Contemporary philosophers and theorists prefer to speak of communities rather than the International, of alternative groupings, pulsing and networking in affectation, eroticized in symbolic exchange. Whether you’re a Punk, a Raver, a Hip-Hopper or even a member of ATAC, radicalization is coded into your way of life. Because you can only be consequently authentic if you drop out from society’s general production in favour of relating to your community. For this reason, such communities are very site-specific. On the other hand, they are only possible thanks to the global language of pop-culture. Today, the experience of such groups appears as an important model for artists in search of the connections between local marginality and global significance.
In how far is it important to consider the experience of new local communities that draw their linguistic legitimacy from global pop-culture? In how far do they influence the development of contemporary art?
New international communities appear as pockets of resistance; then, pop-culture legitimates them. You might consider art as one of these communities; in some cases, there is a direct connection between art and resistance, as is the case with graffiti. But neither hip-hop, punk nor rap are capable of exerting any real pressure on art; the source of the pressure is actually consumer society. The speed with which consumption makes its appropriations is constantly growing.
The fact that a local community can “go global” cannot be overestimated. First, it is produced by a convention to which anyone can subscribe, no matter who and where he/she is, thus identifying himself/herself as raver, hip-hopper. This, in turn, can also lead to the appearance of a more substantial identity. The possibility itself of such identification through such an unlimited mechanism can be seen as a challenge for any artist, intellectual, politician, revolutionary or anybody who has a project.
Psychoanalyst, curator, critic//Petersburg
There is no such thing as a universal language of pop-culture. On the one hand, the language of Russian pop stars, with only a few exceptions, is impossible to translate. On the other hand, a universal pop star like Brittney Spears is not universal. People in England and Japan don’t actually see her in the same way. There is no such thing as complete transparency of seeing or vision at all, be it external or internal. The illusion of the outer markers’ code-compatibility does not allow you to understand the other better. Instead, it confirms the narcissism of recognizing yourself. Moreover, I see that it often comes down to punk vs. punk, that subcultures are internally and externally divided. So I wouldn’t speak of pop-culture at all. Instead, there is mass-mediated culture, which strives toward unification and universality, but never actually reaches its goals. As strange as it may seem, this non-fulfillment is a necessary condition for the movement of capital. Mass-mediation strives to capitalize everything that moves, including what we call “counter-cultures” and “the avant-garde”. Thanks to this, culture’s critical voice is both muted and amplified. As far as the pressure of mass-culture is concerned, it depends on your position. You can subordinate yourself and rush into its embrace, but you can also say, “They may be fucking us over, but that only makes us stronger.”
In my view, it is quite naïve to attribute some kind of radicalism to punks and ravers. What’s so radical? That you smoke dope, have an extravagant haircut, that you own a brilliant bijouterie, or that you dance until the morning? One can probably speak of everyday radicalism when it comes to certain political groups. Some artists (like the Situationists) were successful in conducting special experiments in this field, but these were very limited experiences.
By the way, such experiences are closely related to exclusiveness. As far as pop-culture is concerned, I see that that the problematique of its influence on critical culture has exhausted itself long ago. The sale of the German music-journal SPEX, at the very latest, has put a close to any further inquiry. As we know, this publication tried to understand these or those segments of pop-culture as a part of critical culture. In my opinion, it is already clear today that the way they related to pop was an exaggeration. Pop culture is closely connected to the entertainment industry, which exerts a great deal of pressure onto art; most of the time, this pressure is extremely negative. With every year that passes, it becomes harder for us to resist.
John Peter Nilson
It is meaningful to structure the world and the ways of doing so always seem to follow certain trends linked with the obsession of defining what is now and here. I don’t see any problems if artists are interested in such processes. At least as long as they create the trends themselves and not just become followers.
Artist, curator, critic//Kalinigrad
It is obvious that subcultures are actually divided and in conflict with one another. Many phenomena are descriptively identical to art. They fulfill art’s functions for people who aren’t involved in art or who have made too few or too negative experiences with it. Today, one can discover many instances of what Peter Weibel calls “hotel cultures”. Oriented toward presenting changing impressions, they address fields of significance that have long since lost their uses (among them, all-time favorites such as MTV-consciousness, fashion, lifestyle, and clubbing). Some components of the art system have shifted: elements that were once auxillary supplements have become primary, as far as pop consciousness is concerned. In turn, elements and characteristics that once played the role of dominants have now become secondary. In the end, on both profane and expert levels, they supply us with a pre-validated factor of indifference, translated from one event to another. Returning to the question at hand, I am interested in the experiences of some communities connected to contemporary art, while the experiences of those who camouflage or disguise themselves as contemporary art simply leave me cold.
