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Some provisional notes on post-autonomous practice

These notes were occasioned by an invitation by Stefan Beck to look at a wiki discussion of post-autonomous practice that followed a talk he gave within the event "The space for a Post Autonomous Practice" that was organised by David Goldenberg. This event was itself part of a conference held at Tate Britain on Friday 7th and Saturday 8th October 2005.

Since the wiki dived straight into various matters I took a step back and googled "post-autonomous art". At copy-art.net I found an article by David Goldenberg called "Developing a post-autonomous practice" which starts like this:

"I am going to read from an on-going text, which I first delivered at the Museum of Modern art in Arnhem last year. The title for the text think tank for establishing a Post autonomous practice looks at the crisis or emergency in art, and a necessity for the reinvention of something equivalent to art under the umbrella term of Post Autonomous practices."

Before diving deep into this text, I decided to stop here and produce some quick notes. I am sure I will have misunderstood a few things but I need production as a heuristics, otherwise I'd be lost.

Now, my nine provisional notes

(1) (Illusion of) freedom. "Post-autonomous art" seems at first glance a very stupid thing. If 'autonomy' practically means that I conceive myself as a free individual (knowing that I am not), giving myself a licence to act as if I set my own rules, this seems just a necessary step in any individuation. It is the "fuck-off" hurled at parents, institutions, at art history. So why deliberately giving up (as the prefix "post-" suggests) an illusion of freedom which sometimes behaves like actual freedom ?

(2) Vanishing point. It seems that for artists, 'autonomy' has always been nothing but a vanishing point. The artist believing in is or her unbridled autonomy is literally an idiot (check the etymology).

(3) Crisis. I can't see a "crisis or emergency in art", at least not one that wouldn't have been around for as long as I can remember. There is dead art, weak art, obscure art, funny art, desperate art, the death of art, the negation of art, the negation of art as art. Crisis-mongering seems just a way of clamoring for attention, a way of grabbing a discourse by the balls, setting a deliberate rhetorical hiatus. It counts on an audience that will try to identify a novelty in what is being said, worried that it may be missing something important. Insofar as that helps your critical and artistic careers, there is nothing wrong with it. It is an intellectual game.

(4) Names. Why is there "something equivalent to art" that has to be re-invented? Inventions get patented. The thrust of an invention is to set a mark which can be tied to a name, or that of a few (never more than a few), like: "in 2005 Goldenberg, Beck et.al. expanded the concept of Post-autonomous art originally proposed by Michael Lingner (see Wikipedia entry)"—names that can enter the circulation, appreciate the value of their bearers in the market for art and/or critique.

(5) The market. The practice of art and critique in general has two important aspects (not excluding other aspects):

  1. It is (co-)defined by a market (even those practices that do not enter the gallery or museum system, as long as they are aware of its appreciation mechanisms)—a market that has the potential to provide a job for the artist or intellectual, allows them to make a living somehow—I think this is legitimate
  2. It is a space-time environment where one or more people shape some material, learn in the process, enjoy themselves, produce traces, make friends.

A post-autonomous art practice, if it accepts a blending of voices in a wiki, a multitude, or even anonymity, might appear to weaken the position the artist as producer for a market insofar as the central currency (or economic multiplier for product value) in this market is the artist's name. I believe the system will always create the names it needs whenever it wants to appropriate a new movement, concept or -ism, including "post-autonomous practice". The press works the same way. To be manageable, circulation needs to curb the number of names circulated. This need not affect the second aspect.

(6) Co-operation. In my view, the problem is not "autonomy" or "post-autonomy", but how to co-operate on an equal footing without making a mess of it and without falling out. The problem starts when that 'something' should be something other than a dialogue (a discourse) and something other than a design conceived and controlled by one, possibly with dedicated tasks commissioned to others ("built this minimal art sculpture" (20th century), "paint the landscape in the background" (16th century)). I know that some people are good at it, but usually they enlist the help of others to shape a practice in which their authorship is implied by force of the name relation, even if they reject the notion. (For example, the way Wodiczko may consult homeless people. They will remain nameless - it is his name that will be associated with the outcome. Even if he would insist on listing them, they would not enter circulation because circulation rests on resonance - already circulated elsewhere).

(7) Group autonomy. Some people seem to resonate so well that they can build a common art practice. One could say they define a 'group autonomy' which recognises the distribution of strengths and over time builds protocols for shaping joint practices. 'Group autonomy' then rises from an ensembe of individual identification processes that appropriate the results of the practice as "own practice", "our practice".

(8) Community. Another alternative is the community and communication approach where artists turn themselves into instruments for the social and political struggle of the weak, the discriminated, the exploited. (Some even pretend to support the oppressors, the way the yes men assumed the role of WTO representatives.) Of course, this kind of post-autonomy (or call it heteronomy) is quite complex since the artists have to meet both the success criteria of the selected social group and those of the art market in which they, after all, want to reap the rewards.

(9) Disappropriation. Perhaps a truly post-autonomous (and post-heteronomous) practice would mean to let something outside self-resonance (or resonance within a defined group) lead one's hand. To agree to become the medium of something that one cannot (fully) grasp. Automatic writing and concepts that wilfully cede power to extraneous mechanisms (Luke Rhinehardt's dice man) come to mind. In the extreme, post-autonomy is deuteronomy, the "repetition of the law" (sorry to play with words in a not-so-sustainable way here). It means subscribing to, rather than merely tolerating or fighting against, one's own disappropriation. I can imagine to take a perverse pleasure in this.

Update 6 Sep 2009: The (hi)story of a Wikipedia entry

In 2005, I wrote a Wikipedia article on post-autonomous art which has changed little since, apart from some people adding a few more references to examples of P.A. art has been deleted because it was considered 'patent nonsense'. Even those who wanted to keep it referred to it as 'relatively readable article even if the underlying concept is all moonshine'.

The main reason behind the entry was to launch the term in a more visible context, see what references might appear, and witness how the debate might progressively shape the term's meaning.

The one valid reason for deletion from a dictionary perspective might be that the term has not gained sufficient currency to remain included. But 'patent nonsense', 'moonshine'? I had tried hard to make sense, so I admit this is irritating. I think the problem is a lack of knowledge of the avantgarde art context on the side of the editors. You do not have to subscribe to the concept (I do not, for example) to find it still a useful term when discussing art theory. Have a look at the page Wikipedia:Articles for deletion/Post-autonomous art which is obviously difficult to understand without the context of the original article. It still existis on other sites scavenging Wikipedia, but at times in mutilated or badly formatted form, e.g. on wikibin.

Last update: 6 September 2009 | Impressum—Imprint