lost before dawn

for the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions!

Ask me anything

“You are the only mystery worth solving.”

– The Doctor, Series 7, Episode 9

“It’s a time machine. You never have to wait until breakfast.”

– The Doctor, Series 7, Episode 6

“So, here you are, depositing slug pellets all over the Earth. Made attractive, so humans will collect them, hoping to find something beautiful inside. Because that’s what they are. Not pests or plague, creatures of hope, forever building and reaching. Making mistakes of course. Every life form does. But! but! they learn. And they strive for greater and they achieve it. You want a tally. Put their achievements against their failings, through the whole of time. I will back humanity against the Shakri every time.”

– The Doctor, Series 7, Episode 4

“Science leads.”

– The Doctor, Series 7, Episode 4

“Humans, you are so linear!”

– The Doctor, Series 7, Episode 2

“Oh dear. I liked you before you said missiles.”

– The Doctor, Series 7, Episode 2

Red Wedge Magazine: A modest proposal for the destruction of art »

A modest proposal for the destruction of art

Another blog that Red Wedge will be launching in the new yearcomes from editor Adam Turl and will be titled Evicted Art Blog. In this “preview post,” Adam puts forth that something in art has to be destroyed in order to save it

"Oh God said to Abraham, ‘Kill me a son’ / Abe says, ‘Man, you must be puttin’ me on’ / God say, ‘No.’ Abe say, ‘What?’ / God say, ‘You can do what you want Abe, but / The next time you see me comin’ you better run’ / Well Abe says, ‘Where do you want this killin’ done?’ / God says, ‘Out on Highway 61’” — Bob Dylan, “Highway 61 Revisited”

Walter Benjamin famously argued: “That which withers in the age of mechanical reproduction is the aura of the work of art.” That essay, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” is arguably the most important in the history of modern art.

Since it was written in 1936 there have been two general approaches to Benajamin’s intervention. Both approaches are hard-wired into the original text.

One approach takes its marching orders from Benjamin’s assertion that fascism aestheticizes politics, therefore Marxists respond by politicizing art. This approach is best exemplified in the antifascist photomontages of John Heartfield. Those who follow this approach today carry on a wooden rejection of expressionism but reject the actuality of revolution. They are like Proletcult without October (the revolution not the eponymous journal). It is not their fault per se. The audience for art simply finds the idea of working-class revolution incredible — beyond belief. Only a genuine socialist uprising will begin to change this. Only then will contemporary art be able to fly the red flag in such a manner that it does not seem nostalgic, ironic or absurd.

The other approach to Benjamin has its roots in the many Romantic aspects of the essay: to reestablish the aura of art. This can be seen in the magical realist installations of Ilya and Emilia Kabakov (among many others). These artists proffer strategies to re-enchant art and escape the constant commodification that is central to cultural life in the 21st century. They can be, for a moment, successful. They can re-establish the magic of art. But the moment always fades.

Mechanical reproducibility — including digital reproducibility — guarantees that the erosion of aura will continue, even more fiercely than before. It is as if capitalist culture produces new anti-bodies every time art lurches towards meaning.

The overproduction of culture

Of course the art world continues to raise certain newer works to the level of fetish — in the museums, in art magazines and in academia. But with the growth of theory and the erosion of master narratives (most importantly the narrative of modernist innovation embodied in the avant-garde) the mechanisms for raising new masterpieces to the level of the old geniuses are threatened.

A similar dynamic appears in popular culture as well. The magic of film and music gives way to fragmentation at the margins and mediocre spectacle in the center. At the margins artists are able to muster political events that recreate the importance of their craft. At the margins artists are able to reintroduce the magic of cinema and music. But mostly empty spectacle reigns. Afro-Punk and experimental music for some. Miley Cyrus (or something slightly better or worse) for most.

Similarly in television a handful of series rise to the level of art and literature. But television remains, mostly, a flickering digital light that somehow provides comfort after endless days of exploitation, oppression and effrontery — even as it reproduces all the ideologies that buttress those oppressions. The constant police procedurals and reality shows overwhelm the Tyrion Lannisters and Walter Whites. This is not to say all escapist and genre television is bad. It is merely to point out the obvious. Most of what is produced is horrible, debasing and stupid.

Images multiply everywhere.

The utopianism of the Internet’s early days is, a few digital art enthusiasts aside, largely dead. Of course people love cats. Just as we have a special connection with dogs and horses, human beings share something particular with cats. But one must wonder if the Walker Art Center’s internet cat video festival is secretly some cosmic joke. Once upon a time society grew angry when Duchamp made a urinal a work of art, when Manet named a prostitute Olympia and when Beuys refused to reject students from his classroom while arguing that “everyone is an artist.” Now everything is art and nothing is. Few people aside from opportunistic politicians and right-wing fanatics ever get angry about what goes on museum walls. After all, visual culture, good or bad, smart or stupid, funny or cretinous, already reproduces itself without end over the Internet.

This is not to speak of the constant algae bloom of advertising — the legacy of the fictional Don Draper — blighting the world with graphic design as it manipulates and manufactures desires, sublimating our identities and humanity in a myriad of commodities.

We face the growing overproduction of images and cultural artifacts. In economics, Marxists argue (correctly) that an overproduction of commodities produces recessions. Too many goods and services are available to be sold at a profit. In art, an overproduction of images and cultural artifacts destroys the spiritual power of art — the emotional and cultural impact of art.

Therefore I offer the following proposal.

A modest proposal

The U.S. (and other) government(s), in order to maintain higher food prices pay farmers to let portions of their fields’ lie fallow. Corporations destroy mountains of grain to keep prices high. (Such practices are, of course, what led Bertolt Brecht to argue, “Famines do not occur, they are organized by the grain trade.”)

