Sandberg InstituutFriday 15 — Saturday 16 — Sunday 17 June 2018
Graduation Exhibitions & Events Various Locations — Amsterdam
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Editorial by Tamar Shafrir

Graduates Mentioned: Andrea López Bernal, Andy G. Vidal, Anna Laederach, Giovanni Bozzoli, Lotte Hardeman, Nagare Willemsen, Quentin Dupuy, Tom Kemp

Let us begin from the assumption that art, especially a dirty art, is inherently counterposed to an enveloping world that is not art, and thus forms a kind of standard against which the beauty, creativity, radicality, morality or intentionality of art can be measured.

Art would constitute a space where complexity, imperfection and deviance are celebrated, distinct from our normative society (TS) – a sterile society that does not allow exchange, a society that rewards consumption and applauds uniformity, rejects the challenging.(ALB) But (TS) is a free community of citizens really able to open fractures in the social system in order to produce a tabula rasa situation from which it is possible to restart with shared and inclusive solutions?(GB) After all, (TS) we are standardisations. We are products of modern technology.(AL) And the tools of artistic production are similarly and doubly implicated, both in terms of the creation of the fictional construct of a standardised universe and in terms of the absorption of the artistic process and its outputs into the baseline capitalist system.(TS)

As an example of the first condition, our everyday auditory environment is an idealised human construction imposed on the pre-existing context of space that could be considered both a form of standardisation and a work of art (albeit one that might offend our embrace of complexity, hardly an enduring value in the field of aesthetic judgment).(TS) We could actually drive from the highway of Seville to Amsterdam’s ring road – and beyond – without experiencing any substantial shift within the common general soundscape.(AGV) We might be disinclined to ascribe the authorship or inventiveness crucial as criteria to the perception of art, but to refuse to do so would be to presuppose a hierarchy that art would seek to challenge. Considering such a work, we would be forced to admit that the idea of a pre-existing reality or a division between art and non-art is clearly subjective. That is to say, what is music in a world where what we think of as noise has already been composed? (TS) Saying that “noise is the medium of sound” situates noise itself as the backdrop against which everything else takes place … noise and vibration are a universal environmental matter; noise becomes the vibration environment that weaves reality out of randomness. (AGV) In such a crafted world, is art even necessary? (TS) A hole in a window is kind of redundant.(AL)

If the act of creation is inevitably complicit, we can hardly draw a distinction between art and not-art in the act of experience or consumption. The contradictory nature of art becomes as much of a standard as the one it opposes, and (TS) a standard facilitates commoditisation of formerly custom processes. You and me, we are inventions of an ideology which is based on economic growth and accumulation. (AL) Furthermore, as techniques and tools become more ubiquitous and accessible, as materials become more processed and circulate more freely, it becomes ever more difficult to draw a line between the aestheticised products of industry and the output of artistic technique. From the mid-nineteenth to the early twentieth century, artistic tropes like ornament, pastiche and fantasy were repurposed for the domestication of industrial commodities and energy infrastructures.(TS) If the initial purpose of Art Nouveau was to react against the decadence of European decorative arts and the deterioration of workers’ conditions, both attributed to excessive industrialisation, it was progressively appropriated by the bourgeoisie as a consumption good to affirm its status and as a style to decorate ordinary industrial products. The electric fairy was used with a promotional intent to attribute human and reassuring qualities to the invisible and sometimes feared energy that was progressively inviting itself into people’s homes.(QD) Thus, (TS) the fantasmagoria operates as a deceiving device at the service of the reproduction of the social order.(QD)

