Imagine a Million Ideal Onlookers

Here is a text I wrote for a short-lived zine called The First Condition which I edited with Mark Hutchinson between 2001 and 2006. This essay is from Issue 3, October 2004

Cultural Division and Rival Onlookers
Theories of cultural division, regardless of political affiliation, customarily formulate the division of culture along the perimeter of art. Simply: that cultural division is the division between art and the rest of culture. Not that the border line of art has been drawn steadily, demarcating the same cultural territory or according to the same criteria. Far from it. There is a world of difference between framing cultural division in terms of the opposition culture/anarchy and stating that modernism and mass culture are “the torn halves of an integral freedom to which, however, they do not add up”. Despite every subtle and not-so-subtle divergence between these two paradigms of cultural division – one from the founding text of modern cultural conservatism, the other summing up the most trenchant cultural radicalism – they manage, nonetheless, to agree on one thing: cultural division is coterminous with art’s horizon.

The widespread misconception that cultural conservatism is identified by exclusion and elitism derives from the assumption that what separates conformist and radical cultural positions is whether the division is regarded as porous or impermeable. This misconception has led to a certain amount of confusion on the left when faced with non-exclusionary neo-conservatism, such as in the aesthetic philosophy of Arthur Danto. And this is not all. Inscribing cultural division along the boundary of art, whether for the purposes of shoring up art’s self-image or establishing traffic between art and its others, obscures divisions internal to art. Consider, for instance, Andreas Huyssen’s treatment of gender in modernist discourses, hitching it up to the antagonism between art and mass culture rather than using feminism to cut across the old hierarchy. True enough, cultural division is gendered, but the theory of cultural division’s gendering must avoid reconfirming the formulation of cultural division that it critiques, or else it will replicate the old hierarchy’s blindness to art’s internal divisions.

If theories of culture reconfirm the horizon of art in the identification of cultural division then debates over what is at stake will fail to question the inherited category of art. This leads to familiar problems for the Left critique of art and aesthetics. It is easy for complaints about art’s role in cultural division to be hijacked by the assertion of art’s value or quality – shifting the debate from social or institutional questions to judgements of objects and experiences – only if (and this is crucial) the theory of cultural division goes with the grain of art’s own self-images. Cutting across art’s own categories would not so easily permit the reassertion of art against the charge of cultural division. To do so would insert the question of cultural division into art itself. There is a strategic value to rethinking cultural division as internal to art, but there more to it than that. What is fundamentally at stake is whether cultural divisions are taken as the limits of cultural exchange or, to take an extreme example, whether a philistine’s experience of art is to count as internal to art.

Going some way to theorising cultural division as internal to art and as cutting across art’s own categories, Art and Language, in an essay entitled “Painting By Mouth”, examined some of the implications of two distinct modes of attention for art through the analysis of two models of a painting’s (P’s) rival onlookers:

Imagine two ideal onlookers: (A) and (B). (A) goes immediately to P, waits until he gets the proper feelings, etc., and then he just might look up the title of P, seek information and confirmation concerning P, etc. (B) goes immediately to the catalogue (or etc.) seeking to discover how to read the picture. (A) and (B) may correspond to some real or possible onlookers. Indeed, we may suggest that this relative ordering of ‘reading’ of pictures and titles goes to different fragments of culture, social divisions and so on.

Onlookers (A) and (B) are more than just two contingently related possible onlookers; the distinction between them is articulated by existing cultural and social divisions. Onlooker (A) corresponds, roughly, to the post-romantic model of aesthetic appreciation taken up by modernist culture (and not fully expunged by postmodernism) in which the viewer is figured as autonomous and his (almost never her) engagement with art is predicated on a kind of face-to-face encounter with the artwork based on the Protestant idea of how the individual worshipper established his or her own private relationship with God without the mediation of clerics. In Bourdieu’s terms, onlooker (A) is only able to appear autonomous in this way because the process of acquiring the wherewithal (cultural capital) to engage meaningfully with art has been concealed or denied as a necessary feature of the acquisition. Onlooker (B) has no cultural capital to speak of and so seeks a point of entry from whatever form of mediation is available.

In other hands, onlooker (B) might be regarded as a cultural figure self-evidentially external to art or at least peripheral to its competences – a neophyte perhaps. Consequently, any cultural division identified by the rivalry between (A) and (B) could be grounded and resolved with reference to art’s proper horizon. (A)’s hegemony could be perpetually restored in this way. By considering (A) and (B) as rival onlookers for the same painting, Art and Language introduce cultural division into art as an internal tension, not a mark of distinction. Art and Language thus tie rival ‘readings’ to ‘different fragments of culture, social division and so on’ in the very act of refusing to map cultural division onto art’s own hegemonic ground. Only in this way, or some equivalent of it, can (B)’s (or C’s or etc) cultural agency begin to have an impact on (A)’s cultural world.

In the twenty years since Art and Language wrote about onlookers (A) and (B), the normative environment of the museum has (under the pressure of increasing visitor numbers, expanding new audiences and the postmodernist critique of modernism’s exclusionary institutions) shifted away from onlooker (A). Onlooker (B) is courted and catered for in contemporary (museum and other) practices in ways that would have been scandalous to the previous generation of curators. Onlooker (A) has not been ousted, though. And onlooker (B) has not been endorsed exactly. Care has been taken to preserve the experience of onlooker (A) alongside the provision of supplementary material for the influx of onlooker (B)’s. What’s more, the forms of attention advocated by the vast majority of museum catalogues, wall panels, audio guides and education programmes are those perfected by onlooker (A)’s throughout the history of modernism: visual, aesthetic, emotional, authorial, expressive, and so on. (B) does not challenge (A)’s hegemony of culture in the typical managerial mission of the new museology.

Consider, by contrast, the extent of the shift envisaged by Art and Language in their analysis of the act of painting by mouth [PBM1]:

PBM1 shifts the advantage away from (A) towards (B). In Modernist (and etc.) culture the advantage would be supposed to the other way round: the possibility of an authentic reading would tend to be favoured by the tendencies of (A). The sensitive (A’s) search for unreflected content is more likely to be doomed to remain a convulsion or series of convulsions of his firstorder discourse than is (B’s) relatively more sober practice.

If paintings executed by mouth resemble expressive (and other modernist and postmodernist) styles of paintings then it follows that onlooker (A)’s forms of attention (going straight to the work etc) will not equip the onlooker with the ability to distinguish one from the other and may find themselves emoting or aestheticising inappropriately, whereas onlooker (B)’s forms of attention (reading the title first) will know in advance not to bother. This is what Art and Language mean by shifting the advantage away from onlooker (A): painting by mouth is a trap designed with onlooker (A) specifically in mind: “it stalks the onlooker’s antecedent competences like a whiff of scandal”. Indeed, despite all the hubris about postmodernist critiques of art’s institutions and the new museology’s transformation of the cultural environment, it remains, twenty years on, something of a scandalous suggestion to describe onlooker (A)’s forms of attention as convulsions and onlooker (B)’s as sober.

Among other things, Art and Language’s summoning up of onlooker (B) is a first step in articulating cultural division as the construction of rival and contestable publics for art. Onlooker (B) is like a stain on aesthetics: its effects cannot be localised (the whole surface of the fabric is stained, not just this little corner). This is because the introduction of onlooker (B) enacts a qualitative transformation of the cultural field: without (B) or its equivalent, (A) is not an onlooker of art, but the onlooker of art. (B), for Art and Language, is not included into the community of gallery-goers as a trouble-free addition to that community. (B) transforms the cultural territory by entering it. In a word, (B) negates. Just as the identity of the ‘self’ is radically and permanently split by the existence of the ‘other’ (it is only by denying the existence or validity of the ‘other’ that the ‘self’’ can hold onto a bogus sense of untroubled identity), (B) negates the self-identity (the self-images) of art and art’s presumed proper public.

Rival Rivals of Culture’s Cultures
Much of what is gained by inserting cultural division into the fabric of art might would be lost if it was assumed that the resultant cultural rivalry amounts to a straight competition for art itself. Such a formulation of cultural rivalry revives the notion of art as a singular cultural formation. If (A) and (B) are rivals in art, however, then it would seem to be impossible to settle the question of which model of art that they represent should be regarded as the legitimate one. Art would, therefore, correspond somewhat to Laclau’s concept of the ‘empty signifier’ – “whose temporary signifieds are the result of political competition”. As such, rather than talking about art or aesthetics as having certain essential qualities, art would be opened up as the contingent result of hegemonic struggles over culture by rival fragments of the divided social whole. It would no longer make any sense to talk about what art is, what artists are or what art’s onlookers do without identifying from which fragment of culture these claims derive.

Now, at the same time as opening up art to the contingencies of contestation through the play of hegemonic struggle, multiplying art in the process, the rivals within cultural division would also tend to multiply. (A) and (B) would seem to open up the field of cultural contestation for a ragbag of cultural rivals. Onlookers C to Z seem to be worth considering. Unless, that is, the very staging of the rivalry between onlookers (A) and (B) is too narrow to open up cultural hegemony for rival rivals. Certainly there is potential for variations on (A) and (B) within the framework of (A) and (B)’s rivalry, but the question is whether the formulation of their rivalry is sufficient for a number of rival rivals that are key to art’s internal cultural divisions. There is a whole alphabet of cultural rivals that needs to be articulated.

Art and Language couch the distinction between onlooker (A) and onlooker (B) in terms of certain technical features of their respective rival forms of attention. These techniques derive from conceptualism’s complaints about the intellectual heritage of modernist painting: onlooker (A)’s forms of attention follow from the modernist understanding of the primacy of the visual; onlooker (B)’s forms of attention are Conceptualist insofar as, for instance, they correspond to Siegelaub’s formula of inverting primary (visual) and secondary (supporting, contextual, discursive) information. In this sense, of course, the institutions of the new museology are graphically not populated by millions of onlooker (B)’s in the strict sense. (A) critique of the new museology could be developed from the disparity between its conception of art’s supplementary onlookers and Art and Language’s conception of onlooker (B). At the same time, however, we need to extend our conception of art’s rival publics beyond the Art and Language’s technical, Conceptualist horizon.

To conceive of the rift in art’s modes of attention in terms of rival onlookers is already to construct cultural division according to sectional interests. Our first objection to the formulation of the rivalry between (A) and (B) is their shared status as onlookers. An onlooker is an individual who looks on but has no agency in an affair, and this automatically skews the question of art’s potential rivals in three aspects – the primacy of vision, the framing of the encounter with art in terms of individuality rather than collective action, and the implication of passivity, rather than, say, participation, collaboration or co-production. In order to extend art’s rivals beyond the rivalry between onlookers (A) and (B) we need to extend our conception of the encounter with art beyond that of the onlooker. What are the alternatives?

The onlooker is not identical in all respects to the viewer, for instance. And the same can be said for a range of cultural figures, including the spectator, the audience and the passer-by. Consider briefly the distinctions between these cultural figures. One of the most commonly used terms to describe individuals in art galleries, the viewer, was originally intended to refer to the person watching television. (A) spectator is an individual who looks at a show, game or incident (a spectacle), while an audience, strictly speaking, is a group of listeners. A passer-by is an individual who casually happens upon a thing or event whereas a visitor actively makes a trip to somewhere or something. Notice not only the fine distinctions between these various cultural figures, but also that none of them were coined specifically in reference to the modes of attention of art. In the absence of an acceptable term that refers to art’s subject specifically, seemingly neutral terms, such as visitor and gallery-goer, have come to replace objectionable terms such as connoisseur, art lover, gentleman, aesthete and man of taste.

This is not mere semantics. A genealogy of cultural figures and their respective forms of attention would go some way to mapping culture’s divisions and thereby the routes through which culture is encountered and contested. To some degree disputes over culture are disputes over who or what we are meant to be when we attend to it. Or who or what we become by attending to it. Modes of attention are modes of being and modes of becoming. Likewise, the forms of address that are deployed in objects and processes within art and culture are invitations to act one way or another, consensual forms of regimentation. It does not minimise the impact of forms of address by equating them with the contexts in which they are found; aesthetic forms of address are no less regimes of action simply because they might seem, under certain descriptions, to be appropriate to art. If cultural figures are, or stand for, these regimes of cultural encounter, then paying attention to how we pay attention to culture will contribute to understanding who or what we can be through culture and this includes how we pay attention to others through how they pay attention to culture.