The last years have failed to produce any fundamentally new form of community. Moreover, all of the old forms have succumbed to commercialization, degenerating or dying out. All of this has happened without the exclusion of “crowds” or groups of friends, dependent on the global media-order, infected by the virus of “success”, “the very best” and all the rest. In principle, only one thing is important: movements and artists represent a certain value. Their activity offers a fundamental appeal. Subcultures are often much alike in their use of pseudo-activist slang. A sign-system with referents such as “realness” or “radicalism” is actually little more than a cliché since its over-exploited terms can be related to anything at all. If a movement arose who potential values would not consist in making the “top ten”, of becoming a trend-setter, there might actually be something to talk about. However, most movements, directions and groups measure themselves by (and represent) the values of clichés. “Radical chic” is a gene of “victoriomorphosis” (=triumphant opportunism), destructive from within. All of these international communities aren’t even worth a damn, simply because their architecture (their structural base) is identical to a key product of the media – clans, “families” and mafias. Art only deceives itself through a false orientation toward what seem to be objective societal precedents. But these do not exist.
Bart de Baer
How horrible that we don’t have an alternative to the ‘glocal’ word. Now, I am. I am connected, in the choices of my mind, with you, with my local environment, with Paulo Herkenhoff in Rio as well. These connections make me specific. They express my activity, my being. Aren’t we on the wrong track in our negotiation?
Editor, curator, critic//Moscow
I feel that that the network-type of alternative movement has already exhausted itself, following what was a romantic period of initiation. Today, we are facing a different situation: on invitation from the mayor of Florence, the anti-globalists brought more than a million of protestors to the streets; “Attac” has been invited to join a revived socialist party etc. Instead of networks, we need real national and transnational organizations, culture instead of subculture. While this certainly brings the danger of bureaucratization and the imposition of hierarchy etc., it is the only way for actually reforming society and effectively counteracting the cultural industry’s muting of sub-cultural initiatives. The future party structure will face the task of renewing the institutions of representative democracy and its system of cultural and educational institutions. This task cannot be achieved on the fairground of a carnival.
The organization of the movement as a network (and not as a hierarchy, such as the traditional International) is really one of the discoveries and achievements of the contemporary Left. But for how long can this continue? As Empire grows stronger in terms of politics and military force, will the Left find itself in need of a more rigid, disciplinary form of self-organization? Or can this self-organization find some new developmental vector, free of partisan interest and discipline?
First of all, to be fair, the following observation: any subculture, all the more so a subculture with pretences toward “radical chic”, is already not a community. In general, the theme of the community actually arose through Communism’s concrete institutional materializations. In materializing as a bureaucratic system, Communism successfully discarded this kind of togetherness, since it is impossible to express in an institutional form such as party, social institution, state etc. The community’s togetherness resists being frozen or transformed into a registry of easily identifiable institutions and norms. In other words, this society is on the edge; marginality is the experience it endures. As we all know, artists and revolutionaries experience this most intensively. Such new communities and their experiences are only interesting to the extent that they remain subversive. The degree of their subversive potential can be determined by measuring how many of their signs are doubled by the dominant culture – which is not necessarily pop.
On to pop-culture. Many intellectuals have a relation to pop that is ambivalent to say the least. You can examine pop as an object. But can you really love it? May the Lord preserve us from such misery. At the same time, the sharpest among today’s contemporary artists are those who come from this craziness in one way or another. Pop-culture is capable of saying more than one can even imagine about communities that accept clichés apriori. The fact of a cliché’s use is something we won’t argue about. On the other hand, in this form of consumption, for the shortest possible moment, the cliché is interpreted freely; culture does not control the direction of its effects. When the cliché dematerializes and loses itself in the power of significance, it suddenly becomes a substitute for memory and even for experience altogether. Then, an artist arises and expresses this experience. The experience of togetherness already exists, the clichés are already present; the newcomer reveals the cliché in its new quality.