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After Third Text

Friday, 14. December 2012 | 00:00 (tz: Europe/Amsterdam)

Third Text was both an art-theoretical journal, at the forefront of rethinking the conceptual institutions of art from a postcolonial perspective, and a proposition -- an artistic proposition -- of an art-theoretical journal, at the forefront of rethinking the conceptual institutions of art from a postcolonial perspective. It was both theory in practice and the practice of theory, because, from the outset, it was conceived by founding editor Rasheed Araeen, as a fully-fledged, conceptual and collective artwork -- though there was never any explicit reason for its contributors and readers to acknowledge that, since there was nothing "arty" about it, nor would it have changed in any way had it not been an artistic proposition. Yet it was precisely this 1:1 scale that it instantiated which gave it the political and conceptual wherewithal to challenge not only the biases of the mainstream artworld (and to have been an effective tool in bringing about tangible shifts in representation) but more importantly to rethink art as a whole, its mode of being and operating in the world. By operating on this 1:1 scale, it deftly eluded a certain institutional capture -- never quite what it seemed, nor where it seemed. It was an improbable discursive war machine, emerging from the political struggle against institutionalized racism in the 1970s and 80s, but an exceptionally robust one, no doubt because it proved itself capable of reinventing itself time and again, rather than falling victim to its own success. It was Rasheed Araeen's artistic proposition, but as a collective platform it was of vital importance to so many of us -- for n.e.w.s. amongst others -- both in pointing a way beyond "the altruism of collaboration" as Araeen put it, creating the kind of "world extension" required to give meaning to an uneasy global conversation and helping to imagine new ways of repurposing artistic energies with a view to transformation.

Sadly, it has become necessary to say all these things about Third Text in the past tense. Third Text has been hijacked by its Board of Trustees, who in the name of neoliberal good governance and professionalization -- but scant regard for the critical and dissident politics that were the journal's hallmark and raison d'être -- literally locked Rasheed Araeen out of the offices and usurped full editorial and administrative control.

A year and a half of negotiation has proved fruitless, and it must now be acknowledged, with anger, with reluctance and certainly with sadness, that Third Text's continued existence is in name alone. Its ontology has stabilized; it is no longer a proposition -- but just one more academic magazine, with arty pictures on the cover. And though the publisher, Taylor & Francis, may continue putting it out with funding from the Arts Council England, it will not be with the complicity or benediction of many former contributors. Most of the editorial board resigned last summer. And a week ago, the Editorial Advisory Committee collectively resigned with an open letter to the Trustees (sic).

Third Text was born of Black Phoenix, a publication created by Rasheed Araeen, unlike any other in the editorial landscape of the late 1970s -- a landscape where Third Text was still unimaginable. Third Text began its own improbable existence in 1987, making it the traveling companion -- albeit an uncompromisingly critical one -- of what has come to be known as contemporary art in the era of neoliberal globalization. Not to absolve the cowardly opportunism of the usurping editorial group, but as a matter of historical speculation, one could perhaps argue that Third Text somehow ended up despite itself acquiring a kind of self-evidence, an imaginability at odds with its own historical project. Though it reinvented itself several times over the past 25 years, perhaps its form and structure itself had become what Araeen calls an "obstacle" on the horizonline of its historical becoming. So the exciting question now, and an urgent one at that, has suddenly become: what's After Third Text?

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Open Letter to the Trustees of Black Umbrella (Marjorie Allthorpe-Guyton, René Gimpel, Paul Goodwin, Joanna Mackle, Lord Bhikhu Parekh and Ziauddin Sardar):

5 December 2012

With this letter we announce our collective resignation from the Third Text Advisory Council.
With the full sadness of a long look back, we take our leave from a journal that has occupied a vital place in our critical lives and, for many of us, our artistic and intellectual formation. We do not leave gladly, but we are bound to accept that Third Text, under its current Trusteeship and editorial leadership, is no longer the journal we knew and loved.
By a series of unilateral actions, missteps, and a refusal of the spirit of consultation, current leadership has transformed Third Text from a committed and catalytic forum for critical postcolonial reflection to one more domesticated instance of neoliberal standardization. We are well aware of the funding pressures and administrative arguments that can be summoned to justify your actions and decisions. Indeed we are too well aware of them, since they have become the dominant norm in too many fields today. We are not, however, bound to accept or endorse them. We expect more than bureaucratic logic from those who would be the leaders of this journal, with its origins in anti-racial struggle and its two-decade history of critical commitments.
Taking into account all that has occurred and has come to light in the last two years, documented comprehensively in Jean Fisher’s report of 15 October 2012, and considering above all what you could and should have done to resolve the crisis of confidence that surrounds the journal, we find that your ‘final offer’ to Rasheed Araeen, dated November 2012, falls too short by far. In our letter of 13 August 2012, signed by a strong majority of the Advisory Council and some hundred Third Text associates, contributors and supporters, we made clear the conditions for an acceptable solution: having precipitated this crisis by your unilateral actions, the onus was on you to restore dignity to Rasheed’s role and reputation and to return his experience and editorial judgment to the journal, thereby reassuring us that its historical vision and integrity is being protected.
The steps by which you could have done so were outlined in Jean Fisher’s report. Rejecting them, your invocation of your legal obligations dresses up a mere assertion of control. Your overriding concern, as you repeatedly emphasize, has been to keep Routledge Taylor & Francis and Arts Council England happy. We are unconvinced by these self-exonerations. There was no communication with the Advisory Council regarding the situation at Third Text or the decisions you subsequently took; furthermore, the Trustees Board has acted unilaterally in what has been, over the last year, a major editorial reorientation of the journal – away from political and intellectual integrity and in the direction of an apolitical academic careerism bereft of that critical perspective for which Third Text historically stood.
With this transformation, we want nothing more to do. Kindly remove our names from the Third Text masthead and website without delay.

    Third Text Advisory Council Members:

Rustom Bharucha International Research Centre, Berlin, Germany

Guy Brett Honorary Professor, University of the Arts, London, UK

Denis Ekpo University of Port Harcourt, Nigeria

Geeta Kapur art critic and curator, New Delhi, India

Tabish Khair Aarhus University, Denmark

José-Carlos Mariátegui Editor, Tercer Texto, Lima, Peru

Gerardo Mosquera Havana, Cuba

Laura Mulvey Birkbeck, University of London

Benita Parry University of Warwick, UK

Howardena Pindell Stony Brook University, New York, USA

Mario Pissarra, Africa South Art Initiative, Cape Town, South Africa

Gene Ray Berlin, Germany, and Geneva University of Art and Design, Switzerland

John Roberts University of Wolverhampton, UK

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak Columbia University, New York, USA

Julian Stallabrass Courtauld Institute of Art, London, UK

Victor Tupitsyn Professor Emeritus, Pace University, New York, USA

Stephen Wright European School of Visual Arts, Paris, France

Slavoj Zizek Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities, University of London, UK, and University of Ljubljana, Slovenia