occursus recommends…

Benjamin Noys (ed.), Communization and its Discontents: Contestation, Critique, and Contemporary Struggles (<.:.MinOr.:.>. cOmpOsitiOns.)

 This collection is dedicated to a critical questioning of the concept of communization, and in particular to analysing its discontents – the problems, questions and difficulties that traverse it. It is not easy to define what the word communization refers to, and it has often been used more as a slogan, a nickname, or even worse a ‘brand’, than forces together very different per-spectives and analyses. What we find ‘in’ communization is often a weird mixing-up of insurrectionist anarchism, the communist ultra-left, post-autonomists, anti-political currents, groups like the Invisible Committee, as well as more explicitly ‘communizing’ currents, such as Théorie Communiste and Endnotes. Obviously at the heart of the word is
communism and, as the shift to communization suggests, communism as a particular activity and process, but what that is requires some further exploration. (p. 8)

As we enter 2012…

Nothing is more unfitting for an intellectual resolved on practising what was earlier called philosophy, than to wish, in discussion, and one might almost say in argumentation, to be right. The very wish to be right, down to its subtlest form of logical reflection, is an expression of that spirit of self-preservation which philosophy is precisely concerned to break down. […] Such naivety is at work wherever philosophy has even a distant resemblance to the gestures of persuasion. These are founded on the presupposition of a universitas literarum, an a priori agreement between minds able to communicate with each other, and thus on complete conformism. When philosophers, who are well known to have difficulty in keeping silent, engage in conversation, they should always try to lose the argument, but in such a way as to convict their opponent of untruth.

(Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia)

The Voyagers, by Penny Lane

dis/con/sensus – some ideas


Politics is litigious. It is a deviation from the normal order of things. It is a denaturalising gesture, a rupture and an interruption. (See Jacques Rancière, Dissensus)

Politics is dissensus.

Consensus is the loss of thought. It is politics understood as the affair of government.

The futility of noisy protests that everyone agrees with…? (That leads to more consensus.)

Art as a means of disclosing the ‘necessary’ and ‘inevitable’ as contingent? (See Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism, p. 16). The denaturalising function of art.

What constitutes consensus and dissent today? In what forms are they practised? What kinds of sociality do they entail?

Doing is a torrent against all enclosure. Our power to do things differently, our power to create a different world, is a flow that exerts a growing force against the walls that hem us in, a constant breaching of these walls. Capital runs around mending these breaches (granting land reforms, redefining the norms of sexuality, for example), but the flow of our power will not be contained, simply because our collective life depends on it. (John Holloway, Crack Capitalism, p. 261)

What are the links between art and politics? Is art (and can it be) political? Does it do?

What is the place of the university? Is the university a consenting or dissenting institution?

dissent (vb): early 15c., from L. dissentire “differ in sentiments, disagree, be at odds, contradict, quarrel,” from dis- “differently” (see dis-) + sentire “to feel, think” (seesense). Related: Dissented; dissenting.

dissension (n): early 14c., from O.Fr. dissension (12c.) and directly from L. dissensionem (nom. dissensio) “disagreement, difference of opinion, discord, strife,” noun of action from pp. stem of dissentire “disagree”

consensus (n): 1854 as a term in physiology; 1861 of persons; from L. consensus “agreement, accord,” pp. of consentire (see consent). There is an isolated instance of the word from 1633.

For more information on this section, contact Amanda Crawley Jackson (amandacrawleyjackson@gmail.com)

Reading Loop this week

The next Reading Loop will take place on Wednesday July 6th, 6pm, Site Gallery canteen.
As this will be the last one before we take our summer break, we’d like to re-visit some of the ideas and themes that have emerged from the series and think about possible readings for our autumn series, which will begin in September.
The readings for this week are:
Jon Rich, ‘The Blood of the Victim: Revolution in Syria  and the Birth of the Image-Event’ (http://www.e-flux.com/journal/view/241)
Harun Farocki, Inextinguishable Fire (1969), video, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6JBbgWSBTdA&feature=related

Politics and the police order

Fragmentary notes on Reading Loop, 18/6/2011

Jacques Rancière, Ten Theses on Politics

Politics is not the exercise of power.

Politics is about rejecting the very idea of a dispositif that accords power and non-power.

Democracy is grounded in the absence of the right to govern.

Democracy is not a political regime; it is politics itself, in that it collapses the very idea of there being a right to govern.

