Category Archives: EVENTS

Claire Bishop: Artificial Hells

Claire Bishop: Artificial Hells

Friday, 8 February, 7pm – 9pm
LARC, 62 Fieldgate Street, London E1 1ES
Facilitated by Eva Ruschkowski
Suggested donation £2, booking via Eventbrite

DOWNLOAD Claire Bishop (2012). Artificial Hells. Verso Books.

Jeremy Deller and Mike Figgis [2001] The Battle of Orgreave.
Jeremy Deller and Mike Figgis [2001] The Battle of Orgreave.

Since the 1990s, participatory and collaborative art has seen immense growth in artistic interest, a development later baptised as The Social Turn. Often based on the ideas of Guy Debord and his criticism of the spectacle, advocates of participatory art see collaborative practice as a potential remedy for our, by capitalism alienated society and its wounded social bond.

London-based art-critic and writer Claire Bishop critically analyses this movement in her book “Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship” (2012) putting the discourse into a historical and political context. We will be discussing the first chapter, “The Social Turn: Collaboration and Its Discontents”, in which Bishop explores further the ideas she first formulated in a same-named essay, published six years earlier in Artforum.

Bishop diagnoses contemporary art criticism with a “hardened critical orthodoxy” (p. 18). With the increasing popularity of participatory art, Bishop says, followed The Ethical Turn in criticism which does not measure the work by its artistic value, but prioritises quantifiable social outcomes. Examined through an ethical lens, the process of social inclusion weighs more than the artistic product – the artwork becomes undistinguishable of the community art tradition. “There can be no failed, unsuccessful, unresolved, or boring works of collaborative art because all are equally essential to the task of strengthening the social bond” (p. 13). Based on concepts of Jacques Rancière, Bishop pleads for art practice that holds the tension of aesthetics and political value and for an art criticism that does not fall back into mantras of sociological value.

The radicality of participatory art is also questioned in Bishop’s text which highlights links to the cultural policy and rhetoric shaped by New Labour. In these policies, creativity is supported not for the sake of artistic experimentation and research but is often used in an agenda that uses social inclusion to render social inequality in a cosmetic rather than structural way. According to Bishop, these measures do not aim to raise consciousness of the structural conditions of people’s daily existence, but „will only help people to accept them” (p. 14).

Please join us for the 33rd session of Symposium book club to discuss this rich text and the relation of art, criticism, politics and social change.

(Slow) Marathon: riveting + inspirational!

(Slow) Marathon: riveting + inspirational!

Thanks to everyone who came along and contributed to the Alternative Art Education (Slow) Marathon! We launched URgh!#1, amplified the movement, opened up the discussion on some of the more esoteric aspects of self-organised art education, demonstrated the possibilities of online education and had a lot of fun!

Continue reading (Slow) Marathon: riveting + inspirational!

The Secret is Out:

Please check back or click here to register for email updates
Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, London WC1R 4RL

Free admission with a ticket
This exhibition is part of the Festival of Alternative Art Education 2020

The Secret is Out:

…it is unrestrained CO-OPERATION, on the part of ALL the members, for EVERY purpose of social life

Continue reading The Secret is Out:

Festival of Alternative Art Education

Please check back or click here to register for email updates

Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, London WC1R 4RL
Free admission with a ticket
This event includes the exhibition The Secret is Out:

Festival of Alternative Art Education

Come along and help us turn Conway Hall into an art school!

Continue reading Festival of Alternative Art Education

URgh!#1 at the (Slow) Marathon

URgh!#1 at the (Slow) Marathon

URgh!#1 July 2020 on Alt. Art Education. Front Cover by Emma Edmondson
URgh!#1 July 2020 on Alt. Art Education. Front Cover by Emma Edmondson

URgh! #1 has arrived and it looks great! Thanks to Footprint Workers Co-op and to all the contributors for their amazing work!

The zine launch is on Sat, 25 July at the (Slow) Marathon, get your printed or digital copy on the day from this page. Continue reading URgh!#1 at the (Slow) Marathon

Self-organisation for a co-operative art school – Antiuniversity Now! 2020

Self-organisation for a co-operative art school

A workshop on self-organisation and collectivity for a cooperative art school

Fri, 12 Jun 2020, 6-9pm
All welcome, please book your place
This event is part of Antinuniversity Now! Festival 2020, 6-13 June

Continue reading Self-organisation for a co-operative art school – Antiuniversity Now! 2020

Festival of Alternative Art Education 2020

Festival of Alternative Art Education 2020

The Festival of Alternative Art Education 2020 has been postponed! It will now take place on 25 July 2020 at Conway Hall, bringing together alternative art schools, peer-support groups with stalls, workshops, discussions, screenings, tours, installations, performances, the exhibition The Secret Is Out: on the theme of cooperation and the launch of URgh! Zine on self-organised, DIY, peer-led art schools and collectives. Continue reading Festival of Alternative Art Education 2020

Workshops for a co-operative art school

Workshops for a co-operative art school

This series of workshops will explore potential models for a co-operative form of art education. The workshops are participatory and experimental, progressing through stages and open to anyone who would like to contribute. You do not have to come to all workshops, but if you can that would enhance continuity between sessions.

