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Constituting a Common Public Domain

Art in Less Democratic Times

Pascal Gielen

Democratic political systems are under pressure worldwide. The prevailing

neo-liberalism - that with the globalization wave flowed almost anywhere in
the world - evoked a neo-nationalistic counter-movement. But in fact, both
ideological systems are at odds with the basic principles of democracy. They
carpentry close the public domain in which minority voices increasingly lose
their chance to speak out loud. Can art burst this space open again? Can
museums and biennials offer artists platforms to give form to new
democracies? Before answering these questions it is best to refresh our
memory. What was that thing again, called democracy?

Post-foundational Politics

Although democracy harks back to principles from the year 508 B.C., it was
only at the end of the eighteenth century that modern democracy was firmly
outlined. In the United States, this happened with the Declaration of
Independence, while Europe had to wait for the French Revolution.
Remember that the polis in Athens did not include slaves, immigrants or
women. Classic democracy applied to a small segment of the population
only. Thus, whether we can legitimately refer to Athens as a democracy at
all is a question that at least has to be posed. (Held, 2006: 19) In fact,
democracy is a relatively young form of government, which for this and other
reasons is still rather fragile and vulnerable. Quite a few politicians and
citizens regard it all too easily as something obvious, however. On the other
hand, some political philosophers, such as Oliver Marchant, doubt whether
the current liberal-capitalist regimes in the U.S. and Europe meet the
criteria for democracy (Marchant, 2007: 158). If love is a verb, then so is
democracy. It is a goal worth striving for, rather than an empirical reality.
Surveying the world in a wider sense quickly reveals that not only are there
still sovereign dictatorships, but also theocracies and even capitalist
communist regimes. China demonstrates how not-very-democratic regimes
are maybe even more in line with the capitalist market imperative than a
democracy. According to the philosopher Peter Sloterdijk, the Chinese brand
of communism may herald a fundamental development in the 21st century:
the transition to an authoritarian capitalist world system (Sloterdijk, 2006:
189). This system implies the project of including all forms of labour, desire
and expression of the people caught within the system in the immanence of
spending power (Sloterdijk, 2006: 191). So, democracy is no more than one
of many options. But then, what exactly is democracy?


Just as there are many different forms of government, there are, of course,
different interpretations of democracy. The political scientist David Held, for
instance, distinguishes four basic forms: the classic Athenian model,
Republicanism, the liberal model and forms of direct democracy. From these,
several other forms have been derived during the twentieth century (Held,
2006). This multiplicity does not, however, mean that we cannot trace every
modern democracy back to a concise basic formula. Putting it simply, the
bottom line of any democratic regime consists of two fundamental principles.
Firstly, the assurance that the power of the demos is represented by a
majority and, secondly, the guarantee of a legal framework that at least
protects minorities (Lukacs, 2005: 5). At best, such a legal framework also
actively supports, stimulates and emancipates minorities. And this is where
the public domain comes in, as a space open to all (Habermas, 1989: 1)
where all different opinions can be expressed, where minorities are
acknowledged or where they can present themselves. As Chantal Mouffe
puts it:

To revitalize democracy in our post-political societies, what is urgently

needed is to foster the multiplication of agonistic public spaces where
everything that the dominant consensus tends to obscure and
obliterate can be brought to light and challenged. (Mouffe, 2009: 20)

Guaranteeing an open public domain is therefore one of the basic tasks of

any political regime calling itself democratic. Paradoxically, within a
democracy the majority creates or protects the possibility of minorities
becoming the majority and assuming power. This is why the political
philosopher Claude Lefort says that the seat of power within a democratic
form of government is in principle empty (Lefort, 1988: 17). More concretely,
it can de jure always be declared vacant. Whoever occupies the seat of power
must accept that there may come a time when they will have to surrender it.
Not only that, within a radical democracy the majority will even encourage
this process, in fact constantly preparing for its own abdication. It is
important to note that democracy has no foundation. Neither God, ideology
nor scientific positivism can provide democracy with a steady foundation.
And yet this form of political government is not bottomless. Its grounding
lies in the very emptiness in which the foundation must be rediscovered time
and again. This is why Marchant does speak of post-foundational politics:
Democracy is to be defined as a regime that seeks, precisely, to come to terms with
the ultimate failure of grounding rather than simply repressing or foreclosing it.
(Marchart, 2007: 157-158)

