If the Cathedral — the network of progressive institutions which trains the apparatchiks who set the global cultural agenda — names the brain of the State, the Contemporary Art World, or CAW, is the pineal eye, the (mercy) seat of consciousness, or more precisely, bad conscience. It’s in the CAW where ideology is synthesized, lines are drawn and narratives are framed, like the usual suspects, where images and terms are screened as sacred or taboo — as “problematic” — which beta tests the normative memetic structure.
The CAW is the machine which makes the discourse, defining what the administrative elite and their clientelae are expected to believe, or really unbelieve, because nobody truly believes in the CAW. Ask anybody in it, privately, and they will tell you — of course, the CAW is nothing but a platform supporting their career objectives; that is, a platform of careerism.
The most sinuous of all contemporary industries, connected like a spiderweb of kompromat and secret knots, the CAW presents the iron cage of contemporary global capital, its instruments, and structural mechanisms, its systematic operations, and at the same time, it conceals them, precisely by discussing them, in ideologically and psychologically controlled environments — like universities and art schools — where the real is never touched, and truth is nowhere to be found.
The CAW openly despises art as such, in favor of a simulacrum of “artistic practice” made to order for deployment as a political and social weapon. CAW artists are either financial services providers contributing to money-laundering schemes, or flacks serving Party-State agendas. This structural reality is masked, ironically, through systematic transposition into revolutionary Marxist rhetoric designed to stigmatize independence of activity and thought in order to enforce command compliance.
Inside a pentagram of forces, the secret, because simultaneously open and taboo, creates a mystery where exists. Between the State and Capital, the CAW installs itself, on MacBooks (with the Apple logo covered in black tape), gmail servers, Facebook pages, Biennials, sanctioned exhibitions, discursive platforms, art magazines, bought critics, pseudo-experts, as a prophalytic mysticism of reticulated lies. Metropolitan museums, like the MoMA, or the Tate Modern, the New Museum or the Whitney, conceived as tourist institutions, frame and disseminate the global message. Regional museums serving as satellites and franchises transmit the message to the provinces.
The spectacle extends across an archipelago of art schools. For their students, the calculation is admission to a system, like the Mafia, in which the key criteria isn’t good or bad, but In or Out. For the CAW, they constitute an industrial reserve army — an outer party — exploited on two sides as both consumers and producers. Their strategic function is to justify the operations of the CAW politically, thereby enabling it practically. Their everyday reality is complete creative poverty, sucking-up to critics and curators, or sleeping with them, between writing applications forms to impersonal authorities seeking institutional permission to make art.
Why don’t they withdraw? Because they can’t: their whole identity is anchored in the CAW. Because both materially and psychologically invested in the party-system — credentialed by it — they will bitterly defend it, via periodic projection-discharges of their synthesized resentments in order to remain inside CAW structures.
The CAW co-opts its critics by offering them positions in the extant status hierarchy, while enforcing their dependency by underpaying them. Status in the CAW is ultimately based on an illusion of success, in which everyone collaborates in order to sustain. The only people who make a decent living in the CAW are the most cynical and evil people in the world. If you triangulate the signals, you find the source of the transmission. A network created in an institutional formation expresses, in the means through which it operates, the actions it performs, and the connections it establishes, the political and economic will of that formation.
The white of the eye of the CAW is political art, or what might better be labelled police art. “Since art is dead,” remarks Guy Debord, “it has become extremely easy to disguise police as artists.” Administered and funded by the State, in partnership with decentralized transnational fronts, CAW police art is intended, not to present the public with political realities, but to obscure them, and suppress their accurate articulations.
Until recently operating mainly invisibly, the violent protests organized at the LD50 gallery in London in February marked a shift, in which the CAW-State institutional machine swung around to demonstrate a threat of force which had remained implicit, and an integrated structure, which had hitherto remained concealed.
