L’incorrect, 2023-03-13

KIRAC : fin de règne pour les boomers

Marc Obregon, L’Incorrect, 2023 March 13

Original in French

Translation to English

KIRAC: end of reign for boomers

At the end of January 2023: a thousand scandalized voices make the sinister “twittosphere” rustle. At issue is the trailer for a film circulating on the Web, in which the writer Michel Houellebecq, naked as a worm, is seen kissing a Dutch student. There is already talk of a “porno-arty” in which the writer would engage in non-simulated acts. The public opinion squeaks and jeers, Libération fulminates: Houellebecq sinks into the unhealthy, they judge, after having taken a “turn to the extreme right”. Porn, morality and politics: the bingo of buzz, served with a salty seasoning – typically Dutch. As for the trailer, it intrigues: the atmosphere evokes that of a disturbing docu-drama, somewhere between Lars Von Trier’s Dogma and an amateur art student’s film.

The origin of evil
And for good reason: announced for March 11, this medium-length film is the work of a young couple based in Amsterdam, Stefan Ruitenbeck and Kate Sinha. Hidden behind a transmedia collective, KIRAC, acronym of Keep it real art critics: the reality of art critics. A whole program. On their site, mainly chatty medium-length films where the two activists interview leading figures of contemporary art to push them into their teeth and draw out some untruths that are good for feeding a very nebulous “criticism of criticism”. Nothing very subversive a priori, unless you only live for Art Press or have invested in NFT.

Except that in the last few episodes the temperature has suddenly risen a notch, notably with this video devoted to the erotic emotions of Sid Lukassen, a conservative philosopher well known in Holland and also a consultant to the European Parliament. The film, ironizing on the rapprochement between right and left, puts in the hands of the philosopher a leftist student who will manage to seduce him. It is released against the advice of the interested party, already triggering a small scandal in authorized circles.
With Houellebecq, KIRAC goes into high gear. When the trailer explodes on the web, Stefan Ruitenbeck answers all the interviews and comes back on the circumstances, that we will judge sordid or distressing, it depends on the circumstances, of the arrival of the star novelist in his project. In contact with the writer, the couple would have promised to Houellebecq and his wife to provide him with some groupies not shy – for the most part students in art or philosophy, we are told. There is only one condition: the lovemaking must be filmed and will be included in their new film. At least that’s what the Dutch collective says. The lovemaking is filmed in a Parisian hotel and the neurasthenic writer will even give a nice performance – according to Ruitenbeck.

The organ of fiction
However, a few weeks later, the affair takes another turn: Michel Houellebecq believes he has been deceived and files a lawsuit to have the film banned. A strange twist: the champion of French literature is himself a master of communication and a skilled director of his own image. He has even made a living out of it: after all, all the heroes of his novels are only alter egos, victims of the sexual misery that the writer has been championing since the 1990s.

But here it is: today, through the camera of the collective, the paper character is suddenly reinvested by the flesh. It’s like a backlash: Houellebecq is no longer a literary figure, a sort of sickly and mocking Droopy, on whom one can weave endless boulevard plots, he is also a body that has a hard-on, a body that embraces. It is necessary to believe that the author himself was moved by it. Otherwise, how can we understand this sudden turnaround?

The era of indifference
For Stefan Ruitenbeck, the question is hardly worth asking: “I do not claim any journalistic or documentary truth with my films. It doesn’t matter if it’s true or not, because it’s a work of art,” he says. KIRAC, finally, plays on a real that has become unreadable, in the wake of Debord or Baudrillard. There is indeed a situationist temptation in KIRAC, who intends to oppose to the predation of the real by “the elites and the academic institutions” a real playground able to put things in perspective. An art of critical parasiting that would paradoxically put things back in order.

At a time when contemporary art is just another crypto-currency, when Nobel prizes in literature are distributed to women for their services to the sorority, and especially at a time when pornography is no longer produced by old perverted directors but by young girls themselves, in the intimacy of their bedrooms and under the gaze of their webcams (see : OnlyFans), the real is no longer a given being – to paraphrase Duchamp – but something soluble in the great collective and digital fiction. In this world of the undifferentiated, authors like Houellebecq appear as survivors, as remnants of a forgotten age: these remnants, KIRAC wants to bait and violate them.

Trap in troubled waters
At least that’s the impression given by Ruitenbeck, who is always quick to indulge in long ideological rants: “It’s a real battle to free myself, to free myself from this old world that is dying, that is dying with the boomers and everything that was built after the Second World War. And that quest is what my art is all about. It’s the spectacle that you can see in my films. And every step of my quest, like this meeting with the “old world” Michel Houellebecq (some on the Internet call him the “last real human being”), is part of my quest. And this character, Michel Houellebecq, is entangled in this supposed separation between himself and his literature. He thinks that art is no longer as relevant. He fades away. He doesn’t get the Nobel Prize. So he goes out and says, as himself, the same things that his characters in his books have already said. Because the characters have lost their power,” explains Ruitenbeck, before adding: “And he sees now what happens if he says it himself. And the whole desire to become an erotic artist, to use his real body instead of words on paper, is part of his own artistic battle.”

Sophisms and coquecigrues
KIRAC knows how to handle the concept and shamelessly deploys an art of abrasive sophistry. Kate Sinha is the great theorist of the collective and she produces on commission several texts and reflections that are published on their website. We come across Ayn Rand, apostle of American-style libertarianism. A model? Not even that. I think only a fool would take Ayn Rand seriously,” says Kate Sinha. But it was still fascinating to discover exactly how stupid her intellectual and ideological construct is.” In another article, she compares Jeff Koons to Robespierre. Both would be apostles of a “secularizing moralism with no other way out than endless opportunism.” Robespierre,” Kate hammers, “is this symbol of the terrifying moment when something seemingly endless, without limits, comes to an end.

As often, KIRAC is on the sidelines, with that annoying little side of the overly talented brats, the first of the class reconverted into paragons of agitprop. Stefan adds: “KIRAC is a pure product of the art world and postmodern thinking. I started as an artist making contemporary art for galleries, art collectors and museums. Then I decided to make films from that position. Pointing my camera at my girlfriend, who is an archaeologist: she started discussing modern art as if it were archaeological finds. It was very effective. This is the first episode of KIRAC. Let’s hope that our films will overcome our own post-modernism and stand the test of time. Mozart was also a product of his time. Michel Houellebecq is a pure French boomer. But it’s not just that. We also present various semi-anachronistic or atavistic ideas. In episodes 19 and 20, we propose the idea of hardcore portraiture to make art interesting again, as opposed to all the boring abstract and political crap you see at international art fairs like ArtBasel.”

Media coup of the month
So what exactly is KIRAC? We don’t know much more about it, even after several days of exchange. Is it a cancerous tumor of post-modernity, situationist pornography, or simply a joke by smart guys looking for recognition? One ends up believing poor Michel Houellebecq, who has undoubtedly sinned through pride and vice: he will have been cheated, deceived by what he has sinned. Finally, KIRAC’s approach techniques look like pimping and sexual blackmail. A technique that has flourished in contemporary art – Benjamin Griveaux knows something about it. In any case, KIRAC has succeeded in creating a buzz at any cost, this contemporary mania.