Title: The Present Everyday
Author: Olivier Zahm
Source: Acme Journal n.2, 1995



Acme Journal n.2, 1995


"The Present Everyday"
Olivier Zahm


Since the end of the 70s, the critical landscape has remained unchanged. On the one hand, modernity is thought of as both a rupture and a conflict that cannot be reconciled with power, that is, which the game of present forces and the socio-political context of art. On the other hand, postmodernity presumably arises from the consensual effects of reprisal and Simulation in the era of generalized permissiveness. To break out of this rupture/ consensus, radicality/permissiveness schema, one would have to construct a precise genealogy of the art-power relations throughout all of modernity. That is, to define the ontological relation of art to time and to answer the question of contemporaneity In what way can the emancipatory power of art engage our present existence and our presence in the present time?

1. One gave up an the idea of liberation as a promise for tomorrow a long time ago. It is time to make emancipation a possibility for "now." That is to say, an emancipation of the present subordinated to an intermediary position conceived as a simple point of articulation between before and after, between the past and the future.
If one wishes to consider art as the opening to the present and as an open present (a present that propagates itself, a temporal extension of the present), then art-power relations can no longer be modeled an the binary paradigm of rupture/repression. This does not mean that art is reconciled with the power of its time. It is rather a power conferred an time. An activity, a vitalism of the "now." To the frontal Opposition of art and power, the esthetic emancipation of the present depends an multiple strategies of the liberation/redistribution of art/power relations.

2. Rather than thinking of modernity as rupture and conflict in regard to power (a repressive model), the opposite hypothesis can be posited-the one posited by Foucault in relation to sexuality: "What is essential is the multiplication of discourses an sex, in the Field of the exercise of power itself the institutional incentive to talk about it, and to talk about it more and more" (History of Sexuality). Through a theoretical translation of the Foucauldian hypothesis (of the sexual onto the artistic), one can posit an emancipatory conception of Modernity, seen not as rupture and Opposition, but as liberation/permissiveness-a liberation of artistic practices that certainly collided promptly with procedures of prohibition and censure, a situation that in no way contradicted a fundamentally permissive discourse. A multiple social and institutional solicitation. Thus in transposing Foucault's hypothesis to the Field of art, one can propose that Modernity should not be defined as rupture in the heart of an art/power duality but as the proliferation of artistic practices, redistributed in a new strategic mechanism that now links art and power (the "system of art").

3. The modern myth of the repressive model is crumbling. The postmodern myth of the permissive model takes up the artistic fact's entire space of circulation and communication. The permissive emancipation of artistic flux is accompanied by the erection of a new network of control and canalization for this artistic fluidity, which is detached from the old poles of power (religion and politics). Postmodernity invented a system of art and power in the multiple links of interdependence. To break out of postmodernity is to witness the decay of the following modes of logic.

- The commercial logic of art is in crisis, after years of fetishizing the work as absolute commodity. Parallel to this, so called independent counter-mechanisms of commercialization are put in place (mainly in regard to film and music labels, but also in the heart of the art system: ephemeral centers of art, galleries with weak economic power, exhibitions that do not take place within the gallery structure ...).

- The logic of the institutionalization of art in France seems to have reached its apogee during the socialist period, which after Malraux and his community art centers, set up both a very dense network of art centers and FRAC (Regional Fund for Contemporary Art).

- As to the logic of discourses, their theoretical necessity is crumbling (see the state of the sites covered by Acme, No. 1. An essential instrument of the process of artistic Legitimation, critical discourse today seems to dilute itself in Fields of knowledge that are heterogeneous to it aid to proceed by conceptual dispersion.

4. The binary model of the avant-garde (liberation/repression),should be replaced by the schizo and micrological model according to which art and power now participate in the same network of interrelations and reciprocal dependence. The imbrication of art/power which is the very subject of the work of Hans Haacke, from the First conceptual pieces of real estate development in New York to his occupation/destruction of the German Pavilion at the last Venice Biennale. An imbrication that produces its own contradiction when, as in the Austrian Pavilion at the same Biennale, Andrea Fraser, Gerwald Rockenschaub and Christian Philip M¸ller arrempted to destabilize the cultural institution but ended up reinforcing it through a quasi-tautological contextual inscription (Rockenschaub's railings of vision, the taping of discussions with the curator Andrea Fraser all of which are sanctified by a guided tour of the cultural authorities ...). Also, rather than conceiving of Modernity as a rupture with the system (critical exteriority), one can see the schizo outlines of contemporaneity being drawn (systemic interiority-immanence of art and its context).
There is no possibility of escape for the contemporary artist; he has no critical retreat, he can only work from the inside with the forces-economic, institutional, social-that are present. This does not mean that they reproduce them or must accept them as such, rather, it means that they can turn them inside out from the inside, push them into their retreat. In this sense, contemporary art is itself the revolutionary dynamic of postcapitalism.

5. The contemporary, schizophrenic artist positions himself at the limit of capitalism, of which he is at once the by-product and the exterminating angel. In a paradoxical position in regard to the instances of cultural and commercial power, he develops capitalism beyond capitalism itself. An agent of advanced postcapitalism, he makes the relations between art and power slide along all the relay points of the deterritorialized network of libidinal sexual, industrial, and theoretical flux. More and more invisible and diffuse, his language weds all possible sign regimes in order to escape the new academic markings of permissive postmodernity.

Fareed Armaly is one of the rare artists who is able to deconstruct the new forms of the art/power imbrication and of their institutional crystallization. His installations are never a direct and dualistic criticism of the context. They arise from a genealogy of art/power relations and make evident the strategic source and the contradictory relations of force between art and the social present. (Contact, Galerie Christian Nagel, Cologne, 1992; Breakdown at the Palais des Beaux Arts, Brussels 1993.)

6. Confronted with a false permissiveness, the contemporary artist is rarely militant, one will have remarked, in regard to collective emancipation. Refusing the modernist indexation (revolt, conflict), he espouses borrowed identities to act along the fault lines of the system and to arrest the unitary wave of the standardization of the present. At the one-dimensional level of the media, contemporaneity is an endogenous production of differences. Differences of times. Always particular and multiple times that make the "now" the emancipatory force of the present. A present that incessantly returns, a continuous present, a present that never stops transforming us.

The program of Modernity was to produce a zero time, an immediate future. Contemporaneity, an the other hand, leads to a nonchronological, nonlinear but intensive conception of present time. This relation is that of a time that particularizes, of a powerful moment in the sense that it fortifies and transforms you.

Translated from the French by Sheila Glaser