Initially constituted, Stasi-like, on the basis of private messages shared to Facebook by a naive and narcissistic student, the operation escalated rapidly through propaganda circulated by the EU-funded, State-controlled Antifa organ Mute. LD50 was identified as a crypto-fascist cell. This preposterous charge, asserted without evidence, was supported by key CAW institutions including Goldsmith’s College, the Royal College of Art, the global propaganda network e-flux, and government-funded magazines Art Monthly and Texte zur Kunst, with the collusion of the Guardian, the Labour Party, and the New York Times.
Incorporating death threats, rape threats, incitement, disinformation, harassment, physical violence, and vandalism, the operation presented a compelling picture of a model of repression likely to be extended in the next few years. Under the direction of Royal College of Art employee, Momentum member, Unite official, and UK Labour Party activist Andrew Osborne, flanked by lumpen cognitariat operating from the Mayday Room, an Antifa propaganda and recruitment centre controlled by billionaire art collector Alex Sainsbury, a climate of intimidation was established. Artists and students fell into line. A rally supporting the Antifa was organized by Suhail Malik at Goldsmith’s College, as part of the official MFA course program. John Russell, a CAW artist who’d previously exhibited at LD50 — and therefore must have realized that the charges made against it were completely false — assessed the balance of powers, and cynically joined the campaign. Mohammed Salemy made the same craven move, and fired LD50 speaker Nick Land from teaching at the New Center for Research and Practice (NCRAP). Exhibition of material deriving from LD50 was effectively banned across London.
A series of factors were clearly were in play — as the State-bought critic Ana Texiera Pinto reported in her Texte Zur Kunst piece, the student Sophie Jung’s initial act of publicly informing against the gallery arrived through a sense of rejection “from being ignored.” Here one starts to see the outlines of the bigger picture as the CAW patronage machine begins to stall.
The conflict took shape between, on the one hand, a State-backed institutional hegemony and on the other, an anomalous position composed of an isolated project space, a group of anon Twitter accounts, and outsider writers like Land without institutional protection. The fact the strings of the campaign were pulled by a goon-tier professional activist without any clear interest in, or knowledge of art, despite being employed by a prestigious art institution is illuminating insofar as it reveals the level of extant State political control of the CAW, and the hollowness of CAW institutional prestige.
In the red corner, accredited CAW apparatchiks, backed by State-funded institutions, organizing attack squads against external positions, and in the blue, a cultural proletariat — anon accounts — without names, and denied a license to exhibit art, or speak. Only what did the external position in this case signify? From a historical perspective, the event — the protests, the activity around the protests, and the radicalism of the ethical positions it compelled the crowd to take — demonstrated all the signs of how an avant-garde announces itself, to jeers and catcalls.
All revolutions in art are returns to realism; the Cathedral is also the Matrix, or what Plato called the Cave. Formally, progressive ideology, or rhetoric isn’t necessarily essential, but historical. The central feature is memetic, corresponding to the systematic social, even magical reproduction of a consensual hallucination as a dogma, and from the other side of the divide, the problem of evading the dragnet. In other words, real opposition to the CAW is not ideological, but structural — to oppose the CAW does not mean to oppose it point by point, symbolically, but to reject, materially, the framework of discussion it imposes.
In the end the CAW maintains one law — obey the CAW, that is, the extant status hierarchy. In return, it offers opportunities that theoretically may be pursued, but practically remain remote. For every individual, the conflict takes shape between, on the one hand, thirst for status inside the CAW bureaucracy, and the other hand, commitment to a reckless integrity and personal artistic truth, no matter what the cost.
Sooner or later, one has to be sacrificed for the other — those who choose the CAW, come to control it, and thereby reinforce it, while until relatively recently, a choice for exit was equally a choice for silence. But cyberspace has altered that equation. Today it’s possible to find associates for creativity and collaboration – for a more intense and sincere creativity – outside of CAW structures. This fact, in itself, has already drastically undermined the CAW value proposition.
The avant-garde motto is “No thanks, we’ll do it ourselves.” Because the institutional hegemony which has been rejected, protocols and spaces need to be created out of scratch, around prevailing norms and structures.
