On October 12, the Arts Research Center at UC Berkeley and the Curatorial Practice at the California College of the Arts are partnering to host a live-streaming of the Creative Time Summit, an annual conference in New York that brings together cultural producers–including artists, critics, writers, and curators–to discuss how their work engages pressing issues affecting our world. To jump-start the conversation in advance of the event, attendees have been asked to submit a paragraph on a keyword associated with one of the summit themes: Inequities, Occupations, Making, or Tactics. This posting is by Andrew Weiner, lecturer in Curatorial Practice at the California College of the Arts.
Can the concept of tactics itself still serve a tactical purpose? One answer to this question would start by considering the extent to which “tactics” has become overdetermined in our present conjuncture. A genealogy of the term in its current sense would trace back through Michel de Certeau’s well-known appropriations of military theory to its usage in France circa 1968 around the Situationist International (as in Raoul Vaneigem’s Revolution of Everyday Life). Such a genealogy would have to account for the resonances, divergences, and repetitions linking contemporary examples (the “tactical media” of Critical Art Ensemble, Electronic Disturbance Theater, the Yes Men) with their better-known and lesser-known antecedents (the SI, ACT-UP; Muntadas, People’s Video Theater). It would have to register the persistent entanglement of what Jacques Ranciére has referred to as the two logics of critical art: namely those of autonomy (art as art) and heteronomy (art into life/politics/society/media/etc).
We should also admit that the concept of tactics is badly in need of critique. The language of tactics can be highly militaristic, which is to say it often indulges outmoded fantasies of avant-gardism, not to mention a hypertrophied version of masculinity. Tactics can be a fetish: a specular inversion of powerlessness into power; an idealization of the guerrilla by affluent Northern elites, whether 68-er Maoists or those who would claim their legacy today. Then there is the recurrent debate across the Occupy movement about whether to sanction a “diversity of tactics,” a euphemism for violence against property, among other things. People like Rebecca Solnit have thoughtfully questioned how a nonviolent collective movement benefits from breaking the windows of a supermarket; in return they have been called nasty names in anonymous online forums.
These problems aside, political resistance would seem to have to be tactical. But art? I think I know what art wants to be when it identifies itself with tactics, but it’s less clear what it might be giving away, and whether that price is too steep. In order to say, I would want to know whether tactics are compatible with blindness, intransigence, mournfulness, generosity…