~ The Art Context ~
From time immemorial, the so-called context has been a central aspect of the artwork, albeit one that long remained inconspicuous, or even invisible.
It took the great exertions of the context-oriented methods of modernism to return it to the field of view, from which it was hidden, for the most part, by the tendency of bourgeois art appreciation to oversee the social and historical embeddedness of an artifact or an aesthetic approach. Such considerations were thrust aside by resolutely focussing attention on the creative subject: from this perspective it is not the conditions of production or other external factors that are decisive in the creation of art, rather the inner state of being and disposition of the artist, in other words that particularly sensitive and otherworldly subjectivity that differentiates him or her from the Average Joe.
The central production-based aesthetic categories that long dominated our attitude toward what art is and what distinguishes it (and which continue to govern our everyday understanding of art) were geared toward this subjectivity. Concepts such as »genius« or »aesthetic autonomy« point toward the subject as the central agent of the creative process. The psychologization and biographization of art (according to which it arises from the artists’ processing of experience) are the product of individualizing conceptions of art. The idea of creativity – as a shortcut in everyday language for complex theories of the creative subject – is generally coupled back to the subject realizing it, although we have, of course, often enough heard of a »creative atmosphere« and of places which for this or that reason are particularly well suited to engendering a creative mood. The work to be done there, however, remains within the subject, who is able to accomplish it thanks to his or her unique psychical predisposition. Without the creative individual, even the most creative atmosphere will be of no use.
Conceptions of art that take the subject as their point of departure make art into an individual activity accompanied by an inherent tendency toward asociality and egocentrism. The surroundings in which the artist works, his or her way of life, and even the entire field of material and social conditions within which the artist »lives« and is aesthetically productive, are accorded nothing more than a supporting function. All of these factors have an at most peripheral effect on the creative subject, merely hindering or furthering the process of self-finding concomitant with the production of the artwork.
Since the advent of modernism, artists have repeatedly attempted to counteract the conflation of work and subject, because they have seen themselves forced into an undesired role: that of a freedom and independence whose flip side is isolation and powerlessness. While the workers of the Fordist factory developed forms of collective struggle, the particular form of artists’ existence – productive eccentricity and manic-depressive individualism – hindered any attempt to organize and push through demands that would improve the precarious conditions of their life and work. As individuals who had been condemned to autonomy, they faced great difficulties in escaping from the prison of their freedom.
The exaggeration of the inward-looking, subjective side of art also constricted artists’ activity: it limited what they could say and do, what issues they could raise, and how they could set themselves in scene. Their accepted role damned them to the individuality with which the genius aesthetic of the eighteenth century had burdened them. And they were forced to play this role: we expect artists to be difficult, egotistical, socially incompatible and compulsively individualistic, because these qualities are listed on the standard bill of goods that comes with their work.
Denying the social and contextual aspects of the artwork puts the artist in a special sort of solitary confinement. Instead of being an agent in social processes who is burdened with commonplace material needs, the artist is forced to uphold an ideological conception of art based in a categorically formulated distance to social issues and to the processes of everyday life.
And yet the concept of art already implies an initial classification, because an artifact that is produced and perceived as being artistic enters into a relationship to tradition and to the social role of art, and to the expectations that we associate with it. Thus it is not autonomous: it is caught up in a web of myriad relationships of dependence. Hence, where art presents itself as art and operates within the institutional framework of the art system, it is always embedded per definition in the so-called »art context.«
~ The Context of the Art Context ~
The art context, however, is not a space of unchanging dimensions. It is subject to continual transformation, by means of which it adapts to the evolving economic conditions within which it operates. As a social subsystem it is embedded within a network of conditions and relationships that art can deny, but that it cannot escape. The institutions of art (and consequently the spaces of freedom and possibility that it makes available) are, of course, dependent on socially produced wealth and on the readiness arising from this wealth to invest in this or that art. The autonomy that art supposedly guarantees, itself guaranteed by the significance and honor of which art is considered worthy, is thus markedly heteronomous.
This can be seen most clearly in the functional and structural transformations with which the art system has reacted to the social upheavals of the last decades: the overall economic situation – the gradual success or failure of capital accumulation – establishes how much art and what art governments, communities or private individuals are willing to pay for or can afford (and most of all, how much artistic autonomy). In its existence qua the art market, the art business, in »conceptions of art« and in the specific conditions of its production and reception, art hangs within an economy that subsumes all social phenomena.
