90. Mercurialism and non-affiliation: a radical Left wing response to the divisive Right (featuring Cedric Price, Hito Steyerl, Bruce Lee and Deleuze & Guattari).

The internet really is insatiable. It sucks, or would suck, all of your wit, wisdom, art, words, images, time and energy up into it, if you allow it to do so. As you have articles to write for print journals you have to be careful not to give to your Blog all those words and ideas that you may later wish you had preserved for more professional contexts. Nevertheless, you want to remain true to the egalitarian generosity of the internet, and hold to your candid policy of being as true to yourself, to your week, and to what’s ‘on your mind’ (as facebook used to say) as possible.

Art & Politics is always a rich and rewarding mix as artists will always bring radical and progressive, as well as witty and inventive solutions to a discipline and a profession that all too often appears stuck in its own mire, anchored to tradition, relatively humourless, inordinately concentrated on economics and sorely lacking in imagination.

Teaching Art History this week you were able consider once again, with students new to the subject, the modernist principle, according to which artists, designers and architects, and therefore planners, and politicians, philosophers, sociologists, journalists and psychologists might all contribute to the designing and building of a better human future.

Sadly, today it often seems hard to imagine artists playing any such explicit, constructive, political and social role. But then, perhaps there is some glimmer of hope in the fact that the ‘Assemble’ group won last year’s Turner Prize. There seems no reason why artists should not play a new and important part, in what is rapidly starting to look like a thorough (and potentially exciting) renewal of Left wing politics, and therefore of politics per se.

Surely, the current generation of progressives should demand a newly open and accessible democracy, e.g. extending voting rights to 16 year-olds, making voting either more habitual or more compulsory, voting via the internet and creating new formats (above and beyond the soap box, the letter box and Right-wing dominated media) by means of which Objective, expert, factual information germane to each election or referendum is disseminated.


Cedric Price (see also: http://discoversociety.org/2014/07/01/the-thinkbelt-the-university-that-never-was/)

The radical British architect Cedric Price once advocated a Europe-wide University that would occupy, not a building but a constantly traveling train. He also designed something similar for a deprived part of England. 21st century politics could take heed and take heart from this idea as it desperately needs to uproot itself from its home in a gloomy, adversarial, Neo-Gothic 19th Century building in London, and as soon as possible become a decentralised, nomadic, touring democracy. Place matters, location matters, proximity matters, being there matters, and democracy will be improved and renewed by making it mobile, more face-to-face and accountable.

This week you are regularly struck by the degree to which divisiveness can take hold of a country, given a Conservative, even a so-called ‘centre-Right’ (but in fact increasingly or surreptitiously hard Right government. The past 6 years have inexorably, relentlessly sewed and increased social and economic and cultural division across the UK.

Even among your progressive friends you feel painful splits and tensions growing, often from touchy misinterpretations and misunderstandings, as fear and anxiety takes hold and makes people jumpy, hateful, tribal and territorial where, not long ago they were more open, generous and had a sense of humour that oiled society’s wheels.

The UK today feels like a place in which it is more difficult to laugh, harder to make a joke, to make political progress, or to make a work of art than it has been for a generation.

But do not blame each other, blame the Right. It is Right wing politics that divides, and increasingly divides. That is its pre-modern aim, its pre-modern modus operandi and its pre-modern power, wholly antithetical to the modern Left wing project which was born precisely to mitigate and oppose this divisiveness, and to create or improve social cohesion (through fairness, communication, education, redistribution, infrastructure, regionalism etc.)

If you are lucky enough to belong to a coherent, established social and political group, ism or union, with consistent and coherent aims, then it may well be worth cultivating and nurturing that kind of loyalty, because if you are more of an outsider, it can be unusually cold, dangerous and disorienting at present.

Nevertheless, for those of us who are strangely compelled to live such questioning lives that, almost every aspect of identity and every event of experience needs to be constantly held and maintained in question, a certain, special pressure forces you to acclimatise to a sense of not-belonging, a constantly marginal and outsider-ly status, which is also a lack, refusal or relinquishment of status.

However, this, it seems to you, is ultimately, the most ethical (because least dogmatic) political position to hold, and perhaps the most ‘artistic.’ From this ‘positionless’ position (Maurice Blanchot called it ‘powerless power’) you feel able to support and contribute to – as and when and how you can- all those more clearly identifiable progressive groups, which are be made-up of more confident and consistent, reliable, hand-on-heart affiliations, e.g. feminists, ‘Black Lives Matter’ activists etc.

The point here is to try to avoid both schism and dogma, becoming as mercurial and creative a politcal activist as possible. The idea arises from experiencing painful divisions, according to which those who’s political view you strongly share, can shock you with their sudden and unexpected alienation of you from their own silo’d and territorialsed cause. or faction. Ironically, or paradoxically, non-affiliation is actually a call for greater unity.


Hito Steyerl ‘Liquidity Inc.

Strategically speaking, those great, ancient, Asian authorities on warfare might concur that making yourself unrecognisable as an object may be the greatest power you can have over your ultimate opponent (the Right). Artist, activist and creative theorist Hito Steyerl seemed to suggest something similar in her ‘Liquidity Inc’ piece. When neoliberal globalisation becomes a tsunami – she seemed to suggest- follow the words of the great Bruce Lee and: “Become Water My Friend”.


Bruce Lee

As above, there may seems an apparent irony or contradiction in championing heterogeneity at a time of increasing divisiveness in the Left and in society in general. The 20th century would appear to teach us that the way to defeat a unified power is to unify ourselves in opposition to it. However, more and more it seems apparent that we are still fighting, and ever re-fighting the battles of the 20th century (e.g. the nexus of big-business, Right wing / fascist politics, hatred and warmongering).

You may be cursed with a philosophical level of deconstructive critique which leads you to test and suspect every form of union (or ‘organ-isation’ as Deleuze & Guattari might put it), along with every form of silo’d and territorialising dogma (the one perhaps necessarily leading from the other.)

Deleuze & Guattari

You’ve also long been interested by the radical (and again Deleuzian) argument that the Left is only truly Left when it is OUT OF power, i.e. when it is free to be most oppositional and critical, and in a position from which it is able to observe most acutely the shortcomings and afflictions of the empowered, of power itself (in this case always necessarily the Right). From this position-less position of ‘powerlesss power’ the Left is able to patiently cultivate (by all kinds of institutional, and more creative, inventive, plural and non-institutional means) the next generation’s as yet unnamed areas of protest, as yet unnamed new rights, and as yet unnamed demands for  extensions of and improvements to the evolving project of society and democracy.

For this reason, the most progressive among us may be happy to avoid both dogma and dog-fighting, remaining necessarily and tactically un-afilliated, mercurial, and relatively autonomous, a mode in which we are most free to think with fluidity and creativity. And this is not just the artist’s preferred mode but a mode the artist would like to and can share with the designer, the architect, the politician, the planner, the philosopher, the journalist, the sociologist and the psychologist to cultivate a fairer, more intelligent, generous, sustainable, kind, and peaceful way to coexist, inter and intra-exist, and share our  environment and resources.










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