Max Klebb: collectivizing anti-national refusal Max Klebb (1) seeks to unite art workers in the task of anti-nationalism. Art might be just one more branch of the culture industry, but this perspective on its commodity status formulates not only arts limitation but also positively positions its participation in social processes.
From this position in commodified culture, art might function as a lever to pull open the contradictions to which it is subjected. In attempting to base Max Klebbs political action in art on its intrinsically affirmative character within capitalist societies, our attempt for an anti-national action starts from the acknowledgement of arts limits. We base its politicality on the reality that needs to be defeated and not on an artistic romanticism that tries to escape from it.At present, there is no revolution on the horizon, but nevertheless (and maybe even because of this) there are numerous artistic projections of revolution. Ignoring realitys overpowering forces may be blissful but countering them with projected artistic omnipotence leads back into the long-established forms of arts function in the reproduction of the capitalist nation-state. In it, art represents a romanticist but constitutively unreal dream world.
This is the major strategy of documenta and the biennials: to call for aesthetic avant-gardes with slogans coined by long-undermined revolutions. They are politically irresponsible vis-à-vis the revolutionary past as much as the counterrevolutionary present. Such pretensions of a purely aesthetic revolution stabilize first and foremost arts role as an aesthetic substitute for political action.Art cannot replace revolutionary politics. It cannot prefigure a revolutionary collective movement because, in its present state, its production is recognized only as a representation of inconsequential forms of individuation. The artist, as a figure of capitalist production, is still defined by the irregularity of his work relations, as much as by the exceptionalism of his product, even if both follow closely defined conventions. Highly differentiated, sometimes even opposing spheres of representation within the art field such as the market artist as well as the exhibition artist approximate the trends and formal demands of the art market or imply those of national funding.
None of them can be played against the other, forcefully rejected or outrun, since they both fulfill a fundamentally representative role for contemporary capitalist society.While it would certainly need a general revolutionary movement to overturn the market and capitalist relations of production in total and thereby end the catering of art markets to the contemplative fashions of societies, it is the exhibition artist as well as exhibition art that currently fulfill the basic ideological needs of present-day European nationalism: representation of a cultured and thereby totally self-referential criticality. In the European context, art more and more regresses towards being anticipated as the nations exteriorized critical conscience. When it is pulled off the market, art diffuses into the state.
Even individual artistic contempt for national culture today functions, willingly or unwillingly, within the scheme of such critical appreciation and thus might be converted into national proof of self-criticality. This is why Max Klebb sees a need for a collective anti-national organization in contemporary art. As exhibitions like documenta and others have shown in recent years, the exhibition value of an artist or an artwork today is intrinsically bound up with its capacity for prefiguring political states of reflection or, where a more agitation-like surface is desired, even those of political action. This state of criticality has, as a self-referential gesture within art, taken up a hegemonic place in contemporary exhibition practices. The national character of this trend, which we have tried to outline above, marks the return of a central historical asset of art: the representational function for national culture it acclaimed in the rise of the modern nation-state at the beginning of the 19th century.
Max Klebb wants to provoke dissent against the contemporary returns of arts constitutional role for modern, capitalist societies. Arts historical being as an accessory to the rise and stabilization of the modern capitalist nation-state returns today in actualized form. This form is appropriated for the rewww of a nationalism that no longer presents itself as a question of blood and soil, but, in its neoliberalized version, as one in an endless series of individualized and subjective notions of national identity. This subjectivized nationalism turns the national focus from the formation of groups of inclusion and exclusion towards the introspection of the individual subject. Instead of the citizen, the individual is addressed; its national function is sought in its personal characteristics.
