31BSP - Sarau Moinho Vivo
31st Bienal de Sao Paulo – Sarau Moinho Vivo. Vermelhão – Favela do Moinho. After three months of renovating the Favela do Moinho football field area, one of the biggest public spaces in the favela, Comboio and Moinho Vivo’s movements invite everyone to the inauguration. Favela do Moinho, Sao Paulo. 06/12/2014. © Pedro Ivo Trasferetti / Fundação Bienal de São Paulo.

For a Politics of Counterpimping1

Rodrigo Nunes

The way in which this article relates to a discussion on the publicness of art is partial in two senses. First, because it does not try to account for the problem of the publicness of art as a whole, but approaches it via a very specific angle: the tendency, observed in artistic, curatorial and institutional practices in the last decade, to implicate themselves in political issues; what could be called “contemporary art activism”2. Second, because it asks about the relations that this kind of initiative can have with the publics or constituencies directly mobilised by the political and social issues dealt with in each case. That is, it is primarily interested in the interface between this kind of practice and those for whom the political processes in question are directly at stake – those who find themselves implicated in them by virtue of some individual or collective investment (interest, desire, empathy, solidarity, and so on). What matters here then is not the virtual unity of something that could be named in the singular (the public), but the way in which art might intervene in those situations in which this unity already finds itself fractured: when a certain social or political issue has already constituted or is in the process of constituting a particular public as a part in tension with the virtual totality that “public discourse” inevitably presupposes.

We could then say that it is the relation to “counterpublics”3 that concerns us here. It is true, as Michael Warner points out, that counterpublics tend to constitute themselves according to the same requisites of indefinite extensibility of a discourse’s reach and circulation (the idea that anyone could, in principle, belong in a debate) characteristic of public discourse in general. Choosing to discuss plural counterpublics over a singular public in general is therefore no knee-jerk gesture of privileging the particular over the universal, but derives from a position regarding the role that art should play when intervening in a social or political process. This, I believe, is not the supposedly neutral position of a mediating channel between counterpublic and public through which the visibility and audibility of the former would be enhanced. Rather than talking to the public about the counterpublic, the most politically relevant role that art can play involves a commitment to enhancing the counterpublic’s capacity to speak for itself and to act on its own conditions of existence and speech so as to transform them. That would be another sense in which this text is partial, and doubly so: it sides with taking sides, it is partial towards partiality. Yet making that commitment is not a possibility that exists in abstract, but one that can increase or decrease depending on material conditions. For that reason, thinking about the capacity that fields like art and academia might have to commit themselves necessarily involves thinking about the capacity to transform material conditions in those very fields, which in turn requires rendering those conditions visible and problematizing them through public, open debate among practitioners in those fields.

While this evidently does not establish a standard with which to measure all artistic work, it raises questions that one expects would be asked of any art wishing to call itself political. To state the problem bluntly: when one adds political to art, does the result require further criteria of judgment, or is political art to be judged by the same criteria as art from which it would follow that the qualifier adds nothing of importance to what it qualifies? The full implications of the discussion proposed here become apparent: it calls for an expansion of the criteria according to which political art is to be judged. And if this expansion can no doubt be situated on one side of the hoary commitment/autonomy debate – in the lineage that, from Brecht and Benjamin down to names like Glauber Rocha and Jean-Luc Godard, turns the question of political art into that of doing art politically – we must not fail to note how, as I expect to show, it undercuts that debate at the same time.4

Intervention, Mediation, Transduction

The rapprochement between artists, curators and institutions with social and political processes is, to state the obvious, undoubtedly very ambiguous.5 On the one hand, they offer social and cultural capital, visibility and institutional support to investigations into phenomena of exploitation, oppression, violence, exclusion and/or differential inclusion to the practices of resistance that counter them; and, if not as often as one would expect, to the actors directly engaged in those processes. In so doing, these initiatives inscribe themselves in a long lineage of historical demands and experiences of both social movements and the 20th-century avant-gardes for the politicization of what normally goes unquestioned and the elimination of the borders between art and life. On the other hand, the risk is always great that, instead of a real opening “towards the other as living presence” and to real political stakes, these experiments will result in little more than a superficial, tokenistic appropriation of signifiers of alterity and a varnish of social responsibility.6 That is, that they will be no more than exercises in what Suely Rolnik has called “pimping”, in which historical referents and ongoing social processes are instrumentalized with a view to extracting a quantum of authenticity that will advance careers, produce value out of the creation of “new trends”, figure in reports that attest to the good functioning of governance mechanisms, and legitimize institutions and their sponsors.

