OSLO FORM LAB 2018

Thank You, Socialism

By Lena Trydal.



“[..] art should always be connected to the world” [1] the Norwegian artist Margrethe Kolstad Brekke uttered in an interview with the art magazine Billedkunst. She is interviewed about her work SPASIBO, a large banner-like fabric that divides one of the large halls at Kunstnernes Hus during the National Annual Autumn Exhibition 2018. Different colored and sized pieces of fabric are sewed together, not symmetrically, but in a way that seems casual. It looks weary, yet makes the atmosphere in the room feel more comfortable. Weary because of its randomness, because some fabrics has holes and some have colors that makes the fabric look old or dirty. Comfortable because of its many warm colors, the softness of the material and what feels like a laid-back execution.


In the interview with Billedkunst, Kolstad Brekke emphasizes the importance of the title SPASIBO that she has written on the work with fabric letters in Russian. It means “thank you” and is an ode to socialism with its roots in Russia, according to herself in the interview [2]. “[..] art should always be connected to the world” and SPASIBO certainly is in a Northern Europe that currently moves from left to right and further away from socialism. What is Kolstad Brekke thanking socialism for? I will go further into depth on the power-structures and their ripple-effects.


Opposing capitalism

Philosopher André Gorz wrote that “socialism can be understood only in relation to capitalism, of which it is the positive negation” [3]. In the spirit of Gorz’ it is therefore not possible to discuss SPASIBO without discussing capitalism. Maybe SPASIBO is a celebration of socialism, but included in this celebration lays a critique of capitalism. Capitalism is the only economic system of the West [4], and its core values are efficiency, profitability and competitiveness [5]. The problem with a system eager to create and stimulate desire, is that ethics comes second. Because of that, it ends up being a system in conflict with the interests of many groups. According to Gorz, socialism as a system is dead, but it still has value as a reference to “a desirable 'beyond' of capitalism,” because without it, capitalism could become “[..] natural and unchangeable”[6]. He is certainly not in favor of capitalism, as he calls it “[..] a source of domination, alienation and violence”[7]. But what does this mean? Who will be dominated, alienated and made violence to?


Socialist feminism and capitalist patriarchy

Political theorist Zillah Eisenstein interconnects capitalism and patriarchy in her essay “Developing a Theory of Capitalist Patriarchy and Socialist Feminism.” She thinks that capitalism and patriarchy are intertwined and they are the problem, whereas socialist feminism is the solution [8]. It echoes Gorzs’ sentence of socialism as the positive negation of capitalism.


Eisenstein writes that according to radical feminism – which she seeks to combine with theories by Karl Marx to create a socialist feminism - “Patriarchy is the male hierarchical ordering of society” [9]. A capitalist patriarchy then means a power structure surrounding men and profit. According to Eisenstein, the two are in a dependent relationship. “Capitalism uses patriarchy and patriarchy is defined by the needs of capital”[10]. Spending money on climate-actions, women’s liberation or even critical art seems incompatible with the capitalist values of efficiency and profit. If SPASIBO is a thank you to socialism, and socialism only can be seen in relation to capitalism, and capitalism really is a capitalist patriarchy, then all of those who are not benefiting from the capitalist patriarchy could be a part of Kolstad Brekkes’ SPASIBO.


Woman/Nature

I will continue with Eisensteins’ claim that capitalist patriarchy is the problem. Part of the upholding of this system is dualism, according to philosopher Val Plumwood. Dualism is a pairing up of what is thought to be contrasting terms, or “a certain kind of denied dependency on a subordinated other” [11]. Examples are male/female, culture/nature, master/slave, mind/body and subject/object. Rationality has been defined as what separates man from nature, and rationality has in that become a justification for dominating other species, races or sexes [12]. In this mode of thought, mind dominates body, culture dominates nature, and men dominates women, as a few examples.


Another word for nature is “the environment”, as something that surrounds humans [13]. The use of this word can in itself reveal a human-centered way of being oriented in the world. And “human” is not an inclusive term as it opposes nature in a model of dualism. The capitalist patriarchy is that which everything spins around.


Nature and woman are placed on the same inferior side in these dualistic power-relations, and one could therefore say that woman and nature are in a special relationship as they both are “others.” To say this is thus not without stepping on the toes of some feminists who would call the woman/nature connection outdated and oppressive, reducing women to passive reproductive animals [14]. But this relation could also be seen as beneficial, as breaking the dualistic relationship could be a liberation for both parties.


In thinking woman and nature together, does a fight for women’s liberation automatically become a fight for nature? This argument could be extended and be: Is a fight for nature also a fight for women’s liberation, LGBT-rights, anti-racism, the status of the handicapped, and every other group that are not the patriarchy? Is it this that SPASIBO contains?


Thank you

By going in depth of SPASIBO, I find it embracing a sack of political themes. It could be read as a critique of capitalist patriarchy, but it could also be seen as a celebration of socialism. If one where to believe André Gorz, it cannot be either or. It is both.


The Scandinavian social democracy thus shows how socialism and capitalism actually can work together. Socialism can see the collective, opposed to capitalism who sees the individual. It sets boundaries for a capitalism willing to do anything for profit [15]. Maybe Zillah Eisenstein is right, socialist feminism is the solution for capitalist patriarchy. At least it is a counterbalance for it.


With all this in mind, SPASIBO becomes a banner of gratitude. It takes up a lot of space, making it impossible to ignore. It is weary like nature, big as the consequences of its inferior treatment. It is textile and mostly pink: Kolstad Brekke explains how the women's liberation is a part of the medium itself [16]. In a technique called quilt, used by slaves to write hidden messages to each other [17]: Racial history in the seams. Even queer as the queer. It is a banner embracing all of those who falls outside the capitalist patriarchy, all of those capitalist patriarchy dominates, alienates, and does violence to.


In this time of fear and xenophobia that pushes people towards the capitalist right, one should not forget what good socialism has brought to the Scandinavian society, and for whom.


Thank you, socialism.

Notes


[1] Mina S.Haufmann. “Kulturkamp, klima og quilt.” My translation.

[2] Ibid.

[3] André Gorz. Capitalism, Socialism, Ecology. 39

[4] Ibid. 2

[5] Ibid. ix

[6] Ibid. ix

[7] Ibid.

[8] Zillah Eisenstein. Capitalist Patriarchy and the case for Socialist Feminism. 6

[9] Ibid. 17

[10] Ibid. 28

[11] Val Plumwood. Feminism and the Mastery of Nature. 41

[12] Ibid. 24

[13] Ibid. 22

[14] Ibid. 20

[15] University of Minnesota. http://open.lib.umn.edu/sociology/chapter/13-2-types-of-economic-systems/

[16] Mina S.Haufmann. “Kulturkamp, klima og quilt”.

[17] Ibid.


References

Eisenstein, Zilla R. Capitalist Patriarchy and the case for Socialist Feminism. London/New York: Monthly Review Press. 1979.


Gorz, André. Capitalism, Socialism, Ecology. Translated by Chris Turner. London/New York: Verso. 1994.


Haufmann, Mina S. «Kulturkamp, klima og quilt» Billedkunst nr. 4, 2018. P 114-115.


Plumwood, Val. Feminism and the Mastery of Nature. London: Routledge. 1993.


University of Minnesota. Sociology: Understanding and Changing the Social World University of Minnesota Libraries Publishing edition, 2016. This edition adapted from a work originally produced in 2010 by a publisher who has requested that it not receive attribution. University of Minnesota Libraries Publishing. 2016. URL: http://open.lib.umn.edu/sociology/chapter/13-2-types-of-economic-systems/ (Read. 06/09/2018)