Wednesday, 26 June 2013

The Travelling Salesman: bitter impressions regarding political art following Oliver Ressler's visit to Israel

Oliver Ressler, the Austrian “artist and activist” is in fact neither. His projects are not artworks but strictly political advertising campaigns, which sadly are of the preachy, guilt-ridden, accusatory, self-righteous and holier-than-thou persuasion. They're being sponsored by art-hating art institutes, whose bourgeoisie self-image drives them towards constant apologetic yielding before the supposedly combatant activist. They're also always designed in fine, elegant, European finish that is supposedly meant to operate as a Trojan horse within affluent, spectacular, touristic public space but in fact integrates in it, complements it, collaborates with it. He presents those projects from his laptop in the safe confines of a gallery talk to the converted, this time round in Tel Aviv's University Gallery (as part of a group exhibition in which both him and myself participate, entitled “Anti-Anti”, curated by Hadas Kedar).

Big headed? Another wall text by Oliver Ressler
‬One of the projects Ressler presented dealt with the global gentrification phenomena known as the gated community, where entire estates and neighbourhoods are managed in private apartheid from their surroundings. He showed an image of one such community in Warsaw. The image bore on top the slogan “don't purchase a better world, fight for a better world.” Let's momentarily leave aside the fact that it is rather unclear who is addressed in the slogan (is he actually trying to mobilise tenants to become overnight idealists, abandon their flats and join his 'struggle'?), what's more important to ask is, what exactly does Ressler mean when he calls for a “fight” during a complacent laptop conversation with middle-aged gallery visitors in a comfortably air-conditioned room to which he arrived through being sponsored left right and centre, contently globe-trotting on the trendy subversive jet-set? What is it that he does which merits a term like “fighting”?

After the presentation, I asked him whether his choice to work within the artworld is strictly pragmatic as that is where he can find sponsorship to realise his projects, or if perhaps there's more to it than that. The question flew right past his head as he automatically lumped me with a cadre that probably baits him from the left, that is to say, he thought I was an art-hating activist who thinks political art is some non-influential middle-class practice. He explained that “the confines of art can be exceeded”, exposing himself as someone who was never confronted with the possibility that it is actually the political whose confines need to be exceeded, and summarised by stating that if the 11th Documenta of 2002, based almost exclusively on political documentaries, is considered the most important of our generation, then there's “really no more discussion as to whether political art has influence.” In other words, he presented a self-pat on the back (by art-hating activists who won't hesitate to use the artworld's guilt-ridden money) as an objective fact of life and declared, he the activist who desires to 'raise questions' of all others, what are the limits of discussion and what shouldn't and needn't be discussed anymore.

Ressler is not a malicious person, and not intentionally patronising and self-righteous. He's simply an ultimate product of a despicably condescending practice which lacks any shred of self-awareness, not to mention self-criticism. I still somehow hope some of his work has some positive influence, I just wish he would have the decency to operate independently as a real activist instead of peddling on the doorsteps of art institutions. His contribution to “Anti-Anti” is a 10-meter wide wall text that says “no replastering, the structure is rotten.” Is this what Ressler means by 'fighting'? To tell a structure that it is rotten by the invitation and sponsorship of that same structure?

Avi Pitchon

              Monty Python architect presentation

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