This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
Katya Lachowicz (S/S 2011) Contents:
Introduction 1. Criminal and Lawful Subversion 2. Subversive Concepts and Subversive Images 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Shockvertising Scandal: Colours of Domestic Violence 2007 Pity and Compassion Summary
3. New Interpretations of Passive and Active Roles 3.1 3.1 3.2 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 Conclusion 4.1 Bibliography Images Emancipation and Subversion Distance: Here and Elsewhere Anonymous: The Ownerless Concept Accountability Active: Regeneration Projects Passive: Resistance Role of Medium Role of the Artist
In this essay I intend to explore the many definitions of subversion that exist on the boundary line between the legal and illegal by using examples from contemporary visual culture and art, be it the advertising industry, photography, film, or collaborative projects. The essay begins by assessing the etymological and cultural development of the word and argues that 'subversion' lives on in its definition and interpretation. A difference is drawn between 'subversive concepts' and 'subversive images', and the visual examples are compared against one other in regards to their aims, technique, and the distribution of passive or active roles. In line with Ranciere's thought in his book “The Emancipated Spectator”, a 'subversive concept' is defined in this essay as a controversial scheme that actively anticipates an effect or result by using the technique of subversion and is thus not truly subversive itself. Whereas a 'subversive image' however is defined as an image (photo, film, sculpture or group) that over-turns a certain system, standard or mode of thinking and remains in this process of subversion, that is to say, it keeps on sub-verting and thus has no anticipated result. The fact that 'subversion' subverts itself means that it exists only in its redefinition. However, subversion is not something one associates with passivity rather with revolt and gusto. Moreover, such 'subversive images' are perceived as counterrevolutionary and passive. So what is passive? Who is passive? It will be necessary to expand on the ideas behind passive and active roles of both author and recipient, and the effect authorship has on the subversive concept and/or image. Is there such thing as a passive subverter? Can a subversive image have an author? And is it possible for a subversive concept to be subversive itself? Can a subversive image anticipate an effect and still remain subversive? These questions will be debated during the course of the essay. The reason why I find such a topic of interest, is because my artistic work and development has been based on this discourse for some time. I do not aim to be subversive, but wish to produce adaptable works that question and re-define themselves, that change according to their context and recipients, however never cease to question. Thus the essay is also constructed in a similar sense: The arguments oscillate from one to the next, and all of the examples given will be continuously referenced and compared against each other in an effort to expand the issue at hand.
1. Criminal and Lawful Subversion According to Collins English Dictionary, the word 'subversion' means three things: 1. (Government, Politics & Diplomacy) the act or an instance of subverting or overthrowing a legally constituted government, institution, etc. 2. (Government, Politics & Diplomacy) the state of being subverted; destruction or ruin 3. (Government, Politics & Diplomacy) something that brings about an overthrow Originally the term defined a military defeat of a city, an overthrow or an under(sub)-turn(vertere). Since the 14th century, it has been used in reference to laws, and today it draws parallels with sedition. All three entries in the Collins English Dictionary are classified under Government, Politics & Diplomacy. All refer to the state, or a 'legally constituted government, institution' a phrase which does not rule out un-democratic regimes, however expresses a certain criminality associated with the act of subversion. The words 'destruction', and 'ruin' further emphasise this effect. The term 'subversion' transformed from a military coup into a form of treason against the state, from within the state itself. The difference however between sedition and subversion, is that the later is less overt than the former. Nor are there any laws against subversion, there are however laws against sedition. Sedition originates in English history (ca. 1590) as "the notion of inciting by words or writings disaffection towards the state or constituted authority"1, under which campaigners such as those of the early anti-slavery movement in the 1820s, to protesters against the Vietnam War have been prosecuted, however the number of cases has dwindled in the Western hemisphere ever since the introduction of freedom of speech. Under the first amendment to the United States Constitution, the government may not prohibit speech or symbolic acts that advocate illegal or subversive activity unless it is likely to result in 'lawless action'2. While the definition of a 'lawless action' remains to be questioned, the statement implies that a lawful subversion is possible protected under the right for symbolic expression. Of course this definition varies from country to country. Liu Xiaobo the Nobel Peace laureate would not necessarily be in prison for subversive writings outside of China, but in the West the definition of subversion is very much debated. In fact in the USA Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, “all wilful acts that are intended to be detrimental to the best interests of the government and that do not fall into the categories of treason, sedition, sabotage, or espionage will be placed in the category of subversive activity.”3 subversion is very much a grey zone.
