Maja Bajevic, How Do You Want to Be Governed, 2009; After Rasa Todosijevic ‘Was ist Kunst?’, 1976, single-channel video on monitor (10’40’’), color, sound.
How Do You Want to Be Governed
As the title of the work suggests How do you want to be governed? is made after Rasa Todosijevic’s Was ist Kunst? 1976. The choice to put the reference in the very title of the work functions not only as homage to Todosijevic but also suggests the incorporation of the first work into the second. The question posed in the first work, Was ist Kunst? (What is art?) is directly included in the second, through the citation, and as such becomes part of the later work.
“The literal meaning of the question What is Art? is confronted with the absence of its performative impact through automatic repetitions: the indefinite recurrence of the same question which stands for an (elocutionary) verbal act related to the question. Since there’s no response about what art is, we become aware that the idea of the performance lies in the inversion of power relations within the art system. If the semantics of a speech act include part of its pragmatics, then Todosijevic’s aim is to empower the speech position of an artist who claims power to control his own discourse, depriving the art system of its authority to define art.” Dejan Sretenović
Since the response to What is Art is impossible, the question itself becomes absurd, as is any attempt to answer it, a discourse on authoritarianism whilst questioning and satirizing the nature of art itself.
The second work continues the discourse on power relations and their absurdity in taking upon the very source of power settlements – governing, taking the work outside of the realm of the art system only and adding to it a socio-political dimension. The twist lies in the fact that this time it is the artist who is being torturously questioned and not the one asking the question, making the reversal of the power structures impossible and underlining the disempowerment of the arts – not only is it not the artist anymore who decides what art is or is not, but it is also the artist who is being asked an impossible question, how she wants to be governed i.e. positioned in society. The fake democratic tone of the question reveals its own absurdity, repressiveness and hierarchical character. Demanding an answer to that question positions the one asking as the ‘democratic totalitarian’, as Roger Buergel says: “Like Foucault, Lorenzetti perceived of government as exerting power indirectly and subtly, rather than directly and spectacularly, on its citizens. In this light, government is seen as a structure of actions brought to bear upon other actions (or upon the actions of others), and to govern means to create a situation in which subjects are incited or constrained to act.” The constraining power of a question to which there is no answer possible thus becomes a humiliation: it is not if but how do you want power to be executed upon you?
Adding to the estrangement of the setting is a voice over that repeats the same question as the interrogator but in a disinterested speaker-like voice, as if the bureaucratical character of the question is being accepted in the question itself and presumes that there will not be any answer. The question thus becomes a pure execution of power for power sake.