Neo-liberalism and Neo-nationalism

The former description of democracy makes immediately clear when it is

undermined. There can be a lot of subtle mechanisms to keep the weaker
elements from coming to power. For instance, barriers to education can be
made so high that the lower social classes or less affluent migrants find it
hard to get access to good education. Or a government may cause the


cultural and media landscape to become intellectually impoverished, so that
citizens are misinformed and any critical voice is nipped in the bud by light
entertainment. Establishing or maintaining obstacles to upward cultural,
intellectual and social mobility reduces the opportunities for civil
participation. This is why collective mechanisms of solidarity between social
classes, between generations, between men and women, between immigrants
and natives and between regions or continents are essential to democracy.
Ideologies such as neo-liberalism, which argue for dismantling such
collective responsibilities by placing as much as possible back on the
shoulders of the individual (through private insurance and pensions, by
giving out student loans rather than scholarships, et cetera), over time easily
slide into a timocracy, in which the power to rule lies, if not de jure but de
facto, with those better situated in society.

But political programmes that only wish to ensure democratic guarantees

within the borders of the nation state are also in fact taking an undemocratic
attitude towards all those outside their own political territory. Such a
political stance, underwritten by all forms of nationalism, is indefensible in a
globalized world. That is, as long as one still subscribes to the rules of
democracy. After all, many national decisions will either directly or indirectly
have an impact on the environment outside the territory of the sovereign
decision-maker. Just like real or virtual viruses and nuclear fallout, cultural
movements and media-scapes cannot be stopped at the gates of the nation
state. Therefore, all unilateral decisions are de facto undemocratic for the
outside world, which has no say in them. In short, in a globalized world in
which everyone is networked with everyone else and everything is connected
to everything else on a worldwide scale, both neo-liberalism and neo-
nationalism are unable to provide satisfactory answers for the demands of
democracy. When neo-liberalism and neo-nationalism cover for each other,
their undemocratic tendency is even strengthened. Unlike nationalism, its
predecessor, neo-nationalism practices a self-reflexive pragmatism that uses
all information about globalization, including neo-liberalism, to obtain
national privileges. In doing so, it no longer appeals to the heavy-handed
blood-and-soil model, but rather to cultural diversity to legitimize and
maintain economic advantages for its own culture.

Neo-nationalism and neo-liberalism interact in a particular way here. Take

the European Union, for instance. Neo-liberals have argued for the free
movement of money, goods and people within the Union, whereas neo-
nationalists try to obstruct transnational (and transregional) structures of
solidarity wherever possible. The free flow of money, for instance, is
encouraged within the European domain, but as soon as a member state
runs into financial difficulties, this domain is no more than a collection of
nation states in conflict. People are free to move within the European Union,
until Fortress Europe is overrun by refugees. Then all of a sudden only the
country where these refugees first arrive bears the full responsibility. Where
neo-liberalism benefits from neo-nationalism because the latter selectively
applies the freedom and rights propagated by the former, neo-nationalism
benefits from neo-liberalism by continuing to reap its benefits outside the

nation state. Neo-nationalism has no qualms about international trade and
even turns a blind eye towards immigration in those cases when it is good
for the national economy. It also happily makes use of neo-liberal principles
such as marketing strategies and branding to construct a national and
cultural identity. Moreover, cultural essentialism is commonly used to gain
economic benefits and to protect standards of living. Or economic arguments
are presented harshly as cultural ones: They are lazy while we are a hard-
working nation and they live on our pocket while we have to scrape and
save. Within neo-nationalism, economic achievements are translated
culturally and thus essentialized. In this way neo-nationalism cleverly
hitches a ride on the wagon of neo-liberalism. And when the cross-border
traffic of money and especially people gets out of hand and undermines
neo-liberalisms urge for accumulation, neo-nationalism comes in handy in
helping to maintain a selective policy as to freedom. Thus neo-nationalism
and neo-liberalism play a clever game in which the rules of a true global
democracy do not apply.

