Pleasure and Sacrifice: Aesthetic Experience and Collectivist Action


Session Title:

  • Art and Activism in Digital Age

Presentation Title:

  • Pleasure and Sacrifice: Aesthetic Experience and Collectivist Action




  • Many have suggested that the public demonstrations of the late 1990s and early 2000s have given way to other, more culturally embedded activist practices. In a recent Youtube video, Eric Cantona, calling for a bank boycott in France, said, “Nowadays, what does it mean to be on the street?  What does it mean to demonstrate? . . . that’s not the way anymore.”  Groups that formerly targeted government or corporate entities with marches and demonstrations now clone or infiltrate financial and media practices that support systems of capital. Documentation is disseminated via art media (blogs like E-Flux), mock websites, and social networking.

    Today, the line between politics and art is difficult to ascertain. Has art split in two?  Is off-grid tactical activity criticizing, or courting, institutional support?  What is the cultural and aesthetic value of collectivist, interventionist actions in public space?

    This paper considers the implications of creative actions such as the Serpico Naro (San Precario) media hoax during Milan’s Fashion Week in 2005 and 0100101110101101.ORG Nikeplatz “mock-stitutional” event in Vienna in 2003, and considers the notion of the “aesthetic” in the context of cultural actions both online and off.  Are these works purely political? Does some new notion of “anti-art” still apply? Are we witnessing the final climax of institutional critique?  Or a new creative paradigm?

    Gregory Sholette gives credence to uninstitutionalized creative activity, which he calls culture’s dark matter, implying that there is something inherently creative in autonomous action. Such actions set to work what Negt and Kluge have called “fantasies of automony”—the legitimacy of undiscovered or practical creativity.

    Two writers have proposed theories that shed further light on this idea. Jacques Rancière demands the emancipation of the spectator, implying that cultural acts produce aesthetic emancipation. However, Alain Badiou speaks of the artwork as still a concrete creation “in relation to the trace of the event”—something that provides “a new entry,” and finally a “new subjective paradigm” that saves us from a death from pure pleasure, on the one hand, and a death from pure sacrifice, on the other: a “question of war and peace.”