1 Breight, Curtis, C. (1996) Surveillance, militarism and drama in the Elizabethan Era, Macmillian: London. page 89. 2 Referencing Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395U.S. 444, 89 S. Ct. 1827, 23 L. Ed. 2D 430  http://legaldictionary.thefreedictionary.com/First+Amendment (accessed 22.07.2011) 3 Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms: (As Amended Through 15 May 2011)" (PDF). Joint Publication 102. Department of Defence, USA. p. 351. (Accessed 22.07.2011) www.dtic.mil/doctrine/new_pubs/jp1_02.pdf
When something is described as “subversive” the first synonyms that come to mind are anarchist, controversial, rebellious. There seems to be equally no doubt that a 'subversive culture' is a type of youth culture. In this sense, it can be considered as a harmless phase where the anti-authoritarian young test the boundaries of the system they are inherently a part of, be it family, school, or society. As the term is currently being used to classify everything that raises an eyebrow, It still has many negative connotations but in most cases it remains law-abiding. And the more mainstream it becomes, the more it is used interchangeably with the word 'controversial'. In this way loud revolutionary acts have been undermined by the subversion of its own definition, and the question that has arisen as a consequence, is whether subversion exists at all. Nevertheless, I would argue that the subversive quality of 'subversion' lives on in the freedom of its definition and interpretation, in a similar sense to Antonio Gramsci's challenge of cultural hegemony4 . For him it was important to challenge that which we consider inherent, a large source of control for the ruling group. He wrote in 1925 in the newspaper L'Ordine Nuovo "a main obstacle to change is the reproduction by the dominating forces of elements of the hegemonic ideology. It’s an important and urgent task to develop alternative interpretations of reality." Here subversion is among other things a matter of ideological freedom and power. But it also has to be said that today, developing 'alternative interpretations' is a useful tool for both sides of the coin. 2. Subversive Concepts and Subversive Images 2.1 Shockvertising 'Shockvertising' is a concept that was pioneered by the clothing company Benetton in 1986 with photographer Oliviero Toscani. The campaign no longer focused on the product it was advertising, rather cashed in on the symbolic value of the label itself “United Colours of Benetton”. The adverts feature all sorts of taboos and everything from political, religious, to racial conflict, for example the 1994 campaign featuring the splayed out blood-saturated uniform of a Bosnian soldier. The attempt was to revolutionise the boring advertising industry with something new, and fitting with Benetton's own image, a 'subversive' advertising campaign was just the thing that would give them that financial boost. Benetton began to present itself as a moral stronghold, raising awareness about the cruelty existent in the world and uniting everyone under one label, nevertheless solving no worldly conflicts but their own court cases. Their images have been debated and partially banned, but regardless of the bad press the campaign had indeed changed the face of advertising. The concept is based on subverting our expectations of fashion advertising by using images we associate with other contexts. Companies such as Nike, Dolce & Gabanna and Sisley have followed with images of aestheticised gang rape, cocaine lines in the form of dresses, and slogans such as “just do it”. All of these images appeal on the one hand to youth cultures and to a certain degree
4 Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) a political theorist wrote in his Prison Notebooks in the early 1930s and published first in the 1950s about cultural hegemony (domination), the role of culture and the assimilation of the proletariat culture in the ruling group's domination of social order.
