It has been a widely acknowledged idea in Western culture in the 19th and 20th centuries that only by removing itself from social reality, modern art can obtain its potential for freedom. Today, however, art institutions face a new demand to connect art to life outside the institution. Therefore there is a need for strategies to help museums and art halls become active places that connect immediately to the social realm. This proposal sets out to develop new strategies for action that will feed into the transformation process that art institutions are going through at the moment. The means by which I will develop this knowledge is by analyzing three independent art initiatives. These are: CRAC, an independent art platform in Valparaiso (Chile), Konsthall C, an art space based in Stockholm and Latitudes, a curatorial office based in Barcelona.
In the project I will ask, how the specific ways of connecting artistic creation, social engagement and production of knowledge in these independent organizations enable these to deal adequately with the urgencies that they set out to address: in the case of CRAC, the reinvigoration of a collective memory in Valparaiso, in the case of Konsthall C a community-based engagement with democratic subjectivity, and in the case of Latitude the design of a curatorial model for producing relational events. What is the nature of the relation in these cases between artistic work, research and an engagement with the social context in which the organizations are embedded?
The expected outcome of the proposal will be to gain new knowledge of how the turn in contemporary art to project-driven and extra-disciplinary action leads to a new understanding of art as an instrument for intervention with communities. On a more concrete level, I aim to establish a transfer of strategies developed within the realm of self-organized initiatives to the sphere of more formalized and established institutions. This implies an ongoing dialogue with the two collaborating partners to the project: Kunsthal Aarhus and Museum Jorn. Both these institutions are at the moment going through a process of reassessing the potentials of instituting – that is of developing new methodologies of action. Kunsthal Aarhus has developed the programme “The Museum without Walls”, which is supported by Nordea Foundation for offering art experiences to larger audiences. Also Culture 17, Aarhus as the European capital of culture in 2017, challenges Kunsthal Aarhus to render contemporary art relevant to everyday life in the city of Aarhus. In the same way Museum Jorn is in the process of formulating a new vision for the museum, which is envisioned to have a more active interaction with the city. This process is politically motivated by the local municipality in Silkeborg.
In both cases, therefore, Kunsthal Aarhus and Museum Jorn face political agendas coming from a political instrumentalization of culture at the level of private foundations and the local political system. This reality points to a more general contemporary condition in which former distinctions between knowledge production, creative work, and social engagement have become blurred (Lazzarato, 2013). The challenge that contemporary art institutions are facing as a consequence of this cultural situation is the ambivalence of having to work within a double-sided realm (O’Neil, Holmes, Christensen). On the one hand, the art sector, at least at a strategic level of action, must adapt to the politics of contemporary capitalism in order to receive funding. An example of this is the recent demand for participation, which is often motivated by new management models of social legitimation. Also contemporary art with its capacities for creating intense, relational encounters delivers the core values of immaterial capitalism (Agamben, Vishmidt, Steyerl). One the other hand, contemporary art institutions try to counter this culturalized logic of production and come up with alternative politics of action. This legacy of art to take on a critical function in society today takes on the form of providing alternative ways of connecting to others. It is often referred to as “the common”. The common designates a realm of shared meaning, which provides an alternative to nation state public space and to commodified forms of production (Hardt and Negri 2000).
In the field of art theory this situation of cultural capitalism has redirected discussions towards issues of knowledge production, collective organization and social engagement. Theorists such as Giorgio Agamben, Gerald Raunig and Suely Rolnik have argued that in contemporary capitalism, the power of change resides in employing the means of knowledge and communication to create small ruptures in the existing social fabric. The potential of art, its freedom, is thus increasingly viewed as interventions into the existing world. Such types of strategies have been designated as “micro-politics” by (Rolnic, Mouffe), “modest proposals” (Esche) and under the heading of the common (Agamben, Negri, Virno). The implication of this change is that art’s autonomy is located differently. Instead of defining autonomy as a freedom obtained by opposing society or by opposing institutions, autonomy becomes reconfigured as a potential for exodus – for alternative forms of instituting, of curatorial action (Bismarck, Schafaff, Weski, Möntmann, Martinon, Apple, Raunig). From a museological field of research a similar rethinking of the museum institution is taking place at the moment, highlighting questions of responsibility in museums for social engagement. From within museological thinking museums are thus being addressed as participatory (Simons), contemporary (Bishop) and critical (Esche).
What is lacking in art theory, curatorial studies and museology today, however, is a deeper understanding of how new types of action in independent art initiatives invent new forms of autonomy by redefining what constitutes an institution. This proposal, therefore, will come up with new knowledge of what happens, when “institution” turns into a verb to institute. Rather than a formalized set of politics that precedes and conditions the production of projects and exhibitions, these organizations enact instituting as something active. This proposal builds on my previous research in the PhD-project No Soul for Sale, The Art Museum as a Site of Immaterial Production in which I identified a need in art museums to rethink their function as social sites. This has provided me with a ground from which to engage with questions of how established institutions respond to a contemporary situation. While still occupied with contemporary conditions for producing art, this proposal, however, differs from my PhD-project in its primary empirical material.