Finally, according to Held, the faulty forms of democratic government have

everything to do with the obsolete model on which most democratic regimes
have based themselves historically, namely, liberal representative
democracy. This model reduces democracy too much to the individual
responsibility of citizens, who can only realize their democratic momentum
once every few years, in elections. According to Held,

The structures of civil society () misunderstood or endorsed by liberal

democratic models do not create conditions for equal votes, effective
participation and deliberation, proper political understanding and equal control of
the political agenda; while the structures of the liberal democratic state () do not
create an organizational force which can adequately regulate civil power centres.
(Held, 2006: 275)

So liberal representative democracy is a democracy of the majority, but

because it lacks a serious social and cultural programme it neglects to
nourish the opposition of the minority. A democracy does, however, need a
social programme to offer weaker groups every opportunity to obtain
participatory power, and it needs a cultural and educational programme to
generate the necessary conceptual frameworks and reflection that can
produce alternative forms of government and power over and over again.
This last element is necessary to safeguard the emptiness in a democracy
as well as the openness of the public domain. Both neo-liberalism and neo-
nationalism ignore this post-foundational condition by suggesting that there
actually is a foundation. Neo-nationalism sees the national cultural identity
as the ultimate basis, while neo-liberalism elevates the laws of the free
market to a transcendental level. In doing so, both harden their external
legitimization into a kind of second nature. For neo-nationalism, nationality
acquires the quality of an unchanging culture, while neo-liberalism practices
the metaphysics of the free market within a Darwinist model. As such, both
political movements suggest that the essence of political actions lies outside
of politics and is therefore very hard to influence. To them, good politics are
much more a matter of tuning into the laws of external reality. It is not


something to be contested within a continually changing public domain but
a tuning into an undisputed foundation.
But how do these political issues relate to art?

Art as Minority

Articulating a definition of art is a tricky undertaking at best. After all,

historically art has been a flag to cover many different cargoes and has taken
on many shapes. So, for the record, in this essay the word art refers to
those artistic expressions that have their origin in the modern age or the
historical avant-garde. In tradition of this also contemporary art always tries
to introduce a dismeasure (Virno, 2009) in the ordinary measure of a
culture we are used to live in. This dismeasure is not necessarily only
aesthetic or formal in nature. It can also be political, cognitive or affective in
nature. For instance, when we are made to laugh while watching a scene in
a play that would bring us to tears in real life, there is an affective
dismeasure at work that derails the measure of our everyday cultural
experience. The sociologist Niklas Luhmanns notion of art is very similar, as
witnessed by his functionalist scheme. When he asks himself what role art
plays in contemporary society art that is often regarded by society as
useless and therefore without function Luhmann concludes that art
creates a sense of possibility (Mglichkeitssinn). Nothing is either necessary
or impossible or Everything that is, can also always be otherwise, is the
message that art brings to contemporary society (Luhmann, 1995).

