A talk and guided discussion held at Left Forum 2013, at Pace University, on June 8th, 2013.
If it is true that the 'commodity-structure' (Lukacs) is the defining feature of modern capitalism down through the present, then it stands to reason that it has no less impacted the way art is produced, consumed, circulated, and exchanged. This shift in art's character happened both objectively (e.g., as in an article produced for exchange on the market), and subjectively (i.e., as a kind of experience and form of expression for the social and individual body). However, art's relationship to its status as a commodity is an ambivalent one: Art has become at once more free from past forms of domination, but its freedom is constrained when subject to the dynamics of capital. Art as a commodity is both its cure and poison, and has become a social problem for its practice. Since becoming aware of this problem, artists, philosophers, curators, and critics have taken various approaches in seeking to overcome it. How has art under a capitalist society changed from its pre-capitalist practices? What is the commodity-form, and what is art's relationship to its logic? Must art seek emancipation from the commodity-form, or is it at home in it? In what sense does art take part in the Left and emancipatory politics -- a practice also seeking to overcome the commodity-form -- if at all? By asking these questions, this panel seeks to reinvestigate art's relationship to the commodity form, and make intelligible how this problematic relationship still sticks with us today.
1. How do you define the terms ‘art,’ and ‘commodity?’ In what ways does art in capitalist society differ from art in precapitalist society? How would you posit the relationship between art and the ‘commodity-structure’ of capitalism? Is art already a commodity from the start, or does it get ‘commodified’ only when integrated in the market? Are there ways that art can resist its commodification, and if so, how?
2. Acknowledging that the issue of art and commodity is not a new question, what troubles this discourse today? How has art’s relationship to the commodity-form changed over time, and what does it look like now? Do we understand the problem better than our predecessors, or are we in a worse mode of understanding?
3. If emancipatory politics is the objective, does overcoming capitalism necessarily follow the abolition of art’s status as a commodity? Do contemporary attempts in ‘dematerialized’ or ‘process-based’ art practices (e.g., social practice, pedagogical projects, or institutional critique) challenge the commodity status of the art object, and if so, how? Should art even seek emancipation from the commodity? In what sense does art take part in the Left and emancipatory politics -- a practice also seeking to overcome the commodity-form -- if at all? 4. How do you position yourself as cultural production within this dialogue? If this is a question about the work of arts’ mode of production in society, and opens up the question of class, then in what ways specifically does your work—or other contemporary art work—respond to class consciousness? What role does criticism or art play towards an emancipatory politics?
A roundtable discussion organized by the Platypus Affiliated Society on October 18, 2012 at New York University.
A year, a month, and a day ago marked the official beginning of an ostensibly new, post-Obama phase of radical politics in America.
The longer prehistory of Occupy has been variously traced back to anti-austerity protests in Europe, the Arab Spring, and the London riots — with some of its roots stretching all the way to alter-globalization in the late 1990s. Occupy can be understood both in this broader context of radicalization going on throughout the world at the time and as a phenomenon in its own right.
Today Occupy stands at a crossroads. Our moment provides a brief vantage point from which one might reflect upon what the Occupy movement has been to date (its victories, its failures, its enduring impact), whether it still exists at present, and — if so so — what are the tasks that remain for it to fulfill moving forward?
A little over a month on from #S17, and only three weeks away from the US elections, we in the Platypus Affiliated Society thus ask our panelists to consider:
1. What kinds of social transformation has Occupy brought about? What kinds of social conflicts remain unresolved? Where has it triumphed, and where has it fallen short?
2. How, if at all, has Occupy changed your political outlook? Has it modified the kinds of goals you hope to achieve through your activism? And has your approach toward organizing a mass movement in order to achieve these goals shifted at all?
3. What sort of new political possibilities has Occupy opened up that beforehand seemed impossible? Conversely, is there anything once felt had been politically possible at Occupy's outset but now no longer feel is possible?
PLEASE NOTE: Due to technical difficulties, the last five minutes of this panel were not recorded on either audio or video. We apologize for the inconvenience.
The Platypus Affiliated Society
Lisa Montanarelli (Writers for the 99%, Platypus Affiliated Society) is an author and activist who participated in the occupation of Zuccotti Park and collaborated with more than 50 other writers and researchers on the book Occupying Wall Street. She has since become a member of Platypus.
Fritz Tucker (Occupier, journalist) is a native Brooklynite, writer, activist, theorist, and researcher of people's movements the world over, from the US to Nepal. Last year he authored the article "A Chill Descends on Occupy Wall Street: The Leaders of an Allegedly Leaderless Movement."
Victoria Sobel (Media & Finance working groups) is an activist and major organizer within the Occupy movement in New York, especially during its two months in Zuccotti Park.
Shyam Khanna (Strike Debt) is an organizer of Strike Debt, a prominent outgrowth of the Occupy movement.
David Haack (Occupy Your Workplace) is an underemployed artist an anticorporate activist who lives in New York City. He is also a leading organizer within the Occupy Your Workplace working group, and author of "How the Occupy movement won me over" (published in Britain's The Guardian) and "The New Left Zombie is Dead! Long Live Occupy!" (published in Platypus Review 45).
Victoria Campbell (Occupier, Pacifica's Occupy Wall Street Radio show on WBAI) is an artist and activist involved with Occupy Wall Street, also a host on Pacifica's Occupy Wall Street Radio show.