As a point of departure for this investigation I will discuss the concept of “virtuous action” developed by Paolo Virno (Virno, 2003). Virtuous action is the kind of action that innovates production, and therefore it is artistic. It is at the same time social because it is directed towards the production of social relations, and it is also political in the sense that it provides convincing economies for living. It is my idea that this concept of action as simultaneously artistic, social and political will be productive in relation to the case material. It will thus form the methodological point of departure for the project. What characterizes the initiatives that are to be investigated is exactly that they reorganize the differences between the modalities of the artistic, the social and the political. Also the notion of instituent practices as developed by the Austrian philosopher Gerald Raunig will be discussed in relation to the case material. The idea of instituent practices suggests that “institution” is something that unfolds through assertive, communicative events (Raunig, 2009).
What is central to CRAC, Konsthall C and Latitude is that they consider art production to be something that is created collectively. It takes on the character of a research process that makes use of all kinds of archives, data, information, sociological data, urban housing information, knowledge of cultural practices, histories of immigration, archaeology and so on. At the same time the experiences of visitors or people from local communities become a vital part of the process.
CRAC, or Centro de Residencias para Artistas Contemporáneos, is situated in Valparaiso, Chile in a social context characterized by the dominance of neoliberal government policies, a weak democratic public and a collective memory haunted by the trauma of military dictatorship. In the case of CRAC action comes to serve the goal of remedying trauma. The issue of collective experience, and of reengaging with memory, by bringing about new knowledge of the past and of the subjective experience of the people living in Chile, becomes essential to the project of CRAC. Social engagement, knowledge production and artistic work thus connect in order to reenact collective memory at the level of sensual experience. In relation to CRAC I will focus on the concept of “micro-politics” as a politics that can be mobilized through sensual experience and activation of memories stored in the body (Guattari and Rolnik).
Originally an artwork situated in a public laundry in Högarängen, a suburb in Stockholm, Konsthall C is embedded within the Swedish welfare history and the project in the 1940s of shaping democratic citizens by bringing culture into the suburbs. Konsthall C is simultaneously a neighbourhood renewal in Högarängen, an institution and an artwork. In relation to Konsthall C I will focus on the relation between the local municipality and art space. Konsthall C is in fact owned by the municipality and throughout its existence it has collaborated with the municipality. How does this combination of suburbian environment, Swedish welfare state project and close relation to local municipality inform the way in which Konsthall C organize their actions?
Unlike CRAC and Konsthall C, Latitudes is nomadic. It is based in Barcelona, but it develops models of curatorial action that may be adopted into various contexts. Latitude is thus not committed to a specific community. It does work with sites, but the sites are exchangeable. Its working model is to offer curated events understood as a “sites of production”, as relational, participatory, moments of interruption, intimacy and immersion, and open to the audiences that take part in the event. Variously carried out in Mexico, Hong Kong and Barcelona, Latitudes is not motivated by specific urgencies in a social context. And unlike CRAC and Konsthall C it does not abandon the fields of tourism and life style culture from its repertoire of event-based actions. It therefore may appear apolitical in its embrasure of contemporary culture. What I will pursue in relation to Latitudes is the notion of the event as an open structure of becoming (Deleuze and Guattari). Does it signal an embracement of, or an exodus from, neoliberal government?
This project will enable me to consolidate a research profile in the cross-disciplinary field of contemporary art, curatorial studies and institutional theory. Due to its collaborative and networking aspect, the project will also strengthen my international network and give me more experience with creating exchanges between the environments of museums, art halls, independent initiatives, and research environments.
In its very design this proposal is conceived of as an international and global collaboration between art organizations (Museum Jorn, Kunsthal Aarhus, CRAC, Konsthall C and Latitudes) and research institutions (the research unit in Art Curating at AU and Institute for Contemporary Art Research, Zürich University for the Arts). The project will be hosted by Department of Aesthetics and Communication, AU. The location of the project in Aarhus will be important, as I will aim to strengthen the collaboration between ARoS, Aarhus Kunsthal, Museum Jorn and AU on the Culture 2017 public art programme. Furthermore the project will be embedded in the research environment in relation to the new International Master in Curating at AU, which will start January 2016. In order to secure that the project develops in a close exchange with an international research environment, I will be working part of the time at Institute for Contemporary Art Research, Zürich University for the Arts. ICAR is particularly relevant to the issues of my proposal because it will allow me to have an ongoing dialogue with professor Gerald Raunig, who is a leading figure in current discussions around questions of contemporary art and institutional change.