Accepted Paper:

Neoliberal Absurdism in Art and Anthropology: An Interrogation of the Role of Efficacy in Adjudicating Failed Conceptual Categories and Political Temporalities  


Natalie Morningstar (University of Cambridge)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores the ways in which artistic and anthropological concepts of failure converge in the collapse of putatively neoliberal ideology. It suggests that art and anthropology share notions of paradigmatic ruination but diverge in their understanding of political temporalities and efficacy.

Paper long abstract:

This paper presents the artistic practices of two political activists and one anarcho-communist collective in Dublin and their conceptually resonant approaches to situationist art. I argue that they locate the failure of aspirational neoliberal ideologies to achieve actually existing effects as their object, mirroring anthropological approaches to conceptual ruination and the failure of paradigm shifts (Navaro-Yashin 2009, Ferguson 2010).

Each produces interventionist art that deliberately fails under 'conditions of neoliberalism' precisely to spotlight its disingenuous politics, or the fact that neoliberalism the conceptual category is often deployed to occlude its everyday limitations (Kipnis 2007). The way these artists locate failure in their practice thus bears resemblance to the ways in which the anthropological literature has confronted the failure of neoliberal doxa to speak to the realities of late capitalism (Eriksen et al. 2015). Yet just as anthropologists have been unable to jettison neoliberalism as ethnographic object, so too has it remained ethnographically salient in the rubric by which these artists arbitrate success. They at once reject the spectral dominance of neoliberal ideology, and argue that failed situationist interruption at the political margins is the only tenable response to the tragico-absurdism of neoliberalism's impossibly aspirational discourses (Yurchak 2013).

I conclude by suggesting it is through the similarities between anthropological and artistic perceptions of failed conceptual categories that anthropologists can trace another ethnographically significant category: political efficacy. I argue that failure and success in art and academia are adjudicated along distinct political temporalities, with corollary implications for understandings of efficacious creative production.

Panel P018
Notions of Failure in Art and Anthropology