|alytus biennial 1|
International festival of experimental art
first manifesto of civil twilight
Since 2000, I have sought to develop means of critical arts practice capable of addressing the interrelated production of civic space, temporal experience and ideological knowledge. This work debates the extent to which authorities of state (through whichever agency) construct civic space as means of encouraging desires peculiar and amenable to their political and economic interests. Essential to this enquiry is the discovery of revised roles and strategies of art practice that recognise and respond to the complexities of civic practices, beyond previous considerations of ‘public art.' I have favoured performance art chiefly in this respect due to its potential to respond spontaneously to changing context where appropriate and because of its temporal as well as spatial qualities in practice. This provides credible means of commenting on civic architectural practice through public sharing of experience of inhabiting and consuming civic space. Walking continuously in and around civic squares, mostly, encouraging discursive encounters with members of the public over the times of sunset and sunrise is a typical feature of performances in the series ‘Civil Twilight'. The project has centred investigation on civic squares and spaces of Sf?ntu Gheorghe, Sheffield, Dundee, London , Minsk , Timi?oara , Nové Z?mky, Barcelona , Belfast , Los Angeles , Tel Aviv, Budapest and Beijing . The term ‘civil twilight' refers to periods of dawn and dusk before and after which ordinary outdoor activities require artificial illumination to continue. I also chose this as the title of the project to connote poetically the twilight of belief in ‘civil society'.
If ‘civil society' refers to societal conditions that ensure shared participation in the implementation of powers of state through protection of individual liberties of expression and assembly then belief in this discourse is currently infirm. Civil society as a representational economy developed during the Classicist and Renaissance inspired Enlightenment as a codified reproduction of universalised social relations which would recommend the pre-eminent moral validity of liberal democratic ideals. This hegemony impresses its pre-eminence on its inhabitants through granting the apparent means to challenge its authority. Resulting anxiety over any loss of those liberties, however, immediately compromises any exercise of civil liberty. This fundamental compromise at once mocks any claim of there being a shared basis of power in civil society, thus rendering it more a ‘representation of space' than a ‘representational space' (as Henri Lefebvre would perhaps term it 1). Loss of liberty within the context of civil society fears a loss of security in historical, cultural, economic or national identity, a loss of belief that individual or collective choices and desires are at least sovereign, achievable and justifiable. Above all there is residual fear that another unfamiliar mode of socio-civic ideology foreign to the culture and morality of neocapitalist liberal-democracy (if in the West, looking East) could take precedence in the absence of civil society. This fear even permits the acceptance of the state's withdrawal of any liberties at times 2. Civil society continues to reproduce liberties and fears in equal measure and thus constructs rather than reflects consensus. That there remains emphasised fear of encroaching civil society in states organised around different but equally tightly held representational economies (usually in the East, looking West) says more of the similarities than the differences of state control in either context.
The codification of social relations produced through the representational economy of civil society ensures a reproduction more than repetition of history. Given that history is as spatial as temporal then this reproduction of history occurs simultaneously as the reproduction of space. The almost unchecked spatial dissemination of civil society across geo-cultural hemispheres demonstrates further the missionary universalism of its neocapitalist liberal-democratic moral source. That nothing seems amiss about the inevitable ‘good' of civil society if an “ arena of uncoerced collective action around shared interests, purposes and values” 3, a greater complex of difficulty emerges around where the qualification of ‘coercion' begins and ends. That civil society distinguishes “ its institutional forms [...] from those of the state, family and market”4 less practical difference exists with an obviously coercive society insofar as “boundaries between state, civil society, family and market are often complex, blurred and negotiated” .5 That these forms are institutional means they are also social spaces of knowledge and power and this in turn accounts for their interaction in practice. The neocapitalist liberal-democratic state exercises its influence through its sponsorship of ideologies of civil society in the interests of the market, and often the family. This is to say that regardless of the granting of civil liberties, the state remains inevitably the highest civil authority. Any dream of civil society transcending the state is thus left undone. In societies that resist the representational economy of civil society, the state remains equally the highest authority through managing the interaction of the remaining institutional forms of family and market differently. Their ideological hold over inhabitants' desires (the principle condition of maintaining power and knowledge) remains as binding, however, as in civil society.
Whether in authoritarian communist, post-socialist or neo-capitalist societies, the urban planning of civic architecture retains strikingly similar strategies if not quite identical iconographic vocabularies. Whatever differences may exist between states that employ the representational economy of civil society and those who do not, the state's deployment of civic architecture appears largely uniform. Civic space pre-exists and continues its reproduction across societies regardless of perceptions of that society as coercive or otherwise. The urban planning of civic architecture occupies then a fundamental role in shaping socio-civic experience, behaviour, knowledge and understanding. It also attempts to perpetrate an ongoing codification of socio-civic relations. The urban planning of civic architecture strategically manifests spaces of representation inviting commonplace, widespread acquiescence with the principles of the state. This effects a sometimes-indiscernible embodiment, internalisation and mistaking of state values for one's own. This explains whatever allowance of belief exists in whichever variant of ‘democracy' the state permits as instrumental to its ends. These values must be ubiquitous if the state is to continue its governance and regulation of our collective desires and socio-civic understanding. There remains then a conceivable ‘state mode of production' of cultural, social, political and moral value. This mode of production endures regardless of the advent of a ‘post-industrial' epoch. In fact, the confidence currently placed by the state in ‘knowledge-based' economy as a re-conditioning of capital circulation permitting a ‘post-industrial' future raises the stakes further if anything. Economies of knowledge re-awaken the potential of ideological dividend. As the production of social relations long since supersedes the commodity object or product so the possibilities to manipulate or distort knowledge through representations of civic space becomes of urgent cultural importance.
