‘Then and Now: the changing context of debate?’ – notes on Contemporary Art and Archives [2011]

Documenting some old talks on the blog – this one seems still very relevant now.

Notes for a talk on archives, cultural institutions, art and ‘new internationalism’ for an Iniva event that I spoke at on 9 Nov 2011 (Organised by Roshini Kempadoo)

[Roshini Kempadoo discusses key debates around identity politics as seen through Iniva’s Archives with Karen Alexander, Nina Mangalanayagam and Ashwani Sharma]

See http://www.iniva.org/events/2011/then_and_now

I would like to begin my contribution to this debate by playing a short extract from a recording of a dialogue between the American academic Henry Louis Gates and the British art theorist Sarat Mahraj in 1997(?) that Roshini [Kempadoo] found as she was rummaging in the Iniva archives. One of the contexts for this transatlantic conversation was an examination of the idea of ‘New Internationalism and Black British art’. It provides an historical snapshot of the critical concerns of the time.

<Play extract Gates/Mahraj video> 5mins max>[In Stuart Hall Library at Rivington Place]

It is interesting how the notion of ‘new internationalism’ looks so different from either side of the Atlantic.  This in itself signals how even in a globalised context, the nation, and the local, remains a key dimension in the politics of cultural institutions, in which artists, curators and organisations have to operate within. Something I will return to.

As Geeta Kapur commented in the edited collected Global Visions in 1994 the category of ‘new internationalism’ is a contested idea and needs to remain so. At that time there was little agreement of what it might mean. Its positing was a way of attempting to think beyond an eurocentric international modernism. One where differences in art and cultural practices across the world are recognised as part of art history.

To speak of, to return to a ‘new internationalism’ now raises immediately the question of why now, for what purpose? Does the re-conjoining of the new and international offer something more than a western dominated globalization that was hoped for?

Here in a very highly condensed way, I want to argue that in this contemporary global conjuncture there is an urgent need to formulate a set of conceptual frameworks and practices that interrogate and contest the stark realities of a world, more and more in crisis; in which there are great risks that progressive forms of art practices are liable to be marginalised for art as fetishised commodities within the turmoil of the present unraveling.

The present moment is one of deep structural crisis with long-term implications – in the neoliberal economy, geo-politics but also for the arts, media and culture. The wars of the 21st century, the Arab uprisings, the transnational protests and the UK riots, as well as the crisis in capitalism, an imploding political establishment, and a corrupt media, point to a situation in which we are confounded by wholesale instability and uncertainty of the future that crosses different aspects of the social order. The financial crisis has become the point of the numerous reforms in the governmentality of public art, cultural and academic institutions.

As Gramsci famously argued ‘The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear’. Its these morbid symptoms and the possibility again of another internationalism that I want say something about.

In this moment, what we have taken as granted in terms of progressive social change for instance – developments in anti-racism and everyday multiculture in the UK are now openly being contested and leading to regression. The changes in the politics of race and culture that have been struggled over in the last 25-30 years can and are being rolled back. There are clear signs of this, for instance in the reduction of public funds for arts and culture, disproportionately for Black and Asian art projects that were established and developed in the 80s and 90s. This with the context of the apparent ‘death/or killing’ of multiculturalism, fortress Europe and state Islamophoia and anti-migrant discourses, we can very quickly build up a picture of a new hegemonic operation in which a certain image of Britain and Britishness is being constructed, where the rhetoric of equal opportunities and cultural diversity is at best a PR operation for a nation turning or returning to its racialised hierarchies in globalised world.

What is particularly dangerous now is how two somewhat different discourses of race and nation are being articulated:

  1. That we have entered a ‘post-racial’ period, in the sense the problems of racism are largely seen to be over (and only remains a problem of extremism ) – this is an old story but reappears now to mark out the difference of the present to the past. In that the (liberal) presumption is that we are all multiculture and cosmopolitan – even look at how an elite commercial sport like Premier League football will not stand for racist speech – the rhetoric is that racism and cultural marginalisation is a thing of the past. Colonialism as an imperial project for some has been overcome, and now even a celebrated period of history. A ‘post-ideological’ context where the past is regulated to the dustbins of history, which only returns as melancholia.
  2. The second is that in this present crisis moment issues of racism, also sexism etc are not priorities the rhetoric goes, we need to focus on the more important issues of the economy and nation unity. In moments of economic crisis, as history teaches us, issues of racism and nationalism return with a vengeance, with the scapegoating of outsiders, of difference, where critical dissident voices and ideas are not tolerated. A new post-political authoritarianism is emerging which is restoring the values of an imperial Britain equipped for a neoliberal world.

