Globalism and technological developments have seen the emergence of a new economy centred on the valorisation of immaterial capital. This new economy has been described as a knowledge economy, creative economy, post-fordist economy and as a cognitive-cultural economy. Marx described it as an economy where knowledge becomes ‘the greatest productive force’ and one where ‘direct labour and its quantity disappear as the determinant principle of production’ to become ‘an, of course, indispensable but subordinate moment, compared to general scientific labour’. Marx’s knowledge is described as both the artistic and scientific development of individuals.
The rationalisation of modern society that has accompanied the emergence of this new economy has also seen knowledge become synonymous with the scientific method. Artistic development is, in all practical senses, not recognised as of equal value to scientific development. Adorno and Horkheimer describes this change in their ‘Dialectic of Enlightenment’, as a world that has abolished myth and superstition to its own detriment, and instead installed a foundationalist philosophy, that in its totality, has robbed the individual of meaningful control over their existence.
Art, as the post enlightenment embodiment of myth and superstition, could position itself equally alongside science as a significant pillar of knowledge to resurrect what Adorno and Horkheimer describe as a true enlightenment. Yet as art begins to reconfigure itself as research for the purpose of asserting its value within a knowledge economy, it risks infecting itself by communing with the diseased discipline of science. The military-industrial complex bedded science long ago and the discipline has been bed-ridden ever since, bound to keep pushing papers and producing knowledge in the ongoing service of some abstract arms race.
The danger of artists wearing lab coats is not that artists will become more rational or accountable, the danger is that artists will become more productive. The amebic state of art has always allowed it to elude the iron grasp of the industrial complex, this is in spite of the illicit dalliances that often occur, especially between art and technology. However art is now falling prey to the soft velvet touch of the knowledge industry. The university and its cosy corridors of musty books seem to present no threat, but art needs to be nimble and always aspire to subvert the system it finds itself in. If this current system, the knowledge economy, wants art to produce knowledge, then art should seek out an antonym. Art must instead fail knowledge. To paraphrase the Talking Heads, art should stop making sense, stop making sense, stop making sense, making sense. As Andre Gorz writes in ‘The Immaterial’:
“Only the capacities that exceed any productive functionality, only the culture that serves no purpose, render a society capable of posing questions about the changes going on within it and imprinting a meaning on them.”
Andrew Newman is an artist and researcher based between Sydney and Vienna. His performative art practice poetically utilises methodologies from the communication sciences to examine value construction...