The Metronome of Capital

Superflex: One Two Three Swing!
Tate Modern, London
03.10.17 – 02.04.18

Superflex’s Hyundai Commission for Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall operates in three sections. Descending the gentle slope into the Hall takes you over the first: a striped tongue of carpet, derived from the colour palette of British banknotes. Above hangs a silver wrecking ball, lolling back and forth – mildly menacing, but never threatening. An orange beam snaps back and forth at abrupt right angles through the Hall, a three-dimensional manifestation of the swells and crashes of an unidentified financial market. Attached to this beam are three-person swings. Together, these constitute the second section of the installation. The swings are assembled in a small ‘workshop’ in the third section at the end of the Hall, before they are attached to the orange beam. These three sections are dedicated, respectively, to ‘apathy’, ‘movement’ and ‘production’, as part of an attempt to question the individual’s role in the face of overwhelming economic forces, and the possibility of challenging them collectively.

On the basis of this show, we might as well give up now. Lying under the pendulum, presumably I am expected to acknowledge how tragically hypnotised I am by the metronomic dance of capital. Instead, I’m reminded of the dictum ‘It’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.’1 That lack of imagination seems to infest this exhibition: after claiming to address a vague notion of ‘the economy’, it is entirely bereft of any idea of where and how we might actually go about generating a shift in its conditions, other than suggesting an equally vague notion of doing it ‘together’. A purpose is heralded without there really being one, alluding to some cliché of resistance, while being entirely complicit in ensuring the futility of that proposal. This is not benign: it reinforces the belief that there cannot be any genuine challenge to the status quo of the current economic system and, more specifically, that art cannot offer a perspective on that challenge. The work reinforces the apathy it claims to address.

In the wall text, Superflex suggest we might ask ourselves: ‘Is it gravity or the economy that pulls us down?’ From what we can see here, there is no difference between the two – both are so natural, irrefutable and immobile that they cannot even be challenged in an exhibition proposing to do exactly that. What is troubling is that this is not delusional: neither the artists nor the curators really seem to believe the work is capable of offering a critical position relating to its stated themes of ‘apathy’, ‘movement’ and ‘production’, in the name of ‘change’ – neither practically nor metaphorically. It is as if all hope that this work could even position itself critically has been lost.

This ultimately permits Hyundai, the corporate sponsors proudly described beside the work, to piggyback on the exhibition’s pseudo-critical posturing. The prime mechanism is a vagueness in ambition so profound it permits the intrusion of other ( corporate ) interests. Superflex are keen to depict their artworks as ‘tools’, but it is imperative that they take responsibility for how their tools are used, and for whose benefit. The wall text asks ‘Watch, rest and reflect – will you stay or go?’ ‘Swinging together has greater potential than swinging alone’, encouraging you to ‘Swing into action on the count of three!’ What ‘action’? ‘Potential’ for what? Collective labour here is elided with mechanisms of generating ‘change’, where swinging is ‘conceived of as an assembly line for collective movement’. This harks back to the Turbine Hall’s former life as part of Bankside Power Station, but also alludes to the happy worker in the car assembly line of, for example, a Hyundai. In contrast to those forms of industrial production, however, this feels more like the hamster wheel: energy expended as movement, without direction or ambition.

In fact, this particular ‘assembly line’ is for the age of the service economy, and looks more like the playroom of a Google office, with a façade of fun that exists to accelerate the transfer of capital – where play primarily exists to facilitate work. As a participant in this installation, then, for whom am I working? As with the rest of the show, it’s nebulous and easily co-opted: in the absence of any other direction, perhaps the only work I’m doing is for Tate, by posting myself on a swing on social media, or buying a Tate-approved bedside lamp in the design store by the exit, or even thinking about Hyundai ( for once ).

