Being invited by an obscure academic journal to contribute to the seemingly everlasting topic in the South-Eastern European context—culture as a potential for social change in post-totalitarian1 Europe—I’ve recalled my previous writings that have to do with culture-as-regulation,2 and my artistic engagements that explore the space beyond the regulated. However, my initial claim after a time remains unchanged: the mediatized culture (as an apparatus) successfully blurs those artistic events which tend to affirm the common. Hence this writing tries to show that leaving the culture is an ultimate gesture when our intention is to make the art that is closely tied to idea of the common.3
Culture—understood as misfortunate name of the wide spectrum of activities that more or less flirt with artistic creativity—is mediatized to such extent that a “cultural event” do not exist on information map if not covered by media (along with so-called social networks). Being absent on information map means being socially marginalized. At the same time, the so-called media responses has become formalized as very important quantitative criterion of various valorizations and evaluations of so-called cultural projects. That criterion is simply fatal for many art productions that do not fit into valorization rigidness in terms of their conceptual and organizational frame, so such productions are consequently excluded from public financing.
To express the above claim pragmatically: a media response is rather non-reference than reference, as it cannot be objective by nature (and there is nothing wrong with it). (Critical) opinions are always subjective and therefore, to be precise, they are not non-mathematical, but they are actually being used as a mathematical facts: critiques, comments, reviews and interviews are counted and put into a statistic mode to serve for evaluation purposes, following the pattern “more media responses means more points”. Such contradictory character of media responses alienates the context of evaluation, making it far from being objective while claiming that it is all about objectiveness. Last but not least, the trouble is also in the fact that media belong to various interest groups which is a wonderful background for systemic “overlooking” of many/certain events, authors and works. Such circumstances should be taken as a challenge before we only get familiar with them and somehow start contribute to them.
As regards the relationship between media and culture, it tends to be more and more incestuous. Not because of lack of objectivity, but because of abolishment of investigative approach for the sake of marketing-related one. However, we are not missing a romanticized intellectual journalist figure that takes care of final truths, but these achievement of Moderna that nurtured the public and the thinking dimensions of treated subjects, authors, events, works and phenomena.
Instead of putting efforts in articulating the common dimension of art/creativity, media rather put stress on virtual objectivity that should be guaranteed by duality in approach, often through facing two “opposite” sides in a competitive one-on-one manner. At the same time there is a widespread practice in mainstream media of copy-pasting and publishing producers’ PR materials with only minor cosmetic interventions in their content.
Above mentioned trends are consequence of managerization of media that goes hand in hand with precarization of media jobs. All together results in devaluation of quality of knowledge needed for journalist to operate in public sphere in articulated way. The desert climate of media field is ideal for mediatization of culture, but also for its self-reproduction in the context of capitalistic status quo i.e. permanent reproduction of crisis.
The virtual eternity of allegedly best social system ever is being built through cultural consumerism. It is a kind of merging between narrowly aestheticized creativity (“culture”) and imperial economy into cultural capitalism. Here I refer to Theodor Adorno’s critical notion on the culture industry which is, not to be forgotten, being abused by (cultural) managers who try to get rid of Adorno’s critical statement by using similar term—creative industries (they are based on nurturing the logic of precarious work, commercializing certain single form of creativity, and maintaining vertical managerial structures even when selling projects as preservers of the public).
Culture is Exclusion
There is a belief that culture, especially its linguistic magnitude, is an important foundation of a nation4 and, consequently, nation-state. Interestingly, not the mainstream culture, but the alternative one played significant role in the process of separation of Slovenia from federal Yugoslavia. Ljubljana’s punk subculture in 1980’s was an important part of wider Yugoslav rebellion counterculture5 that was provoking society to open up some rigidly regulated issues and remove various bans. Yet, the initial movement for liberation “from below” (in terms of strengthening the autonomy of acting, living and organizing without subordinating to any leadership) was quickly absorbed by narrow but influential groups (more or less already on positions of power) who proclaimed and built the current society’s mode. There is a place for alternatives in that mode, too, but only for the neutralized ones. So the militant6 idea of liberation (widening the space of freedom) is pacified by turning into what is called democratization (achieved through so-called transition, affirming of legislation power and applying economy logic of the West/rich).
It is important to underline that it is not culture what was/is the carrier of potential liberation (undoubtedly being practiced, even though it is not very visible), but the counterculture. Therefore, in described context, culture did not lose its emancipatory role, but rather the power of counterculture was too weak to achieve wider social cohesion and liberation based on affirmation of the common.
