An aesthetic education against aesthetic education

Dossier: documenta 12 magazines project

RP 141 () / Article, documenta 12 magazines project, Dossier

Documenta 12ʼs commitment to the question of what is to be done in education is to be welcomed from an institution that has sought to sustain itself as an autonomous cultural realm, a public sphere, in the face of its fabulous state sponsorship and relations to the art market. The articulation of the question in terms of the self-education of artists and audiences and a globalized cultural translation of localized forms of self-organization broadens its address. In the context of the uneven globalization of cultural centres, manifest in the blossoming of biennales from Istanbul to Johannesburg and Seoul, the old school of international art exhibitions is obliged to respond not only to one or other of these newcomers, but to the fact of their profusion and their representation as the authentically subaltern. In this respect, Documenta 12ʼs proposal of itself as the stage for exchanging local, self-organized projects is a way of sustaining its global significance as an organizational centre in an artworld that has become increasingly decentred. Its benevolence is thus liable to a quasi-imperial perversion, the irony of multitude and empire.

The conservative reaction to Documenta 11ʼs commitment to postcoloniality was more parochial and short-sighted – ʻDocumentaʼ has subsequently become an answer in Germanyʼs citizenship test for immigrants. Documenta 12ʼs project of a ʻjournal of journalsʼ is itself liable to this colonizing function. Journals are invited to a global exchange and translation of their ʻpositionʼ, hosted in a virtual but no less codified space. But an intranet and copyfree rights are hardly enough to retain the dream of a republic of letters here. Participation in the best intentions of this project therefore needs to question its terms of exchange. Having been offered citizenship of Documenta 12, one is perhaps obliged to try to fail its test and answer its question by criticizing it.

The devil in the deep blue sea

To say that education is a constitutive issue of contemporary culture is to risk tautology, especially in German. The implicit claim that ʻculture is educationʼ only sounds true when it is heard not as a translation but as a speculative proposition, determined by an antagonism between the terms that is also within each of them. These antagonisms have become familiar within modernism, the culture of the new. The dissolution of traditional, dogmatic or externally imposed authority problematizes the idea of education – how can freedom be taught? – orienting it towards autonomy and selforganization. But the contradictions harboured by the idea of an education in freedom manifest themselves in the ironic formation of new modes of dogmatism, above all the neo-dogmatism of the law of value. These issues have not become antiquated by the globalized scenario emphasized by Documenta, except in so far as one might characterize the present as a classicism of antagonism. The artistic director of Documenta 12 claims: ʻToday, education seems to offer one viable alternative to the devil (didacticism, academia) and the deep blue sea (commodity fetishism).ʼ This is wishful thinking. It is difficult not to be struck by a certain educationalization of contemporary culture that is characterized above all by the fusion of didacticism and commodification.