The tension between politics and aesthetics can be ascribed to the relation between authority and authorship. What is the political role of art? Could a particular theory of authorship in art present and demonstrate an alternative notion of political authority? New technological possibilities and a fresh political sensibility points towards a nascent theory of authorship (and authority) that exists between – and beyond – the ideas of modernism and postmodernism: common (metamodern) authorship.
The critic Peter Burger stated that the modernist avant-garde loathed the idea of art as an autonomous sphere of production, separate from the sphere of politics and thus unable to directly intervene in the construction of modern society. They asserted that the values of their art should become the values of their culture, indicating their utopian aim to organise society from a basis in art. However, several commentators have observed that the modernist era was one in which reformers prescribed a certain system of authority and demanded obedience and support. Although the avant-garde believed that their authority was incontestably justified, they were essentially advocating a form of cultural totalitarianism.
Later in the twentieth century, Barthes famously asserted that the author was dead and the reader had been born. However Barthes’ declaration that the author was dead didn’t simply mean that the reader had a greater influence over the meaning of a particular text or artwork. If you merge his provocation with the mission of the modernist avant-garde, one can conclude that a form of social organisation or notion of authority can no longer be imposed on passive subjects, it is something that is produced among collaborative agents. The metamodern author(s) strides out from this union of modernism and postmodernism, politics and aesthetics, authority and authorship. But what kind of artistic projects represent the practice of the metamodern author most clearly?
In his 2008 speech at the Tate Modern, the political philosopher Antonio Negri proclaimed that contemporary artists are obliged to confront a new set of questions about our current political and social climate, including “how can the human being be entirely re-thought?” (Negri 2011:106). For Negri, artistic labour belongs to the sphere of biopolitical production, which is described as the “production of ideas, codes, images, affects and social relationships (that) directly treats the constituent elements of human subjectivity.” (Hardt and Negri 2009:172). He argues that subjectivity is determined by our forms of cooperation and communication with others, therefore, art can reconfigure the notion of the human being by embracing the values and methods of participation and collaboration. In fact, Negri’s question indicates a shift in the desired result of the artistic process from the primarily material or visual to the social and relational.