Militant training camp and the aesthetics of civil disobedience.

Lang, Martin and Grimwood, Tom (2012) Militant training camp and the aesthetics of civil disobedience. Krisis Journal for Contemporary Philosophy (3). pp. 37-48. ISSN 0168-275X

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This paper examines the current interest in ‘art activism’ (Grindon 2010), and the relationship between artistic expression and civil disobedience. Boris Groys has argued that the lack of political dissidence within contemporary art is not down to the ineffectiveness of the aesthetic, but the far more effective intrusion of the aesthetic by the political (Groys 2008). As such, the political question of civil disobedience is necessarily an aesthetic one. At the same time, this raises problems for how politically effective artistic dissidence can be. As Grindon argues, if art activism often only mimics ‘real’ social activism, it remains within the boundaries of the gallery system with no real consequences (2010: 11). Most art activism fails to be effective civil disobedience, in this sense, as it already operates within the confines of pre-established curatorial spaces. As such, the use of art for the purposes of civil disobedience cannot be, then, mere aestheticism, but rather must act as ‘an insight into the transformed mechanisms of conquest’ (Groys, in Abdullah & Benzer 2011: 86): a conflict over the topology of disobedience which exposes the interrelation of aesthetics and politics through medium, space and archive.
This paper critically assesses attempts in contemporary art to re-appropriate the symbolic dimension of dissidence as an aesthetic; in particular the use of militancy, asceticism and dissidence as an attempt to move beyond mere counter-political protest and towards a reclaiming of aesthetics from the intrusions of politics. It uses as a specific case example Militant Training Camp, a social experimental performance camp held at Arcadia Missa Gallery in London, March 2012. This weeklong performance piece was designed to explore the activity and mind-set of militant groups and the idea of non-pacifist activity within wider social movements. Engaging with not only the tradition of anarchist activism, but also more recent artistic engagements with civil disobedience (such as the Yes Men;; Bike Bloc), the camp involved a residential ascetic ‘training programme’ followed by a series of violent performances open to the public, often disturbing other sites of protest such as Anarchist theatres and Occupy sites in the process.
The paper uses first-hand documentary evidence and critical reflection on the event in order to argue that, as both an act of civil disobedience, and an exploration of the limits of its aesthetic treatment, the event raises two specific issues surrounding the notion of disobedience and its conceptual possibilities. The first issue is the representation of rage within the context of art activism. Here, the performance is discussed with particular reference to Sloterdijk’s arguments that argues that militancy and revolt operate under a ‘thymotic economy’ (2010: 58). However, Sloterdijk’s re-appropriation of the thymotic – a conceptualising of ‘rage’ which is not absorbed within the sublimination of psychology or Habermasian symbolism – is not as simple as offering an alternative, ‘non-symbolic’ rage. Given that modern militancy is always subject to containment (the ‘civility’ of civil disobedience), the second issue raised is the formative role of ‘curating’ acts of disobedience. Using the work of Groys on aesthetics and power, the paper assesses how ‘events’ of civil disobedience such as Militant Training Camp are located, represented, circulated and even stored, and the ways in which they might resist their reduction to or supplementing of a further economy (be it symbolic, banal or simply pious) which conceals the formative ‘rage’ of disobedience.

Keywords:art activism, Artistic Research, Autoethnography, On Civil Disobedience, Philosophy of art and aesthetics, Militancy, Anarchism
Subjects:W Creative Arts and Design > W100 Fine Art
V Historical and Philosophical studies > V500 Philosophy
Divisions:College of Arts > School of Fine & Performing Arts > School of Fine & Performing Arts (Fine Arts)
ID Code:24317
Deposited On:30 Sep 2016 11:07

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