Unlucky mortals! O deplorable earth! All humanity huddled in fear!
After the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, Voltaire wrote a poem on the disaster, in an indirect response to Leibniz’s argument that we are living in the best of all possible worlds:
We think atoms have measured the heavens.
We rush toward the infinite
Though we neither see nor know ourselves.
This world, this theater of pride and error
Is full of unfortunates who speak of happiness
Voltaire implies that the power of reason will not lead humanity to happiness. His solution? Cultivate our garden, while the world around us crumbles, as he lets the protagonist Candide affirm at the end of the novel with the same title. While Voltaire’s parodic caricature of Leibniz, Dr. Pangloss sought for logical answers in science, Candide returned to the ground, finding paradise in practical labour rather than in philosophical speculations. Where do we stand in relation to Voltaire’s and Leibniz’s dilemmas today?
The modern art system of the enlightenment was itself a disaster, a part of colonial and capitalist modernity with its stable and reified souls at work. To grab a piece of land, cultivate it, or abuse it, was an easy thing to do. The land kept quiet, according to the civilized men who were unable to understand what it had to say, though they were capable of having a polite conversation about a landscape or a war painting in the museum. No surprise, disaster and desire share the same etymological roots.
It is said that we are living in a new era of disasters. But our catastrophes are no longer endpoints in a Greek drama, nor sent by God in the form of plagues. They are not “natural” like the earthquake in Lisbon, nor “accidental” like the Titanic sinking in the North Atlantic. They are now permanent, global and self-inflicted, constantly narrated by the media industry competing for attention. Meanwhile political forces are using the fear of catastrophe as a way to govern.
If the art world has appropriated and reproduced the inequalities of this Eurocentric modernity with its recurring economic crises – is art still able to produce the desire for revolution and new, more equal social relations and contracts between humans and nonhumans? Can art still be directed towards the future?
Paletten Art Journal was founded during the Second World War. As Chief Editors, we started working with it in 2011, in the middle of the Arab Spring, three years after the financial crises of 2008. We had the financialization of the global entrepreneurial risk-economy in our face; climate change denial amongst the economic elites was striking; the ongoing dismantling of the welfare states and the implementation of new management models in public institutions had come to absurd proportions; the last decades’ increase in inequality and neo-fascist passions were on the rise all over Europe. These events forced us to confront and search for new aspects of the invention and function of the autonomy of art and aesthetics in our time.
Since 2011, we have worked on issues pertaining to the relation between the modern notion of art, and other border making notions such as gender, sexuality, race and class, through multiple perspectives and contributions. In the current issue we are continuing this research in a joint venture, with the University of Disaster, launched at the Venice Biennale 2017, representing the National Pavilion of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The University of Disaster was initiated by the artist Radenko Milak and cultural producer Christopher Yggdre, who invited Sinziana Ravini, Anna van der Vliet and Fredrik Svensk from Paletten, to curate and integrate the project into our ongoing research on autonomy. Whereas Paletten has continuously explored the relation between crises and critique in art, together with our Editorial Board, this collaboration has expanded the perspective by taking the notion of disaster and desire into account. What does catastrophe signify in our attempt at making use of this critical heritage called art as a site for thinking and doing things together, recognized and supported by Swedish cultural policies?
In this issue Pamela Lee, Ina Blom and Kerstin Stakemeier, among others, discuss our time as a disastrous era. Ina Blom discusses memory loss as the essence of the catastrophic in relation to technopolitical changes surrounding us today, and Kerstin Stakemeier writes that “the prolonged catastrophe of a financialized economy that started in 2008 is not opening onto a potential end of capitalism, but rather seems to put the very survival of humankind itself at risk.” Meanwhile Mårten Björk claims, that catastrophe today is not the fall of the order, but the fall “into the order of Darwinian life and implemented as a form of natural destiny since all life dies and all events have an end.”
