ArtForum, March, 2004 by Carlos Basualdo, Reinaldo Laddaga

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ArtForum, March, 2004 by Carlos Basualdo, Reinaldo Laddaga
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¿Es la modernidad nuestra antigüedad? Sí. Y la posmodernidad nuestra edad media. Y nosotros somos algo así
como un renacimiento. ¿De qué? De la modernidad. Lo que significa que tal vez sea útil, para nombrar el momento
en el que estamos, adoptar una expresión de Ulrich Beck: “segunda modernidad”. Esto es, en todo caso, lo que
pasa en el dominio de las artes. En esta segunda modernidad que es la nuestra sucede que los artistas comienzan
a abandonar un valor al que los artistas de la primera modernidad se aferraban: el valor de sacralidad, de la sacralizad
peculiar que era el atributo de la obra. Es que un número creciente de artistas conciben el dominio del arte no como el
lugar donde se pone en escena la puesta aparte de un objeto o un evento que se espera que se vuelva, entonces, el sitio
donde se concentra una fuerza particular, sitio de falta o exceso que trasciende el plano de los intercambios cotidianos. Esto es,
en la mayor parte de los casos, lo que la modernidad llamaba “obra”. Este era el objeto dominante del deseo moderno de arte. Esto
es lo que figuraban una diosa griega en las “Cartas para la educación estética del hombre” de Schiller, la imagen de Olympia en la
pintura de Manet, el golpe de dados que, en el poema de Mallarmé, tiene lugar en una mesa estelar, Mona Lisa inmersa en una luz
sólida en la descripción de Walter Pater, el faro a la distancia en la novela de Virginia Woolf, el castillo en la de Franz Kafka, el aleph
en el cuento de Borges, una jaula de pájaros con cubos de mármol realizada por Marcel Duchamp, un trozo de muro amarillo en un
muro de Vermeer observado por Proust o un escorpión en el muslo de una figura india observada por José Lezama Lima. Todas estas apar
mismas habían abierto, irrupciones que abrían el acceso a esas exterioridades que eran el espíritu profundo de un pueblo, o la densidad de
inconsciente.
Y para aquellos que querían el rechazo, la destrucción, la transgresión de la figura de la obra (las vanguardias, digamos), alguna forma de
evento, se trataba de alcanzar: la instauración de un caos primordial, el despliegue del inconsciente, la imagen acabada de la utopía, o sim
claro está, la modernidad asociaba), en el Cabaret Voltaire o los espacios del teatro y la peste, en la producción de una catedral moderna
accionismo vienés, los ejercicios de resistencia de Joseph Beuys o de Marina Abramowicz, las destrucciones del primer Nam June Paik, las c
de Jean Tinguely, los cortes y agujeros de Gordon Matta-Clark, los rituales de Hélio Oiticica o las sesiones de Lygia Clark.
En cuanto a lo que llamamos “posmodernismo”, se trata usualmente de los índices y los efectos de la dispersión de las energías que se ha
artistas más interesantes se proponen superar, el problema que se proponen resolver, el paraje del que se proponen distanciarse. Pero no ten
verdaderamente deseable o posible recomponer aquella ahora antigua cultura de las artes tal como era (aunque sí realizar, respecto a ella, o
desplegándose por un cuarto de siglo. Es decir, en la modernidad donde, en un número creciente de dominios, proliferan formas transdiscipli
1
un actor central, está crecientemente “desagregado” (Anne Marie Slaughter ), y funciona como parte de un vasto irregular conjunto de i
personas, dinero, armas, productos e informaciones. Esta es la modernidad donde aquello que Benedict Anderson llamaba “capitalismo de im
que opera a partir de diferentes premisas, donde la circulación digital permite, al mismo tiempo que formas inéditas de control, la form
determinadas por la pertenencia nacional e incipientemente cosmopolita, donde se multiplican las formas de ciudadanía compleja. Es la mode
En una condición como ésta, en la que las formaciones de subjetividad y colectividad se vuelven volátiles e inciertas, es razonable que pase lo
individuos formados en la tradición moderna de la literatura, del arte, aun del cine, entienden que es posible movilizar esta tradición para exp
que componer obras o preparar eventos donde una exterioridad se exponga, ocuparse de crear plataformas que les permitan a grandes gru
entornos, consigo). Allí donde los artistas modernos (y los más interesantes de los posmodernos) concebían la función del arte cuando era c
lucha con las malas totalidades, un número creciente de proyectos artísticos recientes apuntan a establecer puntos de apoyo y residenc
experimentales para grupos de individuos en situaciones de alta movilidad y flujo.
