Articles

When Artspeak Masks Oppression

by Mostafa Heddaya on March 6, 2013

The Guggenheim Abu Dhabi (Image courtesy the Guggenheim)

The Guggenheim Abu Dhabi (Image courtesy the Guggenheim)

“Without its special language, would art need to submit to the scrutiny of broader audiences and local ones? Would it hold up?” So asks online art publication Triple Canopy’s widely circulated essay “International Art English,” in which the authors catalogued the death of meaning in the language of contemporary art. It’s a perceptive study, though after offering a half-alternative (“the elite … will opt for something like conventional highbrow English”), the article ends in media res with a sarcastic shrug: an evocative morsel of IAE — a press release — reformatted into a prose poem.

By so abstracting their position into parody, the authors misread the most significant consequence of this new language, loosed upon a world in which prisoners of conscience languish in the jails of the world’s emerging contemporary art superpowers. The unsurprising reality is that a specialized language fraught with euphemism and obfuscation is better known as propaganda.

This omission came to a head at an event last week at the Guggenheim, in which Reem Fadda, an associate curator of Middle Eastern art at the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, endeavored to “delve into the history” of the UAE art scene. This consisted of a 40-minute lecture describing the history and major figures of the Emirati contemporary art world followed by a conversation with Mohammed Kazem, “a leading conceptual artist,” and culminated in a brief Q&A. More generally, it was a spectacle in International Art English as a subtle instrument of human rights abuse apologetics.

At the beginning of her talk, Fadda was sure to frame the history of the UAE in terms familiar to the audience that filled most of the 280 seats in the Peter B. Lewis Theatre: “If you compare Dubai and New York in the 1970s, you’ll see a desert and a booming city.” She continued:

There is always this question of comparison with other cities. For example, if you want to compare the scene in New York to the scene in any city in the UAE, you find that there is a misbalance, and I think it’s because the tools that we look at in terms of gauging the development of this art practice is this kind of misbalance. Our understandings of modernity and our shaping of modernity is what causes this kind of balance.

In short, though one might be tempted to make the comparison between places — don’t. The UAE emerged from a period of inexcusable British colonialism and “gushed” forward into the late 20th century, and so our current “approach should be way different, it’s about a different kind of development.” According to Fadda, this was a people “constantly being rammed in” by the buffers of colonial oppression, and that consequently must be held accountable to no Western yardstick. Pre-empting the growing international condemnation of the UAE’s human rights record, Fadda alluded throughout to the homegrown criticism that Mohammed Kazem and other contemporary artists in the UAE have ostensibly undertaken against their government. At one point, she showed a photo taken by Kazem (whose previous career was in the military) of a laborer’s shoe amid construction rubble.

Mohammed Kazem, "Photographs with Flags" (1997-2003) (Image courtesy the Guggenheim)

Mohammed Kazem, “Photographs with Flags” (1997–2003) (Image courtesy the Guggenheim)

Although she never directly named it, Fadda’s comments about self-criticism and workers’ rights toed a neat periphery around the recent controversy arising from the labor being used to construct the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi on Saadiyat (“Happiness”) Island. When a younger audience member directly raised the question at the end of the session, framing the abuse of laborers as neocolonialism in its own right, Fadda’s answer revealed what her earlier comments only suggested:

Regardless of the way other artists from the outside world view what is happening within the UAE, the UAE itself has these questions … And I think that is something we also have to ask ourselves, that kind of ethical positionality, about what is the society itself looking and introspecting and commenting and criticizing on its own. Criticism is not imposed. Let’s look at labor here in New York … (1:06–1:08 here, emphasis added)

A brazen comment to make in front of an audience at the Guggenheim. Such insinuations of ill-meaning on the part of foreign critics are familiar to anyone who followed the Chinese state’s defamation of Ai Weiwei:

It is reckless collision against China’s basic political framework and ignorance of China’s judicial sovereignty to exaggerate a specific case in China and attack China with fierce comments before finding out the truth. The West’s behavior aims at disrupting the attention of Chinese society and attempts to modify the value system of the Chinese people.

The passage above is excerpted from the CCP’s English-language newspaper Global Times, but the cultural organs of the Chinese state are versed in IAE, as Triple Canopy points out in their essay. Tackling the Chinese state’s convincing adoption of the IAE lexicon, the authors cite a passage promoting the 2006 Guangzhou Triennial and weirdly dismiss the Chinese state’s wielding of the language as an English-acquisition problem: “This is fairly symptomatic of a state of affairs in which the unwitting emulators of Bataille in translation might well be interns in the Chinese Ministry of Culture — but then again might not.”