This constant tendency to dismeasure is precisely why confrontations with

contemporary artistic expressions often lead to debate and dissent, if only
about whether something is art or not. Or, when beauty is no longer the
main issue in art, the main debate will focus on the distinction between art
and non-art (Laermans, 2011). It is precisely this debate that has been at
the core of the artistic ever since modernity: to show that other visions,
opinions and interpretations are always possible. The point is not so much
whether this alternate vision is more beautiful or more interesting or comes
closer to the truth, but rather that there is always another way of looking at
things. Just like democracy, contemporary art is also polyphonic and post-
foundational. The artist always proposes another possibility, which then has
to be grounded each time again. This grounding activity asks a lot energy
and time from artists. And we all know that a lot of them want to rest and
remain in their seats once the grounding activity in consolidated. This is
precise the boundary where art becomes a commodity, an interesting
artefact for the art market. To say it simple, the so-called free market is the
place where the dismeasure becomes a measure again. The
deterritorialization becomes reterritorialized as a format which is highly
protectable. So, for the record let it be clear that Im talking here not about
the art market, but about the modern art world with its own ontology and
internal laws. We cannot neglect the contemporary influence and dominance
of the art market, but it has to be clear that this is a complete other system,
with its own laws. It tries to mimic the law of dismeasurement of the art
system (with fashions, trends, hypes, etc.), but it always fails because the

market needs measures and measurable products to function well. So, an
artwork on the art market becomes something else than an artwork in the
described art system. At the moment an artefact becomes a quantifiable
thing it loses its dismeasure-power. This is because the free neo-liberal
market of these days has a foundation: the number and the accumulation of
the number. In contrast to contemporary art, artefacts on the market are
founded. Thats why it stimulates homogeneity, and not polyphony, and
thats why the neo-liberal market never can be post-foundational.

But anyway, when neither religious or political representation nor virtuoso

craftsmanship and academic rules apply any longer, art in the art system
(and not the art market) loses the ground beneath its feet. This leads some
populist voices to conclude that anything goes and that contemporary art is
therefore anti-foundational. However, more advanced art theories
proclaiming the end of art, such as the rather simplified and often post-
modern interpretations of Arthur Danto (1986), arrive at the same
conclusion. We find a similar interpretation mainly in sociological views that
situate the belief in art in social power struggles (Bourdieu, 1977) or
exclusively in networking. Just like populist views, both of these more
academic interpretations take an anti-foundational position, as they
effectively situate the foundation of art outside art itself: either in the purely
discursive space of theory or in the alchemy of social interaction. However,
artists who set their course by theory alone are soon dismissed by the
contemporary art world as being purely illustrative, while those who achieve
their goal only through their social networks are considered empty. Of
course, artists can build on theory to produce artefacts and of course they
can use their social networks to market their art. However, if an artefact is
not accompanied by an idiosyncratic artistic gesture coming from
singularity, it will sooner or later end up on the side of non-art. So, using
theory is allowed, but only if it is singularized or appropriated in an
idiosyncratic way. Using social networks is also permitted, but not without
expressing one's own singular position within them. The only way for artists
to get credit within the art world is by postulating a dismeasure based on
their own singularity. In other words, they must take the risk of seeing their
work labelled as non-art and in doing so make their own position as artists
the subject of debate. It should be noted that, following Heinich (1991), I
have deliberately chosen to use the notion of singularity here, rather than
that of individuality, as the latter is associated too much with the idea of
the isolated talent, personal genius or psyche from which the work of art
originates. It carries a notion that is also echoed in political philosophy:
The difference lies in the fact that the individual is modelled upon the self-sufficient
modern subject which, in its monadic existence, does not rely on other individuals, it
does not relate, it does not compare and it does not share. Singularities, on the other
hand, are exposed to the in-between through their relation of sharing. (Marchart,
2007: 73-74)

In this sense we also can argue that singular art is a matter of sharing. At
the core of modern art lies the movement from non-art to art that offers the
singular position a place within a (sometimes limited) collectivity. The post-


foundational nature of contemporary art lies in this grounding movement
that has to be performed time and again from a position of singularity. This
is precisely why anyone who is even slightly familiar with the current
professional art world knows that definitely not anything goes. To be on the
left side of the dichotomy art/non-art, artists often have to make their own
difficult, lonesome and argumentative way to find their footing.