Continue reading Workshops for a co-operative art school

Radical Pedagogy Research & Reading Group (2019)


Radical Pedagogy Research & Reading Group

The Radical Pedagogy Research Group is a public forum and peer-led participatory action-research project on alternative art education, radical pedagogy and self-organisation, with the practical aim of developing a self-organised alternative studio programme. The reading group meets on the last Friday of every month, it is free and open to everyone who wants to join as long as they commit to the reading. We plan to organise additional workshops, screenings and other events that will emerge from our research. Please book your place and download the reading.

Continue reading Radical Pedagogy Research & Reading Group (2019)

Eagleton & Zizek: The Idea of Communism

#32 Eagleton & Zizek: The Idea of Communism

Friday, 14 December 2018, 6:30pm – 9pm
LARC, 62 Fieldgate Street, London E1 1ES
Closest stations: Whitechapel / Aldgate East
Facilitated by Neil Lamont
Suggested donation £2, booking via Eventbrite

In December we’re reading two chapters from the book The Idea of Communism (2010), chapter 6 Lear or Gonzalo by Terry Eagleton (pp. 101 – 110), and chapter 15 How to begin from the beginning  by Slavoj Zizek (pp. 209 – 226). This book club is facilitated by Neil Lamont.

DOWNLOAD Costas Douzinas and Slavoj Zizek ed. (2010). The Idea of Communism. Verso.

[SYMPOSIUM]#31 Eagleton & Zizek Idea of Communism. Flyer by Neil Lamont.Much recent political and economic analysis – especially on the left – has focused on the triumph of global capitalism or late capitalism, the collapse of structures of opposition and – as a perceived consequence – the impossibility of change. (Some would include Mark Fisher within that category). However, other voices on the left argue that – far from triumph – capital is at a point of material and existential crisis and have begun to look at how Marx’s ideas can be applied afresh in the 21st century.

The only true question today is: do we endorse the predominant naturalization of capitalism or does today’s global capitalism contain antagonisms powerful enough to prevent its indefinite reproduction? (Zizek)

I want to explore these perspectives through two chapters in the The Idea of Communism edited by Zizek and Douzinas. At some point in the discussion I also want to briefly add in a 3 minute outline of Streeck’s book How will capitalism end – a structural analysis of capital’s economic development from 1945 to the present.

Terry Eagleton explores communism through two Shakespearean characters – Gonzalo from The Tempest and Lear. Gonzalo envisions a world of plenitude and freedom for all – of ease, plenty and liberation from labour. But Lear represents a world of inner and outer turmoil, of a humanity driven by its culture into desire, excess and destruction. Eagleton explores the ambiguity that capitalism provides the material resources to liberate us from material need but creates a world of lack and poverty. Instead, communism aims to harness the material to release us from the confines of materialism. Eagleton explores the catastrophe of environmental damage and asks if the species of communism we will find will be Gonzalo’s comic superfluity or the catastrophic one of Lear’s destitution.

Zizek starts with Lenin in 1922, at the end of the Civil War and the Russian economy in ruin. In a text called On ascending a high mountain Lenin contemplates how communism can ‘begin again from the beginning’. Zizek asks how (post 1989, post 2008) communism can again begin at the beginning. He references an article by Eric Hobsbawm titled Socialism failed, capitalism is bankrupt. What comes next? “The answer is communism” (Zizek). He explores the ideas of Hardt and Negri on reclaiming ’the commons’ of culture, external nature, internal nature and – most importantly – the re-inclusion of the excluded. Zizek also looks at agency, especially the role of the state (“the true task should be to make the State work in a non-statal mode”). There are large debates on the communist left about the state (post 1989 some reject the state model entirely) and immaterial production.

Zizek concludes by explaining that the working class has been – or become – split – into three separate components  “…the ‘three main classes’ of today’s developed societies, which are precisely not classes but three fractions of the working class: intellectual labourers, the old manual working class, and the outcasts…”  The task is to reunite them!

The session will start with everyone having a brief input. Then we’ll explore some of the following questions

  • does Eagleton think global co-operation and restructuring more likely to emerge from global plenty or from catastrophe?
  • what do both authors have to say about climate change? Are they right?
  • what does Zizek mean by the ‘communist-egalitarian emancipatory Idea’?
  • what is Zizek’s argument about the 3 way split in the working class? Is this correct? How might the 3 parts be brought back together?
  • what do both authors have to say about the role of the state in realising communism? What do you think? Could communism be achieved without the state? If so, how?
  • is capitalism now in its deepest ever crisis or is it strong and invulnerable?
  • is late capitalism the most recent adaptation or development of capital or is it a new phenomenon?
  • what is your vision of what a communist society would look like, feel like? (Marx said very little about this!)
  • what would be the essential steps to replace capitalism with communism?
  • is it feasible?