China’s smearing of Ai Weiwei’s defenders, though executed in a more transparently propagandistic style, isn’t far from Fadda’s “ethical positionality” response: Even in matters of universal human rights, we need to take an approach that rejects the non-native critic.

UBIK, "Tahrir Square" (Image via whoisubik.com)

UBIK, “Tahrir Square” (Image via whoisubik.com)

With “outside” activists like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch summarily dismissed, the field of possible subversives is narrowed. But we’re still left with the threat that arrived at the Gulf’s doorstep two years ago in the form of the Arab Spring. There, too, we see a similar acrobatics. Take, for instance, this “Tahrir Square” installation from UBIK, an expatriate artist living in Dubai, which he describes as follows:

“Tahrir Square,” at a glance, could be a simple interpretation of the whole Egyptian revolution, but the piece deals with a lot more than the political face-value of the situation. On some levels I’m trying to explore the urban symbolism of the Square itself; the idea that whoever controls the square controls the State. Also, by creating the installation as a game, whoever controls the centre of the board has more advantage than their opponent. The square has become an official place to gather and protest now, but will this trend continue in to the future, even after democracy has been achieved in Egypt ? If it does, how will people relate to the Square then? On some levels, the politics of the installation questions the pros and cons of this newfound freedom. The transition to democracy has become a spectator sport with the whole world watching closely.

Thus UBIK glibly neuters the bloodshed of Tahrir Square and the sacrifices of Egyptian activists, a genuflection to the Emirati state’s political agenda. The installation, though cloaked in ostensibly subversive language, is an indifferent, art-lingo-inflected scopophilia (“spectator sport”) masquerading as concern, a pantomime of support for human freedom in which UBIK strokes his hosts while goading an uncritical audience into dismissing emancipatory movements. As if auditioning for one of the many ethically suspect K Street lobbyists facilitating the UAE’s capture of liberal culture, UBIK asks, is democracy even worthwhile? What are the “pros and cons” of freedom?

The payload is delivered. And thanks to International Art English, the artist can still appear vaguely subversive and the host state committed to openness, a mutual saving of face. The genius of IAE is that the propagandists can sit back and watch the hits roll in. Reem Fadda also commented on the UAE’s artistic solidarity with the Arab world, at one point in her lecture likening the Gulf states to a “postwar New York” for Arab artists. A suspect claim historically, and one flatly denied by the recent cancellation of a pan-Arab academic conference in Dubai. An Egyptian education rights activist, Motaz Attalla of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, was quoted on this Emirati hypocrisy: “The Emirates is claiming for itself a lot of credit for being a beacon of higher education in the region. It’s highly problematic to claim that credit and position in light of its non-compliance with a fundamental aspect of one of the requirements of being an actual center of knowledge production, and that’s academic freedom.”

Graffiti in Tahrir Square (Photograph by Danny Ramadan / Hyperallergic)

Graffiti in Tahrir Square (Photograph by Danny Ramadan / Hyperallergic)

It wasn’t always so — and not everyone in the art world is willing to play ball with tyrants. In fact, few have made the case for cultural activism as a bulwark against oppression as passionately as Reem Fadda once did. A PhD candidate at Cornell and a Fulbright scholar, Fadda was previously a Palestinian arts activist who, in defending her support of the academic and cultural boycott of Israel at a 2009 Art in General event in New York, unambiguously made the case for the type of wholesale takedown that has been directed at the UAE by members of the Arab and international art community. The exchange is illustrative:

Audience member: The individual [Israeli] artist is giving their work to the center, so it’s their work, it’s not like it’s the [Israeli] state’s work.

Reem Fadda: But what you’re doing is you’re giving it to the state, so the money that you’re giving them is toward supporting an institute [sic] that is basically killing people [and is] in violation of international law.

Fadda’s erstwhile boycott of any cultural or academic institution associated with a state in violation of international law makes her current stance patently hypocritical, but that would still be better than the alternative. Namely, that the curatorial task, full of the increasingly foggy abstractions of international art language, has clouded the instincts of an otherwise conscientious person.