Periods of economic crisis are always characterized by the withdrawal of guarantees of aesthetic autonomy (primarily in the form of funding programs) and the disappearance of »critical« art from the field of public perception (while in the off scene more oppositional artistic positions arise, which can hope for better chances to break into the official art business as soon as the economic situation improves). Capitalism imposes the logic of commercial exploitation on everything that appears within its frame, whereby art that is critical of this logic – like alternative lifestyles – has no chance of escaping it, even if it seeks to distinguish itself by doing so. Regardless of whether an artistic position criticizes or affirms the economic form of society, it is dependent on it just the same.
When art, stressing self-commitment or pursuing strategies of uncommerciality and unsalability, fancies that it has risen above being packaged as merchandise or exploited ideologically, it falls prey to an illusion that it should see through: regardless of whether it offers untainted contemplativeness or alternative refractoriness, it is still offering something for sale. And thus we can use it to palliate the discomfort we feel in an economy that we can never really escape, an economy that has long since fused with the subjectivities it generates. When bourgeois art disguises the fact that it produces a commodity for a market, the art market, preferring to fantasize about intrinsic motives and »higher callings« instead of speaking about customers, supply and demand and profit margins, then it is selling a delusion. Even the many programmatic efforts that have arisen since modernism – be they melancholy, cynical, outraged, emphatic or anti-idealistic ventures – to combat such delusions by showing that art is only a commodity remain lodged in the form and logic of commerce to the degree that they serve the market’s demand for enlightenment and critical awareness. Art that attempts such ploys is not autonomous from the bourgeois world, whose totality it veils, rather it is merely advertising for the same.
The art system marks the social framework within which an aesthetic artifact emphatically or critically appears, inasmuch as it does not subvert every exploitative connection by remaining purely private or by calling for a renunciation of the work or an art strike, ceasing production entirely. Even in such radical measures, the reference to the art system remains, albeit as a negation. Thus the art context is the basis for every artistic action, and the condition that makes possible any and every sort of anti-artistic behavior.
~ Institutional Critique ~
Like other social subsystems, the art context follows its own rules and establishes its own specific values. It differentiates the aesthetic artifact from other goods. In assuming its special form as a commodity, art does not in any way seek to take its place alongside other products. On the contrary, it assumes this form by differentiating itself from everything else – from that which is offered for sale at the supermarket, for example.
Thus, on numerous occasions, art has reflexively thematized the status of the artwork in capitalism (most of all the commodity form and its paradoxes, which it cannot cast off), and also the art context in which and through which it manifests itself. Art has at times thrust aside the unspoken contract governing its role, value and scope of possible action, although it cannot, of course, default on it completely. When it does so, it follows the rules that the art system has imposed on it, breaching the contract in the symbolic space of museums, galleries and art festivals. This principle remains the same when art faces up to the need to mark the art system’s boundaries, to overcome them or even to tear them down: it is always allowed to do so to the degree that such action is covered by art-aesthetic discourses. The destruction of a museum wall nonetheless remains within the mentally sheltered space that museum walls have erected in everyday bourgeois life (in contrast to attacks on other buildings).
Art could not engage in such critique (or it would face serious consequences) were it to leave completely the field that it has staked out and confront the reality of bourgeois life directly, as the historical avant-garde once dreamed of doing. Here other rules are in effect, which art cannot break without incurring punishment.
The numerous modernist attempts to convert art into life practice, to overcome it and dissolve it »in life« demonstrate (in their failure) that art can never cast off its context, even when it postulates the possibility of doing so with iconoclastic or revolutionary elan.
A well-known video by Valie Export shows her smashing the windshields of parked cars. This work explored the significance of system boundaries: in the art system her action was perceived as art (obviously as daringly transgressive art) and applauded as such. On the street her action remained vandalism, and the artist was forced to rely on the assumption that the police would not be going to the museum to watch provocative little performance films. Here Export thematizes the functional isolation of social subsystems, which evaluate the same action in very different ways. This marks a displacement that modernist art – at least partially – succeeded in bringing about by reflecting on the significance of the context in which and through which it is perceived. Everyday vandalism, executed by a recognized artist under the auspices of art, is transformed into something worthy of showing and thinking about, even though its beholders will probably be happy that her action relates to art and not to the cars they have left parked out in front of the museum.
