Max Klebb – collectivizing antinational refusal

Der text erschien in: when artists struggle together, chto delat? Newspaper, St. Petersburg, 2008.
Er ist eine frühere englische Version des textes, der dem Aufruf beilag.

Max Klebb  – collectivizing antinational refusal

Max Klebb are seeking to unite art workers under the task of antinationalism. Art might be just one more branch of the culture industry, but this perspective on its commodity status formulates not only art’s limitation but also positively positions its participation in social processes. From this position in commodified culture art might function as a lever to pull open the contradictions it is subjected to. In attempting to base Max Klebb’s political action in art on its intrinsically affirmative character within capitalist societies, our attempt for an antinational action starts from the acknowledgement of art’s limits. We base its politicality on that reality which needs to be defeated and not on an artistic romanticism which tries to escape from it.

At present there is no revolution at the horizon, but nevertheless (and maybe even because of this) there are numerous artistic projections of revolution. Ignoring reality’s overpowering forces may be a bliss but countering them with projected artistic omnipotence leads back into the long-established forms of art’s function in the reproduction of the capitalist nation state. In it, art represents a romanticist but constitutively un-real dreamworld. This is the major strategy of documenta’s and Biennals’ calling for aesthetic avant-gardes with slogans coined by long undermined revolutions. They are politically irresponsible against the revolutionary past as much as against the counterrevolutionary present. Such pretentions of a purely aesthetic revolution are stabilizing first and foremost art’s role as an aesthetic substitute for political action.

Art cannot replace revolutionary politics. It cannot prefigure a revolutionary collective movement, because within its present state, its production is recognized only as a representation of consequenceless forms of individuation. The artist, as a character of capitalist production, still is defined by the irregularity of his work relations, as much as by the exceptionality of his product, even if both follow closely defined conventions. Highly differentiated, sometimes even opposing spheres of representation within the art field such as the ‘market artist’ as well as the ‘exhibition artist’ approximate the trends and formal demands of the art market or imply those of national funding. None of them can be played out against the other, forcefully rejected or outrun, since they both fulfil a fundamentally representative role for contemporary capitalist society.

While it would certainly need a general revolutionary movement to turn over the market and capitalist relations of production in total and thereby end the art markets catering to societies contemplative fashions, it is the ‘exhibition artist’ as well as the ‘exhibition art’, which currently fulfil the basic ideological needs of a present-day European nationalism: a representation of a cultured and thereby totally self-referential criticality. In the European context, art more and more regresses towards being anticipated as the nation’s exteriorised critical conscience. Where it is pulled off from the market, art diffuses towards the state. Even individual artistic despisal of national culture, today function, willingly or unwillingly, within the scheme of such critical appreciation and thus might be turned over into a national proof of self-criticality. This is why Max Klebb sees a need for a collective anti-national organisation in contemporary art.

As exhibitions like not only the documenta have shown throughout the last years, the exhibition value of an artist or an artwork today is intrinsically bound to its capacity to prefigure political states of reflection, or, where a more agitate surface is desired, even those of political action. This state of criticality has, as a self-referential gesture within art, taken up a hegemonial spot in contemporary exhibition practices. And the national character of this trend which we tried to introduce above, marks the return of a central historical asset of art: the representational function for national culture it acclaimed in the rise of the modern nation state in the beginning of the 19th century. Max Klebb wants to raise a dissent against the contemporary returns of art’s constitutional role for modern, capitalist societies. Art’s historical being as an accessory in the rise and stabilization of the modern capitalist nation state, today returns in an actualized form. One which is appropriated to the restaging of a nationalism, which no longer presents itself as a question of ‘blood and soil’ but, in its neoliberalized version, as one of an endless series of individualized and subjective notions of national identity. This ‘subjectivized’ nationalism turns the national focus from the formation of groups of inclusion and exclusion towards the introspection of the individual subject. Instead of the citizen, the individual is addressed, its national function is sought in its personal characteristics. This neoliberalisation of nationalism, like that of the labour force has first of all a deeply desolidarising effect. And this desolidarization today is implied first of all in the demands formulated towards the subject: on the level of its working force as well as in that of social positioning. The nationalism of ‘blood and soil’ could be, politically as well artistically, opposed by solidarising against its racism, its anti-semitism and its anti-modern roots, while its neoliberal version seems to propose a much more desirable position to take for cultural producers nowadays. While left radical groups try to oppose this new form of nationalism collectively, the contemporary artistic sphere has majorily affirmed such desolidarising and subjectivising demands in the rejection or simple absence of collective politics. Thus, the attempts of a contemporary nationalism to incorporate every individual notion, be it critical or affirmative, as one related to the nation creates an affective, subjective – one might even say ‘culturalized’ relation towards the political construction of the nation. It lets each and every individual notion become perceivable as gravitating towards national sentiment, lets it become ultimatively productive for nationalism’s still reactionary core: nationalist egalitarianism still based on social inequality and exclusion for the sake of its capitalist reproduction.