Suggested further reading

It would be good to read the other chapters in The idea of Communism – all are relevant/interesting. Ideas expressed by Hardt, Negri & Ranciere are often referenced in debate and discussion

  • Why Marx was right, Terry Eagleton, YUP, 2012
    The illusions of postmodernism, Terry Eagleton, Wiley-Blackwell, 1992
  • The condition of postmodernity, David Harvey, Wiley-Blackwell, 1991
  • Seventeen contradictions and the end of capitalism, David Harvey, Profile Books, 2014
  • Postmodernism: or, the cultural logic of late capitalism, Fredric Jameson, Verso, 1992
  • The communist manifesto, Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels, Penguin p/b, 2015
  • Grundrisse, foundations of the critique of political economy, Karl Marx, Penguin Classics, 2005
  • How will capitalism end?: essays on a failing system, Wolfgang Streeck, Verso, 2017

Mark Fisher: Capitalist Realism Pt.2

#28 Mark Fisher: Capitalist Realism Pt.2
Antiuniversity Now! 9-15 June 2018

Saturday, 9 June 2018, 2:30pm – 5:30pm
Yurt Café, 2 Butcher Row, London E14 8DS
Closest Station: Limehouse
Facilitated by Sophia Kosmaoglou
Suggested donation £2, booking via Eventbrite

[SYMPOSIUM]#27 Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism Pt.2, 9 Jun 2018, Unison, Limehouse.
[SYMPOSIUM]#27 Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism Pt.2, 9 Jun 2018, Unison, Limehouse.

Join us in June for the second in the series of book clubs on Capitalist Realism by Mark Fisher, continuing with chapters 4-5 (pages 21-38) on education and mental health. If you would like to facilitate one of the following sessions please get in touch.

The book club will take place on *UNISON, a lifeboat-turned-project-space. We will meet at Yurt Café near Limehouse station at 2:30pm and depart at 3pm to reach the boat moored nearby.

DOWNLOAD Fisher, Mark (2009). Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? Winchester: Zero Books.

Since there are so many people who are depressed – and I maintain that the cause for much of this depression is social and political – then converting that depression into a political anger is an urgent political project… Anti-depressants and therapy are the opium of the masses now. (Mark Fisher and Richard Capes, 2011)

Capitalist Realism was published one year after the 2008 financial crisis, when it became clear that the priority was to return to business-as-usual, rather than tackling the systemic failure of the financial sector, which caused the crisis. Mark Fisher’s book was a desperate attempt to question the unshakable belief that “there is no alternative” to capitalism and thereby introduce alternative conceptions of social and economic organisation into public discourse.

Fisher synthesises the late 20th century postmodern and psychoanalytic theory of Frederick Jameson, Slavoj Zizek and Gilles Deleuze to make sense of the cultural manifestations of capitalist realism in everyday life. In chapters 4 and 5 he unpicks the failures of neoliberalism in education and employment, highlighting the concomitant rising levels of anxiety and depression. As Dean Kenning argues,

Neoliberal apologists can hardly claim that free market capitalism promotes equality; but our consumerist economy does promise pleasure and happiness, above all else. Why, then, are we in the UK suffering from epidemic levels of depression? (Kenning, 2010, p. 33)

Drawing on Frederic Jameson, Slavoj Zizek and Kafka, Fisher emphasises that capitalism requires our complicity in order to function, that we effectively endorse capitalism through our actions and choices rather than our convictions, and that far from being a radical practice, anti-capitalist critique is a feature of capitalism. He draws on William Burroughs and Gilles Deleuze to argue that we have transitioned from a traditional disciplinary regime to a society of decentralised control, where the control imperative is internalised by the subjects of capitalism in self-assessment and self-surveillance.

Fisher uses Burrough’s figure of the “control addict” to unpack the pathologies of capitalism, represented by addiction to instant gratification in the vicious cycle of “depressive hedonia”. This state of distraction is characterised by an inability to concentrate and synthesize time into a meaningful narrative. Time is experienced as a series of unrelated, ahistorical present moments “ready-cut into digital micro-slices” (p. 25), a state of mind that forestalls intentionality.

