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Developing a Post Autonomous practice

I am going to read from an on-going text, which I first delivered at the Museum of Modern art in Arnhem last year. The title for the text think tank for establishing a Post autonomous practice looks at the crisis or emergency in art, and a necessity for the reinvention of something equivalent to art under the umbrella term of Post-Autonomous Practices Outline of basic issues.

Before I start to read the main text I want to take a moment to outline what I think are the basic issues I am going to discuss, and it is useful to keep these in mind throughout the reading!

The talk as a think tank explores a range of techniques and strategies for achieving the goal for establishing a Post Autonomous practice. For arguments sake let us suppose that we are reinventing something equivalent to a contemporary practice, and that this discussion is the first stage towards its reinvention, and that this discussion can be seen as a forum where we give ourselves permission to speculate on such matters.

The set of issues that I am going to look at are really quite straightforward. Are the problems in art that we are to look at legitimate problems - i.e. the crisis or emergency in art? Do they deserve to be taken seriously? Are they real problems? What are these problems? And, what is the room for maneuver to address or solve these problems?

Then we need to go onto examine whether the notion of Post Autonomy is a legitimate solution that provides a route through the current problems with the existing model of art onto new models?

1. What is Post Autonomy, where has the notion come from, and why should we take it seriously?

Neither a coherent theory nor a practice that resembles a post Autonomous practice exists except for a brief outline that traces a route towards assembling a Post Autonomous practice. Yet by implication Post Autonomy signals the end of the era of whatever it is we understand as Autonomy and a new era that uses different principles.

So what are the clues that can lead towards understanding more clearly both the thinking and practice called post Autonomy that allows us to establish these principles? There are a number of recognizable characteristics that it is possible to use as our point of departure - practices that address (1) fundamental issues, (2) physical change, (3) an up-dated institutional critique.

Post Autonomy surfaced as a term during the debate into the crisis in art from the late 1980's, and springs from targeting the basic building blocks that contributed towards the invention of the new system of art, before going onto speculate how to change those building blocks - particularly the fundamental role of the relationship of autonomy to the invention of art, and exhibition art as the main framework in which art coheres and is understood during this period of the formation of art.

The crisis in art debate

Unless we understand the issues worked through in the crisis in art debates it is difficult to understand the necessity for a Post Autonomous practice. The crisis in art, which comprises a wide range of practices and debates, can be seen as the initial germ revealing a dissatisfaction or even intolerance in continuing to replicate the very 19th century model of art that shaped both our understanding and practice of art. Yet the purpose of current practices have shifted fundamentally since arts inception yet it appears to be tied to the same socio political goals vis a vis as a form of imperialism and the exporting of Western culture into a global culture. Not even the worthwhile project of institutional critical practices resolved this dilemma, but instead collapsed into a sterile defeatist practice that endlessly described the art institutions. The problem of interrogating, understanding, and proposing different models to the existing model of art has accelerated in recent times with the collapse of the very thinking that legitimized critical positions in art vis a vis Habermasian philosophy, which is in itself unsustainable anyway since it protected and privileged the very position which required dismantling i.e. that of the position of the artist, curator and art work.

Despite these considerable problems it is possible to recognize a series of projects that have at least recognized the need for substantial structural changes and revision into the manner a practice can be staged - last years Documenta is good case in point.

What is the relevance for the continued existence of machines such as Documenta and the Venice Biennial to promote and export Western models of art into a Global context at a time when Globalization is complete! And what role or right do citizens have in contributing towards this Global culture?

However interesting these projects are, in hind site they can be seen to merely tinker around with the problem. There is an unwillingness to address and go onto undertake actual structural changes. Yet whatever we think of these debates, the very least they have accomplished is to render existing orthodox stable terms into the mapping of the definition and role of the artist and locations for displaying or staging art unusable.

What stands out from these debates and practices during this period is a move away from the Modernist idea of art grounded in a tradition of Minimalist spatial practices. This is significant since it has influenced our understanding and use of non-gallery spaces for art - site specific practices, installation art, context art practices, public art. On the one hand this has rendered many non-gallery practices irrelevant, but also signals a move away from a process that uses art to divide, occupy and colonize space and territory, to a practice and process that is non-hierarchical and concerned with negotiation.

2. Sketching out a notion of Post Autonomy

It is in this light that the German Conceptual artist Michael Lingner proposed the notion of Post Autonomy. Whether we agree with Lingner's overall analysis or not - Lingner suggests that not only is the current state of art in crisis but it is in fact in a state of emergency. We cannot continue in the direction art has followed up until now, art or whatever it is we use to define such a practice, is in such a drastic condition that we are in the equivalent historical position that art was in when it was first invented, in other words, we are required to reinvent art anew. We are indeed politically and intellectually in a condition of Post Autonomy.

