CLEAN THE DEAD
Love too be a revolutionary crusader for the status quo!
Fascist imagery isn’t emblematic of something awful, but something edgy, challenging, provocative. Witches are real and live in swamps, anyone who says that isn’t true is censoring my views. When will free speech kill someone? Identity politic obsessed student unions cannot no-platform transphobes from speaking invitations, that is fascism. The Serpentine Gallery not allowing me to count the toilet visitors for their engagement statistics while attached to the ceiling is no-platforming me, how dare they. Some people call me a renegade for my thoughts on women in the workplace, a controversial avant-garde philosophy that can only be discovered on the “intellectual dark web”.
The thought-process that must go through to get there must be pretty batshit insane — disconnected and entitled to a level where it’s kind of funny but also you wonder if it’s a bit bret easton ellis. By that I mean, to see a swastika and either just not connect it to the actual horror of nazism OR just feel that you have a right to free speech without facing any consequence of what you say, it’s just a “conversation” or whatever bizarre entitlement bubble wraps around your dumb ass head. How does anyone reach these points?
It tends to be quite formulaic. For this diatribe we will focus primarily on art schools and cultural institutions, where the fascination of the alt-right scrapes against the emancipatory and inclusive directive of artistic production - WELL that’s what most would tend to assume from places of art learning, that they’re inherently left— because artists were once considered degenerate by fascist governments and they’re a place where many people belonging to marginalised groups can circulate. Obvs intersectionality and diversity of experience is a concern in art institutions, where the narrative of white male privilege is now open to some challenge, sometimes. With the advent of lamentable media neo-fascist acceptance, most cultural workers realise there are certain socio-political currents moving, entrenching ideologies and perhaps it isn’t beyond reason to attempt to address structural power and media authority. In the pre-crash, pre-austerity glory years of the early 00s, the London art space was a lovely insulated zone, detached from reality but not totally an enclave for the posh. Vyner Street was awash with free alcohol seeking naive chancers and middle-class barbour wearing glasses dickheads every first Thursday. Art school fees were still a couple of grand but the amorphous student loan system obviated that into a phantom debt, with many students morbidly content they’d just never earn enough to ever repay that debt, it would just piggyback their economic lives forever like a life-choice tax. But then came the austerity measures from the Lib-Con coalition, arts funding became scarce, precarity entered our lexicon and like totally disrupted art with one simple trick! Despite the economic downturn and the socio-cultural rightward drift, post-internet art did really well so it was all just another exciting struggle. But when you can barely afford to rent a damp flat within Zone 2 and the government would be all too willing to deport your partner unless you pay them at least 2 grand for “visa fees”, politics really have permeated yr life, unless you’re a secret tory and are circumstantially insulated. So dicking around in a fake meritocracy cottage industry making fashion PR filler content and assets for rich people is no longer something one can do with so much vitalic jouissance. This threatens some artists, as they can no longer divorce the product of their labour from the conditions of its creation when academically suitable. Well technically they can and still do, but now there is that risk that someone might call you out for it, probably sum fuckin politically correct free speech hating snowflakes! Always lurking, probably on 4chan or something, or maybe it’s liberals itching to call out some unsuspecting victim on their structural benefits. Shame! Especially if the art product is from a white male artist, which is not really what the people want at the moment. It has been the comfortable default for such a long time for so many cultural and business enclaves, the election of a belligerent totalitarian in the US possibly was the catalyst for many pale platforms to look inward suddenly. But whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy to have views disregarded just because I’m a white guy! Even though I’m a nice one! (sad wolf howl)
Plenty of artists who fit that biological descriptor are working fine. Your art career isn’t a Call of Duty Black Ops III spinoff where draining the autonomy from a white masculine empowerment device is conspiratorial evidence of a SJW agenda, cultural marxists turning the world of entertainment into a politically correct echo chamber. Structural benefits to your white cis male status remain largely unthreatened. Old dickheads like Richard Wentworth and Jake Chapman are still giving “masterclasses” at an “art foundation” that funds right-wing zionist interests. Jeff Koons will never be denied a platform anywhere. Anthony d’Offay and Knight Landsman were the tip of the predatory shitberg. Following this, it just seems like a good idea to diversify against this calcified fucking podcast of slow jazz hovercraft apotheosis.