There is a cultural figure that can not be left out of such attention to cultural forms of attention despite the fact – or because of the very fact – that it was coined to refer specifically to individuals outside proper culture. This is the philistine. Historically, the framing of the philistine as a cultural figure has conformed to cultural hierarchy: the division between the aesthete (etc) and the philistine is drawn along the same line as the division between the aesthetic and the non-aesthetic, between art and non-art. This is why the concept of the philistine is so handy for exclusionary conceptions of culture: the philistine, under this description, is not a cultural rival so much as a rival to culture. Significantly, then, the philistine is a cultural figure unlike any other. The critical potential of the philistine has been almost entirely neglected, however, because, as an example of hate-speech, critical thinkers have been more inclined to avoid its use. However, recognising that the philistine is a figure within cultural discourse by virtue of being a figure without culture does not mean discounting the philistine from the field of culture. Nor does it mean that the philistine is necessarily an uncritical category. On the contrary, the philistine is a vital – if largely overlooked – cultural figure by virtue of existing at the very horizon of culture. In fact, the philistine, as a cultural category, is peculiarly well placed to mount a critique of the field of culture and its symbolic economies.

The Philistine Hope
Does the philistine’s opposition to the aesthete (etc) mark the horizon of culture or is the philistine a marker of cultural division, of rivalry internal to culture? The foregoing suggests that we rearticulate this question in a way that doesn’t privilege the forms of attention and modes of address of art and aesthetics. The reformulation might be more like this: it is not a question of whether the philistine is internal or external to culture in general or the system of art in particular, the question is what kind of conception of art and culture puts the philistine outside art and culture, and what kind of conception of culture treats the philistine as an internal rival?
Preference for the latter formulation derives from understanding that art and culture are formed and reformed through cultural activities, particularly through the hegemonic struggle over what art and culture might be. An example that we have looked at illustrates what is at stake. Without onlooker (B) or its equivalent, there is no resistance to onlooker (A)’s claims to universality. In other words, the very authority and legitimacy of (A)’s modes of attention within culture is dependent upon its unrivalled hegemony which can only pass itself off as universal or necessary so long as its rivals are convincingly portrayed as illicit, off the map, naïve, inept or violent. The philistine is a cultural figure that still bears the scars of exactly this treatment. Once we begin to question the cultural hegemony, though, the trick of ruling out cultural rivals by describing them as external to culture becomes too transparent to be taken seriously. The aesthetic hegemony of art and culture is smuggled into the field of cultural production by a symbolic violence that those who profit from it cannot see. Because of this, the philistine is a valuable cultural figure: the philistine knows better than anyone about the mutilation that is concealed by those who exert cultural hegemony in matters of culture.

Just as onlooker (B) challenges the hegemony of onlooker (A), so the presence of the philistine in the cultural field transforms the cultural field itself. If the philistine is not reducible to the taunts of the aesthete then cultural division cannot correspond to the horizon of art. Cultural division is a broader struggle than that between art and the rest of culture, and, at the same time, cultural division is internal to art. One result of paying attention to cultural division in this way is to undo the idea that art is culture’s universal. What permits the equation of art and universality is the exclusion of the sort of internal rivalries which would demonstrate that competing versions of art are, in fact, particular. Onlooker (B) spoils (A)’s illusion of universality, but the philistine needs to shake off the accusation of self-interest and particularity before the aesthete’s claims to universality can be properly undermined. That is to say, the philistine could, in principle, be included as an internal rival of art but be marginalised, nonetheless, as a rogue voice. Laclau’s argument that universal values are always particular ones that have gained hegemony doesn’t help here because its levelling of competing terms does nothing to overcome centuries of accumulated bias. As equals under the present cultural hegemony, aesthetics will always win against the philistine. The task is to present the philistine’s grievances as universal.

The key to understanding how the philistine could be represented as the universal in culture might lie in Laclau’s exaggeration of the role of hegemony in Marx’s identification of the working class with universal emancipation. For Laclau there can be no objective factors which would determine the hegemony of one group over another – the only thing that can determine that, for Laclau, is the contingent result of political competition. For Marx, however, the working class suggests itself for reasons that are far from contingent. Marx argues that the working class, as the producers of surplus value, has a special place within the capitalist mode of production which singles it out as the agent of universal emancipation. Marx would have been foolish to base his hopes in the working class on, say, the belief that they were especially virtuous, brilliantly educated, wise, kind, tolerant, full of good instincts or supernaturally well equipped to govern. No, Marx put his hopes in the working class despite everything. There was nothing positive about the working class that justified Marx’s championing of them. Quite the contrary, it was the negative position of the working class in the structure of the capitalist economy that gave that class its universal status, and it was the potential negative force of the working class that suggested it for the emancipation of humanity in general by its ability, if organised and determined, to abolish capitalism. The position of the working class in Marx’s analysis of capitalism can be instructive about the position of the philistine in cultural hegemony.

The philistine is not another way of talking about the proletariat: the philistine is not proletariat and the proletariat is not philistine. Nevertheless, philistinism is culture’s hope despite everything. The philistine is not culturally superior to the aesthete (or etc). In fact, there is nothing positive about the philistine that would justify any hope placed in it. Like the proletariat in the economy, though, the philistine holds a unique place within the totality cultural relations which means that it is the key to understanding culture and, potentially, a powerful agent in transforming it. By marginalising or excluding the philistine, aesthetic philosophy, art history, art criticism, semiotics, art theory and cultural sociology fail to grasp culture in its totality; they are all, therefore, subject to the kind of critique that can only derive from an understanding of culture from the point of view of the philistine. Culture is best understood and explained fully only by rearticulating the philistine not as culture’s ‘other’ but as the negation of art’s (and aesthetic’s) ‘false universal’ (the contingent presentation of art and aesthetics as the cultural universal). The crucial difference between art (and aesthetics) and philistinism, in this regard – and this is decisive in the philistine’s claim to universality – is that the false universal requires as the condition of its own possibility a detotalising split from that which is not universal, whereas the philistine, which can gain its universality only through hegemonic battle with art, must understand its own place as operating within a totality of relations including its relation to the false universal. Philistinism retotalises.

The Philistine Alphabet
Cultural division, especially for those incarcerated on that side of cultural division that pretends it is the only culture that matters, produces detotalising splits as a symptom of division itself. It takes an extra effort to overcome those symptoms of cultural division because they are felt as privileges and luxuries. Cultural capital brings real gains, not just symbolic ones. And they are hard to impugn when you benefit from them. What’s more, taking sides with the philistine carries real dangers in a culture hegemonically dominated by art and aesthetics. More than once I’ve regretted writing about the philistine in the way that I do. But cultural division doesn’t go away, and, in fact, so long as the philistine carries with it certain disadvantages, then the effects of cultural division need to be challenged. If we are to contest culture then we need to contest the very categories in which culture reproduces itself. We cannot take it for granted that the category of art is the one that is familiar with us. It is not just the job of artists to challenge the nature of art by doing novel things as art; it is also up to art’s onlookers, viewers, spectators, publics and a whole alphabet of others to transform their relationship to art. As part of this we might need to ask ourselves whether the given alphabet of art’s cultural rivals is broad enough for what we can do with art. Maybe we need a philistine alphabet? Certainly we need to construct new relations to art and, in contesting art’s customary forms of attention and modes of address, it would make sense to devise a while new alphabet of possible cultural figures. The philistine is only the beginning.


Uncompensated Trauma: On Art, Technique and Division

Here’s my catalogue essay on Artur Żmijewski for his exhibition at the Firestation in Dublin

Today one of the key debates within art turns on how it is encountered. What kinds of experience, both individual and collective, ought to be developed for art, and what kind of art can be developed to facilitate and provoke new types of encounter? Socially engaged art is among those contemporary practices that are involved in the reconfiguration of art’s social relations, and with them, what used to be called art’s viewer. Artur Żmijewski is one of a number of contemporary artists who regard the spectator with suspicion, part a generation or two of artists, critics, curators and others pressing the case for various forms of participation, interaction, community-specificity, co-authorship, collaboration and counterpublics in art. His installation Democracies (2009), which consists of 20 videos played simultaneously of public displays of political activism, is as hard on the spectator as it is on the activists, leaving no room either for contemplation or for decisive political opinion formation.

Two Monuments continues Żmijewski examination of the tensions between spectator and participant, contemplation and action, by devising a social cocktail of Irish and Polish unemployed, and asking the to co-operate and collaborate with each other. Even though the two groups complete their tasks, what we watch on the video is not a documentary of the production of the monuments, like we might watch a documentary about the building of the Guggenheim in Bilbao. We watch the social cocktail curdle. This is not about the objects that are produced, but the social tensions ‘behind the scenes’. And this is an important set of questions today, in a period when the artworld has been pursuing the intersubjective (ie subjects encountering each other) rather than the more familiar subjective experience of art objects. At the same time, however, Jacques Rancière has been arguing that we should give the spectator another chance. Rancière, following the logic of his earlier book ‘The Ignorant Schoolmaster’,_ defends the passive, ignorant spectator as the part des sans-part of the art system. The reason Rancière does not see the aesthetic spectator as the privileged holder of cultural capital is that, for him, the aesthetic is one of the ways in which the ‘partition of the sensible’ is reconfigured.

The critique of the spectator is self-defeating according to Rancière because the spectator already ‘observes, selects, compares, interprets’. These are the narrow virtues of the contemplative aesthetic onlooker. Rancière never invokes any other kind of subjectivity for his plagued spectator. But there is simply no reason to reduce the aesthetic to such a narrow set of Romantic tropes. Except that this reduction explains why his defense of the spectator is twinned with a critique of socially engaged art: “The very same thing that makes the aesthetic ‘political’ stands in the way of all strategies for ‘politicizing art’”, he says. Rather than accepting that the passive spectator holds the place of the part des sans-part, though, we might, instead, understand the spectator as occupying a very central and powerful role within the ideology, economy and knowledge of art. The spectator is the repository of art’s established ideologies and cultural practices. It is the specific body adapted to art’s institutionalization. In fact, since the death of the author we might go so far as to say the spectator is hegemonic. It sounds to me as if Rancière wants to emancipate the privileged.

If we keep in mind the fact that the critique of the spectator today is an inherited component of a stream of modernist and avant-gardist critiques of art (each critique proposing new formal, technical, aesthetic and social possibilities for art), then we can see that it is false to separate the critique of the spectator from a set of questions about cultural and social transformation. It is impossible, in fact, to produce new works and new configurations of art without at the same time questioning the existing spectator. As such, the critique the spectator simultaneously calls forth new publics and new experiences, new kinds of art, new institutions, new social forms, new ideologies and a new world.

Insofar as Artur Żmijewski’s socially engaged work challenges the established roles and experiences of the spectator by reconfiguring the encounter with art as an ethically loaded, tense and even chilling reflection on identity and society, he is in good company. Santiago Sierra, Rod Dickinson, Plastique Fantastique, Mark McGowan and Laura Oldfield Ford, all develop socially engaged practices that inevitably challenge the spectator (the hegemonic aesthetic subject). I have chosen these examples because none of them abandon the viewer in favour of participation. In various ways they splinter art’s encounter rather than opt for one preferred mode of engagement or another. In their different ways these artists do not so much criticize the spectator’s passivity as mine fissures in the cultural and social fabric that demonstrate the falsity of the aesthetic spectator’s universality.

Sierra cuts through the public by presenting one part of it (under duress) to another part of it. The key to understanding Sierra’s work is not to analyze the way he treats the prostitutes, immigrants or homeless people that participate in his work, but to analyze the way he addresses a second public (those who view the work) by presenting to them a different sector of the public and a different type of encounter. In a similar vein, Dickinson appropriates the techniques of mass psychology for displaying society to itself. Like Żmijewski, whose work Repetition (2005) revisits the 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment where volunteers are designated either as guards or prisoners and allowed to play out the situation, Dickinson has restaged the famous experiment from the early 1960s Professor Stanley Milgram, of Yale University, in which volunteers were asked to administer increasingly painful electric shocks to others (secretly in collaboration with Milgram). Earlier, too, Dickinson has tapped into the conspiracy-laden subculture of corn circles, operating somewhere between the artworld, a secret society, the mass media and hysterical fiction. Plastique Fantastique mix the carnivalesque with sci-fi scenarios of post-apocalyptic futures to portray (and call forth) a multitude of monstrous subjectivities. McGowan inserts himself into the existing mediascape to shatter art’s autonomy and thereby stages the unresolvable collision of art and popular culture. Oldfield Ford revives a militant version of urban subculture to draw battle lines across gentrified territories such as the Olympic zone.