play on our ethical perceptions and social taboos. Whereas other industries have also taken up such subversive concepts, this time abandoning the ethics and simply turning around the monotony of every day life. Coca-cola installs fun machines which interact with their consumers in its “bringing you happiness” campaigns, other companies do 'live marketing' by creating performances in unexpected public spaces such as in airports and buses, and Volkswagen also has a new concept called “The Fun Theory” sponsoring fun and innovative ideas from the public which aim to animate public spaces, for example installing slides next to escalators in underground stations. However none of these examples use subversive images, not even Benetton. The images are controversial or surprising because we are not used to seeing them, but if the images were truly subversive, they would in fact be counter-productive to the aims of the advert. This is however the case with the Benetton campaign “Colours of Domestic Violence” 2007. 2.2 Scandal: Colours of Domestic Violence 2007 Rather than appealing to a socially-conscious fashionista with one generalised image epitomising the war in Bosnia, one image epitomising HIV, one image epitomising the conflict between Israel and Palestine, the Benetton campaign against domestic violence depicts in one example an Asian woman with a purple-beaten eye wearing a jumper with the matching shade of colour. The logo attached to the image reads in form of a pun, “Colours of Domestic Violence, issued in public interest by United Colours of Benetton”. Comparing a bruise to the shade of a freshly-starched jumper, or ridiculing domestic violence with a pun on the company name, is certainly not politically correct. But neither was the campaign official, in fact it was all a fake. And Benetton made sure that this was clear to all bloggers disturbed by their 'new' advert. They proceeded to contact all writers directly where possible5, and a small article with no illustrations was also published by the online magazine Salon.com describing the hoax. The story however was not taken up by any large scale newspaper. In fact all the sources surprisingly lead to nowhere. Clearly a scandal here unlike with their other controversial adverts would not favour Benetton's image. On the other hand, the lack of media attention also resulted in the hoax having no success in spreading its criticism of Benetton's advertising campaigns because the company was being criticised publicly long-before the hoax appeared, and even one of the retractions criticised the hoaxer as being “so sick they think this is a practical joke”6. But what exactly is the measure of success here? Or is this a futile question? Does subversion have to be spectacular? Can it be dismissed as a practical joke? Or is that its forte? In the “Emancipated Spectator” Jacques Ranciere discusses how “images change our gaze and the landscape of the possible if they are not anticipated by the meaning and do not anticipate their effects”7. If no effect is to be anticipated, then it is very difficult to judge success. The only measure
5 http://writeslikeshetalks.blogspot.com/2007/05/colors-of-domestic-violencefake-not.html (accessed 23.06.2011) 6 http://tipsytoes.wordpress.com/2007/05/30/oh-look-at-all-the-pretty-colours/ (accessed 23.06.2011) 7 Ranciere, Jacques, (2009) The Emancipated Spectator, Verso: London, page 105.
of success or the aims of subversion are to be subversive in terms of subverting fixed definitions. In the same sense, “Colours of Domestic Violence” did not anticipate an effect, it was simply released, and incidentally interpreted by others as one step too far for Benetton. 2.3 Pity and Compassion Such a 'passive' concept however does not lie easy with all those who define themselves as subversive, or work with subversive concepts. They prefer a more direct approach, the critique should be obvious and recognisable, emulating concepts akin to advertising it should be heard and have impact, so naturally the bigger and more creative, controversial the better. Martha Rosler's work series “Bringing the War Home” is one example of this tendency perhaps comparable to the Benetton campaigns. Her photomontages juxtapose classy American living rooms with images of war. The viewer is confronted with two different realities, a here and elsewhere, and is made to feel pity and guilt in regards to this difference. The images seem to be saying 'This is what is happening in the world while you sit at home and profit from it all'. These images, presented in an art context mean that they are automatically interpreted differently to those of Benetton. Whereas it is understandable why a company takes care to present a clean and politically conscious image of themselves, it is not exactly accepted why an artist would want to do so. Often such actions either take on a hierarchical educative position or assume from the start that the viewer is entirely ignorant or passive. None the least melancholy and disenchantment are one of subversion's greatest pitfalls. As Ranciere says, they feed on their own impotency8. The public do not need to be informed of the atrocities beyond their front door, they are not ignorant, they just do not feel particularly affected. They may feel pity, but no further action is taken because in the end, the victims are nameless. I talk of 'pity' rather than compassion in regards to Hannah Arendt. In “On Revolution” she defines compassion as “to be stricken with the suffering of someone else as though it were contagious”9 it is an empathic feeling with the sufferer and results often in direct action. For example helping an old woman cross the road. 