3
Lo más vivaz y virgen del presente, a mi juicio, tiene lugar allí donde se ensayan formas de autoría flexible, organizaciones de la producción d
un objeto variable, que crece o decrece según las intervenciones de grupos abiertos de interactores, un poco como sucede en los proyectos d
Wikipedia, en la suma creciente de “espacios de información social asincrónicos on line” (Danyel Fisher). Allí, y en sitios donde se diseña
sistema museo-sala de concierto-cine-librería, espacios de conversación donde se exploran otros modos de coexistencia.
Por eso, quien quiera observar lo que del presente constituye una promesa de novedad, probablemente debería observar las acciones de
producir imágenes o realizar intervenciones irruptivas, proponen plataformas, mecanismos y recursos que les permiten a artistas y no
modificaciones en espacios reales y dispositivos que permiten construir narraciones colaborotivas e imaginaciones momentáneas, noticias qu
asociados con programadores, antropólogos, militantes o vecinos, que, en un momento en que las estructuras modernas ya no pueden conte
en una época de pérdida de capacidad organizativa de las sociedades nacionales, creen que es posible volver a movilizar tal o cual momento
dominios, considerar de nuevo sus potencias, para realizar una interrogación práctica sobre las formas posibles de ponerse en común, de
modo de complicar y enriquecer nuestras nociones, por ejemplo, de lo privado y lo público, y hacernos saber mejor lo que comenzamos a sab
segunda modernidad hace posible.
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Rules of engagement: from toilets in Caracas to new media in new Delhi, Carlos Basualdo
and Reinaldo Laddaga survey five recent art projects dedicated to social change through the
creation of experimental communities
ArtForum, March, 2004 by Carlos Basualdo, Reinaldo Laddaga
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IT IS PERHAPS IRONIC THAT A DISCUSSION OF WHAT MIGHT BE TERMED A NEW culture in
the arts should begin with that old modernist saw, the toilet. However, the toilet in question is very
different from the one that Marcel Duchamp presented almost a century ago at the Society of
Independent Artists. In 2003, the Slovenian artist Marjetica Potrc, in collaboration with the La Vega
neighborhood association and the Israeli architect Liyat Esakov, proposed the installation of two dry
toilets in Caracas and its outlying areas. Potrc began her work as a research project involving
several "barrios," or shanties, of Caracas without a specific goal in mind other than a general desire
to understand the life conditions in such an extreme urban environment. She writes, "I was
personally drawn to the fact that the barrios are not planned; they are self-upgrading structures. Liyat
and I realized that the infrastructure provided by the city has failed the barrios; electricity is generally
stolen and water is provided only twice per week." After an initial research period of three months,
which included many discussions with local community members, Potrc and Esakov decided to
focus on the sewage contamination and scarcity of water in the "informal city," as the shanties are
technically called. They designed a prototype toilet that could be built and used by the neighborhood
residents, and they implemented a six-month trial period, after which point the toilets may be
permanently adopted. The project represents the climax of a long period in Potrc's work devoted to
the search for solutions to a variety of concrete cases of extreme need.
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Potrc's work is characteristic of a growing number of artists whose projects demand the mobilization
of complex artistic strategies that combine techniques traditionally related to the arts with technology
and the mass media. These artists eschew making stable, self-sufficient objects that are removed
from the particular physical or social contexts in which they appear. They do not produce specific
events or performances confined to a particular place or time, but rather, they propose open-ended
projects aimed at fostering experimental communities: temporary but durable associations
composed of artists and nonartists united in their mutual endeavor.
Potrc, for example, uses drawing to explore a range of urban problems that attract her attention and
to investigate a variety of possible solutions, both realistic and utopian. Reminiscent of Yona
Friedman's sketches from the 1970s, her drawings seem to perform a pedagogic role, informing art
audiences of her activities outside traditional exhibition spaces. Potrc's drawings combine words and
images to bridge the apparent gap between her urban investigations and a more established
definition of artistic practice. She usually complements these drawings with a related website and the
display of various experimental prototypes and utilitarian objects. These "power tools," as she calls
them, are paradigms for--and embodiments of--a wide range of already existing "solutions" to
specific social problems. The "solutions" are not instrumental in the productivist sense. They do not
belong, for instance, to the progressive tendency of "formalizing" the disorganized or "informal"
aspects of a particular impoverished neighborhood by integrating it into the macroeconomic urban
system. Instead, Potrc adopts partial and economically sustainable "self-help" solutions, which
contradict the instrumental and bureaucratic logic that subordinates individual subjectivity to
supposedly objective criteria of efficiency. Potrc's "solutions," then, are solutions only insofar as they
restore the autonomy of those who adopt them.
