OKWUI ENWEZOR

12

PHANTOM SCENES IN GLOBAL SOCIETY

is this: how might art become integral rather than peripheral to the widespread challenge that affects not only the production of art but its reception as well. produced by a global insurgency. distance and autonomy need to be maintained in order to attain a clear separation between art and social praxis. the idea of artistic intervention in the cultural sphere increasingly appears both fragile and anachronistic. From the standpoint of the above.Walter Benjamin Introduction How might art take measure of the multiple mutinies and upheavals that currently beset global society? The challenges for concise and strong artistic interventions to articulate the current ruptures could also be seen as an opportunity to act critically and imaginativelywith no guarantees. conserva tive and fundamental ist p alitics on all world social formations today? To attend to the anxieties that bedevil us today. At a minimum. If indeed. This is due both to the accelerating commodification being generated by the art market complex and a certain loss of ethical clarity in contemporary art as a whole. the mode of intervention is no longer a guarantee of critical legitimacy. \Vemust attain to a conception ofh istoru that is in keeping with this insight .The sovereign is he who decides on the state of exception. and without sentimentality.urrently being generated through many forms and activities across the world. particularly in light of the deleterious effects of reactionary. -Carl Schmitt The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the state of emergency in which we live today is not an exception but the rule. in fact. however. cultural and ethical -may require not just a review of the state of contemporary art and its investments in broader fields of reception and action. one which recognizes the imbrication of artistic structures in social temporality. any art aiming to engage itself in social praxis today must begin from a critique of the romantic illusion of pure distance and total autonomy of art from world events. it may well demand addressing also the position of artists dedicated to fostering new kinds and loci of affiliation. not an enunciation of their distance from it. Under the current conditions of uncertainty. For many artists. then. no illusions. the Second Seville Biennial of Contemporary Art (BlACS 2) is devoted to the exploration of disturbances presently evident in all world social formations. BlACS 2 is thus conceived as an opportunity to address the contradictory logic of distance and proximity that represents the dialectical structure of many artistic procedures of the last decade.political and social. The question. more than simply register their own responses to the pervasive anxiety that dominates cultural production. The exhibition proj ect 13 . The evident decay in the political and social structures of the global present penni ts a reassessment of the role of art and artists in social discourse. Artists need to do more than merely report on this situation. Or the radical autonomy of art from the current state of world affairs. by highlighting the participation and engagement of contemporary artists in the deep interrogation of the fundamental historical realignments <. then itwould be a qualified distance. and as such may require more than merely restating the tacit necessity of the place of art in society.

lapses and outrightantagonisms which have been generated 011 such a broad scale that they have affected the conception of both time and space.historic. social. but through the creation of new zones of intimacy and social possibility. and social reciprocity through community and collective activities. and schematic actions those machineries that decimate and erode social. In every case. not by mere critique or intervention. images. The Unhomelu springs from the examination of several specular and spectral enterprises. we have become aware of one principle of defamiliarization. economic. civic space. Recently. actions and gestures take as their point of departure the critical interrogation of the profound unsettling. namely the subtle reformulation of intolerance. Thirdly. atopic or spatial) that drive the global order. diminution and threats to neighborliness. and political networks. exchanges devoted to breaking the forms of enclosure.is principally concerned with exploring and examining the residues that have accrued around the reconfigurations (whether material or immaterial. In each of these sequences. projects and proposals. economic. not by recourse to doctrinaire interactivi ty and relationality. In this sense. The purpose of the exhibition is to reveal through the powerful symbols of language. Xenophobia is a common manifestation of such indifference. and by exposing the large deficits of individual sovereignty produced by new juridical and fundamentalist tyrannies. . The exhibition inquires into the upgrading of codes of defamiliarization. isolation. limits. The exhibition places a strong emphasis on sculpture. and retreat that have recently become the dominant mechanism of political power. The Unhomelu: phantom Scenes in Global Society is a vehide for inquiry into these disturbances and along with their messy. and spatial narratives and actions in different media in that order. film/video. the exhibition will examine the ways in which artistic practice seeks to mediate the distinctions between civil society. poli tical. As part of its argument. The most disturbing of these is the construction of a gargantuan empire of secrets in which arbitrary measures and suspension of constitutional safeguards represents the principal tool of global governance. the exhibition will explore how artists have responded to these existential situations. While parading as a virtuous disengagement. the second aspect of the project will be developed in direct proportion to the etiology of fear and power that dominates global social contract. a number of phantom scenes have emerged. drawings. photography. These activities are often configured as gestures of generosity. the eradication. it actually red uces global diversity through a new kind of indifference. artistic ideas and activities. cultural. As a result of these developments. Consequently. The current norm of emergency rule and its perpetual extension is yet another form of this condition. unruly legacies in order to draw attention to the careful analytical practices to which a number of artists have been committed over the last two decades. and in so doing. The Unhomely tracks the constant transformation of modes of recognition into forms of non-recognition by these machineries and their totalizing logics. 0bjects. It will explore the recent weakening of the liberal model of open society by a range of forces-from the terroristic imagination to the futile calculus of total war and the creeping state of emergency within which both are being prosecuted. In its exhibitionary address.evidenced in contemporary global society. These 14 scenes appear in the guise of disfigurations. The Unhomely intends to underscore several interrelated points of recent concern. seek a return to the logic of totalization.

