Dark Matter: Art and Politics in the Age of Enterprise Culture

March 24, 2011

Throughout these pages I have sought to write tendentiously," declares Gregory Sholette unwisely, "producing, I hope, a committed work that never disengages from its critical core." Tendentious to the end, he succeeds triumphantly. His peroration: "We go on picking the rags, but every now and again, this other social (non)productivity appears to mobilize its own redundancy, seems to acknowledge that it is indeed so much surplus - talent, labour, subjectivity, even sheer physical-genetic materiality - and in so doing frees itself from even attempting to be usefully productive for capitalism (or for Art Inc.), though all the while identifying itself with a far larger ocean of 'dark matter', that ungainly surfeit of seemingly useless actors and activity that the market views as waste, or perhaps at best as a raw, interchangeable resource for biometric information and crowdsourcing. The archive has split open. We are its dead capital. It is the dawn of the dead."

This farrago of pick-and-mix Marxism, overblown sloganism, baffling euphuism and half-baked Bolshevism is typical of the work. "Inevitably, the perforation of a once-suppressed archive exposes the wounds of political exclusions, redundancies, and other repeated acts of blockage that wholly or partially shape this emerging sphere of dark-matter social production." Indeed.

The problematic, it appears, is this. "The near-total privatization, objectification, and marketing of life seeks to incorporate even those forms of production that historically claimed to stand outside of, or against the reach of, capitalism, on both the Left and the Right." What bothers Sholette is becoming extinct. "How then to align oneself with the progressive, activist, and radical forms of art that form a rough lineage from European Dada in the aftermath of World War I, through the anti-Fascist era of the 1920s and 1930s, on up to through the Cold War, the counter-culture, the New Left, and post-colonial movements?"

His answer is Reverend Billy and The Church of Life After Shopping, "a radical performance community" based in New York with its own scripture and prayer meetings. The scripture proclaims: "Freedom from shopping is a virulent, contagious threat to the twin forces of consumerism and militarism. The earth is demanding our bravery now. Changeallujah!" Reverend Billy and his ilk are busy erasing the distinction between art and other forms of creative activity, promoting "a DIY aesthetic of art and life". Like the artists' group TS (Temporary Services), in other words, Sholette champions the marginal, the non-commercial and the experimental, not to mention the radical, the gestural and the insurrectional. One might say that the motif of the book is the under-doggerel.

The best bits of Dark Matter catalogue these "urban ghosts" and their interventions, such as surreptitiously adding books and book projects to the Harold Washington Library Center in Chicago, an intervention designed to bring "obscure, subversive, self-published, hand-made or limited edition works by under-exposed artists to a wider audience"; or Free For All, a "portable exhibition" consisting of cardboard boxes and stuff to take away in them (religious tracts, shoe-shine mittens, cassette recordings, videotapes and the like), including a DIY pamphlet outlining strategies for reproducing the project. "If you obtained a variety of free materials from this show, you probably have enough things to mount a small exhibit of this work on your own." Everyone her own artist, and her own exhibitionist.

Sholette's heart may be in the right place, but when it comes to expression, he knows neither grammar nor grace. Dark Matter is a muddled diatribe. Writing tendentiously is enough to make a Dadaist blush. Whoever encouraged him to rush into print has done the cause a grave disservice.

Dark Matter: Art and Politics in the Age of Enterprise Culture

By Gregory Sholette.

Pluto Press, 256pp, £17.99.

ISBN 97807453525.

Published 24 January 2011.

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