IMAG-E-NATION the political & philosophical arts initiative blog

(re)imagining the political and philosophical in the 21st century

The Political & Philosophical Arts Initiative is interested in the ways in which people interact with and compose political and philosophical ideas and actions through the various, diverse media of technology and the arts. Participants in PAI seek to explore the ways in which poetry, literature, music, photography, performance and other creative arts interleave with the political and philosophical life, either as vehicles for criticism, elaboration, theorization, intervention or activism.
The Imag-e-nation blog is a forum for interested parties to share stories, images or other contributions. Contributors range from students and faculty to artists and musicians to professional and casual commentators. Pieces can be short opinions, re-postings of appropriate materials, or original compositions. In addition, the PAI at LUC will make a selection of relevant or provocative news items each week for (re)publication here.


Art and autonomy: The Theory of Freedom and The New Fordist Manifesto

BjΓΈrn Melhus kicks off 2015 in his signature style with "The Theory of Freedom":

a cinema project anchoring a tripartite parallel presentation organised by West Den Haag, Art Rotterdam, and International Film Festival Rotterdam.  The film's world premiere took place in late January in Kunsthal Rotterdam (until 1 March), followed by an installation of Melhus's video works themed on the politics of fear in West Den Haag (until 28 February) and a debate about artistic autonomy on 6 February.

That Melhus's latest film should tackle--head-on, with his characteristic archetypal personifications coiffed with precision--issues of identity, media, and mass culture in a hyper-hypocritical neo-liberal context of global economic and ideological interdependence should not come as a surprise: this media artist's persistent commentary on U.S. American culture, punctuated with dark humour and his impeccable sense for visual rhythm, zeroes in on Ayn Rand's straw philosophy of objectivism this time for a capitalist romp from the gated communities of Istanbul to a highly institutionalised morgue, complete with competitive sports in an outdoor jungle of a gym and a finger-snapping corpse-band, resurrected by each punishing crack of Rand's world-wielding whip.      

The transcript of the three-channel video installation is rich with references of socio-economic and political dicta:

[FREEDOM] I dreamed a dream.
[RANDI] A: reality - B: context - C: responsibility - and D: effort. The free market! Teach them: the theory of freedom!
[CHORUS] Wealth is the product of man's capacity to think.
[INDEPENDENCE] Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy.
[GUARD] The power of freedom. The power of independence. And...the power of faith.
and richer still when juxtaposed with the sharp, stylised images moving over a triptych of screens, at times synchronised and continuous, other times jarring and disjunctive.  As Melhus as Freedom and Melhus as Independence converse with each other across Melhus as Randi to a back-up chorus of Melhus as zombies, the delight of parsing an allegorical multi-narrative intermingles with a creeping unease: where am I supposed to look, how do I catch all the details, what if I miss something...or everything?  Arrested by indecision and frozen by choice, won't we find answers in the accumulation of private property and direction in pragmatic egocentrism?  The graduated pacing of the film controls the gaze and constricts the vast projection space, and so Melhus's critique of Randian individualism and his illustration of Foucauldian governmentality are laid bare and made palpable.

The possibility of autonomy, then, must move beyond classical and neo-liberal ideals of self-fashioning and self-determination, towards an interpersonal, perceptually plural, and socially resonant relationship between subjects, where that between the artist and the audience may be a promising starting point for further exploration.  

Approaching autonomy from another but equally aesthetically and intellectually compelling angle is the long-awaited summary exhibition of The New Fordist Manifesto, which opened in Stroom Den Haag at the start of 2015, featuring highlights from the choreographic, musical, and visual experiments during the residency of a collective of composers, visual artists, and performance artists who applied the principles of mass production, industrialisation, and mechanised creation to acting, dancing, painting, and music-making at The Hague's GEMAK in 2013.

Enjoy the full report:

and don't miss this spectacular and witty set of Fordist and Taylorist provocations until 1 March, no doubt to be continued as we ponder the meaning of creative processes and the value of artistic labour as we enter the second half of the second decade of the 21st century.



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