The ‘participation’ of the viewer interacting with a work of art may too readily be assumed to be an inherently more open, more democratic and more worthy practice. That a 2018 exhibition dependent on the value systems of relational aesthetics is still doing the rounds suggests that this format still holds a special, powerful place in the contemporary art institution. Claire Bishop, who expounded a thorough critique of Nicolas Bourriaud’s 1990s theorisation of relational aesthetics, has proposed a critical reason for its enduring appeal, noting that it ensures that the museum ‘becomes marketable as a space of leisure and entertainment’.2 Tate Modern is currently a venue where posters reminding us where to EAT and SHOP are as prominent as ones directing us to ART.3 A playground is an ideal installation for a mall, a convenient ready-made where uncritical leisure and entertainment can be relabelled as art, simply by virtue of being located in an art museum. The art can then operate to enable allied institutional goals of achieving more visitor numbers and supporting itself as a site of commerce. Swing! will get away with it, because it brings people in, keeps them there, and prompts numerous photo opportunities. None of these things necessarily makes it valuable as an artwork. The dependence on visitor numbers and revenue that might be applied to a leisure centre funnels all institutions down the same path. What is at stake here is the possibility for contemporary art within institutions to maintain a genuine position of criticality in current economic conditions. Tragic though it is, this could consequently be the worst Turbine Hall Commission to date and also, by Tate’s own terms, one of its most successful.

On the evidence of Swing! there appears to be an almost wilful disregard for development in this field. Here the nature of participation is entirely prescribed – the viewer either commits to join the assembly line, or leaves ( ‘Will you stay or go?’ ); the choice is binary, and neither option holds any critical weight. What is odd about this is that the artist’s involvement of the viewer is usually a mechanism for increasing unpredictability in a work, and relinquishing a degree of control. Swing!, however, seems to offer a point of connection entirely on its own terms, reluctant or incapable of permitting any genuine sense of viewer choice or potential. In this regard Swing! treats its viewers as a homogeneous mass of commodified spectators. This points to the ongoing need for exploration beyond the permitted limits of Swing! and its ilk, including asking how individuals engage with participatory work in ways that cannot be prescribed and controlled; the degree to which a viewer is complicit in the rules of the work they’ve entered ( and likewise the artist in the actions of the viewer within that work ); and how participation holds certain responsibilities, dependencies and obligations within complex structures of control and dynamics of power, rather than being presumed to embody emancipation or engender some abstract notion of ‘community’.

Bishop’s advocacy of antagonism may be seen as critical in this regard – namely, the negotiation of conflicting positions in interpersonal relations, rather than their amalgamation in pseudo-collective apparent consensus.4 Hal Foster has made a not dissimilar point in respect to relational aesthetics, emphasising the necessity for art to at least take a stand, even if that position generates conflict.5 This conflict is precisely, and deliberately, what is avoided and disabled by Superflex. For antagonism and taking a position of some sort enforce debate, disagreement and potential controversy, and embody risk. Risk, of course, is the enemy of financial investment. But it should be remembered that risk is to the benefit of artistic practice and exhibition-making, without which there is no experimentation, with nothing at stake, producing exhibitions entirely devoid of agency. It is in this wasteland that the potential for art as a mechanism of critique perishes, and ulterior agents already widely represented in our current economic system are able to flourish.

1. Noted by Fredric Jameson and, subsequently, Mark Fisher.
2. Claire Bishop, ‘Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics’, October, no. 110 ( Fall 2004 ), pp. 51 – 79 ( p. 52 ).
3. Of a total of sixteen floors now at Tate Modern, only seven have any art exhibitions at all, and another seven are devoted entirely to shops, restaurants, cafés or bars.
4. See Claire Bishop, Double Agent, eds Claire Bishop and Silvia Tramontana, ICA, London, 2008, p. 101.
5. Hal Foster, ‘Chat Rooms’ ( 2004 ), in Participation, ed. Claire Bishop, Whitechapel, London, 2006, pp. 190 – 5 ( p. 194 ).


2017 年3 月10 日—2018 年2 月4 日

译 / 顾虔凡

艺术团体Superflex 为泰特现代美术馆涡轮大厅创作的“现代委任”系列作品分为三个部分。沿着下行缓坡进入大厅的是第一部分:一条有如舌头般的条纹地毯,取色来自英国的纸币。顶上悬挂着一只低垂的银色“破碎球”,它来回晃悠,有些吓人但并不构成真正的威胁。橘色直角的结构体此起彼伏地贯穿整个大厅,好像是对某个金融市场通胀与崩塌曲线的一种立体呈现。与这些橘色结构体相连接的是许多个三人座的秋千。这些共同构成了装置作品的第二部分。第三部分则是在大厅尽头的一小间“工作坊”,这些秋千就在那里被组装起来。这三部分分别对应着“漠然”、“运动”和“生产”,它们试图提问:个体在面对压倒性的经济力量时的角色,以及共同挑战这些经济力量的可能性。

