Summoning art to save the city: A note
Gathered, gathering, stripping, then stacking. Stacking, restacking, moving, and shifting. Piled lath, piled old-growth piles, potent and latent, piled histories, accumulations, and other such notions. Neatly and sometimes not so neatly, the gathered things start to suggest forms. We see the forms, and our need (ambition) sometimes determines what happens with the pile. The piles. The stacks are alone at the studio. The result of lots of hands and hammers, pull bars and moving straps, time spent thinking, dreaming, and sorting. We are the hunter-gatherers, ever funding the accumulated, the forgotten – the oh so stackable.
Theaster Gates, Accumulations. (Gates, 2012: 70)
One of the most-discussed works on display, or rather in progress, at 2012’s documenta 13 – the contemporary art extravaganza that takes place every five years in Kassel, Germany – was called ‘12 Ballads for Huguenot House’. It consisted of the restoration of an abandoned building in the centre of Kassel – the Hugenottenhaus, originally built by migrant workers from France in 1826, partly damaged in World War II, left to rot since the 1970s – and of bringing the house back to life. Parts of the restoration were done with debris taken from the gut-demolition of a house on the South Side of Chicago, home of Theaster Gates, the artist behind the 12 Ballads. Living in the patched house with its builders – mostly formerly unemployed workers from Chicago’ South Side and from Kassel – and guests, Gates added video-screenings of Chicago-based musicians performing in deserted South Side buildings and staged evening discussions, meals and performances, among others with his own band, called the Black Monks. As a visitor of Gates’ ‘service of emergent engagement’ (2012: 42), I remember stumbling into an eerily beautiful and enchanting space. Up and down make-shift stair cases, along improvised corridors and in differently reshaped rooms, I encountered a bricolage of remainders, craftily repaired structures, artist-designed furniture made from other leftovers, temporary kitchens and sleeping spaces, video installations of music performances, and architectural drawings and sketches of the on-going restoration. On the ground floor, two members of the Chicago cast of workers were playing table-tennis, generously enduring being watched and having their pictures taken by visitors of the documenta.
12 Ballads for Huguenot House was a spin-0ff of, and directly related to, Gates’ ‘Dorchester Project’ on Chicago’s South Side. In 2009, in the midst of the financial crisis, the artist began acquiring unused and abandoned property and restoring it by hiring previously unemployed and unskilled workers from the local neighbourhood, partly financed by money from the global art circuit. (By the time of writing this, Gates owns 12 properties in the area.) By now, the Dorchester Project houses, among other things, an archive of sixty thousand glass lantern slides the University of Chicago wanted to get rid off, a library based on the stock of an architecture bookstore that had to close, a large discarded record collection as well as performance and meeting spaces. It entails an ‘Arts Incubator’ opened in conjunction with the University of Chicago. It turns a run-down public housing project into a mixed-use complex, part art colony, part home to low-income families.
Gates’ artistic practice of creating urban laboratories by collaboratively repurposing and recycling resources of all types is a particularly intriguing example of contemporary art’s manifold experiments that take the organization of the urban as their material in terms of form and content (Beyes, Krempl and Deuflhard, 2009). Indeed, ‘[c]ontemporary visual art is an urban phenomenon’ (Osborne, 2013: 133). Gates’ interweaving of installation and performance art, do-it-yourself culture, community activism and urban regeneration sets up, frames and guides this note, which is dedicated to the question of how art is summoned to ‘save the city’, not unlike other activist practices discussed in this issue. The nature of this ‘saving’ is contested; it takes on different meanings and forms. After briefly introducing what could be called contemporary art’s turn to the urban, the remainder of this note seeks to tentatively disentangle the knot of art, urban space and organizing. Interweaving the example of Dorchester Project/Huguenot House with recent critical debates around the role of art in urban development, I analytically distinguish between different modes of how art is summoned to save the city: as spectacle, as grassroots development and as social work. The etymology of ‘to summon’ is striking in this respect. Its Latin roots entail ‘to call’, in the sense of calling upon to do something, but also ‘to arouse’ and ‘to excite to action’. Art is summoned, then, to revitalize urban development in the entrepreneurial city, to save its economic prospects and contribute to its social cohesion.