The demos is: those who are not counted, whose voices are not heard, who are not accorded the right to speak. They are anarithmoi – the unaccounted for, the supplement. They suspend the very logic of legitimate domination.

Politics is litigious. It is a deviation from the normal order of things. It is a denaturalising gesture, a rupture and an interruption.

Politics is dissensus. Consensus is the loss of thought. It is politics understood as the affair of government.

‘Political dispute separates politics from the police’.

The police order is ‘characterised by the absence of void and supplement’. (Think how protest is appropriated by the police order. Mark Fisher, in Capitalist Realism describes how the ‘subversive’ and ‘alternative’ are allocated spaces within the mainstream; they become styles within the mainstream…)

Art and politics?

If a controversial work is accepted as art, it’s expected to be wild, so it is not disruptive. In this case, the brinkmanship is the art.

A great deal of work claims to be political by wearing politics on its sleeve. (Zizek observes that ‘so long as we believe (in our hearts) that capitalism is bad, we are free to continue to participate in capitalist exchange…’)

We disavow our complicity with capitalist and corporate structures, yet remain complicit with them. (The Venice Biennale as a corporate hospitality event…?) The erroneous idea that art can be removed from the functioning and performance of global capital (there is nothing outside capital).

Dissensus might be to say: there is no such thing as political art.

Silence as a form of dissensus?

If art can be defined, it becomes consensus. It is in the (taxonomic/epistemological?) gap that we might begin to think differently.

Zizek observes that ideology is the way we see things. So art is like putting on glasses to see things differently.

Galleries and museums are necessary for the system to continue working. ‘Political art’ is a kind of safety valve, which ensures the wider system can remain intact, its fault lines depressurised by an art that is critical but does little.

There has to be something else. (The spandrel. The Eeyore Corner.)

Politics is done by those who cannot speak, who can barely articulate that towards which they are moving.

Art is art to the extent that it is not art. Artists are artists to the extent that they are not artists. The interest of anonymity as a political gesture? (Think of The Invisible Committee & The Coming Insurrection… (Read some of it here.) Or Virginia Woolf’s account of anonymity…) But in a democracy, there should be no need for anonymity? Consensus = individually anonymous but visible. How can we reclaim anonymity…?

There is a consensus of privacy, but it is a fake privacy.

Protest? Or political organisation?

The futility of noisy protests that everyone agrees with…? (That leads to more consensus.)

Art as a means of disclosing the ‘necessary’ and ‘inevitable’ as contingent? (See Mark Fisher, p. 16). The denaturalising function of art.

Reading Loop, 22/6/2011

Next week’s Reading Loop will take place on Wednesday June 22nd in Site Gallery Canteen.

We’ll be continuing with the theme of art and politics, making a timely detour into the realm of the public/private dichotomy. Texts will be emailed to our subscribers shortly. If you’re not on the list and would like to be, please send an email to sheffieldseminars@gmail.com

Our discussion will take place in the context of the current exhibition by Eva and Franco Mattes at Site Gallery, Lies Inc.


Eva and Franco Mattes, aka aka 0100101110101101.org, Liquidator, Lies Inc. (2011). Ph. Amanda Crawley Jackson

More thoughts on Reading Loop, 1/6/2011 (anonymity)

Last Wednesday’s reading group (1/6/2011) set me off on a rather dangerous train of contemplation. What would happen, I thought, if all artists became anonymous? How would the art world get along without ‘Art Stars’? And how would we get along without the ‘big names’, the ‘leading artists’ to show us the way? It seems obvious that we need our visionary leaders … but is it? Do we really need to be led?

By way of example, what would happen to our perception of the current Katherina Seda exhibition at the Millennium Galleries if her name was reduced in scale to that of the other names featuring in the exhibition? I am referring, of course, to the names of the artists who made the drawings. You will have to look carefully, but those names are there, quite subtly and modestly inscribed next to each individual piece of work … not fan-faired at the entrance to the exhibition in 1m-high letters.

This massive banner creates a form of publicity that seems strangely at odds with the documented concept behind the installation, where we are led to believe that the work was created by a community. Obviously, I’m not proposing complete anonymity in this situation; merely the possibility of redressing the balance of equality between authorship and leadership. And, of course, we need to consider the fact that communities seldom record all of the names of those that construct them – except, perhaps, when honouring the dead …

Perhaps this proposal for artistic anonymity is something of an unrealistic, somewhat extreme position. Surely it would rob the whole ‘business’ of its ‘glamour’?