Criticism of the UAE’s commitment to liberal and humanitarian values is hardly absent (see, for instance, this recent editorial in the New York Observer). What’s troubling is the ease with which the institutions of global art have appeared open to capture, lubricated by a mono-tongue amenable to a repugnant smoothing over of rights abuses. The triumph of International Art English is that it is now possible, on some of contemporary art’s most hallowed stages, to hold forth with arguments so yellow they make Pat Buchanan look like George Orwell.

And speaking of George Orwell, this art-language exegesis is hardly groundbreaking. More than a half-century ago he famously warned, in “Politics and the English Language,” of the dangers presented by a degraded language, a smokescreen through which even the most offensive political strategies can be made palatable. Ai Weiwei may yet pay with his life for his artistic subversion, as prisoners of conscience have and will in the UAE, China, and the world over. International Art English is not a cute inside joke, or merely a specialist’s dialect impenetrable to laymen. It is, as demonstrated last Tuesday, a real language spoken by real people who use it to sanctify oppression.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/ianaleksanderadams Ian Aleksander Adams

    fuck. this is spot on. seriously, thank you.

  • Oryan3

    Are we discussing art language that obscures political oppression, or art language deployed as a propaganda tool by the state? –Because they’re different issues. The first point would suggest that art language must unmask political oppression, thereby making it subordinate to current sensibilities and popular definitions of “oppression” and “power”. The second perspective, however, keeps the focus on the work itself by interrogating the context and form of a particular piece or a particular body of work. Or am I missing the point here?

    • http://twitter.com/BATH5ALT BATH 5ALT

      Yeah, you’re DEFINITELY missing the point. First, to write off a skepticism of art language obscuring political oppression because it “would suggest that art language must unmask political oppression” which results in ‘making it subordinate to current sensibilities and popular definitions of “oppression” and “power”’ builds a false neutrality which is ultimately hollow. It is an assertion that couches art expressly in terms of power and serves to rob it of its power to tell stories, especially that perennial story of the unequal power dynamic of the laborer to the aristocrat, a story which is very much real in the toxic, traumatizing effects of colonialism past and present. Art language doesn’t have to “unmask political oppression” and it doesn’t have to be made subordinate to “current sensibilities” either, but it’s very clear that you’re superimposing that implication on to the statement. Your straw man’s your straw man.

      Second, what do you even mean by “keeps the focus on the work itself by interrogating the context and form of a particular piece or a particular body of work?” You just spent 23 words to describe the rote process of perceiving art language deployed as a propaganda tool by the state, yet again simply oblivious (or intentionally maintaining a false neutrality/ignorance) to any assumptions about the STRATEGIC worth of such a process — really? Must it be spelled out for you? It’s the same marketing strategy that’s been deployed since the dawn of time: Lash out via ad hominems to chill the potential discourse between two culturally disparate entities that would otherwise realize an obvious power imbalance and potentially lead to turmoil. Draw upon jingoistic, territorial and most importantly VAGUE notions of supposedly shared cultural identity so as to persuade with empty rhetoric that there exists not just more shared culture in disparate socioeconomic classes in the same nation than in similar classes of different nations, but so much more that the the latter is laughable. Lather, rinse, repeat.

      If I may gently do so, I would argue that your commentary smacks of that aforementioned “curatorial task, full of the increasingly foggy abstractions of international art language, has clouded the instincts of an otherwise conscientious person.” There are three main words in that sentence that jump out me as crucially important, two against one: foggy abstractions against instincts. The kind of needlessly abstractly dense (and yet simultaneously devoid of expression) artspeak that you phrase your question in actually does indeed answer it completely: yes, you are missing the point here. Part of what makes art is where your instincts take you in the experience of it, especially where words fail to accurately recontextualize it and arrange it amongst abstractions. There is NOTHING being said through attempting to contrast two imagined issues (one about art language presumably being made subordinate to supposedly current sensibilities and supposedly popular definitions of oppression and power and the other about interrogating the context/form of a piece). Nothing. If you have already made that subdivision, you will never be able to digest the assertion made by this article, much less agree or refute it after actual comprehension.

      Art is so necessarily slippery because it is necessarily human. It is so rife with torturous hypocrasies because human experience is so rife with torturous hypocrasies. At one point, I might have once given artspeak too dense to understand a pass given potential for eventually elucidating historical patterns, but to be quite honest, that was a load of bullshit. I grew to realize that the only people who could afford to be needlessly abstract were those who could…well, afford to do it, through one form of privilege or another. There is always resistance in art, and where there is no resistance (only blind circumspection), there opens a space that deserves nothing less than vigilant criticism. The loathed artspeak clumsily attempts to axiomatize away this uncomfortable, necessarily asymmetric reflection of power dynamics in the lived human experience by drawing attention away from the questions that art COULD raise toward a quid pro quo philosophical debate, where nothing is certainly certain.