However, as Josephine Berry Slater and Anthony Iles write,
the spectrum of analysis of urban regeneration must necessarily entail an aesthetic one since public art and architecture are not only often complicit within this stage of development but also offer moments and forms in which power and counter-power negotiate, clash and find articulation. (2010: 7)
Simultaneously, therefore, urban sites like Huguenot House summon artists to engage with city living – and perhaps, artistic interventions can help saving the city by pointing towards different ways and articulations of organizing urban life. Accordingly, there might be a fourth way of making sense of art’s potential to save the city, which I suggest to call ‘dissensus mode’: It is attuned to art’s situational potential to reconfigure what can be perceived, felt and done in a city.
The city and contemporary art
‘[T]he future of art is not artistic, but urban’, Henri Lefebvre speculated in 1970 (2003: 173). In light of the contemporary discourses of both urban and artistic development, his statement can be read as particularly clairvoyant in a two-fold, interrelated way. First, as art world discussions around buzz words such as ‘urban art’, ‘public art’, ‘site specificity’ and ‘community art’ indicate, and while it would be misplaced to try to limit the expanded field of contemporary art – its manifold spaces as well as infinite possible material forms – to questions of urban life, ‘the phenomenon of urban living evidently matters more and more both in the art artists endeavour to make and in that which is held to come within the province of art’ (Whybrow, 2011: 26, emphasis omitted). Such art is often specifically sited in its attempts to mediate ‘broader social, economic and political processes that organize urban life and urban space’ (Kwon, 2002: 3). As Peter Osborne writes in his recent book on the philosophy of contemporary art,
[t]hese are changes in the social relations of artistic production and the social character of exhibition space that involve taking cultural forms of an evermore extensive character as the objects of a new constructive – that is organizational – intent. (2013: 160, emphasis added)
Moreover, as Dorchester Project and 12 Ballads for Huguenot House demonstrate, this ‘organizational intent’ extends to artistic experiments with practices of ‘saving the city’. Almost typifying what the performance theorist Shannon Jackson (2011) tries to grasp with the notions of ‘support structures’ and ‘infrastructural politics’, Gates’ art work becomes an urban laboratory for repurposing and recycling resources of all type, and for establishing new forms of collectivity and cultural life in forgotten, neglected pockets of the city, or – with regard to Chicago’s South Side – in economically poor urban areas considered to be dangerous and unruly. As the artist expresses in no uncertain terms in his documenta statement: ‘My practice is a catalyst for cultural and economic development. I leverage artistic moments to effect real change’ (2012: 23, quoted in Austen, 2013); and elsewhere: ‘I’m creating a kind of ecology of opportunity’ (ibid.).
As terms like ‘leverage’ and ‘opportunity’ might indicate, there is a second way to read Lefebvre’s statement about the urban (and not artistic) future of art – one that the great thinker of space and the city, it is safe to assume, would be appalled by. Because at the same time, this kind of urban art seems to subscribe to or itself perform the contemporary imperative of urban transformation, where art and culture are called upon to economically save the city. At least in Western cities the question of urban development in general and urban regeneration in particular is closely connected to what Zukin in her pioneering study of New York’s cast-iron district called ‘the artistic mode of production’ (1989: 176), denoting revitalization strategies for post-industrial cities in which artists and the sector of the visual arts play a dominant role in upgrading a district or a city’s built environment, its image and attractiveness. Indeed, the much-discussed shift towards entrepreneurial urban governance (Harvey, 1989) and the related quest to attract the ‘creative class’, perhaps even the diagnosis of contemporary urban development as a ‘cultural performance’ (Amin and Thrift, 2007: 153) seem to be based on the rise of the artistic mode of production and its corollary, the proliferation of spaces of cultural consumption (Beyes, 2012).
Given the importance of the artistic mode of production for urban development and the becoming-urban of artistic experiments, then, researching new forms of organizing the city would benefit from summoning urban-artistic experiments (Beyes, 2010, 2012; Beyes and Steyaert, 2013). Correspondingly, inquiries into collectively organized urban practices to save the city need to take on board what Rosalyn Deutsche in her seminal book Evictions: Art and spatial politics has called the ‘urban-aesthetic’ discourse (1996: xi) that penetrates contemporary art and urban development, and that seems to be underpinning both the instrumental appropriation of the labour of art and the sheer proliferation of artistic practices in the city.
