Friday

15 December 2017


It's Time We Got to Know Each Other

 

The upcoming October Salon will investigate the concept of responsibility in relation to contemporary art and visual culture. At the heart of this project is the question of how to generate responsibility. How can we respond in a responsible way, or how we can create a response, as cultural producers and consumers? This exploration is not intended to be purely descriptive, or merely illustrated by artwork and referential images. Instead, we would like to begin by asking a series of questions regarding the concept of responsibility itself.

Jacques Derrida notes that the terms “responsibility” and “response” stem from the Latin verb “spondeo” meaning to promise or guarantee. He claims that responsibility and response are founded, like religion, on debt – an economic cycle in which promises are made in exchange for tributes, and collateral is deposited in exchange for gifts. This is the same complaint Derrida has of the term “forgiveness” which, in its economic condition, can only forgive what was administered as punishment. A religion of laws and debts, like the juridical realm, makes emphatic the economic aspects of response and responsibility.

However true responsibility diverges from economics: it is a responsibility towards what cannot be calculated, a responsibility to an other. How may we respond or answer the contemporary demand for a responsibility to another or a different worldview of the other?

The upcoming October Salon looks at recent history from the position of the present. Our aim is to work with individuals, local institutions, NGOs and other initiatives, through different media, artworks, lectures, workshops, etc.; and to present parallel events among different geographies, bringing them into closer proximity with one another by showing what these contexts have in common.

The starting point of the process lies in the fact that what we are addressing is based on an idea of shared experiences. Reading the signs of our time, in the museum and outside, shows that across many fields and areas of human activity, we have difficulty coming to terms with the political part of our lives today. What does it mean to be a subject within a community? What kinds of ideals can one have and share? What sense of cultural identity can one rely on and trust? And how does one share that with others? How and where do we (those different communities within one political domain) meet each other? And how can the art system within its infrastructure contribute to these questions of a contemporary subject?

The October Salon 2011 wishes to catalyse a discussion on docility and obedience to authority, conformism, social responsibility, disobedience, and non-conformism.
Simulation, experiment, and re-enactment, in this order, may be regarded as methods of shaping the reality of the present. Artists can direct our way of looking at reality – which can often seem so unchangeable and most of the time so frustrating through small gestures, comments or direct simulations of the very well known facts, events, historical points etc. Today, artists have appropriated these methods as vital artistic tools, especially in performance art, cinema, video and photography.

We will highlight the growth of art initiatives and projects from the past few years which eschew the globally-oriented for the locally-specific. Artists in these contexts are often responding in a responsible way to their immediate social and political environment, raising questions about the microcosms in which they live and work. We consider the word responsibility as the ability to respond/Responds - Ability

Examination of the notion of responsibility will take place under the rubric of three major methods: Simulation, Experiment and Re-enactment.

Simulation generates an alternative reality which conceals true reality. The fictive reality becomes a source of rich, luring stimuli, that often overshadows the actual experience of reality, as in the case of movie towns, Disneyland, or “war games” played at the highest echelons of the military system. The simulation prepares the fighter for “better”
confrontation in real time, striving to neutralise the element of surprise in battle through exercise which dulls the shock of real encounter. The obverse is, of course, that these “games”can establish automatic patterns of action and cause numbness, as the simulation enables distant confrontation, based on previous experiences, and not on the initial encounter in the battlefield.

Experiments in social psychology, like Milgram's Obedience and Zimbardo’s Prison Experiment, address the mechanisms producing blind obedience or submission to power,
in situations where systems of power are at work - dominating others’ lives. They reveal the ways in which this power is exercised destructively when a system does not lay clear rules restricting the use of force or the domination of others. For example, consider the soldiers posted at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, who abused prisoners
suspected of various activities against the American government. Interviews with these soldiers show that during their duty as prison guards, they considered themselves to be optimally following the orders given them. Their own photographs presenting the abuse, humiliation and torture suffered by the prisoners call to mind the methods of Dr. Ewan Cameron and Zimbardo. Excluding one interrogator, who documented and publicised what he saw at Abu Ghraib, the majority of soldiers blindly obeyed orders and never asked themselves whether they were legal, and whether they could indeed be relieved of responsibility for the very prisoners over whom they were responsible. They did not ask themselves whether their actions were abusive and humiliating, violating another’s basic rights and humanity.

Stanley Milgram conducted his famous experiment Obedience to Authority at Yale’s Department of Psychology in 1961 in the very same year of the Eichmann Trial at Israel’s Congressional Centre in Jerusalem. Milgram wanted to prove the argument that collaborators with the Nazi extermination programme were “merely following orders.” The
experiment explored the influence of authority on human subjects and the limit to which those subjects were prepared to obey an authoritative figure instructing them to perform acts contrary to their values. The first series of experiments indicated that 65% of the participants agreed to administer seemingly real electric shocks of increasing intensity, from 15 to 450 volts, to another individual only because someone in a position of power had instructed them to do so. While a number of experiment participants voiced objection to the instruction and the act, none of them stopped before reaching 300 volts. Later on Hannah Arendt would write in her book Eichmann in Jerusalem about Eichmann’s testimony: “It was as though in those last minutes he was summing up the lesson that this long course in human wickedness had taught us — the lesson of the fearsome, word-and-thought-defying banality of evil.”

Re-enactment has a symbolic theatrical dimension: taking an intricate, often emotional event, and encoding it as an easily digestible product, providing local rationalisation: a
process which makes for the illusion of order. The re-enactment dissociates the past from sentiment in an attempt to rejuvenate a reality which has fallen away - therefore it occurs outside time, as it were. Much like a murder re-enactment which is invalid as judicial evidence, it serves as confession to a crime committed, albeit not judicial. The
reconstruction and the repetition of the killing process combine personal with collective guilt. To us viewers, the act of re-enactment becomes a type of catalyst for cleansing our consciences, through the kind of participation that does not require assuming responsibility.

Simulation, experiment, and re-enactment, in this order, may be regarded as modes of shaping the reality of the present. Today, artists have appropriated these as vital artistic methods, especially in performance art, cinema, video and photography.

 


© Oktobarski salon Beograd
Belgrade October salon 2011

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