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Art Strike Ideas and Their Application Today (report on the Art Strike Conference and post discussions) Print
Written by Redas Diržys   
Wednesday, 24 December 2008 12:00
The report is based on the materials of the Art Strike Conference held in southern Lithuanian town Alytus in June 27-29th, 2008. The group did not adopted any concrete resolution neither during the meeting nor after it. Therefore I take responsibility to make some very personal overview of the ideas proposed (with some even more personalized commentaries included) which could lead to the better understanding of the controversial approach towards the topic. Many of the ideas presented at the conference I find out of crucial importance while trying to start a real campaign against real construction of cultural capitalism – the particular case of boycotting the EU initiative of sequence of Capitals of Culture which are intending to turn Lithuanian capital city Vilnius into it next year. So far the critical thought in contemporary capitalist Lithuania is very week there was invited international group of people experienced and/or willing to contemplate on the subject.
The earliest use of the term “art strike” and its short history
 "Let us have no illusions about it: most "art critics" are going to carry on as if art were not abolished, as if art couldn't be abolished; most "artists" are going to continue to believe in the "artistic" character of their production; most gallery-goers, art lovers and, of course, buyers are going to ignore the fact that the abolition of art can really occur in the actual time and space. It is essential that the minority advocate the necessity of going on an active art strike, using the "machines" of the cultural industry so that we can more effectively set it in total contradiction with itself.
The intention is not to end the role of production, but to change the most adventurous part of "artistic" production into the production of revolutionary ideas, forms and techniques. Thus it is not a question of revolting against the art and artists of the immediate past - that would be a waste of time and energy - but, as I have said, of imagining something that could penetrate all social classes and organizing a total, creative reappraisal of our society.
The revolution no longer has any frontiers; it must be thought out, it must be prepared everywhere - in all the sectors where man expends passion and energy to do what he does, else it will never triumph anywhere." - Alain Jouffroy ("What's To Be Done About Art?" by Alain Jouffroy; included in "Art and Confrontation," New York Graphic Society 1968).
Gustav Metzger in 1974 called for the first known Art strike and to cease doing any production of arts in the period 1977-1980 and so to smash international gallery system, but nobody joined him and probably nobody would knew too much about the fact if not the second art strike held in 1990-1993. The later one was called by Stewart Home and its task was besides propagation Metzger’s ideas also to use it as propaganda against the artists and the arts as social institution. It was largely joined and spread worldwide by international neoists network. Some of them took real social duties of being strikers for the whole period of the strike.
“Serious culture” and life issues
Contraposition of the arts and the life was taken as the starting point of British performance artist Roddy Hunter in his joint lecture-performance together with Judit Bodor Hunter: “If life in the Bakhtianian sense is the world “experienced in actions” then “culture” is the world represented in discourse”.  And so they raised an essential question “what consequence or impact in the world of life (the world experienced in actions) will create Art Strike as parallel critique of Vilnius’09: European Capital of Culture?”. For sure in the way of arranging the Strike as straight forward critique of the ideological construct it would produce one more “cultural object“ instead of damaging already existing structures. The perfect illustration of theoretical hopelessness to describe life was provided by Vassya Vasiljeva (Bulgaria) giving an example from youtube where Jacques Derrida was trying to answer the simple question what the love is about…and looked very stupid and as a result of it got angry. Vassya pointed out the notion of love as essential joining element against the structures of “serious culture”. “Love but not a culture is a main factor why I am joining you here” – concluded Vassya. It echoed with the conclusion made by Roddy & Judit: “Whatever we do, we must promote the gap between “universalized and localized life” and “culture”, between “sensibility” and “reason”, between “ethics” and “aesthetics”. I find out the last notions the same reactionary as positions of so called “serious culture” in the capitalist society – it promotes the same alienation which already exists, but just point of view is taken from an opposite angle. Emotion cannot be separated from reason – it would look the same artificial as reason without emotion. But what is about other gaps – that is already created, and even more gaps are around – the main thing is somehow to come back from all that fragmentation to the wholeness of the life, which I really agree should be not separated from culture, but rather cleaned from it as superficiality. There I would like to go forward with positions stated by Saulius Užpelkis (London): “We should start again talking about supersession art. Also, how does art become subversive of the social order? What are the possibilities for transformations of everyday life? Other people have to be brought into the play, people who are or had been oppressed, people who are interested in social equality, but have no time for art world's elite games of prestige and posing. Unpaid cooperation, kind of gift-economy
Instead of refusal of art I say the art of refusal. The art of refusal is the art of living“.
