Julian Stallabrass is a British art historian, photographer and curator. He was educated at Leighton Park School and New College, Oxford University where he studied PPE. A Marxist, he has written extensively on contemporary art (including internet art), photography and the history of twentieth century British art.
Life and work
Stallabrass is a Professor at the Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London.
He is on the editorial boards of Art History and the New Left Review.
He curated the exhibition Art and Money Online at Tate Britain, London in 2001. In 2008 he selected the Brighton Photo Biennial and from the catalogue of which he edited the book Memory of Fire:Images of War and The War of Images (2013)
Stallabrass was highly critical of the Young British Artists movement, and their works and influence was the subject of his 1999 study High Art Lite, a term he coined as a disparaging synonym to the pervasive YBA acronym:
"As the art market revived [in the early- to mid- 1990s] and success beckoned, the new art became more evidently two-faced, looking still to the mass media and a broad audience but also to the particular concerns of the narrow world of art-buyers and dealers. To please both was not an easy task. Could the artists face both ways at once, and take both sets of viewers seriously? That split in attention, I shall argue, led to a wide public being successfully courted but not seriously addressed. It has left a large audience for high art lite intrigued but unsatisfied, puzzled at the work's meaning and wanting explanations that are never vouchsafed: the aim of this book is to suggest the direction some of those answers might take and to do so in a style that is as accessible as the art it examines."
Publications by Stallabrass
- Gargantua: Manufactured Mass Culture. London: Verso, 1996. ISBN 978-1859840368.
- High Art Lite. London: Verso, 1999. ISBN 9781859843185. London: Verso, 2001. ISBN 978-1859843185.
- High Art Lite: The Rise and Fall of Young British Art (Revised and Expanded edition). London: Verso, 2006. ISBN 978-1844670857.
- Paris Pictured. New York: Abrams, 2002. ISBN 978-0810966406.
- Internet Art: The Online Clash of Culture and Commerce. London: Tate, 2003. ISBN 978-1854373458.
- Art Incorporated (2004), republished as Contemporary Art: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University, 2006. ISBN 978-0192806468.
- Memory of Fire:Images of War and The War of Images. Brighton: Photoworks, 2013. ISBN 978-1903796498.
- Documentary. Documents of Contemporary Art series. London: Whitechapel Gallery; Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2013. ISBN 9780262518291. Edited by Stallabrass, with contributions by James Agee, Ariella Azoulay, Walter Benjamin, Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin, Judith Butler, Georges Didi-Huberman, John Grierson, David Levi Strauss, Elizabeth McCausland, Carl Plantinga, Jacques Rancière, Martha Rosler, Jean-Paul Sartre, Allan Sekula, W. Eugene Smith, Susan Sontag, Hito Steyerl and Trinh T. Minh-ha.
Publications with contributions by Stallabrass
THE ARTIST AS MARXIST
"I think a lot of critics who are well worth reading combine their interest in art with something else. I did my BA in Philosophy, Politics and Economics so I had that as a background. I got very interested in Marxist political theory when I did that. Marx is obviously still worth reading. I've learnt a lot from his work on the commodity. The basic writing about capitalism which a lot of people are going back to since the rise of interest in global capitalism. I became very interested in the work of the Frankfurt School and Walter Benjamin who is a major figure for many people within art history and certainly is for me. His thinking on photography, the city and more fundamentally about ways of thinking about time and the direction of history and utopian thinking about architecture and images and so on. All those things. And also the work of Adorno has been a long term interest of mine."
Richard Marshall interviews Julian Stallabrass
JS: I'm a lecturer at the Courtauld Institute of Art. I lecture in Modern and Contemporary Art. I'm interested in photography and I do lots of things around contemporary art and about mass culture.
3AM: You're a controversial figure. You don't like the YBA stuff.
JS: It's not really a matter of my own personal like or dislike. And I would say that I'm a somewhat controversial figure within the art world but that's only because the art world writing tends to be very flat and servile. So I stand out from that scene somewhat. It would be a much healthier scene if there were more people around who were prepared to stick their necks out.
