Spectacles. Speculations… posits imaging as emerging from a multiplicity: unhinged from an historical overdependence on pictorial representation to be read as a diversity of perceptible forms that are necessarily political. If we consider the spectacle, a là Guy Debord, as an autonomous power which fortifies depoliticization, separation and alienation (Debord: 1967)1 – in other words, a system of images proliferated through capitalist modes of production that come to mediate inter-subjective relations while eschewing political agency — the exhibition takes a contemporary approach to analyzing the ways in which it has evolved in a globalized economic order vis-à-vis traditional media and new technologies.
Since the past century, the spectacle has functioned as a regime of images manufactured by ruling classes by way of mass media to subvert reality and indeed to replace it, thereby perpetuating the status quo. Distance becomes a critical element in this dynamic. “Separation”, after all, “is the alpha and omega of the spectacle” according to Debord (Debord: 1967, 25). This gulf materializes in many ways for example in the chasm created between rich and poor when wealth concentrates in (or accumulates for) the former, between individuals’ interpersonal relations, the worker whose labor produces commodities they are estranged from by virtue of their wages, the artist and the spectator, the spectator and the art work, agency and passivity, and so forth… Progressives and reformists of this era sought to abolish this hierarchized form of distance either by attempting to eradicate it entirely or seeking an egalitarian one by way of massification (in terms of deaestheticization and de-skilling) and de-commodification of the art object such that ownership and spectatorship will not remain an exclusive preserve of trained experts and of the property-owning classes. Filmmakers, artists, dramatists and intellectuals alike from the Soviet Union, Europe, North America, Latin America and Africa have contributed significantly to this class struggle of the twentieth century (I will discuss these in depth in the essay Spectacles Speculations: In Terms of Images).
But of the many vital and relevant lessons to be learnt from practitioners of this political disposition, one essential thing of note is that we must update their pre-digital theses in order to come to terms with the ever-evolving complexity of the spectacle in our own century. The spectacle has achieved greater sophistication in content, form and affect. For example, it has become more participatory than ever in the digital paradigm where photography and film have achieved such proliferation, massification and de-skilling through computing and smart technologies that one only needs a portable device like the mobile phone to create photography or make a film. Couple this with the possibilities of collaboration and dissemination offered by the Internet. Yet the spectacle endures. Smuggling autonomy, commodification and privatization back into this pseudo-egalitarian dynamic. With the domination of the capitalist political economic ideology around the world after the Cold War in 1989, the spectacle has essentially remained the same reactionary apparatus used in service of capitalism but has revolutionized itself by way of form through its appropriation of modern techno-scientific triumphs.
Spectacles. Speculations… responds to these issues by dialectically restaging elements of the spectacle in order to come to terms with it; to be confronted by its complexity from which point we can then begin to critically imagine new realities for art. The exhibition could be considered as a speculatory project inquiring into the spectacle as phenomena through which to begin an expansive conception of imaging that is detached from exclusive pictorial interpretations to be able to reflect on the status of the image yesterday, today and in thinking about a future for art and curating. In light of this the show features works by fifteen artists based in Africa, Latin America and Europe who are, in respective ways, intervening in their chosen image-making technologies and inventing new visual, gestural and auditory modalities of practice which take post-human forms of interaction into account. With site-sequencing strategies consisting of an ensemble of objects and forms sited across conceptual (discursive), literal and virtual dimensions, the exhibition displays a spectrum of mediums including braille, text, photography, video, film, sound, black box theatre, computer-aided design, installation, sculpture, and spoken word poetry.
- See Debord G. (1967). The Society of the Spectacle. Retrieved from http://www.bopsecrets.org.