Calling upon art for urban regeneration: Three modes
How, then, is art summoned to do the work of organizing ‘for’ urban revitalization? I tentatively outline three modes: spectacle mode, grassroots mode and social work mode. I should note that these developments have taken hold after the golden years of the so-called ‘modernist “turd-in-the-plaza” school of public art’ (Whybrow, 2011: 24). I thus do not touch upon the drop sculptures that ‘rained down’ on inner cities especially in the 1960s and 70s. As Kwon (2002: 60 et seqq.) argues, the emphasis on such art in public spaces has been shifted to art as public spaces and art in the public interest. Whereas in the turd-in-the-plaza school, the art work’s ‘relationship to the site was at best incidental’ (ibid.: 63) – these sculptures, or so it seems, could be dropped anywhere – today ‘a more intense engagement with the outside world and everyday life’, with non-art issues and non-art institutions, has taken hold (ibid.: 24).Spectacle
First, the spectacle mode relies on large-scale architectural flagship projects designed to become cultural icons as well as on becoming part of the global art circuit by staging biennales or related artistic mega-events or luring blockbuster exhibitions to a city’s exhibition spaces. Arguably, Kassel’s documenta, perhaps the heavyweight of contemporary art events, is a focal point of this circuit – even though it has a longer history than most comparable events and while it is generally regarded to be less commercially oriented than, say, the (even older) Venice Biennale. These mega-projects are discursively articulated as vehicles for urban renewal and redevelopment based on success stories like the Guggenheim Museum at Bilbao. Here, spectacular ‘high art’ is called upon to symbolize urban cultural prowess and to enhance a city's image, attracting tourism and investment. Osborne diagnoses the emergence of a ‘transnational art industry’ (2013: 165), which would signal the incorporation of contemporary art in the culture industry and would be manifested through new practices of organizing art in the city:
The contemporary project-based urban art of international exhibition spaces is largely the outcome of negotiations between artists and curators, museum or exhibition authorities, and corporations, councils and governments (at local, regional, national and international levels). These practices of organization, co-ordination and negotiation (…) are crucial mediations of art with urban social forms. At their broadest, they articulate a new kind of exhibition space: a capitalist constructivism of the exhibition-form. (ibid.: 161)
Theaster Gates’ art practice is part of this ‘transnational art industry’ and its annexing of urban locations as exhibition space. His Huguenot House project was described as the ‘heart’ of documenta 2012 (Boese et al., 2012), and his rise in the global art world has been meteoric. ‘Chicago’s Opportunity Artist’ (Austen, 2013) or ‘real-estate artist’ (Colapinto, 2014: 24) has also been called ‘the emperor of [art’s] post-medium condition’ (Jackson, 2012: 17), as well as, worst of all, ‘poster boy for socially engaged art’ and ‘Mick Jagger of social practice’ upon his inclusion in ArtReview’s ‘Power 100 list’ of 2013 (place 40, up from number 56 in 2012) (ArtReview, 2014). Knowing fully well what is at stake here – and how the colour of his skin, his provenance, the area he lives in and works from might by now add to his allure due to the ‘little shiver’ white liberals get ‘from their fantasies of black rage’ (Jackson, 2012: 19) – Gates quite adamantly affirms the potential that his contribution to the spectacle mode offers to his ‘infrastructural politics’, to use Shannon Jackson’s term. A recent New Yorker profile characterized the self-described ‘hustler’ and ‘trickster’ (Colapinto, 2014: 30; Gates and Christov-Bakargiev, 2012: 15) as trying to beat ‘the art world at its own hustle’ in order to ‘fund culture in a neglected ghetto’ (Colapinto, 2014: 30). In Gates’ words:
I realized that the people who were calling me up and asking me if they could have a deal right out of my studio – that they were, in fact, just thinking about the market, and that I would leverage the fuck out of them as they were leveraging me. (quoted in Colapinto, 2014: 25)
Accordingly, the effects from an undertaking such as Kassel’s 12 Ballads might be far from sustainable. The twisted do-it-yourself economy of deconstructing a building, processing its materials and reusing them in another building applied to Huguenot House, too – all the re-fashioned debris from Chicago was catalogued, again dismantled and taken out of Huguenot House to be brought back to Chicago, this time to the Museum of Contemporary Art, where it was turned into a new immersive installation piece called the ‘13th Ballad’. As I am writing this, Huguenot House has returned to its empty slumber. Moreover, the success or the sustainability of Dorchester Projects seem utterly dependent on the artist’s personality, esteem and network (Colapinto, 2014). What would happen if he would take his spectacle somewhere else?Grassroots
Second, especially Gates’ Dorchester Project can be inscribed into a different mode of summoning art to save the city: the semi-autonomous model of urban renewal and economic development based on apparently authentic, grassroots artistic and bohemian activism. Arguably, it is most forcefully articulated by the urban economist Richard Florida, the author of the best-selling book The rise of the creative class (2002). Here, the so-called creative industries in general and artists in particular are summoned to re-activate urban life and to help facilitate a more bottom-up process of economic regeneration. In what amounts to an affirmative, policy-oriented, well-timed and empirically rather contested actualization and generalization of Zukin’s afore-mentioned diagnosis of the artistic mode of production, having artists and art spaces nearby is advocated as a pivotal means to the end of urban competitiveness in post-industrial times (Beyes, 2012). Florida’s recipes have attracted fierce criticism both politically and methodologically. The issues of gentrification and displacement, already pointed out by Zukin (1989), feature prominently here. Such organisational effects are a world apart from images of benign and conflict-less urban revitalization; they involve ‘the wholesale, and frequently shockingly brutal, “cleansing” and “pacification” of inner-city areas to make them “safe” for middle class residents’ (Latham et al., 2009: 182). And of course, a class analysis that transcends class divisions and class struggle is a profoundly strange one – Florida’s consensual tale of the friction-less emergence of the creative class as new social subject amounts to an ahistorical fantasy. Consequently, his theory shows only gestural regard for social issues such as inequality and the division of labour.