The catchword »Institutional Critique« makes it clear that contemporary artists have understood how they act within a broad spectrum of contextualizing relationships. Revealing these relationships (and the dependencies they involve), and marking them by means of specific interventions, became a recurring theme of artistic creation.
~ Contextual Art ~
Contextuality can be manifested in art in a great variety of ways depending on form and content: »l’art pour l’art,« social sculpture or site-specific art, for example, can be read both as work directly on the context, or about the context.
In this way the artists of the twentieth century expressed the discomfort they experienced at chafing within the role that bourgeois society had imposed on them: exemplary presenters of limitless freedom within the limits of art. They put up a defense against this role by pitting self-determined contextualization against externally imposed autonomy. Thus the »resocialization« of art was characterized by forms or genres demanding collective realization (and differentiating themselves from lonely studio painting and windowless introspection); by artists forming groups, proclaiming (and then annulling) a rapid succession of isms, movements and manifestos; by political positioning and co-optation (subordinated to artists’ need for expression and form).
Instead of remaining unthinking executors of the cult of genius and of subjectivity, artists began to arm themselves with theories, first and foremost the findings of psychology, sociology and political science. Here art’s field of competency was broadened to include what was formerly the reserve of art criticism. Not content to merely rely on nonconceptual impressions and blurry intuitions, artists themselves became theorists. They integrated »theory« into their self-image as a corrective for »practice,« thus abolishing the classical separation between the two. Through self-disclosure, programmatic texts, textual elements (since Cubism and Dada a common material in the visual arts), and conceptual writings (widespread in artistic fields that are dependent on institutional funding), artists have become adept in contextually positioning their own work. (In the worst case, however, this becomes the mantra-like name dropping of an unchanging cohort of postmodern theorists).
Where artists take such measures, they cease to leave their own contextualization up to the whims of critics and fashions. They learn to understand their own social position and to call by their names the contradictions of the relationships under which they (must) live and work.
Art that understands itself as context-related and context-determined requires a social theory of itself. It must take into consideration its economic conditions and dependencies, and come to grips with its form as a commodity defining the collective needs of its producers. Hence context tends to advance into the position formerly occupied by subjectivity (whereby the process of separation from a self-image that was drummed into artists’ heads for centuries is, of course, difficult and widely varying in pace). Aesthetic theory shifts from analysis of work-immanent features to the evaluation of contextual information. Aesthetic practice is no longer an expression of inner states or a monadic handcraft, rather a practical theory of social conditions presented not only in accompanying texts but also in the work itself, which assumes a self-reflective and self-referential stance.
Knowledge of the often contradictory contextual dependencies of artistic work corresponds, however, with an overall social trend, in which a commonly shared standpoint has given way to pigeonholed niches. The coherent narrative of art history has collapsed into a loosely tied bundle of disparate trends and tendencies, which have replaced the clearly defined, dominant currents that marked the succession of its major epochs. The coexistence of unlinked special worlds acting in the same social space, but at the same time developing highly varying relationships to it, manifests itself as a wealth of context in which artistic endeavors must orient themselves aesthetically or politically. For this to succeed, artistic positions must maintain a balanced overview of their surroundings. The more artists are consigned to an existence within a patchwork of niches, the more dependent they become on information resources, communication and networking.
In this respect, aesthetic artifacts must take a stance toward a plethora of markedly heterogeneous contexts that sediment in one way or another: the conditions and circumstances surrounding their production; the various social fields from which (and for or against which) they speak; real or imagined audiences toward (or against) whose values a work, an approach or a position is targeted. This play with the factors affecting it and among which it must mediate has become an essential trait of an art form that might best be described as »Contextualism.«
As a consequence, many artists have emphatically broken with the specialization that bourgeois art once dictated as a condition for artistic self-discovery (excepting a handful of renowned artists having multiple gifts). Instead of mastering a single discipline, today’s context artists change their field of activity as freely as their location – often in a thoroughly virtuosic sense.