'Pity' on the other hand is broader, it is sympathy or feeling for the sufferer, which can lead to apathy, disregard, or manipulation. Compassion abolishes distance and hierarchy, it is personal and proactive. Rosler's work however by emphasising distance renders the viewer passive. 2.4 Summary The apparent difference between subversive concepts and subversive images is the aim. The author of the subversive concept always plays an active role because he has a specific aim, and thus plans to use the concept in such a way as to evoke the appropriate reaction whether passive or active in its recipients. Whereas a subversive image is like a flaw in a carpet weave. It is rather passive, its effect is not anticipated, it may or may not have an 'owner', and its purpose depends on its situation,
8 Ibid p. 37 9 Canovan, Margaret (1995) Hannah Arendt: A Reinterpretation of Her Political Thought , Cambridge University Press, page 171
context or medium. Of course, both subversive images and contexts are easily subverted, but the idea of moving away from the hierarchy of active and passive roles is an interesting one in the development of this arguement. 3. New Interpretations of Passive and Active Roles 3.1 Distance: Here and Elsewhere A film that contrasts with Martha Rosler's images but is nevertheless thematically similar, is “Ici et Ailleurs” (Here and Elsewhere) an essay film by Jean-Luc Godard and Anne-Marie Mieville which started off as a documentary film named “Victory” commissioned by the militant Palestinian group Al Fatah in 1970. The production was however abandoned after many of the Palestinians they had been filming were killed. Four years later Godard and Mieville re-edited the footage into “Ici et Ailleurs”. The film is a reflection on the failure of representation based in two different settings, firstly at a middle-class French family's home, sitting in front of a television, and secondly Palestine. More importantly the film is conscious of its own manipulation. Definitions are thrown onto the screen and put into question, one of the first images we see is an illiterate Palestinian woman trying to read a political text and being corrected by a woman off-screen; then we here Godard speaking while white text “en repensant a cela” (re-thinking it) flashes on a black background. He recounts the following: So it was in the beginning or the middle of 1970. We go to the middle East. Who is 'we'? In February, July 1970 there is I, there is you, there is she, there is he who goes to the Middle East amongst the Palestinians to make a film, and we shot things in this order, and we organised it. She, you, he, I organised the film like that. Godard and Mieville are at the same time both near and distant. Having filmed in Palestine themselves, they approach the subject personally, but they talk at the same time of the film's failure and reflect from a time (four years later) and spatial distance. It is through the displaced narration and the intertwined images of the French family sitting in front of the television, that one starts to feel a part of the film, or at least in the same position as Godard and Mieville. The images, text, the loose narrative structure, and the narration is all open for the viewer to interpret. Neither does the film chastise the viewer for his voyeuristic actions such as in Martha Rosler's work. Placed in the role of Godard and Mieville we too are observers, we too are piecing images together, “She, you, he, I organised the film like that”. Although the viewer does not choose what to see, and in what order to see it, the film nevertheless very naturally empowers them with the choice and freedom of interpretation within a non-hierarchical system. In 2007 Ranciere was noted to have said “an emancipated community is a community of storytellers and translators”, emancipation or subversion it that process of interpretation.
3.2 Anonymous: The Ownerless Concept The same 'passive' empowerment through free interpretation is also intrinsic to the work of Anonymous, however this time it is a subversive concept that - contrary to what was discussed before - is not based on the author of the subversive concept playing an active role because he has a certain aim to fulfil (e.g Benetton), instead, the concept itself is ownerless and its effects are thereby similar to those created by subversive images- they are not anticipated. The group's physical anonymity arose from the unclaimed posts on imageboards such as 4chan. These websites have no memory, and all posts are automatically anonymous. The thus unnamed collective acting to a degree with the disinhibition that virtual anonymity grants, organises itself by the use of imageboards and collective writing software such as