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On Cultural Authority

story © Michael Betancourt | published April 14, 2015 | permalink | TwitThis Digg Facebook StumbleUpon  |  

theory: working notes

Cultural authority seems a nebulous concept. At the same time it is easily understoodwe recognize it immediately when reading the program for any festival, screening, exhibitioneven though the force it exerts remains hidden within the curatorial choices on displayas the specific form these choices present.

Those excluded works, unprogrammed, are inherently marginalized: this division is the active dimension of cultural authority. The logic of selection as a political and social activity reifies the position of the curators and jurors through the exhibitions they create. The historical-critical apparatus of reviews, analysis and history come to reflect these decisions over time as the prominence and respect granted to the resulting programs and to the work shown in them reinforces the position of the people making these decisions, creating a cycle generating aesthetic significance and asserting the importance of those selected and selecting. These relationships maintain and expand cultural authority.

Decisions about the organization of works leads to choices about historical importance and influence, the valorizations of specific works and artists within a historical chronology. The fabrication of history reflects cultural authority and serves to solidify the position of those who employ it: the logic of selection that is the most evident aspect of cultural authority brings specific artists and their works to prominence. It is a simple relationship: the works given prominence then become foundational parts of new history, which in turn reinforces the cultural authority that initially promoted those works. This pattern of repetition and reinforcement makes the cultural authority thus deployed evident in the construction and interpretation of the present. What emerges from this consideration is the central, crucial role established cultural authority has for the emergent cultural authority invested in and around the avant-garde film. There is no singular institution or individual that is responsible so much as a series of interconnections between crucial critics, curators, programmers and organizations (both newly formed and long established) that consolidate and direct their authority through the organization of specific histories that overlap and reinforce one another. Institutional legitimation creates history independent of artistic practice; the uses of history are varied; none of the people involved in their production can be called non-partisan.

The dynamic aspects of cultural authority makes its power contingent and relativistic: it does not necessarily transfer from one setting to another, great authority with one social grouping does not mean that the same authority will exist with another. The history of the avant-gardes reflects these shifting foundations and sites of authority; this metahistorical examination of how these histories have been constructed reveals the power dynamics of cultural authority, its self-determinant and reiforcing function over time.


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