Arts and politics: from radical perspectives to innovative interventions

Elen Riot, Elena Raviola and Claudia Schnugg

Arts are related to politics, and they are often involved in public policies, beyond what is officially defined as “cultural” or related to a common State heritage. There are different ways to deal with the official limits and boundaries of arts and culture.

We observe different sorts of relations in various art activities and in this call, our goal is to provide collectively a better view of the relationship between arts and politics in relation to social practices and values as the objects of study of ethnographers. In an effort to illustrate the possible dimensions present in arts and politics as they interact in actors’ choices and creations, we provide a few examples of specific positions in situations transversal to specific disciplines in the arts.

For instance, some artists and art groups claim to be engaged in politics, for and against. They tend to associate their work with some kind of manifesto. On the contrary, other artists claim they take no stand, and want their art production to be considered with no political stand or standard in mind.

Another clear cut opposition is the choice, for artists, to collaborate with a politic regime, or to resist it. This involvement may turn to be so important that it provides a key to the artwork, without which it cannot be properly understood. It also explains the official support or the samizdat forms taken by the communication and transmission of the works to an audience. For instance, dissidents have often relied on diasporas and foreign audiences to be heard and convey their message in their home country.

Finally, just as art may be a way to promote mass consumerism and its branded products, it can also be a way to resist the optimist view of innovation and creativity as sources of social progress and collective enrichment in a post-industrial age. Another example is that of the founders of the Media Lab who used art to escape the world of high tech engineering and its functional approach to society. Moreover, also artworks primarily valued for their aesthetic, interactive or innovative attributes might examine the social and political impact of the media they are using or content they are reflecting on. They might disrupt rhythms, disturb the flow of a nice visit to a cultural event or museum, or stir up in a safely looking world. Lately, art festivals, media labs, cultural events and artists are critiqued to neglect this kind of artworks that might be seen as radical intervention.

In most situations when artists had to make a choice for or against a form of authority over their work, we may observe that both imagination and sensations became very important. Art always has a specific way of changing the present terms of the deal and to transform the world, for instance, dancing provides more room to the body when the intellect rules, whereas writing fiction provides some kind of escape from an iron cage. Yet, what could once appear a safe haven, free from power and politics, may always become an entrapment where coming up with expectations in producing a performance tends to be a binding commitment.

We welcome papers dealing with all issues in relation to arts and politics.

Please send a 500 word abstract or proposal by Tuesday 28th February 2017 to all stream convenors.

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