Resistance (Anti-Baudrillard), Group Material (1987)
“Forty artists—including Nancy Spero and Leon Golub, and Tim Rollins—presented an “Anti-Baudrillard” show at White Columns that targeted less Baudrillard himself than those who sheepishly accepted the idea that the “real” wasn’t here any more and had renounced politics.” Sylvere Lotringer
Excerpts from the ANTI-BAUDRILLARD panel discussion after the cut.
Group Material: On the whole we find ourselves opposed to Baudrillard’s work because we see it further disarming the idea of culture as a site of contestation/resistance. Hence the title of the show. Most of our opposition remains as a series of questions.
We see a series of recent developments in the artworld where works are labeled as critical which we don’t feel function critically. In our work we have been trying to establish methods of working with culture, either within the cultural industry or outside of it, which we feel really are resistant to dominant systems.
We see Baudrillard, even though there are things in the writing that we have used, as becoming part of that complicity of the “artwork.” The show is really a question.
William Olander: The point that Baudrillard does not necessarily view culture as a possible site of any kind of resistance is worth discussing.
Group Material: What is the appeal of Baudrillard that has given him his recent place within art institutions, i.e. the art journal, the gallery, and curatorship?
Peter Halley: Let me suggest that we divide that into two questions; what we see as the real contribution, and what we see as the symptomatic situation where Baudrillard fills a need. Both those things are going on, and there are issues which are valid in both areas.
Without seeming to be unaware of the symptomatic issues, let me try to address baudrillard’s contribution because I believe there has been one. I think there is good reason to believe that late capitalism or post-industrialism, whatever the current state of economical-cultural development might be called, is in fact a circular system that has become detached from any sort of absolute, particularly that which used to be called nature. In this way Baudrillard can be seen perhaps as a culmination of the enquiry begin by Nietzsche in the last century. If this is thecase I think Baudrillard’s work is important and can constitute the basis of a contribution in the real world.
Surely Baudrillard is removed from concepts of resistance. The idea of resistance is predicated on the idea of reality. If Baudrillard’s contribution is to put into doubt the idea of absolute social reality and then the possibility of resistance to it, we may find ourselves in a more difficult situation vis-a-vis the social. But perhaps an accurate appraisal of this situation is the first step in reacting to it.
William Olander: I see the resistance to Baudrillard on the part of traditional leftists because Baudrillard is so effective at silencing that kind of organized resistance. It’s very difficult to argue with theory that is constantly circular, spiraling out of control. To deal with that from any sort of conventional activist position is almost impossible because it is so detached from reality and most activism pretends to some kind of reality.
Judith Barry: Or specificity.
Oliver Wasow: It seems to me most people while giving up traditional modes of resistance especially in the artworld forget entirely about context…where the work is being seen…who’s seeing it. It all becomes very insular and ineffectual.
Julie Watchel: But has the artworld ever been the site of resistance?
Group Material: We do see the institutions of the artworld as sites where ideas can be contested.
Julie Watchel: But they are not resistant from an activist point of view.
Peter Halley: I’m much more comfortable with the word contested rather than resistance, that seems a potentially useful concept. If you are interested in using the artworld as a site for contesting assumptions or ideas, perhaps creating a site of resistance, would that then not be seen as a moderate project of expanding the open mindedness or liberalization of the bourgeoisie?
Group Material: By showing certain levels of cultural production in a gallery you legitimize the sources of those productions. If you show posters from SWAPO you legitimize them as icons, as images of importance. People see the sources of those thing [sic] as valuable and they try to figure out why they’re valuable. Rich and powerful people who go to art shows and are exposed to different ideas , and then support concrete political struggles. Artist’s Call Against U.S. Intervention In Central America was basically a liberal project in that it used art institutions in not a very radical way at all, but raised hundreds of thousands of dollars, that was sent to Central America and was used in much less liberal ways.
Judith Barry: Is the artworld the most effective place for political action? Historically it hasn’t been.
Peter Halley: I think it is actually, on the most theoretical level. Just because it is addressing an audience near certain centers of power. If you want to effect some sort of change, as the world is presently constituted, I think it’s as good a place as any to begin.
25 January 1987