. one ofintervention. namely the "war on terror. these dichotomies represent a new paradigm of eschatological reasoning at the crux of renewed identity politics. Therefore. Until the events of September 11. and research). the primary unit. published more than half a century ago by the philosopher Martin Heidegger. not only the particular problems that get posed as problems as such (the problem of [terrorism and security] say). not as prophetic. In this sense.In this time-space we are in constant contact with people. the concept of The Unhomelu is perhaps best explored within the boundaries in which human subjectivity is located. Crucially. the poli tics of the left and right were increasingly converging in their disavowal of identity. for instance) but also the manner in which it reroutes subjectivity. the currency of politics and culture. The range of artistic responses is formally diverse-operating in the interstices of media (sculpture. wha t is most threatening abou t this condition is not only the fact that it points to and narrates the anomalous sites and nodes of exception (Guantanamo Bay. What is particularly puzzling in this respect has been the uncertainty of artistic response to these events. Thinking. painting. Yet. asylum camps. the Iraq war. Dwelling. installation. This return of identity discourse seems clearly at odds with how the political and philosophical pendulums were swinging until recently. Configured as a struggle between friend and foe. either the democratic despot who rules through the suspension of the constitution or the fundamentalist demagogue who mounts a resistance by deploying and instrurnentalizing the twisted logic of religious piety. David Scott has formulated such a location as a "problem-space. these days." The generative tension in a "problem-space" is powerfully addressed in this volume in the classic text: Building. which is made all the more fresh and proximate in the conflagration set offby September 11 and its subsidiary projects. and radical Islamic insurgency. a "problem-space" requires "an ensemble of questions and answers around which a horizon of identifiable stakes hangs . but as a warning. certain issues of isolation and solitariness. tessellation.. intervention. therefore. more intensely than ever in an age when identity in the hands of others is the first principle. the new attention to identity in politics is today located at the center of the struggle for the hearts and minds of global citizens. a call for constant vigilance against tyrannical power of the sovereign.Abu Ghraib." the "democratization" of the world. albeit obliquely. goods. 15 . Benjamin's point more than sixty years ago (in a belated response to Carl Schmitt's theory of exception) should be understood. and photography) action (activism. These are the paradoxical coordinates of The Unhomely. and intensifies certain passions connected to identity." which he describes as "a context of argument and. in constant circulation. reconfiguration. Although in the recent past many have pronounced on the death of the subject. Yet the proj ects brought together are exemplary of the modest yet powerful ambitions of artistic forms willing to tackle head-on the unfashionable idea of the human condition. which indicate growing critical engagement in art-making. and the anachronism of identi ty politics. at the same time there a range of new activities and initiatives has appeared over the last several years. film/video. but the particular questions that seem worth asking and the kind of answers that seem worth having. good and evil. drawing. and modular projects (architecture and spatial pracgees)." In his thinking. However. rendition in secret detention centers. it seems tha t we live. between the forces of darkness and ligh t. with artists willing to address. images and ideas that are permanently on the move.

and as such reproduces another form of encircling. how intimacy is conceived both in terms of representation and space. Here. The broad power which has been assumed by the state today performs its own perverse self-enclosure because it has been enacted in order to place subjects beyond the reach of any juridical constraint. racial. a place. to regulate and assimilate all identities into one cultural unit by the state. and gendered communities. contestation. It is neither indifferent nor alienated from difference. the threatening potential of intimacy that disturbs and oftentimes elicits violent and coercive measures. it has increasingly become a form of disturbing nearness.. On another level it represents a spatial model of the camp. The first concerns the way Intimacy operates in cultural discourse and more specifically. a form of enclosure designed to asphyxiate. experiment. This is a rich area in contemporary art recently. The laager is not simply a defense mechanism enacted against hostile outsiders. debate.-hat are the "problem-spaces" within the artistic ratio of The Unhomely? There are :m-ee framing points around which this endeavor is centered. How do art and culture signify when they leave the intimate space of the studio or the homestead and are made immanent in a specific set of relationships -for example. a practice. actions. political. Artistic response to the paradigm of the laager is apparent in the way its forms have been doubled both in terms of the hostility to intimacy and the apparatus of extrajudicial infrastructures it has spawned. the social is the instrument that defines our relationship with a community. It takes up the shape of neighborliness as a form of intimate and proximate relationship that is illuminated by the demands on neighbors of diverse social. one watches a neighbor through an entirely new set oflenses. economic. The questions raised above and the propositions offered in response to them constitute the ground of dispute for The Unhomelu. its principal domain is the intimate and proximate. even though it is now constantly threatened. Yet the root sense of neighborliness is that it is an expression of recognition. organizes and makes possible a space of free exchange. innovation and lively discourse at the level of collective sovereignty. The context of this shared relationship is the value of exchange between people as social beings. these concerns animate the central artistic ideas at the heart ofthe exhibition of BIACS2. rather. It is a ground where. These are questions worth asking in the currentstate of globalupheaval and insurrection. especially in certain sculptural practices which have increasingly moved away from the utopian and idealistic view of the minimalist grid and its open form to the grid that asserts systems that can be understood as exploring structures of incarceration. isolate. a series of gestures. namely the nature of our actions. However. religious. However. solidarity. Taken together. ethnic. the state in the name of the law reproduces itself as the monstrous power of contemporary sovereignty. hospitality. an exhibition? The third point enlarges the possibility and address of the first two. After all. It permits. practices. Neighborliness is neither coercive nor antagonistic. Proximity here is not a form of shallow distance. One does not so much watch over or look after J neighbor. The laager represents today the most active form of incarceration. an ethic. activities. 16 . there is also a sinister dimension to intimacy which has been linked to the paradigm of the laager.within the exhibition and its accornpanying programs. friendship. positions will be undertaken. The second point elaborates the notion of Proximity in relation to contiguity. and limit the capacity for individual freedom. it articulates a perverse form of selfenclosure which today could be read as hostile to intimacy.