Designing a common public domain

Precisely because it seeks a dismeasure in both the art world and society,
contemporary art always occupies the position of the minority or heterodoxy,
in the words of cultural sociologist Pierre Bourdieu (1977). Those who
present society with something different or possibly otherwise find
themselves alone or in a singular position, especially in the beginning. The
dismeasure may become more acceptable over time or even come to belong
to the orthodoxy within the artistic field, but the dynamic within the modern
art world is only guaranteed by the constant arrival of new dismeasures. And
it is precisely because of this law that art needs a public domain where
artistic gestures may be constantly ventured, discussed and criticized. After
all, those who cross the line constantly have to legitimize their actions in
public, while those who excel within the rules do not. Therefore, art needs a
public domain for discussion, argumentation and debate. Without
arguments and the room for counter-arguments to decide the distinction
between art and non-art, there can be no modern and contemporary art.
This is why art can only survive socially by leaning on politics, as suggested
by Walter Benjamin (1985: 18). Although I must add here that when it comes
to modern and contemporary art these should be democratic politics, for art
as dismeasure occupies the position of a minority within wider society and it
will only stand a chance within a political system offering guarantees via,
among other things, the public domain, as noted before. Artists who
constantly remind society of what could be possibly otherwise will always go
against common sense. Those who choose to make art consequently opt for a
minority position in society, even if that minority is dismissed as elitist. For
that matter, an elite can also be part of a minority and a cultural elite is
therefore not necessarily a political or economic elite, as Bourdieu tells us

Elitist or not, contemporary art can only survive by the grace of democracy.
Also, this type of art shows quite a few parallels with political democracy,
such as its post-foundational nature noted earlier. That doesn't make art
into politics, but it does belong to the domain of the political, especially if
we see this notion, like Jacques Rancire, as expressing living together in
form (2007). Interventions by artists and activities by art institutes and
biennials also mould social interaction. As arts rationale is that it points out
that things can always also be otherwise, the contemporary art world has
even more things in common with politics. To conquer a position each time
again by providing arguments from the singular proposition presupposes a
common public domain of a multitude of singular voices, all competing for a
place of their own. Its exactly this domain which is described by Michael

Hardt and Antionio Negri as the common, which is necessary to guarantee
future creative production. The philosophers describe this domain as a
category that transcends the classic contradiction between the public good
(usually guaranteed by the state and other institutions) and private property:

By the common we mean, first of all, the common wealth of the material
world the air, the water, the fruits of the soil, and all natures bounty
which in classic European political texts is often claimed to be the
inheritance of humanity as a whole, to be shared together. We consider the
common also and more significantly those results of social production, such
as knowledges, languages, codes, information, affects, and so forth. This
notion of the common does not position humanity separate from nature, as
either its exploiter or its custodian, but focuses rather on the practices of
interaction, care, and cohabitation in a common world, promoting the
beneficial and limiting the detrimental forms of the common. In the era of
globalization, issues of the maintenance, production, and distribution of the
common in both senses and in both ecological and socioeconomic
frameworks become increasingly central. (Hardt and Negri, 2009: viii)

Both public institutes and private actors contribute to a common that can be
used as a source for new creative work, social interactions and economic
transactions. Hardt and Negri outline a clear genesis of the term le commun
or the common: according to them, the term was first used in the process of
land consolidation at the start of the capitalist era (16th-17th century) when,
first in England and later all across Europe, shared fields where cattle
grazed and forests for collecting wood were converted into private property.
However, according to them, there is still only little empirical knowledge
about the social functioning of a possible common. The domain has hardly
been explored yet. Also, the political conditions to arrive at such a
communality are still very unclear. Hardt and Negri anyway don't expect any
good to come from the (neo-liberal) state, but favour near-direct democracy
and self-organization. Their distrust of the state is not a sign of blind
paranoia. Many decisions by various layers of government do indicate that
they are out to destroy democracy and communality. Democratic states tend
to veil that they are in fact republics of property. American republicanism in
any case is built on the Constitution, which, argue Hardt and Negri, is in the
first place an economic document. It legitimizes the fundamental and
unalienable right to private ownership. The Constitution makes this right
unassailable, which would mean that those without property are excluded or

