On the Borders Between Capital and Its Other: Mimicry and Anarchism in Contemporary Art Practice

“An inchoate resentment starts in people who cannot combat this palpable transformation at the ground level.” Gayatri Spivak

Anita Dube – art historian and critic turned artist – presents us with an image of a translatable and possibly “subaltern” form of subjection in her series Ah A Sigh from 2008 – men lying prostrate on the ground before scattered leaves of money, an ironic reflection on (a perhaps inadvertent) fealty to a spectral and here materially embodied god - overlaid with a row of black wax candles which have been burned and melted onto the image. Dube is careful to insist that she is not

Dube has affixed tree roots covered in black velvet on top of an archival image of Indian . the series includes newspaper images from which sculptural objects abut. notably. creating a duality and implicit imbrication of the viewer. here. Jarkhand. in another image from the Ah A Sigh series.interested in the particularity of place portrayed by the picture: “The point of the work is that it could be referring to anywhere [emphasis mine]: UP. also from 2008. Dube – who. Meerut”. was born in the former British colony of Lucknow (site of many instances of now questionable and highly fetishistic “cultural exchange” under the purview of the British in the 19th century) in the North of India – is an artist based in New Delhi.

. the subRosa collective. I am going to avoid some of the uses of this concept and its various mediations in the tactical media practices of artists such as the Critical Art Ensemble. the issue of legibility and literacy of works that circulate and find currency within the western art market is telling for politically-inflected art practices that originate outside of the West. the Yes Men. are emphasized by the doubling of the protestors’ outstretched arms with the physical projection of the tree roots. . and also the post-situationist production of the Raqs Media Collective and the Sarai Group (who again can be described more as “interventionists” than explicitly political) are designed almost as an anticipation of the western market. and critique of capital are evident.protestors. a question that came to my mind when I saw this image: what do we mimic? The original impetus for this presentation came from Brian Holmes’ use of the phrase “unstable mimicry” and its potential as a rhetorical figure and conceptual strategy for art and social activism in the essay that we read . My Indian friends (and Reinhold Martin in the architecture department) are careful to note that art works such as Raad’s. or produces work in the feminist tradition. In the course of this analysis I would like to tease out some of the critical linkages between these discourses: and ask. metonomyic. this issue – . Alex Galloway examines this strategy in relation to tactical media production with his treatment of the cyberfeminist group the subRosa collective in his chapter on cyberfeminism in Protocol. In traditional iconography the tree is inverted: roots reach to the sky while the branches are buried in the ground. poetic and. which reach out to the spectator seemingly for active engagement with resistance to implied forms of political domination – the tree being an Indian symbol for the Hindu cultural and religious tradition central to Indian society. most significantly. Dube is a self-described feminist. with the dialectical interplay between issues of (implied) oppression and reconciliation. and the coincidence even on an abstract level in her work between the discourses of feminism. both on metaphorical. subaltern subjectivation. palpably physical levels. and WochenKlausur (though especially in the case of the first two the strategy of a “critical mimicry” is highly relevant) in order to examine the larger theoretical issue implied by this use of the concept of mimicry. in the context of this talk.

where she analyzes the concept of mimetic communication and which is a primary source for my final paper. and Mimetic Communication”.one of inter-cultural translatability – is a key conceptual figure in the pre. Ranciere in his analysis privileges. Before I turn to an article written by Anna Gibbs for the just recently published collection “The Affect Theory Reader” (Duke University Press. In effect this affective dimension of . Regarding aesthetic responses to frameworks such as war. 2010) entitled “After Affect: Sympathy. Synchrony. trauma. forced migration. where a sensitivity to a local and often illiterate or differently literate population figures prominently. the production of more subtle or contingent affects through the use of images. I would like to rehearse some of the insights that Jacques Ranciere offers in The Emancipated Spectator. most particularly in the chapter entitled “The Intolerable Image”. and sexual violence.and post-millenial discourse on subalternity. rather than what calls an explicit “dialectical” or pedagogical response which in self-negating fashion employs the very forms of signification it wishes to critique (which he sees ultimately as a strategic impasse). catastrophe.

