clearly how a variety of activities and modes of research that began to stray from the flock were quickly recuperated under the banner of "relational aesthetics." This needn't apply necessarily to the stars of the movement (Liam Gillick and Rirkrit Tiravanija are obvious) as their work was never really intended to offer a radical perspective on anything, but Oda Projesi (who are not nearly as gallery friendly, and don't engage in the same sort of faux art institutional critique) has certainly become a bit of a flashpoint. The debate surrounding them provides an interesting model as Claire Bishop begs to read their activities "as art," making sure they are safely inscribed within the known parameters of self-criticality that the museum Baudrillard describes above tolerates. Maria Lind, however, prefers to read their actions without preemptively applying critical classifications.
Allan Kaprow in his essay "The Real Experiment"describes the "as art" impulse as well:
"'Look,' I remember a critic exclaiming once as we walked by a vacant lot full of scattered rags and boxes, 'how that extends the gestural painting of the fifties!' He wanted to cart the whole mess to a museum. But life bracketed by the physical and cultural [emphasis ours] frames of art quickly becomes trivialized life at the service of high art's presumed greater value. The critic wanted everyone to see the garbage as he did through art history, not as urban dirt, not as a playground for kids and home for rats, not as rags blowing about in the wind, boxes rotting in the rain."
We see here the application of the art historical gaze, the "as art" gaze. And not unlike the "male gaze" (although obviously the parallel is in how it operates, not in its social effects) it becomes a way of subjugating the world to a particular critical regime and seeks to infiltrate the self-perception of others, so that they see themselves and their activities through the "as art" lens.
We return in closing to Baudrillard's critique of Marxist anthropology which can be seen to possess the same impulse to universalize its history, its criticality:
"...because the system of political economy tends to project itself retrospectively as a model and subordinates everything else to the genealogy of this model...Thus in the strict sense, it analyzes only the conditions of the model's reproduction, of its production as such: of the separation that establishes it...By presupposing the axiom of the economic, the Marxist critique perhaps deciphers the functioning of the system of political economy; but at the same time it reproduces it as a model."
It is evident that the "as art" perspective functions to accept as a given the art model, thus binding itself to merely reproducing the logic of art production rather than challenging it in any substantive way. It presupposes the axiom of the artistic, and shields itself from the messiness of rotting boxes, leaving us in the "internal critical" hall of mirrors, trapped in the "as art" aesthetic fun-house.