In relation to his enigmatic work, “party without party,” shown at Rm 103 Gallery in Auckland, Australia (http://www.brucebarber.ca/partywithoutparty/aukland.htm), Bruce Barber states: “What if conventional party politics, partisanship left/centre/right divisions were a thing of the past? Now to the Dead Letter Box and the potentialities of a party without party.” (http://www.brucebarber.ca/partywithoutparty/index2.htm). This message in a bottle is cast, however, into a world described by this project in terms of the anonymous, Belgian “Surrealist Map of the World” of 1929, a map produced at a time when artists both identified and disidentified with the goals of various Communist Party organizations.
The map represents both a dreamworld of possibility but also the traumatic irruption of the unconscious. What might this real world mean to us today, when, as Peter Symonds reports, the Asian Pacific is now the focus of intense military and economic “securitization”?
“The US and its allies, in particular Australia and Japan, are engaged in advanced preparations for war with China. A paper released yesterday, entitled “Planning the unthinkable war: ‘AirSea Battle’ and its implications for Australia,” by the government-funded Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) has provided an outline of the war plans. The “AirSea Battle” strategy developed over the past three years by the Pentagon is integral to the Obama administration’s “pivot” or “rebalance” to Asia, aimed at containing China on every front—diplomatically, economically and militarily. Amid a worsening global economic breakdown, the US is determined to use its military might to offset its economic decline and prevent China from becoming a challenge to its hegemony in Asia and the world.” (“Australian Think Tank Outlines US Plans for War Against China,” World Socialist Web Site (April 16, 2013) http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2013/04/16/aspi-a16.html?view=print.)
We could, in this regard, consider “party without party” in terms of the social geography of the French anarchist Elisee Reclus. Kristin Ross writes that according to Reclus,
“Geography is nothing but history in space.” As such, his analyses take space into account as a differentiated, non-static, changing ensemble: “Geography is not an immutable thing. It is made, it is remade every day; at each instant, it is modified by men’s actions.” For the most part Reclus avoids the reification of the notion of space that occurs whenever one postulates in any way an autonomous existence of spatial facts, processes, or structures that would constitute the object of a spatial analysis. Space in Reclus’ work is considered as a social product – or rather, as both producer and produced, determinative and determined – something that cannot be explained without recourse to the study of the functioning of society.” (http://www.amielandmelburn.org.uk/collections/newformations/05_53.pdf)
There is no reason why this same mode of thinking cannot be applied to the notion of party and my guess is that that the party in “party without party” remains an obscure object, yet to be actualized but prefigured in another of Barber’s projects, the re-construction of his (variously titled) Spectres of Marx, or For Marx. This potential political organ has its mirror complement in the social practice art that proliferates both in the margins and at the very centre of today’s corporatized art world – the indexical referent for an as-of-yet nonmaterial spectre. This allows us to consider some contradictions of the “expediency” (Yurchak) of the forms of instrumentalized activism that one notices in, for example, this announcement from the Michaël Jean Foundation:
As Barber states in his essay “On the Death (of the Social) in Relational Art Practice” a propos of a different but similar case : “Well and good, but isn’t this the language of neoliberalism and business administrative rationalization that some relational art practice is attempting to defeat? Shouldn’t these students also be encouraged to read The Communist Manifesto?” Is the “Power of the Arts” beyond party politics or is it not the very essence of liberal politics – a now defunct Fukuyaman end of ideology politics that limits contestation to the “democratic materialism” (Badiou) of identity politics, multiculturalism and capitalist developmentalism?
Such radical agencies as remain “with/out” are described by Barber in this new book project, and which is described here:
Littoral Art and Communicative Action traces the development of Bruce Barber’s work from the mid-1990s to 2012. Through essays, artist’s statements, interviews and with a concluding “squat” intervention by Gregory Sholette, the book presents a theoretically sophisticated version of community art that focuses on the practices of gift giving and communicative action as means to foster progressive social and cultural transformation. Bringing experience as an artist, teacher and curator to bear on art theory and criticism, Barber navigates the problems of political correctness, aesthetic autonomy and institutional inertia. For anyone interested in how contemporary littoral art addresses the tensions between aesthetics and politics, this book makes an important addition to the growing body of literature on engaged art practice.
“Bruce Barber is a rare artist/theorist, long committed to socially engaged, donative, communicative and critically self-reflective practices in the interstices of art and life worlds. Through this collection of essays, interviews and statements, this book offers a range of perspectives on littoral art, as practiced by Barber and others across locations and cultures, as well as a series of philosophical investigations into its foundations, intents and effects, unparalleled in the burgeoning literature on social and relational practices. A vital, invigorating read and a crucial resource for approaching some understanding of art’s turn away from its own institutions over the past two decades.” – Blair French, Executive Director, Artspace Visual Arts Centre, Sydney