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NEWS: General Disorientation for the Arts [1]

The medical definition for the term “crisis” is the turning point of a disease for better or worse.  It indicates a crucial moment where a certain disease can escalade towards its end, may it be death or sudden recovery So imagine you are  aboard the 2012 European Crisis Cruise. Can you imagine having two options avaiable: to sink like Titanic or to miraculously achieve a certain improvement, like stability or even a “lasting 3% growth”?  Is it realistic to say both options are valid when “crisis” is the West’s regular slang since the oil crisis in the Seventies and the begining of the socalled neoliberal “un-fairplay”? Can a long-term agony still be called a crisis?
Recently, we have been struck by general budget cuts in arts in all european countries, especially in Portugal and in the Netherlands. Last week, in Portugal, these cuts have reached the 100% zone, which means, the retreat of all cultural support for the year 2012. The reason – they say – is the CRISIS (with capital letters to make us shiver). And the goal – we say – is to make us believe the CRISIS has just started yesterday.  Portugal has been presented as Europe’s trashbin at the same time it is the miniature of a major Euro Crisis.  Whereas culture, health, education and employment are being massively attacked by austerity policies in all countries, European citizens (or should we say consumers?), live under the fear of what comes next, while they learn that Lucas Papademos (Greece), Mário Monti (Italy) or Mário Draghi (European Central Bank) - all 3 involved in the late nacional debt’s bailouts - are also the actual  ex-founders of Goldman Sachs, the creditors of these debts. 

Bernard Stiegler wrote in 2006 in his book Disbelief and Discredit:

The belief in progress as technology and correlatively in the social and political realms is ruined (...) This dismantlement is  a tendential process of de-temporalization: it tends both to the lack of a conscience of the past and the feeling of a possible future – and in this sense, all the possibilities of a truthful experience  are reduced. We’re in the epoch of disorientation  (...) where society disajusts itself from its technical system, and this disadjustment is in itself a waste of time. And as the system tends to be a real time system, a system of hipersynchronic and integral calculated time, we combine two processes of de-temporalization that conduct to the loss of individuation – what was already said to be characteristic to the youth of the end of the XX century – NO FUTURE.”

This loss of time awareness is the work of the last 30 years of hiperindustrial cultural capitalism and planetary networking since the late Nineties with the revolution of the Internet. As we lose the grip of history, we disbelief any action under the former social and political “sustainable” forms of the Modern State, and become rigid to the uncountable lies we hear in the news about the crisis and its profit-orientated policies. In the midst, our culture is made hostage of anti-crisis paranoid measures, while art is more than ever mortified as merchandise.

In Agambem’s “What is the contemporary?“ 2006’s text, his vision on the contemporary is paradoxically challenging Stiegler’s dispossession of temporality:

“Contemporariness is a singular relationship with one’s own time, which adheres to it, and at the same time, keeps a distance from it. More precisely it is that relationship with time that adheres to it through a dysjunction or a anachronism. Those who coincide too well with the epoch, those who are perfectly tied to it in every aspect, are not contemporaries, because they do not manage to see it; they are not able to finally hold their gaze on it.”. We ask ourselves: if there is no sense of time, can there still be a feeling of contemporary? What would be contemporary art in an epoch where epoch’s awareness is annihilated by the impossibility to create distance? What is the space of the contemporary artist in a society obliterated of its social and political potential, and overexposed to capitalist maneuvers?
The recent cuts in culture budgets show the discredit of European political goverments in the role of arts in society and reinforces the myth of arts economical “co-dependency“ on the state, while artists are on their side more and more compromised with profit-oriented realities. It is urgent to disconnect this sterile reasoning between art and economy and stop being afraid to claim political action and positioning of cultural agents and artists. May it be a parody or an international farse written by many hands to defend private interests, but the “capital-oriented“ tentacles of the West Crisis are a threat to the integrity and independence of art and life. And we don’t need any medical terms to explain that. To regain “time“ and  “future perspectivism“ is the challenge of our contemporariness.


Rita Natálio


[1] Directorate-General for the Arts is the central department of the Portuguese Ministry of Culture which was recently extinguished. The department is stil in fonction, but has annouced in march 17th, that it will not open any aplication for arts support for the year 2012.