Occupy Everything because everything has already been occupied.
Occupy Everything because everything is a site for contestation.
Now is an era of fracture. We are standing surrounded in constant collapse, trying to gather a meaningful life for ourselves.
Capital attempts to claim more and more for its own and is seemingly A-OK with letting what is outside of its sphere collapse. In this era of “the state” seemingly retreating from a “civic function”, when what was “public space” is more and more privatized, social practice becomes interesting because it can fill in that space of “the public” and meet “public needs”. In this era, social practice becomes interesting to radical practitioners because of its ability to organize its own reception within complicated and ambiguous spaces.
Thus, this essay proposes how a different social practice might do more then patch up around the edges of this constant collapse.
In saying that social practice “organizes its own reception” I am identifying social art that can organically build its own fan base. It disseminates and reproduces and (partially) interprets itself through how it is composed – by how it happens. Social art happens when an an artist’s concept is realized through the public’s labor. This “artform” might occur in a museum or a front yard.
I call these times complicated and ambiguous. Here I am referring to the general spaces which people encounter on a daily basis. Our homes and offices, stores and cafes are a collection of intentionalities and histories. Within these spaces, there is the intention to make profits, but also to love, to grow, to pray, to act rebelliously etc., ad infinitum. In other words, our days are rich texts that naturally contain the whole contradictory nature of contemporary life.
Currently, social practice risks being drowned in its own generosity. This essay bases itself in some of these critiques below not to resurrect social practice, but to suggest radical praxis. I propose here how an unrealized social practice might work as a self-critical machine to directly participate in the constitution of a radical movement-machine. Imagine a social practice that manages to keep its most generative elements while building a critically autonomous fuck you to all those fuckers.
This essay pulls from the essay-based insights of Brian Holmes, Marc J. Leger and Chantel Mouffe and Lane Relyea regarding “relational aesthetics” (see the bibliography at the end).
This essay is realized with help of conversations with Christina Ulke, Cara Baldwin, Michael Wilson, Jannon Stein, Adam Overton, Solomon Bothwell, Gerald Raunig, and Nils Norman’s students of the MUR OG RUM School of the Royal Danish Academy among others.
Socially anti-social practice
What would a social practice be like if it worked hard to refuse the normalizing power of a smile and instead worked through more complex emotions? What if instead, social practice argumentatively though playfully built what was to be done.
Dialogically Autonomous Social Practice
The goal of this autonomous position is to maintain the possibility for a position in competition with accepted institutional logics and rules. A social practice that maintains the classically theorized autonomy (Kant and Shiller… I guess) of fine art while concurrently allowing for dialog and exchange. In other-words, a quasi-autonomous practice. An art that maintains an autonomous position vis-a-vis the rest of society but has a porous border with its viewers because its own production is social.
Psychedelic Social Practice
Similar to the socially anti-social practice, but here more focused on creating collectively mind-bending social constructs among viewer-participants. And with the viewer-participants gathered from an open script. Once the socially anti-social practice gets legs, it creates movement. This movement, if built around schizoid energies bends the direction of the social relations that construct it in wild manners. It also creates a wild interface to the outside. Thus, with the unique interface it gathers participants in unique ways. See Gerald Raunig’s A Thousand Machines (Semiotexte).
Body: The promise of Social Practice
When Fallen Fruit or Future Farmers helps us utilize hidden resources, we are gathering power. This is the power of a group of people unhinging themselves (ideologically, at least) from a capitalist market. They facilitate a culture of people coming together to find localized power. Remember, food gives us power to go through the day.
When Re-bar invents Parking Day and disperses it nationally, we are gathering powers. Parking Day provides a concrete tactic by which to actively re-imagine and demand new relationships within the city. They facilitate a culture of people coming together to find localized power- remember, controlling property gives us power.
When Adam Overton explores relationships through massage and group-work, we are gathering power. When we orient ourselves, and when we focus on health away from normative regimes of domination and discipline we reclaim ourselves. He facilitates a culture of people coming together to find localized power – remember, the personals are political.
Body: The problem of Social Practice.
As is now often discussed, it is notable that social practice rose to the fore in this era of urban neoliberal regimes. I am not saying that social practice is complicit with these regimes. However, what I claim is that these regimes have profited ideologically and financially from our work. Neoliberalism blatantly profits financially from social practice through marketing schemes, crowd sourcing and the direct marriage of social projects to development and redevelopment.
Neo-liberalism ideologically profits from social practice in a less direct manner. It is this ideological mechanism that we must be aware of to realize the radicalizing potential of social practice.
Neoliberalism and new forms of capitalist extraction (post-fordist production etc…) feast within the fluff of the creative city. From Wikipedia (December 2010), “The term “neoliberalism” has also come into wide use in cultural studies to describe an internationally prevailing ideological paradigm that leads to social, cultural, and political practices and policies that use the language of markets, efficiency, consumer choice, transactional thinking and individual autonomy to shift risk from governments and corporations onto individuals and to extend this kind of market logic into the realm of social and affective relationships.” (link)
Thus, while certain social practices have a liberatory potential in the immediate, their actions and forms often end up unwittingly reinforcing the status quo – creating an illusion of freedom, of solidarity, of collective action.
