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#1 What is to be done?

Boris Groys // Art in the age of Democracy

Abstract from the platform 1 “Democracy unrealised”, Documenta 11.

Democracy is usually defined as the expression of a general will – or at least as the expression of a will of the majority. That is why different political viewpoints and programs are united under the conditions of democracy by the same political strategy – namely by seeking to bring the majority on their side with the means of propaganda. This quest for the majority constitutes the modern, democratic political field.

Abstract from the platform 1 “Democracy unrealised”, Documenta 11, 2002, Kassel.

 

Democracy is usually defined as the expression of a general will – or at least as the expression of a will of the majority. That is why different political viewpoints and programs are united under the conditions of democracy by the same political strategy – namely by seeking to bring the majority on their side with the means of propaganda. This quest for the majority constitutes the modern, democratic political field.

But since the emergence of the historical avantgarde at the beginning of the 20th Century the modern artists have chosen to pursue a different strategy – the strategy of creating minorities, instead of winning majorities. The politics of the artistic avantgardes is neither the politics of representing an existing majority, nor one of building a new majority. Rather, it is the politics of splitting, differentiation, fragmentation of all possible majorities. In this sense the politics of the avant-garde is a counterpolitics.


Modern art fullfills in this situation the function of inventing and representing all those viewpoints which cannot already any longer or which cannot yet be – or perhaps never will be – politically represented because from the beginning they have no chance to win or build a majority. And on the same time the artistic representation of that which has already established itself politically, is normally felt as tautologic, uninteresting or un-neccesary. That is why art creates an expanded political field that transcends the field of political representation dominated by the standard politics of majority.

Any philosophy of life or any way of life which has failed or is doomed to fail in the political reality, have their place in this expanded political field created by modern art – even the most authoritarian, anti-democratic positions, even the search for an absolute order, even explosions of the politically or sexually determined violence, even all nostalgias and all Utopias, which do not know if their time has run out or is yet to come.

Thus the distinction between political field and art field is determined by the distinction between politics of majority and politics of minority. Nevertheless some art attitudes become later political attitudes and vice verse. The borderline between art and politics is leaky and constantly crossed in both directions. Our modern democratic system of representation –aesthetical and political – is a product of this permanent transgressional generating of the ever new positions, attitudes and cultural forms. We can say that the museum of modern or contemporary art is an expanded parliament of political opinions and cultural attitudes that are devised to appeal to minorities but can also win a majority and become politically relevant instead of being only artistically relevant.

Boris Groys, 2002

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