      But, that’s bullshit. There are a lot of poor people who are certainly and unfairly poor, and there are a lot of rich people who are certainly and unfairly rich. There are also many gradiations in between, but the extremes do exist, and most notably, art is the BUSINESS domain of the obscenely wealthy. So, questions of artspeak become an imperative form of due diligence when critiquing the mechanism through which institutional discourse on art propagates through.

      • Oryan3

        Having read your rebuttal, I now think I understand the original point. The author has a problem with the human rights record of the UAE—fine. But the subtext of her argument, and of yours, is that art language should serve her political objections rather than serving art. This approach refashions art language (saturated with power dynamics as it might be) from a tool for defining art into a tool for advancing a political agenda. And it’s an inappropriate tool because not every artists is going to share that agenda, and not every artist working in an oppressive country can afford to be aligned with it. Furthermore, it’s very disingenuous to suggest that since art language isn’t capable of perfect neutrality it should be junked in favor of some timeworn Bolshevik approach to economic liberation. This countered a “false neutrality” with a false universality about “the story of the unequal power dynamic of the laborer to the aristocrat”–it’s reductive and it doesn’t support a robust interpretive approach because it’s a political ideology (straight out of the handbook of some 1970s-era East Berlin Kunstschule). So, while I really loathe the way a sleazy, corrupt regime like the UAE is buying its way into the Western art world, the responsibility of discerning political meaning behind art language belongs to activists and of those who encounter art. But thanks for passing along a whole chapter from your dissertation (and thanks for the word count)!

        • http://twitter.com/BATH5ALT BATH 5ALT

          Let me ask you this: what gives you the right to separate what is political objection and what is art? Do you really think there is some kind of refashioning of “art language (saturated with power dynamics as it might be) from a tool for defining art into a tool for advancing a political agenda” — really? It’s astonishingly naîve to believe that experience of art could ever live outside of a political space, and quite telling about your own inability to understand art from a humanist perspective. It becomes far more clear when you reveal that you believe that “the responsibility of discerning political meaning behind art language belongs to activists and of those who encounter art” and yet you wax poetic about some need to “support a robust interpretive approach” — are you serious? Isn’t that what writing is? What the HELL do I need your new “robust interpretive approach” for — oh, it’s to save myself from potentially incorrectly experiencing art without the esteemed palette and distinguished taste and insight that you, with this MAGICAL! MAGICAL! tool, can produce. Right.

          As far as “it’s an inappropriate tool because not every artists is going to share that agenda, and not every artist working in an oppressive country can afford to be aligned with it” — no, that’s absolutely wrong, every artist working in an oppressive country cannot afford to NOT be aligned with it (and by alignment I mean in viewpoints, and not necessarily in terms of content and label — clearly, socialist art does not have to be made by socialists, and art made by socialists does not have to be inherently socialist unless they well pleased or felt inclined to do so) because to do so would defy their own conception of the world, something that would be very obvious to you if you knew any real artists working in an oppressive country.

          “Having read your rebuttal, I now think I understand the original point.”
          No, you really don’t. Your own neoliberal ideology precludes you from doing so. You’ve spent so much time not just creating labels, but defining your label-creating system, that anyone who viscerally disagrees with it is “straight out of the handbook of some 1970s-era East Berlin Kunstschule” and the irony of you, coming from that position in this discussion and making that comparison, will be wholly lost on you. Translation requires an ability to interpret a story outside of the initial realm of political agenda from which it originated in a manner which justice to the microcosm of experience expressed therein.

          Your fatal flaw lies in attempting to create an empiricism from it, and that is the folly of this kind of art language in general. There’s no escaping the fragility of the law of excluded middle ground; there’s no escaping the fragility of logical positivism. That very act of translation is in itself an artform. What you are doing is something that I’d probably (for lack of a better term) call hackery. You’re appropriating the processes and behaviors of empiricism towards the goal of creating a “robust interpretive approach,” the necessity of which (as well as the benefits/compromises made therein) you’ve never really made explicit. I’ve made mine explicit: “the story of the unequal power dynamic of the laborer to the aristocrat” is precisely where art language falls apart and compresses things into the margin, and this is of note because your utopian world that is free of political agenda tainting the sanctity of art does not exist, and in lieu of that, it is crucially important to seek out those very voices and viewpoints that have been forced to the margin and indeed, made silent. Art gives voice to these ghosts as nothing else can; art transmits whole the emotion, the narrative, the struggle, the frame of existence that would otherwise be forgotten due to the historical “story of the unequal power dynamic of the laborer to the aristocrat” that you are so easy to dismiss. It’s a very easy litmus test — the only people who would dismiss that story are those who are unaware of it, because the sheer volume of history and the manner in which it is archived almost completely guarantee that naive ingestion of history would result in a very much partial view of the narrative, in the same way in which that trope “history is written by the victors” sadly and all too accurately captures.

