lines of flight + art + politics


lines of flight + art + politics
  ---- by Adrian Parr
  Understanding the political potential of art has been a concern that goes as far back as the Middle Ages and Renaissance, where political and religious influence often defined the content of art commissions inscribing public space, this being the key concern shaping Richard C. Trexler's Public Life in Renaissance Florence (1980). During the early twentieth century, Bertolt Brecht, Georg Lukás, and Ernst Bloch examined German Expressionism, boldly denouncing the aestheticisation of politics; this was a debate that carried enormous influence for both Theodor Adorno and Walter Benjamin's examination of the industries of culture and their subsequent critique of bourgeois culture. In the latter part of the twentieth century Edward Said, and postcolonial theory in general, insisted in Orientalism (1978) that the representation of colonised people by their colonisers is inherently political: representing an-other's culture not on their own terms but on the basis of what the occupying culture believes is relevant and important. So what might Deleuze contribute to this longstanding discussion concerning the connection between politics and art?
  To begin with, art at its most creative mutates as it experiments, producing new paradigms of subjectivity. What this means is that art has the potential to create the conditions wherein new connections and combinations can be drawn - socially, linguistically, perceptually, economically, conceptually and historically. For example, Antonin Artaud, a favourite of both Deleuze and Guattari, whose animated drawings executed during his confinement in a mental institution, captures a sense of physical and psychic exhaustion, an exhaustion that is intensified by the anarchic language he develops through the combination of colours, words, sounds and forms. Artaud's drawings both document and constitute a process of sensory overload, the lines of which strip away systems of signification. In this way we could use Deleuze and Guattari's concept of a 'line of flight' to consider how Artaud's work prompts us to think differently, to sense anew and be exposed to affects in unpredictable ways. Hence, by generating new percepts and affects, art could be described as an 'affective system' of change.
  When considering the political potential of art, we often look to the way in which certain practices are immanent to the social field and the changes these invoke. A practice that dismantles conventional ways of thinking and acting, or one that stimulates upheaval by loosening up some of the rules and orders that organise individuals and social bodies is inherently political. This prompts two key questions to bubble to the surface. First, how can politics condition art? Second, and more pertinently, how do we gauge the political force of art?
  Art at its most social exposes the desiring production that organises space, using desire in its most productive sense to bring to life the affective dimensionofart.Tothisextent,thelinesofflightemanatingoutofcertainpractices, such as Artaud's, result not so much from what an audience can see but more from what they cannot see. That is to say, the movement of lines between primary points of subjectivity - curator, critic, client, artist, madman and spectator - and signification - exotica, erotica, insanity, consumerism, history and value - can locate the majoritarian lines striating space in order to extract the minoritarian forces immanent to a particular space. The reality of such art work is qualitatively different from art that 'represents the real' or even the real of 'reality TV', as this kind of art is determined neither dialectically nor purely as symbolic gesture. This is an art practice that simply makes the coherency and rigidity of social space leak. In the spirit of Deleuze and Guattari the politics of art exposes the very proposition put forward in A Thousand Plateaus: 'lines of flight are realities; they are very dangerous for societies, although they can get by without them, and sometimes manage to keep them to a minimum' (D&G 1987: 204). From this viewpoint, art functions as a line of flight, traversing individual and collective subjectivities and pushing centralised organisations to the limit; it combines a variety of affects and percepts in ways that conjugate one another.
  In many respects the connective, expansive and deterritorialising character of lines of flight, when considered in terms of art, draws our attention to the ethical dimension of art. Here the question of ethics in relation to art is primarily taken to be a problem of organisation. Art makes possible, it enables us to broaden our horizons and understanding, sensitising us to our own affective dimension in relation to the world as a whole. It is, therefore, no accident that art often becomes the primary target once repression sinks in, usually setting off alarm bells, and warning us that the social sphere is on the verge of becoming fascistic.
  As Deleuze and Guattari insist in A Thousand Plateaus, when desire turns repressive it finds investment in fascistic social organisations; at this point the active lines of flight indicative of the political undercurrents of art are susceptible to blockage. This is not to suggest that art is immune to fascistic investment. It, too, can be turned against itself; that is when art is consumed by the black hole that annihilates the innovative radicality of art. For example, although many of the German Expressionists were exemplified as producers of degenerate art by the German Nazis in the 1937 exhibition, Reflections of Decadence (in Dresden Town Hall), Lukás insisted that the artists in question in fact participated in the selfsame irrational impulses motivating Nazism. In other words, when positive lines of flight are withdrawn or used to prop up the regulative nature of negative lines of flight, what we are left with is an ethical distinction formed between 'the politics of art' or 'the art of politics'. In effect, then, the politics of art comes from how art engages political subjectivity, sustaining an impersonal reality that allows pre-individual singularities to structure and collectively to orient subjectivity. The politics of art survives along the mutative dimensions positive and creative 'lines of flight' expose; it is not fully apparent and still it exists as a 'yet to come'.

The Deleuze dictionary. . 2010.

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