This neoliberalization of nationalism, like that of the labor force, has first of all a deeply desolidarizing effect. And this desolidarization today is implied first of all in the demands formulated towards the subjecton the level of its labor force as well as in social positioning. The nationalism of blood and soil could be, politically as well artistically, opposed by solidarizing against its racism, its anti-Semitism and its anti-modern roots, while its neoliberal version seems to propose a much more desirable position for cultural producers to take nowadays. While left radical groups try to oppose this new form of nationalism collectively, the contemporary artistic sphere has in its majority affirmed such desolidarizing and subjectivizing demands in the rejection or simple absence of collective politics. Thus, the attempts of contemporary nationalism to incorporate every individual notion, be it critical or affirmative, as one related to the nation creates an affective, subjective, one might even say culturalized relation towards the political construction of the nation. It lets each and every individual notion become perceivable as gravitating towards national sentiment; it lets it become ultimately productive for nationalisms still-reactionary core: a nationalist egalitarianism still based on social inequality and exclusion for the sake of its capitalist reproduction.
In the interest of such violent national unity, critique has become a hegemonically funded pattern in recent years, and it is against this hegemony that we call for a decisive and collective anti-national stance in art. There is no possibility for a contemplative relationship to the renewed national affirmation of artistic practices, which defers political debates into culture and uses art as a primary asset of affirmative action. Artistic production has to take up this unwanted responsibility to collectively reject the national substitution of politics in art.In Germany, the country where and against which Max Klebb formulates our initial efforts, the last years have seen a rise of such criticalist re-evaluations of nationalism in culture on a large scale. The establishing of the Humboldtforum in the soon-to-be-rebuilt Stadtschloss in Berlin-Mitte is only the most furious and state-driven of these attempts.
High culture and, even more specifically, the visual arts herein bear the affirmative function of a subjectivist confirmation of nationalist values. In the return of the German Meister-Maler in figures such as Daniel Richter and Jonathan Meese, the insertion of contemporary art into historicist national displays, as are planned for the Humboldtforum, or, within such eminently self-reflexive nationalist exhibitions as Deutschland sucht, at the Cologne Kunstverein (2004), in which young and acclaimed critical German curators showed their German faves; Made in Germany, at the Kestnergesellschaft, the Sprengelmuseum, and the Hannover Kunstverein (2007), which organized trips to artists studios so that one could see German art production at first hand; German Angst, at the nbk in Berlin (2008), which presented historical fragments of a better, more critical but nevertheless German consciousness; or Vertrautes Terrain, at the ZKM in Karlsruhe (2008), which, most consequentially, amassed over 300 works and objects, discussions, and readings, a nationalist approach to artistic production was refigured to define the German between predicate and precariousness. In all of these exhibitions, artists who had produced decidedly anti-national works and claimed equally decisive anti-national positions in the artistic discourse were asked to participate.
In this very context, however, which aimed at the contemporary nationalization of cultural production, their individual statements turned into what the curators of Vertrautes Terrain labeled art in and about Germany. This slogan illustrates the spin the curators gave to even antinational artworks: art gravitates towards the nation. A national jubilee year in Germany is fast approaching. 2009 will mark the sixtieth anniversary (on May 23) of the founding of the West German state, and the year will witness the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. It is foreseeable that national triumphalism here will work itself up to new heights, and so we want to call for a collectivized position against such Germanisms. It is in no way sufficient to thematize such tendencies in art, to make them one of its topics. Rather, our call is directed towards a discussion that asks to what extent commodification and nationalism still lie at the core of what today is still defined as art, as a branch of the culture industry, which still claims a privileged status. It is our aim to use this selfsame status to take on its very own presuppositions.
In attempting to base ones political action in art on its intrinsically affirmative character within capitalist societies, our attempt for an anti-national action starts from the acknowledgement of arts limits, in order to base its politicality on that reality that needs to be defeated and not on an artistic romanticism that tries to escape it. We are attempting to unite in art, but not for art.Max Klebb is based in Berlin. We are currently sending letters to producers, organizers and editors of art with whom Klebb wants to assemble a series of disputes, meetings, productions, and debates, thus bringing together an anti-national alliance. Max Klebb will also cooperate with other anti-national political and artist-run organizations on public events and publications against Germany in 2009.
1. Max Klebb is the unborn son of Max Perutz (an exiled glaciologist who tried to construct an unsinkable carrier from reinforced ice in the struggle against Nazi Germany) and Rosa Klebb (the Russian major who chases James Bond in From Russia with Love (1963), as played by Lotte Lenya).