The consequence of being hooked into the entertainment matrix is twitchy, agitated interpassivity, an inability to concentrate or focus. Students’ incapacity to connect current lack of focus with future failure, their inability to synthesize time into any coherent narrative, is symptomatic of more than mere demotivation. (p. 24)

Rather than a mere lack of motivation, Fisher understands this “interpassivity” as a symptom of reflexive impotence; an unstated worldview that results from the knowledge that “things are bad”, and more importantly from the knowledge that we “can’t do anything about it” (p. 21). Why do we feel impotent in an era of unsurpassed cultural freedom and technological progress? Fisher argues that the state of reflexive impotence manifests as a retreat from the public sphere into a private space of consumption. Despite the hyperconnectedness available through social media, does this retreat into interiority extend to sites of collaboration and exchange, such as education, research and creative practice? For Fisher, reflexive impotence is also associated with pathologies and mental disorders. Why and how does this “pathologization already foreclose any possibility of politicization”? (p. 21).

On the topic of education, Fisher examines the contradictory status of students, who are both subjects of disciplinary institutions and consumers at the same time. Mirroring the paradoxical predicament of the students, teachers are in turn interpellated by students as authority figures in disciplinary frameworks, while they are simultaneously expected to respond to students’ consumer demands.

Moving onto the subject of employment, Fisher scrutinises the collapse of Fordism and with it the sites and strategies of working class politics in the transition to post-Fordism, casualised labour, flexibility, decentralisation and precarity. He argues that any resistance to the new labour conditions would be self-defeating because these reforms have been brought about in large part by workers themselves. At the same time, old forms of resistance are useless in this new environment. The old Fordist antagonism between worker’s unions and capital has been internalised in workers, who are caught between traditional class conflict and their new role as investors seeking a maximum return on their pensions. Drawing on David Harvey and Alain Badiou, Fisher argues that neoliberal politics is in fact a return to class privilege, capital accumulation and elite power. Fisher emphasises the need to reframe our disidentification with the system in political terms by shifting the political terrain away from the unions’ traditional focus on pay and onto new areas of discontent. For Fisher it is important to contest the capitalist appropriation of the new and to develop a new language that can elucidate these contradictions. Are these new political configurations emerging already, as the battle lines are re-drawn in identity politics? What would Mark Fisher have said about Brexit, rising nationalism and xenophobia in the rhetoric of neoconservatives, for whom “citizens of the world are citizens of nowhere”?

Arguing that precarity disturbs the stability of working time and space, as well as our emotions and affective states, Fisher draws on Richard Sennett to address the affective changes in the post-Fordist reorganisation of labour and the associated stresses on mental health. Considering the significant rise of mental illness, which has almost doubled in states that have implemented neoliberalism, Fisher condemns the ideology of social mobility that raises delusional aspirations and places responsibility on the individual to achieve material success. Fisher considers the repoliticisation of mental illness an urgent task in the challenge to capitalist realism.

What contradictions do we face in our labour and creative practice? What effect do these situations have on us? How can we respond to these contradictions in our everyday life?

Mark Fisher was a writer and theorist on music and contemporary culture. He wrote for the Wire, Frieze, New Statesman and Sight & Sound. He was a founding member of the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit, a Visiting Fellow at Goldsmiths University of London and maintained k-punk, an influential blog on music and cultural theory.

*UNISON is a floating assembly space founded to allow for showcases and experiments on an intimate scale. The oval shape and transient nature of the endeavour mark the parameters for explorations by artists and practitioners of all walks of life. The boat is a statement for the DIY: anti institutional, anti university, anti establishment : open to all.

Suggested further reading and viewing

  • Fisher, Mark and Richard Capes (2011). Capitalist Realism: An Interview with Mark Fisher. More Thought’ Interviews, 10 Nov 2011.
  • Deleuze, Gilles (1992). Postscript on the Societies of Control. October 59 (Winter 1992), pp. 3-7.
  • Foucault, Michel (1977). Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Trans. Alan Sheridan. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
  • Kafka, Franz (1999/1925). The Trial, trans. Breon Mitchell. New York: Schocken.
  • Burroughs, William S. (1959). Naked Lunch. Paris: Olympia Press.
  • Burroughs, William S. (1970). The Electronic Revolution. Gottingen: Expanded Media Editions.
  • Baudrillard, Jean (1994). Simulacra and Simulation. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
  • Jameson, Fredric (1983). Postmodernism and Consumer Society. In The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture. Seattle: Bay Press, pp. 111-125.
  • Jameson, Frederic (1991). Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. London: Verso.
  • Zizek, Slavoj (1989). The Sublime Object of Ideology. New York: Verso.
  • Freud, Sigmund (1961/1920). Beyond the Pleasure Principle. Trans James Strachey. New York: Norton.
  • Foucault, Michel (1988). Technologies of the Self. In Technologies of the Self: A seminar with Michel Foucault, L. H. Martin, H. Gutman, P. H. Hutton eds. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.
  • Heat (1995). Directed by Michael Mann. 2h 50min.
  • The Godfather (1972). Directed by Francis Ford Coppola. 2h 55min.
  • Goodfellas (1990). Director: Martin Scorsese. 2h 26min.
  • Sennett, Richard (1998). The Corrosion of Character: The Personal Consequences of Work in the New Capitalism. New York: Norton.
  • Marazzi, Christian (2008/2002). Capital and Language. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e).
  • Kenning, Dean (2010). Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? Review. Art Monthly No 333 (Feb 2010), pp. 33-34.
  • The Invisible Committee (2009). The Coming Insurrection. Los Angeles, CA: Semiotext(e).
  • For additional suggestions please see Mark Fisher: Capitalist Realism Part 1.