Żmijewski prods and pinches social fissures, often the tender relic of world historical trauma, such as 80064 (2004) in which he cajoles an Auschwitz survivor to have his identity tattoo reinstated. Żmijewski uses the politically obscene encounters as the very basis of the relationship between the artist and his ‘public’. He does not compensate for these troubling and traumatic encounters with the social niceties of tolerance, kindness and conviviality. In fact, to do so would be utterly objectionable, as if genocide could be made less intolerable with diplomacy and delicate handling. There is no technical solution to social and cultural division, not even in social technique such as good manners and good management. As such, the cruelty, coldness and manipulation in Żmijewski’s work might be bad social technique, but there is critical potential (and even virtue) to be found in bad social technique when good social technique is so pernicious. His illiberalism might have something to say to the liberalism dominant in the art milieu, as Charles Esche argues, but it has more to say to the current debate on art’s encounter, on the so-called responsibility of the artist to the public, on the misplaced devotion to conviviality in relational art, and the immanent questions that must be addressed today by socially engaged art. This is a harsh testing ground for art’s encounter, to be sure, but milder inquiries lower the stakes.

Having said that, and still fully opposed to a purely ethical critique of Żmijewski’s treatment of his participants and spectators, there are elements of his working methods that do not ring true. He cajoles, asks leading questions, manipulates situations, edits wantonly, and so on. He seems to know what he wants to show and is prepared to use any trick in the book to depict exactly the tensions that he expects. I am not complaining here about his manipulation of the participants, but his manipulation of the work. He cherry picks data, orchestrates events and choeographs the very scenes he is claiming are always already there. This is a questionable methodology for science, of course, but it is also, interestingly, a questionable methodology for art. We can sum it up by saying the outcome is guaranteed with technique. And you’re unlikely to find a better definition of academicism. But the specific problem that this questionable methodology raises in terms of art is the reinstatement of the author as the orchestrating centre of meaning for the work. And just as we are critical of those who turn the clocks back to defend the spectator in its old aesthetic form, the reinstatement of the author has to be challenged also.

What remains interesting in Żmijewski’s work is the way it figures and refigures a sequence of real and potential encounters. The participants and the viewers are set apart from one another, not treated recursively as two instantiations of the same conduct. Watching the works can be harrowing and uncomfortable but the viewer looks on from a safe distance and is not the object of scrutiny. The spectator does not view other spectators, but participants. Sometimes this might be felt as a loss (participation is closer to the action) but sometimes it is a relief (the participants get all the flak). Either way, there is a rift in the social relations of the work. And it is not a failing. What is clear in Żmijewski’s work, is that the universality of the spectator has dissolved, its hegemony dissipated in a world – and an artworld – characterized by dissensus, conflict, antagonism and trauma.

It would be a mistake to focus only on Żmijewski’s treatment of his participants or only on the kind of onlookers he wants the rest of us to be. The important thing is the relationship between them. And in order to understand this relationship we need to distinguish actual individuals from the roles that they adopt. That is to say, Żmijewski’s work might victimize people, but that is neither because he is a sadist nor that they are always already capable of victimhood. The point, rather, is that, just as the literary work structurally implies an author and a reader (not as actual living beings but places to occupy in relation to the text – the latter are called actants to distinguish them from actors), Żmijewski’s work implies places to occupy that instantiate a field of power, not a field of aesthetic interpretation. Within the current conjuncture there is certainly a good case to be made for art courting with cruelty but not the reaffirmation of authorial control. In effect, therefore, the tense relationship between different publics in the work are political and ethical ones.

Include Me Out!

Here’s the text on participation published in Art Monthly in 2008

Include me out!
Dave Beech on participation in art.

PARTICIPATION FIRST BECAME A BUZZWORD AS PART OF THE NEW LEFT’S CRITIQUE OF ‘ACTUALLY EXISTING’ DEMOCRACY IN THE 50S AND 60S. It was then taken up by CB MacPherson in his theory of participatory democracy in the 70s but went missing during the monetarist 80s only to return in the 90s as a description of relational art. When you consider that participation in the new art includes having dinner, drinking beer, designing a new candy bar and running a travel agency, there seems to be justification in talking about a declining ambition for the politics of participation.

This is not to say that participation in contemporary art has been entirely removed from the political legacy of participation. Participation in contemporary art resonates with political promise. In her anthology Participation, Claire Bishop correctly distinguishes between participation and interactivity, explaining that the latter, especially in connection with developments in digital technology, merely incorporates the viewer ‘physically’ (pressing buttons, jumping on sensitive pads and so on). Participation, Bishop points out, is not so much ‘physical’ as ‘social’. This is a political distinction. In fact, it is precisely this sort of distinction that fuels the theory of participatory democracy.

Needless to say, most if not all participatory art falls well short of the political promise of participation. Bishop signals this when she criticises Bourriaud for putting sociability–what he calls conviviality–where dissent and critique ought to be. Her agonistic theory of participation raises the stakes but in doing so, I would argue, she inadvertently highlights the limitations of the whole enterprise. Simply put, participation cannot deliver what participation promises. In both art and politics, participation is an image of a much longed for social reconciliation but it is not a mechanism for bringing about the required transformation. In politics, participation vainly hopes to provide the ends of revolution without the revolution itself. And in art, participation seems to offer to heal the rift between art and social life without the need for any messy and painful confrontations between cultural rivals.

Consider, for instance, Gillian Wearing’s ‘Signs that say what you want them to say and not Signs that say what someone else wants you to say’, 1992-93. When someone complains that such work is ultimately controlled by the artist, or that the work addresses those internal to contemporary art rather than those represented by the images, what is tapped into is the underlying tension between art and the rest of culture. The point behind the complaint is that the participation of civilians in artworks does not fundamentally challenge the cultural distinctions that separate them from the artist and the minority community of art. In fact, participation simply re-enacts that relationship in an ethnographic fashion. It would be unfair to expect a single artwork to overcome such systemic ills, but this is precisely the problem with the concept of participation: it is based on the misconception that properties of the artwork could offer a technical solution to art’s social marginalisation.

Miwon Kwon, in her book One Place After Another, interprets the rhetoric of participation within ‘new genre public art’ as precisely that of democratising art with ‘pluralist inclusivity, multicultural representation and consensus-building’ that shifts the focus ‘from the artist to the audience, from object to process, from production to reception, and emphasises the importance of a direct, apparently unmediated engagement with particular audience groups (ideally through shared authorship in collaborations)’. Kwon remains sceptical about such claims, rightly so. Stewart Martin has recently argued in Third Text that the critique of the commodified art object in Bourriaud’s the-ory of relational aesthetics paves the way for the extension of the commodification of art by incorporating social events and exchanges into the field of art’s commodities. A parallel argument can be made about the politics of participation. Kwon goes some way towards this by suggesting that the utopian narrative of the challenge to Modernism’s fetishisation of the art object that leads to site-specificity and then community-specificity can be re-read as a transplantation of art’s investment in its objects, first through the reification of site and then the reification of the public.

Participation, within this historical trajectory, although disguised as a generous shrinking of cultural division, is an extension of art’s hegemony and, as Grant Kester argues in his book Conversation Pieces, an opportunity for the artist to profit from their social privilege. So, when Bishop explains that participation ‘strives to collapse the distinction between performer and audience, professional and amateur, production and reception’, it would be naive to accept this without also seeing these aspirations as ideological currency.

Bishop’s reference to performers and audiences (rather than artists and publics) indicates Bishop’s debt, here, to Allan Kaprow’s militant elimination of the audience in his development of the Happening. ‘A group of inactive people in the space of a Happening is just dead space,’ he said. Kaprow’s persistent dissatisfaction with the division between performer and audience–and the unlikely experiments that this brought about–testifies to a genuine and radical critique. He took participation too seriously to be content with anything short of its full realisation. To ‘assemble people unprepared for an event and say that they are “participating” if apples are thrown at them or they are herded about is to ask very little of the whole notion of participation’, he argued. His performances to mirrors point away from the false reconciliation of a cheaply won participatory art. Following him, we might be more inclined to echo Louis B Mayer’s acerbic motto ‘include me out’. Or Bob & Roberta Smith’s slogan, ‘make your own damn art’.

There is a temptation, within this earnest tradition of participation, to treat it as a solution to the problems endemic to the whole range of established forms of cultural engagement, from the elitism of the aesthete to the passivity of the spectator, and from the compliance of the observer to the distance of the onlooker. Acknowledging the problematic social histories of these forms of engagement, which are still in the process of being written up, the rhetoric of participation proposes a break that deserves to be called revolutionary. In fact, it comes very close to Marx’s theory of the proletariat as a revolutionary class by virtue of being that class whose historical destiny is to abolish all classes. Participation is thought of as a form of cultural engagement that does away with all previous problematic forms of cultural engagement by eradicating the distinction between all of the previous cultural types and all cultural relations between them.

It is vital to the critique of participation, therefore, that we locate it within–rather than beyond–the differential field of culture’s social relations, as a particular form or style of cultural engagement with its own constraints, problems and subjectivities. We can begin by noting that the participant typically is not cast as an agent of critique or subversion but rather as one who is invited to accept the parameters of the art project. To participate in an art event, whether it is organised by Rirkrit Tiravanija, Jeremy Deller, Santiago Sierra or Johanna Billing, is to enter into a pre-established social environment that casts the participant in a very specific role.

The point is not to single out individual artists who fail to meet the potential of participation’s promise. The point, rather, is that participation always involves a specific invitation and a specific formation of the participant’s subjectivity, even when the artist asks them simply to be themselves. The critique of participation must release us from the grip of the simple binary logic which opposes participation to exclusion and passivity. If participation entails its own forms of limitations on the participant, then the simple binary needs to be replaced with a constellation of overlapping economies of agency, control, self-determination and power. Within such a constellation participants take their place alongside the viewer, observer, spectator, consumer and the whole panoply of culture’s modes of subjectivity and their social relations.

One way of getting a handle on the limitations and constraints imposed on the participant is to contrast participation with collaboration. It is the shortfall between participation and collaboration that leads to perennial questions about the degree of choice, control and agency of the participant. Is participation always voluntary? Are all participants equal and are they equal with the artist? How can participation involve co-authorship rather than some attenuated and localised content? The rhetoric of participation often conflates participation with collaboration to head off such questions. Collaborators, however, are distinct from participants insofar as they share authorial rights over the artwork that permit them, among other things, to make fundamental decisions about the key structural features of the work. That is, collaborators have rights that are withheld from participants. Participants relate to artists in many ways, including the anthropological, managerial, philanthropic, journalistic, convivial and other modes. The distinction between them remains.

Jacques Ranciere highlights another pernicious distinction that participation cannot shake off: that between those who participate and those who don’t. Even if we view participation in its rosiest light, Ranciere argues that its effects are socially divisive. The critique of participation is, here, immanent to the development of participation as an inclusive practice that does not and cannot include all. Seen in this way, participation must be excluding because it sets up a new economy which separates society into participants and non-participants, or those who are participation-rich and those who are participation-poor.

Another strand to the critique of participation can be derived from Jacques Derrida’s critical analysis of the politics of inclusion in his book The Politics of Friendship. Despite all its humanistic and democratic promises, inclusion, for Derrida, is a brand of neutralisation. Look at how the European Union is including former Cold War enemies from Eastern Europe. Is there a more effective way of neutralising them? Incorporating the other into the body of power while repressing anything that escapes this incorporation is, according to Derrida, inclusion as neutralisation. Participation does a similar job for art and its institutions. It confronts the case against art and the gallery by bringing the culturally excluded into the orbit of art, providing much needed statistics of new audiences and proactive relations with the public, too. Participation often neutralises the individuals it brings into art, but it also neutralises cultural conflict more generally by presenting itself as a viable alternative. As such, even though a very small number of people actually participate in these works of art, the rhetoric of participation neutralises everyone nonetheless.

Judith Butler, on the other side of fence, so to speak, makes the case in Gender Trouble against being included. By examining the effects of what she calls ‘compulsory heterosexuality’ on the thematisation of gender and sexuality, she articulates a theory of resistance to incorporation. It is not just that being included within the dominant framework blocks off vital forms of subversion, which it does, but also that inclusion is never merely a technical question. The naive advocates of inclusion, incorporation and participation believe that the problem is how to include more people, not whether to do so. However, what if, as Butler shows, that inclusion is a form of subjection or violation? What if you are being invited generously to be incorporated into a foreign body? If Butler’s objections are valid then incorporation–or participation–has to be completely reconsidered in terms of that which precedes it: what pre-existing state is on offer for participation? In other words, technical questions about how to participate must always be preceded by questions about what sort of activity, and subjectivity, people are being invited to participate in.

