Philosophy in Action Gerald Matt in Conversation with Artur Zmijewski
In this interview, Artur Zmijewski defines art as »philosophy in action«. He explains how this term is linked to an artistic practice which destabilizes political, social, scientific or religious status. The practice of art creates situations of conflict in social structures in order to reorganize social relations. By insisting on a certain similarity between the fields of art and philosophy bringing artistic activities closer to political tactics, Zmijewski sees art as being open to the possibility of social practices that are capable of unsettling the current political scene. The interview was conducted by Gerald Matt.
Gerald Matt: With your work you often cause public outrage. Indeed, your artistic strategy sometimes has a disturbing effect. In such works as Out for a Walk you take human disabilities and humans with disabilities as your theme by emphasising the difference between »normal« and »disabled« to the verge of the intolerable. Does that touch you personally? As well you said once that your film Out for a Walk is about failure?
Artur Zmijewski: I don’t deliberately torment the viewers – it’s rather that my perception of the world is unbearable for others. I speak in a language that doesn’t shock me, but sometimes proves problematic for the viewer.
Not only bodies are disabled. You also have economic or educational disability. Within society there exists a mixture of disabilities that often functions imperceptibly – for instance, ethnic difference can have the effect as mental disability. There also exists a linguistic disability – ›broken English spoken perfectly‹. I speak such ›pidgin English‹, which has become a trans-national dialect, myself. This mixture of disabilities creates a ›map of silence‹ – alienating people within the given community and making it impossible for them to articulate their needs. Society forms a network of disability that allows some to occupy certain positions in the social structure, while preventing others from doing so. The category of disability is a category of power – disability status is awarded arbitrarily and serves to exercise control over the body, over the places occupied in social structure, and over ›bare life‹: this baby is so disabled we should let it die.
The difference between disability and norm – look how fragile is the status quo between the community members: a minor transgression beyond the contract, beyond the allowed communication modes, and the relationship is disturbed, loses its effectiveness, finds itself on the verge of collapse. A small deviation already becomes a transgression, an offence. Artistic activity negotiates these limits of deviation, difference, strangeness. And it succeeds in pushing them.
Sometimes, however, art, culture, do nothing. This is what Dubravka Ugrešic, the Croat writer, talks about when she writes about the Balkans war that she did nothing to stop the slaughter. She didn’t pay attention to the venom produced by the politicians and broadcast by the media. And then, like in the former Yugoslavia, culture becomes an accomplice in crime – because it failed to say no.
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Um das Thema »Politiken der Kunst« gruppieren sich die Texte der Nummer 1 der Zeitschrift INAESTHETIK. Gibt es einen politischen Auftrag des Kunstwerks? Wie bestimmt sich der Ort des Kunstwerks im sozialen Feld? Wie verhalten sich Kunstproduktion, Kunstkritik, Kunstwissenschaften und Philosophie zueinander? Ist Kunst zwingend kritisch: institutions-, markt- und ideologiekritisch? Oder setzt das Kunstwerk noch der Kritik und ihrem guten Gewissen Grenzen, die aus ihm eine riskante und vielleicht notwendig affirmative Praxis machen? Liegt der Sinn in diesen immer wieder mit dem Kunstwerk verbundenen Kategorien des Widerstands und der Subversion nicht auch in einer Art Selbstberuhigung, die es dem Künstler und der Künstlerin erlaubt, am politischen Spiel ohne wirklichen Einsatz teilzunehmen, sodass das politische Bewusstsein die Funktion einer uneingestandenen Entpolitisierung übernimmt? Wie affirmativ muss ein Kunstwerk sein, um subversiv oder politisch sein zu können?