The Art of Criticism

Last Friday, this critical Miss was attending a conference on criticism, “Art of Critique” http://transform.eipcp.net/conference  And just as I walked into Flex, the grungiest club in Vienna in a fur coat many years ago, now I walked into this conference in Wuk, an even grungier place, clutching a red Hermes look-alike bag under my arm. No, it is not a real one, but in this place, it could be a legitimate reason for a murder. So here I was, in this big factory hall full of people with raster hairdos, cargo pants and torn sneakers, trying to keep myself and my bag invisible. The show started: first, two artists present their work, one video from the G8 summit protest in Heiligendamm and the second from a “reclaim the streets” protest in London. I am not sure if documenting can be called art, but ok. I also call myself a writer. So, we quietly watched those videos of young people turning protest into a big party, sewing colorful costumes, dancing samba on the streets and having fun.

Movies finish, discussion starts. Artists bullshit, audience’s questions ask for more bullshit and I am bored to death by theories of images and symbolism and protest and activism. There is only so much bullshit I can take, so after 2h of the raster audience tapping the shoulders of raster artists, I decide it is time for this Miss to speak up. I sign for the mike.

“The goal of protest is change. We have this kind of protest for quite some time already, but it seems that the goal has been forgotten. The only change that is happening is for the worse. Rich are getting richer, poor are getting poorer, people are rioting because they are hungry. And the protest seems to have become protest just for the fun of it. The pictures of students throwing Molotov cocktails do not reach or touch anyone anymore. The shock factor is long gone. So I believe we desperately need a new level, a new version of protest, if we want to achieve change. How do you as artists envision a new form of protest which can make a difference again?”

I got an applause. The artists were angry and speechless. One spoke up and explained that change takes time, “just remember how long it took the feminists’ or workers’ movement to bring change”. I grabbed the mike back “Those movements happened hundreds of years ago and back then, time had a different dimension. In today’s world, change can happen very quickly. Especially when you look at the other side of the system, the beholders of the capital – they are able to create a true revolution within 5 years.”

The moderator closed the conference with this statement. Artists stayed seated, discussing vigorously, maybe how to quickly organize and assassination of the girl with a red Hermes bag. I got myself a drink and talked to people who approached me congratulating and saying that my question was the only clever thing said in those 2h. Not that I am bragging. But the point is that it proved again that closing yourself in a circle of same opinionated people, and trying to change the world outside, quickly turns into nothing but masturbation. The only way to be relevantly critical and know what you are talking about, and how you can change what is not working, is to stay open and take part in all aspects of the world you are criticizing. Just hanging out in a closed world of intellectual masturbation and Birkenstock fashion is not going to give you the power, or relevance, to change anything.

So, to keep myself grounded on all levels, I did just that: I went to Le Meridien, to the poshest party in town to drink champagne. And dance with my bank.