Derrida: Signature Event Context

#27 Derrida: Signature Event Context

Friday, 11 May 2018, 18:30–21:00
LARC, 62 Fieldgate Street, London E1 1ES
Closest stations: Whitechapel / Aldgate East

Facilitated by Nat Pimlott & Sophia Kosmaoglou
Suggested donation £2, booking via Eventbrite

In May we’re discussing Signature Event Context, Jacques Derrida’s essay on John Austin’s speech act theory. It was originally delivered at a conference on Communication in 1971 by the Congrès international des Sociétés de philosophie de langue francaise in Montreal and first published in Marges de la philosophie (Margins of Philosophy) in 1972.

DOWNLOAD Derrida, Jacques (1988/1972). Signature Event Context. In Limited Inc, trans. Samuel Weber and Jeffrey Mehlman. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, pp. 1-23.

Daniel Dezeuze [1967] Stretcher covered in plastic (Châssis avec feuille de plastique tendue).
Daniel Dezeuze [1967] Stretcher covered in plastic (Châssis avec feuille de plastique tendue).

Jacques Derrida (1930–2004) was a French philosopher best known for developing an approach to criticism known as deconstruction. One of the major figures in post-structuralist thought and postmodern philosophy his work has had a significant influence across a wide range of disciplines since the 1960s – alongside attracting criticism and occasional controversy.

In Signature Event Context Derrida seeks to dig beneath the surface of concepts central to the discipline philosophy, such as communication, speech and writing. He seeks to uncover characteristics in the function of these concepts which he describes as ‘having been subordinated, excluded, or held in abeyance by forces and according to necessities that need to be analysed’.

Examining texts by prominent philosophers of language he picks up and deconstructs the ideas in their work as a means to demonstrate what he sees as the theoretically underdetermined space within which they operate.

Derrida’s starting point is the word communication. He identifies within this seemingly straightforward concept, generally understood to refer to the means of transport of meaning, the potential for alternative meanings and how this meaning depends on un-examined assumptions. He asks if ‘the word or signifier [communication] ‘communicates’ a determinate content, an identifiable meaning, or a describable value’ and notes instead that in fact ‘we have no prior authorization for neglecting communication as a word, or for impoverishing its polysemic [with many meanings] aspects’.

Derrida argues that while ordinary discourse privileges the idea of communication as being about the transmission of meaning this function largely depends on a vaguely defined but commonly accepted idea of ‘context’ – as for example the context provided by philosophical discourse. He instead challenges the idea that ‘context’ – the parameters within which meaning is determined – is ever absolutely determined. He writes: ‘Is there a rigorous and scientific concept of context? Or does the notion of context not conceal, behind a certain confusion, philosophical presuppositions of a very determinate nature?’

Derrida then takes up the notion of writing – initially contrasting it to speech, noting how writing involves the presupposition of absence – one writes in order to communicate something to someone who is absent. However he also identifies, in addition, what he calls its ‘iterability’ – both the repeatability of writing and the ability for writing, by constituting itself, to continue to exist in the complete absence of any addressee. Extending this argument, Derrida claims that even where a text, phrase or sign is lacking in its own grammatical meaning, it still amounts to a kind of writing with the structural capacity to be a sign in that it can be used as a sign of ungrammaticality by being put between quotation marks and cited. He argues that this ability for marks to be cited is actually a structural identity of all means of communication, including speech, and that not only can signs be cited but they depend on their meaning within any given context, at some level, on being examples of citation. They relate he suggests to the other uses of the same sign. He argues that not only speech but even the ‘experience of being’ (as a philosophical subject) share what he describes as this ‘graphemic’ structure of writing.