Why is it not about my likes and dislikes? Because I get impatient about critics --and there are quite a number of these -- who just parade their emotions as if we should be fantastically interested in those, without getting a more rigorous and systematic analysis of the scene and what's really going on there. It's certainly true of quite a few newspaper critics who say - 'I like this, don't like that' and they say that in a variety of rather eloquent ways but you don't actually learn much about the art except that value judgement. It doesn't take you all that far.
3AM: So you don't approach the scene in a wow-ish, Sarah Kent type of way. What's your approach?
JS: Well, with the book on Young British Art, for instance, it was to try and work out the changes had happened to the British art scene. And those changes are quite dramatic. The artists started producing much more accessible work, they started to engage with the culture of the media, they purported to make work about 'real life' as it is lived, rather than about arcane art world concerns. A number of them had become celebrities, and a number of others had had a great increase in media attention. There was a great increase in popularity of contemporary art. I do remember starting out at the Courtauld studying modern art along with a bunch of other people and few of them, even at a place like that, would go to contemporary art shows. It just wasn't considered a very interesting thing to do. It's since become rather glamorous. All these things were big changes.
So I was trying to come up with an account of why these changes had taken place. I think it was partly to do with the recession of the late eighties. For quite a while the normal career path of an artist was cut off because the art market went dead, particularly in this country from 1989 onwards. So artists were casting around in this period, as artists do, for different ways of working. They seemed to realise that they could appeal to a large audience and the mass media. And that meant in this country appealing to the national mass media.
You began to get an art that was less concentrated on the cosmopolitan concerns of the art world and more interested in all sorts of references that wouldn't necessarily be got outside of this country. Marcus Harvey's Myra Hindley painting, for instance. So instead of saying 'I like it or I don't like it' you can take a tactic from these artists. Very often what they do, what say Chris Ofili says he does or Sarah Lucas, is to present the viewer with some sort of contention or contradiction. So you get, say, a picture of the Virgin with crotch shots from a pornographic magazine. They don't say you must come down on one side or the other as a viewer. They let you sort it out for yourself what your attitude should be. There's some role of criticism in that I think. Having as a writer tried to lay out what you think is going on I don't know if I want to lead the reader all the way to wherever. They can come up with their own conclusions. And they do. I've taught in art schools as well, and that's a very salutary experience because art students have a very different attitude to art writing and art history than art historians do. It's much more instrumentalist. I've had people read passages that I always thought were fairly critical of, say, Gary Hume and they've come away saying that they've read what I've said and ended up liking his work more. And that's ok.
3AM: You've interests outside art?
JS: Yes. I think a lot of critics who are well worth reading combine their interest in art with something else. I did my BA in Philosophy, Politics and Economics so I had that as a background. I got very interested in Marxist political theory when I did that. Marx is obviously still worth reading. I've learnt a lot from his work on the commodity. The basic writing about capitalism which a lot of people are going back to since the rise of interest in global capitalism. I became very interested in the work of the Frankfurt School and Walter Benjamin who is a major figure for many people within art history and certainly is for me. His thinking on photography, the city and more fundamentally about ways of thinking about time and the direction of history and utopian thinking about architecture and images and so on. All those things. And also the work of Adorno has been a long term interest of mine.
3AM: What do you find relevant in that? Some might say that this is a rather old fashioned approach to art writing and cultural criticism. I think Will Self has said something like this about you.
JS: These are long term interests, and they are more or less fashionable at different times. I certainly felt at times in a minority and quite isolated in the sort of work that I do but I think these things are cyclical, and it does seem to me that there's a revival in interest in many of those thinkers. Anyhow, it's always good to read things that are out of fashion because the assumptions contained in the text are so much more visible. Of course people say that these thinkers are limiting and can't express all of their concerns and of course that's true, they're about very specific things. Nevertheless the identity politics that was very much associated with aspects of post-modernism has fallen away. It's not that those issues have gone away or have been solved but I guess their own limitations have been registered by people. They seem to be being built into larger thinking about the way cultural and economic systems work.
So I guess I'm feeling more in fashion than I was ten years ago! And what do these figures have to say? Well, one of the things that's been happening and encourages their rehabilitation, if that's what they need, is that people have been thinking about Capitalism as a global system. For a long time throughout the Cold War whenever critiques were mounted against Capitalism, the very common and effective reply was look at the other system. It's worse. Now that system's gone and there isn't that recourse any longer. Capitalism is all you have pretty much! With one or two isolated exceptions. The overall economic and cultural picture is not that pretty, and there's nowhere else to put the blame.
