SUBJECTIVITY AND THE OBLITERATION OF MEANING: CONTEMPORARY ART / ACTIVISM / SOCIAL MOVEMENTS POLITICS








This article is part of a special issue entitled ‘Micro-utopias: anthropological perspectives on art, relationality, and creativity’ that I edited with Ruy Blanes, Maïté Maskens and Jonas Tinius. In the text, I analyse the notion that social movement politics and contemporary art interventions increasingly traverse a porous boundary, be it in terms of practices, relations, or institutions.

Premised on Nicolas Bourriaud’s seminal reading of 1990s art, I contend that the theory of ‘relational aesthetics’ (2002) offers a synthetic platform from which we can understand how artistic interventions with activist connotations are increasingly moving away from the utopian and prescriptive, and thus echoing the ‘subjective turn’ of social movement politics more widely.

Based on fieldwork with contemporary artists and social movement actors in Brazil, the chapter mobilises relational aesthetics as a criteria to differentiate various forms of contemporary art intervention. Through conversation with ethnographies of radical politics, I argue that an analysis that foregrounds ephemerality, different forms of dissonance and in the words of Marianne Maeckelbergh, the ‘absolute centrality of diversity’, allows us to productively theorise how subjectivity is elaborated and meaning created. If art really is the locus of ‘imminence’, then understanding how these processes are contested is to grasp how prefigurative politics can have consequences for the immediate future.








auflynn [at] ucla.edu



Alex Ungprateeb Flynn is an Assistant Professor at the Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance, University of California, Los Angeles. Working as an anthropologist and curator, Alex’s practice explores the intersection of ethnographic and curatorial modes of enquiry. Researching collaboratively with activists, curators and artists in Brazil since 2007, Alex explores the prefigurative potential of art in community contexts, prompting the theorisation of fields such as the production of knowledge, the pluriversal, and the social and aesthetic dimensions of form.