Alex Auriema: Deleuze and the Moral Debate, 2011-04-13
For personal pleasure I watch highlights from the US senate deliberations on CSPAN (The public/private network in America that continuously streams house and senate debates from the capitol). It is at times a totally masochistic and boring endeavor. However, there are times of sheer brilliance that almost make the hours of sifting through these highlights worthwhile. Last year during the health care reform debate I witnessed one of these moments of genius: it took the form of a public art performance by two republican house representatives. These two conservative white men woke up early that sunny morning to print an entire version of the sum 2,000-page document and in a gestural act of defiance unrolled the document page by connected page down the white steps of Capitol Hill. If it not for the utter beauty of this act and its unknowing reference to modern art history (think here: Carolee Schneemann, or the Situationists) I would have thought twice about calling it ‘art’. But this gesture is in fact art, lowered to the simplest form, a pure poetic (visual) act - melding in this case both Politics major and politics minor.
I mention this particular instance, because I am convinced that ‘art’ proper is happening everyday, outsides the confines of the art world, even within the conservative neo-liberal arena. And the reason I think it important to preface this long winded rant is not to dismember hundreds of years of art history, or to propose that the word ‘art’ is irrelevant, but it is to attempt to liberate the sometimes insular and homogenized discourse and practice within the arts- and those outside the arts. When in fact we allow these gestures to escape the confines of art discourse into a broader world of limitless artistic gestures (awkward overlaps in the form of republican performance, and multidisciplinarity), critically we can then start to have real conversations, real problems.
So rather then begin the discussion of Renzo Marten’s film as ‘art’ proper, lets begin to dissect its inherent problematics. Because I think it is obvious that Martens although working exclusively for an art market and audience is employing social realities well outside of this world.
Perhaps it is also important that we then establish a few critical entry points to both Renzo Martens film and broader topics in social practice (emphasis on my resistance to use the term ‘political art’). Deleuze for instance has often drawn a distinction between ‘ethics’ and ‘morality’ - and I think his distinction in this case opens up an interesting debate when coupled with Martens work - and further immanent ethics.
Deleuze uses the term ‘morality’ to define, in very general terms, any set of constraining rules, such as moral code, that consists in judging actions and intentions by relating them to transcendent or universal values. What he calls ‘ethics’ on the other hand is a set of facilitative [facultative] rules that evaluates what we do, say, and think according to the immanent mode of existence that it implies.
What Deleuze’s theory of immanent ethics will criticize then is anything that separates its mode of existence from its power of acting - and what separates us from our power of acting are ultimately the illusions of transcendence. 1
Therefore the question: "How selfish can a person be"? (in response to Martens work posed by the anonymous respondent respectively) is framing the debate in a moral tone, which I would argue limits the debate to a good and evil situation. Whereas one could evaluate the success of Marten’s work in the fact that it reverses this tendency, and turns it from a question of “What must I do?” -which is a question of morality- to a question of what can I do, or “what am I capable of doing?”- Which is the question of an ethics without morality.
This is in fact the fundamental problem proposed by immanent ethics and also what Enjoy Poverty frames: How can people reach a point where they actually desire their own servitude and slavery as if it were their own salvation - for those in power have obvious interest in separating us from the capacity to act?
Writes Delueze following Reich says: “The astonishing thing is not that some people steal or that other occasionally go out on strike, but rather that all those who are starving do not steal as a regular practice, and all those who are exploited are not continually on strike” (Anti-Oedipus, pg. 32)
We witness this immanent ethics in sometimes astonishing verisimilitude in Martens work from the euphoric glow of the neon, to the seemingly complacent locals underneath it. There is an incredible tension, where that neon sign is transcendence, under any totalizing values, preventing any ethics from taking place.
1. Deleuze and the Question of Desire. Daniel, Smith. Parrhesia journal #2, 2007.
Migle Bareikyte, short commentary on Renzo Martens, "Enjoy Poverty. Episode III", 2011-04-06
I have watched Renzo Marten's "Enjoy Poverty" and several interviews with an author on Youtube.com. I liked a rhetorical question one disturbed man has raised after the screening of the film in some workshop: "How selfish can a person be"? I find it to be an interesting question, which can be raised to many people who made a film (or video artwork, whatever you want to call it) and who participated in the film. Martens reminds me of the perplexed westerners, who come to an old village in Eastern Europe and trie to teach the natives how they should lead their life. Although I get the image, that this trip and the making of the film was a very emotional journey for Martens, but it is also a journey, which is made to satisfy specific interests of an author.
Why did he go there? To make a revolution? Or to satisfy his psychological needs... A white man, who speaks as a teacher to the natives (as he says, he actually wants to "train them", "teach them how to deal with life"), seems as a naive person, who has walked out of his house, and understood that there are many, who cannot afford to have it. It seems that it is difficult for Martens to get in touch with the native people: the dialogues are vague, Martens, as a authoritative person, speaks and the natives listen, sometimes he seems not to respect the people with whom he communicates (for example, when one guy asks, why does Martens sew a badge of UN to his child's T-shirt, either Marten has cut out his answer, or he does not bother to answer). He tries to show us the power relations (rich people/companies from the "West", poor people from Kongo, etc.) while at the same time he is acting according to the same logic of those he is trying to describe: it is he, who has a power and teaches the other.