Let us give this kind of initiative the generic name intervention. These interventions are practices of mediation: they exist to the extent that political processes and institutions (galleries, museums and academia, but also media, funders, etc.) encounter each other from the perspective of differences that they must negotiate. That encounter requires mediators, who might come “from below” (arriving at the institution as a consequence of the process’ own development) or “from above” (seeking to connect the institutional spaces to which they have access to the process in question). To say this implies no value judgment: no dismissal of mediation in the name of an ideal of total immediacy, nor an a priori discrimination between mediation “from below” as “good” and mediation “from above” as “bad”. “Mediation” is precisely not understood here as a situation in which a mediator (artist, curator, academic) places himself as the representative or spokesperson of a counterpublic in the face of the general public; that would be only a weak, unproductive example of mediation – to borrow Gilbert Simondon’s terminology, merely a rapport and not a veritable relation. Strong instances of mediation, whose conditions of possibility we are interested in here, would be those in which the relation that takes place is of the order of what Simondon calls transduction: not an “arbitrary, fortuitous”7 encounter between two terms, which remain the same when their contact comes to an end, but a relation in which something real occurs between them, (re)constituting both. The “veritable mediation”8 would thus be a relation between two relations: an operation through which a reciprocity is established between a transformation taking place on one side and a transformation taking place on the other.9

Thus understood, mediation not only ceases to have a necessarily negative connotation (a bad mediation is only a poor case of the veritable mediation through which novelty is produced), it becomes generalized (there is mediation everywhere, which makes “opposing” it a meaningless gesture). Good mediations can exist; the problem, then, is to work out how. What is at stake here, therefore, is thinking the criteria according to which the position of mediator might be well occupied, even that “from above” – on which this article will focus, given that the public it addresses is primarily in the arts.

In order to do so, it is necessary to avoid two extremes: an idealism that denounces all mediation as recuperation (thus rejecting any possibility of intervention) and a cynicism that reduces everything to the same level of cooptation (exempting itself from thinking how an intervention could be more). It is not a matter of denying that there is always an element of capture in every mediation. The mistake common to both extremes, however, lies in treating capture as a matter of all or nothing rather than something that comes in degrees - a zero-sum instead of, at least potentially, a positive-sum game. In so doing, they close the space in which the real problem could be posed: how to ensure that what exceeds capture will be stronger than the centripetal pull of the capturing force.

The secret of the resilience of the relations that envelop us lies in the fact that social reproduction as a whole, and therefore also our own reproduction as individuals, is for the most part dependent on the reproduction of these relations: the need to survive through capitalistic relations compels us to participate in capitalism, and so forth (paraphrasing Hamlet, ‘paying the rent doth make capitalists of us all’). If we recognize that for as long as we reproduce ourselves under present conditions (economic, social, political, interpersonal) we will be to some extent implicated in their reproduction, we are in a position to start discussing – collectively, publicly – how much we reproduce them in what we do, how to reproduce them as little as possible, to what extent what we are doing can serve to transform them as we go along. The cynic for whom everything is cooptation avoids the question of how an intervention could do more than reproduce existing conditions, producing or strengthening those conditions that could problematize or strain the ones that exist. The idealist, in turn, can only take on the purity of an external viewpoint by disavowing his own inherent involvement in the reproduction of existing relations, and thus the fact that his own position – the one he actually occupies, not the imaginary one from which he speaks – would demand thinking in terms of “more or less” rather than “all or nothing”.

“Counterpimping”, therefore, must not be understood merely as “anti-pimping”; the prefix “counter-” in it is closer to counterespionage or contraband. Since the situations that counterpimping deals with are all set in the “murky sites of the encounter” between “the positions once referred to as “Insider” [and] “Outsider”10, they start from the idea that some degree of capture is always necessarily a part of the interventions it examines – as much as some potential for going beyond mere pimping. Thus, rather than establishing absolute oppositions or seeking to preserve purity from contamination, it deals with matters of measure, it is an “art of dosages”11 whose purpose is to find solutions that can strengthen transformation over reproduction. Not a matter of good and evil, but better or worse. Given that these encounters exist and are, in a certain way, necessary – potentially useful for political processes and often sought after by institutions – , the issue becomes a pragmatic one: how to establish transversal relations where the composition between the two sides serves to transform them, increasing the power to act in both?

