Marina Gržinić (Vienna/ Ljubljana)

Marina Gržinić, born 1958 in Rijeka, Croatia. She is Professor at the Academy  of Fine Arts, Vienna. She is Researcher at the institute of Philosophy (ZRC-SAZU), Ljubljana. Active  as curator, critique and writer. Involved in video art from 1982. Lives in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Works in Ljubljana and Vienna.


>> Lectures/ Presentations/ Panel

Sunday, 24.9., 12 a.m. - 19 p.m.

Moderation: Marina Gržinić


>> Contribution in MALMOE 34:

Snobbish’s emptiness as the last aesthetic form of contemporary global capitalism

Organizing exhibitions, international festivals, etc. is today becoming more and more a business affair. The vocabulary, the language that was once part of insurgent theory and creativity, grassroots and counter-cultural forces is now appropriated and reused as a brand. It is used by hype art market projects for covering their connections to dubious political affiliations and capital. Everything is presented everywhere, what matters are the hype, the trendy mixing, the copulation, of art works and show business. What disappears is the difference between places, practices and political positions. The language of counter-cultural political positions is completely cannibalized by official institutions, mass media and politicians. Carnival, interventions, pop-culture’s models of dissent, etc., are implemented by right wing politicians in order to be amusingly naïve when answering to harsh criticism. President Bush hired in February 2006 his imitator, his double, to (re)perform with him his public gaffs in order to amuse and collect as much as possible more money for the Republicans.

The vocabulary that was once part of counter-cultural forces as open source, networking, exchange, human rights, etc., is NOW implemented by those who fight these positions, for precisely blurring these political demands. Because of such performative politics’ cannibalization and appropriation, we face a complete emptying of any meaning of once radicalized positions and political art practices.

Questioning the space does not imply only and solely distinctions between the physicality of different spaces, but needs taking into account spaces as they are constituted, capitalized and appropriated through language, discursively.

To talk about divisions of the world, as a difference between the First, Second and Third world seems an obsolete endeavour in the time of global capitalism where it seems that every border is trespassed and that the supposed visibility and accessibility of each and every world reached a happy balance. Such process of global capital inclusion effectuates an even more precise exclusion. Art and culture function in such a setting as decorative elements for branding and styling of contemporary luxury lives. Big installed curators within such a context play naively childish and at the same time behave as dictators. Young curators select big branding names in order to be as well hype, to be attached to brands and becoming brands themselves.

What is part of this constant evacuation and abstraction process is as well art and culture privatization. This privatization of art and culture (re)emerged strangely powerfully present and is made powerfully visible from its long historical invisibility. Arts works, projects, ideas and practices are collected by private collections, Multinational Corporations and etc. Public institution of arts and culture are now only hosts of these private capital investments in art. What was seen in the past as a mechanism of tax money regulation and a satisfaction of private capital interests is becoming a sign of an increasing privatization of art and culture. It is a process of converting into art and culture the practice of capital accumulation in itself.

It seems we no longer work, but create. This is the process of subjectivisation through production in the time of post-Fordist global capitalism. This process transcends dualism and focuses on the shaping of subjectivity, but not through work – rather it employs creation as an activity that re-defines work and literally hides abstract exploitation. Because of this, the explanation of immaterial labour is of key importance for the explanation of the process of subjectivisation in our contemporaneity. Understanding these processes necessitates the re-connection of creation and the power of resistance, and the freeing of both from the grip of the pimp, i.e. the capitalist system.

Paolo Virno noted that in the present day the boundaries separating intellectual activity, political action and work are blurred. The post-Fordist type of (precarious) labour itself absorbed much of that which is understood as political action. And this fusion of politics and labour represents a new physiognomy of the modern world. Instead of radical politics, an abstract formalization of labour processes and art activities is what is at work. It is possible within such a context to state that the political, due to processes of performativity that engage only and solely in describing the logic of the speech act, being evacuated from any content, leads to an abstract formalization of art and cultural activities.

Similarly is possible to develop the genealogy of the human in the First Capitalist World. In his book The Open. Man and Animal (2002), Agamben writes about such an increasing abstracted formalization within the genealogy of the human, depicting in such a way the development of the human toward a mere form or a snobbish gesture without a content. Using “paradigmatic forms of the human,” Giorgio Agamben establishes the genealogy of the human as an arrangement of figures that starts in the shape of an animal, continues toward the acephalous, i.e., the headless, and finishes in the thoughtless, the snob. These are not just metaphorical but political figures of human development within the Capitalist First World’s genealogy. This genealogy is administered by the capitalist anthropological machine that is clearly moving in the direction of an increasing emptying, abstraction and formalization of what is to be perceived as the human.