          When you project that subtext that “the subtext of her argument, and of yours, is that art language should serve her political objections rather than serving art,” all you’re really doing is making evident how difficult your ideology makes it for you to conceive of a reality of the nature of art which is a lot messier than you seem to think possible. You’re perfectly free to believe what you like, but don’t be surprised when people laugh at your opaque, self serving bullshit. I mean honestly, one person gets irritated about anyone talking about people overpoliticizing art and thinks that’s unfair, and the other person says that overpoliticized art is the symptom of an overpoliticized world and so you should really just learn to analyze overpoliticization instead of pretending it doesn’t exist — come on, which of those two people actually genuinely experiences art in the real world, and which one is a fucking muppet trying desperately to save face for passing off their own neoliberal regurgitations of what art and art critique should be as meaningful commentary? Hmm?

          I’ll be over here on my soapbox with my “dissertation,” waiting for you to pry your lips off of Mr. Galt. Smell ya later!

  • http://www.facebook.com/sarah.humphrey.1401 Sarah Humphrey

    Thank god we don’t have these kinds of problems in Pittsburgh.

  • http://twitter.com/franklin_e Franklin Einspruch

    Well done. One thing, though: it could be that IAE has “clouded the instincts of an otherwise conscientious person.” It could also be that this is someone who is exercised about Israel’s human rights record and untroubled by that of every other nation in the Middle East, which could be the sort of garden-variety anti-Semitism or Arab-centrism that you see going on at the United Nations, or the willful blindness among the BDS movement, or some related failure. At any rate, that someone would criticize the Israeli human rights record is no guarantee that she would extend that criticism to anyone else, and it’s rather unlikely that she is merely confused about this because of the linguistic tics of IAE. She’s probably just a hypocrite, and contrary to the article, that is indeed worse. I only have the excerpt above, but her demonstrated attitude – in summary, “you’re not allowed to criticize labor practices in the UAE, but I’m going to criticize labor practices in New York” – is telling.

    But good for you for identifying how essentially progressive language is being used to reinforce the agendas of essentially retrogressive entities. It would be useful to analyze the extent to which this is true in general in the contemporary art world.

  • Keira Joyce

    Art language is the all purpose camo–it pretty much obscures everything it purports to examine.

  • http://twitter.com/Thingumbobesq Thingumbob

    The whole conversation re art speak has been morally forever vitiate since the miserable CIA project known as The Congress of Cultural Freedom came upon the scene…

  • Khalid Hadeed

    Please do some fact-checking before you discredit people’s politics. Here is a link that shows Reem Fadda’s position on the boycott and how she clearly differentiates between individual artists who oppose the Israeli military occupation and those who endorse it.
    http://www.abladeofgrass.org/blog/2013/mar/1/eyal-danon-discussion-reem-fadda-watch-videos/
    Another salient point is, if we are to restrict the possibilities for building and supporting art institutions to socio-political contexts where systematic oppression is completely absent, then a strong case may be made for all museums and art institutions in the U.S. to flatly reject any financial support from the U.S. government or public funds–including support that may help them exhibit politically controversial and anti-mainstream art (please review this article about the trial which the City of New York pursued in order to defend its decision to withdraw funds necessary for the operation of the Brooklyn Museum, in response to the exhibit of Chris Ofili’s controversial “The Holy Virgin Mary” at the Museum: http://www.tjcenter.org/ArtOnTrial/funding.html).

