Curatorial Statement

The liberal-capitalist world order that appeared to have cemented itself after 1989 is now in a stage of advanced disintegration. The breakdown of this order reveals the illiberal core of its capitalizing freedoms and forms of property: the violent unfreedom of the propertyless and the readiness of the propertied to use violence. Art, too, turns out to be a site for the negotiations between these violent forces, their limitations and connections. What’s more, the ruin of liberality places the modern institution of “institutionalized art” (veranstaltlichte Kunst, Arnold Hauser) in a deeply questionable light. Taking up the thread of the interventions initiated 100 years ago by Berlin writer Lu Märten, in Illiberal Arts we view art as the result of colonizing enclosures, as a continuation of processes of primary valorization, appropriation, and expropriation of artistic “life-works” that reach far beyond art. At present, forms of life that have been truncated, degraded, and devalued by this curtailment are clearly erupting into art’s constricting horizons. And where they are not immobilised again as mere critical supplements, they lead to the perceptibility, in practice, of an increasing loss of modern art’s form, and extrapolate from it liminal forms of artistic labor and mediation. In this way, the familiar rituals of “institutionalized art,” which are increasingly losing their social legitimacy, turn into expanded sites for the negotiation of (no longer simply) artistic issues in this illiberal present. Illiberal Arts is an attempt at practicing forms of artistic life-work in the midst of this illiberal present.

The practices that are here being placed into relation to one another materialize the illiberalism at the core of modern liberality as a series of ruptures of modern property forms. They are the starting point for a joint labor on the beyond of institutionalized art that follows directly on from contemporary forms. This kind of (life-)work is not merely an attempt at a lived refusal of the special position of art within modernity as an aesthetic pillar of the modern cosmology of incessant capitalization, it also makes a formal break with the fetish made of isolated artistic expression, with its institutionalization as an antisocial realm in which liberal subjectivity is presumed to enjoy absolute freedom. Instead of critically offering alternative forms of reproduction meant to replace the disintegration of our present, or calling up compensatory fictions of aesthetic community within it, the forms of practice gathered together in Illiberal Arts link up with that disintegration. They aim toward anti-identitarian, common horizons, toward collective forms of perception, toward political spontaneity, which emerge from the cracks of crumbling forms of accumulation and are registered. Our intention in Illiberal Arts is not to seek, together with the artists and discussants, a more contemporary confirmation of the liberal reproduction of art, but, starting from their and our concrete forms of dependence and responsibility, to open ourselves up to extra-artistic social forces.

In Keywords, Raymond Williams designated the form of the subject of capitalist liberalism as “possessive individualism.” The freedoms of the subject are a result of those nation-state sanctioned forms of property that brought forth the self-property of the modern bourgeois subject, always anxiously guarded against those excluded from these forms of self-possession or whose participation remains forever systemically gratuitous. It is this “possessive individualism” that made things public or left them private, that demonstrated that the modern subject possesses itself—that it is not owned, that it is not possessed, that it does not remain propertyless. The disintegration of its claim to universality and the violent rear-guard defense of liberal privileges that we are witnessing today also tear the liberal modernities of art to shreds. Our aim is not the production of a critical group exhibition on the topic of illiberal contemporary art, but rather a deformation, which we are initiating together with the invited artists—who work with sound, performance, and language—and with a group of discussants. For Lu Märten, “the whole life-work of a human being” was artistic: that which was artistic had no need to become art. Similarly: that which has become art need not remain it.

Anselm Franke & Kerstin Stakemeier