Creativity without critique: An inquiry into the aesthetization of alternative culture
Based on a research in Lisbon, Geneva and Ljubljana, this paper aim to analyse the uses of the term “alternative” (along its formal and aesthetic registers) in order to tackle the question of the aesthetization of creativity, away from its critical dimension. The categories of “street art” and “urban creativity” are far from neutral. Indeed, they can be linked to very contrasted – and even opposed – - practices and urban worlds. In order to grasp those differences, we need to take a closer look at what is entailed in the concepts of “creativity” and “art”, analysing in particular their political dimension. We believe that it is the ambiguous polysemy of the notion of creativity – especially under the influence of the work of Florida (2002, 2012) – - that is the cause of many problems in the contemporary analysis of urban dynamics. Among other, contemporary conceptions of creativity tend to underestimate its vital (Bergson) and potentially subversive dimension – - as suggested by Theodor W. Adorno or Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari – - in order to accentuate its compatibility with economic imperatives. The tensions inhabiting creativity processes were central in the classic distinction by Williams between « dominant » and « alternative culture », On the other hand, we noted, in our recent researches in Lisbon, Geneva and Lisbon and Ljubljana, that the term « alternative » started to loose its critical dimension in the 90’s to become a marker of a certain range of capitalist compatible activities. More precisely, we defend the idea that the aesthetic register of the « alternative culture » – characterized by recycling practices, urban wastelands – tends to become devoid of its political implication and be used nowadays as a commercial niche (a process we can call « aesthetization »). To illustrate this question, we analyse various examples found in cultural places in Lisbon, Geneva and Ljubljana using visual and semiotic methods. This analysis will allow us to consider the aesthetic and discursive transformation of the “alternative” culture in those two politically and economically contrasted cities in relation with the broader influence of the ideology of the “creative city”.