Alexei Penzin & Dmitry Vilensky: What’s the Use? Art, Philosophy, and Subjectivity Formation
Dmitry Vilensky: The theme of our number is formulated in the style of “crude thought,” which often asks art or critical reflection a simple question: “What’s the use of what you do?” This question can, of course, provoke a quite negative reaction: it might be regarded as completely out of bounds, naive or just meaningless. If we take a closer look, however, we’ll find that it is both legitimate and essential. It is clear that when we analyze it, we arrive at the traditional problem of the difference between the exchange and use values of everything produced by human activity. Today, we can hardly take seriously the idea that art’s importance has to do with its anti-functionality, with its eluding attempts to instrumentalize it on the part of the culture industry or direct political action. The idea of the modernist object’s “silence” is merely reinforced by the astronomically high price it commands on the market. The idea that art should dissolve into life, that it should be totally abolished in favor of daily life’s most basic functions, can likewise hardly be taken seriously. Based on the opposition between “to have” and “to be,” this old rhetoric risks descending into pure moralizing. How can we today find a way to continue not only the project of Bildung—the process of individual development via aesthetic education (despite all the obvious sympathy for it)—but also find a new continuation for the project of art and thought as a “coming out under the open sky of the sense of solidarity” (Schiller)? From Schiller’s time on, the goal of art as aesthetic education was the harmonious development of the individual, the formation of a whole man capable of creativity. This concept, however, was oriented toward the individual bourgeois subject: in the final analysis, it leads to the formation of the egoistic individual. It is clear that a return to this concept today would be reactionary, which is exactly what the last Documenta proved.
Exhibition: The Urgent Need to Struggle at ICA Institute of Contemporary Arts London.
9 September 2010 – 28 October 2010