November 23, 2015 § Leave a comment

November 23, 2015 § Leave a comment

November 21, 2015 § Leave a comment

November 21, 2015 § Leave a comment

November 17, 2015 § Leave a comment

Sent off my end of year things last night; preview: the only Pro this year was the return of Missy

November 17, 2015 § Leave a comment

CornellBacall

I wrote a piece for the Los Angeles Review of Books about the RA’s Joseph Cornell show: film, surrealism, sculpture, the end of modernism & Cornell as ‘new media’ artist avant la lettre.

November 8, 2015 § Leave a comment

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Two disparate recent things that formed a weird conjunction as I was walking from the flat to Wilkinsons: this Novara show from last year on the Heygate (wh/ they may have wanted to check the levels on: I could barely hear what little Liliana Dmitrovic actually said) & this bizarre piece from last month on gentrification as urbanist boon (via Owen Hatherley). As it is I currently live not a million miles from the Black Country village discussed, amid the curious, resistant muddle of development in south Birmingham. Not a lot changes in my neighbourhood aside from the usual rent-racking of the student housing market (currently intensifying at a rate higher than the rest of the private rented sector). Meanwhile, in the city centre massive closures bisect public spaces, roads & subways as the council start the full push to tear up Victoria Square & flatten John Madin’s Central Library, currently looming over the closed Paradise Forum like the pyramids that inspired it, an empty memento mori. Except for the closure of Reader’s World – presumably the victim of rising city centre rents – & the removal of the ‘Digbeth Cold Storage’ sign from the building itself, nothing much has changed in Digbeth: no new spaces & barely any housing to speak of, but it’s possible that the area around the Custard Factory feels very slightly more mass-market cool in its demographic, in the same way that the Old Truman Brewery complex has become host to influxes of those trailing a decade after the former vanguard of consumption. In one sense at least, Brum is the opposite of the classical archetype of the city that the pioneers of inner-urban gentrification took to: suburbanised, oriented by massive arterial roads, much of its city centre colonised by (often very interesting) office space & (usually boring) simulacra of shopping centres, with much of what Victorian housing must have existed in & around the centre demolished. Would I feel better if the city more obviously gave a spatial priority to art or its conditions of possibility – if the city, in other words, gave me & others better potential cultural capital? Maybe. But then it’s precisely the neoplasm of cultural capital in London that precisely prevents people from accessing it: the by now familiar complaints about how working full-time jobs to maintain a toehold in the city disallows workers from engaging w/ the culture they came to London to ‘participate’ in. (I have my own rather abstract anecdote about this: sitting in A Nos Amours’ screening of Chantal Akerman’s News From Home to a packed house at the ICA last year, on my only Thursday off in months – the screenings were all on Thursdays – anxiously sweating & cringing among the standardly beautiful art world people & feminist militants w/ excellent glasses, a feeling that dissipated w/ the house lights; a portrait of the lost Eden of the Lower East Side, a “spot of time”, in a city on the brink of being similarly destroyed.) In the Novara show, James addresses – & somewhat skirts around – the role that the art world has played in spearheading gentrification in New York & London (most pertinently in Peckham, wh/ gets more worrying every time I visit), & the frankly poor & undialectical attitude about this that circulates among communist & anarchist discourse. These analyses, mostly carbon copies of those of the French Maoists of the 1970s, rely on the ingrained philistinism shared alike by the graduates of political science departments & the condescending image they hold of working-class culture. (I’m thinking here too of Oxford-educated Owen Jones’ “no long words, comrades”, policy, w/ wh/, as a working-class communist reading Rimbaud, the Situationists & the Frankfurt School at 19, I don’t have much sympathy.) Art, it’s read here, is unserious & serves primarily as a spectacular cover for the colonisation of workers’ everyday lives. Artists are the poncy subjects of “special pleading”, unwittingly fulfilling their objective role as a fig-leaf for property development. The alternative view – preached from its author’s precarious perch among the ‘creative’ petty-bourgeoisie – is that art – or rather the generalised ‘artiness’ referred to in Niall Crowley’s little pen-sketch of Hackney: secondhand books & organic porridge, fashion students & postmen, hip-hop & violins – should be appreciated no matter its material consequences. The choice is between the dull but apparently unchangeable ‘reality’ of proletarian or subproletarian life & the semblance of bohemia’s dissolute improvisation of self-created life maintained by massive art admin salaries (who else can afford to live in Haggerston or Dalston or Brockley or the Elephant & Castle now?) & councils anxious for money from gullible international students who still think London is ‘trendy’. From a communist perspective, both options are worse. This split – a worldview whose two halves don’t add up to make a whole – is itself an effect of the division of labour in culture, of the entire cultural sector’s conditions of production. Nominally ‘critical’ art of the sort James refers to is in some ways worse: they give the spectacular appearance of ‘dialogue’ to what is, on the part of property developers & the corrupt officials who grease their wheels, a unilateral top-down imposition of class power; even works that purport to investigate their conditions of production can primarily only gesture at their own uselessness to alter the world in the way that art, as the world’s other, must. This latter is, needless to say, true of much of the modernist tradition in painting & the ‘mixed’ anti-art tradition that runs from Dada to punk. But that’s very precisely the burden that the aesthetic – what anti-artist polemics bracket out of discussions of art’s role in housing – took on in the 20th century, & that the anti-art project preserves in negative: unreconciled fury at the blockage & destruction of the desire for free control over the construction of our lives, written out in a disenchanted flatness that struggles to overcome myth. The transcendence of the aesthetic could only take place, in a way which doesn’t simply fall into its conversion into tat for boardroom walls or the pseudo-Brechtian experimental theatre that the culture industry now pumps out like marshmallow puff throughout London, in a general, totalised transformation of the society that creates “the aesthetic” as a playground for the rich. I’ve written before about the kernel of subjective meaning at the centre of gentrification, a genuine desire that has of course had its own re-presentation in the spectacle (in the construction site billboards that serve as the locus of development aesthetics, a phrase coined, naturally enough, by gentrifiers themselves). In the provinces where I grew up the aesthetic was almost a taboo category. I wanted to live a life in which that wasn’t the case: the by-now classic signifiers of a decomposing petty-bourgeoisie – ‘craft beer’, skinny jeans, sound art, modernist architecture, Dulwich Hamlet – had real allure for me. I had therefore to live in a place where that wasn’t the case. I knew of course that there wasn’t really any such place anymore, to hide from the reifying imperatives of the economy – what’s that line in the Manifesto about the bourgeoisie chasing across the globe in pursuit of profit? – but that insight, if it isn’t to lapse into the flat-cap pretenses of Class War & their counterparts in the Trotskyist parties, or the blockhead connoisseurism of Jonathan Jones (or, worse, the pyrrhic enthusiasm of his counterpart at the Independent) has to be totalised, & turned against the society that looks to cover the earth with yuppiedromes.

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