All that is Solid Melts into Pixels
For the Sixth Berlin Biennal, Marc Boulos mounts a video installation (that you can see above), with two channels facing one another: on one screen the rebels, on the other the traders. The goal, however, is not to show, by means of technical finesse in filming, editing and assembling beautiful collages, a concrete reality on one side (the exploited workers of the Nigerian delta), and an abstraction in the other side (the changing numbers in the screens of the Chicago stock exchange, representing the future investments), i. e. materiality versus ideology. The most material thing in this montage is perhaps the link between the two: oil. What could be more concrete than this energy that forms the quilting point of our “technical macro-system”, and of our economy?
Traders in Chicago indirectly fight for the control of petroleum, Nigerian guerrillas directly battle over the control of their own land. The result of this confrontation between forces of sabotage and local threat and the power of financial capitalism is “concretized” into the column of figures measuring future energy on the screens of the Chicago stock exchange, and in the utter confusion of the traders that anticipates the one of big corporations.
But what is “concrete” here, other than oil? Hieroglyphs on the screen or guns in the jungle?
Drawing the title of the work of art from Marx, the author locates the fetish – i. e. the ideology, in what can be read here – in the merchandise.
But he doesn’t oppose the fetishism of the traders to workers’ suffering as religion versus reality. On the contrary, if the rituals of the traders resemble the fetishism of science, curves and numbers, the war rituals of the Ijaw people are erected around the war god Egbisu who makes them invincible and resolute.
The piece shows us something Benjamin was aware of with the term of anthropological materialism (see here in English, in French or in German): the power of rush (Rausch), of intoxication, the collective exhilaration, the dream ecstasy, is not to be dissociated from the social movement.
The failure of Marxism was in the attempt to delete “fetishism” from the social movement, i. e. the religious impulse, the mystagogic organisation and the mystic gesture (that is to say, in the sense of the collective, the corporeal one).
The success of capitalism was to capture this (concrete) poetical intensity in an (abstract) fetishism of the merchandise, culminating in the (concrete) bourgeois phantasmagorias.
But what the courageous work of art of Mark Boulos shows us is that this poetical intensity can return in the workers through a re-fusing of a religious imaginary, one linked to a desire that coincides with the deeper one announced by Baudelaire: that of interrupting the way of the world. When this happens, dream can once again become the sister of the political action, as opposed to being the master of an absurd gesticulation of these traders melted in Boulos’ shadow theatre.