The Self-Conscious Artist and The Politics of Art: From Institutional Critique to Underground Cinema (2011)
The current debates about political art or aesthetic politics do not take the politics of art into account. How can artists address social politics when the politics of art remain opaque? Artists situated critically within the museum self-consciously acknowledge the institutional frame and their own complicity within it. Artists’ compromised role within the institution of art obscures their radically opposed values. Institutions are conservative hierarchies that aim to augment and consolidate their authority.
How can works of art be liberating when the institutional conditions within which they are exhibited are exclusive, compromised and exploitive? Despite their purported neutrality, art institutions instrumentalise art politically and ideologically. Institutional mediation defines the work of art in terms of its overruling ideology, controlling the legitimate discourse on value and meaning in art. In a society where everything is instrumentalised and heteronomously defined, autonomous art performs a social critique. Yet how is it possible to make autonomous works of art when they are instantly recuperated by commercial and ideological interests? At a certain point, my own art practice could no longer sustain these contradictions.
This thesis researches the possibilities for a sustainable and uncompromised art practice. If art is the critical alternative to society then it must function critically and alternatively. Artistic ambition is not just a matter of aesthetic objectives, it is particularly a matter of the values that artists affirm through their practice. Art has the capacity to define its own terms of production and the burden of responsibility falls on artists. The Exploding Cinema Collective has survived independently for twenty years, testifying to this principle. Autonomy is a valuable tool in the critique of heteronomy, but artists must assert it. The concept of the autonomy of art must be replace d with the concept of the autonomy of the artist.