Politics: Micro and Macro

The position from which such a debate would be possible is thus one that acknowledges both the dangers and the potentials of this kind of intervention. To explore these potentials in practice – the only way to really answer the questions that counterpimping poses – necessarily involves an evaluation of the risks and how they act on us. It is only if we identify what there is “here and now, that implies a threat of cooptation”, that we can inquire into the “devices that oppose the micropolitics of cooptation” that we need to establish.12

To pose the problem in terms of micropolitics presupposes that the threat is something that is already active in our desire: a force whose pull we already feel and of which we are called to become conscious. To talk of “devices”, on the other hand, implies that what resists this capture must be strengthened by means of deliberate collective constructions. In the same way that the force of capture is not in our desires without also being maintained and reinforced by the macropolitical arrangements that envelop us (institutional, economic, social), to resist it micropolitically necessarily involves constituting the macropolitical arrangements that can cancel its pull.13 Three questions follow from that: how to ensure that the interventions in which we take on the role of mediators reproduce as little as possible the micropolitics of cooptation? How to ensure that they reproduce as little as possible the macropolitical conditions that produce that micropolitics of cooptation? How to ensure that they produce and/or strengthen macropolitical conditions that reinforce and give consistency to a micropolitics that resists cooptation?

In order to start to answer these questions, the first thing to acknowledge is that, in the kind of intervention we are dealing with here, mediators will always be – at best (that is, if they have not embraced cynicism completely) – playing a double game, wearing two hats. On the one hand, as allies or participants in a political process; on the other, as practitioners in the field with which the process is brought in connection (art, academia, etc.). What are then the structural conditions in these fields – of what we could call “creative immaterial labour” – and what affects do they have on those who are within it? What kind of micropolitical pull do they exercise?

Creative immaterial labor is characterized by an excess of productive activity over “labor” in the strict sense; the latter is only a fraction of production time, that “indissoluble unity of remunerated life and non-remunerated life, labor and non-labor, emerged social cooperation and submerged social cooperation”14. “Real work”, in an eminently networked and increasingly precarious laboring reality, tends to be no more than the temporary mobilization, condensation and reconfiguration, as a result of an input of financial resources, of the networks that immaterial workers are constantly constituting and maintaining.15 True “activity” – a veritable “non-stop inertia”16 – consists above all in the production and circulation of social capital and effects (relations of trust, friendship, respect, recognition, ‘cool’, etc.) networking and the administration of a personal brand as the cultivation of a potential that can every so often be actualized in the form of remunerated work. The “chronic instability”17, the progressive colonization of life by “production”, the blurring of the boundaries between labor and leisure – everything contributes to the internalization of an “entrepreneur of oneself” ethos and of a system of negative and positive incentives that selects behaviors indicating availability, flexibility and the capacity to “play the game” against everything that can count as questioning, “rocking the boat”, “biting the hand that feeds”… Add to that the promise of high rewards associated with an elusive success18 and the glamorization of the “creative lifestyle” (not coincidentally one of the key models of the good life in our time), and we can understand the reason for an irony somewhat under-remarked on in the literature on post-Fordism. If, on the one hand, creative immaterial labor objectively manifests the greatest potential for collaborative self-organization (the “potential for a kind of spontaneous and elementary communism”19), it is, on the other hand, the one in which the subjective appeal of “pimping” is the strongest.

This entails that, when politics is brought into the rarefied spaces of art and academia, mediators usually find themselves at once under a strong micropolitical pull to instrumentalize the intervention in order to build their own personal brand (open doors, gain visibility, strengthen relations…) and to minimize the risks that the mediation could bring to the institution (having its limits exposed, being accused of taking sides, having the critical impetus of the process turned against itself, running into trouble with partners and sponsors…). In one case as in the other, it is politics that tends to end up on the losing side: neutralized, “represented” (reduced to the outer shell of its signifiers of otherness, separated from its effects and protagonists), “aestheticized” (if by that we understand subtracted from all ordinary functionality and circulation, transformed into an object of contemplation).20

I know of no pithier and more apposite description of this phenomenon than Brian Holmes’ “liar’s poker” metaphor in which the essential bluff is, on the one hand, to present the most convincing simulacrum of the incorporation of politics in one’s own work without, on the other, doing it (ostensibly) for real, so as not to scare public, peers and funders off.

[I]n both cases the artist has to bluff his way through, either claiming political engagement to live like a king inside the white cube, or hiding it to siphon off money, resources and publicity for use by a social movement. Occasionally, when the lie is too grotesque, the public will call the bluff; and then the artist has to give up some cultural capital. Even more rarely, it turns out that the artist is really involved in a social movement, in which case he or she is soon fated to disappear from the museum.”21

It is always possible for a mediator to resist the lure of pimping to some extent – by virtue of the strength of their commitment, a favorable opportunity, the sheer power of interpellation of a political process, or the networks of support that sustain for them identities other than “artist”, “curator”, etc. Ultimately, however, it is the link between material conditions of existence and desire that must be targeted. Strengthening the capacity to resist requires investing desire into transforming those conditions, so that their transformation will in turn enable other investments of desire. Failing to invest in the construction of concrete, durable alternatives will always find us back at square one, each individual facing the world in the position of an atom in direct competition with everyone else. And since those alternatives must by definition be collective, that investment must itself be collective, which is why counterpimping requires open public debate, neither cynical nor moralizing. The wager behind such a debate is that it is possible, from within existing conditions, to enlarge the space available for mediations that are two-way relations: transductive processes in which an intervention contributes to a political process outside the institution at the same time as it contributes to transforming the field in which the institution is placed. A “relation between two relations”, such an intervention’s impact on the field would be at once an unlearning (a conscious problematization of what we normally take for granted as “the way things are done”) and a learning how to do things differently (creating conditions for other doings in the future).