After watching a film, one understands, that many people in Kongo are exploited, the distribution of the money for aid is doomed to failure (Martens does not explain this issue more precisely though), and the images of dying or sick children are often to see overall in the film. In the end of his work Martens gives some food for one family, which is happy to eat some proper meal. While eating, the conversation between family members and the white man from Europe seems to be the conversation of the dictator and the people, who obey him, listen to him with respect etc. At the very end of the film Martens still seems to be perplexed, even sad, as he says: it is not easy to help for people to use their talents, i.e. to use Martens revolutionary idea for the natives to profit from selling the pictures of the poor or dying neighbours (instead of letting the photographers from the "West" to do that and earn money).
Martens has tried. Why should not his efforts become a success? As an artwork, it is a good one - it raises questions and does not let you to remain indifferent (probably only for an artwork, though...). It is different than a cozy sofa and nice wine in the evening: why not to explore such issue - let's call it "neocolonialism", although you seem to have no access and power to change it?
Anyway, the actions and ideas of ironical Martens-the savior, who travels to Africa and tries to help the natives and show the hegemony of the West, seem to be either naive or manipulatory. The theory of power relations, post-colonialism exist - I don't know exactly, how many years ago? The people in Africa have not enough money and food - does nobody know it? But, as Martens says, his film is made for Europe (I guess one should add, for galleries and exhibitions in Europe, where people like to watch at something, what is not nice and not very common for everyday life; for this purpose, though he could also have travelled to many other places, since Africa is quite often explored - but wait a minute, actually, he did! Went to Chechnya!).
I guess, one should not think, that people are so naive, and nobody knows that exploitation does exist: Martens, we know that, exploitation is to be found even near our home. You can go to some villages in Lithuania or Russia - would also see situations which are, probably, not that difficult and massive as in Kongo, but the lack of money, sometimes - food, social exclusion etc. exist.
To conclude, the only value of the film seems to be a value for Martens, since the information he tries to give is not a new one: Martens seems to understand how capitalism works, and tries to make use of that. It is now possible to show his product - film - in various galleries / festivals and in such a way raise the social capital of the author and make the programme of the festivals more interesting and atractive (it is always more interesting to discuss about the things you cannot / do not want / would not like to affect, and which are negative - it raises many emotions in various kitchens and galleries).
Martens, with a serious expression in his face, looks at the horizon of the tents, covered with the logos of United Nations, and in the same time makes his film a big logo of Martens. For how many euros can you sell the image of humanism?
Javier Fresneda, 2011-04-01
The drunken master: a silent learning
"They call this teaching? Sweep away all the broken bones!
"My first thing students learn is to fall.
(Drunken Master: Drunk Monkey In The Tiger Eye, 1978)
What things we have learned we do not know? This is probably one of the issues this fundamental text, largely inspired by the film Drunken Master (1978), one of the key moments of the actor Jackie Chang. Inevitably a film's content should be revealed below, so I would recommend the reader to see your point of sale nearest and purchase a copy of this film, and later, if still necessary, return here (1).
Part of the plot of Drunken Master recounts the vicissitudes suffered by Wong Fei-hung, or Freddy Wong (Jackie Chang), a rebellious but talented apprentice in martial arts, and the encounter with his uncle Sam Seed (Yuen Siu Tien), the legendary Drunken Master. In the film, the initial learning becomes Freddy scheduled by imitating rigid sequences of kung-fu techniques -the lion, the crane, the monkey- based on observed movements of these animals have no place in Freddy boredom only to the educational process -sadly predictable- but also a false sense of accordance with their abilities.
Tired of the antics of Freddy, his father Wong Kei-ying (Lam Kau), decides to send it to his Uncle Sam Seed, so it will teach the technique of the Eight Drunken Gods. The learning process Fred is injured and delirious, but not without its effectiveness in achieving the domain of techniques from his uncle. As a brief summary of methodology, are presented below a number of characters or brief the Drunken Master types used during the learning process Freddy:
-The educational ellipsis : The methodology followed by Sam Seed deleted explanations relating to the subject of their own exercises. Freddy is placed in situations of maximum fatigue, making seemingly absurd tasks -water-filled jars in a precise order, or in the most strenous way- ignoring he is actually training. Learning this way is not discharged in a manner consciously or dialectical, but inoculated into the body. The physical memory acts here as a capacitor of information assimilated in a non-conscious, and know during the implementation practice of these training experiences.
Continued...Full text can be dowloaded here.
Viktorija Siaulyte, 2011-03-31 - Quotations
“The point of any form of critical, theoretical activity was never resolution but rather heightened awareness and the point of criticality is not to find an answer but rather to access a different mode of inhabitation.”