It goes without say that this plays into the hand of principles like multitasking, patchworking and flexibilization, which the society of control has imposed on the artist’s life just as it has on every other gainful employment. In fact, the artist can even be accused of playing an avant-garde role in the implementation of new, diffused conditions of production. By pointedly referencing the lifestyle of the artist, social developments of this sort fatten their image with the radiant glow of art. In the end, however, the compensation of those who no longer have fixed employment with the consolation that they can at least be artists is perfidiously cynical – a last half-heartedly granted hope in the face of late-capitalist hopelessness. Here living and working conditions, and modes of organization, that are typical of art (dissolution of the separation of work and pleasure, foreswearing social and economic security etc.) are extended to include ever-expanding fields of employment. Today’s office workers are enjoined to act like insatiably driven creative geniuses who live only for the cause, while renouncing things like permanent contracts, payment of wages in case of illness, regular work hours etc.
Artistic positions can only assume a stance toward contradictions of this sort when they are well informed of their own privileges, and also the negative sides thereof, and when they know how the art lifestyle can be co-opted ideologically – and for which interests.
The social trend toward the elimination of boundaries draws inspiration (and also legitimization) from the experiences of boundary elimination that art has undergone, where the contemplation of cleanly differentiated art forms has been overcome through principles of experimentation, boundary transgression and a perpetual widening of the means of expression: painting that incorporates textual elements (blurring the boundary to poetry); music that becomes sound installation and sound sculpture; video installation that integrates film and other visual arts etc. Hereby the possibilities for crossing boundaries offered by art are transformed into the statutory impossibility of not crossing boundaries (e.g. of availability and stress resistance) as it is stipulated by the logic of commercial exploitation.
Art’s classical disciplines have been joined by new ones, such as electronic art or internet art, which no longer fit into the categories of the old order of clearly defined forms. They are characterized by new working methods and resource distributions (e.g. with regard to financial dependence on institutional funding; internet art, for instance, involves hardly any salable art commodities) – and they develop new hybrid forms and models of relationship. Their special form, which is more oriented toward social content than aesthetic autonomy (e.g. internet art as an expression of the cultural cross-linking born of digitization), strengthens the significance of networks and models of cooperation, elements of much less relevance in classical painting. Thus the protagonists of internet culture no longer speak and act in the name of art, rather in the name of a technocratic structure in which everyone uses the same media. This marks a further crossing point away from the aesthetic autonomy of the old high culture (in which the individual spoke only for him/herself, and the conception of the artwork was dependent on the specific person producing it) toward pop culture (in which the individual and his/her expression are effects of subcultural codes and circumstances).
Today, however, networking is not only a specific working method of subcultures and net cultures: it is also a demand confronting classical office work. Art must remain aware of the fact that, in propagating and testing new working relationships and power structures, it plays a pioneering role in developing new forms of social interaction. When it reflects upon its own context, it must also keep in mind how this context can affect other subsystems.
~ Context Building ~
The context – in the more narrow sense of a working situation and a technical infrastructure and its availability to those who enter into it (because, for example, access to workstations and technical resources is regulated by it, e.g. WLAN, video cutting equipment, or a 3-D plotter) – determines the concrete form of a work, its public perception and its political content. (Aestheticism originating in a squat will probably be seen as being more political than aestheticism produced far from social struggle in a studio).
The context becomes a part of the art’s content because it initiates discussion of where it originates and who it represents. Many political works make context-related demands and propagate a certain way of life (often in a strikingly identitary way), putting it in public awareness or struggling against its commercial packaging, as in the case of art that is critical of gentrification, for instance.
For art that frees itself from the studio, preferring social interaction to functioning as a supplier for galleries and curators, self-selected and cooperatively formed relationships are a decisive factor with regard to its success or failure. Thus internet art and media activism often draw attention emphatically to the surroundings in which they work, or to the network of like-minded people that they represent. Both must be defended, productively discussed and continually improved. Advancing one’s own contextualization represents an analogy to those forms of organization with which factory workers once successfully struggled to achieve a little leeway in the workplace, and a gradual easing of their problems.