There is great potential in the proposal of participating in a promising situation–and this is presumably the only scenario envisaged by the supporters of participation. Participation sounds promising only until you imagine unpromising circumstances in which you might be asked to participate. However, there is potential horror within the threat of participating in an unpromising situation. Participation presupposes its own promise, therefore, by assuming the existing promise of the situation to which the participant is invited. The critique of participation that can be teased out of Derrida, Butler and Ranciere asks fundamental questions of participation as such. In their different ways they each call attention a political fissure that runs right through the centre of any and every participatory event. The social and cultural distinctions that prompt participation in the first place, which participation seeks to shrink or abolish, are reproduced within participation itself through an economy of the participants’ relative proximity to the invitation. Outsiders have to pay a higher price for their participation, namely, the neutralisation of their difference and the dampening of their powers of subversion. Participation papers over the cracks. The changes we need are structural. .

From: Art Monthly | Date: 4/1/2008

Extract from ‘The Apparatus of Participation’

This is an excerpt from a talk written by Freee about our practice.

Freee have tackled the problem of participation by trialling new participatory actants that, in a very specific sense, are impossible. We only want the ‘impossible participant’ – that is to say, the participant that is only possible within an apparatus not yet in existence. Too much participation conforms to already established places within art’s apparatus, effectively meaning that participation is best understood as the deepening and strengthening of art’s apparatus by drawing the public into its mode of production. The impossible spectator is a place that can be temporarily occupied. Rancière makes the mistake of going on a hunt for spectators and defending the people he finds, rather than providing an analysis of the spectator as an actant. Our conception of the ‘impossible participant’ requires a new place for the participant to occupy in an apparatus yet to be developed. One of the reasons why our ‘impossible participants’ are impossible is that, within the current ethical consensus, they are seen as not participatory enough. This does not deter us. Although less participatory in the conventional sense, our impossible participants are, in another sense, much more vital. We can explain this more clearly with an example.
Revolution Road: Rename the Streets! was a Freee project commissioned by Wysing Arts Centre, Cambridge, UK in 2009 as part of the exhibition ‘Generosity is the New Political’. One of the key elements in the work was the precise configuration of its social relations. First, the invitation we made was not open. Freee invited a small group of Wysing staff, artists and trustees to participate in an event. This meant the participants were known to one another, shared (perhaps antagonistically) a familiarity with the place, and knew more than the artists about the institution and the locale where the performance was set. This was not an attempt, pace Miwon Kwon’s category of “community-specific” art, which typically aims ‘to foster social assimilation.’__ Our aim was to establish a pairing that stood outside the conventional grammar of participation. The participants were already a group, which meant that the initial dynamic of the social experience of the artwork would be structurally divided. The artists did not hold the monopoly on expertise in the work and they were not the most at ease in the encounter. The social configuration of the invitation began, from the start, to subvert the conventional settlement of the ‘pantomime of actants’ in ways that were at once structurally clear and yet imperceptible. After a while the preexisting dynamic of the group starts to show itself, but at first it is impossible to detect. And yet, the fact that the participants are already a group means that their experience of each other is not primarily as viewers or participants in an artwork, but as colleagues, neighbours, etc. The actants which the work designates has to compete with the identities and relations of real individuals (which are, to be precise about it, actants in another apparatus). But the actants which the work orchestrated were not that of ‘artists’ and ‘participants’. The places that the work called for were much stranger than that. And it was partly through this strangeness that the real individuals were converted into actants. We will need to describe the performance and the roles assigned to performers in order to explain how these actants related to one another in a pairing that the work required for its existence.

The work consisted of a walking tour of Cambridge town, wearing bright costumes (including ‘Liberty bonnets’ as worn by Jacobins) and performing scripted ceremonies. From the local Court building to King’s Passage, through residential, education, retail and civic areas, every street, lane, road and square that the participants passed was renamed in a ceremonial ritual performed by the participants. All the streets were renamed after key figures, events and institutions within English Jacobinism immediately after the French Revolution. The ceremonies included detailed expositions of the historical significance of the new name for the street, followed by an exchange in which a new name for the street was proposed and confirmed in a performative speech act of acknowledgement that a new name had been written in chalk on a blackboard. Although this dialogue was scripted by the artists and took place as a call-and-response dialogue between the artists and the participants, the script which renamed the streets also renamed the individuals in the ceremony: the artists were referred to throughout the script as ‘the chalk-holders’ and the participants were referred to throughout as the ‘witnesses’. Renaming the streets could therefore be seen as an alibi for renaming the actants of art. But of course, this second, explicit but inconspicuous, renaming, which reconfigures the relationship between artist and participant as an encounter between actants, takes place within a process of transforming the world by renaming it. So, we might also say, the renaming of the actants of art is figured within a performative scenario in which the world appears malleable, which we might say is a social precondition for the transformation of art’s apparatus.

For us publics are not consumers, fans, viewers, customers, taxpayers, citizens, identities, communities, clients, markets, voters, readers, victims. We prefer Witnesses, Signatories, Advocates, Spokespersons, Publishers, Badge-wearers, Distributors, Marchers, Recruits, Promise-makers, Co-conspirators, Accomplices. These alt-publics are not necessarily more active, productive or democratic than the preferred publics of public galleries, public policy and public relations. What they share is that they are performatively inscribed into processes of publishing. The ‘witnesses’ of the work are not its audience or its participants in the usual sense; they were more like witnesses at a court hearing or godparents at a christening – holding a semi-legal status, as in a wedding, without whom the performance is a mere rehearsal or a sham. The witnesses played a vital role within the performative act of renaming the streets of Cambridge. The witnesses had a script that placed them as the communal agent of the renaming ceremony. But they have another vital role, as the memory of the work. Since there is no permanent physical alteration to the streets – no monument, no vandalism, no replacement of the existing signs with new ones – the act must be remembered, documented, vouched for, and authorized. Just like at a wedding, the event was documented by photographers in both still and video format, but rather than thinking that the photographer makes the role of the ‘witnesses’ redundant, this project casts the photographers as technologically enhanced witnesses. Rather than treating the documentation of the work as external to it, therefore, the photographs and video can be seen as issuing from one of the places set out by the internal pairing of actants within the work.

Participation in art might best be understood as an ethical ‘solution’ to art’s crisis of legitimation. However, participation can only appear as a solution if we forget that art’s actants exist only within art’s institutions. Institution critique, too, must occur within the physical or discursive horizon of the institution. This leads to a paradoxical situation for the ethics of participation. While participation appears to be the antidote to institutionalisation it can also, and simultaneously, be an instrument of institutional power. The artworld seems to have forgotten how to make a place for guests. The insistence that participants are accorded a significant role within the project is the equivalent of turning down an invitation to a friend’s wedding because you feel that there shouldn’t be a distinction between those who are getting married and those who are witnessing it – I’ll only come if I get married too, the ethical participant seems to say. Likewise, an invitation to dinner would presumably be unethical unless you refused to cook the meal yourself but asked all who attended to participate in the shopping and cooking. Inequality in such circumstances is not damning; it is built into the relations of care. Let’s call it asymmetry. There is an asymmetrical relationship between host and guest, and there are pleasures in being the host and pleasures in being a guest. Equality cannot be forced onto these intersubjective relations without killing off the structures and pleasures of caring and being cared for. We call for the re-organization of the grammar of art’s social relations – an affirmative call to us all to redistribute the places which we occupy.

Ethics and Participation

This is from a few years ago.

Participatory practices are associated with an impulse to democratize both art and society, the artist as producer of deliberation and participation was borne out of the radical counter aesthetics of the 1960’s and are articulated through community art. Suzanne Lacy’s ‘new genre public art’, wherein artists worked with specific social constituents; Miwon Kwon has written on the histories of site specificity and social practice specifically on how artists explore ways to enter into deliberations with publics, with outcomes not defined in terms of material, but by ephemeral processes of interaction between local participants and the artist. In the UK this was most evident in the efforts of the Artists Placement Group; and Claire Bishop’s ‘Participation’, (2006).

Nevertheless people in the artworld seem to have subscribed wholesale to the idea that participation or collaboration is an athletic sport in which artists must compete for their form of participation to be deeper, stronger, faster, longer! The ideal form of participation or collaboration then hangs over every project that even hints at participation. This is not true of the experience of the spectator, who remains outside the work. Nobody seems to walk into a gallery to find a video installation and then immediately walks out in protest at not being invited to make the film. We seem to have lost the ability to value the whole spectrum of forms of address when it comes to socially engaged art. If the participants are not included early enough and have adequate power in relation to the production of the project, then we seem to feel that something has gone wrong.

In the field of art, the rhetoric of participation collapses ideas of participation with collaboration. In collaboration participants are active agents with equal rights. Whereas, in the majority of art projects, invited participants politely agree terms set by the host when they agree to take volunteer status. Participants in this context are therefore not collaborators; those invited are in a weakened and compromised position. Certainly volunteers and participants are not invited to be critical or to subvert any activity and must adjust their behaviour. Therefore participation can be an effective way of neutralizing the ‘other’ by including the ‘other’; give the particpant some reason to be ‘interested’ and you can rely on them seeing the advantage of your point of view.

The merit of participation is hardly ever challenged these days, doing things together seems to be the best way to partake democratically with society, but is that so? When, historically, participation was strictly differentiated, such as when only propertied men were allowed to participate in elections, participation was valued in a limited sense. The participation of non-participants was actively resisted. (We have seen the tail-end of this recently in the UK when the campaign for prisoners to be given the vote was resisted.) With only a few exceptions, today, it would be absurd to suggest that less participation is better than more participation. But participation has a dark side, which cannot be ignored as soon as we admit that being invited to participate in a horrific event is a horrific invitation. The horror of genocide or exploitation is not dampened but amplified by an increase in participation.

Ethics is a value. Within any given society, ethics appears to be a positive force, holding society together, softening the relations between people, providing values and norms by which they might treat each other with care, courtesy, consideration, respect, and so on, while mitigating the force of exploitation, violence, intimidation, brutality, coercion and so on.
However, from when we look at the ethics of other societies, including the ethics we find in earlier periods, we notice something else. Ethics is loaded with the prejudices, inequalities, abuses and hierarchies that it seeks to contain. Consider, for instance, how ‘good manners’ expects the privileged to treat the disenfranchised with humility while at the same time confirms social distinctions between the civilized and the barbaric. Consider, also, how ‘chivalry’ placed men and women in the positions of hero and victim in the very process of protecting the integrity of women against the power of men. There can be nothing more ethical than stoning criminals or throwing yourself on a funeral pyre. (it is only ethics that can charge someone to do such things.) Ethics carries the divisions of society within it, perpetuating them in the very process of counselling us to behave civilly.
As well as thinking of ethics as exemplary – as asking us to treat each other well – we need to think of ethics as the repository of ideology – as framing our good behaviour in terms of the existing social divisions and the values that help to reproduce those relations.

Participation is a value. When, historically, participation was strictly differentiated, such as when only propertied men were allowed to participate in elections, participation was valued in a limited sense. The participation of non-participants was actively resisted. (We have seen the tail-end of this recently in the UK when the campaign for prisoners to be given the vote was resisted.) With only a few exceptions, today, it would be absurd to suggest that less participation is better than more participation.
However, participation is only as valuable as the project in which one is a participant. The invitation to participate in a horrific project is itself horrific. More participation in genocide is not preferable to less participation in genocide. Forced participation, too, is not to be valued. Conscientious objectors valued non-participation, as do those anarchists who argue that participation in elections only legitimates the state.

As well as thinking of participation as progressive – as preferable to elitism, exclusion and bureaucracy, for instance – we need to think of the value of participation as completely dependent upon the value of the project to which one participates.

Before developing these arguments about the dark side of ethics and participation a little further, let me say something about their combination. The problem with participation might seem to be solved if we insist on an ethics of participation. Forced participation would be ruled out immediately. And if the project had to be ethically robust in order for participation in it to be valued, then the prospect of participating in something horrific might seem to be reduced. This, of course, is only to regard ethics in its positive light, failing to see how ethics is a repository of ideology, and therefore just as likely to be a carrier of horror as it is of promoting universal human flourishing.