Lingner writes:-

" at the very peak of its aesthetic autonomy is socially dependent again as to structure."

The series of interlinked articles in which Lingner works through his analysis of the formation of art and proposals for solutions to existing problems, fulfill several problems. By continuing conceptual arts tradition, the juxtaposition of texts and images operates as a work of art. Through extending appropriation methods Lingner pulls out of the context of art into the framework of a text ideas for staging art at a time when there are severe problems with the way art is staged - whether in the shape as exhibition art or public art.

"The traditional concept of art produced according to its own rules is not suitable for art in public spaces" - where there is no longer an outside or inside, public space can read as everywhere even gallery space!


"The actual goal of aesthetic autonomy was an aesthetic independence of the work from everything social. However, art reproducing itself autopoetically can no longer continue to establish the autonomy of the artwork (in Adorno's sense) from this position counter to society. Since it would otherwise destroy itself through self-negation, art is forced to develop a completely new strategy for autonomy. It must start with the assumption that there is now no other possibility for art than self-sufficiency in society."


P. 39. Art's future requirements.

"Art, which despite (as well as because of) the system's constraints, does not renounce the ideal of autonomy, is faced with the problem of how the work, functioning at the heart of the aesthetical, can be realized outside of art, i.e. through the medium of social communication, through personal, psychic systems."


"Hence, a trans-post-modern practice of art in that its aspirations is to continue the enlightening process of autonomy, is confronted with the task of finding forms which make the work at the heart of aesthetic experience as independent as possible from the artist as producer."

g. P.37

"If art is not to be overcome by the social controls now within it and to lose its own specific identity, it becomes just as imperative as ever for it to stick to the concept of autonomy. Otherwise, the social and aesthetic autonomy it has achieved in Modernism, even its perpetuation as a social system would be imperiled."


"But to prevent a negative end result, namely the dissolution of art in society, the strategy of aesthetic autonomy followed up to now is useless, for it was categorically directed against everything in society, even against that which art considered traditional per se, i.e. socially accepted."

This offers the opportunity of being involved in a contemporary practice, without using the existing structure, form and language - (in other words he describes something that doesn't yet exist!)

At the core of Lingner's work there is ultimately posed the question - " where is the position to begin to comprehend and interrogate the structure in which thinking and practices are embedded?" Is text an appropriate basis to do this? Is it discussion? Is it a physical practice? If not what is?

3 Sources for the term Post Autonomy


In the book Place, Position, presentation, public published in 1994 Lingner sketched out the notion of Post-Autonomy, in an essay "art as a system within society."

"What is to be done? Is there an alternative to Postmodernism's 'anything goes' that is currently threatening to put art at the mercy of whatever is fashionable? To answer in slogans - I think of further art developments not in terms of postmodern but of post-autonomous for, which art need only give up that moment of autonomy that allows it no final purpose. Because - if art has come to the end of aesthetic autonomy, it seems to me unavoidable that it will look to extra-aesthetic goals and functions in order to survive and evolve."


This notion is expanded in subsequent texts - "The future requirements of art", and "About the end of the art exhibition and exhibition art."

"It would mean that art, having reached its stage of so-called basic theoretical maturity, instead of only following its own inner logic, would now be ready to react to external impulses. In order not to lose its own autonomy, however, art must set its own extra-aesthetic or heteronymous social ends in strict self-determination, that is autonomously."

Pt 4. What can we make from this collage of statements and what is Lingner saying?

Lingner's intention is to confront head on what he sees as a series of major problems that we have inherited with the existing model of art. These problems are documented photographically by Anglo-Saxon Conceptual artists during the 70's and 80's - Kosuth, Lawler, Clegg & Guttmann. But it is the reduction of art to a single model during the 90's with the adoption of the American market model of art making, along with the complete collapse of any other model that compounds a sense of crisis.

Lingner's texts sets out to consciously map out a fundamentally different model, and he does this by anticipating a practice diametrically opposite to the existing model - through erasing each element that makes up the shape of art that we use - the work of art, the artist, audience, gallery space, the category of art - a continuous series of steps away from this congealed orthodox position of art. This erasure doesn't lead into the disappearance or destruction of art but a new territory that we need to construct under the umbrella of Post Autonomy!

Lingner and Luhmann

This operation however only makes sense when we consolidate the link between Lingner's thinking with the German Systems theorist Niklus Luhmanns, and for our purpose his analysis of the sub-system of art.