The initial motive isn’t provocation, but the CAW is nonetheless provoked. Like the Cathedral, the CAW is totalitarian — it must maintain a monopoly over cultural standards at all times. There is only one Cathedral — mutatis mutandis CAW artists must be regarded as the most important artists, CAW critics must be recognized as experts in their fields, as opposed to expert cocksuckers, CAW institutions must be held to show the most important art and artists. Ultimately the CAW must retain a monopoly on who, and what, deserves attention. At a certain point, the existence of an independent source of cultural power becomes a threat: a form of counter-sovereignty and alternative legitimacy, which the CAW must defang or destroy.
The specific question here takes shape between the two most influential poles which appeared at LD50 — Nick Land, and the neo-Dada subversion of the internet anons sometimes called Frogtwitter. Separated by a generation, an ocean, and a continent, what they share is a rejection of the progressive straightjacket, a collective sense of practice anchored in the history of heterodoxy and esotericism, and autopoietic organization on the internet as opposed to within art schools or art academic institutions.
“Land’s contempt for orthodoxy,” notes Urbanomic publisher Robin Mackay in the introduction to Fanged Noumena, “was no disingenuous pose struck whilst ruthlessly pursuing advancement. With a complete absence of academic ambition, he willingly paid the price for his provocations both personally and professionally.” Frogtwitter, for their part, never dropped out, because they never dropped in.
For the sake of rhetorical cuteness, it is possible to suggest that the cultural landscape both parties share is KWA. Initially a 4chan slang term for America — “Amerikwa” — under conditions of contemporary decline, the terms contains a spiritual dimension suggestive of revivifying barbarian invasions.
The KWA isn’t a label which this counterculture uses to describes itself as such, but it is a term that circulates within it. Like in the history of modern art, when Europe in the 1920s turned into the object of external — US — fascination, and transformed into internationalism, halfway between the object, and the gaze, like Ezra Pound’s description of a language halfway between speech and action, the KWA installs itself, a landscape of memetic being.
The KWA is to the transnational socialist CAW as the bohemian Montmartre was to Ecole des Beaux-Arts — the mirror image and negation, pregnant with the possibility of renewal by inversion. If the ideal image of the CAW is the metropolitan white cube, clean, well-lit, and contemporary, and the ego-ideal of the population is VIP, good-looking, cosmopolitan, diverse and wealthy (but fashionably slumming it as broke), the subject of the KWA is the reverse — NEET, dysgenic, incel, sperg, autistic — everything which drives society, and animates the culture on the ground.
Unlike the CAW, the KWA isn’t bureaucratically controlled — there is no ideological certification system governing employment opportunities. As such the KWA provides the possibility of working with and looking at everything — concepts, ideas, thoughts and practices — forbidden to appear there.
The key condition of admission is the subtraction of identity. “Anon disdains the cupidity of ego-aggrandizement” read a statement posted on the LD50 page. “The dissenter is distinguished from the faux-dissenter,” observes “Edward Waverley”, “by his genuine worry about being found out.”
In fact, fear isn’t the only distinguishing factor — equally important is incentivized reward. Fundamentally, the CAW sells artists, not art, in line with internal market ideological imperatives, incarnated as identities in a conveyor-belt identity parade. For individuals, the motive is a thirst for recognition. For the system, the idea is a commercial need for cover. KWA disdains identity from a rejection of this circuit; but as Mackay points out, the heroism of Land is that he was prepared to take the bullet. The subtraction of identity isn’t an affirmation of anonymity, but the affirmation that it doesn’t matter who is speaking.
Against the identity politics of the contemporary culture industry , secret police procedures by another name, the axiomatic law of the KWA is that in the end, everybody meets the same fate.
In the dissonance it manufactures daily, the moral and creative failure it fuels, and the conformity and mediocrity which it rewards, the CAW exalts the doctrine that the highest art in our society is self-deception. Exiting means exiting from bad faith and depression, from anemic spaces and amniotic rhetoric, from claustrophobic social circles and parodic status hierarchies, dreary magazines, dead-eyed party intellectuals, and sterile galleries— to cease validating what occurs there, and the people laboring within it. No platform the platform, and replace it. For the first time in a long time, perhaps, artists face a choice — to be the slaves of a decaying system, or bring about an age of swarming from the institutions the likes of which has never yet been seen.