Culture only reflects its role as a field among other fields in the imperial matrix. It is a means of seducing consumers, it offers certain joys and, perhaps, fulfills some desires. It constantly supports creating of new necessities (commodities) while at the same time tries to prevent emerging of autonomous/open contexts (as the cultural is only what is under certain regulation, which means it is hierarchic/exploitative in its core). In that way it contributes to permanent state of exclusion which is often masked by pop-culture’s narrative (storytelling) that traditionally soften class-related tensions.
The Common and the Arts
There is a network of mechanisms of decomposition of the common which are hidden behind the visible face of depoliticization of creativity through culture. In that regard I have in mind the specific common that emerges or is encouraged via/in multitude of creative interventions into real.
Here I have to be exact and say that it is not only about artistic, but (necessarily) also about artistic-activistic performative interventions, those that intentionally carve into actual social issues. They have to do with public space and, in accordance to Rancière’s suggestion, have to enable anyone to enter, which is the condition of practicing politics in its core (the politics that is qualitatively different from what is recognized as politics in dominant discourse).
There is a new moment to have in mind regarding naming of these practices. Naming them with the contaminated term art may be catchy, yet such naming might also affirm an understanding/experiencing of art as something that differs from what art is supposed to be within the dominant discourse (within the field of culture)―and therefore open a perspective of creativity beyond the canonized art production.
Contrasts of the Notion of Culture
The notion of culture is loaded with variety of meanings, and many of them hardly find place in libertarian practice. However, they are often parts of managerial paradigm that introduces culture, and especially multiculturalism, as an illusion of social pluralism that should hide all those usual procedures of decomposition of social welfare achievements that were fought for globally in decades after the World War 2.
Being in culture means being incorporated, categorized, normalized, civilized, in-counted. It means being a part of virtually pluralist social mosaic backgrounded in anthropology, culture studies, economy, laws, sociology and, especially, administration. Different7 cultures allegedly coexist, yet the character of the multicultural agenda remains segregative. Racist in its core, it is compatible with the governance of law (legislative realism) which is based on deceptive (tricky) concept of human- (but actually solely citizen-)8 rights as allegedly universal protectors of imperial democracy (capital-parliamentarism9).
The word culture ingests a massive conglomerate of scopes that include everything from cuisine to standard of good manners, as well as high/acknowledged art. That word is a concentrate of projections about regulated civilized society and how it should be seen and presented to its inhabitants. Culture could be understood as an outer aesthetics of society, as a packaging, that reflects its inner alienation.
Leaving the Culture
The very fact that the whole art that is acceptable in imperial frame is hermetically closed in the field of culture speaks about big crisis of that system. Even attempts to occasionally present some of that art as emancipatory can not really mask the systemic hypocrisy. Variety of activities of recently self-organized movement Strike MoMA (#strikemoma), for instance, shows right that: protagonists are revealing the New York’s Museum of Modern Art’s deep interconnections with corporative agendas that are responsible for highly violent plundering of resources and exploitation of human and non-human animals in contemporary colonies. Representatives of those agendas are also members of MoMA’s managerial board. This is perfect example of aestheticization (or masking) of colonial violence overseas by supporting contemporary art at home―artwashing is the word used to rise awareness about that phenomenon.
The culturalized art is bad conscience of biopolitical governance and at the same time one of its most dangerous weapons. Its destructive influence is being performed as virtual preserving of the common through art, while in fact it is all about its more or less hidden decomposition. It is of vital importance to understand this trick.
Protagonists of activist artistic practices do not care about culture, as they cannot be and do not accept to be subordinated by its managers. They act liberating when they cut into culture’s hypermediatized tissue, step out of its fixed rules and break them―and they ultimately have to do that. That includes subverting the existing and establishing new and autonomous media channels. Leaving the culture is a self-liberation gesture par excellence, and the gesture that re-establishes and weaves social ties.
An Impossible Performance
Counterculture does not necessarily build its potential upon literally resisting the dominant model, it rather emerges in rhizomatic manner when and where needed, being based on certain needs of its protagonists, whether related to existential or pure creative questions. Even though it often arises from protests against inequality, repression and exploitation, it is not exclusively rebellious in such most obvious way, but is rather multidimensional, аs it may include wide spectrum of activities such as entertainment, leisure, child and elder care, and communal, environmental and housing matters.
