Views and Reviews


CAN CAPITALISM BE PICTURED?

Sunday, 12 February, 2012 by Nadine Loach

SPEAKER: G. M. TAMÁS (SENIOR RESEARCH FELLOW,THE INSTITUTE OF PHILOSOPHY OF THE HUNGARIAN ACADEMY OF SCIENCES, BUDAPEST)

From the very beginning of his lecture, Gáspár Miklos Tamás established that what was to follow would be a stream of consciousness of his thoughts surrounding the abstract question: Can Capitalism Be Pictured? As a key player in the East European dissident movements and currently a professor of philosophy in Budapest, Tamás came across with great humility in his approach.

Having myself attended a discussion dedicated to the memory of a prominent figure in Hungarian politics Václav Havel earlier that same day, one of the key issues that emerged from Havel’s involvement in politics was the issue of time. As a liberal member of the Hungarian parliament during the early 90s, Tamás stepped down from his position in politics in 1994. The time constraints that come with politics were blamed for removing the free time for reading and research, and thus the progression of critical and philosophical thinking. Through quitting politics, does Tamás perhaps feel that he has more time for this mode of thought? It seems clear to me, through his carefully crafted and thoughtful lecture, that Tamás is someone who presents himself and us with a philosophical challenge. A challenge that won’t, or in some circumstances can’t, be answered but instead interrogated with question upon question from all angles.

Tamás attempts to bring to light a crucial problem in art: its attempt to represent capitalism. He argues that ‘bearing witness’ to capitalism has replaced its concept and thus that which operates as abstraction in the real world enters the conceptual. Capitalism becomes a philosophical problem: a concept. Here come the inevitable (and unanswerable?) questions that I promised: ‘Can conceptual entities be reached? ‘and ‘what does picturing them do to them?’ So, can the concept of Capitalism ever be made visible? Tamás uses the (art historically familiar) example of the icon and its issues within transubstantiation: in Christianity, for example, the sign of the cross as replacing the divine and thus its movement toward abstraction.

Tamás says that abstract capitalism is a process, one which operates at the centre of all societies, in that all regimes have elements of capitalism at their core. The difficulty, he argues, is finding its centre and anything structurally that could be used as a tool of repression. This makes it harder to analyse than other regimes such as communism, creating a tension and conflict at its heart.

This lecture is not at all what I expected. I was ready to take clear and concise notes about the relation between art and capitalism. What I got instead was a true insight into the working process of a project from one of the best and most qualified professors in the field and with it an incisive challenge to my own way of thinking. So the question is can capitalism be pictured? Ideally yes, in parallel to itself and to other methods of the conceptual. A difficult and abstract discussion in itself, I can only conclude with the question: can an entire mind-set, a significant element of life, can capitalism be pictured as a piece of conceptual art?

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