Let’s look at these two words ‘glamour’ and ‘business’ .

Glamour, according to one reference that I came across, comes from the old Scottish and has associations with magic, charm, allure, fascination. In the final chapter of Ways of Seeing John Berger critically evaluates the glamorous images used by the publicity industry. He firmly equates glamour with envy – arguably one of the less ‘healthy’ human emotions – and it’s interesting that we can’t help but feel a certain frisson of envy when thinking of those that were in Venice for the opening last week (we are all subject to anxieties regarding our relative status after all) … but when I saw the photos of Abramovich’s yacht sitting smugly in the lagoon this weekend, I started to wonder wether perhaps my envy was misplaced. All of the semiotics surrounding the art fair reeks of social exclusivity: that alluring, beguiling, bewitching sign-world – from individual toilet soaps to champagne bars – that glamorises the super rich and encourages envy of their status.

Next, the word ‘business’. Although it evidently fits well into the same sentence as Abramovich, it still seems very awkward when applied to art. Strange, because according to a-n magazine, the model that most artists operate on is that of the  micro-entreprepreneur. This is one of the strange double-thinks of the artworld, the concept of moral integrity coupled with entrepreneurialism – the last thing we want our artists to do is to ‘sell out’. Hence the elaborate and confusing lengths that exhibitors go to at art fairs to avoid the distasteful business of associating cold hard cash with the sexy product that they are selling through their shops. The truth of the matter is that most international art stars are the figureheads of international micro-brands. Banksy is a particularly baffling example of these double standards.

So, perhaps the answer is not to seek this cosmic alignment with the stars but to embrace the anarchy of anonymity. Either that or create a local alternative that puts art back in its place – as a genuinely inclusive activity that connects with all members of our species (not just the glamorous few) and which provides pleasure, mystery, the opportunity for contemplation and many other categories of delight.

To conclude on a slightly different, but perhaps related, note, I’m reminded of a story about Barbara Hepworth, who went to great lengths to preserve the illusion of hands-on involvement in her work. Barbara didn’t want it known that she had helpers – she wanted people to think that she carved all this stuff herself. Thus it was that Terry Frost, who assisted her at one point, was asked to hide in the greenhouse when some wealthy collectors arrived unexpectedly. After a while Terry felt a very urgent need and was forced to piss in one of the flower pots. Unfortunately the piss overflowed and, guided by gravity, glided down the garden path towards the well shod feet of Barbara’s guests. Fortunately only Barbara noticed … but there were no biscuits for Terry at his tea break for a whole month …

Anon 2011


More thoughts on Reading Loop, 1/6/2011 (public art)

Ars Impudicus

1) Is that Art for the public? Or Art of the public?

I don’t really have a problem with the idea of art as having a function; it’s only very recently in our history that we have had the opportunity to test what would happen if art was uncoupled from purpose (others might disagree). Matthew Collings reminds us that all art is contemporary because all art is perceived in the present … which means that most of the art that we see (fine art as well as commercial art) has (or has had) a purpose.

Prior to the statement of certain theoretical positions the relation between art and function was considerably more clear; art had, amongst others, educative, spiritual or status driven purposes. The function of art was to improve minds, save souls or confer kudos on the owner. The function of art is also culturally (and institutionally) determined – in the former Soviet Union and Maoist China the above distinction between art ‘for’ the public and art ‘of’ the public would have perhaps been irrelevant (others might disagree).

Art for the public still carries the baggage of oppression, the taint of the ruling classes (with or without connotations of wealthy patronage) is in its genome; though now, beyond the hegemony of brokerage and curation, we finally have the ‘democracy’ of the on-line public vote.

The brief for a public art commission (usually determined by a worthy committee) will usually read along these lines:

We want a work of art that reflects the rich cultural history of so and so regeneration area.

Ideally we would like a mural or some benches please … preferably by somebody who has done this sort of thing before …

… for some reason rust would appear to be the patina of choice.

2) Matters of space with regard to public art remain conventional: public art tends to manifest itself in spaces reserved for common usage (common ground) such as parks, plazas, recreation areas, schools. Cyberspace, perhaps, offers a real (or not-so-real) alternative.

Which brings us to the subject of perception. In answer to E.D. I would argue that the manner in which an artwork is perceived is not merely limited by the imagination of viewer, but is also dependent on a wide range of demographic factors that ultimately depends on faith – faith in art and, in many cases, in a spiritual sense of ‘faith’.