Despite all of the inadequacies that artists experience within the art context, its limitations and ideological premises, it nonetheless represents a protected space within a society that is structured by the capitalist logic of commercial exploitation. Art does not transgress this logic, but it does assume a different stance toward it than does traditional gainful employment. In the name of art it can demand more freedom and a wider spectrum of possibilities. The creation of desirable conditions of production and life within this (never fully) self-determined framework is thus one of contextual arts chief concerns. By taking responsibility for his/her own conditions of production, the artist stands up against the squalor of autonomous production, which leaves its protagonists defenseless, completely at the mercy of external notions of artistic existence (cf. Spitzweg’s Poor Poet).
In this respect, work on the context can become more important than the production of the artwork itself.
~ Hacking ~
The group monochrom refers to its working method as »Context Hacking,« thus referencing the hacker culture, which propagates a creative and emancipatory approach to the technologies of the digital age, and in this way turns against the continuation into the digital age of a centuries-old technological enslavement perpetrated through knowledge and hierarchies of experts. Thanks to the electronic mass media of this age, the possibility of democratizing and socializing the means of production seems for the first time to have become realizable (with no need for any other revolution beyond the technical).
The hacker scene achieved prominence primarily through spectacular break-ins into the computer systems of political, military and economic power centers, demonstrating their security loopholes and opening the operating systems of power and domination in an effort to democratize their knowledge.
At the beginning, however, hacking means gaining access to one’s own devices and their principles of construction, instead of merely buying them and using them according to the stipulations of exclusive software licenses, as their developers (and the economic interests they represent) intended. Thus hacking stakes a claim to technology: the user no longer submits quiescently to his/her own devices, content to stay above the surface of the user interfaces that close off their inner workings to those users who are forced to rely on them. Understood with the help of »reverse engineering« (cf. in this volume »Technology vs. Technocracy. Reverse Engineering as a User Rebellion«), these devices can also be modified and adapted to the user’s own needs. First they must be opened to make available the knowledge hidden in sealed casings and inscrutable processes. This breaks through the power relationships that the computer imposes upon us, and with them new forms of digital alienation, which are really just the old ones adapted to meet the circumstances of a new era. »Creative Commons«, »Free Software« and »Open Source« endeavor to intervene in the course of the technological revolution that began in digitization. They want to establish a direction for future culture and production before the key technology is once again hierarchically distributed and installed in such a way as to extend the old dependencies into a new age.
Thus, as a practical critique of technology and alienation, hacking is in no way guided by technophobic affects (e.g. the distorted image of malevolent or principally inhuman technicity). Comparisons with Luddite machine trashing are, in fact, completely inappropriate: here the objective is a redistribution of the means of production, and the transformation of the technological revolution into a political one. Whereby the hacker scene is carried by the naive expectation that technology, and in particular communications technology, could abolish capitalist power relationships (cf. in this volume »The Medium is the Messiah. On the implicit ideology of media activism, its current opportunities and its entanglement in general«), holding that it is only a matter of democratizing its potential.
In revealing a fascination with the power of the devices, the techno-euphoric utopianism of the hackers must be complemented by a theory of social productive forces. The fact that here the object of the struggle is the sources and the source codes of social productivity gives rise to a precedential case, toward which artistic practice must orient itself. »Context Hacking« understands hacking as a skill that can be transferred to »social artifacts.« Conversely, the hacker scene itself is a context that must be hacked, for instance in order to confront it with theoretical principles that can break open the ideological fetishization of technology, and upset the comfort of the warm nest of nerddom (cf. in this volume »Hacking the Spaces. A critical acclaim of what was, is and could be a hackerspace (or hacklab, for that matter)«).
~ Context Hacking ~
Context hacking transfers the hackers’ objectives and methods to the network of social relationships in which artistic production occurs, and upon which it is dependent. In a metaphoric sense, these relationships also have a source code. Programs run in them, and our interaction with them is structured by a user interface. When we know how a space, a niche, a scene, a subculture or a media or political practice functions, we can change it and »recode« it, deconstructing its power relationships and emancipating ourselves from its compulsions and packaging guidelines.
In this there is an underlying democratic assertion. Exclusivity and exclusion are not only the problem of powerful, hegemonic structures. They are also reproduced in the niches that were originally established as countermodels pursuing emancipatory ideals, for example when preliminary access is regulated by specialization and expert knowledge, or when familiarity with and virtuosity in using certain codes govern membership and status. It is impossible to establish absolute freedom from hierarchies and barriers, whereby declarations of good intention are anything but a guarantor of such principles.
