The previous post may have seemed a little obscure to some, but I have recently found a text that illuminates Groys’ irony. A recent article on Malevich begins with the following:
“…can the Russian avant-garde function as an inspiration and model for contemporary art practices that try to transgress the borders of the art world, to become political, to change the dominant political and economical conditions of human existence, to put themselves in the service of political or social revolution, or at least of political and social change?”
The unwary reader, who expects an article in the e-flux journal to take a progressive stance, might think that this is Groys’ own position, that he wants an art that serves social change. By the end of the piece the situation looks somewhat different:
“Writings from Malevich’s time explain his ambiguous attitude towards the social, political, and artistic developments of his day: he did not invest any hope in them, any expectation of progress. (This is also characteristic of his reaction to film.) But at the same time, he accepted them as a necessary illness of time—and he was ready to become infected…Malevich shows us what it means to be a revolutionary artist. It means joining the universal material flow that destroys all temporary political and aesthetic orders. Here, the goal is not change—understood as change from an existing, ‘bad’ order to a new, ‘good’ order. Rather, revolutionary art abandons all goals—and enters the non-teleological, potentially infinite process which the artist cannot and does not want to bring to an end.”
Are we to take this as Groys’ position? As a critic he can shelter behind a posture of objectivity, but he offers his own perspective indirectly, by suggestion, hint and allusion – an ironic objectivity. This a very long way round from a discursive, situational art to modernist autonomy, and the latter is not so easily recognized, but it’s there. Actually, I think this is a rare and unfortunate example of a too explicit expression of Groys’ political views. But he does know Malevich. He once told me that the writing is extremely difficult to translate; that the French translation is the best, though still inadequate; that the language is very allusive, and includes not only avant-gardist experimentation but Ukrainian idioms. I think Groys both reads and writes allusively and ironically, so it’s the more remarkable that the first couple of paragraphs of this piece seem to assume that the readers know little of the history of the Russian avant-garde. Misunderstanding is easy, but Groys is more difficult than many of his admirers may realize.