In the interest of such violent national unity, critique became a hegemonialy funded pattern in recent years and it is against this hegemony that we are calling for a decisive and collective antinational stance in art. There is no possibility for a contemplative relationship to the renewed national affirmation of artistic practices, which defers political debates into culture and uses art as a primary asset of affirmative action. Artistic production has to take up this unwanted responsibility to collectively reject the national substitution of politics in art.

In Germany, the country in which and against which Max Klebb is formulating our initial efforts, the last years have seen a rise of such criticist re-evaluations of nationalism in culture on a  big scale. The establishing of the Humboldtforum in the soon to be rebuild Stadtschloss in Berlin-Mitte is only the most furious and state-driven of those attempts. High culture, and even more specifically the visual arts herein carry the affirmative function of a subjectivist confirmation of nationalist values. In the return of the German Meister-Maler in figures such as Daniel Richter and Jonathan Meese, the insertion of contemporary art into historicist national displays, like it is planned for the Humboldtforum or, within such imminently self-reflexive nationalist exhibitions as “Deutschland sucht” at the Kölnischer Kunstverein (2004), in which young and acclaimed ‘critical’ German curators showed their German faves, “Made in Germany” at the Kestnergesellschaft, the Sprengelmuseum and the Kunstverein Hannover (2007), which organised trips to artist’s studios, so that one could see German art production at first hand, “German Angst” at the nbk in Berlin (2008), which presented historical fragments of a ‘better’, a ‘more critical’ but still German consciousness or “Vertrautes Terrain” at the ZKM in Karlsruhe (2008), which, most consequentially, ammased over 300 works and objects, discussions and readings, a nationalist approach to artistic production was refigured, to define “German – between predicate and precariousness” In all of those exhibitions artists were asked to participate, who have produced decidedly anti-national works and claimed equally decided anti-national positions in the artistic discourse, only that within this very context which all aim at the a contemporary nationalization of cultural production, their individual statements turned into what the ‘Vertrautes Terrain’ has named: “art in and about Germany”, a slogan illustrating the spin the curators gave to even antinational art works: art gravitates towards the nation.

Germany is currently heading for a year of national jubilee: in 2009 the initiation of the Western German State will turn 60 on the 23rd of May and the fall of the wall will turn 20. It is foreseeable that national triumphism here will work itself towards new peaks and we want to call for a collectivized positioning against such Germanisms. It is in no way sufficient to thematize such tendencies in art, make them one of its topics, but our call is directed towards a discussion which asks in how far commodification and nationalism still lie at the core of what today is still defined as art, as a branch of the culture industry, which still claims a priviledged status. It is our aim to use this very status to go up against its very own presuppositions. In attempting to base one’s political action in art on its intrinsically affirmative character within capitalist societies, our attempt for an antinational action starts from the acknowledgement of art’s limits, in order to base its politicality on that reality which needs to be defeated and not on an artistic romanticism which tries to escape from it. We are attempting to unite in art, but not for art.

Max Klebb is based in Berlin and currently sending out letters to producers, organizers and editors of art, with whom Klebb wants to assemble a line of dispute, meetings, productions and debates, bringing together an antinational alliance. Max Klebb will also cooperate with other antinational political and artist run organizations on public events and publications against Germany in 2009.