Mel Jordan – Aesthetics, Apparatus and Linguistic Community in the practice of the Freee art collective (Loughborough University)
Aesthetic judgement is necessarily subjective, but the subject of aesthetics must first be formed by the aesthetic apparatus. In this paper Freee call for the question ‘who is capable of judging the beautiful?’ to be reconsidered as a question of interpellation of the aesthetic subject and the apparatuses to which the aesthetic subject belongs. Inquiring into aesthetics, therefore, means inquiring into the protocols and the apparatuses that promote, maintain and reward aesthetic pleasures.
We use Walter Benjamin’s essay ‘Author as Producer’ from 1924 in which he describes how the relationship between the subject of beauty and the apparatuses of beauty corresponds to the relationship between the artwork and the productive apparatus. There is a fundamental distinction to be drawn, in Benjamin’s analysis, between works that ‘supply a productive apparatus without changing it’ and works that call forth a new apparatus, like Brecht’s plays which challenge the institution of the theatre not just its content or style.
Mel Ramsden picks up this theme in his essay ‘On Practice’ from The Fox magazine in 1975. ‘The products may change,’ he says, ‘modifications occur all the time (an endless spectacle), but the form of life remains the same’.Ramsden dismisses the idea that new, better, more critical artworks can ‘solve’ the problem of art’s commodification and bureaucratization. ‘Even those [artists] who profess unique political awareness’, he says, ‘just don’t make the connections they ought to between their work and (e.g.) the spread of a marketing expedient like ‘international art’.’ In place of this politically aware art, Ramsden proposes something more radical: ‘setting up a community practice’ which does not just embody a commodity mode of existence’. That is to say, Ramsden is after a different kind of subject for art, and he realizes that this cannot be produced simply by making art for a different subject within the same apparatuses. The emergence of a new subject for art requires the transformation of the apparatuses of art.
In the final part of this paper we explore what happens to the expected order of the apparatus when we describe Freeeʼs artworks as published instead of exhibited. Using Habermas theory of the public sphere we attempt to think about our artworks as opinion formation, we ʻmess upʼ the relationship between primary and secondary audience and exclude onlookers from our spoken choir works, therefore rendering them devoid of spectacle.
In short we ask can we disrupt the way that art and politics are conventionally configured by rethinking the aesthetic subject and the apparatuses to which the aesthetic subject belongs?