Luhmann's project is to understand the formation of systems within the hostile environment of capitalism. How do these systems survive, how are they constructed, how do they develop over time? At the outset Luhmann suggests that any intimate understanding of how a system is constructed can be seen to be equivalent to constructing a critique of art, which allows us to go on to dissolve away one system before redeveloping another system.

In thinking through the historical gap between the invention of capitalism and the formation of a fully functioning technological society, along with the configuration of the system of art we have adopted, Luhmann asks how useful is it to continue to use the thinking we have adopted from that period to comprehend the current complex society we find ourselves in? He is of the opinion that we cannot. The thinking we are familiar with, which has shaped our thinking and belief systems, belongs to a form of transitional thinking that has lead to this point.

Where the baggage of thinking becomes redundant Luhmann then asks what is the minimum that is required for the existing system to function? He speculates that we need participation and communication for the system to cohere and function. It is this scheme Lingner adopts for a system of art that has lost its former shape and characteristics, and a terminology that provides an option that allows us to avoid or by-pass the congealed orthodox signs of art.

5. Developing and materializing the notion of Post-Autonomy.

Although Lingner imagines the development and reinvention of art, how is it possible to construct an actual practice along the lines of Post Autonomy?

A clue towards establishing a Post Autonomous practice is implied in the historical reading of art by Luhmann. Luhmann suggests that possibly in hindsight the current phase of art can be seen as a research into the principle of autonomy at the expense of anything else. In order to understand more thoroughly the concept of art this research requires to be broadened away from research into Autonomy, and It is the move away from this phase towards an examination of other aspects of art that can be seen to suggest a move into Post Autonomous practices!

Although subsequent texts by Lingner have sought to flesh out something along the lines of Post-Autonomy, he has done so without naming these developments as an actual development of Post-Autonomy as such! No clear final text has been produced to date and neither has a project sought to materialize the notion. Any attempt to construct a Post-Autonomous practice is therefore purely speculative.

This state of affairs poses a number of clear issues and problems. How is it possible to interpret and materialize the existing sketch of Lingner's notion of Post-Autonomy? How is it possible to complete the notion? Is there only one reading of Lingner's notion? What are the other possible readings? Are there other readings and uses of Luhmann's reading of the system of art? Are there any other sources we can refer to apart from this limited range?

There are no simple solutions to these issues, although there are sufficient clues to begin mapping out the terrain defined by Post-Autonomy.

In seeking to both find a useable form of the notion of Post-Autonomy, and the means to materialize it, we are thrown back onto the existing limitations and restrictions. But to do so it is necessary to recognize and resolve developing a new model within the existing art institutions?

The theoretical disappearance of the institution of art

A route towards realizing the notion within existing conditions has already been proposed and realized by the American artists Clegg & Gutmann, whose work Lingner has already highlighted as a possible route towards establishing a model of Post-Autonomy.

But the significant importance in both Lingner and Clegg & Gutmann thinking is their analysis for establishing new models within existing structural conditions.

Clegg and Guttmann asked themselves how stable are the existing ideas and institutions of art? At a time when so many galleries, museums, ideas of art are changing or going under we need to look for completely different principles. In their series of open-air libraries they staged an idea for the theoretical disappearance of art institutions. If art or its institutions disappeared and we are put in a situation for its reinvention what aspects would we continue or allow to disappear?

This is able to take place by reversing the Duchampian paradigm. Rather than shifting something from the outside world into the institution art to be legitimized as a work of art, they moved something, in this case signs of the institution, from inside the institution out into the outside world. Who or what defines something as a work of art and does it matter? In this situation they relied on a mixture of audience's who are both familiar and unfamiliar with art and who are prepared to find new rules and uses

So instead of looking at setting up alternative or different models, they instead speculate on the evolution of existing structures. Which is interesting given that what appears obviously absent in recent years is any desire at speculating or pushing ahead with shifting the parameters of the existing structure!

In seeking to find both a useable form of the notion of Post-Autonomy and the means to materialize it realistically within the limitations of the existing art institutions we are required to address the conditions and problems of these institutions.

Post-Autonomy implies a logical movement from an examination of the self-regulatory system that maintains the systems internal integrity, to aspects outside its border or that threatens its existence.

If Post-Autonomy implies a movement from inside the system of art to an examination of what is excluded, then the series of experiments undertaken by Clegg & Guttmann are instructive - Where artists in a position of power at the heart of the art institutions are in a position to hand over their position of power to a range of audiences.

If the current understanding of art as defined by dominant culture disappeared or is handed over to a range of other cultures and required reinventing, or defined on their terms, what aspects of art that we are familiar with would survive, what would change, what would disappear? What rules for its management would be put in place?

Note: By David Goldenberg. Text for a think tank for establishing a Post Autonomous practice version 3

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