Interestingly enough, the demand for total presence and immediacy arises from mediation; or more precisely the growing range of tools of communication including the internet. It is not the opposite of, but rather the consequence of technology. (Hito Steyerl [2015] The Terror of Total Dasein: Economies of Presence in the Art Field. DIS Magazine. Originally presented as a lecture at Art and Labor after the End of Work, FORMER WEST, Warsaw 2015)

Andrea Zittel [2011] Tellus Interdum. Newsprint printed at High Desert Star in Yucca Valley, Installation view, via Art Observed.
Andrea Zittel [2011] Tellus Interdum. Newsprint printed at High Desert Star in Yucca Valley, Installation view, via Art Observed.
Andrea Zittel [2011] Tellus Interdum. Newsprint printed at High Desert Star in Yucca Valley, 384.8 × 1678.9 × 429.3 cm.
Andrea Zittel [2011] Tellus Interdum. Newsprint printed at High Desert Star in Yucca Valley, 384.8 × 1678.9 × 429.3 cm.

Derrida continues by examining the work of Austin on the nature of performative speech acts (acts of speech which bring a change in the world into being e.g. I declare you man and wife in a marriage ceremony). While Austin seeks to free the analysis of the performative from the metaphysical opposition of true and false and to substitute it with the value of force (e.g. a performative speech act changes something and isn’t merely a true or false statement), Derrida identifies what he sees as a failure on behalf of Austin to attend to the risk of speech acts to be void of meaning. In the final analysis Derrida argues that Austin’s argument relies on recourse to what he calls ‘teleological determination’ – ‘the presence to the self of a total context, the transparency of intentions, the presence of meaning to the absolutely singular uniqueness of the speech act’.  Derrida refutes this and argues instead that the risk of failure of speech acts is an internal and positive condition of their possibility.

Derrida’s argument hinges on a shift of the classical subject of philosophy – the pursuit and identification of the bases of external meaning – to the hidden structures underpinning the systems that are employed to examine meaning – language, discourse and writing. Through this he seeks to question some of the assumptions underpinning the enterprise of philosophy (and other disciplines) as it is traditionally conceived and radically the ability of writing to be said to contain meaning. He states that ‘writing is not reading: it is not the site, “in the last instance” of the hermeneutic deciphering, the decoding of meaning or truth’.

Strongly criticized by philosophers from an analytical tradition for the validity and sufficiency of his arguments and the accuracy of his analysis of other philosophers’ work, Derrida’s text nonetheless poses some far reaching questions about the fundamental stability of the context in which we normally seek to establish meaning. He argues that rather than this instability being in opposition to meaning, as articulated through writing, that instability – or non-meaning is in fact structurally inherent in this endeavour. Returning to his theme of writing he writes: ‘the crisis of meaning is bound to the essential possibility of writing’.

Derrida examines how we construct meaning, the provisional way in which our constructions depend on other constructions (AS Byatt)

Derrida’s philosophy derives from the fact that being manifests itself through difference. His writing largely consists of carefully unpicking all attempts to deny this differentiation. Most importantly he deconstructed that philosophical tradition which appealed to speech as a source of unmediated being. (Colin McCabe)

  • What is writing? How is writing different from speech?
  • What does Derrida’s mean by the term ‘iterable’?
  • To what degree does intending to say what you mean play a role in speech and writing? What is speech or writing without this?
  • Does it matter if Derrida’s arguments are valid and sufficient or not?
  • How could Signature Event Context be classified in terms of discipline – is it philosophy or something else?
  • Is Derrida’s argument creative or destructive?
  • What is the nature of authority in Derrida’s work?
  • Is meaning possible in Derrida’s world view?
  • Does Derrida’s argument affect how we should interpret his text?
  • What is the possibility of building on or continuing Derrida’s argument?
  • What relationship does Derrida’s thought have to art practice since the 60s?

Suggested further reading

Marx: The Fetishism of the Commodity and its Secret

#15 Marx: Fetishism of the Commodity

Friday, 10 February 2017, 18:00 – 20:30
Wimbledon Art Studios, 10 Riverside Rd, London SW17 0BB
Rail/Underground: Earlsfield, Tooting Broadway
Chaired by Sophia Kosmaoglou
Free, please book your place

In February we’re reading The Fetishism of the Commodity and its Secret, from Karl Marx’s Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, first published 1867 in Hamburg.

DOWNLOAD Marx, Karl (1976). The Fetishism of the Commodity and its Secret. In Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Vol. 1. Trans. Ben Fowkes. Harmondsworth: Penguin & New Left Review, pp. 163-177.

Piero Manzoni [1961] Artist's Shit (Merda d'artista). 90 tin cans, each filled with 30 grams faeces, 4.8 x 6.5 cm.
Piero Manzoni [1961] Artist’s Shit (Merda d’artista). 90 tin cans, each filled with 30 grams faeces, 4.8 x 6.5 cm.

“Fetishism” is about relations among people, rather than the objects that mediate and disguise those relations. (MacGaffey, 1994, pp. 130)

The Fetishism of the Commodity and its Secret is the fourth and final section of the first chapter on The Commodity, the keystone of Marx’s critique of the capitalist mode of production. The section on commodity fetishism provides a way to think about the commodity status of art and the concept of reification more broadly.