In his text Under the Influence, Steven Cuzner reflects on the disastrous aspects of our mind, stating, “I can’t trust my desires. I know that they are under the influence. They have to be. For if we lay ourselves down in deep hypnosis, or permit the psychoanalytical task of unveiling trauma: understanding the damage done upon us and finding the ‘core’ of our true selves – can we deny that the core, whatever its form, is quite susceptible to influence?”
In the 1990s Christopher Yggdre met Vermin, a patient at a psychiatric clinic in Paris who suffered from severe apocalyptic desires. Here Yggdre contributes with a manuscript he received from Vermin one afternoon in the hospital park that presents an even darker version of the biblical apocalypse.
What can we do in order to fight the disasters of our times? Jacquelyn Davis writes about the misogyny in sloppy political rhetoric and modern day policy-making, and the women activists who took matters into their own hands by marching and organising international strike movements, like the one launched on March 8th (International Women’s Day). The reproduction of patriarchy is a disaster. But what is a feminist art object today?, Josefine Wikström asks in relation to the work of Sidsel Meineche Hansen in a critique of object oriented philosophy in contemporary art.
Will our images of catastrophe prepare us for catastrophe like the magic death dance images of medieval times, or rather contribute to it? Tova Gerge makes a new turn in the discussion of the performative: the performer could die before the notion itself. Exhausting the limits of enactment in the format of a magazine, it is not fully clear what could be the final cure from the neverending tour, continuously looping its own reverb. Be it in a courtroom where, as Michele Masucci argues, freedom of speech is pushed to its limits; or through euthanasia, viewed by Anna Koncul as an institutionalization of life, the neoliberal reproduction of life itself, big Data and the big Other all constitute the border of memory. As Emma Bexell writes, the possibility of life has a higher price than giving birth. Be it abortion or education, progression is measured posthumously. We might swim in a lake of saliva, in our own mouth formulating this body of text. Forcing the body to perform one more word – a muscle for a group of humans meeting for a common cause – the question of memory needs to be reformulated into a quest: to relocate energeia and collect the effect of ourselves, standing upright as does Frida Sandström, citing her very own body with its own choreography.
Turkish curator Vasif Kortun once stated that the art institution will sustain longer than the regime itself. So will the artistic practice of Gülsün Karamustafa – here interviewed by Sandström – whose installations, texts and paintings have passed through three coup d’états.
David Chychkan’s exhibition in Kyiv, which was demolished by nazis for its anarchist agenda and re-opened by the artist as a kind of exposition of degenerate art, might also reflect correlations between rising nationalism and mega exhibitions financed by risk capitalists enacting neo-colonial aesthetics. Kyiv based curator Anna Kravets describes the context of this event, while Thomas Millroth presents the only remaining images of works by the communist artist collective Folkdekor (Peoples’ décor), active in Sweden during the 1940s, along with fragments of a text originally intended to be published in Paletten thirty-five years ago. Attempting to organize a sensible community outside the nation state and market circulation, Folkdekor made transitory works monumentalizing desires for a movement abolishing their present society. Commenting on Millroth’s text, Patrik Haggren relates the group to a possible aesthetics of the excluded. Meanwhile King Barney Parsons’ script for a drag show proposes an “unoriented” art through a multi-vocal speech of desire calling for vulgarity against capitalist valorization of art and love, and the obliteration of linear (gender) perspectives.
Seeking an interruptive and asymmetrical “erotohistoriography,” rather than a reproductive and homogenous historiography, Anton Göransson relates Walter Benjamin’s historical thinking to queer temporality and Rosi Braidotti’s nomadism.
Jacob Lillemose looks at three disasters in the novel and film The Road (2006) by Cormac McCarthy, novel The Drowned World (1962) by J. G. Ballard and the film The Kingdom of the Spiders (1977) by John Cardos, and Theodor Ringborg writes about Omer Fast. Finally we are very excited to start and end this issue with a greeting from Gregory Sholette.
All this and a lot more in this double issue!
Welcome to the 72nd year of Paletten Art Journal!
// Sinziana Ravini & Fredrik Svensk, Editors-in-Chief and the Editorial Board