Molly Hankwitz, "Looking Deep Into the Dark Matter"

Looking Deep Into the Dark Matter
review of Dark Matter by Gregory Sholette: Mass Artistic Resistance to the Neoliberalization of Everyday Life
Molly Hankwitz

Finally, a history of collective precarity from a politicized artist. Author/writer, Gregory Sholette, in the final paragraph of Dark Matter: Art and Politics in the Age of Enterprise Culture, at last clarifies the frequently cited metaphor of “zombies” and enormous digital casts, which likes of Annalee Newitz? have been preoccupied with in terms of popular culture and most noticeably, the big budget extravaganza digital films of recent decades. He writes:

“We go on picking the rags, but every now and again, this other social [non] productivity appears to mobilize its own redundancy, seems to acknowledge that it is indeed just so much surplus---talent, labor, subjectivity, even sheer physical-genetic materiality and in so doing frees itself from even attempting to be usefully productive for capitalism?, though all the while identifying itself with a far larger ocean of “dark matter”, that ungainly surfeit of seemingly useless actors and activity that the market views as waste, or perhaps at best as a raw, interchangeable resource for biometric information and crowd sourcing. The archive has split open. We are its dead capital. It is the dawn of the dead.”

This blatant appeal to the use-value of our necrophilia, artistic waste, the products of our labor and time, runs throughout an historical text, alternately conscious of its own limitations and brilliantly pervasive in its political critique and arts research. Sholette devotes himself to describing the animation of a diverse, selection of contemporary artists collectives and collective projects, American, European, South American, and “other”, for whom relationships as cultural workers to the neo-liberal art world in recent decades of the 21st century, has been a central concern. Among this history are crisp critical frameworks for understanding the art and its positioning against what he calls “enterprise culture” Or the current era of marked precarity in which artists are force to live, which is also marked by “enforced creativity” imposed on all forms of labor.

Sholette, a New York-based artist, writer, and founding member of Political Art Documentation/Distribution (PAD/D: 1980-1988), and REPOhistory (1989-2000)[a collective I had some engagement with in 1989[ is as engaged a political critic as he is an artist/activist. “Dark Matter” is a considerable art and activist history contributing an elegant read to what is already in print, while paying homage to such luminaries as Lucy Lippard and Martha Rosler, lurching forward afresh in its sharp critique of the neo-liberalization of daily life, and celebrating collective action in the “art world.” Much published history around activist art falls into two distinct camps, books on specific “identity politics” art from feminists, gays, latino, “etcetera” artists---David Roman?s “Acts of Intervention: Performance, Gay Culture, and AIDS”, for instance, “Street Art San Francisco-Missioin Muralismo”, by Annice Jacoby, for another; and movement-oriented art books highlighting one “outsider” art form --graffiti, stencil art, Occupy art, for instance, which bracket a specific local/global analysis, or art, comix, photography, music and poetry “output” for a single movement. Then there are publications which recuperate *material* archives: posters, papers, ‘zines, and self-made/artists’ publications from collectives and groups, as political art history. George Kaplan’s newly edited book, *Power to the People!* Is one recent manifestation of this catalog type. Both publishing directions offer significant breadth of understanding to radical culture and political art. Understanding. What Sholette’s book has to offer as a companion to these kinds of texts, is his politics, which looks at explicitly at collectivized art in the “enterprise culture” framing this within in discourse on surplus labor and “the invisible mass”--and privileging the radical economy behind interventionist works as the basis of an era of art making outside the mainstream. In other words, this book is about radical art now; not recuperated art, and its about strains of art practice which would elsewise go unnoticed, particularly in the broad, totality of culture on which he writes.

On one level Dark Matter is a critique of the “clipping out” of particular activist art, for curatorial shows, an act that removes the work from its labor, and reduces it to a mere “institutional” appropriation. His account of “counter-institutional” interventions as political art production is by contrast a finely tuned account. Sholette makes the sophisticated argument that precarity, while not desired, is its own best motivator; that useless labor, cast out and invisiblized as a byproduct of neoliberal capital, develops its own economy from which to persist, linking methods in making art as social production to itself as product of its own circumstances, much as the aesthetics of Arte Povera, or feminist rejection of the art history which presumed male-dominated creation, materials and subjectivities of high art, have made visible the politics of art processes, hierarchies, and so forth.

Sholette’s ideas are fresh, intelligent, particular, and funny. He asserts what he earlier investigated in a the book, “Radical Social Production and the Missing Mass of the Contemporary Art World” (Pluto Press UK, 2009) in which he examined the “social production” of art and transitions from “modernity” (which presupposed public spheres and ?masses?) to contemporary culture. His objective there was to locate the mass, strategically and politically and to name its purpose in the capitalist and artistic imaginary. In “Dark Matter”, he looks again at “invisible” (or the missing) contemporary artistic work amidst today’s neo-liberal appropriations culture where the networked machine of neo-liberalism sucks up everything up for its own use. This is a central and important visualization of the current ground upon which politicized art stands, especially in light of widespread NSA surveillance. As “dark matter” in contrast to that upon which light is shed, it has a certain material power. The “missing mass” imaginary of networked communications, creative industries, and immaterial culture, is thus reassembled as a perceptible class of cultural workers and this is fantastic, like James Bridle’s corollary imagery of virtual subjects wandering in as yet unbuilt architecture in his explication of “New Aesthetics”. Sholette points, in this assertion, to the manner by which the white electronic computerized screen blinds us to the material; and forces imaginaries upon us. This has not been stated so well by any other writer.

“A Users Manual for the Creative Disruption of Everyday Life” (with Nato Thompson for MassMoCA/MIT Press, 2004, 2006, 2008), as well as a special issue of the journal Third Text co-edited with theorist Gene Ray on the theme “Whither Tactical Media” also with or by Sholette deal with some of these ideas as well. “Dark Matter” is a comprehensive guidebook to collectivized, politicized art in contemporary times.