Thursday, December 03, 2009

I would Prefer To!

(5th attempt, and certaintly not the last, to clarify my research)

Art, as politics, pose questions of responsibility about our role in society (1) and a politicized art can be part of the toolkit of the radical and plural democratic project (Mouffe, 2009). Democracy should be under constant revision, and the role of one and each citizen is paramount to the maintenance of its project, or it is not. Notions of participation and resistance are then an important aspect for this maintenance. My affiliation would be to art that call to arms and inspire people to take action but the contemporary discourse seems to be much more directed towards passive resistance. This led me to think of the political gesture of Michael Angelo’s David and Agamben notion of passive resistance seen through Melville’s character Bartleby who “would prefer not to” (2) , as different examples of resistance. On the one hand a call for an active participation on the other a call for inaction as strategies of defeating hegemonic systems. Being the first utopian, ideological and outdated and the latter conforming to the Zeitgeist and offering potential effect. This poses a problem to my own position as a possible conservative one (in the sense of maintaining old left-wing pro active strategies), and how to understand this idea of participation through non-participation, which I visceral refuse. But why? is it because I want to hold on to outdated ideals? Or is there really something counter-productive leading to global inaction on theorising around refusal as a positivist resistance position?

So what is at stake is active/passive resistance, participative participation and non-participative participation. Is one excluding the other? Believing that the latter does really have a potential for change, and is the strategy to follow, what would happen if we would just ALL disengage? We should not forget that Melville’s Bartleby dies in the end. Does this mean that the opposite it true, that the participation of ALL is ultimately ineffective? If active participation might help the formation of collectives is refusal individualistic? Is this a matter of which has stronger agency? I was before holding on to the idea of the small gesture , as a dear one, but is the small gesture (3) actually a refusal of participating in grand visible projects?

Kris Cohen gave –in the lecture “atmospheres of participation”– the Tutti Bianchi squad as an example of refusal. The Tutti Bianchi operates on the G8 summits as a heavily padded group of people under white overalls that conduct a kind of Gandhi resistance. Staying in front of the mass of demonstrators they take the blows of the riot police without being hurt. I argue that this is not exactly a sit in protest, they prepare themselves in advance and do attempt to progress in the confront field to win territory and by doing so affirming the eligibility of demonstrating and how the local governments have been pushing this protests further and further from the actual location of the meetings (4). But if this extraordinary form of resistance is truly a Bartlebian one, what does this make of my argument of these being different types of participation? But is it really, or are theorists just pushing it a bit to far?

1 ( Bernadette Buckley lectures in art and politics helped to articulation this idea)
2 ( A month of lectures and reading led me to this feeling of a contemporary celebration of inaction, failure, non reciprocity, indifference, doing wrong as active modes of expressing dissactisfaction and therefore sites of resistance.)
3 (Hannula, M. (2006) the Politics of Small Gestures – Chances and Challenges for Contemporary Art, Art-ist)
4 ( I owe this notion to Oliver Ressler)

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