From 4 November to 29 December 2017, “The Political Seducer’s Diary,” an Instagram-based project in collaboration with Performance Art Houston, ran @PerformanceArtHouston. Eight artists from around the world took residence on the Instagram account and found ways in which to merge performance art, documentation and social media in order to discuss how seduction and aesthetics converge to influence decisions we make in public life. Artists looked at issues like gun control, sexual assault, consumerism, and environmentalism.
The project is based on two concepts: a re-framing of the term ‘political’ and Soren Kierkegaard’s critique of an aesthetic-based ethic.
First, if the word ‘political’ has its basis in the Greek term polis, the Greek city-state whose home is in shared public space, then what is political is far broader than presidential rhetoric, legislative incompetence and Capitol Hill gossip. The political is what concerns us all – the issues we grapple with as communities. Some of these issues include: how the public health crisis affects local hospitals; how mental illness is dealt with through our criminal justice system; how the gender/race pay gap affects ways in which families can support their children; how ever-growing personal debt and the death of Social Security is silently creating a generation of people who will work until they die; and how loosening attitudes toward climate change and the environment not only destroy our landscapes but indicate a level of greed that surpasses any prior generation. In this project I hope to, through a re-framing of the term ‘political,’ remind us that despite collective pessimism, we must continue to think in terms of communities – on behalf of those around us and in a public transparent way – where the interests of others are clearly represented. We must remember what the term ‘political’ really means.
The second concept is rooted in Soren Kierkegaard’s 19th century text, The Seducer’s Diary, which describes and critiques an “aesthetic life.” The text articulates a worldview where appearance, over-intellectualization, emotional ambiguity, mood and manipulation provide the basis for decision-making and enjoyment. The aesthetic eschews reason, research, and collective dialogue in favor of personal reflection, interest and entertainment. While The Seducer’s Diary’s narrative centers around romantic acquisition, we can extrapolate from the text how aesthetics is a contributing factor to political life. Aesthetics seduce us. Appearances blind us. Beautiful words confuse us. Choreographed experiences cause us to lose sight of a larger, diverse world. Notions of the aesthetic can and do over-turn our capacity for reason – what we must utilize if we are to make just political decisions. Kierkegaard’s critique of a 19th century ethics of aesthetics is just as relevant today as we grope for reason in a sensationalized, relativistic (‘fake news’) world.