It was in order to think the possibility of such two-way relations that Walter Benjamin borrowed the Brechtian concept of Umfunktionierung – the “refunctioning” expressed in the imperative, “do not simply transmit the apparatus of production without simultaneously changing it to the maximum extent”22. Since “the bourgeois apparatus of production”, of which art and academia are part, “can assimilate an astonishing number of revolutionary themes, and can even propagate them without seriously placing its own existence … into question”23, doing politics cannot be reduced to communicating political content. An intervention is not only what it does, but also how it does it – what it reproduces, what it transforms, or the extent to which it does each. As Benjamin puts it, it is not merely a matter of how an intervention stands, through its explicit discourse, in relation to the politics and relations of production of its time, but how it stands in them – that is, how it intervenes in the world and what it does in relation to its own conditions of existence.24 The point is not to speak of politics, but to politicize the very means through which it is possible to speak, which includes placing the very condition of mediator, and the inequalities that produce and maintain it, in question. If the conditions in which we reproduce ourselves ordinarily are what sustains the force of attraction that is capable of mobilizing even our desire for social transformation in favor of its own pimping, it follows that our own reproduction, like social reproduction as a whole, must be made into an object for the collective effort of giving shape to the desire for transformation.

Orienting Oneself in Practice

How does this position undercut the commitment/autonomy debate, as suggested in the introduction? It does so to the extent that it considers the artwork as more than an object of contemplation: as a node in a network of relations that surround its making, circulation, etc., rather than just something that exists for a consciousness. It is clearly in terms of impact on an individual consciousness that Adorno understands the effect of an artwork, so that when he speaks of “social effects of art”25, this can only mean an aggregate of impacted individuals and not a series of practical outcomes in the world. This is why the artwork can be judged according to aesthetic criteria (what it is) and, given that “political falsehood stains the aesthetic form”26, according to its politics (what it is about); but, since it is conceived as doing no more than conveying something to a consciousness, what it does is perfectly reducible to what it is: ultimately, its formal dimension. From which it can follow that “[i]t is not the office of art to spotlight alternatives, but to resist by its form alone the course of the world”27, and no “committed art” can be as powerful as those works that respond to “the abstraction of the law which objectively dominates society” with an abstraction verging on “total dislocation, … worldlessness”28. For what is presupposed in the opposition between “spotlighting alternatives” (that is, showing them) and “[arousing] the fear that existentialism merely talks about”29, if not the reduction of “what an artwork does” to “what effects an object of contemplation has on consciousness?”.

31BSP - Obras
31st Bienal de Sao Paulo – Artworks. Untitled installation of Comboio Project and the Moinho Vivo Movement. Photo documentation of the works on display at the 31st Bienal. Sao Paulo, 11/11/2014. © Leo Eloy / Fundação Bienal de São Paulo.

What is missing from this picture is the possibility of judging political art not only for what it is, and hence what it does as an object of aesthetic contemplation, but also for what it does as politics. Not only what it is and what it is about, but how it makes itself into a medium through which political consequences are produced (its practical, non-contemplative effects).30 We can illustrate this problem of criteria with an example chosen relatively arbitrarily from the debates surrounding the 2014 São Paulo Biennial. Criticizing the inclusion of placards from protests organized by the Favela do Moinho community in the exhibition for having “no relevance outside their context”, “not being aesthetic elaborations” and being there “not because of their individual power, but out of condescendence and ideological affinity”31, – a reviewer entirely missed the fact that what he saw was precisely not the work. The “real” work was Grupo Comboio’s two-year involvement with the Moinho community, of which the placards were only a (admittedly weak) visual representation inside the exhibition space. The blindspot of the criticism is revealing: when it looks at proposals that “attempt to leave the circuit of contemporary art”, it sees only poor results; but what it sees is only what the circuit of contemporary art manages to represent of those proposals, while what is most important about them, but takes place elsewhere, remains invisible to the critic. Thus, everything that was interesting about the experience falls by the wayside, including the more strictly aesthetic questions it raises; for example, regarding the translation of this kind of work into the exhibition space, and even the possible validity of choosing a weak visual representation of it as a way to problematize the inevitable poverty of that translation.

