Two levels of “political” in art
- One is the level at which the work expresses a particular political position or explicitly conveys a political message. It is at this level that works are often referred to as “political.” The message varies from criticism of the current administration, minority rights claims, accusations of social violence, anti-globalization, ecology, feminism, etc., but some of them are combined and the writer’s personal experience is incorporated into it. It can be complicated as much as you like, thereby making it more than a simple political utterance, that is, an “artwork”. This level of “political” is, so to speak, necessary for socializing. It’s just like having a person’s affiliation and title in order to chat with each other in a place like a party where a lot of people get together. Of course, the affiliation and title alone do not tell you what kind of person the person really is, but unless you first cut out from there, the conversation usually does not start. It’s the same. So, especially in places like international art exhibitions, it is necessary for the work to show a certain political behavior, so to speak, as a “business card substitute”. Even for curators who think about what kind of works to invite to compose the entire exhibition, such “political things” that the works have been important to make sense of the entire exhibition, and to the organizers and sponsors. It is also effective for explaining the social significance of the exhibition.
- Two is the level of what the work says about the community and the nation through its practical form and behavior. This is consistent with the existence of the Level 1 “political thing” mentioned earlier. At Level 1, the work was a vehicle for communicating political messages. Level 2 politics, on the other hand, concerns how the work conveys the Level 1 message. Artworks are often not very efficient as a vehicle for political messages, but how the work fails as a vehicle for political messages constitutes Level 2 politics.
What I said above maybe the same in the end, just in a different way. I want to interpret the politics of art a little more pragmatically, so I might just say it like the above. However, I think that some people still think that it is ideological, so the following is an explanation with a concrete example.
A famous work by Polish artist Krzysztof Vodicko is called “Police Car” (also owned by the National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto, which was borrowed and exhibited at the 2003 “Kyoto Biennale”). Since this is a kind of vehicle and is clearly stated as a “shelter for the homeless”, it is clear that this work refers to the modern society and cities that created the “problem” of the homeless. .. This is a level 1 “political thing”. It has made this work famous and has helped many people share its image through various exhibitions like “paint by numbers custom“.
But when you think about it, this police car “vehicle” is completely useless in solving the social problem of the homeless. Few homeless people will actually see this vehicle and think, “This is convenient, I want it.” It’s true that this work draws people’s attention to the problem of the homeless, but it’s also a unique way of calling, rather than the most efficient one. And it is in this practical uselessness and inefficiency that the deep “political thing” in the police car work exists. It is the job of criticism to extract level 2 “political things” from the work and give them linguistic expressions so that they can be shared.