Nkonde. Yombe people, Lower Zaire. Wood, nails, wooden spear and fabric. Height 97cm. Musee Barbier-Mueller, Geneva.
Nkonde. Yombe people, Lower Zaire. Wood, nails, wooden spear and fabric. Height 97cm. Musee Barbier-Mueller, Geneva.

A fetish is a man-made object that has been invested with certain properties, the object is  perceived to be animated with power and influence. In fact, these properties have been transferred to the object by humans (producers or users), who lose their own power in the process. Marx uses the metaphor of the fetish to demonstrate that humans misperceive the social relations between people in their labour as ‘material relations between persons and social relations between things’ (Marx, 1976, p. 166).

The concept of commodity fetishism can therefore be applied to other forms of reification, where abstract concepts are objectified in physical things that are considered to have intrinsic value.

The savages of Cuba regarded gold as a fetish of the Spaniards. They celebrated a feast in its honour, sang in a circle around it and then threw it into the sea… in order to save the human beings (Marx, 1975/1842, pp. 262-263)

Marx was well acquainted with the fetish since the early 1840s and had written about it on numerous occasions as he developed the ideas that would later be published in Capital.

Fetishism is so far from raising man above his sensuous desires that, on the contrary, it is “the religion of sensuous desire”. Fantasy arising from desire deceives the fetish-worshipper into believing that an “inanimate object” will give up its natural character in order to comply with his desires. Hence the crude desire of the fetish-worshipper smashes the fetish when it ceases to be its most obedient servant. (Marx, 1975/1842, p. 189)

Fetish market in Lomé, Togo. Photo by Torsten Lenk, 2012.
Fetish market in Lomé, Togo. Photo by Torsten Lenk, 2012.

The word “fetish” dates back to the 16th century when, according to William Pietz, the ideology of the commodity form was first articulated, defining itself “within and against the social values and religious ideologies of two radically different types of noncapitalist society, as they encountered each other in an ongoing cross-cultural situation” (Pietz, 1985, p. 7). In fact the nails hammered into N’kondi power figures (or nail fetishes) in the Kongo were mass produced in the west.

The fetish is supremely phoney – and quintessentially too, according to the etymology of the word, coined in Portuguese from feitiço, meaning ‘artificial’. (Nancy, 2004, p. 142)

What is the secret of the commodity?
What is a commodity?
How do we judge the value of a commodity?
What is value? Where does it come from?
Is art a commodity?
How do we judge the value of art?
Does an artwork have intrinsic value? Do commodities?
How does Marx’s concept of value relate to the way we value art?

Suggested further reading

Baudrillard, Jean (1981). For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign. Trans & intro Charles Levin. St. Louis, MO: Telos Press.

Beech, Dave (2015). Art and Value: Art’s Economic Exceptionalism in Classical, Neoclassical and Marxist Economics. Boston MA: Brill.

Debord, Guy (1994/1967). Society of the Spectacle. New York: Zone Books.

Derrida, Jacques (1994). Spectres of Marx. London: Routlege.

Diederichsen, Diedrich (2008). On (Surplus) Value in Art. Berlin, Rotterdam: Sternberg Press and Witte de With.

Groys, Boris (2010). Marx After Duchamp, or The Artist’s Two Bodies. e-flux journal #19 10/2010.

Jorn, Asger (2002/1959). Value and Economy. In The Natural Order and Other Texts, trans. Peter Shield. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, pp. 119-217.

MacGaffey, Wyatt (1994). African objects and the idea of fetish. RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics No. 25 (Spring 1994), pp. 123-131.

Martin, Stewart (2007). The Absolute Artwork Meets the Absolute Commodity. Radical Philosophy, 146 (Nov/Dec 2007), pp. 15-25.

Marx, Karl (1975/1842). The Leading Article in No. 179 of the Kölnische Zeitung. In Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Collected Works, vol. 1. London: Lawrence and Wishart, pp. 184-202.

Marx, Karl (1975/1842). Debates on the Law on Thefts of Wood. In Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Collected Works, vol. 1. London: Lawrence and Wishart, pp. 224-263.

Marx, Karl (1904/1859). A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. Trans. Nahum I. Stone. London: International Library.

Marx, Karl (1976/1867). The Commodity. In Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Vol. 1. Trans. Ben Fowkes. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books and New Left Review, pp. 125-177.

Nancy, Jean-Luc (2004). The Two Secrets of the Fetish. Journal of Visual Art Practice, Vol. 3 No. 2, 2004, pp. 139-147.

Pietz, William (1985). The Problem of the Fetish, I. RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics No. 9 (Spring 1985), pp. 5-17.

Pietz, William (1993). Fetishism and Materialism: the Limits of Theory in Marx. In Fetishism as Cultural Discourse, Emily Apter and William Pietz eds. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, pp. 119-151.

