Wednesday, 4 April 2012

"Provoking Democracy" Book Review

I recently finished reading Caroline Levine's Provoking Democracy: Why we Need the Arts and found it to be one of the most interesting books that I've read in a long time, and perhaps also one of the best written. Provoking Democracy is part of the Blackwell Manifestos series, published by Blackwell's Bookstores, and if Levine's text is anything to go by, I may well have to pick up the rest of the collection.

Levine tackles the difficult issues of Art's role in a democratic society with a new and fascinatingly original argument; she tackles the age-old question "Is art for or against democracy?", but does so in a way which elegantly sidesteps entrenched arguments over censorship and funding. Levine focuses on the peculiar logic of the Avant-Garde as a way of looking at iconoclastic artists who have created challenging and unconventional works that attack institutions and ignore the tastes of the majority of the population.

" ...I want to suggest that the logic of the avant-garde itself can best be understood as a social institution... Continuous, organised, self-governing and prescriptive, institutions might seem like the very antithesis of the spirit of the avant-garde. And yet, despite its desire to be radically outside of the social order, the logic of the avant-garde does take shape as a social institution, reappearing with surprising regularity over time, and supported and legitimized by fellow institutions. And so to claim that the logic of the avant-garde is an institution is to draw a certain paradox at its heart: despite its aim to disrupt settled norms and routines, it is itself highly organized and self-regulating" (Levine, 2007, p25-6)
Levine's masterstroke is to argue that the Avant-Garde, like the Judiciary, is essentially an institution that disrupts and challenges the threat of "majority rule". In causing controversy, it is willfully divisive, able to blow apart public consensus  and that by challenging the limits of acceptability, art forms an important function, constantly testing and affirming democracy. The catch to this paradox is that the avant-garde iconoclast is always within an institution; even at it's most venomously anti-democratic and offensive, the avant-garde promotes democracy by demonstrating its pluralism.

Perhaps what makes Provoking Democracy so involving is that Levine has deliberately focused her attention on the legal aspects of this debate, drawing her discussion points from important precedents that have been set in the past. In doing so she's able to not only provide fascinating evidence of the evolving legal definition of art, but also to ground what could have been a very abstract and flighty manifesto in something very tangible. Levine's accounts of the court proceedings also furnish us with interesting examples of just how well the opinions of Art Critics hold up in a court of law. Some are much more successful than others, and unfairly it seems to come down to nothing more than how condescending the expert is when addressing the Jury. That's democracy!

The legal cases themselves are clearly explained, assume very little prior knowledge, and cumulatively provide a very interesting history of changing social mores. Plus they're just great anecdotes! Alongside the Bird in Space ruling of Brancusi v. United States are the hideously obscene and misogynistic rap lyrics of 2 Live Crew, the cringe-worthy spectacle of Jeff Koons making a total tit of himself in a court of law and some absolutely mind-blowing declassified facts about the CIA secretly bankrolling Jackson Pollock and the Abstract Expressionist movement as a form of propaganda for democracy. Seriously, I'm not giving any more away about that. You have to go and buy the book yourself.

I came to Provoking Democracy looking for simple, blankets statements but came away with a lively debate and an energetic means of framing it. Levine has made me think differently about how I'll be approaching my work in the future and considering the role that underground comics play in the avant-garde.

Elliot x

Review by Sam Jones
Review in Times Higher Education (Steve Blandford)
Review by Paul Parker

Blackwell's Manifesto Series


Sunday, 11 March 2012

Comix Reader 3 Launch at GOSH! Comics

I'm a little late in blogging this up, but the Comix Reader launched on Friday the 2nd to great success at Gosh! comics of No.1 Berwick Street in Soho. Thanks so much to Gosh! for hosting this event; it's the first time we've launched in an actual Comics shop, and the turnout was exceptionally good. With an open bar and a huge selection of beautiful Graphic Novels to browse, a good time was had by all-- well, most, I suppose!

One is Not Amused.
Our printer has done a fab job, and Issue 3 looks better than ever. We're packed with more artists than ever before, including our first two-page strip; a collaboration between Tobias Tak and Tanya Meditzky. In addition to that, we've also branched out into a couple of half-page strips by various artists alongside the full pages; great to have a bit more variety! It's always a bit of a giddy thrill to see something you've worked on in print; even more so when it's in a shop like Gosh! 

The Newspaper in situ.
With Issue 3 back from the printers, it's time to get on board and start shipping out and finding retailers! We're lucky to be represented by Diamond Distribution this time around, so there's some real scope for getting the CR out of London and into Comics shops all over the UK! However, if you are a small business holder or know someone who might be interested in selling the CR; wether it be in a Pub, Music Venue, Theatre, Festival, Record Store, Newsagents, Gallery, Cafe, Kebab Shop or whatever; then don't hesitate to get in touch and we can talk about delivering some in batch to you! 

For now, here's a few pictures of all the people who worked so hard to make it happen enjoying the big night! 

Richard Cowdry and Bernadette Bentley look hopefully towards a brighter Future!

The lovely Alex Fitch of Resonance FM's Panel Borders.  

Alex Potts, with his wonderful sideburns on display.

A new face to Issue 3: Dickon Harris! 
A very big thank you to Stephen Walsh and the staff at Gosh! for kindly hosting our event!
Special thanks also to Mike Medaglia and his wife Lisa Woynarski for their help in setting up and taking so many great photographs all night! 

Until next time, reader pals, 
Elliot x