Piratepad/Etherpad. In fact not only does the group work in the digital realm by launching DdoS attacks on institutional websites, but replicates its virtual anonymity into reality- the campaigners wear the symbolic mask of Guy Fawkes during all public demonstrations or videos, they never disclose their true physical identity. What makes them powerful and effective is that they are rarely traceable, and their membership is immeasurable because anyone can be Anonymous. Their weakness however, is the fact that the group is self-organised and has no leader, which means that nothing is scrutinised or controlled. Far from being a flat subversive image or film, the physical reality of this concept means that any reckless action can be made under the collective name 'Anonymous'. Its integrity is not preserved and can be subverted at any point. How can an organisation aimed at questioning corrupted and hypocritical systems, be corrupt and hypocritical itself? This is exactly what the media and institutional spokesmen criticise. Anonymous has been labelled as everything between a detrimental terrorist organisation to a group of 15 year old hackers. But this is equally Anonymous' strength. The further Anonymous gets from being an organisation and the more it resembles a cultural phenomenon, surely the more powerful it becomes? They simply are developing a new interpretation of the hegemonic ideology (Gramsci). For example, the protest against Church Scientology in London on the 10th February 2008 witnessed an array of people hiding their identity not only with the Guy Fawkes (GF) mask, but with stockings, glasses and wigs.10 Anonymous became an entirely legal phenomenon. Wearing a mask during protest is not only for purposes of identity protection, but also a form of symbolic expression. On a forum about protest, a user named anon91-19 wrote on July the 14th 2008 “I believe I wear the mask to protect my family and myself. I believe I wear the mask as a political symbol. I believe I wear the mask to freely speak and assemble, as so promised.”11 Another writes “GF mask is akin to symbolic speech.... its the same as wearing an Obama/McCain button on your shirt or bag”. Freedom of expression is a common right in the West. This however does not mean that there has been no opposition. The argument aside from terrorism, is the accepted
10 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2SraUpcJfqw (accessed 08.07.2011) 11 http://forums.whyweprotest.net/threads/mask-question.17988/ (accessed 08.07.2011)
perception that mask-wearing is akin to acting dishonourably and that only criminals would find it necessary to use one. In fact in New York and a few other States in the U.S have policies against wearing masks when two or more people congregate which was originally directed at the Ku Klux Klan, but in most cases the law also specifies that when the mask is used without criminal intention it is perfectly legal. The same goes for France, despite its recent laws regarding a ban against concealing one's identity in public, masks in the case of sports practice, entertainment, artistic or traditional demonstrations as well as religious processions remain legal.12 Nevertheless around the world mask wearers have been arrested, and Anonymous have started to legitimise their actions in other ways. Their members are advised to carry a copy of the law with them in case of problems, and there are also numerous country specific websites from Anonymous stating protesting rights. In South Africa for example, the mask is illegal and protesters are encouraged to wear hats, glasses and wigs instead. The phrase “Remember: Arm Yourself with Knowledge. Be safe, be Anonymous” also accompanies every script. The attempt to make Anonymous a trusted movement is very clear. It is hardly just a group of 15 year old hackers. Whereas I would argue that their sect-like appearance and the presupposition that the group consists entirely of IT specialists alienates quite a few, it is a somewhat paradoxical form of responsible anarchism which is starting to attract more and more people. 3.3 Accountability The ownerless concept of Anonymous allows the group remain subversive, un-anticipated. It has to be however said that anonymity would be not be a efficient tactic in the case of more dialogical forms of subversion, if we take Habermas' argument into account. According to him anonymous identities are not public identities and therefore cannot be classified as a “public sphere” that functions within a democratic “ideal speech situation”13. The foundations of free speech were based on accountability, this means that a certain identity is required in order for this accountability to ensue. But it is not just about accountability, it is also about solidarity, for example in the book “Conversation Pieces” Grant Kester refers to Wochenklausur's boat trips on Lake Zurich, where the participants “were able to speak, and listen, not as delegates and representatives charged with defending a priori positions, but as individuals sharing a substantial collective knowledge”14. People were brought together and could talk face to face, a certain dialogical and social code still existed, only the context had changed.
