Art after Liberalism is an account of creative practice at a moment of converging social crises. It is also an inquiry into emergent ways of living, acting, and making art in the company of others. The apparent failures of liberal thinking mark its starting point. No longer can the framework of the nation-state, the figure of the enterprising individual, and the premise of limitless development be counted on to produce a world worth living in. No longer can talk of inclusion, representation, or a neutral public sphere pass for something like equality. Now we must decide what comes after.
“Mark Bradford and Derek Jarman: Architectures of Darkness,” Queering Architecture, 2023.
In July 2017, on a visit to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, I became transfixed by two works, exhibited in counterpoint. The first was Derek Jarman’s 1993 film Blue, which shows a brilliant cobalt field for 79-minutes, accompanied by Jarman’s voice. He would die within a year of its release. The second was Mark Bradford’s 2015 video installation Spiderman.
“Death and Life in Kara Walker’s Public Art Interventions,” Arcade, 2021.
Walker’s A Subtlety implied that “participation” and “collaboration” are euphemisms for the forces of collective labor already at work within a capitalist economy—from industrial manufacturing to the kinds of gendered social reproduction that sustain workers’ lives . . . The Katastwóf Karavan, installed in New Orleans in 2018 , could be said to divine a related kind of vitality—collective and residual—from the grounds of the city itself.
“Forensic Architecture at the Whitney,” World Records, 2020.
How to recognize truth in an era of mass deception? How to even imagine truth as torrents of corrupt data, bogus narrative, and media junk matter crash all around us? Forensic Architecture’s Triple-Chaser is an instructive case.
Introduction, World Records, vol. 4 (with Jason Fox), 2020.
Reality is what we make of it—at least in principle. So argued Hannah Arendt, the political philosopher whose brilliant and sometimes troubling ideas frame the essays gathered here. Arendt returned again and again to her core philosophical concern: a common world experienced in the presence of others.
“Toward a Sensory Politics of Place,” ASAP/Journal, 2019.
Sensory Ethnography is a new documentary movement that connects the workings of cinema to the dynamic ontologies of space, labor, and environment. Its films are minimally structured, utilizing a raw formalism to immerse audiences in a flux of sound and vision . . . Foreign Parts (2010), directed by Véréna Paravel and J. P. Sniadecki, provides an instance of sensory ethnography that embraces language and performance.
“Kara Walker Answers the Urban Question,” Social Text, 2018.
This article addresses a crucial dimension of urban development: the recruitment of minority artists as collaborators in gentrification. They are tasked with creating scenes of humanizing transracial encounter, but sometimes, as Walker has in Brooklyn, aggravate differences and summon ugly histories. The argument is grounded in an analysis of Walker’s recent projects—A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby (2014) and the Ruffneck Constructivists exhibition (2014), which she curated in Philadelphia.
“Infrastructure Aesthetics and the Crisis of Migrancy,” Afterimage, 2017.
For many people living in the metropolitan North, watching television and reading the news naturalizes an array of suppositions about aliens, outsiders, threats, risks, and thus about oneself . Whether these are panicked, quickly drawn assessments or stylistic representations, they affirm the attitudes and prejudices of American and European audiences against the specter of encroaching difference. Can these representations be undone?
“At the Heart of the Work,” Anarchist Review of Books, 2022.
A series of murals by textile artist Małgorzata Mirga-Tas, shownin the Polish Pavilion at the 2022 Venice Biennale, depicts the lives of the Roma people, the largest ethnic group in Europe. The artist's hope, following the philosopher Silvia Federici, is to "re-enchant the world."
“Visualizing Extraction,” (with Rocco Rorandelli), Places Journal, 2022.
Photographing a coal-fired power plant can convey its environmental impact — brownfields and runoff, black soot belching into the sky. But what about the people who work in the mine? Or their families?
“A Third of a Century,” i-D, 2022.
Tillmans describes the profound sense of freedom he experienced in the early 90s (making £40 per page working for i-D). He was free to realize his agency as an artist – a queer artist – to experiment and to participate, to become a political subject alive in the world . . .The forces of bodies in motion, hands in the air, draw people into a common space of contact and relation, where they interact with a whole web of creative practices.
