Professor of Philosophy at The European Graduate School / EGS.
Brian Holmes is a Paris-based art critic and activist who is known for his writing on the intersections of artistic and political practice. He received a PhD in Romance Languages and Literatures from the University of California, Berkeley. Holmes was the English editor of publications for Documenta X in 1997, was a member of the activist group Ne Pas Plier (Do Not Bend) from 1999 to 2001, and has recently worked with the French conceptual art group Bureau d’Études. Brian Holmes is a frequent contributor to the international listserve Nettime, and to the art magazines Parachute (Montreal), Springerin (Vienna), and Brumaria (Barcelona). In addition, he is a member of the editorial committee of the political journal Multitudes (Paris) and is a founder, with Bureau d’Études, of the new journal Autonomie Artistique(Paris). His essays have been gathered into three anthologies: Hieroglyphs of the Future: Art and Politics in a Networked Era (2002); Unleashing the Collective Phantoms: Essays in Reverse Imagineering (2008); and Escape The Overcode: Activist Art in the Control Society (2009).
In his work, Brian Homes investigates political action, envisioning it as a performance. It is performative in that public political action is carried out with the intention of transforming those who participate in it. These forms of action are not bound to an artistic or symbolic realm, as political confrontations require a greater risk—a risk of embodied experience that demands from the participants a kind of transgression. Brian Holmes’s work is bent on investigating the depth and power of political action, which derives its symbolic force from its efficacy. On his blog, Holmes describes the political potential of art as follows: “One of the strong possibilities of art today is to combine theoretical, sociological or scientific research with a feel for the ways that aesthetic form can influence collective process, so as to de-normalize the investigation and open up both critical and constructive paths. Projects carried out in this way have complex referential content, but they also depend on a highly self-reflexive and deeply playful exercise of the basic human capacities: perception, affect, thought, expression and relation.”
In 2001, Brian Holmes’s essay “Hieroglyphs of the Future: Jacques Ranciere and the Aesthetics of Equality” appeared in the critically acclaimed art and culture magazine Cabinet. A year later, his essay collection Hieroglyphs of the Future: Art and Politics in a Networked Era (2002) addressed the shifting contemporary struggle against capitalism while simultaneously appropriating these tools of propaganda to seek out solutions. Next, Holmes’s diverse activities, ranging from art and activism to geopoetics, coalesced in the seminar Continental Drift, a reading group organized at the artist-run space 16 Beaver Group, later culminating in the book Escape the Overcode: Activist Art in the Control Society (2009). Much of Holmes’s work is a call to action, or, more specifically, an invitation to the reader to participate. “Potentials”, “Experiments”, “Do-It Yourself Geopolitics,” and “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” are just a few of the titles of his essays in Escape the Overcode. Perhaps this inherent invitation in his writing is what allows Holmes’s work to morph seamlessly from a reading seminar into an interactive blog, where readers are encouraged to post feedback and direct the narrative of the conversation, to finally become a published book.
Brian Holmes has been influenced in no small part by the works of Gilles Delueze and Felix Guattari. He takes inspiration from them as well as Julia Kristeva and many other contemporary philosophers interested in the politics and the philosophy of resistance. Interweaving theory, art, activism, geopolitics, and geopoetics, Holmes offer us powerful tools for change. In Escape the Overcode, he writes in his introduction:
“And so finally we reach the scale of intimacy, of skin, of shared heartbeats and feelings, the scale that goes from families and lovers to people together on a street corner, in a sauna, a living room or a cafe. It would seem that intimacy is irretrievably weighted down in our time, burdened with data and surveillance and seduction, crushed with the determining influence of all the other scales. But intimacy is still an unpredictable force, a space of gestation and therefore a wellspring of gesture, the biological spring from which affect drinks. Only we can traverse all the scales, becoming other along the way. From the lovers’ bed to the wild embrace of the crowd to the alien touch of networks, it may be that intimacy and its artistic expressions are what will astonish the twenty-first century.”
This lateral thinking offers up relevant questions when addressing polarity in art and activism. Operating not as a manifesto, but more akin to the 1963 Fluxus book An Anthology of Chance Operations (edited by Jackson Mac Low and La Monte Young), which consisted of a series of instructions or invitations to the audience/reader, Brian Holmes’s writing has significantly changed the way we think about the geopolitical and the geopoetical.
Between the Lines
Holmes, Brian, and Theirry de Duve, trans. Between the Lines, by Clement Greenberg. University Of Chicago Press, 2010. ISBN: B003HNP3EK
Molecular Revolution in Brazil
Holmes, Brain, and Karel Clapshow, trans. Molecular Revolution in Brazil, by Felix Guattari and Suely Rolnik. Semiotext(e), 2008. ISBN: 1584350512.