– Autumn/Winter 2015

Social Media: Practices of (In)Visibility in Contemporary Art

Sven Lütticken

Reverse graffiti action organised by Ask! (Actie Schone Kunsten) at Nijverheidsweg, Utrecht, 2011. Photograph: Annette Krauss. Courtesy the artists and

Contemporary ‘social art practice’ aims to recompose art’s relationship to its social basis and organisational structures. In this it can be regarded as an expanded form of institutional critique, but something crucial changes in this process of expansion. In recent years, many artists have created organisations that are (at least partly) based in the art world and its institutional structures, but that are not art organisations or art institutions — not even alternative ones, in the sense of artist-run spaces. The result is a kind of generalised aesthetic practice that thrives on a pragmatic stretching of boundaries or on the exploitation of the increasing permeability of both institutions and social fields. Such aesthetic practice refuses to fit into the time-honoured opposition between, on the one hand, the avant-garde’s transgression of the boundaries of art and its attempts to merge art with life and, on the other, institutional critique’s insistence on operating immanently and critically within the institutional structures of art. Neither immanence nor transgression is quite its old self any more.

Another antinomy also needs to be questioned: that between social art practice and digital art or post-internet art.1 To some extent this is a real divide — one of many in an increasingly fragmented artistic field — but it becomes problematic when both sides are turned into reified

  1. This is a slightly different division between 'art worlds' than that addressed by Claire Bishop in her essay 'The Digital Divide' (Artforum, vol.51, no.1, September 2012, pp.434—42). There, and in the responses to that text, the focus is on the divide between 'mainstream art-world art', which includes many forms of media art (such as video installations), and 'digital art'. By now, more of a continuum of media/digital art is emerging, with digital artists such as Rafaël Rozendaal no longer being relegated to the old 'digital art ghetto'.

  2. Nicolas Bourriaud, Relational Aesthetics (1995, trans. Simon Pleasance and Fronza Woods), Dijon: Les presses du réel, 2002, p.69. Emphasis in the original.

  3. See Guy Debord, 'The Situationists and the New Forms of Action in Politics and Art' (1963, trans. Ken Knabb), available at http://www.bopsecrets.org/SI/newforms.htm (last accessed on 20 May 2015).

  4. Karl Marx, 'Theses on Feuerbach' (1845, trans. W. Lough), available at https://www.marxists.org/ archive/marx/works/1845/theses/theses.htm (last accessed on 20 May 2015).

  5. See August von Cieszkowski, Prolegomena zur Historiosophie (1838), Hamburg: Felix Meiner, 1981, pp.81—98 and 143—44.

  6. See Friedrich Schiller, 'Letter Five', Letters upon the Aesthetic Education of Man (1794), Whitefish, MT: Kessinger, 2004, p.10.

  7. See A. Cieszkowski, Prolegomena zur Historiosophie, op. cit., pp.146—47.

  8. Jacques Rancière, 'The Aesthetic Revolution and Its Outcomes: Emplotments of Autonomy and Heteronomy', New Left Review, no.14, March—April 2002, p.151.

  9. See Jean-Paul Sartre, Critique of Dialectical Reason, Volume One (1960, trans. Alan Sheridan-Smith), London: Verso, 2004, pp.228—52.

  10. Langer Marsch durch die Institutionen' is a well-known phrase in Germany; for Dutschke's original use, see Manfred Kittel, Marsch durch die Institutionen? Politik und Kultur in Frankfurt nach 1968, Munich: Oldenbourg, 2011, p.6.

  11. See Pierre Bourdieu, Outline of a Theory of Practice (1972, trans. Richard Nice), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977; and Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life (1980, trans. Steven Rendall), Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984.

  12. Trans-Local, Post-Disciplinary Organizational Practice: A Conversation Between Binna Choi and Marion von Osten', in Cluster: Dialectionary, Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2014, pp.274 and 283. For L'Internationale, which uses the term 'alter institutionality', see http://www.internationaleonline. org/research/alter_institutionality/ (last accessed on 20 May 2015) and Nathalie Zonnenberg, 'The Potential of Plurality: A Discussion with the Directors of L'Internationale', Afterall, issue 38, Spring 2015, pp.63—73.

  13. Disclosure: Casco's director, Binna Choi, is my partner.

  14. Both Tania Bruguera and Fernando García-Dory, whose practices I cannot discuss in any detail in this text, use the term 'para-institution'. See T. Bruguera and Pablo Helguera, 'On Transpedagogy', available at http://www.taniabruguera.com/cms/239-0-On+transpedagogy.htm, and F. García-Dory, 'Inland (2010—...)', available at http://fernandogarciadory.com/index.php?/projects/inland/ (both last accessed on 20 May 2015).

