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'Queer techno rave and porn' next to Buckingham Palace is the latest in decadent 'artivism'

Alexander Adams
Alexander Adams

is an artist, art critic and author. His book ‘Iconoclasm, Identity Politics and the Erasure of History’ is published by Societas. Follow him on Twitter @AdamsArtist

is an artist, art critic and author. His book ‘Iconoclasm, Identity Politics and the Erasure of History’ is published by Societas. Follow him on Twitter @AdamsArtist

'Queer techno rave and porn' next to Buckingham Palace is the latest in decadent 'artivism'
When the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) in London issued a press release declaring that in the following month a night would be given to "queer techno rave and porn," long-time observers were not shocked – or even surprised.

The ICA – once the premier venue for great Modernist painting and sculpture – is now a circus of transgression a stone's throw from Buckingham Palace.

A December 17 press release announced that on January 31 "Queer techno rave INFERNO take over the ICA's Theatre, Bar and Cinema with an all-night programme of music, queer porn and performance art." In case you miss it, don't worry. "This is the first in a series of all-night takeovers from club collectives exploring nightlife as a realm of self-expression." This is only the latest in a long line of events held at the centre situated on the Mall, the ceremonial avenue leading to the gates of Buckingham Palace.

RT

From serious art to identity crisis

The ICA was once one of the most highly regarded arts venues in Europe. How has it fallen so far?

Founded by Roland Penrose (art collector and biographer of Picasso) and supported by poet-critic Herbert Read, the ICA was established in central London in 1946 as a venue for advanced art. It would not have a permanent collection but would instead act as a venue for exhibitions, talks and film showings. It hosted ground-breaking shows of Picasso, Francis Bacon, Surrealism, Neolithic art, Pop Art and serious art which struggled to find public venues. It had a series of locations, eventually relocating to a Neo-Classical terrace on the Mall between Trafalgar Square and Buckingham Palace.

Over recent years the ICA has lost its way. When it was founded, it showed art that could not find a public venue in London. Since that period, a profusion of competitors have arisen. Established institutions such as the Royal Academy, Tate, Serpentine and others have accepted contemporary art and a multitude of commercial galleries and private foundation venues have appeared. The ICA is redundant; everything it does is already done better in other London venues. The ICA, having lost its purpose, has become involved in performance, cinema, music, club culture and "artivism" – when activists use art venues for political campaigning, social agitation and protest. In short, the ICA immersed itself in identity politics promoting non-traditional British viewpoints.

Afrofuturism and Queer Theory

Here are some events the ICA recently hosted or announced: An exhibition by American Cameron Rowland (pronouns "they/their") on slavery. A conversation with "renowned queer theorist Jack Halberstam [addressing] agency, gender, dissent and subjectivity." A presentation by Lola Olufemi "aiming to return feminism to its radical roots as a tool for combating structural violence and injustice." Black Quantum Futurism, an "intersection of activism, art and speculative fiction writing." On 1 October 2018 the ICA hosted a celebratory dinner and talk by Chelsea Manning (a political campaigner) which did not relate to art.

The ICA responded on 14 November 2018 by issuing a statement claiming "the event was not in any way political in nature" and "no public subsidy was directly used to fund this event or its speakers, which was instead made possible through ticket sales and private donations". While nominally true, that statement skips over the fact that publicly-funded staff, facilities and mailing list of the ICA were used to prepare, promote and host the event.

Aside from the fact that none of the above is art, hosting artivism means the ICA is breaking regulations. The ICA is funded by the Arts Council, British Council and a number of other public bodies, as well as charities, donors, sponsors and by income from events. It is a registered charity as an arts organisation, which means it is tax exempt. However, charities are prohibited from political campaigning. By hosting artivism, the ICA is engaging in political activity. Despite this being brought to the attention of the press, ministers and regulatory body, no action was taken.

Arts administrators in the UK live in a social milieu where the highest virtue is tolerance, which means boundaries are being ever expanded. Rejection of any activity is considered bigotry. Hence the ICA has become a shambolic parody of progressiveness. As long as the material or activity is anti-West, anti-white, anti-tradition, pro-gay, pro-minority, pro-mass-migration or "gender non-conforming" then it will find a welcoming home at the ICA – no matter the quality of art, or whether it can even be called art, or whether it even pretends to be art.

In a London that has a wide range of private and co-operative spaces which can host fringe events and views, there is no need for such views to be hosted by publicly funded venues. Choosing not to financially support such activity is not censorship. There are campaigning organisations and rich benefactors willing to fund transgressive art events and they should be free to do so.

We can be empathetic and considerate as people and yet resist the co-option of public-arts provision by activists. Real tolerance only means something when it allows the legitimate response: "No, not here and not with public money."

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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