What follows are some ideas that could function at once as contributions to a discussion on what such additional criteria of judgment could be, and as principles or maxims that might offer mediators some useful orientation in practice. In no way aspiring to being exhaustive or universally and absolutely valid for all situations, they stand here as a preliminary effort in mapping what the terrain of what a politics of counterpimping might be.

a) An intervention must be governed by a stake
When even the disruptive procedures of Situationism and Actionism can be incorporated into the repertoire of publicity, and even the most contestatory political movements can be recuperated by marketing or integrated into governance mechanisms, it becomes more and more difficult to identify rupture with isolated gestures. We live in an age of the tactical polyvalence of gestures32 and of the neutralizing representability of politics. The reference to Benjamin is ironic, but not arbitrary. If technical reproducibility stripped the artwork of the auratic element that arose from its original relation to ritual – that is, to a supplement that implicated it in a living process of production of sense33 – , the neutralizing representability of politics relies on detaching gestures, words, images and even people from the processes in which they are implicated, isolating them from the frames of reference and vectors that give them meaning and directionality, and often separating them from their protagonists. What results, then, is “political content without political consequence”34: representing politics rather than doing it.

So that an intervention can retain its relation to that supplement, it is necessary for it to be traversed by a stake. The stake is a vector that, originating in the political process in question, comes from outside the institution and points beyond it, so that the passage through the institution is only one moment in its temporal unfolding and a tactical move in its strategic development. What is at stake for the political process must therefore be what determines the nature of the intervention (its content, form/format, relation to the institution, terms of engagement) in the last instance. “Determination in the last instance” in no way necessarily entails “simplistic”, “tendentious” or “pamphleteering” results. On the contrary, balancing the stake that governs it with all the other factors that overdetermine it is a key quality for an artwork to have.

From this it follows that, in the double game that the mediator plays with her “two hats on”, it should always fall to the “outsider” perspective (process) the initiative in posing problems that the “insider” perspective (institution) must solve. That does not mean that the only politics there could be in an academic or art institution is the one coming from outside it; on the contrary, as sites for refunctioning, they must be thought according to their own politics too. In general, however, the friction that their contact with an ongoing political process generates tends to be the best analyzer of micro- and macropolitical blockages within them, shedding light on what can and should be transformed.35

b) The definition and pursuit of the stake in an intervention requires the temporality of involvement
“Involvement” gives another meaning to inter-venire: no longer “to come in-between two”, but “to come in the middle” – in the middle, in this case, of a political process. The intervention, if it carries a stake, is at once partially produced by the process that envelops it and feeds back into it. As such, it is a point on a larger continuum that elicits it on the one end (marks the empty space it must occupy or the blockage it must lift) and surpasses it on the other (intervening is not an end in itself, but a way of producing new coordinates, of transforming the situation). The very distinction between subject and object of an intervention, or between intervention and process, is somewhat dissolved therein. In this regard, the stake is also a temporal vector.

What this demands is a complex play between listening and acting, or what the Zapatistas know by the motto mandar obedeciendo (“to lead by obeying”). A non-involved intervention is external, unilateral, “hit and run”. It does not constitute itself out of a stake; it is based on a purely speculative “interest” in an issue, a “hunch” not grounded in any attempt at comprehending the situation from inside, a “feeling” not committed to sustaining the intervention’s eventual outcomes. By contrast, an involved intervention is never autonomous as such, and only in special circumstances does it consist in an isolated gesture. Its medium is time, and, in the majority of cases, it depends on a temporality whose materiality is all too easily forgotten. To involve a community or (counter)constituency is a slow work that demands building relationships over time, composing desires and interests, cultivating mutual trust. Making an issue manifest or identifying a stake and its implications requires a patient collective labor of analysis. To produce effects, finally, has as much to do with the intervention itself as it does with the material forms of its conservation, communication and circulation: who it addresses, how it gets to its addressees and involves them, what structures will eventually have to be implemented so that its consequences can be pursued.

“Being political” is not simply a function of the issue or the political process implicated in an intervention, but depends on the relations that it is capable of creating and the measures that it institutes in order to give consistency and durability to the effects that it produces.

c) Visibility is not an end in itself
The centrality of the stake does not mean that each and every aspect of an intervention must be overdetermined by a calculation of results to be obtained, leaving no room for the contingent and the unexpected. On the contrary: responding to a stake requires the creation of spaces that are productive enough to absorb the accidents that may happen. On the other hand, subordinating the intervention to the vector of a stake serves as inoculation against certain automatisms, of which the fetish of visibility is a primary example.