But, personally, I like it best when art ‘for’ the public becomes art ‘of’ the public ‘by’ the public.

Remember the incident when the Angel of North was dressed in a replica of Alan Shearer’s shirt by Newcastle United fans? Alan Shearer ‘became’ the Angel of the North. The monument (monument to what exactly – hope?) takes on a new vernacular. By being clothed in the local colours it also becomes ‘loved’.

By way of contrast there is the example of Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s ‘Turbulence’, a series of glowing balls floating in the River Teifi in Cardigan. On the river bank there is a series of horns into which passers by can speak. At certain times of the tide these words are later repeated back by loudspeakers within the balls. At the public presentation of the visuals for the project the balls intoned solemn lines from Dylan Thomas’ poetry.

Local youths, however, had great fun shouting obscenities into the speaker-horns. The obscenities then lay in wait like tide controlled time bombs, to be released at unsuspecting passers by.

3. Fungi


My favourite fungus is the Stinkhorn (Phallus impudicus) I once saw a particularly fine example in the car park near to the Ladybower cycle hire. This was at a weekend, the place was heaving with families. No one seemed to notice the impudent fungus in their midst. Perhaps this might suggest a way forward?

Paul Evans

Some thoughts around art and politics (public art)

“There is need for experimentation in public art because its past is commonly associated with pretentious monumental sculpture, and its present with spineless content. Public art is now expected to satisfy and serve many purposes, but not necessarily that of serious address. However, public art can be innovative, because in some respects it already challenges fine art conventions. It is not intended for gallery display and therefore can be adventurous in scale and presentation. The work is not the expression of the artist alone, but the outcome of a complex process of negotiations. It is not committed to certain mediums or to permanence. However, these releases can be hazardous as well as liberating for public art. Who will notice the work if it is not in an expected place? How will it be received without frame, pedestal, label? What will indicate that the work has been planned at all if it doesn’t look like art?
(Elizabeth H. Norman, Going Public: Public Art in Sheffield, SHU Press, 1996)


1. What are a public artwork’s purposes?

2. Apart from matters of space, how does it challenge fine art conventions?

3. Silly question, but I like the way it’s worded: the idea of public sculptures as a kind of urban fungi, that simply spring up…

“…The agency of the local consists in moulding global forces (which arrive from outside) to specific circumstances. Local place… is the locus of the production of heterogeneity.” (Doreen Massey, 2004)

“If traditional public art identified certain classical styles as appropriate to the embodiment of public images, contemporary public art has turned to the monumental abstraction as its acceptable icon. What Kate Linker calls the “corporate bauble” in the shopping mall or bank plaza need have no iconic or symbolic relation to the public it serves, the space it occupies, or the figures it reveres. It is enough that it serve as an emblem of aesthetic surplus, a token of “art” imported into and adding value to a public space.” (Mitchell, 1994)

Perhaps “aesthetic surplus” can be seen as an expression of the collective subconscious, and so a deeper indication of how any given city sees itself, how it interprets the various larger narratives and forms them into part of its own reality. The pieces I’m thinking of in particular are the totally abstract and forgotten: a concrete frieze, for example, I noticed recently behind John Lewis. Most Council-commissioned works are probably only corporate branding – but even this fits into the “surplus” idea, especially in Sheffield, where steel is dutifully incorporated into anything and everything. (Spandrels of Steel).

Is art’s function (dubious word) decided ultimately by the space it finds itself in? If, as they say, half of an artwork’s meaning/value is its context, how easy is it to critique both halves at the same time? (Art in a gallery is, conventionally, isolated from its space, and municipal art is evaluated solely on how it fits in to its environment. This could be resolved in an exhibition: photographs of Sheffield’s public artworks are displayed in a gallery. The first day of viewing, photos are taken of people looking at the photos. These replace the original set for the second day – further photos are taken, which are substituted the third day. And so on. The work would only be completed after the exhibition closes. It could be called: ‘Site-Specific’.)

“Can provocative art endure the democratic composition of the selection panel and process?” (Phillips, 1989)

Is provocative art possible at all? Municipal commissions are necessarily the result of consensus, whereas in the institutional art world (we might debate this distinction between ‘institutional’ and ‘public’) there is a kind of uniformity of disunity. The essentialist assumption seems to be that, because municipal art is created through a ‘dry’, unartistic process, in which any original ideas are bulldozed by bureaucratic procedure, the results must be apolitical and artless. But the art of an object is formed in the manner of its perception – art is only imaginative as its viewer – and so municipal art may be reappropriated, and assigned new values.