Otherness, in other words, cannot be assumed as a position of intrinsic innocence – neither when it is claimed for oneself nor when it is ascribed to another. At one end of the spectrum, otherness can be instrumentalised in order to clarify what the default is not. Contrasting with the narrative of progress claimed from the Renaissance and the Enlightenment up to the early modern era (and its nascent consumer capitalism), (TS) the Middle Ages have become a ”cultural myth”, more a convenient metaphor and site of projection for alterity than actual history – able to emphasise in relief the values of whatever the current modernity may be. Through its ambiguous otherness, the mediaeval is inevitably subjected to deracination, repetition and remediation to further reinforce its discordance with the present.(TK) At the other end of the spectrum, however, the modernist ideology has proven itself eminently capable of managing and administrating otherness when this is deemed useful. Otherness can be stereotyped through statistics and probability and, by (TS) forcing disparate beings to conform to a basic set of distinctions, a kind of mathematical ecosystem is forged – a leprechaun, a hydra, a dinosaur and the Prince of Hell could all be posited as existing on the same plane of equivalence, with a system in place to indicate the consequences of their interactions.(TK)

Today, this phenomenon can be most clearly discerned in the understanding of race in the Western cultural sphere, where (TS) Eurocentric ideas are still reproduced and presented as normal.(NW) These ideas attempt to disguise themselves under (TS) the so-called invisibility, indefinability, normality and naturalisation of whiteness. Whiteness dominates the art world so much that the presence of the dark-skinned artist becomes a political statement.(NW) One artist says that she (TS) never intended to weave themes such as race or colonialism into [her] artistic practice. The white gaze forced [her] into this position by constantly questioning blackness in [her] work. Apparently, there exists an overarching idea that dark-skinned artists have a stronger connection to the colonial past than white artists. (NW)And this expectation reinforces otherness both as identification and as distance.(TS) Double consciousness forces people of colour to not only view themselves from their own unique perspective, but to also view themselves as they might be perceived by the dominant white society, (NW) completely displaced and alien.(AL) At the same time, (TS) the popular consciousness of figures of women – the fairy, the witch and the savage – is written as the story of the naturalisation and aestheticisation of forms of exploitation based on labour, justifying inequalities.(QD) The art world may thus seem indistinguishable from the real one in its political dynamics of otherness.(TS) Your Fabricated Reality® meets the exact standards of reality. We embrace the fact that the natural landscape surrounding us is already in a stage of simulation and artificiality, and with this knowledge create a newly simulated environment as a form of hyperreality.(LH)

Even if we recognise the need to emancipate art from the vestiges and manipulations of a culture that already implements a dynamic of default and other, the issues of fault, responsibility and power present a formidable conceptual obstacle to the development of alternative strategies. Saying that someone is at fault (TS) puts them in an ineffable and eternal place of guilt, and that feeling deprives their own demeanour of opportunities to act. But it is not about guilt, but rather “collective responsibility” …With this term, (NW) philosopher and theorist (TS) Hannah Arendt appoints everybody who is part of a community with a share in their political act. (NW) By posing itself as other or outside, art limits both its acknowledged share of responsibility and its potential to change the broader context, although it may be useful in creating a free space for reflection and engagement in a direct battle with reality. Art (TS) presents a perfect replacement, its ambiguity and unadulterated otherness making it ideal for displacing the war game into a guiltless zone admitting the necessary levity of play.(TK) Art has (TS) privilege as a place where representations of reversed order are possible, allowing a critique of power under the cover of fantasy.(QD)

In recent years, however, the art world has seemed less interested in maximising its own potential, even from the protected position of otherness, and more concerned with the recognition of non-human agency.(TS) Imagine a world of endless possibilities of strange objects. Everything is flat and pointless, nothing has meaning and nothing is neither “for” or “against” anything, it just exists within the realm of ideas. We are fine just floating through space, flying at 6000 miles an hour around the sun, balancing on tectonic plates floating on lava.(LH) To ignore those stories would mean to miss the opportunity to give space, dust, solar systems, planets, oceans, continents and organisms the centre stage they deserve as active matter in the creation of one complex world.(AL) We can also understand this perspective as a way of coming to terms with our own bodily ephemerality and spiritual existentialism.(TS) When you are aware of death, you feel powerless. Death, however, is our ability to be aware of the finitude of being and therefore the recognition of our life as an unfinished project on the road to reconciling ourselves with being.(ALB)

