In the Flow (英語) ハードカバー – 2016/2/16
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The leading art theorist takes on art in the age of the Internet
In the early twentieth century, art and its institutions came under critique from a new democratic and egalitarian spirit. The notion of works of art as sacred objects was decried and subsequently they would be understood merely as things. This meant an attack on realism, as well as on the traditional preservative mission of the museum. Acclaimed art theorist Boris Groys argues this led to the development of “direct realism”: an art that would not produce objects, but practices (from performance art to relational aesthetics) that would not survive. But for more than a century now, every advance in this direction has been quickly followed by new means of preserving art’s distinction.
In this major new work, Groys charts the paradoxes produced by this tension, and explores art in the age of the thingless medium, the Internet. Groys claims that if the techniques of mechanical reproduction gave us objects without aura, digital production generates aura without objects, transforming all its materials into vanishing markers of the transitory present.
“In the Flow not only aptly describes Boris Groys’ brilliantly astute state of mind when writing this book, but also signals the incredible journey the reader will take around some of the most pervasive cultural constructs of our time: the museum, the archive, and the Internet. In the process of articulating the rheology—or fluidity—of art, each chapter elucidates a new potential for contemporary terminologies and concepts such as activism, participation, aestheticization, infection, and transgression. In the Flow offers a refreshing approach to art theory that opens up the possibilities for ideas to remain mutable while being put into practice.”
—Kate Fowle, Chief Curator, Garage Museum of Contemporary Art
“Most writing about the intersections between contemporary art and contemporary life surrenders, almost instantly, to the seductions of with-it presentism, or, more slowly but inevitably, to melancholy for a lost modernism. Not these essays by Boris Groys. In the Flow tracks the complex dialogue across a century and more between art and philosophy, politics, mass media, lifestyle, museums, and, recently, the Internet. Some flows are familiar, but most are not: from the avant-gardes of the Russian Revolution to the Stalinist state as a total work of art, from Clement Greenberg to Google, and Martin Heidegger to Julian Assange. Written with Groys’ signature penchant for outrageous provocation, breathtaking associative leaps, and productive paradox, these essays are a challenge, and a delight, to read.”
—Terry Smith, author of What Is Contemporary Art?
Professor Groys’ thesis is that contemporary art seeks to escape the present by collaborating with the flow of time. Whereas traditional art was concerned with spiritual totality, contemporary art rejects the metaphysical by seeking totality with the material world. For that reason, contemporary art is often conceived as a passing event that exists in the moment. The role of the museum today is to allow this impermanent art to be documented, commented on and evaluated by audiences in perpetuity.
Professor Groys goes on to explore this intriguing subject in depth with twelve thought-provoking chapters. We learn that artists who seek liberation must necessarily challenge the institutions that reduce our lives to the machine-like imperatives of capitalism. Interestingly, professor Groys says that since the French Revolution, art has been understood as the aestheticization of the past; today, contemporary art intends to critique the historical period in which we live. Inasmuch as capitalism is built on hierarchies of competition, inequality and power, the artist-activist dedicates his or her artistry towards the destruction of the status quo.
In fact, Professor Groys talks about Kazimir Malevich’s ‘Black Square’ as the artistic representation of the radical dissolution of existing Russian society. Artists like Malevich seek to free their true selves by renouncing the cultural, economic, and political restraints of the world as it really exists. Although the ruling class seeks to create the illusion of solidarity with the masses by sharing its art, the enduring art object that speaks truth to power offers the subversive potential for political discussion, organization and action.
Professor Groys turns his attention to technology. Professor Groys contends that our time is defined by the Internet’s synchronization of human experiences across the globe. Our participation as content creators and consumers means that our artistic souls are made visible to the universal spectator. For that reason, Google’s ordering of textual and visual content makes it a philosophical machine of political contestation. The author believes that activist artists can challenge the powerful by asserting the injustice, chaos and beauty of our particular, fleeting moment in time.
My sole critique is the author’s misreading of Wikileaks as an impartial broker of information. To be fair, more has come to light about Wikileaks since the book’s publication. We have reason to be concerned that Wikileaks is not without an agenda and is not immune to manipulation.
I highly recommend this outstanding book to everyone.