12 http://www.lefigaro.fr/actualite-france/2011/04/08/01016-20110408ARTFIG00630-voile-signes-religieux-ce-quiest-interdit-en-france.php (accessed 08.07.2011) 13 Habermas, Jurgen, (1991) Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action. Trans. Christian Lenhart and Shierry Weber Nicholson. Cambridge: MIT Press, p. 89. 14 Kester, Grant H. (2004) Conversation Pieces: Community + Communication in Modern Art, University of California Press, pg. 111
3.4 Active: Regeneration Projects Wochenklausur's project “Intervention to Aid Drug-Addicted Women” in February and March 1994 and February 1995 was based on a 3 hour cruise in a boat on Lake Zurich over the course of two weeks with a group of 60 key figures from Zurich, among them politicians, journalists, sex workers, and activists. The aim was to have a conversation rather than speaking “in a definitive and contentious manner in a public space (the courtroom, the editorial page, parliament)” which they were used to. The discussion was about the much hated drug addicts in Zurich who have turned to prostitution in order to finance their addiction. According to Kester, by displacing context, role and hierarchy, this group of people reached a consensus, and a shelter was created for the sex workers. Of course the solution was not exactly revolutionary, but nevertheless succeeded in enhancing their situation. Wochenklausur were the owners of their subversive concept which had a concrete aim. The group was invited by Shedhalle in Zurich to do a project dealing with drug issues. According to Wochenklausur's website “the project was to demonstrate a new direction in the institutions' programming in which art would no longer be encapsulated from political reality”, but nevertheless encapsulated by the institution, and so the resulting shelter was in fact already anticipated before the boat ride began. After all the use of cultural activity to fuel urban regeneration is an economic strategy, and art that does not anticipate an effect is unlikely to be financed. This form of anticipated regenerative subversion nevertheless, created a shelter that lasted for 6 years, after which the Zurich Council cut its funding. The project was very positive, Wochenklausur managed to show was that aesthetic experiences have the power to challenge conventional systems, and both Kester and Ranciere urge artists to consider the power of aesthetics otherwise abandoned by most political artists wanting to show the grittiest and harshest realities of the world. However Ranciere elaborates in “The Emancipated Spectator” by giving the example that while relational artists “are concerned with inventing some real or fancy monument or creating unexpected situations in order to generate new social relationships in the poor suburbs” (Wochenklausur), Pedro Costa represents another reality by “setting aside explanations” of poverty15. In his film “In Vanda's Room” (2000) again featuring drug addicts but this time situated in Lisbon, Costa films the beauty of the life these so-considered outcasts have created for themselves at the brink of being destructed by bulldozers. He shows another interpretation of the situation. 3.5 Passive: Resistance The film “In Vanda's Room” is pensive, Costa remains patient and listens. Moreover, the painterly quality of the images is reminiscent of Vermeer's play of light, and in this way, similarly to “Ici et Ailleurs” Costa consciously shows that it is a film he is making, a representation, which is nonetheless trying to represent something real. Pedro Costa's film evolved after being in contact
15 Ranciere Jacques, (2009) The Emancipated Spectator, Verso: London, pg. 79,80.
with the people of the Fontaínha slum. He filmed in Vanda's room every day for the duration of a year with an extremely low budget, and had Vanda Duarte playing herself. In a speech at the Tokyo Film School in 2004, he told his audience that making a good film is like writing a love letter in a bank: Few people are going to see this love letter in a bank, and still fewer are going to write a love letter in a bank...Your work is to continue trying to write love letters, and not checks. Sometimes people don’t notice your work, of course. Well, we resist and we keep going to the bank to write love letters.16 His film is a quiet personal almost anonymous subversive act. His role is once again that of the nonhierarchical creator of subversive images. He has no desire for change, and neither does he anticipate any effect in those who see his work as in the case of Wochenklausur. 3.6 Role of Medium On the one hand we have Costa who works for himself, on the other we have an artist group that functions similarly to a creative governmental consulting agency. Both use aesthetics successfully as a communication method, but their aims are contradictory. One is the author of its subversive concept, one is the resistor. But it is nonetheless necessary to add that medium has played a large role in their method. Today, in light of history, a film with a subversive concept with the aim of inciting change is called propaganda. A site-specific work with the aim of inciting change is a social project. Such negative connotations are certainly not a bad thing for film, because it allows film to pursue a path other than that of propaganda. In this sense it could even function in the same way as Anonymous. Perhaps it could be filmed, cut and mounted by a multi-contextual anonymous collective? Whereas the physicality of social or performative projects prevents them from being 'subversive images', because they are either categorised as regenerative projects and so automatically take on the role of cultural firefighters, or simply need to be explained and legitimised. In the case of Anonymous if we presuppose that their concept does become a cultural phenomenon and everyone starts to protest with a mask on, they become automatically more legitimate. And surely the more legitimate they are the less subversive they are, because the subversive thing to do at that point in time would be not to be masked. However, is legitimacy really the pivotal point of that which is and is not subversive? Yes, in the case of actions involving physical identities, such as a masked protester, because a person is nonetheless definable. But in the case of that which cannot be defined it is another story. A film consisting of subversive images which are in the form of a loose symbolic expression such in Ici et Ailleurs, continue to be newly interpreted regardless of legality. Form plays a large role in subversion. The more art defines its role or purpose, the less subversive it is.
