Artistic practices & democratic politics: towards the markers of uncertainty: from counter-hegemonic positions to plural hegemonies

Svetlichnaja, J. 2011. Artistic practices & democratic politics: towards the markers of uncertainty: from counter-hegemonic positions to plural hegemonies. PhD thesis University of Westminster School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Languages

TitleArtistic practices & democratic politics: towards the markers of uncertainty: from counter-hegemonic positions to plural hegemonies
TypePhD thesis
AuthorsSvetlichnaja, J.

Can artistic and cultural practices play a critical role in societies in which criticisms

are reflexively absorbed and immobilised by the prevailing hegemony? And, if yes,

what kind of political order can they aspire to, given the ‘post-utopian’ nature of the

human condition? How do we approach the tortuous question of the destiny of both

the project of modern democracy and that of aesthetic modernity? There is no

agreement on this issue. We are told that there is no alternative to the existing liberal

democracy and capitalist pluralism without risking yet another dystopia – the

dilemma that in the artistic realm is sometimes articulated as the opposition between

modernism and postmodernism. What might progressive art look like in such times

when the ideas of progress and modernity are viewed with great suspicion?

The most popular positions concerning artistic and cultural practices’ critical

dimension revolve around the idea that with the post-Fordist transformation and the

bankruptcy of the Left, the paradigm of power has really changed. This is reflected

in the radical character of contemporary artistic practices, which desperately struggle

to constitute subject at the expense of themselves. However, the question is: can

these practices be both radical and democratic? This depends on our understanding

of emancipatory politics, the nature of aesthetics and post-Fordist transformation.

We will examine the different approaches to these subjects influenced by the

Frankfurt school and post-Operaist theories to argue that neither Theodor Adorno’s

and Max Horkeimer’s analyses based on the Fordist model, nor Antonio Negri’s and

Paolo Virno’s post-Fordist appropriation of the significance of art in the new forms

of production provide a useful framework with which to grasp the nature of the

changes and challenges that face our society. Such novel ideas as ‘immaterial

labour’ and ‘spontaneous communism’ or exodus and ‘communism of capital’,

despite their new vocabulary, are a dangerous inversion of the Frankfurt school’s

idealism and inability to grasp that social reality is hegemonically constructed through the practices of articulation that temporarily and incompletely ‘fix’ the

meaning of social institutions.

Neither politics nor post-Fordism should be considered through the matrix of

culture, but in terms of hegemony. What is at issue is to grasp the nature of the

democratic and aesthetical paradoxes and envisage how the two could be applied to

contribute to progressive changes in power relations. Judgements must be made –

we have to be able to distinguish between who belongs to demos and who does not;

however, how we judge, which is the subject of aesthetic critique, is at the core of

democratic artistic-political practice.

One way in which artistic practices can be critical is a counter-hegemonic

intervention that acts against the position of supremacy of any hegemonic order and

shows that any fullness exists because there are gaps, but judges this lack in a way

that resists the totalisation of the sensible. However, perhaps the way to weaken the

centre is not just to expose its flaws, but to pluralise hegemonies. In this way, the

idea to pluralise modernism in the era of globalisation could help us to redefine

modern democracy in the post-political era and outline the positive vision of the

‘hegemonic trap’. Could the evolution of artistic-political practice be envisaged as the radicalisation of

‘oppositional identities’, which undermine the hegemonic forms of subject

articulation into compository or shimmering identities, making such supremacy

impossible? Can art become a symbol of emptying ‘democracy’ and thus construct

many ‘democracies’, answering our tortuous question by producing plural answers?

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