“Public art has always dared to dream, projecting fantasies of a monolithic, uniform, pacified public sphere, a realm beyond capitalism and outside history. What seems called for now, and what many contemporary artists wish to provide, is a critical public art that is frank about the contradictions and violence encoded in its own situation, one that dares to awaken a public sphere of resistance, struggle, and dialogue.” (Mitchell, 1994)

These are just notes, and need refining. Also various things – permanence, monumentality, contingency (of course) – I haven’t mentioned, but are probably worth thinking about. Ideally, we would have a collection of contradictory essays about Sheffield’s public art, in which the collection’s motives – amongst others (possibly), the envelopment of those sculptures in the familiar/fashionable discourse – are also actively challenged. So, in the end, it would be a questioning of itself, of the possibility of collaborative dissensus…

Patricia Phillips (pp. 122-133 here) informs us that New York’s Sanitation Department has an artist-in-residence (although unsalaried). This strikes me as eminently sensible – I don’t suppose Sheffield has a similar scheme?

E.D., June 12 2011

Reading Loop, 15/6/2011

The next reading loop will take place on Wednesday June 15th, 6pm, at Site Gallery Canteen .

The texts (by Rasheed Araeen and Richard Sennett) have been chosen by Eve Michelaki and Christos Christodoulopoulos, who will lead the session. If you would like copies, please email sheffieldseminars@gmail.com

The session will develop our current interrogation of the relationship between art and politics, which we hope will lead to a publication in the not-too-distant future.

Reading Loop, 8/6/2011

The next reading loop will take place on Wednesday June 8th, 6pm, at the  Red Lion pub, 109 Charles St, Sheffield, S1 2ND. For a map, please click here.
The texts (by Rasheed Araeen and Richard Sennett) have been chosen by Eve Michelaki and Christos Christodoulopoulos, who will lead the session. If you would like copies, please email sheffieldseminars@gmail.com
The session will develop our current interrogation of the relationship between art and politics, which we hope will lead to a publication in the not-too-distant future.

Reflections on Reading Loop, 1/6/2011

That emancipation does not mean seizing control – but seizing the right to think.

That thinking is a form of dissent. Art and politics can reconfigure what is thinkable at particular moments.

Anonymity perpetuates the performances of protest.

Ben Sachs in Paul Auster’s Leviathan achieves a break in the consensus through anonymous protest (ie. blowing up imitatations of the Statue of Liberty) so perhaps interruptions need to be violent/shocking and anonymous in order to have significant impact?

X, a few comments back, was careful to avoid using the term ‘corner’ to describe the space left outside of consensual liberalism. I worry about ‘icy thought’ and art as the safety valve releasing steam on behalf of the political. Or what passes for steam. Are we constructing a space so intimate – thought/engagement with art – that there is little chance of translation into the business of living?

What is the role of art within the system? Does a practical outcome equal a success (validity?) or is it equally valuable if the outcome and process is purely theoretical?

Feeling like Thirsites, speaking out of turn, worried about being wacked on the back by Ulysses… ‘Art is art to the extent that it is not art’ – like this definition from Rancière (not my favourite definition). Perhaps change some words: ‘artists are artists to the extent that they are not artists’. Wondered about possibility for anonymity and how this might affect things – how it might deflate the cult of personality.

More radical ways of consensus:

  • As genuine possibility rather than unspoken means of control
  • As surrender to order – liberty of loss of ‘self’ – possible for ego of artist?


WHERE IS THE GAP? (And what happens when it’s filled?)

Q. What is the role of art within the system?

A. Art is only important if it destroys the questions asked of it.

Reading Loop, 1/6/2011 (Sheffield, not Venice)

On Wednesday June 1st, 6pm, at Site Gallery Canteen, Reading Loop will explore Jacques Rancière’s ‘Ten Theses on Politics’.

The session will be facilitated by Amanda Crawley Jackson. All welcome, but please feel free to reserve a place by emailing Amanda (amandacrawleyjackson@gmail.com) in advance.

For a copy of the text, please follow the link here and scroll down to p. 27. You may also find it useful to read the editor’s introduction, which you can find at the same link.

This session will open up a short series of sessions during which we hope to think through and develop new approaches to the question of art and politics.