Fascism as performance art

The following are the notes I’ve prepared for SIKAD’s activity, Usapang Komyu, which focused on Art and Fascism. All of the citations came from Hito Steyerl’s “Let’s Talk About Fascism,” which is to say, none of these are “original,” so to say, but a processing of local experiences of Fascist tendencies with Steyerl’s observation with contemporary Europe Far-Right uprisings.

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Fascism feeds on the perceived ineffectivity of politics, most especially of democratic representational politics. “Where representation collapses or spins off into precipitous loops and feedbacks, fascism seemingly offers easy answers. It is the panic button for blocking off annoying remnants of reality.” (178)

Fascism is a politics of comfort. It does not try to resolve contradictions and also do not try to make way to resolve diverse needs of diverse groups towards real economic equality. Instead, it “tries to replace equality by uniformity.” (179). The condition of San Roque is a derivative of fascism: the state does not and will never acknowledge such diversity of life and struggle, and would rather prefer gentrification and privatization of spaces. The flattening of the city. To have the same malls and commercial centers as the other district within the same city. All calls for more efficient government policies on housing are being ignored, in exchange of corporate taxes from places which the majority who will never really need to access.

Contemporary form of fascism is the government hijacking itself to justify authoritarian control, in the guise of “emergency” and “necessity.” Our local strongman play dumb and weak to justify more military, extramilitary and paramilitary interventions. Our local government and other national office officials deliberately wasting public money on useless projects such as film festivals, art fairs and VIP parties here and abroad to highlight the excesses of libertarianism and liberalism, then act as if it is against to it. The president acting against corruption while making high ranking government officials richer from unexplained bonuses and fat cheques while job orders and part timers barely live off their monthly wage. All to generate a populist outrage, while making you feel powerless.

Government’s derivative fascism in the form of performance art.

Economically, Fascism do not stray far from neoliberal economics. It would explain the existence of Salvador Panelo as adviser. In the same manner as the original Fascists of Italy, contemporary derivatives of fascism is comfortable with private profit and are giving more incentives to big business. Neoliberalism – with its incentives for individual pursuit of profit – has benefited a lot with the governments’ implementation of price deregulation and privatization of a lot of industries. This goes as far as the Marcoses, which the succeeding administrations from the Older Aquino to the relatively Younger Aquino continued, that instead of founding national economies, instead of more effective economic policies to support nationalization of basic industries, they opted for total privatization of industries. Market liberation at the expense of Import-dependence and export-orientedness and more imperialist-backed militarized support for foreign businesses. Which justifies below-living standard minimum wage, land grabbing and wide spread povertization of the population.

As a performance art, the Government’s derivative fascism’s form is indiscriminate violence against the poor. From actual killings to forced eviction. The state’s “monopoly of violence” itself has a neoliberal property: the violators are either employed uniformed men sidelining as mercenaries, or freelance killers, or members of “security companies or outsourced gangs.” While criticisms of such killings pervades mainstream media, such feedback feeds positively into government action: chaos abound, and therefore, the need for more aggressive intervention. More militarization. We are in crisis. Fascists thrive on crisis, the same as neoliberalism.

While the acts of “ineffectivity” might seem performative, the implications are real. Real people are being displaced, killed. Real lives being dismissed. Real rights being disregarded. All for the benefit of myths. A myth that all of these will be resolved by a single strong authority. The 3-6 months myth that we are promised to. The nationalist myth, while air strikes and systematized murder are being given to national minorities. Myth of going back to pre-filipino language through the promotion of baybayin while Filipino subjects are being removed from college curriculums. The myth of a national identity outside of actual struggle for nationalist independence.

Like all performance art, it is comforting only to the few of whom the “performers” are performing to. The objects of the performance, being displaced, destroyed, thrown around, being shot at. And like all performance art, it capitalizes on the interesting. Like how interesting it might be for urban planners to displace more community settlements for further corporate developments.

In the light of these, we are inviting all the artists first, to explore the nature of these derivatives of fascism. To have a dialogue with communities which are dealing with these violence on a daily basis. This is less of a condemnation of art but a provocation for artists: in the light of fascism, what is the role of artists? I know, we are all looking for autonomy. But in these kind of condition, is autonomy thinkable? In the same vain as the effectiveness of fascism as performance art, detached from any form of real community involvement, what does it make of our artwork if it is also detached from the community?

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Dialectical Materialist Responses to Liberal Wokeness (No. 1)

Today, I’m trying to start a serial again, hopefully something which I can sustain. Still, something non-cinematic in focus. I’m trying to address in this series what the title says: responding to liberal “hot takes” through abstracting them with dialectical materialism.

The method takes from the Marxist-Leninist-Maoist line which abstracts phenomena in social practice. Mao distinguished social practice from simply doing: that social practice can only be found if one is to contact doing within the living environment of the act. That social practice do not just involve production, but the whole sphere in which man lives and comes into contact with every relation (political, artistic, class, etc). But as a dialectical process, this do not mean that every aspect of social relations live harmonically, but, in essence, they exist independently from each other. Contradictions exist because we do not really exist for other beings or objects. Nature has always been in contradiction with other living beings. The tiger do not particularly care of our existence, but since it has its own needs and presets, it tries to devours things and beings which contradicts its own existence: you pass through its territory, it will attack you; it gets hungry, it will eat the first living thing it would smell. The same thing goes with human beings. Mao noted that the primary contradiction in the capitalist society is class interest. Which is why capitalism acts also as a devourment of energy since the owners of capital really is in contradictory existence with the labor force.