Marx's fundamental thinking about how the system works and the contradictions inherent within it have a lot to say about actually contemporary things. For example one of the subjects I've been looking at is Internet Art which for me is a very fascinating aspect of contemporary art production. There's a Marxist concept about the relations of production and the means of production and how the two can come into contradiction at times. Internet art is quite a perfect example of that, as is the file swapping that is part of Internet culture in general. The art world, and this is one of the distinctive things about it, has never really embraced industrial production. You can't generally just go out and buy a video by Gillian Wearing if you want it. They're not available at HMV. The supply of those things is artificially limited, even though they are industrial products. If you want one you have to pay fifteen grand and you get a nice little certificate with a signature and all that.
Potentially, Internet art blows all of that wide open because artists can make work on the web. And what always held back video or photography was the problem of gaining wide distribution. It was all very well saying that you could cheaply make a lot of videos but if you can't get them out to people it's money wasted. But with the Internet, distribution means are built in. So artists can in principle directly communicate with the public and with a half-unknown audience as well, which I think is very interesting. That's very much the means and relations of production coming into contradiction being driven by high technology. It's another reason why the point is rather more in fashion these days than previously. It partly comes out of my interest in technology and modernism.
My PHD was a study of science and the machine in nineteen twenties Paris looking at technophile art, including Le Corbusier, alongside the technophobe side, particularly Surrealism and Dada. Obviously one of the things that drove Modernist art during that period was the extraordinary change in life that came about through technologies of production. Cars, aeroplanes and radios and the rest of it, with artists either having a romantic attachment to those products or viewing them with distaste. In the post-modern period, the attachment was more to technologies of reproduction, particularly TV. Now with Internet art you have a synthesis of the two. Computer technology is really producing really widespread transformations in the way we make things and reproduce. There's a return of the avant garde, rather spectral at times but nevertheless you see it a lot in Internet Art. There are lots and lots of sly references to old avant gardes. Behind that apparent irony there is something more serious going on. They're aware, these artists, that they're involved in a really major transformation and opportunity.
3AM: You see this as a positive thing.
JS: Yes. One of the big transformations that has happened to the art world in the last twenty, twenty five years has been, in the words of a friend of mine, Chin-tao Woo has called in a book of hers, The Privatisation of Culture The opportunities for making critical work have been reduced by this process, particularly in places like Britain and the USA where that privatisation is most pronounced. It's basically very difficult to get a show exhibited unless you get private sponsorship. And that sponsorship comes with very definite ties attached. The art world tends to self censor itself. So you see less and less political and critical art. On the Net where those restrictions don't apply you've had since the mid nineties an extraordinary flowering of very explicit and engaged and very radical political art.
3AM: Can you say a little about some of the artists on the Net you're finding worth engaging with?
JS: Sure. There's a group called RtMark who are a collective�
3AM: Is that a common feature of this art, that they're collectives?
JS: There are quite a number of them but there are individuals as well. But yes, collectives are a feature, as is anonymity. Throwing up smokescreens such as asking - well, is this art you are seeing or is it not? You may be uncertain. One of the advantages of the web is that you come across sites and you're unsure of their status, what are they - and artists play with that. RtMark founded themselves out of a corporation and they use cooperation Laws to protect themselves and their activities.
What they do is raise funds and propagandise and you can send them funds if you wish to help fund their various projects and these projects are various minor acts of subversion like swapping the voice boxes of GI Dolls and Barbie Dolls in toy shops and sponsoring stay at home days if you are not granted a May Day holiday. Or taping subversive messages over the copywrite messages at the beginning of rental videos and so on. These things are coordinated over the web.