Sholette, Gregory (2011). Dark Matter: Art and Politics in the Age of Enterprise Culture. London: Pluto Press.

Zimmerman, Dan (2012). Art as an Autonomous Commodity within the Global Market. Art & Education, 3 May 2012.

Foucault: Of Other Spaces

#20 Foucault: Of Other Spaces

Sunday, 15 October 2017, 1:30pm – 4:00pm
Yurt Café, St. Katharine’s Precinct, 2 Butcher Row, London E14 8DS
Nearest Station: Limehouse
Facilitated by Dasha Loyko
Free, booking via Eventbrite

This book club will take place on Unison, a lifeboat-turned-project-space. We will meet at Yurt Café, located next to Limehouse station, between 1:30pm and 2pm and walk to the boat moored nearby.

DOWNLOAD Foucault, Michel (1986). Of Other Spaces, trans. Jay Miskowiec. Diacritics, 16/1 (Spring 1986), pp. 22–27. Originally published as Des Espace Autres (Conférence au Cercle d’études architecturales, 14 March 1967). Architecture, Mouvement, Continuité, No. 5 (October 1984), pp. 46-49.

[SYMPOSIUM] BOOK CLUB#20. Flyer by Dasha Loyko.
[SYMPOSIUM] BOOK CLUB#20. Flyer by Dasha Loyko.

The definitions of heterotopia given by Foucault contrast it with utopia. Utopia, for him, is an idealized model of society that does not exist in the world. Heterotopia, on the contrary, is a kind of actualised utopia, it is a real space but one that represents, contests and inverts other sites within society. Some of the examples he gives include the reflection in the mirror, the cemetery, the museum, the motel. Foucault views these spaces as microcosms where the usual social and technological rules do not apply, yet they structure and shape our perception of our own urban geography.

The term ‘heterotopia’ was first used by Michel Foucault in the preface to The Order of Things (1966) as a non-place, as something disturbing that has power to subvert language. He later discussed it in a twelve-minute radio broadcast, expanding his definition. To Foucault’s surprise (as he may not have intended a practical application to the idea), he subsequently got asked to repeat the lecture in front of an audience of architects in 1967. The paper we are reading is a transcript of that lecture.

Within the text, Foucault makes an important reference to Gaston Bachelard, whose 1958 book ‘Poetics of Space’ provides key context for the idea of heterotopia. In the book, Bachelard elaborated his ideas of applying phenomenology to architectural spaces, or, in other words, urged architects to develop buildings based on the lived experienced within enclosed or domestic spaces, on the emotional response to them, rather than on purely utilitarian or theoretical grounds.

Heterotopia remains a concept that Foucault never fully elaborated, yet it has, since the 60’s up to the present day, been appropriated, interpreted and re-interpreted by architects, theorists of the public space and artists alike.

The final passage of the paper concludes that ‘the ship is the heterotopia par excellence. In civilisations without boats, dreams dry up, espionage takes place of adventure, and the police take the place of pirates’. This book club will take place on Unison, a former lifeboat that now functions as a project space. It was founded by Anastasia Freygang ‘to create a shifting pocket of enquiries’.

Moored at Limehouse, we will discuss some of the following questions and talk about the significance of the idea of heterotopia in relation to public spaces, institutions and our own lived experience.


  • why does Foucault call our (or his) time an ‘epoch of simultaneity’, and an epoch of space rather than time?
  • what is emplacement?
  • what would it mean for space to be ‘entirely desanctified’? (p.2)
  • how is a mirror both a utopia and a heterotopia?
  • what is the relationship between utopia and heterotopia?
  • how can the concept of heterotopia be related to the notion of public space?
  • does the idea of heterotopia survive in the age of augmented and virtual reality and the internet?

Suggested further reading

  • Johnson, Peter (2006). Unravelling Foucault’s ‘different spaces’ in History of the Human Sciences 19:4, pp. 75-90. SAGE Publications.
  • Foucault, Michel (1994). The Order of Things (Preface). New York; Vintage Books.
  • Bachelard, Gaston (2014). Poetics of Space. New York; Penguin Books.
  • Sorkin, Michael (1992). Variations on a Theme Park: The New American City and the End of Public Space. Hill and Wang.
  • Borges, Jorge Luis (2000). The library of Babel. in Fictions. Penguin.
  • Borges, Jorge Luis (2000). The Garden of Forking Paths. in Fictions. Penguin.

ART&CRITIQUE (2015-2019)


ART&CRITIQUE was a peer-led alternative art education network dedicated to critical engagement with art practice, theory and research. It was founded in November 2015 and based at The Field and LARC. We employed collaborative, co-operative and collective models of pedagogy and organisation and fostered alternative models of art education in a series of public events.

Continue reading ART&CRITIQUE (2015-2019)