The predominant contemporary form of sovereignty if we still want to call it

that is completely embedded within and supported by legal systems and
institutions of governance, a republican form characterized not only by the
rule of law but also equally by the rule of property. Said differently, the
political is not an autonomous domain but one completely immersed in
economic and legal structures. There is nothing extraordinary or exceptional
about this form of power. Its claim to naturalness, in fact its silent and
invisible daily functioning, makes it extremely difficult to recognize, analyze,
and challenge. (Hardt and Negri, 2009: 5)


The American lawyer Lawrence Lessig shares their opinion in his analysis of
copyright legislation in the United States (2004). In the euphoric mood after
the discovery of a growing creative class, la Richard Florida, what is often
neglected is the fact that this class is being menaced by invisibly increasing
overregulation. Copyright legislation does not support creativity at all but
instead primarily serves to protect big industry against competition.
Moreover, this legislation lays an ever-growing claim to the free sources of
inspiration used by artists and other creative spirits all this to the great
joy of the champions of creative capitalism. Who but Bill Gates (author of the
book Creative Capitalism) is stacking his digital cellars with images so he
can sell them later at a profit? The creative industry, including the art
market, is surely out to commodify and privatize images and other
intellectual property, increasingly cutting off creative individuals from the
common culture that is freely available all around them. In good neo-
Marxist-speak, one would say that the positive dialectics between creativity
and culture are seriously disturbed. Culture as common goods and a
natural source of inspiration is being curbed, leaving creative individuals
and dabblers with nothing. The public culture they can soak up in cities, the
images that are hurled at them and the sounds that surround them are
becoming increasingly difficult to use freely for creative reuse. And whether
they are called Walt Disney, Andy Warhol, Sonic Youth or Marlene Dumas,
they have all used and are still using a common culture that surrounds
them. Artists mix this common culture with their own more or less
idiosyncratic ideas and then feed them back into the same culture. So,
artists also feed the common public domain with their singular ideas and

Those visiting the Moscow Bienniale can easily observe how different artistic
styles and voices often go side-by-side. In this sense, the contemporary art
world cultivates a common way of (at least temporary) togetherness, as
within art scenes and even within one exhibition we often see a multitude of
contradictions, diverging cultures and conflicting visions co-exist without
their constantly denying each other's rationale or legitimacy. Artists may
fight against any compromise from their singular position, and relationships
within the art world can often be irreconcilable, but they are rarely hostile.
Just as in a democratic political domain, antagonism in the art world is
sublimated into an agonistic way of co-existence. The singular minority
position within this common domain is, however, only accepted on the basis
of the arguments that support it. And, for the record, I am not referring here
to the rationally communicated argument within the Habermasian public
domain, because that argument is not post-foundational as it invokes the
foundation through an external tribunal, according to the political
philosopher Ernesto Laclau.

If meaning is fixed beforehand through the regulative principle of an undistorted

communication, the very possibility of the ground as an empty place which is
politically and contingently filled by a variety of social forces disappears. (Laclau,
1996: 59).


Argumentation here refers to the activity by which one tries to obtain public
support (however limited) from the singular artistic gesture. Such arguments
may be rational, theoretical, emotional, or aesthetic, but they can also reside
within the artistic gesture itself. The common public space is always
constituted from a multitude of such singular argumentation activities,
which come from a minority position. In that sense, the contemporary art
domain is very much different from the liberal representative (majority)
democracy outlined earlier. The latter, after all, is not grounded on the voiced
argumentation of the voters but on an anonymous act in a voting booth that
is not publicly substantiated and is de facto a public space which is not the
common. In liberal representative democracy only the numbers count. All
voters can vote without ever having to defend their vote in the common
public realm. Within the common space of the artistic domain, however,
people are allergic to democratically elected works of art, because any
dismeasure that is preferred by the majority ceases to be a dismeasure and
becomes measure. Within the democracy of the art world, the only way to
convincingly obtain a position for dismeasure is by means of argumentation
or by making common the singular artistic gesture. This is why we could
also speak of a minority democracy, in contrast to the liberal democracy of
the majority.