The most customary justification given for mediations between social processes and art or academic institutions is that these “give visibility” to the former. Yet it must be asked: who exactly benefits from that visibility? What kind of visibility is necessary, for whom, for what? Visibility is not a value in itself. It only is so, in fact, in areas such as neoliberal governance, which finds legitimacy in creating simulacra of participation, and cultural production, which functions under the structural imperative to interact, to be seen, to be remembered. For a political process, the usefulness of visibility is restricted if there is no effort to extract consequences from it. Giving political consequences to visibilization is very different from turning political struggle into “an object of contemplative pleasure” and “an article of consumption”, extracting from it “new effects… in order to amuse the public”36.

d) The conditions of production of an intervention are part of the work itself
This statement can be understood in two ways. Firstly, that an intervention of the kind we are discussing here should, as much as possible, make its making visible – openly thematize and address the conditions (economic, political, institutional etc.) under which it becomes what it is in that particular case. This making visible fulfils an evident pedagogic function: revealing the imprints left by those conditions on the outcome, it exposes what is usually erased in the final product, and includes the social forces that shape the work as part of its content.

Only rendering visible is nonetheless not sufficient, which takes us to the second sense in which the statement can be understood.

An intervention must be thought not contemplatively – as that which represents a certain content or makes it transmissible to other consciousnesses – , but in materialistic and performative terms. Every material that composes it may in principle be made expressive of the politics that it embodies, and politics can be put to work on each aspect of it, not as a showing, but as a doing that effectively acts back upon its conditions in order to transform them. That consideration can be generalized to everything from the use of resources (more money going into the building of permanent collective infrastructure than creating a temporary exhibition) to the division of labor (breaking down the barriers between mediators and constituency), all the way to the external relations that the interventions generate (which should not be centralized on the mediators so that the constituency can access them independently).

A political intervention must foster forms of subjectivation that can oppose the dominant trends of subjectivation in our society; but rather than exhaust itself in merely experimenting with these, it must seek to establish or strengthen the macropolitical conditions that are necessary for their expression and consistency. It must, in short, leave an organizational surplus or remainder behind: new relations, new skills, infrastructure, etc. that are, as much as possible, an object of collective appropriation. That goes for the contributions that it can make to the political process in which it intervenes as well as for the institutions or the professional field in which it takes place.

e) One must resist the impulse to author and the heroic pathos
Authoring is a micropolitical impulse structurally sustained by the need to accumulate social capital in which creative immaterial workers permanently find themselves. In a sense, the heroic pathos is its equivalent in politics: the desire to “own” a process, to associate one’s name with it indelibly; to add something “remarkable” or “unforgettable” to it, to stamp it with the mark of one’s own protagonism.

To the narcissistic delusion of “having the last word” and the urge for instant gratification, counterpimping opposes the valorization of the “unglamorous tasks”37 that, more than booming statements or coups de theatre, contribute to create and give consistency to the political effects of an intervention. To the dramatic flashes of grand gestures, it opposes the patient temporality of the process, in which what matters is what contributes to its development. To private appropriation, it opposes the building of a common that is not uninterested, but grounded in an interest that is not individual, but common.

It is evident that any political action is always exposed to the uncertain calculations of “seizing the moment” (kairós, virtù). For that reason, there will always be room for the intensification of antagonism and open conflict. Resisting the heroic pathos does not mean avoiding these moments at all costs, but considering them with three things in mind. First, that the stake must have the last word about whether to engage in them or not. Second, that the value of an intervention is measured by its lasting consequences rather than any punctual impact, however spectacular this may be; and if of course nothing prevents a spectacular impact from having lasting consequences, nothing guarantees it either. Third, that the appeal to heroism is itself a symptom of the present aestheticization of politics: an overvaluing of the superficial effects that produce the semblance of a “Great Night”38 in detriment of the work of the “small mornings”; a glorification of the leader/author (even when it remains anonymous) over the modest organizer/participant.

There is an aestheticization of politics that is proper to aesthetics, which turns politics into an object of consumption for the field of art, with no regard as to the ends and stakes of politics itself; and there is an aestheticization of politics that is proper to politics, which values gestures over consequences. Counterpimping should oppose them both.

1 A first draft of this text was presented at the Radical Education conference, Moderna Galerija, Ljubljana, November 2009. I am grateful to Bojana Piškur e Gašper Kralj, curators of that event, for providing me with the occasion to write it; to Janna Graham, Susan Kelly, Valeria Graziano, and Francesco Salvini, among others, for the debates that informed its writing and followed its presentation; and to Jessica Gogan and Luiz Guilherme Vergara, for the invitation that led me to pulling it out of the drawer after so long and revising it for publication.