The fear of multiculturalism (or calvinist leftism if you’re a screeching idiot with a brain worm from the online and a paunch from the nootropic pepsi salad bought with a wallet full of edgelord money) goes pre-post-internet, baby! As a millennial schmuck, I remember my first earful of it in former haunted sandbag Gordon Brown’s “British Jobs for British Workers” remark during a 2007 speech. Very red tory, much populism. This meaningless, pandering clod of shit soundbite is actually in full effect today, with some workplaces enacting a quiet discrimination in their hiring practices. If you’re foreign you’re less likely to get the job, even if you have a full live&work visa, even if you’re more qualified than a local candidate. While it is obvious government policy to discriminate against those without proper visas, this often sidesteps into discrimination against those whose status to live and work in the UK is derived from a visa. Yeah it sounds illegal sure, but if you’ve stopped calling up mum and dad to sort out your council tax for you and tried to query things yourself with a borough council or HRMC, you may find that most policies handed down from parliament go unenforced unless it’s easy for someone to extract money from it, most likely from you. The ruthless gentrification, risking livelihoods of people without balenciaga wave runners enacted under the watch of Southwark borough council is an Ozymandian act of ruination done by a charmless breed of managerial types who get off on the scent of authority. It is done because it is an easy way for the austerity wracked councils to extract money. Anyway I’m not Owen Hatherley so I’m not gonna sex up some urban planning politics but the general relevance of this is much stuff that goes on casually broaches the “unethical” framework into “probs illegal”. UK universities threaten a cut to staff pay for lawful strike action, despite that being a totally illegitimate punitive tactic, whether they end up trying it on or not, some middle-class toads stuck in a salad spinner obvs think this sort of praxis is fine within our pathetic joke of a developed western nation. Essentially the moral frameworks under zombifying capitalism are fraying, so gammons feel that free speech is killing them or being killed idk, also ISIS are antifa. Liberals still often believe in the absolutism of the moral framework and that gammon must be debated and *exposed*, only then will the defunct ideology be defeated in the marketplace of ideas and nobody will be radicalised anymore by data harvested political ads from Roy Moore’s kingdom hearts nobody. How this fear of “cultural marxism” re-emerges after going through the culture grinder can be seen in the fucking pathetic “Artists 4 Brexit”, in which some uncertain loose coalition of Telegraph weekly column types of art people have a real hard on for leaving the EU, despite how that action would completely fuck up the operations of countless art institutions. Migration isn’t their play, it’s uh, something about self-determination. But they’re all middle-class tories who profit from something they are ideologically opposed to. Why would an art worker support brexit, when most art workers from the UK depend on freedom of movement? But of course it isn’t really about the workers, because it is this phantom mask of labour that some too-good-for-Nandos Picasso-is-my-favourite shitheels use to misrepresent the societal divisions that caused brexit as well as operate as some bizarre propaganda outlet, to the benefit of whom isn’t quite clear because it’s so risible. On the other side, with money from a businessman based in Hong Kong and ties to mafia and fraud in the Italian wind farm sector, you know just the average type of art gallery patron, and the Chapman brothers, LD50 gallery seemed unremarkable until the curators love affair with the alt-right and their praise of Trump’s ‘muslim ban’ drew enough scrutiny to siphon out their real shitty politics, as well as the evidence of them platforming neo-nazis. The resultant protests were criticised by those on the right as “censorship” and some Really Smart People, who run an academy where audiences pay to get skype lectures from intellectuals, even went so far as to call the protests themselves “racist”. It really makes u wonder (no it doesn’t) when someone who probs has written for ArtReview twice about blockchain and lacanian memes calls a protest against somewhere operating as a safe space for neo-nazis as “racist”. Does the brain worm come before the irony poisoning, or after?