Nevertheless, the distinction between human and non-human agency risks perpetuating the previously discussed false division between the default and the other. By mystifying non-human agency, particularly that of material and energy resources, (TS) transcendental power is transferred into the realm of science where, like Adam’s Smith invisible hand and the self-regulating market, invisible agencies rule the new scientific and economic order.(QD) It is unsurprising that, despite our willingness to recognise non-human agency, our imagination proves feeble in its capacity to empathise and we resort to human phenomena where we already feel powerless. We have accepted that (TS) capitalism works as a non-explicit dictatorship that sneaks into people’s lives and controls them. Most people don’t even have the time to realise they could think alternatively (Debord, 1977).(GB) But (TS) what is left of our humanist rationality when we become guided by the molecular odorant symphonies played through the mall’s air-conditioning devices, when we are addressed and acted through primal physical responses? Are we not acted as objects in a network of polymorphous agencies, things, people, relations, enchanted materialities?(QD)

Cultural theorist Mark Fisher repurposes the word “eerie” to describe a sensation of displaced agency, where the profoundly non-human is experienced as wielding an autonomous power, influencing humanity via complex, immaterial and inanimate forces – the paranormal having always been a method for the figuration of power that cannot otherwise be visibly expressed.(TK) But is this ascription of agency to the non-human, the “eerie” or the paranormal a way of subsuming our own shame for the deeply unequal world we have wrought? If so, could we reconsider how we deal with shame rather than simply shifting it around?(TS) Shame is one of the most repressive, internalised and therefore conservative emotions. It is the way in which culture lords itself over your own thinking and feeling.(NW) However, it remains (TS) a moral compass that people need to trust and follow in order to understand it. If you take a different reaction to this shame, you can expose that which is shameful and dismantle it. In the dismantling you create space for new narratives and perspectives.(NW)

This text emerged from an investigatory journey to Athens, where the main department Dirty Art staged its graduation show, They Swore It Could Talk to Dogs, at the Bageion Hotel. Prior to arriving, I was provided with the theses of the entire class to establish a context for the show. Reading the complex and robust texts by the eight graduates of the department, I stumbled across the multivalent notion of “default” in their ways of thinking. Here I have sampled their theses in the synthetic construction of a dialogue around the complexity of de(-)fault. This is the often unquestioned standard against which we map our idiosyncrasy or the deviation of others. It is also the action by which faults – errors, cracks, weaknesses –are identified, smoothed out and removed. It is, furthermore, the process in which responsibility is abdicated and agency ascribed to another entity. Collectively, the Dirty Art department confronts responsibility for another life and reconciliation with death, the ideological shaping of space for specific acoustic perception, the standardisation of materials and the aberration of non-matter, the soporific effect of late capitalism on the free subject, the multiplication of hyperrealities, the intractable racism of the contemporary art world and the displacing narratives of the enchanting faerie kingdom and eerie mediaevalism in modern life. To default is to refuse the obligation of easy resolution.

* Written by Tamar Shafrir (TS) in collaboration with Andrea López Bernal (ALB), Andy G. Vidal (AGV), Anna Laederach (AL), Giovanni Bozzoli (GB), Lotte Hardeman (LH), Nagare Willemsen (NW), Quentin Dupuy (QD) and Tom Kemp (TK), with curatorial and editorial framing by Aurélien Lepetit and Jules van den Langenberg

Tamar Shafrir is a writer and designer based in Rotterdam. She is currently a design researcher at Het Nieuwe Instituut and a thesis adviser at the Design Academy Eindhoven, and has previously taught at the Sandberg Instituut and London College of Communication. Her writing has been published in magazines including Disegno, Volume, PIN-UP, MacGuffin, Dirty Furniture and Real Review, and books including Material Utopias, Symbolic Exchange and Printing Things. In 2013 she cofounded the studio Space Caviar with Joseph Grima, with whom she also co-curated the 2018 exhibition Not for Sale.