2 See Boris Groys, “On Art Activism”, e-flux 56 (2014). See also the reply by Jens Kastner, “Art and Activism (Against Groys)”, EIPCP blog.

3 Michael Warner. “Publics and Counterpublics (Abbreviated Version)”, Quarterly Journal of Speech, 88/4 (2002): 413-425.

4 In Brazil, the commitment/autonomy debate has been rekindled recently as a consequence of the controversies surrounding the 2014 São Paulo Biennial. I will pick up on one of the threads of that conversation in the conclusion.

5 Among the analyses of this drift, from the “pedagogical turn” to more recent discussion on “social practice art”, one could mention: Paul O’Neill and Mick Wilson (eds.), Curating and the Educational Turn (London: Occasional Table, 2010); Pablo Helguera. Education for Socially Engaged Art (New York: Jorge Pinto Books, 2011); André Mesquita, Insurgências Poéticas. Arte Ativista e Ação Coletiva (São Paulo: Annablume, 2011); Claire Bishop, Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship (New York: Verso, 2012); Nato Thompson (ed.), Living as Form: Socially Engaged Art From 1991-2011 (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2012).

6 Suely Rolnik “Geopolitics of Pimping”, Tranversal (2006).

7 Gilbert Simondon, L’Individuation à la Lumière des Notions de Forme et d’Information (Grenoble: Jerôme Millon, 2005), 68.

8 Ibid., 46.

9 Ibid., 83-4. “Between two relations”, for Simondon, means that the relation between the two individuals mediates the relation that each individual has to its pre-individual, yet-to-be-individuated charge.

10 The Committee For Radical Diplomacy, “Radical Diplomacy”, Vocabulaboratories, ed. Paz Rojo e Manuela Zechner (Amsterdam: Lisa Stichting, 2008), 100.

11 Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Mille Plateaux (Paris: Minuit, 2003), 198.

12 Félix Guattari and Suely Rolnik. Molecular Revolution in Brazil, trans. Karel Clapshow, Brian Holmes and Rodrigo Nunes (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e)/MIT Press, 2008), 218.

13 As Guattari says elsewhere: “The last thing I would want to bring up here (…) is that [microfascism] can receive an individual solution”. Félix Guattari, “Molecular Revolutions”, Chaosophy. Texts and interviews, 1972-1977, trans. David L. Sweet, Jarred Becker and Taylor Adkins (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2009), 280.

14 Paolo Virno, A Grammar of the Multitude. For an Analysis of Contemporary Forms of Life, trans. Isabella Bertoletti, James Cascaito, Andrea Casson (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2004), 104.

15 See Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello, The New Spirit of Capitalism, trans. Gregory Elliot (London, England: Verso, 2005); Maurizio Lazzarato, “Immaterial Labour”, trans. Paul Colilli and Ed Emery, Radical Thought in Italy, ed. Paolo Virno and Michael Hardt (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996), 132-146. Although Lazzarato has criticized Boltanski e Chiapello’s concept of artistic critique, his original descriptions of immaterial labor, especially in what regards its reticular structure, are very close to the “projective city” described by the other too. See Maurizio Lazzarato, “Les Malheurs de la ‘Critique Artistique’ et de l’Emploi Culturel”, Tranversal (2007). The situation in academia is somewhat different, although the tendency observed in the United States and Europe nowadays points towards a greater convergence between academia and art – not because of an increased circulation of individuals between the two worlds, although that is also the case, but because of the increasing precarisation of academic labor. See, for example, Marc Bousquet and Cary Nelson, How the University Works: Higher Education and the Low-wage Nation (Nova Iorque: New York University Press, 2008).

16 Ivor Southwood, Non-Stop Inertia (Ropley: Zero, 2011).

17 Virno, A Grammar of the Multitude, 87.

18 Paraphrasing Marcel Duchamp, creative immaterial workers of all times are “like gamblers in Monte Carlo”. See the letter to Jean Crotti, August 17 1952, cited in Dalia Judovitz, Unpacking Duchamp. Art in Transit (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), 182.

19 Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001), 294. Since this is the kind of laboring activity in which workers tendentially already own the means of production (not only fixed capital such as computers, mobile phones and internet connections, but also communicative and affective capacities, symbolic codes, and so on) and in which communication is “completely immanent to the laboring activity itself”, the figure of the capitalist, whose function would be to shoulder the investment in fixed capital and to organize the process of production, would theoretically tend to become superfluous and parasitical. As I have argued elsewhere, both the generalisability of these characteristics beyond creative immaterial labor and the political potentials they are expected to have are questionable. See Rodrigo Nunes, “‘Forward How? Forward Where?’: (Post-)Operaismo Beyond the Immaterial Labour Thesis”, ephemera. Theory & Politics in Organization, 7(1) (2007): 178-202.