Following Jean-Jacques Lecercle, who says ‘the author is only an actant, the concrete speaker being interpellated in that place by the structure’, we think of this act of construction as the labour of constructing places for individuals (and groups) to occupy. Lecercle shows how to see the participant as an actant. Lecercle ties the reader (which we can apply to questions of the spectator) in to the author and interpretation itself by understanding the transmission and transformation of meaning as taking place within circuits, mechanisms, relations and institutions of meaning production. The author, reader and work are bound together as elements of a single whole. This totality is not empirical but structural. Rather than thinking of the author and reader as actual subjects or as fictions, he traces a circuit of relations in which the reader and author are places that can be occupied temporarily by various real individuals. As such, we can say, readers or spectators do not exist as such (nobody is a reader even though everyone might occupy the place of the reader at various points in time). In addition to the obvious point that reading is only one of the things that an individual might do, we need to understand the structural place of the reader and spectator as having various modalities: reading is not one homogeneous kind of activity but includes a field of possibilities. The place of the reader is always the place of a specific act of reading. And the specific place of the reader is determined by the pragmatic conditions that link reader, author, work, etc.
Lecercle’s concept of the actant is extrapolated from AJ Greimas’ semantic theory of narrative in which the characters and events are understood as conforming to a grammar. Within the grammar of narrative, characters are redescribed by Greimas in terms of the actants that they embody. As Terence Hawkes puts it, “the deep structure of the narrative generates and defines its actants at a level beyond that of the story’s surface content”. (Structuralism and Semiotics p.89) Lecercle transposes the grammar of narrative to the social relations of reading and writing, of author and reader in which “the real ‘subjects’ of the process are not the individual agents, the real and concrete men and women engaged in it, but the relations of production that define and distribute the places”. The author, reader, artist, spectator, participant, viewer and so on and so forth are all functions of the circuits through which the work flows. The place of the reader is an effect of the machinery of the textual exchange; the reader is produced by this transaction and simultaneously captured by it. Texts can be seen as traps for literary prey but also as the homes to which certain readers belong.

The reader is captured at a place designated by the text – this is the subject constructed (or interpellated) by that which they feel to be interpreting. Texts are impenetrable when they are encountered by actual readers who do not occupy the designated place of the structural reader. Artworks that anticipate a new kind of spectator or are antagonistic to dominant forms of spectatorship are often impenetrable, too, like the modernist painting that fails to signify to its public or the abstract sculpture that appears to be meaningless or incompetent. But this does not mean the work has the whip hand. “The interpellated reader, although subjected as much as subjectified, is not powerless. She sends back the force of interpellation”. The place of the author is a trap set by the reader. In fact, readers and spectators capture authors in as many different ways as authors capture readers. But this does not mean that we simply have a cornucopia of authors and readers waiting to encounter one another in a semiotic free for all. The multiplicity of authors or artists is not independent of the multiplicity of readers and spectators: they are tied together in pairs. Author and reader are paired actants, so that each (type of) author has its own (type of) reader, and each (type of) reader has its own (type of) author. What’s more, new spectators bring new demands to old works. The task of the artgoer, therefore, is not to conform to the role assigned to it. What ties readers (etc) to authors (etc) is the work (including the circuits through which the work flows). This is why the transformation of the reader or spectator must occur within the work and within the circuits through which works flow or else no transformation can take place at all. Thus, all the attention to the viewer or participant these days will come to nought if it remains a separate concern, as an add-on to the work, like holding a picnic in front of unreconstructed artworks in the hope of allowing the viewer to be more convivial.

The actants of art and literature are not fixed but continually renegotiated. And the relations between them change too. “What we need”, he says, “is a model that combines asymmetry in the positions of author and reader, in that the two moments, or acts, of reading and writing are constitutively separated … And symmetry in that both actors, although not at the same time, are symmetrically interpellated in their respective actantial sites”. Lecercle argues that we have a ‘pantomime of actants’ in which each fantasizes about the others, and about themselves. The author cannot write without a fantasy of a reader. The writer has a fantasy about the writer too. Similarly, reading involves constructing a fantasy of the writer, and of the reader. “If the reader, qua implied, is a creation of the author, the author himself is nothing but a fantasy of the reader”.

What’s more, every author is also a reader, who fantasizes about authors. The author is never just an author but is also a reader who fantasizes about the author that they wish to be. Every reader is a potential author, or is structured by fantasies of the author they might be. This is important because the ‘pantomime of actants’ contrasts sharply with the statistical agents of sociological analysis and the empirical individuals that are either singled out by the application of political analysis to culture. The pantomime of actants follows Marx’s analysis of the relations of production, which puts the emphasis on the structural relationship between bourgeois and proletariat, not on the actual relationship between actual individuals. As such, the bourgeoisie is not a category of individuals to be determined by their character, wealth, ideology or political affiliation, but by their relationship to the proletariat, a relationship made possible and expressed through market relations. The pantomime of actants is the field of possibilities for the social relations of culture made possible and expressed through the institutions and circuits of culture. We can see that both the ‘emancipated spectator’ and the ‘passive and ignorant spectator’ are not actants but empirical, actual individuals. Ranciere argues that the avantgarde actually treated the spectator as passive and ignorant, and he argues, at the same time, that the spectator is actually already emancipated. Ranciere, therefore, ends up without any theory of how spectators might become authors, how authors are always-already spectators, how spectators are anticipated by authors and how authors are anticipated both by the spectators they address and their own experience as spectators. Ranciere’s antipathy to participation in art, which he regards as the latest incarnation of the avantgarde’s assumption of the passive and ignorant spectator, does not develop into a critique of participation as an ethical ‘solution’ to art’s crisis of legitimation.

All of art’s actants, including the participant, exist within institutions, economies, circuits, structures and so on. To speak of artists, authors, viewers, spectators and participants without referring to these material conditions of actantial relations is to cut oneself off from the grammar of art’s social relations. More importantly, if the preconditions of art’s actants are not addressed and transformed, then we are condemned to occupy the places that we inherit rather than inaugurate new, unthinkable and impossible places to occupy. Participation occurs within institutions. Institution critique always already collapses into institutional and institutionalized activity because it, too, must occur within the physical or discursive horizon of the institution. Participation appears to be the antidote to institutionalisation but it can also be an instrument of institutional power.

This is why we need to expand our conception of art’s social relations beyond institutions towards the apparatus. We take this idea from Walter Benjamin, who, in his essay ‘Author as Producer’ from 1924, extended the argument of Sergei Tretyakov that ‘specialists’ after the revolution need to perform a critical appraisal of their field rather than use it as a platform from which to issue universal truths. Tretyakov worked in the experimental theatres with Eisenstein and Arvatov in Moscow in the 1920s. As Raunig puts it, ‘Tretyakov saw the future of Soviet production art in the mass of worker correspondents, the reporters and amateur photographers, the newspaper and radio-makers, in short the “factographs”.’ There is a fundamental distinction to be drawn, in Benjamin’s analysis, between works that ‘supply a productive apparatus without changing it’ and works that call forth a new apparatus. Like Brecht’s plays which challenge the institution of the theatre not just its content or style, artists transform the apparatus partly by making works that do not sit comfortably within the inherited or established relations and forces of cultural production (including consumption). Benjamin uses the term apparatus to refer to something greater than art’s institutions (which Andrea Fraser outlines with the list ‘museum, gallery, publication’), more material than the Deleuzean concept of ‘dispositif’, more political than Lecercle’s concept of pragmatics, and less restricted than Althusser’s concept of Ideological State Apparatuses, although it appears to include all of these. We would like to suggest that the concept of apparatus be understood as referring to the totality of social, material, economic, discursive and institutional determinants of a practice.

Can we not think of apparatuses of participation? Or of participation in apparatuses? And partipation as the activity of an apparatus rather than the autonomous activity of participants?

We have seen that participation has become a value within culture led regeneration, acting within the given consensus as a measure of the ethical engagement of public art projects. We have also seen how the consensus on participation in art excludes and pathologizes dissent and critique. What we want to advocate is a complete rethinking of participation in art that creates new opportunities for a variety of critical and dissensual engagements. The participant can be opened up in this way only by turning against its affirmation. This means resisting the defense of the participation in order to find new modalities of participation that are not currently defended. We can see, in this, that the position of the participant is analogous to the position of the spectator in Ranciere’s defense of the ‘emancipated spectator’.

Let’s rethink the participant through the limitations and constraints of its anccestor, the spectator. Nowadays the spectator is often regarded as something inferior to the participant. But Ranciere has argued, on the contrary, that the spectator is superior to the participant so long as the spectator is not seen as passive and incapable. Insofar as Ranciere’s defence of the spectator against the participant consists of a critique of crituqe, we can reinstate the critique of the spectator by thinking beyond the concept of capacity. The spectator, and therefore the participant, must be understood as open to impossibility. When the artist creates a work that establishes a new place for the engagement with art, they call forth a spectator that was previously impossible. This is, in fact, what artists-as-spectators want from other artists too. We go to galleries in order to be stretched, in order to find new ways of thinking and being, in order to occupy new places in the grammar of art.

As such, Ranciere’s politics of art, which presupposes a conflict between the different empirical figures fixed in their roles of artist and spectator, can be replaced with a politics of art’s impossible spectators and participants.

The spectator should not come to rest in the encounter with art, but should be sent off, transported, transposed and transformed by art. The participant, likewise, should not be confirmed and incorporated by art, but challenged, stretched, uprooted. Art, in this way, always hopes for and tries to produce a new spectator, a spectator that was previously impossible, or a new participant, a participant that is impossible without this act of participation. The spectator is not meant to be capable – at least not straight away – but needs to engage in a kind of creative labour which is as much about transforming oneself as it is about knowing the work. And the participant is not meant to be ready to act – at least not without difficulty or preparation – but needs to become the participant that the work calls forth.

The labour of engaging with art is a labour of transformation from the possible to the impossible, not in terms of knowledge but in terms of subjectivity – a becoming. Art allows us to become something unpredictable, something unacceptable, perhaps, or something strange. Their capacity runs out quickly. They are not capable once and for all but are continually stretched by the experience of art – not, I might stress, by the shocking artwork or artist, but by the process of engaging with art). Capacity is dead, here. Capacity is facile; incapacity is joy. So, the avantgarde, instead of emancipating the spectator from ‘passivity and ignorance’, can best be seen as establishing places for impossible spectators.

The participant needs to be rethought in this utopian sense. Instead of the participant being an empirical category (eg local communities) that can be statistically known, or an actual group of individuals to whom a project can respond, the impossible participant is called forth by the work. A place is prepared for an as-yet-unknown or as-yet-impracticable agent. It is not the capacity of concrete participants, then, that determines their engagement with the work; it is the place that the work opens up for participation that determines the actant that anyone or someone might become. Participation, therefore, need no longer be confused with public relations, leisure, tourism or the experience economy. The impossible participant is the outcome of an encounter that is more demanding, more challenging, more stretching and more revolutionary than we have become used to. The impossible participant is not simply another name for neglect. The artist does not revert, here, to the historical position of cultural sovereign – the artist is tested. One does not produce impossible participants by reproducing the social relations of culture that are already established. The impossible participant is a demand on both artists and participants. The demand is for a new world, and it starts with a new, impossible art.

Taste and Art

Yesterday I led a panel at the conference ‘Taste After Bourdieu‘ at Chelsea College of Art, London consisting of papers by Ken Wilder, Pil and Galia Kollectiv and Peter Osborne. Here is my 10 minute intro to the panel.

Why does a panel on taste and art stink of privilege and complacency, like the revival of beauty in art? Talking about taste after Bourdieu is like talking about monarchy after Cromwell: it shouldn’t happen, or it’s a sign that there’s been a retreat. A case might be made that talking about taste beyond the bastion of art challenges the economy of cultural capital, but to persist in talking about art and taste is to run the risk of undoing the critique. In this short introduction I want to challenge this intuition without realizing its prophesy.

The concept of taste has attached itself to art to the degree that it has been detached from the biological, natural or bodily processes of tasting. This convergence calls for a deeper inquiry into the historical transition in which art becomes a matter of taste and taste is exemplified in the aesthetic experience of art.

Although making artefacts and tasting food and drink is as old as the hills, the entanglement between art and taste is modern. Both art and aesthetics, it is well known, were invented in the eighteenth century. Rather than give priority to the inquiry into the ontology of art over aesthetics, as Thierry de Duve does, or put the emphasis on aesthetic experience independent of practices and debates within art, as Jay Bernstein does, the difficulty is to provide an historical account of how art and aesthetics are formed together.

The transition from the classical and feudal ordering of the several liberal and mechanical arts to the general and abstract concept of art in the singular corresponds historically to the transition from feudalism to capitalism. This is the conjuncture in which taste and art are fused at the point occupied by the bourgeois concept of the free subject. Taste becomes subjective in a form that is exemplified by art. To facilitate this, taste was reordered so that the bodily processes of tasting were subsumed under the mental processes of the imagination.

The body was not completely eradicated from the Romantic concept of taste or the field of aesthetics to which it belonged. Rather, taste in the biological sense, a bodily sensation, was united with the imagination or judgement, on condition that the latter, a particular form of subjective activity, was dominant. Politically, the preeminence of imagination or judgement in aesthetics is emblematic of the bourgeois revolution’s conception of freedom: in contrast to the Lockean theory of sense as a passive receptor of stimuli from the external world, the new concept of taste puts its emphasis on the subjective activity of the individual.