“virtuosity” (employing Virno’s term). competence. an expanded or poetic field for the biological). Critically. attention. works that reconfigure our idea of “the political” (an aesthetic. personal or intimate response which simultaneously expands a larger political framework based on mastery. radical collectivity. . I would like at the outset to examine image practices in Ranciere’s model which effect a similar metonymic displacement and provide a “new regime of visibility” for the realities and responses depicted: whether they be curiosity. this model emphasizes and privileges a mode of “translation” – the translation of intimate or aesthetic experience through the image as a way of “blurring” or disturbing a register of indignation or explicit political critique. Often by creating an immersive. the vulnerability of the body. memory. drift. multi-layered sensory environment in which political realities and experiences of catastrophe and political domination are effectively singularized and displaced onto more contemplative modes. in works such as We Can Make Rain But No One Came to Ask from 2005.the image registers that which is always in excess of whatever discursive frameworks which would be imposed upon them by the political realities surrounding their production. vulnerability. trauma. or the excesses of domination) onto different discursive registers (slowness. Here we could think of contemporary artists such as Walid Raad and the Atlas Group Archive. and is essentially congruent with contemporary discourses on autonomy. etc. the empathetic. contemplation. and “new institutionalism”.

where the artist documents traces of explosion craters and bullet holes as part of a constructed archive of the remnants of political violence in Beirut. “appropriated”. Ranciere’s own cited example of Sophie Ristelheuber. in works such as Beirut (1984) . we could say. reconfigured.

roughly translatable as “The Air is Everyone” from 2000.and L’air est à tout le monde (II). .

sexual equivalence or ambivalence. Le’s 2006 three-channel video installation The Farmers and the Helicopters. “capital”. personal narratives of the fascination with the machine (the helicopter) during the Vietnam War from the perspective of local Vietnamese). Here. works that effect this transformation provide a reconfigured paradigm and an alternate signifying register for a simple discursive framework such as. “sexual violence”. “catastrophe”.and Dihn Q. sexual violence and its problematization) and political violence is presented in a number of contemporary works that I would like to cite: (including most notably Amar Kanwar’s eightchannel video installation The Lightening Testimonies from 2007. say. in which Le documents intimate. According to Ranciere. . an invocation of and focus on a feminist and queer/trans-gendered response to political violence. and “war”. more radically. intimate and polyvalent approaches and highlighting an altered continuum between what we would define as “aesthetics” and “the political”. thus allowing for more poetic. and the conflation between sexual difference (or.

which depicts women’s responses to sexual violence after the Indian Partition. Leslie Thornton’s video series Let Me Count the Ways (Minus 10 – Minus 7) .

exploitation. an “ethical militancy”) takes on the possibility of a new form – the militancy of preserving individual experience in the face of the massive excesses of capital. in which her father participated actively. As a response to contemporary discursive practices which seek to provide “aesthetic” paradigms for human rights (and the capacity of images to provide this critical mediation. The autonomy of individual perception (and the “autonomy” of curatorial practice configured as critique) is thus integrated into a larger framework for the political. war. . both through testimony. In this way. evidence. but also through more abstract modes). “militancy” (or to borrow Emily Apter’s phrase. and catastrophe. their constraints. this paradigm critically invokes the idea of “capacity” which is central to Ranciere’s model – human capacities for the empathetic as a counter-political response. a highly abstract and poetic documentary response to the Manhattan Project. and Tara Mateik’s video piece Operation Invert (from 2003)). and narrative.from 2004. institutions.

autonomy is created through its performance. and replaces the social and economic hierarchies on which these depend with a politics of skill exchange. Separation is in a sense the opposite of the processes which Gibbs figures in her essay of mimicry and “mimetic communication”: rather. To become autonomous is to refuse authoritarian and compulsory cultures of separation and hierarchy through embodied practices of welcoming difference. essential state..subRosa Collective In the context of the present analysis I would like to privilege the figure of autonomy as all you can hope to engage in a spectator. mimicry involves mutual symbiosis and delicate osmoses. arguably. repeatable. welcome."Autonomy is not a fixed. critical. following Deleuze and Guattari’s famous example of the wasp and orchid in Mille Plateaux and Roger Callois’ discussion of “legendary psychaesthenia” in his 1934 essay for Minotaure “Mimicry and Legendary Psychaesthenia”. I would like to articulate a different conceptual figure. a kind of spectatorial semiosis. one more in line with the tradition of autonomous Marxism and contemporary anarchism such as Tiqqun’s seminal essay “Introduction to Civil War” which is politically engaged. and collaboration. . Similar to Ranciere’s model the autonomous Marxist discourse as exemplified by Antonio Negri’s short essay Dominio e Sabotaggio (Domination and Sabotage) a pamphlet written soon after the Italian “Movement of 77” (and reprinted in semiotext(e)’s Autonomia – Post-Political Politics in 2007) emphasizes the critical notion of separation in relation to a definition of autonomy. More broadly than the figure of “emancipation” as theorized by Ranciere which is." . Freely sharing these with others creates a common wealth of knowledge and power that subverts the domination and hegemony of the master’s rule. and most importantly. by doing/becoming. merely a plurality or polyvalence of meanings activated in the viewer by an artwork. Becoming autonomous is a political position for it thwarts the exclusions of proprietary knowledge and jealous hoarding of resources. it is a political practice. Like gender..

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