‘Post-race’ and new nationalism in a globalised moment of economic crisis are a potent mix, which mean that the limited gains made in UK in particular are under serious threat.

In the arts the progress that is evidenced by Iniva and initiatives such as Karen [Alexander] is leading for example [http://inspire.rca.ac.uk/inspire-cca/inspire-pathway/] is a testament to what was struggled over and won historically. What was key and what is important to recognise that they emerged through political and social conflicts of the 80s and 90s over representation – political and aesthetic. They were a result of self-organisation and political and cultural autonomy demanding access to institutions of the state and power, but crucially also creating autonomous spaces for experimentation and critique. To do things differently, and change the rules of the game.

The present moment is different – in rather simple terms, some of us have entered the institutions and gallery spaces and have tenuous footholds in decision making albeit in the main remaining at low and contingent levels. We have seen greater diversity in some art sectors, resulting from the demands of artists and organisations of colour, and also with the changing dynamics of globalization and flows of culture.

But this entry into the mainstream has also led to the loss of self-organisation and political autonomy. What is different about positing the idea of a new internationalism now is that while at the earlier moment there were clear political agendas and structures of organisation, these are largely not present now. Instead what we have is the market and dominance of the market to determine what is possible or not, even in the public sector. As Paul Gilroy recently commented in relation to the riots,

‘When you look at the layer of political leaders from our communities, the generation who came of age during that time thirty years ago, many of those people have accepted the logic of privatization. They’ve privatized that movement, and they’ve sold their services as consultants and managers and diversity trainers.’ (Gilroy 2011)

In this arena of course some artists of colour have done well and become symbolic of the new globalised shift, but they hide a more structural imbalance and importantly the lack of infrastructure and change that is open to anything like a new internationalism. The transnational art world is business as usual – the difference being now that cosmopolitan spaces like London are better integrated into the circuits of transnational cultural production and capitalism; where particular noted artists from around the world can exhibit work for metropolitan audiences; in which issues of identity and culture can be dis-embedded from their immediate local and national contexts and presented as offering a ‘universalism’ where the west remains the invisible centre. ‘Look aren’t these folks like us’.

The internationalism of the 90s has lead to the globalised art market of contemporary neoliberalism. A market that blurs the distinctions of corporate celebration of other cultures, with critical insights. For example, issues of identity is a site of artistic and conceptual contestation, a symptom of other struggles, as well as the normative syntax of neoliberalism globalization – capitalism can sell this with little problem. As Hardt and Negri have said of the contemporary global Empire as “…a decentred and deterritorializing apparatus of rule that progressively incorporates the entire global realm within its open, expanding frontiers. Empire manages hybrid identities, flexible hierarchies, and plural exchanges through modulating networks of command.”

What gets lost in this globalization is the local and national contexts and the situations in which artists from the south and the north are operating in. This is the case here where a way of bypassing the issues of racism and nationalism in the UK is to privilege the work of artists from outside the west, with little connection to the UK, over say Black or Asian British artists rooted in the country for decades.

This is not a picture of a new internationalism but a neoliberal agenda of the market elevating certain works for western and global consumption.

What is needed now I would argue is progressive institutions, and progressive understanding of what are institutions, and what they can do –  organising and planning are key here, to provide much needed infrastructural opposition to these tendencies, to create space for critical and aesthetic opposition, to challenge and create new frontiers in the war against the new emergent globalized nationalisms. As Fanon said

‘”It is national liberation which leads the nation to play its part on the stage of history. It is at the heart of national consciousness that international consciousness lives and grows. And this two-fold emerging is ultimately the source of all culture.”

It is maybe to a reworked Fanon, with his ‘new international humanism’ that we need to return to? The situation in the west in terms of race and class could be best understood as a form a ‘settler colonialism’. A model of decolonialisation as the deconstruction of the nation – that is not a nationalism – is perhaps needed. A new internationalism can only be possible if the violence of racism in the west is challenged.

As the extract demonstrated in this moment as ‘business as usual’ what we need is more opposition, a more aggressive fight for resources and demands but also space and time to think, to critique to posit different ideas, especially when those spaces are closing down. An alternative globalization, a new internationalism that is open to multiple dialogues and connections on different fronts without collapsing all into one universal (western) project, where ‘whiteness’ remains at the centre. Lines in the sand need to be drawn where art is committed to change in and across, invisible to, escaping the nation.

The politics of the archive, the notion of an international archive, a postcolonial archive, decolonial archive is one such site of conflict – not in terms of a nostalgia that it was good then and lets do it again, but that this is now and that those very struggles in art and politics that we fought over need to return. We need to ask the right questions again. To contest the collective memory of the nation as we enter a phase of the neo-colonial empire. Institutions are part of mediating process between art, curators, policy and the market. They are part of the politics of institutionalization, with all what is at stake in these processes.