One of the most well-known examples of projects like Potrc's is Thomas Hirschhorn's installation at
the most recent Documenta. The piece involved the construction of a series of precarious buildings
called Bataille Monument, 2002, in the public spaces belonging to the Friedrich Wohler-Complex, a
group of residential buildings in the northern part of Kassel. The project included, among other
elements, a sculpture of wood, cardboard, tape, and plastic; a library of books related to Georges
Bataille (a collaboration with Uwe Fleckner); an exhibition made in collaboration with Christophe Fiat
featuring a three-dimensional map of Bataille's work; a television studio broadcasting daily on the
Kassel public-access channel; a stand with food and drink; a shuttle service taking residents and
visitors to and from Documenta; and, finally, a website with live-feed images from various parts of the
Monument. Through these multiple components, the project opened up exchanges between the local
community of mostly Turkish immigrant families and a larger context, including other communities in
Kassel, the city administration, and the audience of Documenta. Even the process of constructing
the piece itself constituted the invention of a possible community--a community that, while composed
from certain preexisting elements, ended up incorporating people, places, and ideas that were
initially foreign to it
At first, Potrc's and Hirschhorn's activities might seem familiar as forms of state-sponsored
community art or art education. However, these traditional strategies of engagement are essentially
conservative insofar as they conceive of artistic production as a compensatory activity while, at the
same time, they generally imply a static notion of communities that are themselves dynamic.
Breaking with the sacrificial figure of altruism, artists like Hirschhorn and Potrc, by contrast, are
careful to avoid the temptation to identify and merge with a community understood as authentic and
organically defined. Their projects take place in contexts where the very existence of the participants'
fixed identity cannot be assumed. Indeed, the premise of works like Bataille Monument is that all
identities--even the most putatively stable ones--are inexorably volatile. Such projects set out to
increase the complexity of certain urban and social situations through the incorporation of
heterogeneous elements from their surroundings. The work thereby adjusts itself to its milieu and
creates a space in which the knowledge and actions that arise from its making can circulate and be
recorded. This involves a particular type of learning that consists of figuring out not only how to
execute a certain project but also how to clearly articulate its goals and the identity of the collectivity
concerned. These projects thus attempt to explore the possibility that aesthetic pleasure might be
derived from the collective acquisition of knowledge.
This type of learning process was central to Jeanne van Heeswijk's Face Your World, a 2002
collaboration between the Wexner Center for the Arts, the Central Ohio Transit Authority, and the
Greater Columbus Arts Council's Children of the Future program. The project allowed a group of
children aged six to twelve to produce images of their urban surroundings by using computer
software (installed inside a bus), which was developed by the artist in collaboration with the poet and
philosopher Maaike Engelen and the Rotterdam software designers [V.sub.2] Organisation, Institute
for the Unstable Media. The resulting collection of personalized images of imaginary public spaces
was displayed on three "bus stops," which were in fact slightly anthropomorphic public sculptures
designed by another van Heeswijk collaborator, Dutch artist Joep van Lieshout and his Atelier van
Lieshout. Face Your World was intended not to reconstruct the actual city but rather to imagine the
very possibility of doing so. Above all, it created the potential for collective invention and community
building.
Van Heeswijk's project, like Potrc's and Hirschhorn's, began with an affirmation of the primacy of
collaborative production processes over individual ones. When a large number of individuals with
access to different types of knowledge converge, a degree of complexity emerges that is unavailable
to individual artists. This condition allows for the creation of a radical constructivism, a practical
conception of the social whereby a community group takes form through extensive research and
conversation. Such a process occurs in Cybermohalla, an ongoing project in New Delhi begun in
2001 by Sarai: The New Media Initiative of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies.
Cybermohalla comprises a group of Indian artists, filmmakers, and computer specialists who work in
collaboration with Ankur, a nongovernmental organization dedicated to experimental forms of
education. The project sets up meeting places for young people and assists them in carrying out
collaborative activities that usually take the form of interviews and annotations in hypertextual
diaries, later submitted for public discussion. Shuddhabreta Sengupta, a member of Sarai, writes:
"Diaries have the potential to evolve newer languages that further displace dominant discourses
because they are situated and personal, outside of the domain of the 'expert,' and the technocratic
language that 'expertise' entails." The interviews, stories, photographs, software animation, and
audio recordings that make up the diaries have been made public via books, postcards, CDs,
stickers, monthly magazines, and a multimedia installation evocatively titled Before coming here, had
you thought of a place like this?