16 http://nplusonemag.com/costa-s-letters (accessed 03.07.2011)
3.7 Role of the Artist Here as a contrast to Wochenklausur's regeneration projects, Santiago Sierra is an interesting final example as he subverts the common idea of an 'artist' as some sort of heroic figure. In his works the artist is no longer a humanitarian problem solver, he does not need to prove his morality rather almost 'abuses' his position of power and becomes the capitalist system himself. He tattoos people for shots of heroine, pays illegal immigrants low wages to sit in boxes all day in a gallery, and in doing so, Sierra emphasises the direct physical and emotional effect the system has on individuals. He simply shows what the people will bring themselves to do and offers no emotional or critical comment on his actions. On the other hand, being so close to reality, his work does not provide any alternative interpretations. In an article in European Photography, Sierra is quoted as trying “not to confuse wishfulness with the reality”17, this is understandable, nevertheless alternative interpretations or symbolic expression are not necessarily 'wishful'. But his comment does trigger the question whether symbolic expression - an expression common to artistic practice - could be interpreted as a certain hierarchical positioning of the artist above the observer. After all symbolic expression is the language of the artists, a language that is not universal. In this case it could also be possible to say that the more art is based on symbolic expression the less subversive it is because it follows the status quo of artistic expression. There are those who say that the most of us are visually illiterate, there are those who dispute it. Sierra's attempt at mimicking reality is an attempt to make his art universal, but similarly to Pedro Costa's films, it is inevitable that his work will only be viewed by a section of society, the art critics and museum goers, perhaps because there are some elements of the hegemonic ideology that take longer to subvert. Of course artists such as Thomas Hirschhorn, or street artists display their works in the streets rather than in galleries, but this is not the issue here, rather, a status quo, a certain order will always exist.
17 European Photography (2003) Issue No. 73/74, page 17
4. Conclusive Word 4.1 Emancipation and Subversion An art is emancipated and emancipating when it renounces the authority of the imposed message, the target audience, and the univocal mode of explicating the world, when, in other words, it stops wanting to emancipate us18. When something is subversive, it turns the order of things around, and in doing so it emancipates. But when it stops turning, it stops being emancipatory. 'Subversion' is however not the key, it is emancipation. If there is desire for emancipation then the subversive will continue to subvert, even that what was already subverted. Regardless of whether this desire originates from the spectator or from the author. However if either one has an aim to fulfil: to emancipate someone else, to attract attention, to inform, subversive methods or concepts can be used in order to achieve their aims, but these concepts are not truly subversive because they still function within the traditional order. Wochenklausur's project “Intervention to Aid Drug-Addicted Women” still followed traditional discourse ethics for example. In order for subversion to occur, the hierarchy between spectator and author has to be re-defined, emancipated. There should be no fixed passive or active roles, but neither should the author define the extent of their emancipation. Definition prevents subversion. For the art world this is almost impossible and possible at the same time, as art is not in itself emancipated. It heavily depends on symbolic language to communicate, which has set grammatical forms like any other system, and so there is often a 'univocal mode of explicating the world' and the 'target audience' has been the same for generations. But neither is it impossible to counteract these set forms. After all there has been many an avantgarde, post- or neo-movement that have done exactly that which in turn furthered and constructed the art world we know today. And in this sense the transformation of the definition of 'subversion' described in Chapter 1 still holds true as a transformation 'into a form of treason against the state (system), from within the state (or system) itself'. As though it were the system itself that deliberately self-destructs, repeats and re-creates.