This requires us also to question what institutions, such as an archive are, can do, and should do in the context of struggle for political freedom. It is maybe that the fate of some institutions will be like the furniture shop in Croydon – burnt to the ground – symbolically if not materially – and we need to do is rebuild again different forms of institutions, and organisations with new assemblages of artists, curators and critics that renew the relationship between art, culture and the political in the crisis of the nation.

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Montenegro

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Perhaps its time to turn, to return to write some sort of diary, journal, an ongoing memoir, or maybe some notes towards a memoir, as well as writing to think. Its never been the right time, but with time moving on, and the future always uncertain, these postings could be the only writings that try and make some sense, or touch on what matters, on culture, history, thought, life and death… Given writing remains a struggle, a site of  anxiety, trauma and failure, these entries are maybe what are necessary, essential, urgent given the mediocrity of what passes for academia these days. Against the unbearable suffocation of the university, I need a mode of address, a form that is not defined by what is unquestionably the slow institutional death of thought.

It doesn’t matter if nobody reads these words, or if they are of little merit – its more of an act of doing, thinking, remembering, experiments in the art of textual inscription, and the desire to leave a trace on a planet that appears to be hurtling from one crisis to another.

Its also about facing my demons… the struggle with oneself, haunted by the imaginary of a coherent self, and fantasies of writing as redemption.

There is no start or beginning, just now. Sitting overlooking the magnificent Bay of Kotor in Montenegro is a fitting scene to ruminate on the meanings of subjectivity, history and culture. Being in Europe, in the west, and from somewhere else is what defines, over-determines, my everyday. Being dubbed a migrant is totally inadequate a naming for the complexities of time, movements, subjectivities in the contemporary decentring of the west.  Montenegro (the ‘Black Mountain’), with its palimpsest of histories, ethnicities and conflicts, at the edge of Europe, is a sublime refraction of the impossibility of imperial identity and sovereignty. The fractured Balkans is the metonymic displacement of an Europe always already haunted by alterity and Otherness. A place of unfolding, of undoing, of forgetting…

For myself, Montenegro as text, a spacing, for writing as an act of dreaming – to see another world, my world, a world beyond this world erasing histories and memories. To lose oneself, becoming invisible, a non-self.  Writing as invention, an event, an irruptive cut in racial ontology and cultural sedimentation. ‘We’ are not all the same ‘under the skin’, there are secrets on the skin, inscriptions on the surface. The Bay is the immediate and the infinite universe, at once here and everywhere for all time, beyond time, at the end of time. The horrors of violence and death engulf the landscape, this is not home, but in the stillness of the warm night air, my textual flesh resonates with the dislocations of a forgotten Europe.

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The Movement of Black Thought – Study Notes

A piece collectively written by the Black Study Group (London). It forms the basis of a roundtable that we have organised for the Black Studies Association conference in Birmingham at the end of October.

We would welcome thoughts and comments.

http://www.darkmatter101.org/site/2015/09/29/the-movement-of-black-thought-study-notes/

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darkmatter Journal looking for book reviewers

darkmatter Journal is looking for book reviewers.

See http://www.darkmatter101.org/si…/submission/books-to-review/

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Speculative Blackness: Re-imagining the Human in Afrofuturism

Abstract of the paper I presented at the Black Portraiture(s) II Conference in Florence, Italy 28-31 May 2015:

The histories of slavery and colonialism are informed by the violent hierarchies of racial distinction in which human subjectivity is possessed only by whiteness. In Eurocentric visions of the future whiteness claims ‘post-humanism’ in ‘post-racial’ apocalyptic worlds. Afrofuturism as a philosophical critique and a cultural practice challenges this temporal teleology of humanness. By recoding the traumatic histories of enslavement and biopolitical colonial terror through imaginative projections of technological pasts and futures, Afrofuturism questions the racial assumptions of the ‘human’ and ‘life’ in global history and memory.

In contrast to the idealization of the body and the human in traditions of photography and visual art, Afrofuturism presents images of the black body as cybernetic, robotic and alien. This presentation considers examples of Afrofuturist visual art, popular culture and sci-fi imagery to interrogate the fate of the human, humanism and futurity in black critical thought and postcolonial critique of biopolitics and ‘bare life’.