Of course, both content and force of Gates’ artistic practice cannot be imagined without the history and presence of poverty, class warfare and racial discrimination. As such, it is fundamentally at odds with depoliticized fantasies of harmonious cultural-cum-economic progress by way of art and artists. Nevertheless, Dorchester Project has been called ‘[t]he kind of art space white people want to see in a black neighbourhood’ (Jackson, 2012: 18). Looked at through the lens of the grassroots mode, it seems like a picture-perfect example of urban revitalization by way of art. Recall the documenta statement: this is an art that presents itself as wanting to effect cultural and economic change. There is an obvious entrepreneurial spirit at work in the buying up of houses and converting them into spaces of culture and congregation for the disadvantaged, which has been interpreted as ‘an expression of [Gates’] emboldened Americanism, his acceptance of a kind of freewheeling, free-enterprise, free-market situation as the only reality he’s ever known, or ever dreamed of knowing’ (Jackson, 2012: 20). Again, the artist seems as well-aware of all of this as he seems untroubled. ‘Gentrification won’t need my approval or disapproval’, he is quoted as saying (Colapinto, 2014: 31).Social work
Third, effecting cultural and economic change entails collaborative work with community members. What I suggest to call the ‘social work mode’ is primarily focused upon artistically representing the community and servicing the parts that are seen to not adequately participate in its make-up, where processes of collaboration thus tend to constitute the ‘object’ of art. Interestingly, then, ‘community’ refers to people that are economically, socially or culturally distinct form artists or the conventional art audience (Kester, 1995) – witness Gates’ manifold activities with inhabitants of Chicago’s South Side. In this case, art is framed as a pedagogical catalyst for solutions to social problems. In her inquiry into the nexus of art, creativity and urbanism, the artist Martha Rosler quotes a 1997 report for the US National Endowment for the Arts, which in an exemplary fashion recommends ‘translating the value of the arts into more general civic, social, and educational terms’, ‘finding a home in a variety of community service and economic development activities – from youth programs and crime prevention to job training and race relations – far afield from the traditional aesthetic function of the arts’, and which highlights ‘the utilitarian aspect of the arts in contemporary society’ (2011a: 13). Likewise, in the UK the (New Labour) ‘government between 1997 and 2010 rendered the Arts Council explicitly beholden to social engineering, using culture to reinforce policies of social inclusion’ (Bishop, 2012a: 175).
As well as being summoned to create economic prosperity through urban regeneration, artists are also summoned to counter exclusion and mend the social bond. With regard to 12 Ballads for Huguenot House, the curator of documenta 12, Christov-Bakargiev, openly and somewhat worryingly stresses art’s labour of the social. ‘It is’, she writes, ‘as if by awakening the object it might be possible to awaken its subjects to their communal and social vocation’ (Christov-Bakargiev, 2012: 7). It is, then, as if it would need art and artists to awaken urban dwellers from their anti-social slumber and remind them to properly contribute to the community.Diffusing dissent
In sum, and notwithstanding their substantial differences, the three modes tentatively put forward here share a functionalist, assimilative and consensualist ethos. Art is summoned to save the city by integrating itself in and contributing to a certain manner of understanding and enacting urban organization (Kwon, 2002; Deutsche, 1996). As already indicated above, the consensus of contemporary urban development seems to have a name: the entrepreneurial or creative city.