The bourgeoisie inherited and overthrew an aristocratic apparatus of culture distinct from but bonded to classicism. Antiquity divided the arts into the ‘liberal’ and the ‘vulgar’, which differentiated the skills of the educated ruling class from the skills of the workers and slaves, but did not transpose this into a hierarchy of tastes. Only for the aristocratic elite did taste signify that all forms of pleasure within a complexly divided society were unified in a vertical ordering of ‘good’ and ‘bad’, ‘fine’ and ‘vulgar’, ‘high’ and ‘low’.

Taste, within aristocratic culture, was based on objective principles of uniformity, variety, regularity, simplicity, complexity, intricacy, number, proportion, order and congruity, derived from surviving examples of Greek artefacts and Greek aesthetic principles. Classical Greek artefacts mostly residing in Rome, and Roman copies of Greek sculptures that could be seen all over Europe, were viewed as exemplary works of beauty by high-born young men and women on the Tour as part of a broader educational and character-forming adventure in which the development of good taste was integral to the extended pedagogy of the ruling class.

The decline and fall of the ‘objective sense’ of beauty – in which the terms beauty and beautiful were ‘used traditionally to denote objects or the property of objects’ – and the rise of the ‘phenomenal sense of beauty’ – in which beauty became something that was perceived or felt – is linked to the bourgeois revolution and the transition from feudalism to capitalism, in which fixed standards and inherited traditional values gave way to individualism, liberty and subjectivity. The absence of aristocratic formulas for beauty put the individual subject at the heart of aesthetics in a way that was radically liberal and at the same time exacting. The bourgeois aesthetic subject makes judgements that cannot be learned by rote. Free from rules, the subject is also unable to rely on rules.

It is vital to remember that the aristocratic regime of taste was not only discredited by the intellectuals of the bourgeois revolution but through new practices and new institutions. The appropriation and redistribution of Roman and Greek artefacts and dispersal of the new canon of art history around Europe were elements in the establishment of a whole new apparatus for art and taste. Between the founding of the Louvre in 1793 and the provision of a public museum of art in every western capital by 1825, as Carol Duncan has charted, followed not long after by the replacement of the academy with the art school, as Malcolm Quinn has argued, art and taste were nationalised. We need to add that art and taste were brought under the control of the bourgeois state in a form that was at once subjective and universal.

With the advent of bourgeois society, the concept of taste undergoes not one but two related but opposed critiques. One tradition, which finds its most influential expression in Kant, reconceives taste as subjective and free. Another tradition, which has its earliest peak with Benthamite philistinism, rejects taste altogether as an expression of feudal prejudice and privilege.
In the same historical conjuncture in which art and taste are refashioned by the revolutionary bourgeoisie, the concept of philistinism is formulated for the first time. As such, the bourgeois legacy with regard to taste is twofold: taste is fundamentally reconfigured as subjective and free but, at the same time, it is rejected as a residue of aristocratic privilege and bias. Bourdieu is blind to the former and pursues the latter not as part of the bourgeois revolution but as a critique of capitalism itself in the form of ‘cultural capital’.

Throughout his sociological study of taste, Bourdieu couches his critique in terms of the title of his first chapter, namely, the ‘aristocracy of taste’. This analysis of taste attempts to persuade us that no bourgeois revolution in taste took place, and, instead, the aristocratic regime of taste lurks secretly behind a bourgeois veneer. Bourdieu argues that the radical and revolutionary character of beauty is the perfect foil for its social function as a marker of distinction and the delayed pay-off of the acquisition of cultural capital. By exposing aesthetic judgement to sociological scrutiny, Bourdieu discovers the objective ‘rules of art’ behind the backs of subjects who appear, deludedly, to make judgements in the absence of rules.

If taste after Bourdieu does not mean merely mean adopting a narrowly defined critique of taste as an aristocratic survival, then it means exploring in full the political and aesthetic implications of subjectivity in taste without cutting it off from the full spectrum of philistinisms. My panel does not address the bourgeois revolution in taste directly but explores its legacies. Ken Wilder will speak to the intricacies of the spectator. Pil and Galia Kollectiv will question Bourdieu’s class analysis of taste by referring to recent trends in youth culture. Peter Osborne will extend the philosophical discussion of taste.

The Politics of Beauty

Since I posted the Art Monthly essay on ugliness on the blog, I thought I’d add the article on beauty, too, which was first published in 2007 in AM 306.


Avantgardism interrupted the historical link between art and beauty. In recasting beauty as ideologically complicit with political power, while simultaneously cultivating a sensitivity to the repressed value of ugliness, avantgardism politicised beauty.

To see beauty as politically loaded is to brand private, subjective likes and dislikes as unintentional carriers of coded social information. Today, of course, this kind of political and social inscription (whether understood in terms of ideology, the social function of cultural distinction, suspicion about art’s institutions, the question of elitism or the social history of art and taste) is common currency, but it is a specifically modern conception.

Ancient, classical, medieval, Renaissance and Enlightenment thinkers did not trouble themselves about how society weaves its way through our intimate experiences. The history of the emergence of this modern conception of socially inscribed behaviour is charted by Michael Rosen in his book On Voluntary Servitude where he argues that after the 18th Century, society wasseen for the first time as an active, behaviour-forming system or machine in which individual belief and conduct is explained as functional for or produced by society.

What is characteristic of premodern thinking is the conviction that society is simply the aggregate of individual choices and actions. However, Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’ and Hegel’s ‘cunning of reason’ initiated a new conception of how individual actions were inextricably tied up with a greater whole. These were faint promises of what was to come – a fully-fledged theory of the ways in which society infiltrates the thoughts, feelings and actions of individuals in even the most private and subjective experiences.

Paul Ricoeur calls this modern interpretation of the relationship between the individual and society the ‘hermeneutics of suspicion’. It was inaugurated, he says, by the works of Marx, Freud and Nietzsche. Ideology, the unconscious and the ‘will-to-power’ share a vital theoretical commitment to structures beyond the individual which decisively shape subjectivity itself. As a result, statements made by individuals about their intentions, beliefs and conduct cannot be accepted uncritically. Rather, the suspicion is that individuals are inevitably prey to forces that they cannot control – forces of which they are often entirely unaware.

When avantgardism took up the hermeneutics of suspicion in its diverse forms of cultural dissent, the resistance to beauty was part and parcel of the resistance to bourgeois culture generally. ‘Except in struggle, there is no more beauty’, wrote FT Marinetti in the 1905 Futurist Manifesto. Likewise, the Dadaist Georges Ribemont-Dessaignes put the Avant Garde’s antipathy to beauty in stark terms: ‘One is no longer concerned with knowing whether a thing is beautiful or ugly; whether it is logical, probable or fanciful – we pursue the ugly […]. And for the sake of strategy, since we must always be on the alert to avoid backsliding into habits which had become natural in the course of a long tradition – to prevent the beautiful, the noble, the exalted, the charming, the well-ordered, the perfect from catching the beast by the tail.’

The two most thoroughgoing avant-garde critiques of beauty come from the leading thinkers of Dada and Surrealism respectively, Marcel Duchamp and André Breton. Duchamp’s rules for selecting the Readymades, which he reported to be chosen according to complete visual indifference, deliberately left no room for beauty in art. Breton’s theory of ‘convulsive beauty’ took a different tack, violating the boundaries of traditional beauty with an intense experience of the object based on the hysteric rather than the aesthete.

Art after avantgardism tended to preserve the Avant Garde’s suspicion of beauty even when its politicisation had been cooled. Clement Greenberg, for instance, preferred to talk about works being ‘good’ or ‘successful’ rather than ‘beautiful’. After that, Pop was vulgar, Minimalism was literal, Conceptual Art was opposed to the visual and postmodernism was either more interested in the sublime or regarded beauty as one of art’s institutionalised discourses.

So, when Dave Hickey argued that the concept of beauty could be revived as a meaningful term for art criticism in the late 80s and early 90s, he was pitting himself against the entire history of Modernism and avantgardism, as well as the academics and curators of contemporary art’s institutions that he explicitly attacked. Unimpressed by the history of the politicisation of beauty, Hickey complains in his 1993 book The Invisible Dragon: Four Essays on Beauty, ‘if you broached the issue of beauty in the American art world of 1988, you … ignited a conversation about the market’.

Hickey seemed to be stumped by the idea that artists, curators and writers might be wary of beauty, and makes no mention whatsoever of the history of avantgardism that animates the modern nervousness towards beauty. While it is not true that the art market was the source of the problem of beauty in art, I would suggest that the politicisation of beauty left beauty nowhere else to go.

Hickey’s response to the contemporary art world’s overwhelming resistance to beauty in the 1980s was to switch the blame from the market (which he regards as wholly benevolent) to art’s institutions (which he despises in its every detail) and swap the problem from that of beauty itself to the exclusion of beauty. Hickey doesn’t blame artists for what he sees as the underestimation of beauty in art; he blames art’s public institutions and the academic bureaucrats who he imagines set the agenda according to their own narrow self-interests.

Amelia Jones, identifying herself as ‘just the type of “art professional” Hickey would surely excoriate’, defends the critique of beauty by historicising and contextualising ‘beauty discourse’ in her 2002 book Aesthetics in a Multicultural Age. Jones roots out the ‘colonialist, sexist, and heterosexist assumptions’ of beauty discourse, insisting that the rhetoric of beauty ‘merely veils privilege’.

Although Hickey’s ‘vernacular beauty’ is meant to have ‘democratic appeal’, Jones is concerned ‘to interrogate the particular exclusions that are at work in any discourse that naturalizes “beauty” ’, seeing in the logic of aesthetic judgements of this type not a direct route between artwork and individual, but a historically, politically and culturally suffused product of social division and inequality. Beauty, in such circumstances, has to be loaded. And no less so than when its privileges are internalised to the point of invisibility.

As it stands, Jones’s complaint against Hickey has a lot to recommend it, specifically the central conviction of the hermeneutics of suspicion that the social inscribes itself into individual conduct. And yet, Jones’s critique expresses this modern predicament too forcefully – in too deterministic a fashion. Beauty is not simply a cryptic double for privilege, exclusion and power.

By callingindividualism, or rather, the unmediated sovereign individual into question, the hermeneutics of suspicion does not thereby merely replace talk about individuals with talk about society (a hermeneutics of social certainties); it draws out the tension between individual experience and the social structure. This tension is played out in the contemporary debate over beauty as it is mapped in James Elkins’ Art History Versus Aesthetics. Over and again, a tug-of-war is staged between those who, like Hickey, are interested in individual aesthetic experience, and those, like Jones, who want to historicise and contextualise individual experience socially and politically.

Similarly, at one end, contemporary Adornian philosophical aesthetics endorses aesthetic judgement against the social critique of art, while, at the other end, the critique of the beauty industry sees the individual’s insecurities as exploited for profit.

In fact, the whole debate on beauty and aesthetics today is best understood as revolving around the tension between the individual and society. The point is not to take sides but to rethink the question of beauty and debates on the aesthetic as rooted in the fundamental tensions, divisions and structures of modern, capitalist society.

Modernity is characterised, in Max Weber’s terms, by disenchantment, rationalisation and bureaucracy. Standardisation, efficiency, methodicalness and hard work combine in modernity to produce what Weber, in his 1904-05 The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. called the ‘specific and peculiar rationalism of Western culture’

Weber sees rationalisation embedded primarily within the two dominant social structures of modern society – the capitalist economy and its state. According to Weber, individuals within such enterprises and institutions do not just happen to act instrumentally, they are obliged to do so. Which is why Weber describes the fate of the modern individual as constrained by the rationality of economic acquisition as if by an ‘iron cage’, which Adorno later rechristened the ‘totally administered society’.

Rational calculation structures the actions, events and things in the modern world, ultimately including the consciousness, feelings and pleasures of those who live in it. The key social relations of modern life – buyers and sellers, managers and workers, experts and clients, and so on – bring individuals together through anonymous processes of organisation, mediated by forms of rationality. Even the care industries are accounted for, monitored and managed in a unitised, anonymous and instrumental manner.

Rather than detecting these social forces behind the back of beauty, therefore, we can expect beauty itself to be transformed internally by the rise of disenchantment, rationalisation and bureaucracy and the historical marginalisation of ritual, myth, metaphysics and magic. This is why, for instance, Modernism either eliminated or streamlined beauty to steer clear of the suspiciously decorative.

