• Anna Hijmans

Globalisation and its Functions in a Crisis

Globalisation has been a topic of heated discussion for years. With many questioning the weight of its positive and negative effects and how they run in tandem. It is particularly interesting to look at the role of labor and production, even artistic production, in a globalised world. Perhaps by looking at the texts of Claudia Mesch and Roberto Esposito, we are able to utilise the frameworks they introduce, in order to better understand some of the issues we are facing today.

Claudia Mesch starts her chapter off with a timeline set up that will serve as the context provider for anti-globalisation art and its development into the 21st century. This is pretty standard for her, however it was the second portion of the paragraph that caught my eye. A small reflection on the book, easy to miss, Mesch notes the art modernisms she discussed in previous chapters (feminism, environmentalism etc.) and relates it (differentiates it) from art participating in critique of globalisation and homogenization. It is one of the few times she describes the variety of political art as existing in the same space, and for some reason it was exciting for me to see how she brought them together, even if it was for only a brief moment.

Mesch’s chapter on Anti-Globalisation touches on a multitude of subjects that are particularly interesting to consider in our current day and age. Mesch makes clear the changing mobility of the world population, and how this mobility functions to serve a growing demand for outsourced labor. Using the works of Mierle Ukeles, Alighiero Boetti and Santiago Sierra to touch on topics of exploitation and mutation in reference to this kind of labor (Mesch, 179-188). She also spends time considering art that has moved into areas of new media. She looks into digital art spaces as global art phenomena that seek to disrupt and decentralize the power and legitimacy of (art) institutions (Mesch, 195-199). With much of the works she discusses existing only in the last 20-25 years, Mesch comfortably places the last chapter of her book at the threshold of what art is still becoming.

The text by Roberto Esposito was a slightly trickier text to grasp, or perhaps I could best describe it as slippery. He is clear from that outset (and in the title of his book) that his main point of discussion is the topic of Immunity. Specifically turning to the notion of the ‘contagious’ entity and the methods by which a body might gain a sense of immunity (and the consequences thereof). He quickly describes all manners of contagion, in disease, political ideology, immigration, viruses on a computer disk, etc. He talks at length about immunization as ‘re’-action, which was particularly interesting for me, as he argues that the violence that results from the process of immunization, comes to characterize the state of being immune. This is discussed specifically in relation to the harmful repression of a people (Esposito, 9-10,16). Perhaps the reason this chapter tested my grip was because of how quickly Esposito cycled between topics of Bio-Politics, Etymology, Theology, the ‘I’ and the ‘Other’, Implantation (touching on, though not explicitly, notions of Cyborg Identity), and ancient Rome. Together these topics folded into each other and played with my ability to pay attention. But equally provoked me to consider their intertwined relationships.

I’d also like to briefly point out that the whole discussion of Globalisation is a generally slippery one, even in Mesch’s text. In her introduction and as she built up the framework for understanding Anti-Globalisation art, you could see that there is no discrete definition for an artist who works in this category. Unlike Feminism, in which the audience will eagerly position the artist in such a digestible political art space, art that concerns itself with globalisation has yet to be tied down so much by the institution or spectator.

(Now I’m generalizing a bit, I still don't know enough about this topic to say all of this with complete confidence, but when Mesch notes that “Some critics have categorized Ukeles as a feminist artist …” (Mesch, 181) I couldn’t help but notice how easily such a sentence can come about. We seem to be highly focused on placing people into roles and categories we can understand. Perhaps it is because of the slipperiness of Anti-Globalisation art, that I found myself pleasantly surprised by the more malleable character of this particular chapter.)

Naturally, as I’m sure many of my colleagues will be pointing out, both these texts are enormously relevant to our current global pandemic; the coronavirus. Although both authors stalk their topics in very different ways, each manages to touch on some of the most essential issues we are dealing with today. When Mesch discussed the globalization and mobilization of labor I was immediately reminded of the chartered flights the UK prepared for eastern european workers near the beginning of the pandemic [1]. A friend of mine was furious, calling it modern slavery. ‘Touch Sanitation Performance’ by Mierle Ukeles, also discussed by Mesch, equally concerns itself with the underappreciated work of ‘sustaining’ the materials and spaces of modern life. Ironically, those unnoticed individuals working in these fields of sustenance, have suddenly become hyper-visible because of our global catastrophe.

Roberto Esposito's text as well intertwines almost effortlessly into issues we are facing and dealing with today. One of the most prominent being that of repression as a result of immunization. This is interesting to think about when considering the isolation methods countries have adopted today. Although talking about immunization in relation to a pandemic is a very literal way to take Esposito's text, I believe it to be equally relevant, as it dwells into subjects of Surveillance. Many have begun to question how far the new surveillance measures adopted in Iran, China, South Korea, Autralia and many, many more countries, will dare to develop [2]. The primary concern in this case, is not knowing whether these measures will be removed once the pandemic has passed. Will there come a point when the methods used to immunize oneself become more damaging than the virus? But then, who would be cruel enough to suggest that personal freedoms are worth more than human life?

As much as I would like to expand on each of these topics, I have to stop myself here before I get too excited. In writing and discussing so many texts throughout this semester, it is exciting to see the topics that come up again, and how the many forms of political art and expression will often overlap in surprising ways. Thank you for taking your time to read my texts, I look forward to developing these discussions further.

Thank you,

Anna Hijmans




Claudia Mesch, “Anti-Globlization.” Art and Politics. A Small History of Art for Social Change Since 1945. London, New York: I.B. Tauris, 2013. 175-199.

Roberto Esposito, “Introduction” and “Appropriation.” Immunitas. The Protection and Negation of Life. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2011. 1-51.

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