Art for Control: Inscription Devices and the Politics of Debt

The current “Social Turn” in the arts is re-inscribing the ways in which art is connected to notions of social cohesion and community. For example, L. Ruffel argues that the nineteenth-century aesthetic notion of art which created “the grounds for a sensus communis” is being replaced by “micro-political approaches … privileging the inscription of the artist … into a given social fabric.” This has three consequences: [1] artistic practices are increasingly “attached to a cultural program,” [2] art is understood as “a vector of social cohesion”; and [3] art is institutionalised into new centers of transmission, such as educational, commercial, and social welfare institutions. In this paper, we will analyse how these consequences are connected to practices of auditing and new forms of accountability. This accountability, we argue, contains a politics of debt which opens up the aesthetic for new purposes of control, producing the need for artists to create “inscription devices” that later can be used to report back to funding agencies. These “inscription devices” should not be understood as extrinsic to the arts but as belonging to the internal modification of art, whereby art is often given commercial, pedagogical and socially cohesive functions. We will analyse this new “politics of debt” by looking at case studies from Malmö, especially how art projects, by being indebted through funding mechanisms of various kind, create art that also can function as “inscription devices” for the audit.

European Society for Literature, Science and the Arts—Control: Stockholm, June 14–17, 2016

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