To situate specifically in the context of Philippine realities, dialectical materialism looks at the semi-feudal semicolonial configuration of capitalist ownership as base and its effect in social reality. It is within this context that the more specified configuration of Imperialism, Bureaucrat Capitalism and Feudalism are being addressed as drivers of capital.

For this first edition, I’m addressing the statement common among urban woke liberals and new age maoists alike:

The artist has a social responsibility for truth and justice

We need to place the concept of the artist in the backdrop of economic base to see whether this responsibility actually exist. In this sense, we need to distinguish the act of artistic production, or labor for that matter, from any other activities like, say, political, social, etc. As such, labor is private, at least under capitalist circumstances. In this situation, it must be assumed what artists and other working people are actually assuming in the first place: that labor and politics are autonomous from each other.

Since the act of production — most specially of anything artistic — is private, we can never really ask on any form of social responsibility on the onset, even though artists themselves gain their insights from exploiting the social realm of life. Seeking social responsibility from artists is the same as capitalist green politics seeking environmental responsibility from industrial companies: they do so not for the rehabilitation of nature, but for the assurance of the reproduction of the value-extraction process. That in the future, we can still exploit nature. In seeking social responsibility as an act of guilt-tripping, we reproduce capitalism through the reproduction of the socially responsible artist and socially conscious art, in the same manner that green politics assures further exploitation of nature (not to mention, of workers) by environmentally friendly companies.

But under capitalism, autonomy is not assured. Although, mere act of artistic production itself is not yet the site of capitalism, it gets crystallized in the act of its exchange. In the age of bureaucratic capitalism, a lot of cases in artistic production involve the artistic commodity being exchanged even before it was produced, through grants and other acts of patronship politics. It is in this sense that capital and its supporting political superstructure gets in the way of artistic autonomy. Capitalist extraction of value has always been in the form of blackmail: you don’t eat if you don’t work. Which is why, under capitalism, value is not intrinsic to an artwork. For any labor to be of value, Marx noted there should at least be a social necessity for a commodity before it can be said that the labor expended is of value. There is such a thing as useless labor: a labor expended on a thing which has no social necessity. Generically, there is a social need for art. Atomically, nobody asks for a specific artwork, of say, your feelings, your lovelife, or your sexual kinks, or even your political views. It is in this sense that art as a self-expression is valueless: no one asks for you to express yourself through your artwork, therefore, it’s useless.

But in the present context, art gains its value not on any form of actual material extraction, but through speculative means. This is where curators come in, and also publishers, critics, “influencers”, bureaucrats, museums, art markets, auction houses, workshops, artist talks, etc. But as much as the relationship is social, under bureaucrat capitalism, transactions remain private. You just can’t be a young, rising, breakthrough artist without, say, rubbing elbows with one who’s who, or at least, you can’t get the grant without tickling the interest of one possible member of the selection committee. Art in the 21st century is produced not as an expression, but as an algorithm. The value of any artwork stem from contradictory interests of multiple speculators, artists included. There are sellable artworks, and there’s a pattern for to attain sellability. Or at least, the algorithm is based on who do you want to sell your shit.

Looking at these instances of algorithmic social relations, any form of class-conscious ethics will only pass through the void of self-expression. There is a non-unitary relation between art as self-expression and political participation. Although, it is not yet antagonistic, since we’re failing to address each on their own terms. It is also through this non-antagonistic “resolution” of self-expression and political participation that political art meets its doom. Most political art succeeds artistically, that is, it is generating the value that it speculates, no matter how limited it is. We’ve never learned from the early 1900s modernists. The fact that Duchamp’s The Fountain is still valued may resonate still its poetic project (of exposing the non-sense of art’s speculative market), but like most subversions, Duchamp’s projects are political failures.

On a recent episode of Hermitix podcast, Nick Land noted on how on every attempt to construct a post-capitalist project, capital revives through every intelligent successes that these constructions are doing. He clarified that success here is still in the capitalist framework, that is, success is when value can possibly extracted from the thing being produced. The same regression can be seen on every attempt to salvage art and trying to make it work with a political content. As such, none of the agenda flows through the art-object produced. To make politics succeed artistically is a site of positive feedback which reinforces self-regenerating circuitry of capitalist production-for-profit. Land noted on how Mao’s attempt to actively suppress capitalist tendencies as one of the more viable attempts to escape this positive feedback loops.

To go further with Mao, it is also him who suggested to let go of the bourgeois “artistic moods”, which cybernetically feeds capital circuitry. On the onset, this is a war-tactical suggestion for art to be used and be made to work for struggle against imperialism. The ethics of this do not fall on any assumption of inherent function of art and artists in general, but its usability for the struggle by answering the question: for whom does one make art? This question is not used to impose guilt but as a starting point of critique. It exposes the position of the object produced and who produced it. It necessitates an escalation of non-unitary contradiction of art and politics to an antagonism. It is only in this site of antagonistic, partisan deployment that we can pose ethical questions. But not in asking for a responsible way of doing things, but for seeking accountability after the crime.