Fifteen years have passed since Jean Baudrillard wrote The Conspiracy of Art, shocking his contemporaries with blatant skepticism towards the state of artistic practice. Since then, pessimistic attitudes about the future of art have become prevalent, expounding on the dangers of capitalism through texts released by publishers like Semiotext(e), which reprinted Baudrillard’s essay in 2005. This year, the publishing house added another soothsaying arts title to their critical theory-driven program. Written by Chris Kraus, a Semiotext(e) editor, Where Art Belongs is the eighth text in the publishing house’s Intervention series. Given the reputation of these pocket size editions—it was inaugurated with The Coming Insurrection (2009)—a controversial manifesto and darling of anarchists the world over—many anticipated the new book to be no less aggressive in its expression of distrust towards art and capitalism. It seems, however, that Kraus had no intention of meeting such expectations.
Following the format of her earlier collection of essays, Video Green (2004), Where Art Belongs is comprised of both new and previously published texts. Kraus begins her journey in Los Angeles, describing the activities of Janet Kim’s underground venture, Tiny Creatures. Tracking the changing attitudes of its members from one manifesto to another, she discloses the evolution of the gallery from an amateur space in a geographic and social dead zone to the hotspot of the gentrified Echo Park. From there, Kraus travels through New York, back in time to Amsterdam, finally ending in Punta Baja, Mexico. Through eleven chapters, she reveals outbursts of creative life that often exist on the brink of fleeting underground scenes. At no time does Kraus dismiss the probable failure awaiting these undertakings in the future. Neither does she assess the significance of these efforts by their success or artistic merit, but rather by their relevance to the lives of the people involved. In Where Art Belongs, art theory becomes political philosophy: art matters insofar as it remains a practice, not a product. For Kraus, such practice is a means for establishing a way of life outside accepted capitalist conventions.
Although it lacks intended plot or chronological connection between chapters, the book flows fluently from beginning to end, tied together by Kraus-as-protagonist. Typical of all her writing, there appears to be no hierarchical distinction between autobiography and theory. Whether reviewing Bernadette Corporation’s “The Complete Poem,” or curating the exhibition, “Untreated Strangeness,” Kraus is never outside of her own discourse, evading the cynical distance embraced by her contemporaries. Instead of looking at the spectacle, Kraus throws herself into it with enviable genuineness, fully aware of her tender receptivity. As little skepticism is expressed towards the described events, it is indeed easy to think that she naively believes in these endeavors often dismissed by others as merely middle-class hipster enterprises.
However, to read Kraus’s weakness as the book’s own would be missing the point. As she expressed in her first novel, I Love Dick (1998), everybody likes a story “about a tough girl who becomes a truer version of herself by uncovering her vulnerability.” Kraus further points out that these stories are based around an inherent lie, the “denial of chaos.” In Where Art Belongs, as strongly as in her first novel, Kraus avoids portraying herself or others as “tough.” To her, surrendering to weakness from the outset equals accepting chaos as status quo and consequently the difficulty of embedding events into an order of a theory. Not so much a judgment of art, Where Art Belongs is a critique of the passive nature of contemporary academic practice. Once again, Kraus grasps the last possibility of experience by marrying emotion and thought.