Critique of the artistic role in the capitalist society
During the conference Kasparas Pocius presented probably mostly exceptional case of artistic activism in Lithuania based on protest and fighting for processes of privatizing social spaces which slightly turned itself into national representative art project presented by established artists couple Nomeda and Gediminas Urbonas in Venice Biennial. Author was one of the mostly active activists of the movement initiated by above mentioned artists. His critique was sharpened against empty performativity of so called “political art” which now obtains new forms of quasi-activism and is the same manipulative in it’s essence. This statement was opposed by Dmitry Vilensky who has suggested the complex nature of contemporary capitalism and public sphere as not totally homogeneous and reactionary and the urgency to take over means of production and use different venues as spaces for struggle, agitation and propaganda. He also note that today the most effective way to influence and  change the system is the combination of different strategies of exodus and autonomous participation (interventionist comment by D.V.). To follow the publications by Stewart Home it could be clear that one of the essential points for nowadays struggles in the artistic spheres is “to destroy their own privileged role as specialized non-specialists, and the Art Strike Biennial is one way of drawing them towards a place where they can live out the death of art“.  Definitely the Art Strike Biennial should became a place were instead of artists to be ashamed to do bad art they could be ashamed to do any art show and simply use their own creativity to experience everyday life instead. 
There was raised also the question who is an artist and who is an activist (Johannes Paul Raether). The possible answer could be taken from Stewart Home’s description of the relationship between artistic and political: “Since the aim of revolutionary struggle is to regain our humanity by overcoming all the separations between the physical, intellectual and emotional aspects of our lives, then obviously we cannot combat alienation through politics or culture alone - but rather we should aim to overflow all capitalist canalizations, including the separation of culture and politics. After 1962 the Debordists privileged politics over culture, and after 1966 Fluxus fell into the opposite error of prioritizing culture over politics; it is the correct but ever changing balance between these two poles that we must continually seek out.” (Introduction to Lithuanian edition of “Assault on Culture”, 2008). So following that path the main position could be find somewhere between artistness and activism.
The biggest problem of contemporary artists lays in their true bourgeois consciousness. Besides their inherited wish to mock on capitalist society in general they usually do not recognize that their artistic production creates and strengthens the same capitalist society. Usually they hardly survive from their professional activities, but still do not want to lose their illusion to get into Promised Land of prosperity. As Dmitry Vilensky sincerely confessed – his colleagues tried to dissuade him from taking part in such kind of ambivalent conference “which brings neither money nor fame…”. Further development of the ideas went even much more reactionary: “if the committee of Vilnius’09 European Capital of Culture will pay me more I’ll work with them”…(I’ve decided to remove the sentence because it do not corresponds anybody’s position any more. As I thought when I was writing the report – that was a possibility of specially taken the role of the traitor this besides negativity of the word has some very positive meaning. Also there is a good opportunity to note that my note in previous reports about pitilessness towards the traitors was influenced due to mine stereotypical thinking then. I agree with the constructive critique from Martin Zet and Stephanie Benzaquen due to somebody’s right to decide the enemies – that was thought as just duty to perform the role anybody is free to choose him/herself… and also to receive adequate reactions). 
Martin Zet tried to find more sophisticated reasons for refusal from active position: ageing (it is much nicer to be revolutionary when you are young, but it’s better to behave reactionary when you get aged), noncommittal (better to hire some professional revolutionaries to fight instead of us) and keeping the privileges deserved from social duty as an artist. But the logic of the capitalist structure is usually bargain away those who follow the rules and support jump-ups in turn to recuperate them…So there is nothing to lose so far the art has no any role in the capitalist society as just to perform reality, and if the reality turns to be unwished it’s easiest way just to pretend that it’s also illusory.  
Tactics: from pranks on cultural production towards the guerilla activism and sabotage
Every local situation should be reevaluated by local artists/activists and adequate action methods should be chosen by themselves. The problems always should be formulated locally at the level of their consciousness and adequate to their society and then all the activities should be joint together internationally in solidarity.  – Justin McKeown and Meabh McDonnel drawing mustashes on the public monuments in Belfast could be supported by militant cultural guerillas acting in Lithuania and vice versa.
Terminated communities could be created for the activism as opposition to the predicted role to perform in society – the example of Johannes Paul Raether (Germany) about alternative spaces as autonomous space for alternative non incriminated life to be lived and activities to be raised.
