Art and Arnold

The collective individual: On Art with and Agenda

In the wake of the post-modern information age, where one realizes that most systems are illusionistic constructs of security, and everything has been hammered into a redundant cacophony of static, it appears that many are simply resigned to a position of stasis. An inaction perhaps predicated on the knowledge that the ground he or she would wish to stand on is a no more than a bog. Why say anything, when you are only saying nothing? And while the operations and methodologies of criticism and self-criticism have been historically deployed in the service of denouncing the authority of the academy, in the contemporary, they are those very systems of the academy, leaving the ‘sprit of change’ as a predisposed disposition. In short, one is now educated to rebel against a system that, beyond expecting subversion, enables and benefits from it.

Yet while such topography yields little to any motivation for progressive revision and potential betterment of society, it hinders by way of an insurmountable totality. For revolution to occur, it implies that one not only understand the entirety of humanity and its metaphysical histories and operations (thus one not speak naively), but furthers the myth that the only significant enacted change is one operated on that entirety (one only hears, and speaks/dreams, of ‘global change’). This is the downfall of the global present, and the crisis of technology. As humanity’s view widened through the liberating lenses of technology, and people found themselves surmounting distances with the turn of a dial or the click of a button, it became difficult to visualize change because one realized such change would not, could not, affect everybody. The ‘community’ had simply grown too large.

How then to affect change within community? The initial prescription must entail the parsing of those very ideas of ‘change’ and ‘community,’ a parsing initiated by the inserting of a letter: a change, a community. This syntactic addition demarcates the concepts, narrowing their programs to realizable possibilities. To think a is to think in the singular, and subsequently to think beyond the concept of totality by way of focusing on what constitutes that very totality. It is the re-writing of the charge ‘think globally, act locally’ to ‘think and act locally.’ Yet it is not the renouncing of the global. Instead, it is the operating on the ever-present horizon of the global in a manner that allows for the concept of the global to be operated.

Such a methodology seems pervasive in the ideology of the artist collective Art with an Agenda. An institution regional not to the world, the United States, or California, but to Fullerton California, this cooperative develops the themes of its exhibitions from local societal events it deems as unjust, and warranting critical attention and examination. For example, in the summer of 2012 it dedicated a show in memorandum to a resident named Kelly Thomas, who had died the previous year as a result of city police brutality. And in the spring of 2013, it will turn toward the local lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities with Love. Sex. Unity. Respect., in order “to show mass love to Orange Counties LGBT Community” after the passing of Proposition 8 which banned same sex marriages throughout the state. (Art with an Agenda) While detractors of this collective could dispute the authenticity of these exhibitions, positing them as exploitative exercises in self-aggrandizement where it is the group that solicits the media attention and not the ‘cause’ they engage; he or she would fail to fully understand that the very act of criticism, the appearance of such difference of opinion, is internalized within, as well as anticipated and allocated by, this group.

Historically, one has been trained to assess groups as singular collectives, as a mass of persons unified on, or by, a common demarcated ground. Whether fashioned by themselves under a credo or banner-head, or by some other group needing an ‘other’ to juxtapose against, and project on (for more concepts such as this consider: Edward Said Orientalism), a group by such definition begins to deconstruct the moment it is formed. This is the impossibility of scanning across a room seeing and hearing the same again, and again, and again. What this necessitates is the urgency to re-work the concept of ‘group’ in such a manner as to enable not only the possibility of such a collective materializing, but also equipping it with the ability to materialize. How might this progress? It must begin not with scanning across the room, but with selectively looking throughout the room in an act of individuation.

Art with an Agenda enacts this predicated on the fact that this group, by its nature demonstrated in the employment of individual works of art made by local artists, is not a group founded on being-in-common. It does not claim the commonality of all police brutality or all LGBT communities, nor does it produce a common, unified-singular message. Instead, it claims the specific locality of a geographic region, and allocates space for singular, independent voices to speak in a dialogic chorus (See below image). This maintains the singular throughout the collective’s different strata and compels the performance of a collaborative by the spaced individuals within the group and beyond them, therefore avoiding the impossibilities of “commune-ism.”(This neologism and the ideology it demonstrates is indebted to the arguments advanced by Jean-Luc Nancy in his text The Inoperative Community.) One comes to this by way of the spaced works he or she engages within the gallery. A singular work of art denotes several placed singularities all at once: the artist, the viewer, and the subject of the work, and bolsters their independence by bringing them into contact with each other. Therefore, this is not the untenable myth of a total cohesion by and through the strata of community, but instead, the advancement of a way out of such a fate by realizing that in the strata of community, there is the demand of the individual, the explicit presentation of an ‘I,’ that also articulates a ‘you’.

Enacted here is a self-perpetuating exponential bracketing function that brings singularities into their being by juxtaposing them against others, thus operating the concept of the global (community) by way of articulating the physicality of the local (I and you). The critic who would throw up his or her hands at this fails to comprehend that such a move is warranted, and even expected, by community in this way. The denouncement brings forth what it denounces just as what is denounced brings forth its denouncement. Therefore, what Art with an Agenda manages is to perform is not just a critique of local social issues, but instead to advance a certain criteria of community through problematizing the positing of difference as detrimental. Instead, it embraces the very concept of difference as foundational to community and in this way positions itself on the forward edge of thinking community. And in the rise global present, to think, to articulate that fundamental being of the self, to have an agenda, is needed more than ever.

Posted 13th April 2013 by 

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This entry was posted on February 8, 2016 by .
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