Yet often, this social practice, this particular cause of hope, has not actually completed the necessary work here to create solidarity (for real solidarity, the ability to work together to solve issues is the basis for any non-metaphysical hope). Instead, contemporary social practice relies on the potential for social organization that is already distributed through the current economic arrangement.
Social Practice: A metaphor as Interlude:
The cacophony of the 90’s globalization movement was built concurrently with the world wide web as a near pitch perfect metaphor to facilitate the movement’s deterritorializing idealism of an international solidarity beyond borders. The webbed network facilitated cross-platform exchange while necessitating semi-autonomous infrastructures of collectives, cells, media labs, and websites.
Today, neoliberal and neoconservative economics run full-bore past any facsimile of the deterritorializing model which the movement presumed while disciplining (through legal and extra-legal action) and normalizing (by introducing price competition into its creative practices) its social structures.
Today’s web serves as a metaphor now for the near-antithesis of the globalization era’s hopes. The web now serves as a metaphor for what partially has captured this movement’s potentiality. Today the web is an always-on-machine, privileging us us to give our near-cost-free labor (in the form of myriad near-unique expressions) to a possibly global audience machine. The network is now always present while the autonomous cell has been leveled and replaced by a myriad of almost equal interfacers. The profit of this machine is extracted 24 hours a day, however it can, and this profit is almost gifted to a forever shrinking pool of people whose profiles might appear just like yours.
The potential for profit is immense, and is made potential by its mere presence. To be present, willing to exchange, to stand at the door of the network with a welcoming smile is today’s most notable affect. It is a smile that gambles, “I can fuck you before you fuck me.” Or it is a smile that says, “together we can get ours else before we’re all screwed.”
Standing on a corner, wanting to help carry people’s bags across the street for an art project ,this come-and-get-it smile is also one of social practices’ most common affects.
Body (continued): The problem of Social Practice.
So despite the very effective down-sourcing of power that results from the collective project of Fallen Fruit, Future Farmers and a thousand other projects on 127 Prince or the Groundswell Blog or the Journal of Aesthetics & Protest, neoliberal markets have the capacity to ideologically re-appropriate these down-sourced potentialities back up into the market. In that both neoliberalism and our social practices are both facilitated by that smile, neoliberalism’s come-and-get-it smile is reinforced almost every time a social practitioner strikes that pose. 🙂
That smile, that shit eating, come have fun with me smile. It’ll be OK, we’ll have fun! Come have fun while we imagine how we imagine how we might live in a post-oil world!
That smile of the open network that opens up public space to social space is the same smile that neoliberalism likes within its creative cities, its self-realized contract workers, its glad to be hear immigrant labor, its virally-marketed, crowd-sourced production capacitors. 🙂
Marc J. Leger’s outlines this with delightful precision in his essay “Welcome to the Cultural Goodwill Revolution: On Class Composition in the Age of Classless Struggle” for the Journal of Aesthetics and Protest #7.
This affected smile is the cruel tool of capitalist discipline that maintains this extended cultural moment.
Social Practice has (often unwittingly) facilitated this exploitation and is also uniquely positioned to end it.
Climax: Where the peasant throws off the overlord
For social practice to fulfill its radical potential, it just has to stop smiling.
There are so many emotions we need to work through together besides “happy!”
For starters, how about dominated and dominator?
Or how about sadness?
Anchoring group explorations in clearly productive projects creates a safe and extremely meaningful way to collectively process the discipline we encounter as capitalist subjects.
For social practice to fulfill its radical potential, it must stop using the affective communication tools which normalize interpersonal exchanges in order to create seemingly conflict-free social contracts.
Working through social conflict is a part of a movement. At least on the movement’s onset.
The radical social practitioner can also use an autonomous position from their audience to provocatively challenge audience-participants to build critical distance from their own collectivity.
This is key. Social practice must learn how to socialize an engaged criticality of how institutions and movements constitute and utilize social power. Neoliberal abuse of social practice is case study #1 of this utilization.
A radical social practice must facilitate the potential for its own critical deconstruction by its participants. Though this should smack of 90’s style institutional critique (see Art and Contemporary Critical Practice, Reinventing Institutional Critique, Gerald Raunig and Gene Ray editors) it isn’t. This criticality intends to model a critical practice outside of established institutions, and within the expanded field.
A critical social practice is aware of the enthusiasm and interest it builds in relationship to its own success. Yet instead of avoiding representation, it artistically moves to problematize its own performance and use this problematization as further medium between itself and its audience.
This project would then work in a two-fold manner. Within the traditional mode of social practice, it organizes people through desires to produce collective experiences or resources. Concurrently, the more critical element works to create a dialogical distance between participants and organizers so that the collective experience is not normalized as the result of a smoothing affect. Instead, the work becomes an act of negotiation and dialogue while autonomous power (in the form of food gathering, protest/performance, or healing) is produced.
Socially anti-social practice. Psychedelic Social Practice. Dialogically Autonomous Social Practice.
Creating a movement in exchange with broader society is an occupation.
Check out these essays:
Artistic Activism and Agonistic Spaces
Instituent Practices, No. 2 :Institutional Critique, Constituent Power, and the Persistence of Institutional Critique,
Art and Contemporary Critical Practice, Reinventing Institutional Critique, Gerald Raunig and Gene Ray editors.
Your Art World, Or, the Limits of Connectivity