I propose a similar, and far less damaging, arrangement for artistic and cultural production:

1.) The government should immediately begin paying artists to not produce art. Artists could be given between five and six thousand dollars annually to curtail their artistic production by thirty percent. Of course more established artists should be paid a higher rate (on a sliding scale tied to their current marketability). Nevertheless, all artists should be included in payment plan.

2.) The government should also purchase new artworks from the gallery system. A portion of these artworks would be held in a strategic reserve of art — to be released in the off chance of an art shortage. The majority would be destroyed in rituals held on a semiannual basis, modeled on the preferred funerary rights of local communities.

3.) The great museums should begin an annual culling of their collections. Of course these cullings should be adjusted for the fetishistic value of works. Ancient works should be spared — as should most works prior to the 19 rarer, already have a higher auric value (AV). Eras with a lower AV (contemporary art in particular) should be most heavily culled. Annual rituals should be held at every great museum in which the artworks are destroyed — by fire or other means — not unlike the Rus funeral described by Ibn Fadlan, an emissary of the Kalif of Bagdhad in 921 CE. Fadlan described a week long orgy of drinking and sex that culminated in the cremation of a prominent and wealthy Rus. Such rites would accompany the ritualistic culling of the museums.

4.) Collections held by wealthy patrons should be regularly taxed by the authorities and sent to museums for display and later destruction. Let us say 10 percent of a collection should be taken every few years. Of course, for art patrons of more modest means a smaller percentage of artworks should be seized. And for the wealthiest collectors a higher percentage seized.

5.) All work produced by undergraduate art students should be destroyed as a matter of principle — with full restitution, at a minimum, for all material costs.

6.) Street art and graffiti will be exempt—as they are destroyed as a matter of course—unless it is taken out of the street context and placed in an “art world” context.

Similar principles could be extended to popular culture as well:

7.) All musicians will be paid union rates (at a minimum) to produce thirty percent less recorded music. Performed music — unless recorded or broadcast — would be exempt.

8.) Every five years music industry executives will be decimated — in the historic sense. One of every ten executives will be randomly selected and ground into a fine powder (this is obviously a reference to the show Futurama).

9.) A nuisance tax will be placed on all television shows that do not employ a writing staff. The money will be earmarked for special re-education camps in which television executives will be forced to take creative writing courses and read Shakespeare.

10.) Television writers will be paid twice the normal union rate to not write for any police procedural shows, sit-coms based on gender norms (a group of men “being men,” a single-woman trying to make it in the big city and finding love because that’s what she really needed after all, etc.) or anything produced by J.J. Abrams.

11.) A nuisance tax should be placed on all advertising. The money will be earmarked for various social welfare and public development projects.

12.) Every month the government will be responsible for the destruction of five percent of all existing outdoor advertising—on buses, billboards, etc.

13.) All creative workers in the advertising industry will be classified as “special artists” and paid normal rates to not do any work at all for the advertising industry. They will be allowed to make their own personal artwork, or better yet play video games.

14.) Ten percent of all digital media on Netflix, Hulu+ and Amazon Prime will be destroyed annually.

15.) A large bonfire will be held every year — in a safely controlled place — to destroy all Hollywood movie scripts written by more than four people.

16.) Similarly, any song written by more than five people (unless they are all in the same band) will be destroyed. All records of that song’s existence will be erased.

17.) All graphic artists employed by cable news will be immediately rescued and their captors will be charged with kidnapping and torture.

18.) Ted Talks will be immediately outlawed.

19.) MTV will be required by law to actually show music videos. It will then be abolished altogether six months later.

20.) Ten percent of all YouTube videos will be culled annually at random in a festival called “The Massacre of the Cats.”

These are only stop-gap measures. And the above list is clearly only a partial accounting of both visual art and popular culture. These reforms will not stop the relentless erosion of art’s power and importance under capitalism. They can only slow the decline of art by offsetting the overproduction of culture.

In a truly equal society there would be no need for such extreme policies. The aura and magic of both visual art and popular culture would return once they were no longer directed toward the utilitarian needs and passing fancies of the one percent.

Until the above policies can be adopted — or until a revolution makes such policies unnecessary — I encourage artists to begin to destroy a percentage of their own artwork through ritualistic sacrifice.

Bury your work. Burn it. Destroy the documentation of the destruction of the work. Then destroy that documentation. Show your work in your basement. Have a gallery opening where you only invite your friends’ cats and dogs. Ask them what they think about the most recent Whitney Biennale.

You should not destroy everything. But please, destroy something.

On September 28th, Adam Turl will be burying two-dozen large paintings in a mass grave in Carbondale, Illinois. If you would like to join the ritual — and drink some beer and eat some grilled meats and veggies — e-mail adamcturl@siu.edu for more information.

“People stared at it for centuries and never knew. Things can change… when you least expect it.”

– The Doctor, Series 6, Episode 3

“Yeah, right. Cursed. It’s big with humans. It means bad things are happening but you can’t be bothered to find an explanation. And the gun’s back. You’re big on the gun thing, aren’t you? Freud would say you’re compensating. Ever met Freud? No? Comfy sofa.”

– The Doctor, Series 6, Episode 3

“Time isn’t a straight line. It’s all… bumpy-wumpy. There’s loads of boring stuff. Like Sundays and Tuesdays and Thursday afternoons. But now and then there are Saturdays. Big temporal tipping points when anything’s possible. The TARDIS can’t resist them. Like a moth to a flame.”

– The Doctor, Series 6, Episode 1

“I’m being extremely clever up here and there’s no one to stand around looking impressed! What’s the point in having you all?!”

– The Doctor, Series 6, Episode 1