The great pretenders

The anonymous Slovenian meme-art collective Smetnjak shows no respect to some canonical figures of mainstream art and philosophy, from Marina Abramović to Žižek. But who will have the last laugh?

Marina Abramović / Slavoj Žižek. Beauty and the beast.

Mirror mirror on the wall, who’s the greatest pretender of them all? Who’s the artist and who’s the buffoon and why do you say art when you mean politics? To get the answers to some of these fundamental questions, we’ve emailed the Slovenian meme-art group Smetnjak who had previously featured this hilarious video collage of Slavoj Žižek in his own words:

Floating between some sort of ‘engaging nihilism’ and self-deprecating postsituationism, they just might as well reflect a voice of a generation. Their plan is no plan. And they’re funny, too.

Hi there. What is Smetnjak?

Precisely, it’s the ‘what’, not the ‘who’. To put it laconically and a bit pretentiously: it’s critical theory practiced within the pop form of meme. A primitive form, at least when we do it, a somewhat authorless, anonymous, naïve, serendipitous form within which we want to establish an everyday routine of work, of producing. For those who insist on the ‘who’: Smetnjak are the non-paid spoiled brats of the world.

You seem to be preoccupied with both art and politics. Do you find those interlinked?

Inevitably. What’s not interlinked with politics? But the crucial question is: which politics? It seems to us the word art invokes too much bad faith, which suffocates the activity in question. It needs to be somehow emancipated, one needs to accept it’s always political and take responsibility for this.

Slavoj Zizek, cool guy that doesn’t look at explosions.

What was the idea behind the Žižek spoof?

We did not invent anything, we just compiled the material. Žižek – as a cultural signifier – is a spoof. Both of philosophy and radical politics. A moving signifier. So-called serious academics are writing thick books about something he wrote or said, trying to show the frailties of his reasoning. But that’s absurd, 5 minutes later he said/wrote something completely different. You can’t hold him responsible for his words and you shouldn’t take him seriously. Of course, The Great Pretender does not manage to prove anything, it just preaches to the already converted. And yes, we have a converted Žižekian among us. Smetnjak itself is a half-successful convertite: we used to be a party crew (of a Daft Punk kids variety) and we still do it sometimes.

Why Marina Abramović?

Seriously, Marina Abramović is the face of inhumanity. Such state of things is one of the reasons why we’re trying to make ourselves, the humanity itself, faceless. Not to mention the vulgar materialism of it, the Abramoviches of the world, the worst excess of this pejorative called modern art. Check out this MTV Cribs-like clip:

She’s the grandmother of hip-hop, if you ask us. We arguably believe that the definion of war profiteering should be broadened and include the lucrativeness of pro-peace engagement.

Is art doomed? Give us some bright examples.

Who are we to judge this? And we really do try to evade the apocalyptical tone. Still, it’s hard not to agree with Debord and you know his stance towards art. We are watering him down with some contra tendencies which – as a rule – include at least a grain of debordianism. John Maus is an invaluable presence in that sense. We made an interview with him last summer [available here]. Frankly, we are negative theologians when art is considered: it’s only possible to define it by negation, by saying what art isn’t. But in this apophatic darkness one encounters sparkles, of course, and if we wanted to name someone you probably don’t know, then we should say: Silvan Omerzu. His work is something that Kleist envisioned when writing On the Marionette Theatre.

Cool. How’s Slovenia these days?

We just happen to live here, so we don’t take it too personal, but, surely, Slovenia must be a joke. Do you know that a mix of Berlusconi and cauliflower mobster Arturo Ui can here pose as a left-winger? It gets even better, a translator of Deleuze is his PR agent, not just his, also Žižek’s. With a left like this one doesn’t need right-wingers. At least the latter honestly do their job of being hypercapitalist and fascist. But at the end of the day, these are trivial manners. Slovenia – as any other country – can be great: we are contemporaries of Gorazd Kocijančič who alone translated the whole of Plato and who – as we speak – is developing a philosophical system at which centre is an unbelievable, but utterly concrete thing (that is not a thing at all) called hypostasis.

So what’s the plan for Smetnjak?

What plan B should always be: having no plans.

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