Prefab: dissident art-making against the capitalist common sense

Fowler, Martin ORCID logo ORCID: (2023) Prefab: dissident art-making against the capitalist common sense. Doctoral thesis, University of Cumbria / Lancaster University.

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PREFAB is a political modernist project whose threefold purpose, through development of a theory- in-praxis framework, is to counter the naïve assertions of the realist aesthetic (the dominance of which serves to reproduce capitalist common sense), as well as the conformism of the ‘art for art’s sake’ avant-garde. In the third place, PREFAB wishes to repudiate the hagiographic emphasis of liberal art history & theory in the evaluation of the arts. Contrariwise, in the world of work, no less than in the academy and culture, women and men ‘make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past.’ (Marx, 1968, p.96).1 On this model of structured agency, focusing on real social and economic determinants, PREFAB instead features an ‘author as producer’2 frame of analysis, where the object of study is the materialised memories of the life and times, or lived experience (through the decades, circa 1930–95), of a working–class Edinburgh family. Namely my own.

The intellectual formation of PREFAB’s integrative synthesis of making and writing was informed, signally, by Marx’s profound insight that social being determines thought, by Antonio Gramsci’s counter–hegemonic inventory of traces – a knowing oneself as a product of the historical process to date3 – and by the dialectical distanciation techniques, or ‘the separation of the elements’,4 of Bertolt Brecht’s anti–illusionist ‘epic’ theatre (and by affiliated political modernists in the interwar era and since). The project’s primary sources also include the demythologising semiology of Roland Barthes, the cultural materialist5 formulations of Raymond Williams, Janet Wolff’s Marxist sociology of art, Avery Gordon’s exploration of the hauntological imagination, and Lukacs’s critique of the ideological reproduction of the capitalist commodity–scape.

Determined therefore (in paraphrase of Godard’s slogan) not to make political art but to make art politically, (Godard : MacCabe, 1980, p.19)6 the PREFAB how–is–what case studies address the Scottish nativism grounded in invented traditions of neo-tartanry,7 the ideological distortions of the ‘thing-world’ of finance–capitalism, with especial interest in the fetish forms of reification8 evocative of the proletarian popular culture of my grandfather’s prefab–worldview. Reproduced from indexical signs of post-war capitalist consumer culture, the PREFAB ready-mades accompanying the written thesis, comprise a family history of redux commodities, parodic fetishes of nation–state, and Marxist signage: a laboratory of didactic experiments in what may also be called critical realist method (in complex unity with critical realist theory) against the dominant conventions of bourgeois ways of seeing, knowing, and telling.

1 Marx, K., ‘The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte’, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels Selected Works in One Volume, Lawrence & Wishart, 1968, p. 96.
2 Benjamin, W., Understanding Brecht, Verso, 1998.
3 Gramsci, A., Selections from Prison Notebooks, Lawrence & Wishart, 1971, p. 324.
4 Willet, J., ed., Brecht on Theatre, Methuen, 1978, p.37.
5 Bottomore defines materialism as: ‘(a) a denial of the autonomy, and then of the primacy, of ideas in social life; (b) a methodological commitment to concrete historiographical research, as opposed to abstract philosophical reflection; (c) a conception of the centrality of human praxis in the production and reproduction of social life and, flowing from this, (d) a stress on the significance of labour, as involving the transformation of nature and the mediation of social relations, in human history’ (Bottomore, 1985, p.324).
6 ‘The problem is not to make political films but to make films politically.’ MacCabe, C., Godard: Images, Sounds, Politics, BFI/Macmillan, 1980, p.19.
7 By coincidence, a key date in the emergence of Scottish neo-Romanticism as embodied in the invented traditions of tartanry, is marked by the visit of George IV to Scotland in August 1822. Stage-managed by Sir Walter Scott, the visit included a military review in which the British monarch, keen to improve his popularity after a series of personal scandals, appeared on Portobello beach in philabeg, sporran, and elaborate Glengarry, to inspect 3000 volunteer cavalrymen and honour the Highland clans. It is estimated that 50,000 people turned out to watch the spectacle. The event is recorded in a painting by William Turner de Lond titled George IV, 1762
- 1830. Reigned as Regent 1811 - 1820, as King 1820 - 1830 (At a military review on Portobello Sands 23 August 1822) (1828).
8 In A Dictionary of Marxist Thought (1983) Bottomore defines reification as: ‘The act (or result of the act) of transforming human properties, relations and actions into properties, relations and actions of man-produced things which have become independent (and which are imagined as originally independent) of man and govern his life. Also transformation of human beings into thing-like beings which do not behave in a human way but according to the laws of the thing-world. Reification is a ‘special’ case of ALIENATION, its most radical and widespread form characteristic of modern capitalist society’ (Bottomore, 1983, p. 411).

Item Type: Thesis/Dissertation (Doctoral)
Departments: Institute of Arts > Fine and Applied Arts
Additional Information: Word count: 45,139.
Depositing User: Anna Lupton
Date Deposited: 08 Mar 2023 15:18
Last Modified: 13 Jan 2024 14:46


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