Monday, March 9, 2015

maHKUzine + "Aesthetics of Resistance? Artistic Research as Discipline and Conflict" by Hito Steyerl

On maHKUzine:

"For four years now, maHKUzine has been a platform for reflection and discussion in the context of the (international) situation of graduate art education. The maHKUzine platform always interacts with debates and programs of the Utrecht Graduate School of Visual Art and Design (maHKU) where the school is a Test Department investigating, generating, and testing research-based curricula for its Master of Arts programs. However, testing in this sense is not a traditional, immanent, academic ceremony, but rather an effect of a research environment and its collaborations with professional partners in the field. How to deal with the implications of research-based art education is always a core issue in those collaborations. "

-Henk Slager 


This text appeared first in mahkuzine 8, winter 2010 and can be downloaded in it's entirety there as well.

A short excerpt from:

Aesthetics of Resistance?
Artistic Research as Discipline and Conflict
By Hito Steyerl

What is artistic research today? At present no one seems to know an answer to this question. Artistic research is
treated as one of the multiple practices which are defined by indefinition, constantly in flux, lacking coherence and
identity. But what if this view were indeed misleading? What if we actually knew more about it than we thought? In
order to discuss this proposition, let’s first have a look at current debates around artistic research. It seems as if one of
their most important concerns is the transformation of artistic research into an academic discipline. There are
discussions about curriculum, degrees, method, practical application, pedagogy. On the other hand, there is also
substantial criticism of this approach. It addresses the institutionalization of artistic research as being complicit with new
modes of production within cognitive capitalism: commodified education, creative and affective industries, administrative
aesthetics, and so on. Both perspectives agree on one point: artistic research is at present being constituted as a more
or less normative, academic discipline.
A discipline is of course disciplinarian; it normalizes, generalizes and regulates; it rehearses a set of responses, and in
this case, trains people to function in an environment of symbolic labor, permanent design and streamlined creativity.
But then again, what is a discipline apart from all of this? A discipline may be oppressive, but this is also precisely why
it points to the issue it keeps under control. It indexes a suppressed, an avoided or potential conflict. A discipline hints
at a conflict immobilized. It is a practice to channel and exploit its energies and to incorporate them into the powers that
be. Why would one need a discipline if it wasn’t to discipline somebody or something? Any discipline can thus also be
seen from the point of view of conflict.
Let me give an example: a project I recently realized, called The Building. It deals with the construction history of a
Nazi building on the main square in Linz, Austria; it investigates its background, the stories of the people who actually
built it, and also looks at the materials used in the building. The construction was performed by partly foreign forced
laborers and some of the former inhabitants of the site were persecuted, dispossessed and murdered. During the
research it also actually turned out that some of the building stones were produced in the notorious quarry of
concentration camp Mauthausen, where thousands of people were killed.
There are at least two different ways of describing this building. One and the same stone used for the building can be
said to have gained its shape according to the paradigm of neoclassicist architecture, which would be the official
description given on the building itself. Or it can be described as having probably been shaped by a stone mason in
concentration camp Mauthausen, who was likely a former Spanish Republican fighter. The conclusion is obvious: the
same stone can be described from the point of view of a discipline, which classifies and names. But it can also be read
as a trace of a suppressed conflict.
But why would this very local project be relevant for a reflection about artistic research as such? Because parts of this
building also coincidentally house the Linz Art Academy. This building is a location, where artistic research is currently
being integrated into academic structures: there is a department for artistic research inside this building. Thus, any
investigation of the building might turn out as a sort of institutional metareflection on the contemporary conditions of
artistic research as such.
In this sense: where is the conflict, or rather what are the extensive sets of conflicts underlying this new academic

discipline? Who is currently building its walls, using which materials, produced by whom? Who are the builders of the

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