Counterculture searches for what has been lost through technological and administrative development of society that leaded to today’s biopolitical totalitarianism. It affirms common matters. It seeks for these modes of organization of groups of people that are not based on any kind of exclusion via classification (racial, gender, class etc.), but on the premise that everyone is capable to contribute to common matters in accordance to their current capacity. Inclusiveness is what makes counterculture barbaric and impolite. Inclusiveness is what makes it invincible, while the partisan-, Zapatista- and indigenous strategies are the ones that make walking away from culture easier.
The system of restrictions and bans distances us from the possibility of truly being ourselves while interrelated to community of equals. Leaving the culture might and must mean breaking some rules, doing what is allegedly impossible to do. Prohibitions challenges our fears and strengthens our powers. We are performing the impossible (daring to violate the forbidden) when stepping out of what is currently prescribed as normal by an alienated instance (both by any governance and the policemen inside us). By doing that, we are self-empowering ourselves.
Self-empowerment in context of disidentification10 is a matter of decision to go beyond. In theatre, it is about going beyond the stage (interpretation, text-related boredom11 and production-related hierarchy), it is literary about leaving the actor vs. audience regime. In film, it is about reaching toward meta-imaging that is freed from burden of directing and unilateralism of gaze. And wider, it is mostly about revealing secrets of one’s body, and conscious embodiment of whoever present in the space-time of an artistic creation.
1 There is a danger of understanding totalitarianism as something that ends in so-called process of democratization of so-called former communist regimes (in South-Eastern Europe and in former non-aligned countries worldwide). Faraway from being ended, totalitarian agendas that are in the core of capitalistic matrix are very alive and progressively incorporated in biopolitical mechanisms of control―prevention of potential resistance―that preserves the systemic status quo (regulations and bans in a reign of law are established to prevent any transformation of the current order that would lead to abolishment of its exploitative, necrophilic and hierarchic fundaments).
2 My doctoral thesis Critical Artwork and Symbolic Capital, my book The Performance-Critique, and contributions in journals and at conferences―relating to Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of fields, Jacques Rancière’s notions on emancipation, police, politics and aesthetics, Judith Butler’s writing on subversion of identity, Wolfgang F. Haug’s critique of commodity aesthetics, Hardt’s and Negri’s analysis of imperialism, and Antonin Artaud’s omnipotent contemplations.
3 Such art is, I believe, always dedicated to provoke certain ruptures in the real, expose juxtapositions and sensibilize everyday’s life contrasts/layers, and, by doing that, open a space of contemplation, collaboration and desire-exercising within what can be understood as the common inside the very happening (of that art/creation).
4 There is tradition of language-based creativity, like poetry, that is believed to be serving to establishing and strengthening national sentiment and so-called awakening of nation (the phenomenon important for Eastern European countries after the fall of Berlin Wall, where official working class internationalism was suddenly abolished for the sake of achieving new/Western kind of national/state independency which soon proved to be nothing but falling into neocolonial jaws). This tradition (in modern times) probably starts with Fichte’s address “To the German Nation” from 1806.
5 I am not using the prefix counter- to stress an antagonism toward what is known as culture, but rather as a sign of what must not be forgotten: disobedience is always possible.
6 Struggles for freedom are militant in their core, as they are always provoking what is meant to be untouchable, ultimately breaking one rule or another. They should not be equalized with violence as an empty marker (in urban context often named vandalism), which is constantly being done by reactionary forces.
7 Notice that the multicultural agenda puts stress on differences (not similarities and equities) between cultures. What is in that context called cultures is nothing more than artificial division of people.
8 Citizen in terms of officially having a citizenship of certain country. Only a citizen can claim these rights, while an apatride cannot. Both are humans.
9 This term that plastically reveals what is today widely known as democracy is elaborated by Alain Badiou.
―Artaud, Antonin. Le théâtre et son double. Editions Gallimard, 1964.
―Butler, Judith. Antigone’s Claim: Kinship Between Life and Death. Columbia University Press, 2002.
―Dupont, Florence. Aristote ou le vampire du théâtre occidental. Editions Flammarion, 2007.
―Foucault, Michel. Naissance de la biopolitique. Gallimard, 1979.
―Jelesijević, Nenad. Performans-kritika. MGL, 2018.
―Jelesijević, Nenad. “The Puppet in Us, The Idol in It”. Lutka―A Journal on Puppetry Arts and Theatre of Animated Forms, Nr. 60, pp. 72-76, 2019.
―Rancière, Jacques. “Politics and Aesthetics”. Angelaki―Journal of the theoretical humanities, vol. 8, Nr. 2, 2003.
―#strikemoma. Instagram, 2021.