As ridiculous as it seems, it’s not so easy to dismiss. The cultivated disenchantment of the privileged in regards to a perceived loss of freedom, mainly speech and expression related, doesn’t just stop at organising lots of elitist art fair dinner parties. U end up with bloody Jordban Peterson aka lobsterboy aka fascist kermit. Despite already being turned into a meme for crying about individualism on youtube, he’s already done a fuckin publishing deal for a self-help book made for the entirety of spiked online and unironic incel forum users with anime Ayn Rand avatars. Obviously this is doing a gratuitous simplification of “the state of things” to keep this diatribe vaguely on rails.
Anyway, back to the (f)arts. Innately, early-stage artists would say they have a desire to do good in the world. To use their creative outlets for benign soft politick (how very BA pub chat) or as a form of agit-academia in the expanded field. The main issue is how to use all that jazz to get to the point where you have Zero or Verso sniffing round your fingers for the content of a book about technology or capitalism and politics when you’re a white man who knows a lot about computers and has travelled europe extensively for art exhibitions and recreational drugs. Or you might be exhibiting with the sibling or offspring of a famous artist and hope that the proximity to them will be beneficial in the way that someone might see your work and tell someone about that work and in whatever boring ass way you want to frame it — a bureaucratic procession of transactional conversations and quasi-electioneering lead to money. Hito Steyerl has exemplified this already, hasn’t she bloody always? The fact that Hito has admonished this incarnation of prestige economy doesn’t make a huge difference, because we all feel complicit in the gross architecture of late-stage capitalism but that just tends to add guilt and anxiety to those actionable breaches of egalitarianism rather than a refusal to work or seek alternatives. It’s almost like it is due to a supremely dumb reasoning, such as the perspective that infiltrating the neoliberal culture establishment as some kind of revolutionary agent is better than refuting it in some form. This phantasy of being a double-agent of sorts gets the artist horny as fuck. Again, profiting from something one ideologically opposes is technically just plain hypocrisy rather than a kind of radical Pynchonian scheme-within-a-scheme upon layers of dialectics. The nexus of cultural dissemination may not be the commercial sphere, to make a painfully obvious fart in a lecture hall after the Q&A microphone has just passed by. How quickly forgotten is the gentle remark on the problematic nature of public arts funding and corporate art fairs intertwining in the arena of museums and research. The seductive events-driven lifestyle aspect of art fairs and the spectacle contained within ends up being the alpha food box delivery service for visual arts. Many London galleries have closed their doors because it is unsustainable to go against this market driven model and the alternatives to frieze are just, uh, smaller art fairs. In fact, most alternatives seem to just be a timid spin-off of the offending entity! But yeah, again that’s part of the overriding conservative ideology that has been ever more present and noxious since the financial crisis of 2008 and the ascendance of net art, which itself regurgitated esoteric carrion from an idealist vision of the 90s using more sophisticated technology and mass communication as a medium in itself to usurp the now calcifying establishment YBAs that turned self-promotion into an artform in that prior “era”. Finding ways to innovate within technological capitalism in order to “game” the system, or investigating nefarious elements of said system (such as racial bias in algorithms or the idiocy of bitcoin), although there is usually not much of a reformist push after the initial of revulsion. Nobody wants to abandon social networks because they’re such a valuable part of gaming capitalism, obvs. We feel guilt, an element of shame, and move on. Tho it isn’t like asking for communism while owning an iphone, because the inherent vice of social media networks is that the convenience of them requires an equivalent exchange (our privacy). It isn’t exactly like some manufacturing process that can be made fairer, unless social networks could be co-ops (leave that speculation to e-flux).
With no uncomplicated road to a solution, It’s all too easy to slide into a self-loathing disavowal of the “scene” which quite a few of the early bathers of the post-internet glory have done. Yet there is no rehabilitation from the inane apolitical sub-gossip girl call outs of the social practice end — for example, think pieces on toxic masculinity are fine but then providing creative labour for a body that is connected to property development and gentrification, uh???? Hosting a ‘feminism in art collecting’ conference at a venue where a confirmed gender pay gap exists???? Yet again we are led back up the boring path of capitalist market logic, where radical elements are subsumed into the gestalt.
