How did we get here? If you’ve been paying attention, then you’re probably #NotSurprised. But still. The breadth and scale of the #MeToo movement and the string of allegations that have followed in its wake are formidable, even if these phenomena have fallen victim to the media circus that defines any news cycle – hype, accusation, recrimination, and, eventually, apathy (we’re not there yet). For this issue of Texte zur Kunst , our organizing thesis was that the field of art is a unique lens through which to examine the forms and concepts underpinning widespread sexual harassment and abuses of power emerging from the culture sector. Unique, because art and its supporting institutions embody a central contradiction: a space where the sustained critique of ideology is itself highly ideological. Animating this ideological apparatus of the art world is the heritage of a transgressive bohemian culture that propagandizes, preaches even (at least since the eighteenth century), that modern art is precisely the place where rules as such should not apply. But where, then, are the lines drawn when boundaries are blurred and lawlessness results in harassment and abuse? Is that how we got here?
The central question we posed to ourselves and our authors was the following: what can art tell us about freedom and the desire and need for transgression, which are prerequisites of that freedom but also, at the end of the day, produce the very lawlessness that facilitates the abuse of power? “Art without Rules?” does not propose that we confuse one kind of transgression with another; rather, in this issue, we look at how the sphere of cultural production is littered with abuses cloaked in the rhetoric of freedom and fair play. To find our way out of this predicament, we will need more than a few guilty faces.
This issue aims, therefore, to offer some guideposts, an orientation, for what seem like trying times, as the #MeToo declarations that form our present discourse are at once very necessary and liberating and threaten to replace criticism with public shaming. For what are the implications of calling out the perpetrators, not just for the victims who do so (and need to do so – it is the only way), but for the potential acts of solidarity outside of the social media realm that are negated in turn? Emerging scholar Katharina Hausladen provides a penetrating review of the politics of social media activism and testimony, warning of the potential dangers of replacing a collective voice with individualized participation. So, in order to move beyond the individual, it is necessary to find the structural ties that bind the ideology of an art-world community to its self-governing acts; to bore into the systemic order of a universe where serial sexual harassment becomes naturalized.
As a publication that believes strongly in the judgment of experts, we wanted to hear from those who can both describe and decipher those structures engendering the conflation of freedoms, acts, artists, and art-world agents. We wanted to know if there were specific concepts, currents, modalities, and lessons from this (art) world that we are all a part of that could provide a bridge to cross in order to diagnose how it is that we arrived at this point, where it appears that there is no power relation that is not subject to violent inscriptions of sexual abuse. By exploring some very core concepts in artistic discourse – freedom, rule-breaking, autonomy, power, among others – our inquiries could identify the language and concepts underlying abuses of authority in the name of art.
If we set out to determine how it was that we got to this point, the next logical question to ask was of course: where do we go from here? It is certainly one thing to offer a diagnosis, yet quite another entirely to attempt prognosis, if such a thing were even desirable. Criticism and theoretical work involve accepting the possibility – embracing it, really – that answers will be contingent, and immediate applications frustrating, if not altogether fleeting. For many of us here at Texte zur Kunst , themes explored in this issue began as conversations between colleagues, friends, and family members: in short, those in whom we trust. We have done our best to honor the spirit of those exchanges by arranging the central essays of this volume in such a way that they can be read like a crossword – up and down and across – where the individual contributions hold out the possibility of “speaking” to one another in ways that are opened in the private act of reading.
While there is no getting past the fact that the most recent scandals have reaffirmed that gender hierarchy is as dominant as ever, that one side has clearly benefited – continues to benefit – more than another, individual shame is only part of the story. As strong as the urge might become to devalue the language of criticism and structured thought, it never ceases to amaze in what form we might encounter critical reflection. Lucy McKenzie’s biographical narrative on the precarity of artistic agency and the politics of appropriation is one example. Others include art historian and critic Hal Foster on the urgency of finding a language to respond to the current political regime in the United States, and Josephine Pryde’s poetic exploration of insidious acts of misogyny that emerge in our left-wing circles. Philosopher Christoph Menke offers a timely investigation of the claims made in the name of artistic freedom, and artist and educator Coco Fusco engages in a spirited debate with the editors of Texte zur Kunst on the culture of abuse in a pivotal stage of artistic formation: the art school. Where there is argument and disagreement, there is also a space for the analysis of the current complexities. Within that space, our contributors demonstrate the power of sophisticated reflection in the face of this profound historical moment.