What is taking act is a transition from the politics of memory to the memory of that which used to be a political act.

How do these relationships appear on the level of art and culture in reference to the world that is not one? There is an almost axiomatic work of art – a sentence uttered by Mladen Stilinovic from Zagreb who in 1997 accurately defined the initial multiculturalism as an ideological matrix of global capitalism: “An artist who cannot speak English is no artist!”

This sentence, a work of art of the 1990s, synthesizes capital’s “social sensitivity” for all those multicultural identities that should reveal themselves in the 1990s to the global capitalist world and began to talk to that world – in English, no matter how broken this English be.

However, today’s performative logic which is in perfect harmony with the abstraction and evacuation of global capitalism and its snobbish’s posture, requires the correction of this sentence: “An artist who cannot speak English well is no an artist!”

Art institutions and art projects of today, produced in the capitalist First World, function on the basis of unbearable abstraction. Capitalism is a cannibal, in order to be able to “devour” everything and everyone, it is ready to transform itself into an inventive or even “social” [capital], if the need be such. The matrix it relies on is not a utilitarian, but a cannibalistic one. The art market, today, more than ever before, exerts influence on what acquires visibility and what is included within the circles of interpretations.

The second key moment is relations of ownership, exhibitions and projects belong to someone, they have specific owners, economic (multinational) and symbolic. There are only a few chosen ones; everyone else is excluded from this story. Private property rules.

For contemporary global capitalism, the wellspring of invention power, the inexhaustible artistic creativity, is a virgin resource, an untapped vein of values that should be exploited.

That which is happily shared by today’s art, criticism and capitalist art institutions is creativity, but this is creativity without resistance. What is necessary is not a ghetto of art!

But the contamination of art and politics and of politics with art!

Jonathan L. Beller in his attempt to formulate a political economy of vision also explores the processes of abstraction and evacuation. He connects the growing abstraction of the “medium” of money in capitalism with abstraction procedures in the fields of contemporary art, culture and theory. I can say, making reference to Beller, that we are today confronted not so much with the abstraction of our senses (this being a typically modern phenomenon), but with the absolute sensualisation of abstraction, i.e. of the absolute sensualisation of the contemporary neo-liberal emptiness within global capitalism. This is a new turn in the genealogy of capitalist abstraction, evacuation and alienation that cannot be treated in an old way, as a matter of what Adorno described as the alienation of our senses.

The current state is just the opposite. It is characterized by the full sensualisation of the capitalist processes of emptiness and by exposing the totally formalized values that are becoming completely empty of all content in the “historical” sense. We can illustrate this with the sudden popularity of Herman Melville’s Bartleby sentence: “I would prefer not to do it.” This sentence that appears in Melville’s short story "Bartleby the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street" from 1853 as a “gesture” of refusal is today becoming paradigmatic and is elevated within philosophy as a gesture of the only possible withdrawal from the contaminated and implicated global capitalism. Not just to say NO, but to prefer, in a Bartleby style, not to say no, is not so much a refusal of any specific content, as it is just the formal gesture of refusal!


Good illustrations of sensualisation of abstraction are two art movies that are not ordinary Hollywood blockbusters. One is Lost in Translation (2003), by Sofia Coppola, and the other Broken Flowers (2005), by Jim Jarmusch. In both films, the image of white capitalist emptiness, hollowness and a disinterest in any kind of engagement, politics or action reaches a maximum. The white kind (portrayed through Bill Murray, the main actor in both films) is engaged only in elevating its own hollowness to a dimension of sensuous delight, that the Second and Third World will never be “capable” of reaching. In this process we can again observe Agamben’s genealogy of the human from animal to snob.

In reference to Nato Thompson, I can state, that alienation has become a driving force in the contemporary culture industry. Capital and identity, alienation and neo-liberal democracy go hand in hand. This reversal from alienation to sensualisation is a symptom of the neo-liberal democratic process in its historic form, and shows that alienation is a part of the big business of cultural industry.

Agamben finds in boredom, following Heidegger, the relationship between the boredom of man and the captivity of the animal. In both cases, man or animal is being-held-in-suspense. Man is simply, pace Agamben, an animal that has learned to become bored.


Marina Gržinić