Alfredo Jaar: The Artist as Organic Intellectual

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ChantalChantal Mouffe


Based on Alfredo Jaar’s retrospective exhibition The way it is. An Aesthetics of Resistance (Berlin, 2012), philosopher and politologist Chantal Mouffe reflects on the possibility that critical art develops an aesthetics of resistance. Mouffe, professor of Political theory at Westminster University, analyses the ‘critical’ dimension in Jaar’s work from a hegemonic perspective, which proposes that every dominating order can be challenged by counter-hegemonic practices that attempt to disarticulate it and build a different supremacy. Artistical practices may constitute forms of resistance against a dominating order through two strategies: the first one, which Mouffe calls ‘withdrawal from’, rejects any involvement with the existing institutions and calls for a strategy of ‘exodus’ (desertion is the only form of resistance). The other, which the politologist calls ‘involve with’, consists in confronting the institutions, so as to bring about profound transformations in them. It’s the ‘war of positions’. For Mouffe, who has been appointed to research positions at Harvard, Cornell, The University of California, Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study and the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris, Alfredo Jaar offers one of the best examples of an aesthetics of resistance informed by the hegemonic strategy of war of positions, becoming what Gramsci calls an ‘organic intellectual’, an intellectual committed to imagining and creating new forms of society. In the essay we present here, Mouffe tackles the strictly aesthetical dimension of resistance present in some of Jaar’s interventions, emphasizing the artist´s profound comprehension of the role that affections play in the process of identification, as well as the role of passionate attachments in the constitution of political identities. Jaar understands that art can play a key role in the construction of new forms of subjectivity by using resources that induce emotional responses, by reaching human beings’ affective plane. Works like Domanda, domanda, Studies on happiness, The Gramsci Trilogy, The Skoghall Konsthall and The Eyes of Gutete Emerita make it evident that for Jaar, it’s more adequate to mobilize persons by creating in them the desire for change, in contrast with some critical art forms, which believe that people can be mobilized by means of the delivery of lessons on the state of the world.


* The text that Revista Diseña publishes here, respecting its original style, was published in Alfredo Jaar. The way it is: Eine Ästhetik des Widerstands/An Aesthetics of Resistance, edited by Jan Ketz (Berlin: NGBK, 2012).

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How to Cite
Mouffe, C. (2017). Alfredo Jaar: The Artist as Organic Intellectual. Diseña, (11), 18–35.