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Durham University

Department of Anthropology

Research Staff

Publication details for Dr Alex Flynn

Flynn, A. (2016). Subjectivity and the Obliteration of Meaning: Contemporary Art, Activism, Social Movement Politics. Cadernos de Arte e Antropologia 5(1): 59-77.

Author(s) from Durham


In this article I analyse the notion that social movement politics and contemporary
art interventions increasingly traverse a porous boundary, be it in terms
of practices, relations, or institutions. Premised on Nicolas Bourriaud’s seminal
reading of 1990s art, I contend that the theory of “relational aesthetics” (2002)
offers a synthetic platform from which we can understand how artistic interventions
with activist connotations are increasingly moving away from the utopian
and prescriptive, and thus echoing the “subjective turn” of social movement politics
more widely. Based on fieldwork with contemporary artists and social movement
actors in Brazil, the chapter mobilises relational aesthetics as a criteria to
differentiate various forms of contemporary art intervention. Through conversation
with ethnographies of radical politics, I argue that an analysis that foregrounds
ephemerality, the “absolute centrality of diversity”, and different forms of
dissonance, allows us to productively theorise how subjectivity is elaborated and
meaning created. If art really is the locus of “imminence”, then understanding
how these processes are contested is to grasp how prefigurative politics can have
consequences for the immediate future.