PILOT is a project that takes the manifesto as a context in contemporary art, and tries to think about the history of the form up to now, and the possibilities for the form into the future. It retroactively proposes the manifesto as a medium within art practice, in the same way that painting is a medium, or sculpture. The manifesto medium has the innate capacity to displace the binary between the political and the aesthetic, which has plagued many conversations around art since the ideology of “art for art’s sake” evolved in the 19th century.
Where most modern mediums, like photography, film, and the Internet, were inaugurated through technological breakthroughs, the manifesto arose in response to the emergence of the “bourgeois public sphere” with the liberal democracies of the 18th century. This was a system of looking at the world in which a culture of polite and rational conversation was presented as the correct posture for public interaction. It proposed itself to be universal, to represent the needs of all the people, but it was –and still is, in its neo-liberal incarnation–a zone which operated to erase and exclude narratives and histories that did not cohere to its tidy and convenient assumptions about itself. Janet Lyon, in her book Manifestoes: Provocations of the Modern (1999), argues that the manifesto has operated to exceed the terms of this universalism, to call it to account for the promises it makes, but does not keep. And so the manifesto exceeds the rational sphere of consensual public discourse –it demands access to the conversation, even an end to the conversation; it demands regard for new formal approaches; demands complexity, even when it is coded as simplistic.
Under 20th century modernism, mediums competed for relevancy. There was a self-reflexive search for the inherent characteristics of each medium, on the basis that these characteristics could allow the individual medium to function on its own terms. This approach became fetishized into a productive, then deadening, formalism. And so, in the Sixties we had the “dematerialization” of the art object, the beginnings of the post-medium condition, of a hybridity in art practice that has continued to this day. And yet, when we encounter works of art, ephemeral or object-based, we often understand them in relation to the more staid medium-tradition from which we decide, or know, them to be derived. With this in mind, it is possible to look at many aspects of contemporary art practice as an example of the manifesto medium in an “expanded field”. The manifesto may now be a “distributed attitude”, a floating archetype or impulse that realizes itself in multiple contexts such as the theory essay, the exhibition, the performance, or even the syllabus. We might even propose this depressingly general rule for establishing the “manifesto-status” of a discourse, idea or thing: in the expanded field of the contemporary manifesto, some- thing is a manifesto if someone somewhere says it is a manifesto.
When there are breaks in hegemonic orders, as during the rapid modernization of fin de siècle Europe, the uproar of the French Revolution, the Civil Rights era within the U.S., or indeed, as PILOT will explore, NOW...there are manifesto-moments where diverse groups and contexts struggle for agency and control of the emerging sphere. The fact that manifestos are frequently reactive, or proactively constituted to fight for control of an emerging set of relations, means they happen in competition. The more manifestos there are that make an overarching claim for a group or context, the more atomization there is, as agents work to produce ever more refined self-identifications. Perhaps the promise of a manifesto moment is that it is about relations; it is about mapping the divergent eruptions of a new social order before it has condensed itself again into a set of prima facie transparent doctrines and ideologies. It is a relativist time because all the spheres, and spaces, and specific institutional and identity sedimentations are rocked and blown open. There is a battle for narrative control by not yet discernible forces. In this regard, any attempt to understand something about a historical period that does not proceed through a methodological relativism, (offered, in this proposal, via a horizontal tracing of the manifesto off a vertical axes determined by the manifesto), is missing out on something. It fails to see the connections across a culture, and remains within the endless refraction of one frame.
PILOT takes the intimacy of the free-form radio format, and a set of artists and individuals with interesting and developed positions, and looks at some of the ideas that are outlined above. It also goes back to some primary texts, and sees in them a quality that can inform the present. Across the virtual ether will stream this signal made up of voice and sound... searching, ever on, for the receptive ear into which it can be jammed.
Bartholomew Ryan, April 2009.
- Lyon, Janet. Manifestoes : Provocations of the Modern. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1999.