“At the heart of ‘smuggling’ is obviously contraband, its materiality and its facticity. And one of the questions that we need to ask is how do critical subjectivities intersect with contraband and what new forms of critical empowerment come out of this? In addition we would want to ask whether smuggling enables communication and if we can conceive and materialise a new theory of mobility out of it, one that links it more closely to the notions of ‘field work’, i.e. the work of fields rather than that which is located in fields, a term we are privileging at present as an understanding of our practice.”
“Smuggling operates as a principle of movement, of fluidity and of dissemination that disregards boundaries. Within this movement the identity of the objects themselves are obscured, they are not visible, identifiable. They function very much like concepts and ideas that inhabit space in a quasi legitimate way. Ideas that are not really at home within a given structure of knowledge and thrive in the movement between things and do not settle into a legitimating frame or environment. The line of smuggling does not work to retrace the old lines of existing divisions – but glides along them. A performative disruption that does not produce itself as conflict.”
Rogoff, Irit. Smuggling. An Embodied Criticality.
“According to Freud, the repressed is intellectually accepted by the subject, since it is named, and at the same time is negated because the subject refuses to recognise it, refuses to recognise him or herself in it. In contrast to this, foreclosure rejects the term from the symbolic tout court. To circumscribe the contours of this radical rejection, one
is tempted to evoke Badiou's provocative thesis: "It is better to do nothing than to contribute to the invention of formal ways of rendering visible that which Empire already recognizes as existent.'' Better to do nothing than to engage in localised acts the ultimate function of which is to make the system run more smoothly (acts such as providing space for the multitude of new subjectivities). The threat today is not passivity, but pseudoactivity, the urge to "be active," to "participate," to mask the nothingness of what goes on. People intervene all the time, "do something"; academics participate in meaningless debates, and so on. The truly difficult thing is to step back, to withdraw. Those in power often prefer even a "critical" participation, a dialogue, to silence-just to engage us in "dialogue," to make sure our ominous passivity is broken.”
Zizek, Slavoj. Violence, Picador, 2008, p.216-217.
“If domination is everywhere, the traditional jobs of neohumanist political theory are secured: pointing out oppression, giving voice to the oppressed, showing the way (however obliquely) toward freedom. But what if people are freer than they think are? Whither political theory if people don’t need to be shown the way, if their agency is not scarce, rare, or in need of enlightenment?”
Nealon, Jeffrey T. Foucault Beyond Foucault. Power and its Intensifications since 1984, Stanford University Press, 2008, p. 105
“What post-autonomous defenders of collaboration fail to register is where exactly the boundaries are of art as praxis. The complete dissolution of art into social praxis is, in fact, an impossibility. Once art refuses to designate itself as art - that is, refuses to nominate itself as a set of practices circumscribed by the histories and institutions of art - it quite literally disappears. Hence no post-autonomous collaboration is able to function in this way, because it always returns to the artworld to name itself as art. For otherwise it is unable to proceed as a practice distinguishable from other practices.”
Roberts, John. Collaboration as a Problem of Art’s Cultural Form // Third Text, 18(6), November, 2004, p. 563.
Juste Kostikovaite, 2011-01-26
Change or exchange, or nothing at all?
For Michel Foucault, discourse joins power and knowledge, and its power follows from our casual acceptance of the "reality with which we are presented". Our identity is affected by the media, enclosing a certain perspective of our worldview. We are made to think that we, too, should own an attribute of power. The perspective is constructed and perpetuated by those who have the power and means of communication.
At this point Foucault’s thoughts are very well mirrored in the today's marketing theory and practice, let's call it, modern propaganda, where, too, visual images and promotional strategies are devised to create the needs that appeal to the conscious and unconscious worlds of the consumers. Marketing together with other media products and services re-enact but also create new models and clichés in these markets.
Change may only happen when a new counter-discursive element begins to receive wide attention through the means of communication. Change requires the possession of the means of communication, of self-representation.
When Renzo Martens tries to present the possibility of change for the poor, he can be called to be more rhetoric than proactive, despite his time consuming efforts to shoort the movie.
In order to change the system of the current photo-journalism market one has to collaborate with the important global photo agencies. These agencies work with very professional photographers who go to the “hot-spots” and supply global media network with images. Ironically, but these professional photographers, tired world travellers, often feel guilty and embarassed living in five-star hotels.
Keeping in mind this context, maybe Renzo Martens he could have collaborated with the agencies and established contacts through which the local photographers could provide medium quality images directly to agencies. Or better - local media agency could be established as an operational media window to the world and to the photo-journalism market.
Not following the logic of economic system, Martens work remains a great therapy, but also an idle talk, where words does not mean no more than a wind. But maybe, this film is a mimicry of our today’s life’s? When the world says it want to save humanity, but there are no actions which make a big change which everybody is awaiting? Maybe, actually, there is no real waiting?
In exchange for the time of the poor Congo people Renzo Martnes generates attention to the problem of inactive NGO's and to the faults of political and social art, throwing back to the viewer the ironic posture of the western artist as the posture of the viewer itself.