  15. The title of the recent conference 'Artist Organisations International' (Hebbel am Ufer, Berlin, 9—11 January 2015, co-organised by Jonas Staal) was ambiguous in that 'artist organisations' can refer to a wide range of practices, from artists' collectives (such as Gulf Labor), to organisations created by individual artists (like Staal and Martens), to a trade union campaign with which artists are involved (Matthijs de Bruijne was present to discuss Schoon Genoeg!, a campaign by the Federatie Nederlandse Vakbeweging (Dutch Federation of Trade Unions) for cleaners). Indeed, the criticism was heard that some of the participating 'artist organisations' were in fact individual artists' projects disguised as organisations.

  16. See http://cascoprojects.org/casco-case-study-2-site-for-unlearning-art-organization-0; see also Krauss's 'Unlearning' tmblr site, available at http://siteforunlearning.tumblr.com (both last accessed on 20 May 2015).

  17. See http://thesilentuniversity.org (last accessed on 20 May 2015).

  18. See https://www.facebook.com/wearehereacademy (last accessed on 20 May 2015).

  19. Upton Sinclair, Mammonart: An Essay in Economic Interpretation, Pasadena, CA: self-published, 1925, p.386. Sinclair's opus has become an important reference point for Staal in recent years. For Staal's references to Constructivism/Productivism and Beuys, see for instance Jonas Staal, 'New Art for the New University', Open!, 15 June 2015, available at http://www.onlineopen.org/article.php?id=472 (last accessed on 20 May 2015).

  20. 'New World Academy', Centraal Museum, Utrecht, 11 April—21 June 2015. Some of the NWA sessions were quite fractious, which was not apparent from the exhibition; furthermore, the exhibition did not present any of the outcomes, such as the proposal for a 'We Are Here Cooperation' that resulted from the NWA's session with We Are Here. See http://www.debalie.nl/agenda/programma/wij-zijn-hier-coöperatie/e_9397984/p_11137852/ (last accessed on 20 May 2015).

  21. See Paul O'Neill and Mick Wilson (ed.), Curating and the Educational Turn, London and Amsterdam: Open Editions and De Appel, 2010.

  22. See 'Chique Soho House vestigt zich definitief in Bungehuis', Het Parool, 25 February 2015, available at http://www.parool.nl/parool/nl/4024/AMSTERDAM-CENTRUM/article/detail/3873019/2015 /02/25/Chique-Soho-House-vestigt-zich-definitief-in-Bungehuis.dhtml (last accessed on 20 May 2015).

  23. See https://www.facebook.com/pages/De-Nieuwe-Universiteit-voor-een-democratische-universiteit/ 364554890370545?sk=timeline&ref=page_internal (last accessed on 20 May 2015).

  24. The expression 'residually common world' is from Terry Eagleton, The Ideology of the Aesthetic, Oxford: Blackwell, 1990, p.2.

  25. J. Staal, 'New Art for the New University', op. cit.

  26. 'Media = mens + alien.' Bilwet, Media-Archief, Amsterdam: Ravijn,1992, p.81; this exact phrasing is absent from the English version, available at http://thing.desk.nl/bilwet/adilkno/TheMediaArchive/ 43.txt (last accessed on 20 May 2015).

  27. In Bernard Stiegler's parlance, they are 'pharmaka'. See, for instance, B. Stiegler, 'Relational Ecology and the Digital Pharmakon', Culture Machine, no.13, 2012, pp.1—19, available at http://www.culturemachine.net/index.php/cm/article/view/464/501 (last accessed on 20 May 2015).

  28. K. Marx, 'Division of Labour and Mechanical Workshop. Tool and Machinery', Economic Manuscripts of 1861—63, (Part 3) Relative Surplus Value, available at https://marxists.anu.edu.au/archive/marx/ works/1861/economic/ch35.htm (last accessed on 20 May 2015).

  29. See Bertolt Brecht, 'The Radio as an Apparatus of Communication' (1932), Brecht on Theatre: The Development of an Aesthetic (ed. and trans. John Willet), New York: Hill & Wang, 1964, pp.51—52; and Walter Benjamin, 'The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction' (1936), Illuminations (ed. Hannah Arendt, trans. Harry Zohn), London: Pimlico, 1999, pp.211—44.

  30. See Jean Baudrillard's critique of Benjamin, Brecht and Enzensberger in J. Baudrillard, 'Requiem for the Media' (1971), Utopia Deferred: Writings for Utopie (1967—1978) (trans. Stuart Kendall), New York: Semiotext(e), 2006, pp.70—93.

  31. Hans Magnus Enzensberger, 'Constituents of a Theory of the Media', New Left Review, no.64, 1970, pp.13—36.