‘Civil society', something we in the West may find easier to term as ‘culture' or ‘civilisation', thus reveals itself as a territory worthy of contestation and reclamation. The realisation that ‘civil society' belongs not to any collective emergence of social custom but to social custom as directed and required by the state signals our instinctual desire to reclaim the representations that we now realise governs us. It is also clear moreover that the state chiefly employs the urban planning of civic architecture to disseminate those narratives of its epochal development and its, more often martial than civil, achievements consistently. The state thus equates its mythical progress through typically ideological distortion of knowledge of ‘civilisation'. It is in the sense that belief in ‘civil society' has entered its current twilight phase and that we now feel compelled to critique civic architecture and civic understanding through the intervention of critical arts practice in civic space. These lines cross in the civic square. That the state has always taken enormous pains to privilege the civic square as a reproductive mechanism of civic signification and representation comes as no surprise. The civic square is at once the emblematic apogee and denominator of the urban planning of civic architecture. The edifice of the civic square reminds that in the state's requirement of its subjects obedience is of the highest value. Exposing ideology - which is to say knowledge willfully or accumulatively distorted by the state, appearing reasonable only through monological address - to processes of critique can thus change consciousness. To do so, one must employ dialogical rather than dialectal models 6. Critical arts practice reveals itself usefully as an as different means of sharing and constructing knowledge amongst inhabitants of civic spaces in ways not immediately possible or designed for ‘public art' thus far.
‘Public art' as we mostly know it is restricted in its capacity for critique and change given its often acquiescent relationship – mainly through forms of state patronage - with either overly-formal or overly universalised socio-civic proposals. The work of art should instead emerge from within the envelope of everyday life; gaining visibility gradually from the ground up and then receding too when appropriate. It is the formation of a discursive encounter between civilians, which neither requires nor invites the sanction of the state. The encounters that are the works of art of ‘Civil Twilight' involve dialogical than monological address. They involve face-to-face meeting, recognition and respect. The presumption of whom is ‘other' faces immediate scrutiny and the encounter is shaped less by bluntly irrelative cultural imagery. The difference of this encounter lies in its emergence from and situation within a representational economy different from that of ‘civil society' where the individual can only be represented by a mass. Zdenka Badovinac lends description to this alternative economy of representation well in a separate discussion of ‘body art' that I believe nonetheless portrays closely the intersubjective experience of the discursive encounter of ‘Civil Twilight' . “It is because the artist's body is necessarily defined only in terms of the relation with the other, and because – due to its inherent intersubjectivity and performativess – it can be a model of another representational economy. The artist's body [...] is not self-sufficient – his/her identity acts within a context, but at the same time his/her body is also the location for projections of viewers' desires.” 7 From within this representational economy, ‘Civil Twilight' seeks to uncover transformative approaches toward understanding our participation in the consciousness of ‘culture' through challenging the spatial monumentality of the urban planning of civic space and of art within that space.
Begin Civil Twilight.
Totnes and Szombathely , July 2005
1. According to Lefebvre, ‘representation of space' refers to “conceptualized space, [...] the dominant space in any society (or mode of production) [which tends] towards a system of verbal (and therefore intellectually worked out) signs”. By contrast, ‘representational space' is “space as directly lived through its associated images and symbols, [...] the dominated - and hence passively experienced – space which the imagination seeks to change and appropriate.” Lefebvre, Henri (1991) The Production of Space , tr. Donald Nicholson-Smith, Oxford : Blackwell, p. 39
2. At the time of writing, the United Kingdom government has shown particularly willing in withdrawing certain civil liberties through proposing the introduction of compulsory biometric identification cards and modifications to trial-by-jury amongst other moves. These proposals are designed to resolve the dilemma of maintaining ‘our way of life' in the context of the ‘war on terror' and rises in illegal immigration.
3. Centre for Civil Society, London School of Economics (2004) What is Civil Society? [online] available from < http://www.lse.ac.uk/collections/CCS/what_is_civil_society.htm > [12 July 2005].
4. Centre for Civil Society, London School of Economics (2004)
5. Centre for Civil Society, London School of Economics (2004)
6. The dialectics of Hegel (the interplay between consciousness and reality leading to refinement of concepts) and Marx (the interplay between consciousness and reality leading to transformation of material conditions of reality) both aspire to conclusions either exclusively conceptual or material. These models thus continue to depend on binary relations that remain too imprecise to critique everyday experience of ‘civil society'.
7. Badovinac, Zdenka (1998) ‘Body And The East', in Body And The East , exh. cat., London and Cambridge , MA : MIT, p. 10
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