    In spite of the wider room for free speech in the U.S. relative to the U.A.E. (this does not apply of course to any criticism of Zionism and the U.S.-Israel nexus), the U.S. government remains an imperial power that exercises the imperial right to violence all over the world, and the scale of this violence may well be the greatest in human history if one considers its accumulation over time. As the Abu Ghraib scandal and many other incidents demonstrate, “torture-happy” and speech-stifling authorities exist all over the world. These are essential factors that must be taken into consideration when weighing the ethics of any art institution anywhere in the world. A puritanical stance simply won’t do, particularly if it keeps one eye open onto the abuses carried on in visibly non-democratic monarchic contexts, and the other firmly closed to abuses carried on in imperial contexts where democracy operates insufficiently and often in collaboration with systematic class injustice and global patterns of violence.

    • MH

      The grotesquely false equivalences laid out in this comment display a tenuous grasp on truth (i.e. it is clearly not illegal to criticize “Zionism and the U.S.-Israel nexus” in the United States; public support for art in a democracy is entirely distinct from hereditary rulers torturing creative dissenters). To quell any undue speculation, however, the original article’s characterization of Reem Fadda’s politics is completely accurate:

      Ms. Fadda is signatory #46 of the cultural & academic boycott, which states: “[T]his silence, apathy and lack of action from Israelis, are regarded as complicit in the ongoing war crimes, as for those Israeli artists, academics and intellectuals who continue to serve in the Israeli army they are directly implicated in these crimes.” In case you are not aware of the full implications of this statement, Israel has a compulsory military service for all citizens and released soldiers are required to serve as reservists until retirement.

      Worth noting here is that at the Guggenheim event, Fadda shared the stage with and lavished praise on Mohammed Kazem, an artist who (perhaps also by necessity) made his career in the Emirati military — a force last seen massacring civilians in Bahrain.

      For further clarity, the exchange quoted in the article occurs at 1:08 here: http://vimeo.com/7822689

  • http://www.postlinearity.com gregorylent

    this article IS art-speak

    • Dain Q. Gore

      how else would one effectively criticize abstractions but to use them?

  • MLA

    Actually, it seems that you are taking a known fact regarding the problem with the art world in general and using it to validate your issues with the UAE. The fact that you are citing articles fully riddled with factual errors only underscores your predisposition to find the worst in the situation — likewise your simplistic attack on Kazem for being in the military. A simple wikipedia quote from the “avant garde” page might remind you, “Rosenberg suggested that from the mid-1960s onward progressive culture ceased to fulfill its former adversarial role. Since then it has been flanked by what he called “avant-garde ghosts” to the one side, and a changing mass culture on the other, both of which it interacts with to varying degrees. This has seen culture become, in his words, “a profession one of whose aspects is the pretense of overthrowing it.”[13]

  • Christopher Howard

    Apart from the word “positionality” and using “introspecting” as a verb, the article offers little or no evidence that connects the use or abuse of International Art English to the bad politics of artists, arts professionals, and government actors that may conceal, suppress, or justify abhorrent political motives and behavior through it.



    The first block quote (“There is always the question…”) strikes me as an example of a speaker’s clumsy wordiness when delivering a lecture extemporaneously. Or, if Fadda read directly from a prepared paper, the sentences demonstrate inelegant writing—but certainly not International Art English. “Misbalance” is not a word, of course, but this is a typical example of humanities jargon. Other quoted words and phrases, such as “delve into,” “gushed [forward],” and “rammed in” are perfectly acceptable—and even creatively so—because of proper meaning and usage. (The author of the blog post does not indicate otherwise.)

    

The block quote of UBIK’s words seem like an adequate description of his intentions for his Tahrir Square installation. That Heddaya finds all this insufficient, that the description and the work (assuming, as this article implies, the two are integrated) don’t go far enough, are hypocritical, or attempt to hide something important—this is his right as a critic. UBIK’s complete description has a few examples of jargon (“state of immediacy the revolution carries,” “the revolution is already being spoke in dialects of ‘the past’”), but the artist generally provides a clear account of the work. Heddaya feels the installation and the words to be propaganda and disingenuous—that’s fine. I’m not convinced that International Art English plays a role in either the work or the criticism of it.

    

Heddaya has intelligible political convictions and articulates them well. He notes the inconsistency of Fadda’s attitudes toward art institutions, activism, and human rights. Still, I’m unconvinced how they relate to artspeak. Perhaps the author intended the headline and the opening paragraphs and loose tie-ins to draw in readers who also feel exasperated by International Art English, a trendy subject ever since given this name. In that case, I missed the point completely. Can you direct me to the punchline?

  • Dain Q. Gore

    “The unsurprising reality is that a specialized language fraught with euphemism and obfuscation is better known as propaganda.”

    Now *that* is a worthy pull-quote!

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