Perhaps this minority democracy does offer some handles for a future
political democracy. If we are to believe Held, not a single classical,
republican, liberal or direct democracy would survive in a globalized world.
Only a democratic autonomous model would have any chance of success
(Held, 2006). Held is referring to a democracy that stimulates and organizes
a multitude of singular civil voices; a formula that experiments on a large
scale with self-government by individuals, businesses, civil initiatives,
organizations and all sorts of collectives. In other words, a democratic
autonomy is a form of government that constantly promotes and facilitates
the autonomous economic, social and cultural development of a range of
minorities. It does so precisely by radically opening up a common public
space. The multitude of singular initiatives that may take place there in turn
makes every effort to reach democratic self-rule. And it is precisely this
multitude of diverging initiatives that brings them into an ever more
symmetrical negotiating position with states, transnational governments,
local authorities, civil initiatives, et cetera. The state or supranational
governing bodies are just (democratic) decision-making systems like so many
others. In the future, democracy can only maintain its legitimacy if it makes
the transformation of inequalities the core of its politics, according to Held.
Among other things, this means that it must declare the minority as the
focal point of its policies. And that in turn requires a policy that leaves the
public domain sufficiently open and facilitates the manifestation of
minorities. My argument now is that contemporary art is one of the tools to
break open this common space of possibilities. That very artefact presented
in a public space, that is often so hard to understand, is precisely what
reminds us that such a minority thought can present itself over and over
again. It is always at the ready to put the majority in brackets. In short, this
exceptional thing called art is irritating because it bursts open the world of


certainty again and again. And it is this uncertainty what exactly a political
system must accept if it wants to be called democratic.

Regardless of this speculative idea of art and an art world that could provide
handles for a future democracy, the thesis still holds true that the
contemporary art of dismeasure can only survive by the grace of a common
public domain and a democracy. Neo-nationalism will always suppress this
type of art because it undermines the alleged foundation of a stable national
culture from within. This is why contemporary art may appear as even more
threatening to neo-nationalists than the migrant who brings a possibly
otherwise culture from the outside. Neo-liberalism, in turn, is not quite sure
how to deal with the art of dismeasure because this art can hardly be
legitimized through the power of measure or numbers, regardless of whether
those numbers represent money, audiences, or opinion polls. The numeric
democracy of neo-liberalism is also at odds with an agonistic public domain,
as it still assumes a fixed and therefore arguable foundation, albeit outside
of politics. Within this neo-national and neo-liberal context of
fundamentalisms, art may well prove to be a test for democracy. In any case,
contemporary art is one of the domains in which the post-foundational idea
that anything that is, can also always be otherwise is very much alive.

Leaving open any interpretation and forming of opinion isn't that the
ultimate art of the contemporary artist? And isn't that also the ultimate
function of the common and of publicness to allow the expression and
showing of that which can also always be otherwise said and shown? In a
democracy, contemporary art at least has the opportunity to break into the
public domain time and again, and precisely by making these interventions
modern art continues to reanimate this common domain. After all, the
common can only exist if it allows for that which can also always be
otherwise actually takes place; if other gestures can always be articulated
and contested as well. In other words, this domain is only generated by
constant action or acts regardless of whether they take place in a physical
square, in a biennial, a museum or in a virtual space. The common public
domain is no established fact or a fixed place. Ever since the modern age art
has contributed to the immeasurability and uncontrollability of the public
sphere in order to keep this domain open. Were the public domain to become
measurable and thus predictable, it would simply cease to be (common).
What remains then is but a shadow of publicness in which the political is
neutralized, like in shopping malls, on high streets, in many of the mass
media, creative industries, art markets and other non-places.


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