“Pose, Position, Positionality,” Texte zur Kunst, 2020.
Craig Owens, the art historian and queer theorist, died of complications from AIDS thirty years ago this summer. He is remembered as a romantic figure of the 1980s theory world, but ultimately came to view his work as a “continuous self-questioning”: the point was not an “existentialist ‘who am I,’ but an inquiry into the self as constructed and positioned.”
“The Profane Illumination of Adidas,” X-TRA, 2020.
As photographs by Micaiah Carter and Wolfgang Tillmans approach a level of abstraction, they transpose everyday commodities into an aesthetic idiom of form and light, exceeding simple exposition. But advertising has always relied on the image’s evocation of something (or someone) more, beyond what appears in the frame.
“Ren Hang in the Global City,” Ideas: Journal of the Asia Art Archive, 2019.
To some, Ren’s photographs reflect the depthlessness of the new Chinese “gilded age.” The artist’s visual signature—flash, high contrast—is continuous with the style of commercial fashion photography and marketing. The works seem to invite fetishistic ways of seeing, which structure western engagements with Chinese cultural production even in the contemporary. But the images are not all sheen. Ren’s work discloses the themes of bodily subjection, mental illness, and queer intimacy.
“Decolonizing Design,” Cartha, 2018.
In Fall of 2017, New York City witnessed simultaneous protests over space, identity, and knowledge. One concerned
the preservation of a Manhattan skyscraper, the other a museum campus and its controversial centerpiece. The protests underscored a link between preservation and expropriation—a connection vital to the legitimacy of design discourse but suppressed in the critical literature.
Banksy has taken the boy and dog out of their johnnypump, recontextualizing them among the artifacts of exploitive urbanism. Basquiat’s own paintings worked by way of an opposite logic, taking the volatility of the street and displaying it on a gallery wall. While Banksy’s work rebukes the overt politics of the police state, where black lives are reduced to black bodies, Basquiat’s oeuvre attempted to excavate the discrete politics of “culture” in general.
The flattening of queer politics into a field of appropriable referents and their usurpation by the new powers of the Right is, of course, a concern. A related problem—supremacism born of cultural alienation—also begs scrutiny.
“Globalization in Too Many Inadequate Descriptive Systems,” Third Text, 2017.
Artistic inquiries into the banality of the global need not themselves be banal. They can lend texture and nuance to the over-capitalisation and systematisation of art, design, and language while at the same time acknowledging how intimately bound these systems are to the production and experience of the global scale.
Film & Exhibition Reviews
“Ulrike Ottinger’s Exile Shanghai,” Millennium Film Journal, 2022.
Zionism was hardly the only path for Jews fleeing Europe, the film implies. Shanghai was a place where they could live peaceably without harassment. This is not to say the arrangement was in any way just. While the Shanghai Jews did not pursue political power, as in Israel, they consorted in exclusive spaces governed by European consulates, taking part in an apparatus of colonial settlement that profoundly afflicted their Chinese neighbors. And when the political situation changed, their proximity to European identity meant they could get out.
“Ruslan Fedotow's Where Are We Headed?,” Screen Slate, 2022.
Perhaps there is an allusion to Chantal Akerman’s D’Est (1993), which depicts the “humble and artless dignity of waiting” (Jonathan Crary’s description) after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Fedotow’s film opens with a shot of metro riders on an escalator, one deadpan expression following another. But the people are not expecting deliverance. Under capitalism, Moscow has become a center of finance and industry with millions of commuters pouring into the city each morning. They are simply waiting for the next train to work.
Theater, in Brecht’s view, should not be an escape from the hazards of worldly life, but should call attention to them. Zhao is also interested in alienation, but her approach is more intently focused on disrupting cinematic conventions, toying with the semantic structures we have come to expect even from documentaries.
“Revisiting Suzanne Lacy’s Oakland Projects,” Performance Art Journal, 2020.
Lacy mounted the Oakland Projects based on a conviction to (in her own words) “leave art,” by asking “whether it was possible for artists to exert a substantive impact on communities.” Ironically, the work showed that such an impact was more than possible, but that it would not always proceed in ways that theartist herself could predict.