There was also a rather complicated copyright or naming fight they got into with a group called etoy, which is another collective which styles itself as a www.etoy.com/ corporation. They got into a massive fight with etoys, the online toy store, about domain names and who owns the name. It became a big propaganda war on the Net which produced quite a lot of art. Using Floodnet, itself an art work, they cyber-squatted the etoys site, and this actually had a huge effect on the company and made its share price plunge by seventy percent. The corporation backed off. And again it was a bit like a mass demonstration because the tools they use they need a lot of people to coordinate their action all at once. So it gains its legitimacy that way. A company that thought they could muscle an art site out of the way using litigation found itself in big trouble.
3AM: A lot of this sounds like the sort of activity you might get with, say, Stewart Home.
JS: There is indeed. Stewart has such an interest, and it develops out of Situationism which he has written about very well, and that has had such an influence over the way these people think. RtMark certainly and other groups.
3AM: Does this tradition interest you?
JS: It is something that interests me. There is still some room for Situationist tactics to have an effect. Yet, and this is not so much a critique of Situationism itself but rather the situation we find ourselves in now, many Situationist means have been co-opted as commercial devices. They are used quite often by advertisers. Those may have lost the critical power that they once had. Situationism influences those who think you can only have tactical and local and minor fights with these big organisations -- corporations in particular. I think we need larger and more strategic thinking, building alliances and trying to establish a social base for political action. Small acts of subversion are all very well but unless they start to build into a larger movement then they can be easily shrugged off. Governments and the corporations which they serve do large-scale strategic thinking about how to defeat their enemies and they have their positive agendas too. Those who would oppose them must do the same.
3AM:Richard Stallman seems to be someone who links to what you're saying.
JS: It's absolutely linked up. He's a guru of free software because that whole ethos of sharing on the web - and Stallman is talking about software but it could be other things, cultural goods for example - is in part about freedom of speech. One of the great things about the Web if you go to an art and politics site like nettime is that you get a lot of very fast and free disputatious conversation going on in a way that is quite rare in the art world where people are too often watching their backs. That conversation can proceed in that way because no one is too worried about the ownership of the text. It's chopped up, repeated, reused much in the way a net artist might take the source code from another artist's work and hack it and change it a bit and make it into something else. And no one is worried too much about that because, again, these issues of ownership don't mean so much when you're not making material objects and where these objects can be copied endlessly. Obviously there are lots of businesses who are very concerned about that sort of ownership and they pursue a paradoxical project in a sense. A well known example is Disney who notoriously sue nurseries for having unauthorised copies of Disney characters. Or artists who try and use Barbie getting sued by Matell. So they want these items to be everywhere and they want them to be cultural icons but they're saying you can't then use that cultural icon for anything we don't want you to use it for. That's a basic freedom of speech issue and that kind of ownership of culture is very much connected up with Stallman's project.
3AM: You are looking forward to change and you welcome change. Is that part of your personality or has it all come from thinking about these issues?
JS: I don't think I started off wanting to be deliberately controversial or anything like that. Naively I get surprised by the vehemence of the response I get from parts of the art world. It doesn't happen in other areas in which I write, so I think it's very much tied up with vested interests actually. One of the things about the response to "High Art Lite' was that there was a lot of it and at first it was overwhelmingly negative, and not of a character that had any argument to it, actually. Insults mostly. That was an interesting experience in itself. Afterwards more considered responses came out, and I know from talking to a lot of people about the book that it's had a certain effect.
3AM: Positive effect?
JS: Well, I was lucky with the timing of it in a way. When it came out YBA was still critically bullet-proof and riding the wave but shortly afterwards its gloss came off it for all sorts of reasons which were not necessarily to do with the book but allowed people to take the book more seriously. I think one of the lessons I drew from all that was that controversy in itself doesn't necessarily throw out any light. Indeed, I argued in the book about Marcus Harvey's Myra, one of the defences of which was that it generated conversation, but if you actually look at that debate those two sides never met. They were just shouting at each other from opposite ends of the spectrum. And the initial reaction to the book was a bit like that.
3AM: What would you say to someone who says to you -- look, you are an expert, you study this stuff, you know more about it than I do. You should be saying what you like and don't like, going wow or boo etc.
