Steve Klee

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Steve Klee's MPhil/PhD Art project

Between mastery and subjectivization: Jacques Rancière and a politics of art without foundation

My project is an attempt to understand and consequently address the ways in which power is distributed within art, particularly artists’ film & video. I am dissatisfied with the current interpretive frameworks most often applied to artists’ film & video. As I see it these views – held by both artists and theorists - fail to adequately describe the structural role ‘art’ occupies within broader culture, which is essential to understanding issues of culture and power. The consequence of this failure is the persistent abstraction, (and implicit valorisation) of the category art from other culture. An example of this process is that artists’ film & video is often conceived as neutral or objective terrain from which to criticise the products of the ‘culture industry’.

My research began with the attempt to theorise art’s ‘structural role’ by developing a description of the relationship between high and low culture in terms borrowed from the political philosophy of Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe. I argued that rivalry (antagonism) between ‘high’ and ‘low’ was a structural necessity for the existence of cultures per-se. Art could therefore be shown to be implicated,differentto mass culture but determined by the same logic, the same sorts of power relations.

I believed (and still believe) Artists’ film & video to be a particularly useful site to analyse this rivalry because the technologies used in its production have such a strong historical affiliation with mass culture. As a result ‘high’ and ‘low’ collide in artists’ film & video, its aesthetic forms and modes of address bearing the marks of numerous historical confrontations with its popular ‘others’. I want to develop a theoretical perspective that views these strategies of ‘management’ or ‘containment’ as part of a (hegemonic) process, which attempts to maintain the current hierarchical arrangement of culture.

Although I am still interested in the same problematic, that of art and power, my reference points have altered. I have moved away from the work of Laclau and Mouffe and am primarily concentrating on the writing of Jacques Ranciere. Currently my research consists in mapping his terminology of ‘police’ and ‘politics’ onto the contemporary art situation, again with specific attention to artists’ film and video.