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Cultural Activism Today: The Art of Over-Identification

Monday, November 23, 2009, 7pm

Talk by BAVO

Contemporary art seems to be caught in the blackmail typical for this self-acclaimed age of the End of History. On the one hand, the artist is elevated into “the One” who relentlessly confronts society with its shortcomings and uses his creative intelligence to dream up new ideals. At the same time however, s/he is constantly reminded that this critical and utopian activity should remain “constructive” — a coded way of saying that it should not fundamentally question the triumphant onward march of representative democracy and the free market. No wonder that art today threatens to be reduced to a purely empty exercise that, as Fukuyama claims, offers the last men an escape from their petty bourgeois existence.

The central question of this lecture is whether, and how, art can escape this suffocating situation. It will be argued that the key to a way out of the trap of the End of History lies in the strategy of over-identification. Instead of succumbing to society’s pathetic demand for small creative acts, artists should over-identify with the ruling, post-historical order and take the latter’s immanent laws to their most extreme, dystopian consequences. By ruthlessly closing off any space for creative, utopian thinking—which today is nothing but a farce anyway—it should confront society with its own closure.

This strategy of over-identification will be assessed in reference to art works by art works from Santiago Sierra, Christoph Schlingensief, Jens Haaning, Atelier Van Lieshout, Martijn Engelbregt, and others.

BAVO is an independent research and activism office focused on the political dimension of art, architecture, and planning. BAVO is a cooperation between Gideon Boie and Matthias Pauwels, both of whom studied architecture and philosophy. BAVO’s explicit mission is to enhance public debate by means of publications, symposia, interventions, and actions. BAVO recently organized some actions with regards to creative city development and practices of embedded cultural activism. It also participated in the Dutch contribution to the 52nd International Art Exhibition at the Venice Biennale in 2007. Among their recent publications is Cultural Activism Today: The Art of Over-identification (Rotterdam: Episode Publishers, 2007).

More information on BAVO’s activities, actions, and texts can be found on its homepage


Justina M. Barnicke Gallery


Co-sponsored by the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery and the Doris McCarthy Gallery

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