JS: Well, this is the sort of Matthew Collings line isn't it? I've got some sympathy for him in this. It's a genuine concern. I don't feel the need to play up my own lack of certainty and forgetfulness and general crap-ness in every paragraph of my writing, just to make the reader feel empowered. There is an art world writing to which Collings rightly objects which uses jargon to bully the reader into going along with it. I try not to write like that. I've quite a lot of sympathy for one of the things that Dave Hickey says about this (and I'm not generally in agreement with his overall position); he says that it's not terribly hard for most people to understand what's going on in at least some contemporary art. It's not rocket science. He's absolutely right in that. One of the things I am obliged to do as a critic is to be as clear as possible, to write for people who don't have an expert knowledge. So I try and do that.
At the same time, Collings's writing is very paradoxical and fragmentary, it seems to me, and very self-consciously self-contradictory at points though maybe not in the overall position. He writes tactically and I suppose I'm the opposite of that. I try to think things out as clearly as I can and try to put out a case that will convince people. I want them to be convinced because the argument is convincing not because it says the Courtauld Institute of Art on the back of the book! (By the way, I notice Collings in his interview with you says that he thinks I took the idea of using subheads in 'High Art Lite' from his book, 'Blimey!', and he can't understand why. Actually, I got into the habit of using them, and not as an ironic device, when working at New Left Review, so they were nothing to do with him.)
3AM: You avoid jargon and notoriously difficult stylistics like you find in Derrida.
JS: One thing I'm suspicious of is -- and this is particularly an art world habit but not only an art world habit -- is the throwing your hands up and saying its all too complex and so incredibly diverse so there's little we can do to really get a grip on what's really going on, and all we really need to say is that perhaps the art instantiates and embodies that very complexity and contradiction. It's a mystificatory way of talking. One of the things about art writing is that it's usually written in support of the work and the artist. That's something that I've never sought to do.
I'm very suspicious of writing that does that generally. Even if it's good and rigorous writing and you learn from it. But a lot of it isn't like that. It's employing various pieces of post-modern jargon or rolling out the names of various well-known philosophers like Derrida to sanction a work in some way. And often you find these names -- Lacan most often -- are applied in a very arbitrary way. It's extremely easy to find holes or apparent conceptual holes in a piece of art work and then talk about the 'Real' for a bit. I'm extremely suspicious of that kind of discourse. To take the specific example of Derrida, I was actually quite fascinated by his thought for a long time and read a fair bit of it. I learned a great deal from doing so. I have used Derridian arguments in my work. I wrote a rather peculiar Derridian piece on Henry Moore, for instance, which is not a combination you'll find very often.
More recently, I've used his idea of the supplement to examine the relationship between art and neo-liberalism and that's something I'm elaborating in a book I'm writing at the moment. The idea here is that art seems to have a vestigial and marginal relationship to the whole political and economic structure of neo-liberalism. So 'Free Art' serves as a supplement to 'Free Trade', and also serves to sanction it. Because the fact that you can have an area of discourse where the normal rules of mass culture don't apply -- a lot of mass culture is instrumental and geared towards profit-making and to adhere to certain kinds of rules such as soap operas -- and art is a kind of negative image of that. But the fact that you have this apparently protected realm in which free discourse can take place is a sanction of the wider system. It shows it can critique itself.
One of the things I find very difficult about Derrida's writings -- in two ways actually -- reading it for one for which you do seem to need a huge concentration and also a huge philosophical background, and I have some background in this and I find it hard, so I imagine it's a lot worse for people who don't -- a difficulty in that very act of finding out about the complexity of what he's trying to say to the complexity of prose as well, a very self-involuted and playful and complex prose. I think it can lead to you being very easily misunderstood and your work being very easily misused. Derrida has turned to a more explicit radical politics in more recent books, and I think this is a way of trying to repair the baleful consequences of his own writings and others in post-modern writing across the United States in particular.
3AM: What else is happening out there which you find interesting?
