Final Workshop The Government

January 13 and 14, 2006
University Campus Lueneburg

Concept: Sophia Prinz

Die Regierung (The Government) wanted to give a new turn to the wrenched relation between art and politics. The aim of the final workshop is to get hold of what might have come out of that ambition by inviting people from the venues of the show (Lueneburg, Barcelona, Miami, Vienna, and Rotterdam). The primary source of inspiration for the exhibition concept, the late Michel Foucault's idea of gouvernementalité, will also serve as a kind of leitmotiv for the working session. There is surely no need to add a further interpretation to the range of academic Foucault exegesis. Instead, the „art of government" will serve as a vehicle for a radical speculation on the interdependences between aesthetic and political being.

The unfolding of the show with its five venues and respective local contexts suggests the following topics for debate:

1) knowledge and education
2) the re-institutionalization of criticism
3) the political role of aesthetic affection
4) cinematic form (of an exhibition)
5) modes of relationality

Here is a brief outline of the individual themes and of how they may fit into the overall argument:

Foucault's idea of government differs from his earlier, almost popular paradigm of disciplinary power in one key point: it posits the relative freedom of the subject as a prerequisite for any exercise of power. Government is less about subjection or any immediate use of power than about subtle and indirect ways to govern people's actions; government is an action that acts upon other actions (the action of others). Any critical stance depends on how the aforementioned "relative freedom" becomes translated into actions that do not conform with the rules of governmentality. Criticism is the art of not being governed quite so much.

Actions that act upon other actions (the actions of others) forms the point of departure for a speculation about the aesthetic dimension of a consciousness aware of its relative freedom (Foucault's „technologies of the self") and the entire field of knowledge production. Our aim is to demonstrate not that, but how governmental action frames the world by projecting a categorical line between black and white, shadow and light, good and evil, while proceeding smoothly in a twilight zone. A telling example would be Ambrogio Lorenzetti's Allegory of Good and Bad Government (painted in the mid-14th century in the Palazzo Publico in Siena). Lorenzetti's vision of the impact of governance on everyday life and social cohesion travelled with the show as one marvelous representation of the aesthetic saturation of governmental practices or, conversely, the governmental saturation of the visible world.

However, the link between aesthetics and politics, figuring as a kind of umbilical chord in the Lorenzetti, transcends the regime of pictorial representation, and reaches into the structural or even ontological depths of governmentality itself. Following Foucault's assertion of a total immanence of knowledge, power, and subjectivity, one can fairly assume that the aesthetic and the political are equally interlinked.
The classical distinction between art and politics might be of no use in an analysis, or exhibition, of the mutual ontological interdependence of seeing, visibilities, and power.

1) Aesthetic experience vs. power-knowledge

Subjectice experience lingers in art as well as on the level of governmentalities. This primary irrational and thus also disconcerting dimension of everyday life becomes usually regulated through the production of knowledge. Knowledge production, in other words, sets the highly flexible limits of governmentalities by rendering everything beyond these limits meaningless or even pathological. Today, for example, it is buzzwords such as „self-optimization", „efficiency," and „flexibility" that make a privatized education system appear rational. Art has recently fallen into disrepute as a role model for precisely these slogans. But in contrast to neo-liberal rationalization, it renders the human subject precarious not in material but in intellectual terms: it undermines governmental selves and identity patterns via the shock of „not understanding." Aesthetic critiques of rationality walk a fine line here: the balance between symbolic character and non-meaning must be preserved if a critique of knowledge is to be effective. There is no need of art to loose itself in the oblivion of power-knowledge. Instead, its critical potential lies in its suspended status of latent meaningfulness, for example when it robs legible signs of their unambigousness or places them in unreadable contexts. Could a different form of education be conceived of along these lines? One which draws on the impossibility to close and fix aesthetic experience?

speakers: Antke Engel, Wanda Wieczorek, Ulf Wuggenig

2) The institutions of governmentality

Global institutional forms, such as the museum or the gallery, mean different things at different times and in different places. Consequently, the gestures of institutional critique can neither be repeated nor applied to other contexts. To articulate critical resistance via an institution would have been unfathomable in the Europe of the 70s. But in today's gentrified periphery of Barcelona the local museum might be the only place from where to sustain a critical argument. The role of the local museum needs to be rethought - as a medium to institutionalize non-hegemonic local knowledge and to generate alternative publics.

speakers: Inka Gressel, Joan Roca

3) How the world appears to us: aesthetic affection

According to Kaja Silverman, it takes a desiring subject to make the world appear. The world depends on the human subject entering into an affective bond with it. That can happen only if the subject manages to refind in the world's phenomenal riches what Lacan (via Freud) called „das Ding." For this reason, the sensual encounter between subject and world will always have an ethical dimension. A subject opening itself to the visible world and speaking its own symbolic language of desire, becomes a „worldspectator." According to Silverman, this individual, psychic activity embodies an alternative form of society - one based on a communication and collectivization of subjective modes of seeing [1].
It is tempting to look at governmentalities from the perspective of desire. If subject and world imply each other via a fantasmatic bond - should one no longer speak of governmental actions as being carried out by this or that subject or object, but rather as being located in an in-between, in the hollow form that shapes both subject and object or, as we had it in Miami, „figure and ground?" More bluntly, is affective openness the cure to governmental paranoia? And if so, how to apply that cure? By making exhibitions of things that communicate how they want to be seen?

speakers: Kaja Silverman, Molly Nesbit

4) Cinematic form (as action)

Affection and action help to underscore the fact that perception is essentially processual. Does the governmental universe have a filmic character? Thinking of affection, the relation seems obvious: with each new object that reincarnates „das Ding" in the present, our subjective language of desire is altered - our look and the world of phenomenal forms transform themselves. In contrast to this relatively free, subjective flux of images that is based on a non-causal linking of objects, governmentalities tend to follow a political choreography that is highly aware of former avant-garde techniques, e.g. montage.
The infinitely flexible „dominant fiction" seems nevertheless anchored to at least one narrative trope: the actor or protagonist. Singled out as an individual, that actor seems to correspond to the ideological function of the still image. Anyway, the time has come to give up that kind of criticism that was looking for breaks and fissures in the dominant fiction. What should be explored instead amounts to a consistent rendering of social and historical contexts, narrativizing the structural dependencies of possible actions... upon other actions...

speakers: Hito Steyerl, Rike Frank

5) Aesthetic relationality

Leo Bersani's concept of aesthetic relationality, too, deals with modes of connectedness between beings and things [2]. In contrast to Silverman, however, Bersani takes an anti-psychoanalytical approach. His relationality centers on purely formal correspondences of colors and forms with the aim of overcoming the limitations of individual identity. Might it be fruitful to compare Besani's undecidability of subject and object positions to Foucault's claim of a total immanence of power (of there being no „beyond governmentality")?

speakers: Dieter Lesage, Sophia Prinz

These five subjects seem relevant in order to frame, and finally to kill, The Government. They derive more or less directly from the exhibition itself, from some of the debates surrounding it. But most importantly they help us to look beyond it. If meaning is produced in a relational mode and has not much in common with the things that embody it, the exhibition was just a starting point for an alternative concept of education. An education that ignores the disciplinary borders between the regimes of truth and beauty, and emphasizes the correspondences between political, aesthetic, and economic phenomena that would otherwise be separated by historical, geographical or epistemological gaps.

[1] Silverman, Kaja: World Spectators, Stanford 2000
[2] Bersani, Leo: Forms of Being, London 2004


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