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From the Editors

Against Standardising Art

Guftugu provides space for visual art as much as it does to literature and the discussion and debate of ideas. Why? To put it simply, every work of art, whatever its theme, is unique. This uniqueness – which may not necessarily proclaim itself as oppositional or progressive — opposes ‘standardisation’ and ‘totalisation’. Not even the highest bidder can appropriate it other than as an object that may fetch a price.

The mission of modern art was supposed to be to bear witness to the fact of the unpresentable. The singularity of appearing then must be a negative presentation: Barnett Newman’s monochrome canvas cleaved by a lightning flash. (Or, in poetry, the naked speech of Paul Celan or Primo Levi.) Installations that play on the indiscernibility between works of art and objects of commerce can be, as Jacques Rancière says, ‘a nihilist accomplishment of aesthetic utopia’. What happens in the new art – museum installations, spatialised music, contemporary dance or ‘movement art’ – is a de-specification of instruments, materials and apparatuses specific to different arts. Here we find that aesthetics is not the name of a discipline, but the name of a specific regime for the identification of art. Art moves from subjects to gestures and is political not only because of the messages and sentiments it conveys concerning the state of the world, nor only because of the manner in which it might represent society’s structures or social groups, their identities and conflicts. It is political because of the type of space and time it institutes and the manner in which it frames this time and peoples this space.

Aesthetics does not cover up ugly truths, it is a conscious attention, concern and value applied to surfaces shapes, arrangements, techniques, movements, dynamics, suspensions, densities, repetitions and their expressive powers as opposed to a limited focus only on content, utility, expediency and practicality. Defence of aesthetics is the defence of imagination, pleasure, sensual and intellectual freedom, curiosity, play, experimentation, essay, openness. Art is not necessarily about harmony and wholeness, but can be an awareness of discord, dissonance, or ‘dissensus’ (as opposed to ‘consensus’). It opposes the capitalist world view by resisting utilitarian co-option: the shape of a poem, cadences, surprises, sounds and spaces cannot be commodified nor taken as booty. Art is anathema to oppressors as it always generates new ideas, forms, desires, possibilities, energies and love of existing in the world.

Art opposes all forms of regimentation and invests the quotidian with layers of meaning. The autonomy of art that the avant-garde defends is a refusal to compromise with the practices of power and the aestheticisation of life in the capitalist world. Avant-garde art is the inscription of the unresolved contradictions between the aesthetic promise and the realities of oppression in the world. It breaks down the obvious orders and unsettles traditional patterns in an attempt to redefine the sensible. It resists simple interpretations. It is informed by the products and practices of every day, but also differs from them in significant ways. It is difficult to question its meanings as it questions the very process of assigning meanings. The aesthetic regime disrupts the boundaries between and redistributes the sense created by other practices. Any profane object could get into the realm of artistic experience and any artistic production could become part of the framing of a new collective life. Art interrogates the hierarchical organisation of the community and creates experiences that disrupt the results of domination in everyday life. Art contributes to resistance by reconfiguring the realm of appearances and reframing the way problems have been posed. It contests the way capacities, voices and roles have been apportioned in the existing order. Artistic practices redefine what can be seen and said (as defined by the hegemonic forces that constitute and embody the State) and the implicit estimations placed on the members of communities. Art operates upon the aesthetic dimensions of the political as politics itself is a struggle over what can be seen and heard. It denies the rigid identities stamped upon us by the police order and provokes counter-histories that would offer new forms of experience and exchange between art and life. As Nancy Adajania points out, net art, video art, installations, intermedia art and conceptual art are all trying to fight the commodification of art sought by global capital, as also the custom-made and predictable art of the establishment, and create solidarities and environments conducive to redefining the role of art in history by retrieving the expressive and performative aspects of culture so far excluded from art. And this precisely is the context that compels us to present contemporary art as part of our undeclared anti-totalising project.


K. Satchidanandan
April 2017