The access hurdles that are erected in emancipatory contexts (which sometimes are completely reasonable) can also be hacked, just like the firewalls of the systems or networks infiltrated by computer hackers. Gaining access to exclusive spaces or contexts is also a form (or preform) of context hacking. The classic imposter (as found in the literary portrait »Confessions of Felix Krull, Confidence Man« by Thomas Mann) of bourgeois culture could move in »better society« – and manipulate it for his/her purposes or entertainment – because he/she had mastered its codes. Although the aims are different, there is a fundamental similarity in the activities of communication guerillas, who can assume prominent positions in the media or in power structures for the duration of an action or a prank, because they can set themselves in scene using speech and logic that legitimate their illegitimate intervention. »Urban hacking« transfers this approach to public space (cf. in this volume »‘Urban Hacking’ as a Practical and Theoretical Critique of Public Spaces«); »cultural jamming« transfers it to the field of public relations; »cultural hacking« to »culture.« They all make »playing with representations and identities, with alienation and over-identification [into the] starting point for political interventions,« as is stated in a text by the autonome a.f.r.i.k.a. gruppe. Their actions are tailored to fit the context that is being used and hacked into, calibrated to exploit the expectations that it awakens and the forms of expression it makes available. They do not approach the narrative at hand from outside. By assimilating it and blending in with it, they are able to initiate effective modifications or to stage irritating breaches, whose success is dependent upon achieving the illusion of contextual adequacy. The Yes Men have mastered this art of deception: they imitate the dress codes, roles and diction of power so perfectly that they can even speak in the name of major corporations without arousing suspicion (e.g. as in the case of falsified announcements by Dow Chemicals concerning the compensation of the Bhopal victims).
Another, and perhaps the most important, aspect of context hacking becomes clear in the work of these groups. They link two contexts that were long separate fields of activity: art and political activism. Both of these fields can learn from one another, with each of them transgressing its own boundaries and breaching its rules and self-referential rituals, irritating public perception because they do not reproduce the system boundary between the art and politics (and with it the order of bourgeois society).
»Context hopping« would perhaps be the best way of characterizing this approach. At the same time it is also marked by a tendency to »context bending«: alongside its interventions, it also engages in performative play with contextualizing roles and role expectations. As in gender bending, contextual semiotic systems and dominant codes are defamiliarized. Context hacking can be both a »hostile takeover« (as in the case of the Yes Men) or a productive intervention for the purpose of eliminating barriers and improving existing media, scenes, niches or subcultures.
The protagonists of context hacking see great emancipatory significance in not leaving ourselves at the mercy of a context upon which we become dependent and which imposes its rules on us, giving us roles and equipping us with specific (but always sharply delimited) possibilities of action in return for our subjugation.
Because the individual is weak and in need of protection within the competitive society in which he/she lives, he/she seeks solidarity with like-minded individuals, who offer him/her orientation and value surety. Protected spaces like those provided by a scene or a group, however, are always accompanied by a regressive tendency to metamorphose into homey congregations, in other words into settings that supply identity and enforce identification. Frequently the overglorification of the subject’s own niche, which must be protected from critique and analysis, diverges into identitary structures like the ones that we often encounter in the contexts of countercultures that have forfeited their legitimacy over time. Of course they must hide this from themselves in order to continue existence (the punk scene after 1980 provides a perfect example of this phenomenon).
Nichization represents a central problem for many advanced aesthetic or political practices, inasmuch as it no longer allows them to break out of the paralyzing warmth of the cozy nest. Context hacking outlines a counterstrategy: instead of merely relying on one context and making the rules and power structures governing it into an integral component of our working methods and worldview, we can regain our independence and our power of judgement by oscillating between various contexts. Then we must no longer confine our activity to the framework of a certain contextualization. Knowing that levels of experience, problem-solving strategies and knowledge are condensed in every predefined locality and working approach (these must be brought into contact so that they can complement and correct one another), we must broaden our horizon by continually expanding our own contextualization.
When contexts or niches are no longer a destiny, they lose the sect-like power that they exert when we commit or abandon ourselves to them completely. When we can look at the situation in which we live and work both from outside and inside, we obtain a useful overview of their premises and their potential, and on the limitations that accompany them.
