Monday, 1 June 2009

Degenerate Utopia

I almost neglected to mention a complementary piece to my previous posting. One has only to think of Disneyland as the space where such creations are given free reign (on a massive scale with seemingly no expense spared). So we can start to think about their "natural" habitat in terms of a degenerate utopia.

But this term might also provide an entry point for further critiques of the Brian Eno event we attended. Eno went to great lengths to try to make his point that "art was all the things we don't need to do". We agreed in our discussion afterwards that his logic was quite muddled and fanciful at times, especially when he claimed that art criticism is largely "worthless". So how did he prove this? Eno claimed to have used his computer to automatically generate a typical piece of art criticism using terms such as "commodity" and "gender", meaning that art critics are no different than Turing machines. If this was true, then why did he acknowledge at the beginning of his talk how there were protests outside by more impoverished artists, who objected to the allocation of government funding to such a high profile festival that paid Eno for his appearance? To claim, with Eno, that art gives an individual a space to themselves is to risk flirting with liberal conceptions of creativity, which underplay our interdependence. Eno wavered on this point, insofar as the later part of his talk switched abruptly to how environmentalism was the most important problem for us all to address, and this requires the participation of people from all walks of life.

I think we agree that the problem with this talk then was its underestimation of network ties as a feature of both the artistic and scientific scenes. Any artist wishing to show their work in a public forum immediately becomes reliant on sponsorship to provide such a space. Of course, the Luminous Festival Eno headlined was no exception, as besides funding from the state government, Sony were major sponsors. This suggests that Eno's silence and inconsistencies on this vital point were really symptomatic of a problem that more reflexive artists such as Hans Haacke have used as the focal point in their work. Although Haacke targets museums specifically, it does not take much of a leap in logic to see how his critiques are equally applicable to arts festivals. Haacke seeks to expose the ruse of the autonomous realm of the aesthetic, aka Eno's "space", and how sponsors attempt to portray themselves as enlightened benefactors. Obviously his intention in so doing is not to argue that art is stripped of all emancipatory potential; I see him rather as opening up a space for a more democratic dialogue about how and why funding is allocated, and by whom? These are the same sorts of questions we should ask about the funding of science, and if Eno wishes to pontificate about the environment, he should really be acknowledging how these issues crosscut the sciences and his own area of expertise i.e. the arts. Failure to do so means complicity with an ideal of degenerate utopia, wherein corporate branding has the permanency of a grave marker.

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