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New Art and New Arts of Government:  Artistic Form and Authoritarian Liberalisms in the 1970s

At the outset of the 1970s, the onset of a global economic downturn, breakdown of the Bretton Woods system of fixed exchange rates, and rise of nationalisms among oil-producing Arab states, among other factors, produced a series of crises in the US-led postwar order and its mode of governmentality. The decade erupted into what Grégoire Chamayou, drawing on Michel Foucault, has termed the ‘ungovernable society’ attacking colonial, racial, gendered, class-based, and other forms of domination. At the same time emerged a new mode of governmentality in the form of ‘authoritarian liberalism’, conjoining a strong repressive state and free market economy, evident to varying degrees in countries including Chile, Argentina, and the UK. 

Artistic responses to the system shifts and intertwined crises of the 1970s have typically been narrated, from a Euro-American perspective, as a critique of the modernist object and a turn towards participatory, conceptual, performance-based, and other modes of ‘dematerialised’ practices. This panel endeavours to develop a more global view of geo-historically specific yet interconnected practices by asking how artistic form – and practices of form-making more broadly – responded to the crisis of governmentality and new techniques of authoritarian liberalism characterising the 1970s. It invited papers addressing this question through urban, regional, or network-based case studies, critically engaging frameworks including, but not limited to, world systems theory, historical sociology, and international relations in order to do so. 

Session Convenors: 

Kylie Gilchrist,  University of Manchester 

Adeena Mey, Afterall, Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London 

Luke Skrebowski,  University of Manchester 

Speakers: 

Hamed Yousefi, Northwestern University  

Modern Art and the Politics of Spirituality Under Authoritarian Liberalism 

In the decades before the 1979 revolution in Iran the Saqqakhaneh school was systematically patronized by the Pahlavi monarchy and by artistic institutions of the “free world.” Today, Saqqakhaneh epitomizes non-Western artists’ attempt to create a modernism based on local and vernacular traditions. But why did political systems that espoused capitalist development in the 1960s and 70s support an art that valorized per-modern visual motifs? Answering this question reframes reductive and ahistorial understandings of what it meant for artists and patrons to recover Persian and Islamic forms. This paper argues that instead of passively adopting these visual traditions, Saqqakhaneh artists redefined and reinvented Persian and Islamic art as an authentic way of reorganizing everyday life under and against modernity. They were in fact responding to what many contemporaneous authors called “the crisis of man,” that is, the idea of the modern man as a tragic figure who faced terror and brutality without support from spirituality or community. Saqqakhaneh refashioned Persian and Islamic art as a solution for man’s contemporary predicament. Its original contribution was that it offered non-materialist and spiritual remedies for material crises that defined life under authoritarian liberalism—remedies favored by the political agents who patronized this art. 

Wing Chan, University of the Arts London  

David Morris, University of the Arts London  

Precarious solidarities? Artists for Democracy (1974–1977)  

This paper takes Artists for Democracy (AFD) as a starting point to explore the entanglement of art in the UK with transnational solidarities shaped by migration and political mobilisation. AFD formed in London in 1974 to give ‘material and cultural support to liberation movements worldwide’. The founding group included Guy Brett, John Dugger, David Medalla and Cecilia Vicuña, and their first major initiative was the two-week ‘International Arts Festival for the Chilean Resistance’ (1974) at the Royal College of Art. AFD subsequently reconvened in a squatted building at 143 Whitfield Street as a space for exhibitions, events, meeting and organising. The histories of AFD reveal festival as a form and practice encompassing banner-making and posters, artworks, photographs, films, machines and sounds, participation, performances, lectures, and slide shows, by artists of diverse origins to collectively address political conjunctures. Notable initiatives at the AFD space include Rasheed Araeen’s first solo exhibition in Britain (1975); festival in solidarity with Vietnam and Indochina (1975); ‘China Show’ (1976); the American Indian Movement protest exhibition (1976); David Medalla’s ‘participation-production-propulsion’ Eskimo Carver (1977). Other artists involved include Anne Bean, Stephen Cripps, Rose English, Susan Hiller, Tina Keane, Lynn MacRitchie, David Toop, among many others; and Whitfield St itself emerged as a collectively organised, artist-led and experimental institution, where artists and cultural workers performed multiple roles. Drawing from approaches in exhibition studies and intensive archival research, this paper will highlight selected moments across AFD’s three-year history and explore the collective articulation of these moments for the present. 

John Beeson, Columbia University 

Cultural Politics at the End of Third World Nationalisms  

“The world history of neoliberalism,” write Raewyn Connell and Nour Dados, “is a history from below.” Whereas scholars have tended to describe neoliberal reason and neoliberal doctrine as exports from the Global North imposed in the Global South, Connell and Dados encourage us to study the ways in which they developed independently in places such as Argentina and Indonesia. In this paper, I look to art in those countries to analyze the emergent cultural conditions of neoliberalism. With their founding document and Ezeiza (1973), the Grupo de Contrainformacíon sought to provide information on the detriments of economic liberalization, as well as repression, amid the transition to Argentina’s last military junta. In the series of exhibitions Pameran Seni Kepribadian Apa (What [Is] Identity, 1977-1979), Gerakan Seni Rupa Baru (the Indonesian New Art Movement) strove to critique the idea of national identity enforced by the New Order government. Each group responded to the local specificities of renegotiated contacts between the First, Second, and Third Worlds, gesturing toward solidarity between Third World nations amid comparatively different experiments with neoliberalism. By identifying the presumptions shared by these two artist groups––that art is imbricated with socio-politics, that art can convey propositional content, and that art can thereby play an active role in cultural politics––I argue that their works prefigure the terms of later culture wars (in 1980s London, in the US in the 1990s, and beyond). By studying the relation between socio-economics, geopolitics, and art, I create a greater understanding of the newfound importance that art gained during this period.  

August Jordan Davis, University of Texas at Arlington  

Divide and Conquer: Amalia Pica, The Empty Set, and Legacies of Argentina’s ‘Dirty War’ 

London-based Argentinian artist (b. 1978) Amalia Pica’s participatory artworks explore systems of communication / community, and their authoritarian opponents: Venn Diagrams (Under the  Spotlight) (2011, 54th Venice Biennale), A ∩ B ∩ C (A intersects B intersects C) (2013, Mexico City) and Strangers (2008; performed Tate Modern, London, 2016). Inspired by her childhood in Argentina, working through what academic Susana Kaiser entitled Postmemories of terror: a new generation copes with the legacy of the ‘Dirty War’ [1976 – 1983] (2005), Pica instantiates encounters with a kind of social distancing aimed not at the health of the body politic, but at its annihilation. Pica explores the junta’s strategy of the disappearance, illuminating their outlawing of intersectional set theory curriculum in echo of the regime’s brutal campaign ‘disappearing’ 30,000 citizens, aiming to eradicate dissent. Venn Diagrams themselves offer visualizations of set theory’s logical propositions beyond mere numerical and symbolic notations, able to figure both the relationality of mathematics, and of society’s interconnectedness. Whether in notational or diagrammatic form, set theory can render visible the absent, the empty set, the space yet to be filled, or … vacated. It allows memorialisation of the disappeared (see 2018’s novel Empty Set by Argentinian author Verónica Gerber Bicecci). As Alain Badiou proposes, set theory beyond its pure mathematical application also can present a system by which structures render (visible or invisible) subjects. Pica’s artworks provoke timely, cautionary encounters with the dematerialisations of art and life in the 1970s which continue to prove resonant and instructional today. 

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