It’s somewhat embarrassing, in 2015, to talk about “bohemia,” a term so tied to fantasies of otherness and the way things were. But among artists, galleries, and indeed publications such as Texte zur Kunst, the tendency persists to speak of some bohemian-like zone, to mine one’s original context for cultural value, cashing in on whatever experiences of marginality or social deviance may have transpired therein. We intend this issue’s focus on bohemia, however, not only as a call for self-reflection (though, yes, that too), but as a portal for thinking through some of the more macro ways in which this ideological space has shifted in recent years – from the closed-circuit models of pre-millennial undergrounds to a seeming acceptance, in the past decade, of the mainstream as a channel for avant cultural production. Expulsion and exile, marginality, sub- versus mass cultural capital, art, network availability, privilege, and dropping out – these are elements this issue takes on. Some may say that the fading of bohemia as a general ideal has to do with a much stronger desire for the perceived total-connectivity of the web. But we wonder if this might not be the case for another reason: an underlying sense that the displacement and disenfranchisement that such bohemian ideals once romanticized may again be a very real threat.
Calling on a range of voices in these pages, we turn to sociologists Cornelia Koppetsch and Saskia Sassen for their thoughts. Following from the latter’s new book “Expulsions: Brutality and Complexity in the Global Economy,” we ask Sassen whether the shift away from inclusive social policy at the end of the last century might have catalyzed a reconfiguration of power so great that the desire to willfully exit the bourgeois experience of capitalism has been supplanted by efforts to avoid being evicted from it. What form might these new (and ostensibly far graver) areas of exile take, we wonder – regions that are, as Sassen argues, conceptually subterranean to our understanding. Drawing from her recent research regarding conformist tendencies in German society in the face of growing precarity, Koppetsch shares her remarks in this regard. Speaking with Hanna Magauer, she discusses the contemporary conditions of creative scenes. Bohemia, she notes, cannot be created artificially, which is also to say intentionally, but rather, develops as a byproduct of how a society organizes its communal identities.
In this same vein, Diedrich Diederichsen offers an update on the real-life bohemian, a figure he defines here by its distance (voluntary or not) from certain social privilege. Such detachment, he suggests, may have once been more desirable than it is today; still, those who are marginalized are cultural producers in their own right. Accordingly, in his contribution to this issue, Stephan Dillemuth – who, with Josef Strau, ran the Cologne project space Friesenwall 120 (which has come to epitomize the so-called bohemian qualities of Germany’s early ’90s art world) – maintains that disenfranchisement for the artist remains a state of potential. If we do accept the idea of bohemia as a closed system (one that coheres an “inside” by positing itself as an “outside”), he asks, could radically reinforcing these boundaries allow us to take back pockets of unexposed space for artistic research?
This could be so, and yet writer and Semiotext(e) editor/translator Noura Wedell argues here that given the psycho-pathologies of contemporary capitalism, it is now essentially impossible to draw such a line. How do we “drop out” in the 21st century when spectacle dictates perpetual productivity, enforcing it right down to the level of our cells? By learning to accept death, Wedell proposes, and by refusing to bear the present alone. Further exploring the condition of total availability and individuation, Caroline Busta, in her essay, examines how recent formations of the female artist subject might square with the shift away from ’90s notions of “alternative” culture toward the post-millennial openness to mass circulation and mainstream codes. What happens, though, when the styles of certain subcultural formations become fodder for artistic practice? Looking at the work of artists ranging from Wu Tsang to Mark Leckey, Philipp Ekardt considers representations of the aesthetics of these scenes, ones with which these artists may or may not be closely involved, finding evidence that a desire for bohemia persists alongside a taste for the generic.
Indeed social bonds can be tricky, especially in these connectionist times but as the systemic edge approaches, Berlin-based artist Daniel Keller (of the former collective AIDS-3D) suggests you need not go it alone! To help guide TZK readers through this new terrain, Keller, with a glossary by Ella Plevin, offers his “Hottest NEW ALT Marriage Stacks Solutions.”
Finally, this issue features a new text by Canadian writer and artist Douglas Coupland. Having given us some of the first language to describe Y2K shifts, Coupland, starting with his pop-nihilist classic “Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture” (1991), has been telling us our near-futures ever since. In his essay for this issue, Coupland feeds back to us the slacker bohemia utopia of our younger selves through a satiric read of our hyperlinked present.