A middle-class crusty art bro goes to do hallucinogens in a third world country, is suddenly a white champion of the diaspora. However earnest the latter inclinations may be, how they came to be enmeshed in someone’s humanitarian ontology is totally dubious as it just re-performs imperialist power structures that are inherently racist. The thoroughfare from point A to B varies in significant depending on who u ask, tho. One might say to benefit from a structural racism without acknowledging it is a form of soft-racism and it is possible to unconsciously replicate those notes of privilege in any cultural product you might distribute. You might not be racist, but by being white in a country like the USA or UK you are by default going to have an easier life than someone who isn’t white and you’ll never be able to empathise with what that is like. It’s not an experience you can appropriate! Oh shit! Our struggles aren’t interconnected! A really garish example of white privilege colluding with structural racism is the nominations of a certain Luke Willis Thompson for the 2018 Turner Prize AND deutsche borscht photography prize. The latter isn’t very surprising, given that a previous winner was Richard Mosse for his mega problematic Infra project — white dude uses rare deadstock military infrared film in war stricken DRC to capture soldiers and landscapes sans narrative — and the craven art/photography genre always has a proclivity towards exploitative value-subject extraction. Although LWT isn’t a hyper-privileged figure of whiteness, he is feeding off black tragedy like the infamous Dana Schutz fiasco. The fêteing of this archetypal visual is problematique not necessarily because of its content or message but how it’s authorship reverberates within the colonial echoes that still haunt many cultural institutions.
Finally, we’ve called something problematic. Like the siren call-out that drives reactionary libertarian troll round the horseshoe, this term will drive the art bros wild. It’s generally an analogous thing to something like… conservatives believing their workplaces discriminate against them because of SJWs. Art people who love brexit but feel silenced because their colleagues/peers think they’re fucking idiots for x quantity of reasons. Incels who believe that the women of the world owe them sex but feminism has usurped the natural order of things (patriarchy) and is a wrong that must be corrected. It goes without saying these examples are located at different heights on the measuring stick of evil and the causes can differ — but what unites them is the personal brand of manifest indignation at political correctness, identity politics and the viability of antagonism flexing against free speech definitions.
None of the rationale that supports any of these wyld positions tends make a lot of sense, just try to unpack a bit of Jordan Peterson self-help bollocks for upset men. The pseudo-scientific youtube right vs. the cultural marxist ps4 left, what a trip.
The aforementioned exemplifies the slightly insane twists to get whatever mad words to fit into your rhetoric. Also, anyone who disagrees is not logical and too emotional. Makes sense, can’t argue with that. It’s like an art student who says “politics are over” and everyone who vehemently disagrees is a “snowflake” who can’t handle the rigorous debate in the arena of ideas (the leftist version of this prick fight is often around the correct way to mobilise, what should or should not be done etc etc). Despite the author himself turning into a conservative turd, Bret Easton Ellis foreshadowed a lot of this especially masculine power crisis in his novel American Psycho (1991) and the 2000 Mary Harron directed film adaption. Patrick Bateman’s character espouses a lot of the pseudo-scientific fever dream self-care that extends to murdering sex workers and detested colleagues. Not massively far off Ross Douthat from the New York Times opinion desk pushing a line of “all incels need sex robots” as a way to curb the burning indignation of furiously useless micro patriarchs. For some people, sexual liberation for women is something that needs to be rolled back. Sticking with the NYT, we also have Bari Weiss championing the vestigial traces of the alt-right/neo-reactionaries as an “intellectual dark web”. This is incredibly dumb on a number of counts, first being that these people like sadlobster_dad(mostly white, mostly male) are not underground radicals. They accrue decent money from YouTube videos and speaking tours, book deals. Nobody is silencing them for being controversial, quite the opposite. Criticism from lefty twitter doesn’t count as censorship or an attack on free speech, but in their worldview any challenge from “SJWs” counts as no-platforming. Lest we not forget the NYTs efforts to humanise the nazi punching bag Richard Spencer. Bari Weiss herself interestingly has a history of trying to censor college professors who have pro-Palestinian politics, but many of the “free speech” champions tend to equate the intolerance to their racist phrenology and eugenics combos as oppression from the liberal establishment. The liberal establishment? Is that…. The Guardian? Channel 4 News? It’s not even a thing that makes sense, as an event like the hiring and firing of Quinn Norton and/or Kevin Williamson is seen as the “establishment” giving right-wingers something to complain about — their views being discriminated against in the workplace. I mean the tunnel that this brain worm leaves behind is fucking wavy. It’s sort of a weird left baiting tactic — inviting neo-nazi sympathisers to cultural speaking events and then framing any protest as intolerance. Maybe you saw the length Zero Books went to defend their toilet-paper reactionary publication Kill All Normies, despite the copy-paste jobs it had from right-wing resources and how universally disingenuous and rather stupid Angela Nagle is. The moment anyone calls Spiked Online a “revolutionary platform” you know you’re in trouble. Plus in the UK we now have an Office for Students, whose head Sam Gyimah thinks you shouldn’t be allowed to no-platform a speaker if they’re invited — even if it’s a bourgeoise nazi. By that logic then I’m being no-platformed because Tate Modern refuses to exhibit my paintings of lightbulbs that I did in 2006. The fascists!
