aesthetic of failure




i fail every day.

i acknowledge that i have privileges, but i experience failing normative standards every day.

it is not that i am doing something wrong.

it is actually the system that fails me.

it does so by maintaining its systemic oppression on the communities i belong to.

the system that fails us.

when i declare that i am failing, i reclaim my agency. i stop climbing unclimbable walls. i make them visible.

when artists choose to fail artistic standards, they tap into an aesthetic of failure and into its potential for social change.

"cripping the arts" is a movement among disabled artists that falls into such an aesthetic.


[cripping the arts] "embraces the ways that disability can [on purpose] disrupt the status quo and lead with difference".
(Christina Myers, Canadian Art, February 12, 2019)




other examples of and about

Das Schloss
by Franz Kafka (1926)

"Failure aesthetics and the modernist quest narrative"
by Jonathan Ullyot
(2015)

[Walter] Benjamin introduces the idea of an aesthetic of failure in a 1938 letter to Gerhard Scholem to describe the uniqueness of Kafka's aesthetic. "To do justice to the figure of Kafka in its purity and its peculiar beauty,"Benjamin writes, "one must never lose sight of one thing: it is the purity and beauty of failure. There is nothing more memorable than the fervor with which Kafka emphasized his failure."
Bertold Brecht and existentialists
might be figures whom we would want to connect with an aesthetic of failure. but, in their work, the failing characters stay free while experiencing the absurd. such authors are "thematising" failure, they are not practicing an aesthetic of failure. similarly, when an artist experiences an unintended rejection by their art public or their art critics, they experience failure, but they do not practice an aesthetic of failure. was impressionists' original intent to fail? no.

practicing an aesthetic of failure is an "enactment of the very impossibility to gain a perspective on failure". (Arielli, 2021)

in that sense, failure is not talked about. it is in the process; it is performed; it deconstructs the norms outside and inside. it inevitably changes something.
L'innommable
by Samuel Beckett
(1949)

L'innommable/The Unnamable is said to be a prime example of an "aesthetic of failure". "Peut-être ne sommes-nous pas en présence d'un livre, mais peut-être s'agit-il de bien plus que d'un livre de l'approche pure du mouvement d'où viennent tous les livres; de ce point originel où sans doute l'oeuvre se perd, qui toujours ruine l'oeuvre, qui en elle restaure le désoeuvrement sans fin, mais avec lequel il lui faut aussi entretenir un rapport toujours plus initial; sous peine de n'être rien. C'est à épuiser l'infini qu'est condamné l'innommable."
by Maurice Blanchot
Le livre à venir
(1959)

the character fails. the author fails. all disappears.
Theatre of the Oppressed by Augusto Boal (1970's)
"What is Forum Theatre?"
impossible dances
in "The Sea & Poison"

by goat island
Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow (1998)

"News from Nowhere:
Goat Island Performance Group"

by Sara Jane Bailes
(2011)

Performance Theatre and the Poetics of Failure
by Sara Jane Bailes
(2011)
Mayoral bid
by Keith Cole
Toronto (2010)
The Aesthetics of Failure
by Maurizio Catalan
Guggenheim, New York, US (2011)
Real failure needs no excuse
by Richard Ibghy and Marilou Lemmens
Mississauga, Toronto (2012)
"On Failure"
edited by Róisín O'Gorman & Margaret Werryin
in Performance Research volume 17 issue 1 (2012)
"When does performing failure become its own failure?"
performed by Jeremy Wade
reviewed by RM Vaughan
Toronto (2015)
Untitled Fall I
Montréal (2015)

Untitled Fall II
by Adriana Disman
Toronto (2015)
Theatre of the Unimpressed: In Search of Vital Drama
by Jordan Tannahill
Toronto (2015)
"Tempting Failure Festival"
by Thomas John Bacon
Croydon, South London, UK (2018)
failure postcards
by claude wittmann
Toronto (2017-2019)
precarihousingthemap
by claude wittmann
Toronto (2021-2024)
The anxieties of control and the aesthetics of failure
by Emanuele Arielli
(2021)
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