Theses on Art and Activism

Lieven De Cauter

1
 There is only one real form of activism and it is political activism. Action is a deed in the public sphere, the space of appearance. Therefore, political activism is the only real form of activism.
Artistic activism is almost never real, for it is not action but ‘acting’, a play in the cultural sphere, the sphere of the mimetic and the performative. 
2
Art and culture (also the cultic: ritual and play, religion and sports) constitute a sphere outside (besides, in between) the private sphere (economy) and the public sphere (the political). It is the sphere of the common and of otherness: the common uncommon. 
3
 Imagination is rich, ambiguous, amoral - action is moral, straightforward, poor (in imagination).
Therefore: good committed art is rare and problematic, committed artists are common and necessary (as alert citizens).
The political has an aim; art is aim in itself.   
But. The rare moments the imagination of art and activism truly mate, are to be cherished as the locus of an activist imagination. 
4
The public sphere is today more than ever, the virtual space of the media. Street protests turn open space into truly public (political) space, only if they are reported in the media. ‘Publishing’ (texts) can change the game. Here cultural actors can prove most useful: as public intellectuals. The first task of public intellectuals in the post nine-eleven era is ‘meta-activism’: acting against the criminalisation of activism.  
5
Real activism is always local, at most glocal.
Global activism is a long shot. But, in the age of globalisation, it is there we have to get. 
6
Art is part and parcel of the cultural middle class spectacle. All attempts towards ‘exodus’ (away from the institutions and temples of culture into real life) have proved pretty vain – commitment as gesture.
New alliances between socio-political work and culture are charming, but they tend to be amateurish, inconsequential forms of social or political work. 
7
Urban activism for most part has been instrumental to the neoliberal urban agenda. Urban activism has been used and abused for making neighbourhoods swallow neoliberal cleansing operations (the creative city for the creative classes!) and for gentrification, if they were not motors of gentrification themselves. 
And if they save a building for instance, it is turned into corporate plus value anyway. So, urban activism, relational art, process art, etc have proved, when all is said and done, almost always, to be dangerous liaisons with the powers that be. 
8
Retreat into Heterotopia? Yes! Why not?
Art and culture should be defended against the neoliberal logic of marketing and management.
Temples of cultures are not enterprises.
As art and cultural institutions constitute a sphere outside (but also in between) the sphere of the private (economy) and the public (the political), all sorts of experiments are at appropriate there. 
9 
The task of art is not to change reality but to show and evoke it.
The mimetic power of art is the true power of art, its true task: reshuffling the sensible.
The performative in art is the sharing of the ‘common uncommon’ (from Oidipus to the present) as mediation between the private sphere (the space of hiding) and the public sphere (the space of appearance). 
10
Art can change perception only in a sort of slow motion, almost in retrospect.
Art’s political value is extremely indirect.
The function of art remains it functionlessness.
The visual Arts can, maybe, reinvent themselves as a anthropological practice, mapping, documenting processes and events in poetico-political ways. 
11 
The university is more and more considered as a base for the knowledge economy.
But knowledge and cultural experience should be common.
Slow science now!
The battle for art schools is on (we are loosing it).
Let’s defend their heterotopian character. 
12
The Struggle for the commons is the most urgent struggle of our time.
To stop the enclosures and destructions of the commons is the ultimate task of activism today
(even art cannot remain indifferent here). 
13
The beauty of the common is
its sheer potentiality.
It becomes actual in every practice of sharing and re-appropriation.
We re-appropriate the common every time we reclaim the streets.  
14
If the commons can be saved, it will not be with dreams of a ‘post-historical’ utopia but with real politics.
 
[da capo: there is only one real form of activism and it is political activism….]
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