So the progress of increasing diversity and seeking engagement outside the patriarchal norm to address existing inequalities is…. a form of discrimination! If you’re an insecure white guy in the world of art, with universities telling you that you’re a community but u must gently compete with each other for inclusion in art awards and group shows with media partnerships to affirm your place in the meritocracy, except that it isn’t a meritocracy at all but a multi-faced parasitic arrangement, you might feel a bit put out by this. Even though you can literally make institutionally sanctioned art from the tragedy of others or just paint extremely racist portrayals of black people and get into New Contemporaries or the Turner Prize. The addition of social media to the bohemian dance of validation doesn’t help the mental health of anyone, even if statistically most people fabricate the portrayal of their life on social media, as long as someone might believe you then the lie transcends the truth. Some idiot gallerist might give you a show based on your history of achievements via social media et al and therefore all that fake shit transcends itself and becomes real shit. Even if later the proverbial house of cards falls down, you’ll have moved on to some other patch and continue like a shitty locust in a COS jacket. This is seen as “hustle” so the frameworks of success are more like Atlas Dabbed or Great Expectations but Unironically. If you might feel you are being silenced, even if you definitely aren’t, lashing out seems the logical reaction as opposed to checking your privilege or staying in your lane. Identity politics are holding you back from the recognition you deserve!
A rally for “free speech” happens in central London and it is filled with bodies of far right affiliations, whose apparent victimhood seems peculiarly manufactured when they’re flooding whitehall, outnumbering antifa and hurling abuse at muslims while the police just look on. Question Time has not stopped using the Gammon Radar to find audience members to say something populist/racist, so there really aren’t any qualms. The mainstream media in the UK is already hyper-bigoted and bankrolled by tax dodging millionaire conservative party donors. That isn’t new, so what is? Maybe now less women will have sex with you if you think feminism has gone too far? HOW DARE THEY. When Jordan Peterson whines in his fucking kermit ass voice about some weird Jungian psi-ops and erroneously spun gender biology it might speak to you, or at least interest you as a horrible phenomena of the (postmodern, lol) age, which at least gets you near the paddling pool where the guy who thinks poor people are genetically inferior does a keynote lecture about synthetic neurology u might think “hell yeah my art about the anthropocene needs this speculative turn”. Potentially something like this scenario is how people get redpilled, a chief consequence of such a volte turn in ones analysis of the universe is gourmet self-contradiction. When artists obsessed with the techno-libertarian landscape of cities affected by post-fordism + something about the internet and a “nature of things” not even remotely lucretian get redpilled it’s not surprising, as Morgan Quaintance has already pointed out in his essay “The New Conservatism”, it’s inherent in many post-internet art practices. Plus yeah, loads of artists are secret tories. They want to succeed via corporate philanthropy and institutional validation, potentially gaming the Arts Council to siphon off public money for some weird gap year colonialism social practice and then pull up the ladder of success behind them, so nobody else can “take” their opportunities. I’m invoking a bit of Jordan Peterson style bullshit to conjure this archetype. Ideology is one hell of a drug! Dig the pit of irrationality with the shovel of reason!
