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Jan Verwoert 4: Facing things in state of crisis: 7.1.2009

Facing things in a state of crisis: From debt to dedication.

As a consequence of the attempt to dismantle certain categorical definitions of what art practice (after conceptualism) is about, the discussions after the previous lectures time and again raised the question: How can we seek to understand the situation that we find ourselves in when we reject a type of thinking that conceptualizes art practice solely in terms of a legitimatory discourse of stated intentions and programmatic declarations? 

It would seem that, in the absence of programmatic marching orders, we encounter a state of crisis where what is to be done is unclear so that indecission and paralysis automatically ensue. But what, if it was only in this critical situation of indeterminacy that the things that might truly matter for an awareness of what could be done begin to emerge - precisely because they are no longer obscured by overblown heroic narratives of what would have to be done? How to find a language for this moment, when in a state of hiatus, the haecceity of things might most keenly and painfully be perceived?

Unprotected by a legitimatory apparatus of programmatic declarations one in fact becomes fully exposed to the desires of others and that entails – in the art world – the painful awareness of one’s dependency on the fickleness of those desires of others. Inevitably one ends up in debt, symbolically, financially, emotionally. What to do with this debt? The launch of fast careers might provide fast relief, but will effectively only increase the dependency on those who facilitate those careers. The alignment with established schools of thinking through programmtic conceptual statements may likewise merely reinforce intellectual dependencies that are no less oppressive.

So how to face the debt? Maybe by proactively indebting oneself to others - others one loves or remains indebted to, if not haunted by - in an act of dedication. What would it mean to, conceptually, in art practice, move away from a stance of declaration towards one of dedication?
Jan Verwoert is an art critic based in Berlin. He is a contributing editor to Frieze magazine and also writes regularly about contemporary art for such art magazines as Afterall, Metropolis M. Teaches at the MA Fine Arts department at the Piet Zwart Institute Rotterdam.

Jan Verwoert

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