20 This would be the second of the two senses of “aestheticisation” considered by Groys when he situates “contemporary art activism” in the intersection between an aestheticising tradition originating in design (whose purpose is “to change reality, the status quo—it wants to improve reality”) and another, “much more radical and revolutionary”, coming from modern art (which “accepts the status quo as dysfunctional, as already failed—that is, from the revolutionary, or even postrevolutionary, perspective”). There is a great ambiguity in this analysis arising, first of all, from the slippery reference to a “status quo” that appears now as the present remains of what a revolutionary process has consigned to the past (the Ancien Régime for revolutionary France), now as an ongoing historical process (modernization for the fascist Marinetti), now as a state political project to be built (socialism for the Russian avant-garde). It is evident that accepting them as “dysfunctional” and “failed” implies very different things in each case. Secondly, Groys seems to assume that the only thing art can defunctionalize through aestheticisation is the status quo itself (understood mainly in the second of the above senses), not, as I suggest here, those movements and forces that contest it internally. This second possibility indicates, finally, that Groys makes too hasty an association between aestheticisation as defunctionalization and the “post-revolutionary” perspective. See Groys, “On Art Activism”.

21 Brian Holmes, “Liar’s Poker”, Unleashing the Collective Phantoms. Essays in Reverse Imagineering (New York: Autonomedia, 2008), 85.

22 Walter Benjamin, “The Artist as Producer”, trans. John Heckman, New Left Review 62 (1970): 89. (Notice the language implying measures and dosages: ‘the maximum extent.’) If I omit the telos of transformation set by Benjamin in the original sentence (which concludes with ‘… in the direction of socialism’), it is for two reasons. Firstly, the concrete content (and even the name) that Benjamin or anyone else might ascribe to that telos are outside of the scope of this discussion. In any case, the notion of Umfunktionierung has sufficient logical independence so as to allow itself to be associated with a range of different such names and concrete contents. Secondly, because the telos cannot fully pre-exist the movement of Umfunktionierung itself: even if it is not difficult to see some of the things the latter involves (greater productive autonomy through self-organisation, less dependence on market mechanisms and finance in particular), the direction that it points towards can only become more determinate the more one travels it.

23 Ibid, 90.

24 Ibid, 85.

25 Theodor Adorno, “On Commitment”, trans. Francis McDonagh, Aesthetics and Politics (London: Verso, 1980), 185.

26 Ibid., 186.

27 Ibid., 180.

28 Ibid., 190-191.

29 Ibid., 191.

30 It was once pointed out to me that this could seem to support the sort of practice where the most innocuous or empty attempts at pedagogic programs or constituency work are tacked onto exhibitions or artworks as afterthoughts. But the question is precisely that the political quality of what “comes attached” must be judged as part of the work – so that, if it is empty, innocuous or tokenistic, this counts as an intrinsic, not an extraneous defect. The question is not that there should always be some politics with art, but that what counts as good political art should include both good art and good politics.

31 Tiago Mesquita, “Megaexposições, Adesão e Figuração”, Blog do IMS, October 28 (2014).

32 See the ‘tactical polyvalence of discourses’ in Michel Foucault, Histoire de la Sexualité I. La Volonté de Savoir (Paris: Gallimard, 2001), 132-5.

33 Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”, Illuminations (London: Pimlico, 1999), 217.

34 Janna Graham, “Between a Pedagogical Turn and a Hard Place”, Curating and the Educational Turn, 127.

35 “Analyser” [analyseur] is a term taken from institutional analysis, originally introduced by Horace Torrubia and widely employed by the likes of Ferdinand Oury, Félix Guattari and Georges Lapassade. René Lourau defines it as “social phenomena … that produce, through their very action (and not through the application of whatever science), an analysis of the situation”. René Lourau, L’Analyseur Lip, (Paris: UGE, 1974), 13.

36 Benjamin, “The Artist As Producer”, 90, 92.

37 Nora Sternfeld, “Unglamourous Tasks: What Can Education Learn from Its Political Traditions?”, e-flux 14 (2010).

38 It is curious that the millenarian image of the Grand Soir, according to Tournier’s study of its use in French political literature, evolves in the direction of the same defunctionalization that marks the artistic aesthecisation of politics according in Groys’ scheme—“[i]ts fire … no longer the symbol of faith in justice, but the image in itself of negation”, of “pure revolt”. Maurice Tournier, “‘Le Grand Soir’ un Mythe de Fin de Siècle”, Mots, 19 (1989): 85.