基于这个展览的探讨和呈现,也许我们最好现在就放弃探索这些可能性。躺在钟摆般的大球之下,我大概应该承认自己很悲惨地被资本节拍器般的舞蹈晃悠着催眠了。但是并没有,相反的, 我想起了这样的警句名言:“比起资本的终结来说,想象世界的终结1 要容易得多。”这种“想象”的缺失,似乎对展览产生了影响: 尽管展览生成要探讨含义模糊的“经济”概念,但除了同样模糊地提到我们要“一起”做点什么之外,它完全没有就我们应该在哪儿以及如何实现一些扭转情况的改变提出任何想法。一个目标被提出,但它并不是真正的目的,它在暗指某些有关反抗的陈词滥调,同时与那些保证这个目标不被实现的事保持着紧密的合谋。这样的做法并太善意:它所强化的是这样一种观念,即没有任何事能真正挑战当前经济系统的现状,更具体地来说,艺术甚至无法为这一挑战提供见解。这件作品强调的正是它力图探讨的那种“漠然”。

在展墙文字中,Superflex 提议我们可以这样自问:“是重力还是经济在向下拉扯着我们?”从我们这里看到的情况来说, 这两者之间并无差别—它们都是自然的、无可辩驳且恒定的, 甚至在这样一个以此为议题的展览中都无法真正对其发起挑战。令人感到不安的是,这绝非妄言:艺术家或策展人们似乎都并不相信这件作品能够以“变革”之名为它提到的“漠然”“运动” 和“生产”等主题提供什么批判性的见解—无论这种“变革”是出于实际或隐喻性的考量。似乎所有的希望,就连这件作品将自己定位成批判性立场本身,都全部丢失了。

这最终导致的是,作为企业赞助的现代公司能够颇为骄傲地在作品一旁得到介绍,它所借助的正是一种虚伪的批判姿态。其中的核心机制是一种模棱两可的野心,这种野心如此深刻以至于它能允许其他(企业)利益的介入。Superflex 喜欢将自己的艺术作品描述为“工具”,但他们有必要对自己的工具负责,包括它们如何被使用以及谁会因此获益。展墙文字发出这样的疑问: “观看、休息并反思—你会留下还是离开?”;“一起荡秋千比起独自荡秋千拥有更多潜能”;甚至鼓励你“数到三一起激荡出行动!”—什么“行动”?什么样的“潜能”?在这里,群体性的劳动力被缩略成生成“变革”的机制,而秋千则“被设想为集体运动的流水线”。这可以追溯到涡轮大厅作为河岸发电站的前身,它也暗示了汽车生产装配线上欢快的工人们,比如来自现代汽车的那些。不过,与那些工业生产形式相对的是,这件装置给人的感觉更像是一个供仓鼠奔跑的转轮:所有的能量都消耗在了没有明确方向也没有野心的运动之中。

事实上,这条“流水线”更适合于以服务型经济为主的时代, 而且看起来很像谷歌办公室里的那些游戏室,它拥有看起来十分有趣的外表,但是其存在主要是为了加速资本的转移—游乐是为了促进工作而存在的。作为这个装置参与者的我,究竟是在为谁工作呢?这个疑问和展览的其他构成部分一样,是含义模糊并且可以被轻易指派的:在没有更多指导性的意见被提出的情况下, 我大概是在为泰特“工作”吧:把自己荡秋千的照片发布到社交媒体上,或是在出口的设计品商店里买一盏泰特授权的床头灯, 或是至少思考(一下)现代公司。

