Chie Konishi discusses Kate Lepper’s projectPosted: June 23, 2012
‘Art is not, in the first instance, political because of the message and sentiments it conveys concerning the state of the world […] (It is political) because of the type of space and time that it institutes, and the manner in which it frames its time and people in space’
Jacques Rancière , Aesthetics as Politics, 2004 [i]
Prior to her residency at Meantime in June 2012, Kate Lepper was invited to undertake a project at Site Festival in Stroud during the last week of May. Kate made ‘a tactile psuedo-protest banner’, a statement of intent, that read ‘There is a Cure for Capitalism Inside Your Imagination That Wants to Get Out’. It was made on-site, inside the Brunel Goods Shed next to the railway station, and this location naturally created opportunities for discussion between Kate and visitors to the space. As the work progressed, I listened to how skillfully Kate held conversations with people, whose political views all varied, and I realized that the bold, dogmatic message on the banner was producing something quite contrasting; a need for the artist to listen and respond with flexibility and sensitivity. It became clear that the project is more than simply the aestheticization of a political statement in colourful fabrics and seductive plastics; the ‘response-ability’ – an ability to respond – of both the artist and the audiences was itself evoked by the banner. The banner functioned as an affirmation of the artist’s political viewpoint, in relation to which differentiations of individual thoughts and opinions could be mapped.
What I am trying to allude to here is that the political radicality of this new body of work is not necessarily only contained in the banner’s statement. As Rancière describes, ‘Art is not, in the first instance, political because of the message and sentiments it conveys concerning the state of the world’. What seems as important as the content of the statement is the fact that the tensions within the tactile objects of Kate’s previous works, between intelligibility and sensuality, between the autonomous, isolated object and the relational, emancipated object, have shifted to become integrated. So how does this affect the relation between the object, the artist and the audience? To my question of why she was now using text in her work, her answer was to make her political view more explicit, and I wondered if this was not simply a desire to attempt to exert influence but equally to receive more charged and explicit responses from the audience. In this way she is demanding more from the audience than just to listen and observe; they are transformed from an indeterminate audience to a particular audience, expected to demonstrate the same measure of response-ability as Kate is, to speak their mind. According to Ranciere, this is a subtle, and yet a radical reconfiguration of social relations that touches upon the kernel of human politics: ‘Politics occurs when those who ‘have no’ time take the time necessary to front up as inhabitants of a common space and demonstrate that their mouths really do emit speech capable of making pronouncements on the common which cannot be reduced to voices signaling pain’[ii].
What makes art political is not its marriage with Politics, but its intervention with the condition and the context of Politics. This is the difference between the ‘staging’ of Politics and the ‘dismantling and reconfiguring ‘ of the staging of Politics. This is why I am not discussing the content of the statement at this stage, although it is not my intention to deny the importance of the affirmation of her political view without which the work could result in an utopian ‘conversational’ project. Rather I would like to raise the following questions concerning the engineering of the staging: what is the statement staged for, to whom is it directed, and where should it be performed? If the particularity of the audience is an important part of the project, then at what stage in her project does the particularity of the audience need to be specified? And how does the significance of tactility, or even the materiality, of an object situate itself within this configuration?
[i] Rancière, Jacques, ‘Aesthetics as Politics’, in Aesthetics and its Discontents, trans.
Steven Corcoran, Polity, Cambridge, 2009, pp. 19-44
[ii] Ibid, p24 – By “ those who ‘have no’ time”, Rancière is referring to Plato’s statement that artisans have time for nothing but their work. What Plato is alluding is that artists have no time to be at the people’s assembly but only to be at their studios. Artisans are not political subjects capable of making speeches. Rancière critiques that this ‘absence of time’ is actually a naturalized prohibition created by a particular framing of time and space.