Impossibility of Novelty?
(Re)Creating the Old and Consuming the New
Organisers: Tufan Acil, Katharina Alsen & Tina Turnheim
Porn stars as performance artists, punk musicians as cultural ambassadors, classical tunes as ring tones, reproductions of old master paintings as t-shirt prints, or graffiti, kitsch and commodity items as museum pieces: When it comes to contemporary Western culture, it seems as if the traditional attempt to demarcate the ‘essential’ limits between art and non-art, or ‘high’ and ‘low’ forms of art, has stopped making sense. At the same time, the avant-garde’s aspiration of creating entirely novel objects of art seems to have been pushed to the extreme, for its intention to systematically dissolve traditional boundaries between the arts and ordinary life has left distinct marks in cultural spheres that go way beyond the realm of the art world. Additionally, contemporary mass and popular culture has managed to develop an exceptionally high level of formal and technical professionalisation and refinement. Long-established stereotypical differentiations and dichotomies have thus considerably lost solidity: Contrary to Horkheimer’s and Adorno’s fundamental reservations against the popular arts, pop-cultural phenomena, such as graphic novels, TV series, or hip-hop music, can by no means any longer be regarded as deficient objects of consumption or mass reproduction that generally fail to be aesthetically complex and intellectually demanding. Likewise, objects of ‘high art’ nowadays do not by necessity have to be entirely individual, auratic phenomena that primarily appeal to decidedly contemplative and reflective capacities.
Taken en masse, the omnipresent emergence of hybrid, crossover, or convergent art forms shows the seemingly oxymoron tendency to produce the new by repeating the old. Current trends of re-enacting, re-performing, re-constructing, and retro-styling bring about a reanimation – not a vanguard rejection – of the past and the so-called ‘low culture’. Not only does the idea of novelty cling to a somehow paradox repetition of the old; it has also become a significant ‘dispositif’ within late-modern capitalist societies. Following recent studies in the field of cultural sociology, one might even argue that avant-garde notions of novelty, originality, or creativity have been taken up as decisive ‘leitmotifs’ in the course of an ever-growing neoliberal aestheticisation of everyday life (Reckwitz 2012).
Against this background, the symposium seeks to address the following questions:
How can the past anticipate the present (or even the future)? To what extend are ideas of novelty, originality, or creativity shaped by political or economic demands and imperatives? How do we experience, consume and describe novelty? To what extend does the radical blurring of the traditional boundaries between art and everyday life challenge the function and demands of both art and social criticism? And finally: Might we claim that artists and cultural workers have modelled the archetype of the neoliberal subject?
The symposium will be divided into three working groups that will approach the discussion of the above mentioned questions from different perspectives. Each group can be based on short presentations (max. 10 min) that deal with the symposium’s field of attention in relation to the participants’ individual research projects, and/or on relevant theoretical texts that each group is expected to agree upon in advance. For the sake of a vigorous discussion, the selected theoretical texts should be limited to extracts of no more than ten pages.
1. Parody and Parasitic Artistry
Parody and satire have served as ‘the crux and touchstone of poetics’ (Brummack 1979) ever since they were taken as distinct (sub)genres in the history of literature and theatre. In doing so, they have nevertheless been stigmatised as ‘inferior’ genres that are to be held in low aesthetic esteem beyond any aspiration of novelty or originality. In (not only) literary theory, the satirist used to be degraded as a repeating ‘demi-artist’ or even as a ‘parasitic symptom’ – a scholarly tradition that, against all scepticism, has mostly been maintained up to the present day (Knight 2004). The metaphor of parasitism implies an aggressive potential that is attributed to satirical forms of expression, which are often described as versatile, eccentric yet nonsensical at the same time. However, modernist art production led to a revivification of parodistic approaches as a popular phenomenon, often pejoratively referred to as the ‘vaudevillisation’ of artistic practice (Roßbach 2006). The main idea of this working group is to deal with such (and related) points at issue in close recourse to both historical and contemporary reflections of parody and/or satire as meta-genres in the light of early- and late-capitalist societies.
2. Time Machines, Spectres, Zombies: Artistic Re-Enactments
“Enter the Ghost, Exit the Ghost, Re-Enter the Ghost” (Shakespeare, Hamlet)
Not only certain art forms but also art as an aesthetic practice has repeatedly been declared dead. But yet, the ‘dead art’ appears to be undead, haunting us like the ghosts and spectres staged in ancient tragedies or Shakespeare’s plays. As Rebecca Schneider has recently noted, there is an instability between liveness and death which occupies artistic and, in particular, theatrical production. Furthermore, we still encounter the undead in post-enlightenment European art and political philosophy, for example in the tradition of romanticism, the Manifesto of the Communist Party by Marx and Engels (1848), Ibsen’s plays (such as Ghosts, 1881), the early history of film, the debate on occultism, or even Derrida’s Spectres de Marx (1993). Against this background, this working group seeks to examine the phenomena of re-enactment, recurrence and resurgence and its encounters with the past.
3. Street Art and Urban Aesthetics
Ever since the postulation of dualistic notions of art and culture turned out to be problematic, there has been a growing interest in processes of transformation or intersection between ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ forms of art and culture (Caduff/Wälchi 2007). In this context, street art can be considered as a striking example for a gradual transition from ‘low’ to ‘high’. Originated from a mixture of graffiti, hip-hop and break dancing in the early 1970s in New York, works of street art are nowadays steadily presented in art galleries, museums, or concert halls. At the same time, city streets – understood as a space of performing social unrest, political protest and forms of resistance – have themselves turned into scenes of artistic production themselves, moving beyond the white cube as well as the black box of institutionalised spaces for the arts. This working group would like to discuss current trends of representing various forms of street art in established art contexts, as well as the question of the (im)possibilty of its novelty, in regard to present-day socio-economic conditions.
Corina Caduff / Tan Wälchi (2007): High/Low. Hoch- und Alltagskultur in Musik, Kunst, Literatur, Tanz und Kino, Berlin: Kadmos.
Charles A. Knight (2004): The Literature of Satire. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press.
Andreas Reckwitz (2012): Die Erfindung der Kreativität. Zum Prozess gesellschaftlicher Ästhetisierung, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.
Nikola Roßbach (2006): Theater über Theater. Parodie und Moderne 1870–1914. Bielefeld: Aisthesis.
Rebecca Schneider (2012): “It Seems As If...I am Dead. Zombie Capitalism and Theatrical Labor”, in: The Drama Review 56, Vol. 4, pp. 152–164.