观众对艺术作品的“参与”,可能很容易被认为是一种本质上更为开放、更为民主也更有价值的实践。一个举办于2018 年的展览,仍然有赖于“关系美学”的价值系统,这表明这种形式仍然在当代艺术机构中占据着特殊而重要的地位。克莱尔·毕晓普对尼古拉斯·伯瑞奥德在1990 年代提出的关系美学理论进行过彻底的批判,她认为这一理论之所以能够拥有持久的活力,其中一个重要原因在于,它确保了博物馆可以“被经营成一个供休闲娱乐的场所”。2今天的泰特现代美术馆,除了向我们指引“艺术”, 还有大量积极发帖的人告诉我们可以去那儿“吃喝”和“购物”。3 游乐场设置在购物中心里是再理想不过的了,它是一个便捷的“现成品”,只是因为地处艺术博物馆之中,这些不具批判立场的休闲娱乐设施就可以轻易地标榜自己为艺术。随后,这样的艺术就可以自如地让其联盟机构以利益为目标来运转:实现更多访客人数的数据,并成为一个自给自足的商业场所。作品“荡秋千!” 能够轻易过关进入美术馆,因为它能带来人潮,让他们在馆内驻足,还提供了大量拍照的好机会。但这些事都不足以令其具有艺 术作品的价值。依靠访客的数量及收入,可能是休闲中心适用的运营方式,但现在所有的机构都走上了这条相同的道路。其中迫在眉睫的利害关系是,体制内的当代艺术在当下的经济情况下是否仍有可能维持自己真正批判性的立场。悲惨的是,这可能是涡轮大厅迄今为止最糟糕的一次委任作品,与此同时,按照泰特自己的标准来看,它也是最为成功的一次。

作品“荡秋千!”提供的明证是,似乎广泛地存在着刻意为之的视而不见。在“荡秋千!”中,观众的参与几乎是强制性的— 因为观看者要么参与了这条生产线,要么离开,完全落入了作品的提问—“你会留下还是离开?”选择是二元对立的,而且任一选项都并无批判意义上的重要性。令人感到奇怪的是,这次委任中艺术家的参与都完全投注于对商店、餐厅、咖啡厅或酒吧的关注。通常,参观者是一件作品中增强不可预知性的机制,并且会让创作者放弃一定程度的掌控。但是,“荡秋千!”似乎完全在按照自己的方式提供联结,对于真正出于观众意愿做出的选择并无兴趣,或者说是无能为力。从这个角度来看,“荡秋千!” 将观众视作为一种同质的、商品化的观众。这表明,在“荡秋千!” 所预设的限制之外还存在着许多有待挖掘的事,包括去质疑个体在参与性的作品中如何能够不受预设和掌控;观众进入一件作品时,要在多大程度上与作品的规则合谋(类似的,艺术家之于具体行动,就如同观众之于这样的作品);以及,在复杂的控制及权力动态的结构中,参与如何能够保持一定的责任、独立性和义务,而不是一开始就被假定为“社群”这个抽象概念的体现。

以此来看,毕晓普所倡导的对抗可以被视作为一种批判— 在人际关系中相互冲突的立场之间如何互相斡旋,而不是在虚假的集体共识中达成一致。4 哈尔·福斯特对于关系美学所提出的是类似的观点,他强调艺术必须至少拥有自己独立的立场,哪怕是一个引发冲突的立场。5 这正是Superflex 有意回避或使之失效的那种冲突。对于反抗以及某种形式的立场,需要对其付诸辩论、分歧、潜在的争议从而让风险显现。当然了,风险正是金融投资的大敌。但应该被记住的是,风险有益于艺术实践和展览制作, 否则便不会有试验的存在,也不会有任何利害关系,所产生的展览也完全失去了中间介质的作用。正是在这片荒芜之境中,作为批判机制的艺术的潜能正在消亡,而在我们当前经济系统中已经广泛存在的那些图谋不轨的代理机制则将有机可乘。

1. 这一点起先由弗雷德里克·詹姆逊提出,此后马克·费舍也进行过探讨。
2. 克莱尔·毕晓普,《反抗及关系美学》,发表于《十月》学术期刊, 第110 期,2004 年秋季,第52 页。
3. 泰特现代美术馆有16 层楼,其中只有七层用于艺术展览。
4. 参见克莱尔·毕晓普的《双重代理》,由毕晓普和西尔维亚·特拉蒙塔纳共同编辑,伦敦:ICA 出版,2008 年,第101 页。
5. 哈尔·福斯特,《聊天室》,收录于由毕晓普编辑的“白教堂系列丛书”《参与》中,伦敦:白教堂画廊出版,2006 年,第190—195 页。