In this light, the cultural transformation (…) into ‘spectacular’ cities of (and for) consumption, populated by a harmonious and cosmopolitan citizenry, has been hypothesised as perhaps the most important element of entrepreneurial forms of local politics (Hubbard and Hall, 1998: 8).
Artists and their work are therefore key drivers of what has been dubbed the ‘new urban entrepreneurialism’ (Miles and Paddison, 2005: 833). Despite their apparent differences, then, all three modes – constructing urban spectacles, enabling grassroots development, and doing social work – hinge upon the consensus that artistic and cultural practices are a key means through which to revitalize urban space, bringing creative economic regeneration and social cohesion. As Malcolm Miles (2005: 893) argues, however, this way cultural production becomes a ‘means to defuse dissent’. Through being enveloped in a seemingly dominant imagination and model of urban organization, the cultural producers are inscribed within a functional set-up of roles, possibilities and competences. They therefore become part of ‘a certain manner of partitioning the sensible’ (Rancière, 2001: paragraph 20) – a being-caught in a structure of what is visible and sayable about art doing the work of organizing the city, and of what can and cannot be done in it.
But can we do away with Theaster Gates’ art, and myriad other artistic experiments, like this? Can we neatly inscribe art’s expanded and urban practice into our ready-made categories of critical analysis? Moving into the final section of this note, I return once more to Huguenot House and Dorchester Project and attempt to articulate a more cautious, situational and urban-aesthetic approach to how we, as scholars of a city’s organizational forces, might summon urban-artistic experiments.
Arousing dissensus: A fourth mode
‘I do not know whether to be more pleased or apprehensive about art-world artists engaging in, as the sign on the door says, “social practice”’, Rosler comments, while later on asking us to consider, too, that ‘the cultural sphere, despite relentless co-optation by marketing, is a perpetual site of resistance and critique’ (2011b: 15, 20). Can we go beyond calling upon artists as helpmates in the image of some kind of cosmopolitan urbanism á la Florida and beyond the conventionally critical school of thought, namely to see the use of art and aesthetics as a mere symptom of power relations, if not a veil thrown over oppressive social structures? After all, in their different ways both analytical paths reaffirm consensus: the narrative of the entrepreneurial city holding sway over the artistic mode of production. But would this mean that an organizational theorizing interested in the effects of art can summon – call upon, cite – artistic practices only to stay on the side of consensus? Recall the etymology of ‘summoning’: can we not summon art differently, perhaps in terms of being aroused by it, excited to scholarly action?
As a preliminary answer, I conclude by outlining the contour of a potential fourth, dissensus mode of summoning art to save the city. After all, and as Lefebvre tirelessly pointed out, if city-space is perpetually assembled from a multitude of organisational forces, then it constitutes an invariably open form. An urban-aesthetic perspective that situates the intelligibility of urban-artistic experiments within the conditions and processes of the production of urban space, rather than in relation to these conditions, would thus depart from the assumption of urban space as open form and would be attuned to the capacities set in motion through artistic practices: to what art can do within the constraints of how a city is organized. As Rancière (2007: 80) writes, ‘[t]he aesthetic question is (…) a matter of sensitivity to the configuration of a space and to the specific rhythm of a time, a matter of experiencing the intensities that space and that time bring’. This kind of urban aesthetics therefore provokes the organizational scholar to engage with struggles over what can be felt, seen and expressed. It urges us to locate the moments and situations in which the relation between the very material order of space, affect, speech and visibility is suspended and redrawn, and where aesthetic experience is pushed ‘toward the reconfiguration of collective life (Rancière, 2009: 41). It is worth to go back to Dorchester Project and Huguenot House one more time in order to ponder what this ‘push’ might mean. While it is doubtlessly possible to inscribe Gates’ activities into a critical analysis of art’s incorporation in a contemporary regime of urban development – as spectacle, as grassroots revitalization, as social work – such a critique would have a lot to answer for. For one, there is Gates’ shrewd tactics of using the art world hustle for his own ends, establishing a do-it-yourself economy of recycling, resurrecting and reinventing all sorts of urban structures, materials and seemingly out-dated cultural goods that today’s market economy and institutions of culture and learning have made redundant or superfluous. And even though the artist admits that so far, ‘the impact of Dorchester Projects has been largely symbolic’ (Colapinto, 2014: 31), the collaborative attempt to breathe life into forgotten or neglected places and artefacts demonstrates a way of establishing self-organized spaces of exchange as well as of cultural and manual labour that contemporary urban development schemes usually lack (Colapinto, 2014). The work of saving discarded elements of urban culture, of enlivening run-down urban areas, of offering employment and cultural vitality by turning all of this into a vast project of contemporary art constitutes an achievement that both confirms how art is summoned to save the city and points beyond it. It bears witness to the capacity of urban dwellers to appropriate and ‘save’ their surroundings, and it problematizes how we deal with urban culture and a city’s socio-economic problems. Therefore, it indeed turns into a symbolic quest for how collective life under dire circumstances might be reconfigured. More reflectively framed than in the forthright documenta statement cited above, Gates has put it thus:
While I may not be able to change the housing market or the surety of gentrification, I can offer questions within the landscape. To question, not by petitioning or organizing in the activist way, but by building and making good use of the things forgotten (quoted in Jackson, 2012: 20).
