Collectivism after modernism

Martijn van Berkum, Rotterdam – – This cover could completely go without a book. My first thought at seeing the picture on the book Collectivism after modernism, a collection of essays that “explore the ways in which collectives function within cultural norms, social conventions and corporate or state-sanctioned art”, reads the back.


Needless to say, to a certain degree this weblog is a collective practice as well, and how I’d love to be with our members on that arrow-shaped boat. Even more when I read that the essays explore collectivism in social, cultural and political contexts. They are set in New York after 1975, the Cuban national crisis in the eighties, the sixties in Japan and in the last decade in Senegal. Not to mention the introduction which ambitiously plays out collectivism against the backdrop of the cold war in which collaborative practice is identified as suspicious communist activities and individualism is hailed as the prodigal practice of Western capitalists artists. Hmmm, this begins to look like a tasty menu.

Unfortunately, promising as it may sound, it seems like the authors forgot to add salt, pepper and a nice sauce. Very few manage to really give proper analysis of the relation between collectives and the contexts and surroundings in which they operate, on how they carry out political action, provide discursive places and alternatives and, most important for me, what kinds of strategies and methodologies they have developed.

To enable transformation on a social, cultural or political level, as the introduction promises, collective practices need to be translated to an operational level. How else can you be an actor in such societal fields? Only Okwui Enwezor manages to translate theory into practice in his text The Production of Social Space as Artwork: Protocols of Community in the Work of Le Groupe Amos and Huit Facettes.

It is a rich and intelligent text that combines insights from social studies, post-colonialism, community practice and collectivism to describe the political and cultural situation in Senegal. Situated in this complex framework he describes the practice and methodologies his case-studies Le Groupe Amos and Huit Facettes have developed. It is a theoretically complex and layered story combined with a very insightful, hands-on description of subversive collective practices. In all honesty: one the best texts I’ve read.

Therefore, my advice is to borrow the book, make a big coloured photo copy enlargement of the cover and put it on your wall. Photocopy Enwezors essay and lock yourself in the room with the poster and read it to last word! Inspiration guaranteed!

Blake Stimson and Gregory Sholette (editors), Collectivism after Modernism: The art of Social Imagination after 1945, University of Minnesota Press, Minnesota, 2007
ISBN-13: 978-0-8166-4462-9
Authors: Jelena Stojanovic, Reiko Tomii, Chris Gilbert, Jesse Drew, Rachel Weiss, Ruben Gallo, Alan W. Moore, Okwui Enwezor, Irina Aristarkhova, Brian Holmes.

5 Responses to “Collectivism after modernism”


  1. 1 Antonio Scarponi September 16, 2008 at 12:21 pm

    very nice review.
    thanks.

    ant.

  2. 2 bob December 30, 2008 at 7:58 pm

    too bad you did not actually read the book.

  3. 3 Mark T. Market January 14, 2009 at 11:25 am

    Interestingly, I’ve recently entertained two views on Collectivism. The first is the criticism, the second is a reprise in light of China’s emergence. The two hardly satisfy any debates, but the important lesson for me is to be on guard against naively taking history as a final arbiter on anything, and to remain constantly vigilant and critical of ideas, no matter their merit.

  4. 4 Mark T. Market January 14, 2009 at 11:25 am

    Interestingly, I’ve recently entertained two views on Collectivism. The first is the criticism, the second is a reprise in light of China’s emergence. The two hardly satisfy any debates, but the important lesson for me is to be on guard against naively taking history as a final arbiter on anything, and to remain constantly vigilant and critical of ideas, no matter their merit.

  5. 5 martijnvanberkum January 15, 2009 at 8:09 am

    Dear Mark,

    Thanks for response and pointing out the articles. I will definately read them. From the historical point of view, this book could be interesting for you, since it describes different forms of collective practice in different cultural contexts after modernism. Unfortunately it makes little effort to point back to modernism – hence ‘collectivism after modernism’ of course – and that is a pity. In the beginning of the 20th century art movements operated as highly organized collectives, think about the surrealists for instance, with regular meetings, collective statements, strategies and voting on new members. They referred strongly to marxistic ideology as such and that is quite interesting I think. You can find some signs of the relevance of it in the book since it describes how after WW2 there was a strong anti-collective and highly individualistic tendency among American artists. Working in a collective was thought to be suspicious and smelled like communistic.


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