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The sublime time of race: rethinking black history and contemporary film

Another talk I did on temporality and black film at Open School East as part of the CCSR In Theory seminar series.
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The sublime time of race

A first of some talks on race and temporality that I have been working on. This ones at Coventry University:

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Black Capital

I recently spoke at this event:

Out of Sight: Constructing, Experiencing, Changing Peripheries – 20 March 2014

The peripheral is not only what is imagined as geographically distant, but encompasses those seen as the distant amongst us – the stranger, the outcast, the pariah.

What does it mean, in the age of digital technologies, to be “peripheral” – on the fringes and out of sight? How are communities imagined as peripheral empowered or disempowered through networks and practices? How is the peripheral constructed and mediated by new media, as place, as geography, as relationship and as a category of being?

This event will discuss the idea of the peripheral, examining communities and subjectivities imagined as distant, aiming to explore the nature of peripherality, to examine experiences of being strange or far away, and to debate whether new media changes or impacts how categories of distance/difference are constructed.

I gave a talk around the notion of ‘Black Capital’ – a short abstract below.

Black Capital 

The mutations of contemporary communication capitalism are reconfiguring notions of centre/periphery, inside/outside, subject/object, self/other, past/future, material/immaterial, west/non-west, whiteness/blackness. This talk focuses on black cultures incorporation into the workings of a ‘post-racial’ media that fetishes, abstracts and exploits difference, marginality and otherness. I consider how the ‘grammar of (racial) suffering’ is coded and ‘traded’ in the spectacle and circuits of paranoid info-capitalism and global empire.  I speculate on the possibilities of the aesthetics of the ‘black radical tradition’ as critique, and in reimagining contemporary futurity and the fugitive subjectivity of resistance.

More details of the talk to follow….

 

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BLACK STUDIES: GRAMMARS OF THE FUGITIVE

Recordings of the lecture/workshops with Fred Moten, Stefano Harney and Laura Harris at Goldsmiths last month: https://archive.org/details/Blackstudiesgrammarsoffugitive …

Details of the event below.

Black Studies: Grammars of the Fugitive
A public lecture with Stefano Harney and Fred Moten
Friday 6th December 2013 @ 6.30pm
Ian Gulland Lecture Theatre / Whitehead Building / Goldsmiths College, University of London

Black Studies Group (London) and Centre for Cultural Studies (Goldsmiths College) are delighted to host a public lecture to be delivered by Fred Moten and Stefano Harney. The publication of their Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study (Minor Compositions, 2013) marked a culmination point in an ongoing project in which they have sought to reinvigorate contemporary social thought and aesthetic critique by way of the black radical tradition. Deploying concepts such as “study”, “undercommons”, “debt”, “speculative practice”, “blackness” and “fugitivity”, Harney and Moten have loosened what for many now seems like the strained and distant relations between intellectual thought, academic labour and collective (under)common action. We hope you can join the Black Studies Group in coming together to make delusional plans with both Moten and Harney.

Bios:
Fred Moten received his Ph.D. in English from UC Berkeley. He is a student of Afro-diasporic social and cultural life with teaching, research and creative interests in poetry, performance studies and
critical theory. His books include In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition, Hughson’s Tavern, B. Jenkins, The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study (with his frequent collaborator Stefano Harney) and The Feel Trio.

Stefano Harney is Professor of Strategic Management Education, Singapore Management University and co-founder of the School for Study, an ensemble teaching project. He employs autonomist and postcolonial theory in looking into issues associated with race, work, and social organization. Recent books include The Ends of Management (co-authored with Tim Edkins) and The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study (co-authored with Fred Moten). Stefano lives and works in Singapore.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/events/486889024765629/?source=1
Goldsmiths Events Page: http://www.gold.ac.uk/calendar/?id=7091
Contact the organisers: black.studies.reading.group@gmail.com
All welcome, no registration required.

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Hal Foster’s critical turn

Hal Foster via The Charnel-House on the continual importance of critique…more to follow.

The Charnel-House

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There’s a good review by Jeffrey Petts over at the low-key online publication Marx and Philosophy of Hal Foster’s excellent The Art-Architecture Complex (2011). Currently I’m writing a double-review of Foster’s book along with another very good book, Gevork Hartoonian’s recent Architecture and Spectacle: A Critique (2013) for the LA Review of Books. Petts covers all the major points of Foster’s study with clarity and concision; I especially appreciate the way he elucidates the connection with Kenneth Frampton’s advocacy of “critical regionalism.” Indeed, the opposition between image and building, the visual and the tactile, the scenographic and the tectonic — frames the entire discussion. (Same goes for Hartoonian, incidentally).

But one thing I’m really grateful to Petts’ review for was its reference to criticisms Foster has recently leveled against the post-Marxist philosopher and aesthetic theorist Jacques Rancière. He cites an November 2013 review Foster wrote of Rancière’s Aisthesis, just translated…

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