The monocular perspective, which is a classic feature of niches, becomes a polyocular perspective; media forms that metamorphose into values when they become constitutive of a context regain their function as tools that can be used but most certainly do not have to be glorified.
Context hacking puts diverse contextual connections and approaches at one’s disposal, with which project-oriented affiliations can be entered into. We can then seek out the best medium or context within which to make a certain statement.
In 2006, for example, monochrom acquired the Lord Jim Lodge (cf. in this volume »We’re only in it for the brand equity. monochrom’s takeover of the Lord Jim Lodge«), which served as a vehicle for penetrating the official art market (among the Lord Jim Lodge’s members were Jörg Schlick, Albert Oehlen, Wolfgang Bauer and Martin Kippenberger, who propagated the Lodge’s logo in numerous paintings and installations). The Lord Jim Lodge itself, however, already represented a contextual experiment: as an anti-lodge or a contrafact of a lodge, it deconstructed attributions and associations linked in collective consciousness to the secret societies of the Enlightenment and to the Masons.
In a certain sense context hacking also presents a dialectical answer to the conflict between autonomy and contextualization described above. And it puts us in a position to make demands on our contexts: those who are free to leave at any time are in the best position to get what they want.
And yet conversely, context hacking is a strategy that refuses the main demand made be the art market, namely that artists can be made into easily salable commodities. Here recognizability and identifiability are key. In the classic art market, the artworks with the best chances and highest prices are those with a precisely delimited and singularly differentiable trademark, which can be used to create demand for a personal style that can be exploited. Thus galleries value monothematic approaches, recurring motifs, and interrelationships between works that can stake easily graspable claims. The narrower the specific field of interest surrounding a particular art is, the better and faster it can be sold. When artists or groups work in too many different areas, they are difficult to market: the short attention span of art buyers zooming through the landscape of galleries and art fairs cannot latch onto their work. Correspondingly, it takes a long time for diversity to become a marketable individual trademark – in the case of Martin Kippenberger (in whose work it is possible to make out elements of context hopping), the wait lasted until death finally made it possible for the market to get a fix on him.
While the art marked presses the artist toward individualization and identity, context hacking remains insistent that there are always too many possibilities for the artist to commit to only one of them. In the selection of certain contexts for specific works or over the course of an entire biography, the artist makes or exposes connections. This is difficult in practice, because common issues and shared interests are often concealed by the politics of isolation, ignorance and emphatic self-differentiation. This, conversely, is an effect produced by highly competitive social relationships, particularly within the art scene, and even within the framework of left-wing self-positioning, where theoretical sophistication often greets activist efforts with snobbism – and they, in turn, criticize the mentality of the ivory tower.
One of context hackers’ central ambitions is to bring the factions of counterculture, which have veered off along widely diverging trajectories, back together again. In addition to creating situations facilitating re-encounter (e.g. in the very conventional framework of festivals and symposiums), they must develop a practice that does not require the sacrifice of one thing for the other, or the playing off of one thing against the other. Instead of committing to something (and thus against something else), they must wander between the worlds, channeling repressed otherness back into identification. Activities within the framework of a hedonistically oriented nerd culture must stand up and take political positions, and political spaces must be confronted with nerdy content. Such efforts are in a position to correct, or at least challenge, both the seriousness of politics and the escapism of the nerds.
And even if such ideals cannot be realized – on account of the excessive demands of everyday life – it is at least possible to develop narratives that tell of artistic interdisciplinarity. monochrom has done precisely this in the biography of the fictive artist Georg Paul Thomann (cf. in this volume »Steal the world/Fake it a better place … The Faking-Of Georg Paul Thomann«), to whom the group delegated the commission it received for Austria’s contribution to the 2002 Sao Paolo Biennial. The pop theoretician Diedrich Diederichsen applauded Georg Paul Thomann for his context hacking: »You would hardly ever find anti-Nazi activists involved in international cyberspace projects, and journalists working for ZDF on the Mühl commune do not appear on Red Krayola records. And those who get involved in musical groups called André Hitler or Der Arische Brauer to act up against the Viennese gurus of fantasy do not write for the Jungle World. Sad as it may be!«