Aesthetics and the Political: An Essay on Francis Alys's 'Green Line'

Fisher, Tony (2011) Aesthetics and the Political: An Essay on Francis Alys's 'Green Line'. Cultural Critique, 78 (1). pp. 1-26. ISSN 1534-5203


In this paper I examine Francis Alÿs’s performance of walking the ‘green line’ – the 1949 act of partition that separated East from West Jerusalem – in light of his question: how can a work of art be political without engaging in politics? I situate this question in the context of a general problematic – that of the relation of the political to the aesthetic, borrowing Jacques Rancière’s distinction between the aesthetic and representational regimes of the image. I explain how the political work of art faces a twofold paradox today, characteristic of its specific historicity. First, it faces what I call the ‘state of aesthetic exception’, which deprives art of a criterion ensuring a univocal, communicable message; second, it confronts a broader historical contradiction, which becomes symptomatic in Bourdieu’s sociological reduction of art to the condition of the habitus. I argue Alÿs’ Green Line circumvents this paradox and in the process provides a novel answer to the question of how a work can be political while evading ‘politics’. The Green Line, I suggest, is thereby able to disclose not just the logic of the political but the constitutive aporia of the sovereign act of power which founds it.


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