Perhaps it is precisely the expanded field of contemporary art, and the numerous artistic experiments at work in cities, that have a singular potential of questioning, irritating and intervening into the habitual forms of organizing urban life. After all, it is the unique strength of (this kind of) art that it has ‘a double ontological status: it is both an event in the world, and also at a remove from it’ (Bishop, 2012b: 45). Because it cannot be reduced to activism or conventional political struggle, it has the capacity to provoke and enlarge our capacity to imagine other ways of urban collaboration and how we make use of a city’s artefacts and physical spaces, up to reimagining how urban economies take shape. In other words, art’s inventiveness in experimenting with or effacing its boundaries up to the point of its own disappearance as a distinct practice is precisely what makes it so relevant for the question of alternative organizational practices and forms. Such art operations consist in, to use Miwon Kwon’s term, (2002: 155) a ‘critical unsiting’. They intervene in and temporarily reorganize the relational configuration of sites. This way, art has the potential to problematize the terms of urban debates – like exclusion and revitalization – and to unsettle the divisions of roles, possibilities and competencies – for instance, of whose voices and actions can enact urban change. Therefore, ‘dissensus mode’: the notion of dissensus brings together dissent and the sensual, denoting interventions on a given organization of the sensible that, in Rancière’s words, ‘shake up our modes of perception and (…) redefine our capacities for action’ (Rancière, 2007: 259). As my reading of Huguenot House and Dorchester Project suggests, such art practices resist or even transcend easy classification – as spectacle, as grassroots development, as social work – and the kind of grand narrative that I have re-enacted above. They therefore summon scholars of the urban condition and its processes of organizing to adopt an urban-aesthetic sensibility in order to explore and make visible these poetic cuts into the urban fabric.
 Among the many aspects of 12 Ballads for Huguenot House in particular, and Theaster Gates’ work in general, which these sketchy descriptions miss out on, is the question of race, of making one’s way as a black artist by working in, and on, an economically devastated district mostly populated by African-Americans. As his documenta statement proclaimed, ‘I’m using ethnic labor, black labor, to rebuild Huguenot House. (…) Over 100 days we’ll play host to the spirits of Huguenot House, calling them out through music, dance, and congegration. We’ll conflate a German past with a black present’ (Gates, 2012: 23). It seems obvious that the choice of Hugenottenhaus and its own history of migration and migrant labor (as well as, more broadly, Germany’s troubled history) is related to the parallel and different African-American history of migration, persecution and class relations, as they shape life on Chicago’s South Side today. As to Gates himself, according to Jackson (2012: 22, original emphasis), ‘only by embracing the much softer constraints of his era – the relatively benign expectations imposed on him by progressive whites in the art community – can Gates hope to transform the landscape of possibility for his own art’.
 Or, conversely, can we neatly dismiss such art endeavours as art on the grounds of clinging to or restating properly art-aesthetic criteria of what counts as art? See Bishop (2012) for an attempt to reflect upon the boundaries of art and not-art that seems to wish to resurrect proper and expertly aesthetic criteria by drawing upon, strangely enough, Rancière’s work.
 In this sense, the aesthetic dimension inheres in every social transformation – as a kind of rupture of sensation and affectivity that messes up seemingly self-evident correspondences between perception and signification. ‘[T]he first political act is also an aesthetic one, a partitioning of sensation that divides the body and its organs of sense perception and assigns to them corresponding capacities for the making of sense’ (Panagia 2009: 9).