Stripped of traditional relations and forms of community, the bulk of modern sociality is markedly asocial. Competition, rivalry, antagonism, instrumentality and exploitation are characteristic of the salient structural relations of contemporary society. Not only does subjectivity adapt to such conditions, it is turned into an object of instrumental reason.

Kant’s philosophy of beauty stands uncomfortably at the cusp of this modern world, no longer able to presume the individual subject’s asocial sovereignty, Kant labours to regulate a space for uncorrupted subjectivity by identifying all the major threats to it and then systematically eliminating them from aesthetic judgement properly conducted. For Kant, the subjective was, if adequately protected, a route to universality but for alienated modern social life, the subjective was now framed by a peculiarly asocial version of social life.

Beauty’s version of modern asociality is fully formed when its function is to express cultural and social distinctions as natural or subjective ones. To perpetuate this ideological fiction requires a concept of the subject that seems to exist independently of social forces – one that can be universalised without suspicion. Historically, this subjective position has belonged to those who regard their taste as educated, cultivated and true. Only those who benefit from the cultural profits of aesthetic distinction have an interest in the fiction that beauty originates in subjective judgement and culminates in universal taste. That is known in economics as securing a monopoly for one’s own private interests.

Beauty might seem like something that we know when we see it, but the hermeneutics of suspicion refers such experiences to hidden motives, unintended consequences, structural conditions and spurious rationalisations – in short, the economies of taste. We continue to see beauty around us but this can no longer be the kind of elevated experience that might stand outside ordinary disputes, hierarchies and tensions. I want to call this historical process the secularisation of beauty.

The philosophy of beauty from Plato to Kant may have been ethically charged but it did not theorise how individual pleasures, choices and tastes are always unwittingly charged with social content. Beauty becomes secular through the same historical process by which art sheds its aura. As social relations take on an anonymous, mechanised and abstract manner, beauty itself becomes subject to rationality, commodity exchange and calculation. Beauty gets tied up with design, style and marketing. Losing its innocence in this way, beauty comes to feel saccharine or even as violent. At the same time beauty loses its advantage over vulgarity, primitivism, functionalism or any number of beauty’s rivals. Within Modernism, beauty has no more to recommend it than the chaotic, the accidental, the miserable, the ruined or the overlooked.

Beauty has become utterly contentious. Instead of being an aesthetic category of experience in which subjective feelings of pleasure are expressed, beauty has been fragmented – no judgement of beauty can be made without it being compared with equivalent judgements made by people with different racial, gender, class or cultural inscriptions. This is why the secularisation of beauty is necessarily and irreversibly also the politicisation of beauty. No single code or measure of beauty can be asserted because this would always be thought of, within the modern conditions associated with the hermeneutics of suspicion, as privileging one sector of society or one culture over all others.

If this leads to aesthetic relativism, that is only because the covert social processes that have made beauty seem to be singular and universal have at last been made transparent and open to critique. But we need to be clear about something: Hickey’s revival of beauty would not liberate anybody from the established regime of intellectual taste if, as was the case before avantgardism, art’s institutions were dominated by an authorised version of beauty. What is more, Hickey’s liberatory version of beauty, which seems to place the individual in an unmediated relation to the artwork, would only be possible if (and only if) individuals derived their tastes, feelings and pleasures entirely spontaneously, subjectively and asocially – ie in ways that seemed natural before the 18th Century and became naïve and improbable after then.

Modern social relations bring about two contradictory conceptions of beauty, one is the conviction that it is a purely private, subjective experience, and the other that beauty is, like all subjective experiences, socially inscribed. Each, in effect, represents one side of the tension between individual and society that structures modern capitalism. To choose one of them is to fail to see how beauty has been transformed immanently by the forces of modern alienation.

Our understanding of beauty can no longer assume (or insist on) the individual’s autonomy to make judgements without unintended consequences or to take pleasure without risking structural and ideological complicity and culpability. At the same time, the reduction of the individual to the social does not adequately register the modern tension between individual and society. Beauty is political not despite the fact that it feels subjective but precisely because it feels subjective. Beauty enters us into a world of dispute, contention and conflict at the very moment when we feel to be at ease.

The Counter-Promise of Ugliness

Why is it that we have seen the rehabilitation of beauty in recent years but ugliness continues to be neglected? How could the revival of beauty, by writers such as Dave Hickey and Elaine Scarry, not inevitably revive discussion of ugliness? If we suspect that, in principle, we cannot isolate one from the other, we cannot help but observe that, in practice, they have been utterly divorced by those who are championing beauty today. This absence of ugliness in contemporary thinking needs to be explained – especially if the absence of ugliness seems to be desirable, as it does to Peter Schjeldahl, who in the late-1990s wrote, “There is something crazy about a culture in which the value of beauty becomes controversial”._
Two writers stand out for their attention to ugliness in recent years. Umberto Eco followed up his historical study of beauty with a companion book on ugliness and Mark Cousins spent a year in 1994-5 analyzing ugliness for his lecture series at the Architectural Association. Eco introduces his largely visual anthology of ugliness by observing that, while philosophers and artists have consistently attended to the question of beauty, “almost no one ever devoted a treatise of any length to ugliness”. The current revival of beauty fails to rectify this. On the contrary, it actively obstructs this task in order to maintain beauty’s monopoly on art and aesthetics.
“Attributions of beauty or ugliness”, Eco says, “are often due not to aesthetic but to socio-political criteria”. This is not to be taken simply as a statement of fact; it is a manifesto in miniature. Eco pursues ugliness not as a fixed, abstract idea but as a constantly shifting idea that is always “relative to various historical periods of various cultures”. His book restricts itself to mapping these specific iterations. Eco is close to writers like Dominic Willsdon who argue for an ‘aesthetics-at-large’ following J.L. Austin’s wish: “if only we could forget for a while about the beautiful and get down instead to the dainty and the dumpy”. For Eco, there is no such thing as ugliness, only this ugliness here, and that ugliness there.
In fact, ugliness does not make itself present in his book until Eco considers the ‘redemption of ugliness’ in Romanticism and the ‘victory of ugliness’ with the avant-garde. Before that the book charts ugliness only through monsters, martrys, the devil, witches, death and various kinds if grotesquerie. Eco’s strict empiricism is ultimately inadequate, preventing him from detecting historical transformations and their social causes. This is why he never says that ugliness is, in fact, a modern concept.
Cousins does not suffer from Eco’s relativism. He argues, on the contrary, that ugliness has its own integral characteristics. It is a specific kind of excess. It is not the negative of beauty, nor the absence of beauty, but the experience of something being in the wrong place (and of not having a right place to be). Drawing on Mary Douglas’ anthropological analysis of dirt and taboo, Cousins argues that ugliness is best understood in terms of the concept of the stain, which is linked to sin and contamination. “The ugly object should not be there”, he says, for the very specific reason that it “is the obstacle which stands in the way of desire”. Ugliness is a trauma. “The trauma, for the subject, is occasioned by the sudden appearance of stuff, the stuff which threatens to overwhelm and engulf the subject, and to contaminate the subject with its own lack of meaning.”
Cousins gives us ugliness at retail, so to speak. It is a valuable theory that we will draw on later but it does not – in fact, cannot – explain how ugliness signifies within an aesthetic economy. Eco relativizes ugliness in history, while Cousins dehistorizes it: both isolate ugliness from what we could call its synchronic structure. This is what Althusser called ‘conjunctural’ analysis. Badiou insists on this as the only way to avoid ‘fatal abstractions’ such as ‘nation’, ‘democracy’, ‘human rights’ and ‘evil’. Beauty is one of these fatal abstractions. Eco and Cousins do their best to raise ugliness to the same status. But we will not understand ugliness without grasping the hierarchical relation that ties it permanently but unhappily with beauty.
If beauty and ugliness can both be regarded as occupying the same visual spectrum, albeit at opposite ends, it must be added that ugliness does not carry the kind of ideological force that beauty does. Beauty, Stendhal famously commented, is the promise of happiness. Adorno destabilized this idea by saying that beauty’s promise is perpetually broken (which is a way of saying that its promise is ideological), but the Frankfurt School continued to link beauty to the good life albeit one that can never actually be lived except as a dream of an impossible reconciliation. So, even in an ugly world beauty holds the ideological advantage over ugliness. Ugliness, which does not have the same promise as beauty, has not been tangled up in the ideological structures that provide the habitat for beauty. Does ugliness, then, carry a counter-promise?
Elaine Scarry, a liberal philosopher from the USA, neither considers the counter-promise of ugliness, nor regards beauty’s promise as broken: ie she does not treat beauty as ideological. She imagines the ideological critique of beauty to be a wretched attempt to ask us to ‘give up beauty altogether’. This is horrific to her because she believes that beauty is closely aligned to ethics. Scarry claims that beauty assists us in our attention to justice. Drawing on etymology rather than social science, she suggests that the concept of fairness is inextricably tied to the experience of the fair (in the now old-fashioned usage of something pleasant in appearance). Beauty for Scarry is not so much the promise of happiness as the training ground of ethical living. Simply put, the experience of beauty is affirmed because Scarry believes that it builds ethical character. This is part of the meaning of her assertion that ‘beauty begets copies’: the individual who admires beauty seeks to become more like the beautiful object.
To the revivalists of beauty an injustice has occurred. Why can’t we have beauty? Why must we allow the radicals and the avant-gardists to take it away from us? Beauty is good, isn’t it? Roger Scruton, the English conservative, also speaks incessantly of ethics when he attends to questions of beauty, saying that beauty is as “firmly rooted in the scheme of things as goodness”. “It speaks to us, as virtue speaks to us, of human fulfillment: not of things that we want, but of things that we ought to want, because human nature requires them.” Scruton, like Scarry, generates a universalist and aspirational account of beauty uncannily like Matthew Arnold did or the Victorians. Culture with a capital ‘C’ tries ‘not to make what each raw person may like the rule by which he fashions himself”, Arnold said, “but to draw ever nearer to a sense of what is indeed beautiful, graceful, and becoming, and to get the raw person to like that’. The current revival of beauty merely softens the tone without losing any of the aggression of this Arnoldian hierarchy.
There is a thinly veiled politics to the revival of beauty. To speak of beauty in terms of character and ethics is to trade-in the promise of happiness for the production of social complicity. In short, a call to order. Scarry, Scruton and the rest dredge up the Victorian rhetoric of art’s social utility analyzed by Tony Bennett in ‘Culture, a Reformer’s Science’. The art museum is described by Bennett in Foucauldian terms as a ‘technology of domination’ among the ‘new forms of social management frameworks in which individuals will voluntarily regulate their own behaviour’. Bennett discovers an ’emerging ascendency of the view that art and culture might be governmentally deployed as civilizing agencies directed at the population as a whole’. In fact, aesthetics came to have a two-tier structure, with civilizing rituals for the poor and the freeplay of aesthetic capacity for the educated. As such, cultural division does not exclude the rabble but assigns them a subordinate place within aesthetic experince itself.
We can begin to outline a political rift between beauty and ugliness. They are not articulated as opposed to one another, certainly not in any transparent or systematic theory of their differing qualities. Rather, the politics is played out in the division between that which has a discourse, beauty, and that which does not. Ugliness is off the map. It would be a mistake to think that ugliness was left unmentioned by accident or as a result of some kind of bourgeois blindness. It makes more sense to understand ugliness as being accorded the place of that which has nothing to say for it. As such, the political opposition between beauty and ugliness is not felt as political at all, but as the self-evident, correct and natural affirmation of beauty and the equally self-evident rejection of ugliness. Beauty is good, ugliness is bad: this is the kind of opposition that needs no explanation, no theory, no debate. Or rather, this is the kind of ideology that has secured itself a place within the hearts and minds of all right thinking individuals. This means that attending to ugliness must inevitably be a political act.
Beauty is ideological, but it is not immediately clear whether ugliness is ideological too. Does ugliness refer to a part of the aesthetic spectrum that can never be satisfactorily incorporated or instrumentalized? Is ugliness aesthetic or does it disturb the subject in a way that prevents disinterested judgement and pensive spectatorship? Scarry, Scruton and others make no bones about the ideological force of beauty. Instead of talking about ideology they talk about cultivating character. Marx clearly stated that the ideologists “stand beside their class” and that their ideas are “beyond social practices” – that is to say, what makes ideology so powerful, so effective, is precisely that it reproduces society in the very act of aspiring to its highest, impossible values that stand beyond that society. Ugliness is not ideological in this sense.
Mark Hutchinson and Nicola Cotton curated a small touring show on ugliness in 2002 at London Print Studio and Djangoly Art Centre with works by David Burrows, Beagles and Ramsay, Mat Collishaw, Margarita Gluzberg, John Isaacs, David-John Newman, Lindsay Seers and Mari Sunna. ‘Nausea: encounters with ugliness’, was heavily indebted to Cousins’ lectures on ugliness but the curators were strategic enough to position the exhibition against beauty’s hegemony in art. “The ugly is a trope that threatens to dissolve symbolic distinctions”, Hutchinson wrote in the catalogue, deliberately merging the language of Lacanian psychoanalysis with a Benjaminian critique of cultural hierarchy. “The ugly”, he said, “both threatens death and promises to fulfil utopian longing”. Specifically, ugliness “contains the threat to destroy art altogether, in the name of that which does not have a proper place”. The work in the show was split between bodily ugliness on the one hand (in the hairiness of Gluzberg’s drawings, the corpses of Isaacs, and the cancerous flowers of Collishaw), and a more social ugliness on the other hand (in the meticulously violent works of David Burrows and the provocative vulgarity of Beagles and Ramsay) with Seers and Sunna exhibiting both tendencies. The former may have the aroma of threat, but it is the latter which takes up the fight of the avant-garde which brought ugliness to bear on art and taste.
Francis Picabia’s ‘Monster’ paintings are about as ugly as any art has ever been. Painted in the mid-twenties when Dada had been overtaken by Surrealism, Picabia snubbed both by throwing these spanners in the works. If Dada works had been discordant, incompetent, vulgar and crude before, with the ‘Monster’ paintings Picabia outdid himself, and his whole generation. Most examples of art initially considered ugly by their conservative contemporaries, like Impressionism, eventually become widely accepted as beautiful or tasteful. Not Picabia’s ‘Monsters’. Partly this is because they were not made with an alternative aesthetic, a sensitivity to an unrecognised and unredeemed kind of beauty. Picabia was a trouble-maker and his ‘Monster’ paintings were meant to be ugly. Their ugliness, in the terms set out by Cousins, asserts them as obstacles that have no place in the order of things. It is a badge of their protest.
The nearest equivalent to Picabia that we have today is John Russell. Art historians in the future will not look back incredulously at our judgement of Russell’s ‘orgiastic’ images as ugly. Jonathan Jones loves his work, which is usually a bad sign, but what he loves is their ‘hyperbolic overactive pop monstrosity’. These works will not suddenly reveal themselves to future generations as beautiful after all, once the limitations of our taste have been breached. No, these works are ugly with a purpose. Russell produces gruesome displays of horror like the Chapman brothers, whose work is also ugly in the critical sense that I am developing here. But Russell’s work is ugly twice over, once in the monstrosity it depicts and twice in the monstrosity it acts out in its materiality. In other words, they are ugly in precisely the sense that baffles Schjeldahl. Russell is not taken in by Schjeldahl’s commonsense advocacy of beauty. His works, in all their teeth-clenching audacity, have taken sides with the counter-promise of ugliness.
Today artists pursue the challenge to art without restricting themselves to the pictorial or questions of style and visual taste. Bad taste has gone social. Mark McGowan, Santiago Sierra and Artur Zmijewski are key figures in the new social ugliness of contemporary art. And when you do ugly things to participants, members of the public, or yourself, then this amplifies the disgust felt towards ugliness. Unlike artists who depict ugliness or make ugly art, those who perform ugly acts have no place to hide. This is, at once, their greatest promise and their greatest danger. We should not retract the anger we feel towards the socially ugly – cruelty, manipulation, exploitation, etc – simply on account that, in this instance, it is art. However, following Hardt and Negri’s distinction between biopower and biopolitics, we need to discriminate within the socially ugly between the ugliness of domination and the ugliness of resistance. Police brutality, torture and hate-crime are ugly in the former sense, riots and revolutions are ugly in the latter sense. Uprisings have routinely been portrayed as more ugly than the repressions that restore ‘law and order’. And this is why it is easy to lose sight of the fact that it is only the ugliness of resistance that contains the counter-promise to beauty.
The difference between these two types of ugliness is temporarily monumentalized by Kryzstof Wodiczko (with Adam Whiton and Sung Ho Kim) in “The Tijuana Projection” from 2001. New technology was used to give voice and visibility to the women who work in the “maquiladora” industry in Tijuana. A headset was designed to integrate a camera and a microphone connected to two projectors and loudspeakers that transmitted the testimonies live for an audience of more than 1,500 local people. The women’s testimonies highlighted work related abuse, sexual abuse, family disintegration, alcoholism, and domestic violence through public projections on the 60-foot diameter facade of the Omnimax Theater at the Centro Cultural Tijuana(CECUT).
The ugliness here is firstly the trauma suffered by the women but also in what Wodiczko calls the ‘fearless speech’ of protest. Wodiczko is opposed to the the utilisation of art in gentrification and place-making, which he calls ‘beautification as uglification’. Trauma and protest is an antidote to this objectionable beauty because they create a rupture in the social fabric that could be described in the terms laid out by Cousins in his account of ugliness as the sudden appearance of stuff that cannot be contained by any surface.
Wodiczko’s work is uplifting precisely because it prefers the counter-promise of ugliness to the broken promise of beauty. The revival of beauty, I would argue, is a revival of the Victorian idea of art as a civilized and civilizing experience. At its core, indeed, the revival of beauty is the reassertion of a lost but cherished reconciliation in the form of a depoliticization of cultural division in which opposition is replaced with a self-evident hierarchy. What is cherished most in beauty is that it simultaneously allows the educated individual to be a liberal and civilized subject while it makes demands of the dispossessed and alienated to regulate themselves. Ugliness does not make us good. And this is one of the reasons why ugliness has not been revived along with beauty in recent years. This is also why ugliness contains its own counter-promise. Not the promise of happiness but the promise of resisting the half-baked promise of beauty and then, through its fearless rupture, paving the way for a fuller universal happiness.