JS: There are contemporary artists out there who are doing very interesting work. www.clever-literature-collection.com/ Allan Sekula is an American photographer. He works in the gallery scene but he also publishers books. Again he's someone who has worked in splendid isolation for quite a long time but his work has more recently come into prominence. It's a way of thinking about and breathing fresh life into the documentary tradition. He's one of the foremost post-modern critics of documentary photography. In his own work, particularly in his book 'Fish Story' which is about maritime trade, issues about globalisation and de-industrialisation, working practices and about images of the sea and the attachments people have to it, and its an amazing book of a series of photographs that build together to make meaning, and also text by him which talks about all sorts of things -- the political and historical context around which he built the subject. And also Sekula's own role as a documentarian. So that's very complex and very politically charged work and work which also, if you go back a bit to post-modern clich�s current fifteen years ago about how photography operates, it's a refutation of much of that thinking. It's work that I feel wouldn't have been possible if those accounts had been true.
Something that inspires me a lot too, and again it wouldn't have been possible had those accounts been true, and this is about more general post-modern accounts about politics, is the kind of activity that surrounds the anti-capitalist demonstrations. There, it seems to me, you've got very effective political action and cultural performance which are similar to activity you will find on the Web. These are actually done with actual people's bodies on the streets. And there are some good examples of this -- Reclaim the Streets, for instance. They closed off the Westway at one point. They had these guys on stilts towering over the demonstration wearing huge skirts and they had their sound systems going so no one could really hear what was going on. Underneath these skirts there were people digging up the roads with pneumatic drills and planting saplings. That seems to be an example of where you've got a political act and a cultural act tied up in a very tight package and in a way which obviously the mainstream art world would not countenance. Another major thing that's been happening in the art world, especially in the nineties, has been that it globalised itself, especially through the rise of all these Biennales. There are ways of being suspicious of why this has happened and look at the economic motives behind it and so on. One of the things that has come out of it has been a great deal of visibility for artists who have come from what we once would have called the Second or Third World. Much of that art has an intensity and complexity and political awareness which is quite other than anything that comes out of, well, certainly the UK. Those artists are really fascinating. There's a danger perhaps that they're only seen in venues that get seen by elites, cosmopolitan, globe-trotting art world figures. But still I think this stuff shows that the art world is leaky. Here is something healthy and salutary going on in that diversity of production and diversity of views.
3AM: You're not as isolated now then as perhaps before.
JS: There have always been people around -- you can always exaggerate your isolation. There have always been people who I have found it extremely useful to talk to. There are those associated with New Left Review in one way or another. In particular Malcolm Bull has a fascinating and very wide range of intellectual interests and has a very particular take on the contemporary art world which I find very interesting to think about and engage with. He's done some interesting work on the philistinism for New Left review. JJ Charlesworth's writing is of a different character but his critical writing in Art Monthly in particular is interesting. He's a younger leftist critic. His writing is often entertaining and provocative and thoughtful. John Roberts is someone I've crossed swords with in the past but nevertheless he's someone who writes from a Marxist perspective and does so rigorously and thoughtfully. I'm always happy to read his work and he's been producing some very good stuff lately. Particularly on new philosophies of subjectivity for Third Text.
3AM: Third Text is an interesting magazine.
JS: Well I'm on the board of it so I'd better agree! It's had to redefine its way of operating recently because the problem when it started was that artists from the third world were not getting exposure so one of the main things the magazine could do was to build up critical writing about it. Now the problem is, if anything, the reverse. There's a sort of hyper-visibility about that work so it's thinking about the causes of that and the problems that brings in its trail. While there's a lot of Asian and African and South American work out there and being prominently shown, yet nevertheless the reception of that work is filtered through Western perceptions, the Western art world and market. So many of these artists, no matter where they come from, end up living in New York. So I guess one of the things that Third Text does do is to publish diverse voices on that production.
3AM: How much interest is there in the actual art and how much interest is there in that globalisation process? Some one might say you have to talk about the context of the production of art rather than the art itself.
JS: I think that there's a lot of truth to that. One of the drawbacks to the sorts of analysis I do tends to be that all the complexities, personal motivations and particular histories and so on of the single person's work may get flattened by that analysis. That's right, but there are certain things you can only see by looking at them in that way. The art world's pretty good at producing monographic studies. There are lots and lots of them out there. More than anything else, and usually tied to promotional purposes. I guess my instincts intellectually are to look at the characteristics of a particular field and try to work against those. It's extremely frustrating actually -- and students feel this and I do too -- that it's so hard to find larger synthetic accounts. They may well have their faults and you may well want to pull them apart and disagree with them but if they didn't exist you wouldn't be able to do that, and the fact of their paucity is an ideological matter.