18 Art Forum (March 2007) Art of the possible: Fulvia Carnevale and John Kelsey in conversation with Jacques Ranciere accessed on 09.07.2011 via http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0268/is_7_45/ai_n24354911/
Bibliography Books Breight, Curtis, C. (1996) Surveillance, Militarism and Drama in the Elizabethan Era, Macmillian: London, pages 86-91. Canovan Margaret (1995) Morals and Politics in a Post-Totalitarian Age, in Hannah Arendt: A Reinterpretation of Her Political Thought, Cambridge University Press Collins English Dictionary (1994) Harper Collins Publishers Habermas, Jurgen, (1991) Discourse Ethics: Notes of a Program of Philosophical Justification, in Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action. Trans. Christian Lenart and Shierry Weber Nicholson. Cambridge: MIT Press Kester, Grant H. (2004) Conversation Pieces: Community + Communication in Modern Art, University of California Press Ranciere, Jacques, (2009) The Emancipated Spectator, Verso: London Publications Art Forum (March 2007) Art of the possible: Fulvia Carnevale and John Kelsey in conversation with Jacques Ranciere via http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0268/is_7_45/ai_n24354911/ (accessed 09.07.2011) Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms: (As Amended Through 15 May 2011)" (PDF). Joint Publication 1-02. Department of Defence, USA. p. 351. European Photography (2003) Issue No. 74/74, Santiago Sierra, Keine Privilegien für Niemand, Gabriele Mackert International Socialist Review Issue 32, November–December 2003, A conversation with Noam Chomsky: via http://www.isreview.org/issues/32/chomsky.shtml (accessed 22.07.2011) Internet Definition of Subversion: Referencing Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395U.S. 444, 89 S. Ct. 1827, 23 L. Ed. 2D 430  http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/First+Amendment (accessed 22.07.2011) Definition of Subversion: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subversion (accessed 22.07.2011) Definition of Cultural Hegemony: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cultural_hegemony (accessed 22.07.2011) Colours of Domestic Violence 2007: http://tipsytoes.wordpress.com/2007/05/30/oh-look-at-all-thepretty-colours/ (accessed 23.06.2011) Colours of Domestic Violence 2007: http://writeslikeshetalks.blogspot.com/2007/05/colors-ofdomestic-violencefake-not.html (accessed 23.06.2011)
Laws regarding the mask in France in Le Figaro : http://www.lefigaro.fr/actualitefrance2011/04/08/01016-20110408ARTFIG00630-voile-signes-religieux-ce-qui-est-interdit-enfrance.php (accessed 08.07.2011) Forum discussing mask wearing: http://forums.whyweprotest.net/threads/mask-question.17988/ (accessed 08.07.2011) Filmed protest of Church Scientology of 10th February 2008: http://www.youtube.com/watch? v=2SraUpcJfqw (accessed 08.07.2011) Anoymous: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anonymous_(group) (accessed 08.07.2011) Anonymous South Africa: http://anonymoussa.wordpress.com/ (accessed 08.07.2011) Wochenklausur: http://www.wochenklausur.at/projekt.php?lang=en&id=4 (accessed 22.07.2011) Pedro Costa: http://nplusonemag.com/costa-s-letters (accessed 03.07.2011) Ici et Ailleurs: http://www.no-w-here.org.uk/index.php?cat=1&subCat=docdetail&id=245 (accessed 25.07.2011) Santiago Sierra: www.santiago-sierra.com/(accessed 07.06.2011)
Colours of Domestic Violence, fake campaign distributed over the internet, 2007.
United Colors of Benetton, image of a blood sodden t-shirt from a bosnian soldier,1994.
Barnados charity poster aiming to raise money against poverty, the text on the upper-right reads ‘Baby Greg is one minute old. He should have a bright future. Poverty is waiting to rob Greg of hope and spirit and is likely to lead him to a future of squalor. We can’t end poverty but we can provide the practical skills that Greg and thousands of others in the UK need to stop it predetermining their lives. Don’t let poverty destroy a future’, 2007.
Sisley advert 'fashion junkie', 2007.
Martha Rosler, “Gladiators” from the series “Bringing the War Home: House Beautiful, New Series”, photomontage C-Print 51 x 61 cm, edition of 10, 2004
Martha Rosler, “Back Garden” from the series “Bringing the War Home: House Beautiful, New Series”, photomontage C-Print 51 x 61 cm, edition of 10, 2004
Screenshot from Pedro Costa's film “In Vanda's Room”, 2000.
Santiago Sierra, “160 cm Line Tattooed on 4 People”, which took place in El Gallo Arte Contemporáneo. Salamanca, Spain, 2000.
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue listening from where you left off, or restart the preview.