Reproduction, Interns and Unpaid Labour

Two very important political debates, the issue of (largely) women’s unpaid ‘reproductive’ or domestic labour and the issue of unpaid interns, have revived debates on unpaid labour within capitalism. I want to address these two campaigns by way of a wider discussion of unpaid labour.

Since the worker in capitalist society participates in a social division of labour, the individual does not directly produce the means of subsistence that must be consumed in order to live (ie to reproduce the worker’s capacity for labour, or labour-power). The worker engages in exchange in order to consume the goods necessary to life that he or she does not produce. In this sense, the purpose of wage labour from the perspective of the worker is the capacity to consume the goods produced by others. The purpose of wage labour from the perspective of the capitalist, however, is to produce profit. Since both wages and profits take the form of money it could appear as if the worker and the capitalist are after the same thing (with the difference, perhaps, that the capitalist is just better at it). But the economic difference between wages and profit is that the one includes an unpaid portion and the other includes an unearned portion.

Capitalism reproduces itself by augmenting value derived from unpaid labour. Marx says the working day can be divided into two portions, one in which the worker produces the value equivalent to their own reproduction (assuming equilibrium in the labour market, this is equal to their wage), and another portion, in which the wage-labourer continues to work, now producing value for the reproduction of the capitalist and the capitalist’s enterprise. During the first portion of the day, Marx says, the worker engages in ‘necessary labour’, and in the second portion, ‘surplus labour’. The value which surplus labour produces is surplus value. ‘The rate of surplus-value is therefore an exact expression for the degree of exploitation of labour-power by capital’. Surplus labour – ie unpaid labour – is the secret to capitalist ‘wealth production’.

The ratio of necessary labour to surplus labour – or the share that goes to the worker compared to the share that goes to the capitalist – gives the rate of exploitation. And the very concept of exploitation, in Marx, is therefore fundamentally tied to the concept, which he coined, of ‘unpaid labour’. Marx concept of ‘unpaid labour’ is historically significant because with it, for the first time in the history of economics and politics, it is possible to develop a general theory of exploitation, linking slavery, serfdom and wage labour without taking anything away from the specific social conditions under which they each differently produce wealth for others. Marx spells out the differences in mode of exploitation in a pamphlet in 1891, ‘Wage Labour and Capital’:

“Labour-power was not always a commodity … Labour was not always wage labour … The slave did not sell his labour-power to the slave-owner … The slave, together with his labour-power, was sold to his owner once and for all. He is a commodity … but his labour-power is not his commodity. The serf sells only a portion of his labour-power. It is not he who receives wages from the owner of the land; it is rather the owner of the land who receives a tribute from him. … The free labourer … auctions off eight, 10, 12, 15 hours of his life … to the highest bidder, to the owner of raw materials, tools, and the means of life – ie to the capitalist.”

To link slavery, serfdom and wage-labour through the concept of unpaid labour might, at first, seem like an error, since slaves are not paid at all and serfs appear to be the ones making payments rather than receiving them. But Marx explains:

“On the basis of the wages system even the unpaid labour seems to be paid labour. With the slave, on the contrary, even that part of his labour which is paid appears to be unpaid”.

That is to say, the slave’s labour produces the means of her own life as well as the life of the slave-owner, and in this sense the slave’s food, lodging, clothes and so on, which appear in the form of a gift from the slave-owner, are produced through necessary labour by the slave. In this sense, the slave, like the wage-labourer, works part of the day for herself and part of the day for the slave-owner – ie part paid and part unpaid.

To the extent that the current campaigns against unpaid labour consist of the demand for wages (as well as rights, recognition and so on) they appear to confront the problem of exploitation by opposing absolute exploitation (ie 100% unpaid labour) with relative exploitation (ie less than 100% unpaid labour). This is therefore a pragmatic demand within the terms of capitalist exploitation, not an anti-capitalist campaign. This does not diminish the political urgency of the immediate need to address the issue of unpaid labour in capitalism, but it is worth reminding ourselves at the outset that wage labour is not a cure for capitalism. Wage-labour is a cure for slavery, since the wage-labourer is not a commodity but the seller of a commodity, but wage-labour is not the antidote to unpaid labour. This last point may sound like a contradiction in terms, so let me explain what I mean.

Within the debate on unpaid labour in domestic work and internships a false opposition between unpaid work and wage labour has developed. While the opposition between paid and unpaid work is necessary, it should not be conflated with the apparent opposition between the waged and the unwaged. Wage labour is not the opposite of unpaid labour, since wage-labour is made up of both necessary and surplus labour (ie the paid and unpaid portions). Unpaid labour unites the wage-labourer, the home-maker, the stay at home parent, the unpaid intern and the paid intern, not to mention the slave and the serf. As such, the campaign against unpaid work must also be a campaign against wage-labour.

During the neoliberal period we have seen the privatisation, commodification and commercialisation of activities that were previously protected from market forces and profiteering. Examples of recent commodification include childcare, laundry, professional home cleaning services, the professionalization of amateur sports, the commercial replacement of parlour games with branded games, the development of supervised soft play centres that replace public parks and street corners, and intellectual property, copyright, patent and price tags being placed on information and knowledge. Rather than the accomplishment of ‘wages for housework’, what has transpired is, typically, the socially uneven commodification of housework and the creation, therefore, of a labour market in which wealthier households pay (mostly) poorer women to do the housework. Some cleaners are wage-labourers (paid by cleaning companies) and some cleaners are independent workers (paid for a service by the consumer), and most if not all cleaners will also clean their own home without any payment at all.

In a society organised around economic exchange the unequal distribution of money, especially the absence of money altogether, has a specific social meaning. Within such a society the demand for money (higher wages, public funding, bonuses, payouts, fines and compensation included) is more than an economic act; it signifies recognition, status, esteem, entitlement, power, affection etc). Therefore, the demand for money is, among other things, also an alienated and distorted expression of the demand for recognition etc. However, the current campaigns against unpaid labour in domestic work and internships risks merging the political demand for full participation in social life with the (neoliberal) expansion of market forces, commodification and financial incentives into every aspect of life. The financialisation of higher education, for instance, is a neoliberal assault on the ‘right to education’ expressed as a seemingly superior right of the consumer to demand the commodity that they purchase with vast amounts of money. Can the campaign against unpaid labour by reunited with the campaign for free universal higher education or does it inadvertently undermine non-monetary and non-market systems of social organisation?

In order to assess the politics of domestic reproduction and unpaid internships we need a comprehensive account of the full spectrum of unpaid labour, unearned income, unemployment, uncommodifed labour and decommodification. Absolute exploitation must be resisted but not by contrasting unpaid labour with wage-labour or by conflating free activity with unpaid labour. Paying women to do the chores that ought to be shared by the whole family as free collective activity does nothing to address the unequal distribution of chores between men, women and children. Paying interns during the era in which internships have become a standard business practice of absolute exploitation is a valid demand as far as it goes, but it risks completing the passage of the internship from an educational technique into nothing but a form of employment. The point is not for interns to be paid but for students to be given sufficient material support as a right.