3AM: So where are you going next?
JS: The immediate thing is this art and globalisation book which I hope I've nearly done with. That will be a critical introduction to the subject and written for a non-specialist audience. There are serious difficulties with which the whole Capitalist system is operating at the moment. I'm not saying that its going to collapse in the next few years under the weight of its contradictions but nevertheless there have been a number of very serious regional crisis that have threatened the overall system. I don't think therefore see globalisation as an inevitable process at all. It's very much tied up with what the world economy is doing. Another thing about it plainly is that it is capable of engendering local and national resistances - around religion for instance. The idea that globalisation is going to be a smooth and inevitable course is far from the truth. There are positive aspects to globalisation, however, and I think the way that these anti-capitalism movements are described as 'anti-globalisation' movements - I suppose what's meant by that is that they're against the big institutions that are behind globalisation - is incorrect. In fact they are founded on a globalised consciousness and that consciousness is in part produced by those very forces that we object to. So there's another dialectic there!
3AM: And after the book?
JS: I want spend some time working on a longer project on photography and memory and history and particularly to find alternatives to what I was complaining about before, the use of dubious and outdated mental models art history. So I want to think about photography and memory through modern brain science.
3AM: Has anything surprised you over the years?
JS: This Internet development surprised me. I wrote a piece in a book called Gargantua which was published in 1996 on cyberspace which was about the technological boosterism surrounded the idea at the time. It was a highly critical piece about those utopian and dystopian ideas around cyberspace at the time. But I think that what actually came out of the Internet in the terms of this revivified modernism in terms of creating a reasonably equal platform for dialogue and the exchange of views, not to mention this extraordinary art -- all those things were a big and very pleasant surprise.
Another project I should mention -- it's funny this one -- I've taken photographs for about twenty years and I published some of them in Gargantua which hardly anyone talked about, which I thought was an interesting aspect of the critical response to the book. I recently have been given an opportunity to show some of these pictures at a photographic festival in Salonica, and I've had this long book project lying around for ever which no one has been crazy enough to publish which is a combination of text and images of a more personal kind than Sekula's, but also one that's about the history of photography. Anyway, I've got the opportunity to try to invent this as an art work, which will be a challenge.
Julian Stallabrass lectures in modern and contemporary art, including post-war British art, the history of photography and new media art. Aside from his recent publications listed below, he is the author of Gargantua: Manufactured Mass Culture (Verso, London 1996); the co-editor of Ground Control: Technology and Utopia (Black Dog Publishing, London 1997); Occupational Hazard: Critical Writing on Recent British Art (Black Dog Publishing, London 1998). He also writes art criticism for many publications including Tate, Art Monthly, the New Statesman and the Evening Standard. In 2001 he curated an exhibition at Tate Britain entitled 'Art and Money Online'. He is an editorial board member of New Left Review and Third Text and is a trustee of the artists' run space, Beaconsfield.
Julian Stallabrass' recent published work has centred on issues arising from developments in British art, the history of photography, online art, and the relationship between fine art and mass culture. High Art Lite: British Art in the 1990s (1999) is a critical analysis of 'young British art', examining the conditions in which it came to prominence, various aspects of its character (particularly its relation to the mass media) and its prospects. A new and updated edition will be published in 2004. Locus Solus, a book that he co-edited with Duncan McCorquodale on the artist-led curatorial organisation Locus+, which is based in Newcastle and mounts site-specific projects, appeared in Spring 2000. Paris Pictured, accompanying the exhibition 'Paris, Capital of the Arts, 1900-1968', was published by the Royal Academy in 2002; it examined the relation between photography and urbanism in the city over the period covered by the exhibition. His book Internet Art: The Online Clash of Culture and Commerce, the first book-length account of the subject to appear, will be published by Tate Publications in 2003; it draws out the links between the collaborative, gift-giving ethos of online activists and much Internet art, arguing that this poses a series of fundamental challenges to the mainstream art world. He is currently working on a book about globalisation and contemporary art for Oxford University Press. Provisionally entitled 'The Rules of Art Now'; this will analyse changes in the global art world since 1989.
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