Insidious is an exhibition project addressing two interrelated critical concerns:
The first addresses the notion of 'insidiousness' structurally, as modus operandi. The collapse of a cold war dichotomy and the progressive establishment of hegemonic power relations gave rise to an increasing cynicism in the 1990s. In the "New World Order" of late-capitalist society, the omnipresent commodity is erected as fetish. The logic of globalisation has arguably transformed symbolic orders to serve its own ends and has refashioned cultural forms upon models of communication and spectacle. The mechanisms delivering ideology's disciplinary forms have progressively permeated into the sphere of the everyday.
The second axis parallels this arguably emerging gestalt of a world view or sensorium. It looks at the symbiotic problematic of the logic of representation and rhetoric that is appropriate in the face of it. The works considered are centred around the question of power and its representation, in close relationship to the rise of mass culture (and the cultural industry at large). As such, they address both the problem of the autonomy of the work of art and that of the aestheticisation of politics.
It thus appears that 'insidious' designates at once a process of signification (a signifying strategy) and a thematic (the representation of power).
Within the curatorial framework of Insidious the underlying thematic of power and its relation to the symbolic order and to representation in turn throws into question many motifs of a post war avant-garde and more recent post-conceptual forms of visual art practice. Such questions involve the necessity of the artists here to preserve a critical and artistic distance from visual culture per se and to even hold on to the distinction of an evolving definition of art and artistic practice in the face of a visual culture recuperated for hegemonic ends. Within this background utopian objectives like the fusion of art and life seem idealistic and to be mistrusted. Instead art and life seem to be wedged apart by the spectacular and transparent rhetoric of a society dominated by communicational means. The artists here are preoccupied with rendering opaque and readable such rhetorical forces that are insidiously at work. They are often preoccupied with the inherent complexities implied by a visual regime driven by powerful and instantaneous gestalt forms. Societies where the dominant cultural institutions co-opt artists as cultural workers and transform curators into cultural entrepreneurs and where studio and gallery are merged into seamless 'situations', in turn create a need for an artistic practice fostering vigilance and interrogation in the face of an over-determined rhetorical landscape that presents itself as benign and transparent.
Insidious attempts to displace the apparent opposition between, on the one hand, the aestheticisation of politics or the instrumentalisation of art to ideological ends, the epitome of which is the Gesamtkunstwerk (the total work of art), the history of which is partly linked to that of totalitarianism, and, on the other hand, the claim of art to autonomy, understood (in the context of the commodification of art) as a form of withdrawal of the medium to itself, which, far from constituting an alternative to the aestheticisation of politics, constitutes instead its paradoxical counterpart, aestheticisation of politics and claims to art's autonomy (and art history, one might add) appear to be two extreme manifestations (empathy vs total withdrawal) of the impossibility to conduct a critical discourse.
Insidious attempts also to get beyond the dead end in which, from the 1980s, deconstruction in the field of art seem to be condemned by a double bind. On one hand, the frontal critique of power's forms of expresssions shields itself tendentiously from the critical exercise it itself practises: by establishing itself as counterpoint, it runs the danger of resembling the very abuse of power it purports to denounce. On the other hand, the growing aestheticisation of politics, identified and abundantly analysed by Benjamin and the Frankfurt School, renders obsolete any form of oppositional encounter. The omnipotence of communicational aesthetics and its deep incursion into the social fabric demands critical strategies of a different order.
That is the perspective that Insidious attempts to survey. A significant part of the artists considered belong to a generation which carries the paradoxical inheritance of this deconstructionist ambition: convinced by the necessity to conduct a critical discourse, it is none the less distrustful of a literal deconstruction which it assimilates to a form of counter-propaganda. It favours instead less frontal signifying strategies: sinuous, indirect, enigmatic, insidious ones.
Cécile Dazord, Mick Finch & Guillaume Paris, 2004-2006
Mick Finch : Prosopopoeia 4 (Empire), January - February 2006.
Guillaume Paris: Go Away Evil, 2001.
Bibliographical horizon :
Walter Benjamin : Paris, capitale du XIXè siècle, 1939 (Allia, 2003)
Theodor W. Adorno : Théorie esthétique, 1974 (Klincksieck, 1982)
Hannah Arendt : La crise de la culture, 1968 (Gallimard, 1972)
Jacques Rancière : Le partage du sensible (2000, La fabrique)
Éric Michaud : Histoire de l'art, Une discipline à ses frontières (Hazan, 2005)
Hal Foster : Le retour du réel (La lettre volée, 2005)
Antonia Birnbaum : Nietzsche, l'héroïsme et la modernité (Payot, 2000)
Joe Allen, Alex Bag, Ashley Bickerton, Cecile Bicler, Will Cotton, Bryan Crockett, Jeroen de Rijke & Willem de Rooij, Shezad Dawood, Dominque Figarella, Mick Finch, Andrea Fraser, Katrina Fritsch, Jack Goldstein, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Julian Laverdière, Wolfe lenkewicz, Sherrie Levine, Peter Lewis, Laurent Livet, Robert Morris, Cady Noland, Guillaume Paris, Richard Prince, Sol Sax, Haim Steinbach, Elaine Sturtevant, Paul Thek, Marianna Uutinen, Banks Violette, Trevor Winkfield