last week, when kim jong un assassinated his uncle amidst a plague of ludicrous state news stories about him - orgies, etc, intrigue, the usual - and we were talking about how he was systematically erased from a state news documentary that he had formerly appeared in multiple scenes of, my friend said: “do they know they’re making conceptual art?” a few days later i read a tweet about how making light of north korea, their categorically ludicrous news policies, etc, was deeply problematic, that it elided the fact of a brutal, horrific regime that is systematically starving/destroying its own people. i felt guilty for a few days.
but then i was thinking, and i still am thinking, that pointing out that the DPRK is making conceptual art, is perhaps the premiere conceptual artist of today, is funny at all, or ironic, or making light of anything. it’s true. and if this is absurd or horrifying, it is because it is really good conceptual art, conceptual art that reveals the logical conclusion of its own apparatus, which is horror and terror. conceptual art depends on “secondary information” to gain currency within the art market; the larger consensus generated around that consensus, the more valuable the artwork. this rock is nothing, but if several wealthy collectors agree that this rock, which evidences a recent walk i took through, oh i don’t know, skid row in order to listen to/experience the underside of capitalism or whatever, indeed does represent this journey, and that this journey is somehow worthwhile vis a vis the history of art and/or has currency within the art market, perhaps due to my own notoriety, the success of previous sales, whatever, then the secondary information - the artist jacob wick performed a walk through skid row in which he listened to capitalism and picked up a rock, with the intention to throw it through a bank of america window - becomes the thing with value, with real monetary value, and the rock disappears. like lyotard said, the kernel of consensus is terror; the terrible brilliance of the DPRK is to make the potential terror of this situation numbingly obvious.
pointing this out is not making light of the DPRK or conceptual art. the discomfort that is felt should not be one of guilt, but one of confronting a very real and alarming process that forms the basis of our vicious, brutal, and dehumanizing economic system.