Application procedures with the foundations and institutions (Stephanie Benzaquen) should be combined with the “social engineering” method (Karen Elliot).
Thinking social reality through unproductive expenditure (Saulius Užpelkis).
Creation of the oral culture of action instead of overwhelming textocentrism – the word should become a body (Darius Pocevičius).
“Writing manifestoes to discredit good, compromise the leaders, shake faith and spread contempt. We will use base (wo)men, disorganise the authorities, sow discord, incite revolt, ridicule traditions, dislocated supplies, encourage the playing of lascivious music, spread lechery, lay out money, and above all demonstrate that we have better jokes than the art establishment” (Stewart Home).
And no documentation, no schedules, no professionally specialized critique (just critical critique as to be described bellow).
No any roles prescribed as artistic to be performed. 
What’s to be done?
“For as soon as the distribution of labour comes into being, each man has a particular, exclusive sphere of activity, which is forced upon him and from which he cannot escape. He is a hunter, a fisherman, a herdsman, or a critical critic, and must remain so if he does not want to lose his means of livelihood; while in communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic. This fixation of social activity, this consolidation of what we ourselves produce into an objective power above us, growing out of our control, thwarting our expectations, bringing to naught our calculations, is one of the chief factors in historical development up till now.” (Karl Marx, The German Ideology.1845). 
The quotation recently was re-actualized by Stewart Home and given as fundamental element for Alytus Art Strike Biennial. Just as feral vegetarian himself he heavily drew on free love and pornography instead of bloody meat eating consequences of hunting. At some extend I can agree with Stewarts fascination with pornography as effective tool to destroy art, but my own positions are linked to treat art and pornography as just two branches of the same tree. One artificially imitates fulfillment of spiritual desires, while another – that of physiological, but that’s quite evident that neither of them has any experience in life. But I would agree that strategically would be better to bring those to forces to fight each other – that would be fun (the Eastern European analogy would be a kind of fight of retrograde artists belonging to ex-soviet kind of artists unions against the new baked “contemporary” artists fitting the standards of neo-liberal capitalism…and it really works well). 
What definitely is to be provided to everybody attending art strike biennial in Alytus – that is the possibility together to construct a Capital of Culture Destruction Machine (based on both Willhelm Reich’s Orgone research and Nikola Tesla’s perpetual motion theories and so following the proposition by Stewart Home). The Orgone accumulator and other machines for distraction the cosmic sexual energy are already started to be constructed in Alytus by group of young artists led by Mantas Kazakevičius. Hopefully for the biennial time the water in the central fountain of Alytus park would be full charged with it. It would solve the problems of less potential and aged artists and will attract much more commons to enjoy absence of art.
And – that’s very important – there is a big danger to take a new role of the STRIKER what would be a big challenge to every artisan to solve it on a personal level. The question is how really to do strike, but not how to behave a striker.
Here for the end would be very illustrative the historical example due to the clothing for the strike provided by Stephanie Benzaquen:
“According to Malcolm Barnard (“Fashion as Communication”), clothing is “used not only to constitute and communicate a position in (the) social order, but also to challenge and contest positions of relative power within it.“ Two strike movements exemplify such statement: first, the 1909 shirtwaist strike in New York City, then the late 1920s-early 30s wave of strikes in the southern textile mills. In both cases, the press covering the strikes was often more interested in what the women were wearing than in the goals they tried to attain. It goes without saying: female strikers were hardly accorded respect as workers. In 1909, women overdid their attempts to be in vogue. They had hats adorned with multiple feathers, faux flowers, oversized bows, jewellery, lace blouses, fur accessories, French heels. Their colourful ensembles became an issue of contention and enraged the middle- and upper-class suffragettes who thought the bright hues were distracting to the cause. Male strike leaders didn’t appreciate it either as they wanted to play to society’s pity and portray the workers as frail and downtrodden. Twenty years later there was a dramatic change of style, as fashion design had become a cultural phenomenon. The women strikers were dressed in red, white, and blue regalia. They eclectically mixed overall – the typical men’s working wear – and men’s cap with hair barrettes, necklaces, blouses, silk stockings, and fire-engine red lipstick. These two styles might be in stark contrast. Yet, each group had created a ‘hybridized’ style that served as a visual representation of their cultural status as both women and workers.” 
So, we are calling for the Art Strike 2009 as real pre/anti/post-cultural figuration!
Join us in Alytus on August 18-24, 2009!
Redas Diržys, Second Temporary Art Strike Action Committee (Alytus), November 2008.