Structural Violence as Art: Julian Blaue
Julian Blaue (D/NO) is known for his transgressive and often violent acts of self-expression. With his ongoing artistic research Ph.D. at (UiA, NO) he has inverted his stylistic approach and – almost in a Christ-like manner - turned towards an inner state of feeling shameful as his new performative tool. And dangerous it is: together with his family of four, he will search for two criminals from a poor Brazilian favela who violently robbed them three years earlier. Why? In what might be perceived as a twisted turn of potlatch economy, taking his theory into praxis, he wants to involve the criminals as collaborators in his next performance, intending to level out the inherent violence of capitalism’s hierarchical structure. Here in his own words:
Shame is a Revolutionary Sentiment
By Julian Blaue
In which ways can the paradoxical relationship between white French Philosopher Jean Paul Sartre and black militant enemy of the French Frantz Fanon, inspire artistic criticism of capitalism?
Reading Frantz Fanon’s essay Wretched of the Earth, and Jean Paul Sartre’s preface to it is a paradoxical experience: On one hand, you have an angry black decolonization writer, arguing for a violent rebellion against Europe, the colonizing continent. On the other, you have a white, European star intellectual, who, understanding the arguments and the rage of the “enemy,” applauds the violence, which is directed against his country, class, and race.
Why did we get robbed
in Rio de Janeiro
on Christmas Eve?
At the heart of my current work, which also is part of my artistic-scientific Ph.D., there is a very similar paradox: I’m developing a performance, that criticizes uneven distribution of wealth, using a personal experience. Christmas 2015 my family and I were assaulted and robbed by two poor armed men in Rio de Janeiro. First, I perceived us as victims and the men as perpetrators. Later I understood that one can also explain the incident the other way around. Namely as a result of economic inequality. The two men are on the bottom of a global economic hierarchy, while my family is in the middle. The assault on us is also an assault on that hierarchy. To put it like that means to rationalize the attack. I can understand the violence of the underclass against the economical class I am a part of. This understanding of somebody, you also could define as an antagonist, is the link between my paradox and the Sartre-Fanon-paradox. Can their answers help me finding my answers?
It is part of my project to go back to Rio de Janeiro, getting in touch with the two men (the police know their identity). If possible, I will invite them to participate in my performance. Exploring their social situation, I hope to understand their motives. And thus, hopefully, the effects of globalized capitalism, which I presume to be violent.
Fanon gives us an explanation of the violent power of the colonized. The colonized man is an envious man, he states. When one has the experience of being underprivileged and at the same time has (visual) access to the privileged life of the colonizers, envy seems to be an obvious emotional result. Fanon goes as far as writing the famous words:
The colonized wants “to sit at the settler’s table, to sleep in the settler’s bed, with his wife if possible.”
One could define Christmas
as “celebration of capital”
Fanon writes a whole phenomenology of the envy of the colonized. The motive of the underprivileged, nourishing his rage with the feeling of envy, can be applied to my project. Rich and poor clash together in the city of Rio de Janeiro (making invisible global inequalities visible). This resembles the co-existence of colonized and colonizer in the same city, a co-existence of unfortunate differences that Fanon describes as the precondition for being envious: The underprivileged can continuously compare his situation with the privileged one.
An obvious question that could be asked with Fanon’s analyses of envy in mind is this: Why did we get robbed in Rio de Janeiro on Christmas Eve? Assaulting a little family during “the celebration of love,” with the iconic Rio-statue of Christo Redentor above us, appeared at first to be pure cynicism, pure cruelty. At least out of the perspective of the Christian tradition. But in times of globalized capitalism there’s a stronger ideology ruling, even on Christmas, or shall I say: especially on Christmas? The ideology of consumption. Instead of calling it the “celebration of love” one could define Christmas as “celebration of capital,” and thus as the day where the underclass feels it’s lack of capital even stronger. And hence it’s revolutionary envy. Could it be that the two men had good reasons to be envious on this particularly symbolic day? And therefore, ventured from the poor favela into the paved city of the middle- and upper classes, violently redistributing wealth?
One of the premises of my project is the (provoking) paradox of me being co-responsible for the assault against myself. If I seriously want to argue for that hypothesis, I have to find out how I, as a representative of the global middle class, in the first place am co-responsible for violence against the global underclass, which the two men represent. For the underclass, violence against the middle class is maybe - to speak with Sartre - only a boomerang; an effect of the violence the middle class has inflicted on them.
The (provoking) paradox of
me being co-responsible for
the assault against myself
Sartre also criticized himself for being part of a class and a nation that he meant was responsible for violence against colonized people. Today it is less one country that exploits another country. It is instead the global middle and upper classes that exploit the global underclass. There are still structures that lead to unequal life chances. In Rio de Janeiro, the local underclass works in big scale and for little money for the pleasant lifestyle of the local and global middle and upper class. By using buses with underpaid bus-drivers or sleeping in hotel rooms that are cleaned by poorly paid cleaning ladies, often coming to the cities from their favela, my family and I have gained touristic benefits from structural violence against the underclass. Maybe the bus driver and the cleaning ladies were the parents of the two men assaulting us to gain the money their parents couldn’t gain in their jobs? In this sense, I can speak about my co-responsibility for the violence of the suppressed, as much as Sartre can speak about the responsibility he and his nation have for the violence of the colonized.
The most inspirational and surprising aspect of Sartre’s relationship to Fanon is the aspect of self-criticism. It is surprising because it is uttered on the background of existing violence against the class, race, and nationality he is a part of, and on the background of Fanon's threat of anti-colonial violence in the future. To be self-critical is a demanding task – and all the more so when the ones who made you self-critical are ready to be violent against you. The reason Sartre nevertheless feels he has to be self-critical is that he agrees with Fanon that the colonizers themselves indirectly have produced the violence against themselves:
“It is the moment of the boomerang; it is the third phase of violence; it comes back on us, it strikes us, and we do not realize any more than we did the other
times that it's we who have launched it,” Sartre states.
My family and I have gained touristic benefits
from structural violence against the underclass
Sartre’s self-critical attitude is very inspiring for criticism of global injustice in a world where the critic himself is part of structural violence, that produces the criticized injustice. And in a world where the critic has begun to feel the violence of the victims, coming back to his class as a boomerang. I believe that globalized capitalism at the beginning of the 21st century is such a world and that the assault on us in Rio in 2015 can be explained in accordance to this. I never want to experience it again.
Shame is the precondition
for developing a will
to change globalized capitalism
Self-criticism can lead to shame. Sartre suggests having the courage to read Wretched of the Earth, because “it will make you ashamed, and shame, as Marx said, is a revolutionary sentiment.” Shame can be the emotion coming up when one confronts themself with the fact that they are part of the structural violence against the underprivileged. I will highlight this sentiment in my project, hoping that others will feel as ashamed as I do and thus pave the way to transformation. I do think that shame is the precondition for developing a will to change globalized capitalism.