Similarly, beginning in 1993 in the Saint Pauli district of Hamburg, another hybrid project brought
together a series of exhibitions, ongoing conversations, and celebrations in a mutually reinforcing
circuit. That year, an alliance of neighborhood residents, musicians from the local Pudel Club, and
squatters started a protest to keep the city government from giving private developers a vacant lot
that was an important meeting place for different local populations. When some artists, including
Christoph Schaffer, Cathy Skene, and later Margit Czenki, joined the effort, they formalized the
complex multidisciplinary venture under the name "Park Fiction"--a phrase that referred to a famous
Hamburg rave of the early '90s and that stressed the importance of imagination in effecting social
change. Together they proposed an urban plan to the Hamburg city government, as well as a series
of activities to be carried out jointly by the neighbors and the members of the group. These
endeavors were aimed at giving form to the desires and collective knowledge of the Saint Pauli
neighborhood while contributing to the creation of a community that depended on otherwise unlikely
alliances. Some of the activities were topical, such as the workshops, tours, film screenings, and
lectures that the group called "infotainment." Others were ongoing and took place daily at the vacant
lot in a specially modified shipping container that housed the group's archives and communications
media. A third initiative involved a touring exhibition, which appeared at the Vienna Kunstverein in
1999 and at Documenta 11 and will open at the Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporaneo in Seville
this May. There, documentation related to Park Fiction is shown in an installation designed by
architect Gunther Greis that evokes the Constructivist language of the Soviet avant-garde. When the
first phase of the park was finally built in September 2003, artist groups including Sarai and
Argentina's Ala Plastica visited Hamburg for "Unlikely Encounters in Urban Space," a series of
presentations that took place over several days and ended in a collective celebration.
[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]
All of the artists discussed above have generated strategies that take up certain moments from the
neo-avant-garde tradition and develop them in new ways. Their relationship with predecessors such
as Joseph Beuys and the Situationists can be compared to that which exists between the political
revolts of the 1960s and '70s and contemporary movements for global justice. While the former
activists championed national or social liberation in the context of industrial capitalism and privileged
a model of revolutionary transformation, the latter ones oppose the dominant neoliberal consensus
by proposing to distribute common resources in the interests of "performance and survival rather
than profit," to quote historian Immanuel Wallerstein. Analogously, if many socially engaged artists
previously approached their work as a manifestation of pure matter or authentic experience, which
often tended toward ritualism, the artists under consideration here reject such a model in favor of
nonhierarchical collaborative production. They engage a parallel tradition including Helio Oiticica,
Gordon Matta-Clark, and Robert Smithson--all of whom viewed artistic practice less as a matter of
executing an a priori plan than of responding directly to situations in the outside world beyond their
immediate control.
In all these projects, as anthropologist Arjun Appadurai has written, "internal criticism and debate,
horizontal exchange and learning, and vertical collaborations and partnerships with more powerful
persons and organizations together form a mutually sustaining cycle of processes." The concern is
to facilitate the creation of exchange networks between groups of people in order to produce new
representational forms and community identities. In turn, these circuits come to intervene in
traditional art spaces, thereby effecting a "globalization from below." These projects thus constitute
various points in a kind of universe in the making, one characterized by the vast movement and
interaction between far-flung social networks. Yet in the process of forming, the organizations find
themselves inexorably facing a fundamental problem: modes of organization. Art institutions offer
some help in this regard, often promoting and ensuring the long-term success of particular projects
and providing a network of relatively connected environments by which experimental communities
can reach one another. Nevertheless, artists today demonstrate an ambivalent relationship to these
institutions, which are implicitly hindered in their social efficacy by their tendency to exhibit objects
more or less in isolation for more or less solitary individuals over relatively brief periods of time. How
to overcome these limitations? How can very diverse local intentions be brought together on behalf
of unified actions that acknowledge their diversity as well as their shared values? How are positions
in a broad conversation distributed and enumerated? Is it possible for the arts to intervene effectively
in the shaping of contemporary society? Suddenly, such problems have become central for artists
engaging collaboratively with communities. Their work raises precisely these questions while at the
same time attempting to answer them.
Carlos Basualdo is a New York-based critic and curator.
Reinaldo Laddaga is assistant professor in the Department of Romance Languages at the University
of Pennsylvania.
COPYRIGHT 2004 Artforum International Magazine, Inc.
COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group
Carlos Basualdo "Rules of engagement: from toilets in Caracas to new media in new Delhi, Carlos
Basualdo and Reinaldo Laddaga survey five recent art projects dedicated to social change through
the creation of experimental communities". ArtForum. . FindArticles.com. 06 Nov. 2008.
http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0268/is_7_42/ai_n6005385

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