Sekula Chapter 5

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S.R. What I like very much in this approach in your approach... I also see this perspective of Walter Benjamin, how he was figuring out the romantic ideal[...] For me, this mixture of – like I said- the ideal of the romantic work in Walter Benjamin's sense, that you start with a kind of art critique impulse and you develop it into another form, in another discourse. I always saw this influence in your work. And another influence is the relevance of some... post-structuralist theoretics ... Michel Foucault, Roland Barthes. Sometimes you don't take direct references to them ... but I see an influence in the thinking, or in the rhetoric you are using. Is it right?... Can you see this perspective that I relate Walter Benjamin to your writing ... or you would prefer to refuse it?

A.S. No, no I wouldn't refuse it at all. [...] reading Benjamin was extremely important for me early on, and Barthes as well. [...] I was struggling to read Barthes its early »essays communication«... in French what ... you know, the only French I had was the one I had at the Junior Highschool ... I sort of set out to read these things before I learned that they had been translated ... in a British journal ...(?). And probably it was a good exercise. But ... So, yeah, Especially as a critic I was formed through reading Levi-Strauss and Barthes and Benjamin and... but also people who were part of the continuity of the Frankfurt school in America like C. Right Mills ..and there were a number of sociologists that were important ...reading Max Weber ... also reading Marx. I mean Foucault for example makes a point in one of his interviews saying, you know, ... »Marx is there but I never need to refer to him.« I'm perfectly happy to refer both to Foucault and to reading Marx before Foucault, particularly the sociological Marx, the Marx of the 18th Brumaire where he's analyzing closely the coup d'etat and the dynamics of ideological conscription of the peasantry. So when I saw a film like »Les carabiniers« (ß?)...I thought. Ah, I can connect that with the 18th Brumaire when Marx says that the empire is the small hold of the peasant unfolded in the imagination I understand completely what Godard is doing in 1963 with that kind of strange anachronistic reference. That film for me became much more a source than pop art, [...] the profundity of Godard's understanding and kind of crazy mixing of the old regime and the kind of, the farce of Napoleon III, a kind of fictional Europe ... a kind of enfolding of the newsreels of the 2nd wold war with the commodity culture, of the Americanization of France in the 50s and early 60s. All of those anachronistic, or asynchronic overlays made something very rich as a model for a kind of investigation, let's say, kind of poetic play with power and politics and the ideological. And so, it wasn't ... That was as important theoretically for me ... as any theoretical text could be. But partly because I could see it as the work of an artist, too, who could make use of theory, and a critic could become a film-maker and do this; and so very often I was linking things through these strange circuits and not ... [...]There was, in the case of Foucault there were certain texts of Foucault that I found more interesting than others because I started very early on in my interest in the history of photography... to look at police photographs ... I of course devoured the »Discipline and Punish«-book ... not the first book of Foucault, the madness book was the first, [...]. (..)But, the first one that I took in a really serious way. But that also had a odd ... contribution to »fish-story« because I was also reading people like Harry Braverman#, the critic of Taylorism, you know, and former radical machinist, [...] ... American sort of sociologist of labour, and I was able to read Foucault in relation to Braverman and then think about the way Taylorism could be applied to the world of shipping. And how they could... So the first thoughts I had about the box, the rationalisation of the logistics chain came out of this odd mixing of thinking about Harry Braverman and Foucault. So I think my paths through this were different from a lot of artists' paths and academics' paths, partly because the kind of Marxist sociological tradition was more alive for me. I mean people did... A lot of people used to read sociology at the time of the Vietnam War and there were a lot of interesting sociological works then ... about Foucault and Benjamin and Barthes and ...

S.R. You ended up at ... you wanted to say something about..// A.S. I was talking about »Les carabiniers«...

A.S.: In some ways I think that ... More recently I've been impressed by the kind of argument that Michel Serre makes about the work of art also being a philosophical project. And so you can draw lessons from what we call theory; but you can also draw lessons from other literary sources or ... cultural sources; I mean a painting can be as profound a philosophical statement as a work of overt philosophical argumentation ... And so I think I've become perhaps shamefully eclectic in recent years but that's also opened things up (...) But I think, I say ... The thing I find distressing is a kind of institutionalization of a certain fairly narrow range of critical references which I think the artworld has (..) often often does ... it's not that one shouldn't read those people but at some point reading is a ... it's a very crazy enterprise, you know; you never know what you might need to read in order to do something. If you do documentary work ... one problem is that you need to read around that theme, topic, motif ... read all the fiction that's been produced around that topic or as much as you can to, you know... get a handle on how it's been imagined in different cultural periods, from different perspectives. And then there is whatever fund you carry with you of philosophical sources, you know, artistic references and ... there are no ... I think there are no formulas in a way, for any of this. (...) But I also think it's probably more ... one has to fight the general eclecticism of the scene at the moment ... [...] the kind of incoherence of, and fragmentation of it. I mean there are no ... If one was emerging as an artist in the early 70s you had a feeling that there was a kind of huge juggernaut of modernism, [...] the Greenbergian model let's say; and even if [...](???)... it was something one could contend with, one could fight it, one could think of other paths other ways to perceive ... There were very concrete struggles, [...] points of conflict, and the artworld today is ... there is very little contention, there's not really a style of real argumentation or debate, [...]... It's a kind of style of theoretical referencing ... as if all writing has been reduced to a kind of elaboration of footnotes.

S.R. But I feel at the same time that it's very urgent to have a very critical discourse in the artworld of the context of the society and about institution; because the institution changed so much in the last 10 years... Tend to be very corporatized, much more, very much more oriented on capital value than cultural value... And I think it's very important to influence this discussion.

A.S Absolutely, although I'm not sure how much the institution is the primary target, I mean the art institution is the primary target.

A.S. [...] Again, the Americans have been in the lead of this kind of direct corporate sponsorship of exhibitions, also because you have the American collectors tend to be the most powerful in the world, the model of the private board of trustees and the, you know, the big donor-gift from the private collector – all of this so thoroughly structures what American museums think they can do ... And I think it's important to remember that the, you know, the United States is the most ... I mean to remember the broader picture, which is that the United States are the most conservative, even reactionary developed nation in the world (...) Americans elites, even elites that patronize the arts accepted a kind of ... very meagre version of the liberal social contract. So you could say that the artworld is culturally liberal but, at least in its American version, dependent on the most reactionary economics, you know the economics, [...] in which tax policy favours the rich and a discretionary income... the artworld wouldn't exist without this [...]. Those European countries that continue to see the support of the arts as part of a public expense and public cost ... now seem increasingly behind the times and not willing to accept the market logic of arts. There's been a marketization of the idea of what culture is, what it can be, [...] so that even the supposedly non-commercial culture of the avantgarde – experimental work of one kind or another – is subject to market constraints in an ever more draconian way. [...]That I think we have to struggle against but that's a struggle about the larger economy, not ... the art institution. If a trade union can sponsor an exhibition in an American museum which has happened once in my case, that's a step forward, because at least a counterforce to the corporation.

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