As an arsehole who self-presumes he is woke I obviously am contractually obliged not to provide a workable solution to this crisis, nor am I even the best person able to — passing off the chores, classic man! The process of unlearning these habitual responses to a toxic environment is not easy or pain-free, especially if you are one to hedge your bets on making art out of personal experience which might primarily involve your life as a white man. It is also not solely down to the individual, as systemic behaviourisms of the informational and feedback systems in the arts are prone to certain things that engender rot. Each on of these things is within itself a microcosm, a tokenistic hint at a broader meadow of fuck. Someone on an art magazine editorial board passes off an article about art & activism, written by someone who has never engaged with activism beyond deleting the emails from change.org and 38degrees. The general sense in the art community is that experience equates to research, which in some cases it does but you cannot research certain things, well I guess you can research the history of protest and absorb the testimonials of activism for a multitude of causes but if you’ve never been on a picket line for anything then u can jog on. Performing a world-weary cynicism about your own field is great but when there is a tube strike whomst shall u denigrate perchance? The precarious position that most people inhabit even in mid-tier art jobs doesn’t equate to a struggle, or even a proximity of. The hidden truth that most of the success comes from wealthy parents or lucky alignment with affluent benefactories is often shrouded in risible self-care soundbites, treating careerism in the arts as a mind game with your own neuroses, as opposed to managing the responsibilities of income, tax, relationships and time and many other potential burdens you might have, like immigration status or health issues. You’ve seen a similar myth play out in the reverse heroic act of “I’m 25 and I saved up 500,000 rats to buy my own house” newspaper fluff piece. Guaranteed in all of those cases there is an inheritance or occupation of a holiday home somewhere, compensation for a city farm accident, sale of a nascent app framework to a tech giant. In the hellzone life we all currently occupy, a modern bildungsroman is hardly ever so puritanical where ‘hard work’ is the sole propellant. The illusion that it is, the myth that it could be, the hope it could be different for you, and the self-assured bias that your merits are infallible — these all contribute towards the general brain plague that would assert culture is a warzone alongside disguised veneration of the status quo. You don’t want to end up like alt-left new york art twitter, or guardian commenters quoting Nathan Barley when encountering any new thing. Ultimately the shift on those fronts is going to be generationally slow. If the tory scum are STILL in government after brexit lies/fraud, racist deportations, PFI collapse, NHS stealth privatised and ministers at the highest level getting shitcanned for straight up lying to the public or wanking at work — any fundamental change to the false meritocracy and shark tankification of the western art scene is probably not going to be a glamorous upheaval that will involve lots of underground art fairs suddenly gaining legitimacy to usurp the dominant characters.The unlearning process won’t be easy for some who believe the opportunities afforded to prior generations of early noughties millennial artists are still in effect during the tail end of the tens. Hopefully things like the criticism of LWT’s turner prize nomination will have reverberations, future panel members won’t feel like they can get away with nominating mates or being wilfully ignorant when it benefits their own prestige. Future Tate directors won’t be rancid union busters or blame victims of sexual assault for their own victimhood. Obviously the flipside is people might feel they are being unfairly policed for every remark (by the fascist left!!!!!!!!). As someone who has been through the art school system, it’s kind of funny because usually everyone in group crits yearn for bad art to get called out but rarely do it themselves because of how personal remarks like that get taken. You call someone’s art disingenuous once and they will stop saying hello to you in the hallways for the remaining years of the degree. Just to clarify, by process of unlearning I don’t mean “being less sensitive” or any daily mail pundit bullshit like that — but ego and privilege checking might be necessary pain. If you’re not middle-class but are thirsty af, an acceptance that your “career” may only last a finite amount of time or not basing your entire identity on an edgelord art practice, may be helpful in the long run. Even if you get truly successful in your mid 40s that’s OK, even if you never do then try a bit of art and enjoy your life in other ways (teaching, airfix kits, cooking, ps4, children). Phantom neoliberal pressures are not ironclad unspoken laws of grace even tho a theranos/anna delvey scam odyssey seems funny from a point removed. If you can gracefully step aside to let POC voices say something you might want to say as the default white male art world voice, in the long term it’s even better for you to do so, rather than just making sure you do not feel stifled as that is certainly not what you’re used/entitled to. BUT I’ll be damned if the Q&A audience never find out that I’ve read Gramsci!
Narrator voice: He has never read Gramsci.