Bad Faith: Then and Now

(A joint self-reflection)

Participants: Ekaterina Degot, Lidija Krienzer Radojević, Goran Sergej Pristaš and Branislav Dimitrijević (moderator)

Monday, 07/05/2018, 19h, Galerija Nova, Teslina 7, Zagreb

This talk is a part of the working process in preparation for a book that will conclude the project "My Sweet Little Lamb (Everything we see could also be otherwise)". It will be published in early 2019. During the event, the recent Kontakt collection publication will be available to the public. This book includes the complete collection of art works in the Kontakt Art Collection as well as newly commissioned essays on the artists.

Bad faith is a lie to oneself, on condition that we distinguish the lie to oneself from lying in general.
J. P. Sartre

Although the contributors to this conversation may be recognised as protagonists of ‘civil society’ they all share a critical stance towards the current ‘evolution’ of the concept. They are invited here to speak both from their accumulated experience, and from their theoretical viewpoints when analysing the discourse and ideology related to this concept today. This discussion is intended to be an open exchange about our current uncertainties, but it is also a joint effort to try and go beyond the normalised ‘culture of complaint’, and to address modes and scopes of the very articulation of the concept of civil society in its emerging historical, structural and ideological circumstances.

Throughout the 1980s and the 1990s, civil society was mostly identified as a critical platform for the segment of the left arguing for liberal reforms whilst maintaining the social values gained and established under socialism in the East – which also were the values of social democracies in the West. In the countries of the ‘former East’, civil society emerged with the reforms of late socialism and continued to position itself critically towards the nationalist-capitalist paradigm established by the post-socialist ideological state apparatus, and came under continual attack from the nationalist right wing. However, it seems that a prevalent conclusion among the critics on the left today is that civil society has been an instrument of legitimisation of neoliberal ideology all along. As our panelist Lidija Krienzer Radojević has argued, the organisations of civil society have become instrumental for the transition of the social role of the state into the private sector: they are themselves uncertain about their own production and organisation within conditions of competition on the ‘market of projects’, rather than attentive at grounding their existence in the values of solidarity, cooperation and emancipation.

Such a transformation of the concept of civil society is striking. It even amounts to its major redefinition because this label is nowadays also claimed by populist right movements and its organisations that often rely on the ideological ‘partnership’ between the administrators of the deregulated state, the institutions of traditional society (family, church) and related private economic interests. We witness an alliance between the state and the traditional patriarchal institutions to act together as hijackers, protagonists and even proponents of civil society. In fact, not only the right wing in the ‘post-socialist’ countries play this game, but also mainstream liberal proponents of civil society in the West, which display an increasing obedience to the state in exchange for security, as one of our panelists, Ekaterina Degot, points out in her essay on civil society reactions to the Cologne attacks in 2016.

As the participants on the panel are broadly associated with cultural and artistic production and research, our discussion will focus particularly on the role of art and culture in current debates (or lack of them?) within and about civil society. Can we say that contemporary art is one of the key fields where we may detect a significant ‘bad faith’ in its ritualistic rhetorics that flatten out the space of critique and protest? It seems that almost no one retains any faith in even some formative civil values and structures of social autonomy, and for that matter the artistic autonomy as well. With the development of ‘enrichment capitalism’ (Luc Boltanski) and its focus on the production of wealth, art is given its share of the market among other ‘luxury goods’, and as such it lacks the potential for any integrative social role. In the current phase of capitalism, the notion of creativity replaces the modern notion of art, whilst simultaneously the protagonists of civil society react to this by shifting their interest away from artistic autonomy to the rush of its immediate application for the goals of the ‘market of projects’. Does art belong to civil society any longer or does it simply serve as a righteous application of its bad faith? Or, does it still have the potential to be a lie that makes us realise truth?
Branislav Dimitrijević

Supported by:
Kontakt Art Collection
Gradski ured za kulturu, obrazovanje i sport Grada Zagreba
Foundation for Arts Initiatives
Ministarstvo kulture Republike Hrvatske
Zaklada Kultura Nova