10/10/2016


The Question: How (from your experience and perspective) do artistic practices create public sphere?

I suppose in the simplest way, when an artist makes a big sculpture that create a place where people congregate they add to this public quality of life in the public area. That’s the simple or traditional way. And then there is the other way, when artists make events and make things, work on projects that are not objects, or work with the public, you create a different kind energy with the public, you create a different kind of public life. You are asking the wrong person because I do it, I don’t really think about it, and I don’t really think about the legacy of the things I do or their effects. I just make it happen sometimes, if I’m lucky. I suppose artists also help the public to look at their surroundings more or differently, or look at their history differently or again, and that is another way of creating a common consciousness with the public.

10/10/2016


The Question: How (from your experience and perspective) do artistic practices create public sphere?

With respect to the question, I would like to answer on the basis of three debates that have repeatedly taken place in the discussion space (esferapública) that I have directed and moderated since nearly fifteen years ago. It is a site on Internet in which artists, curators, critics and people from the art field participate through texts and debates.

One of the most regular discussions has to do with political art and the way this should participate in public debate on situations of great relevance like the issues of violence or conflict. Nowadays, when we are in peace processes, there is a very relevant issue related to that: what can happen after the conflict. Political art could have a lot to say and debate about this and could offer some different ways for openly taking part in the discussion. However, there have been a lot of criticisms made that this art has largely been aimed at the field of the market and the galleries, basically circulating in the commercial and institutional circuit, very far removed from the public debate on social issues that are of burning importance in our country.

Another important question that has arisen over recent years concerns independent and self-managed spaces, which generate an alternative to the circuit of commercial art, galleries and institutional spaces. In principle, this involved a series of places that began to appear in our country some fifteen or twenty years ago, created by artists. In their form of exhibiting these spaces provided a much more critical format in comparison with the curatorial circuits. What has been happening recently is that they have been normalised and standardised to the point where they are not much different from an institutional space or a commercial gallery. They are spaces that need visibility in fairs. They are openly participating in the market and what they really offer is a first opportunity to an emerging artist, who will later be recruited and begin to circulate in the conventional, institutional circuit.

Finally, the third debate is about art related to the community. Practices in which the artist generates many works or processes of dialogue in an open relationship with small communities, neighbourhoods or vulnerable communities. There are very interesting projects at present in different parts of the country. But also, in relation to peace dialogues and the funding provided by the state to favour artistic projects in the post-conflict period, many projects have appeared that simply seek to generate collaboration with a community in a very one-off way in order to gain visibility and a reputation thanks to that.

These are the three discussions that have taken place. They generate a series of reflections and also raise a question: Why are artistic practices, which should supposedly create the public sphere, more aligned with the world of the market and losing their critical capacity and capacity of reflection?

10/10/2016


The Question: How (from your experience and perspective) do artistic practices create public sphere?

At the educational department of the Museo Es Baluard, which is where my experience proceeds from, we are interested in working with artists and cultural producers, with collectives and groups of people, because it seems important to us to develop practices in which a public sphere is generated. This means initiating a series of debates amongst the members of that group on a concrete issue of any type to generate a discussion in society. The public sphere is a place of enunciation where we always intervene from a perspective, from a position or a very specific place.

Working with artists is interesting because it makes it possible to initiate those debates and processes. When one works in the educational field, they provide a complement to one’s ways of doing and even to one’s ways of looking. The relation between art and education is problematic, not free of conflicts and not always easy. Moreover, working in education or in artistic practices does not necessarily entail generating a public sphere. Nonetheless, when shared projects are generated with that intention, very interesting processes and results can be obtained.

Some of the artistic practices that are related to creating a public sphere are those that involve collaboration, the communitarian and the participatory (depending on the degree of participation). In any case, one has to be very careful with the relations between different agents and the hierarchies that can be established. One of the dangers of artistic practices in this context is that they can assume a hegemonic position and that those who are working collectively to generate debate can end up being manipulated. But this forms part of the problems involved in the process itself.

10/10/2016


The Question: How (from your experience and perspective) do artistic practices create public sphere?

The complicated thing in this question is to say whether or not artistic practices contribute to generating the public sphere. As it seems a bit risky to answer directly, I will try to provide a general drift.

The definition of artistic practices is constantly being renegotiated. In the XX century this can be seen with the vanguards, where each movement tried to totally change what the earlier movement had done. At a certain point the vanguards reach a stage that lacks definition, which in turn gives them potential; this lack of definition generates a space of possibility. Activists, for example, have used it in the legal framework. But there are many other collectives that have generated a public sphere in a similar way. Their singularity thus provides a space from which a public sphere can be created.

It is difficult to evaluate how real this public sphere is. At times it is perceived in an almost involuntary way, almost in a turbulent way. In my practice I sensed this when I started to practice performance – at the moment when I abandon a controlled and regulated space like an exhibition hall and decide, as in Trabeska, to do a performance in a natural park with its own dynamic and its own logic. For me, there is a before and an after in how I conceive the reception mechanisms of the proposal I have designed and how I involve the participants. I can keep in mind what it is that I want to communicate, how long it lasts or the way I want people to perceive it. But if it rains or a pack of wild boars appears, this will equally affect the piece in spite of my taking decisions in that respect and there are no norms that can foresee this. That is how I conceive of this supposed idea of a public sphere, incorporating contingency as something productive.

At a more general level, in the institutions for example, it is also possible to perceive this dichotomy between the discourse one wants to transmit or the public one is trying to reach, and what happens, the real use that is made of that space. There are a lot of people who come to an artistic centre for other motives: because there is free Wi-Fi or because it rains a lot in the city and they want a place to shelter. The institution thus becomes a leisure centre for teenagers where they can spend an afternoon sending messages by mobile phone, listening to music and watching videos. It is hard to say whether or not this creates a public sphere.

In any case, I have never thought about my practice with the intention of contributing to generating the public sphere. It even proves complicated to understand the concept of “public sphere”, what it means or how far it reaches. For example, this space where we find ourselves, in which several artists are trying to construct workshops, could not have had this use some years ago because it was a wine and oil store and it was full of liquid. A little before we came, it was a storehouse for toilets. Now we have arrived here and our intention is to establish our workshops and also possibly to organize a program of public activities for the neighbourhood and for a particular sector. We do have the intention to generate something or to have some reach from this space, but I also question whether it didn’t have some repercussion on the public sphere previously, although this didn’t involve artistic practices. In any case, I do think that artistic practices have this exceptional condition due to their constant redefinition and, nonetheless, I also suspect that many other fields provide other exceptional conditions that also enable or contribute to generating the public sphere in other ways.

10/10/2016


The Question: How (from your experience and perspective) do artistic practices create public sphere?

In order to answer the question: “in what way do artistic practices contribute to creating the public sphere?” I would refer above all to the place in which I work, which is the artistic institution. It has long been established that this institution should participate in the expansion of the public sphere as a place in which to discuss and identify society’s problems.

It has always done so using the notion of crisis, the idea being that the institution should participate at a time of difficulty, of decision-making. However, the contemporary crisis seems to be a crisis of the crisis model. Possibly, in the future we will no longer study the public sphere using the crisis model because it will have been invalidated by a chain of crises. At bottom, the crisis model implies that there are moments that are not times of crisis, meaning that there is a positivist confidence in progress that we perhaps already know to be impossible, which almost ties in with a utopian situation.

The question of the construction of the public sphere is also related to the model of analysis. Analysing is good, but it’s not enough. What must be created are horizontal, volatile and dynamic dialogues, which put all of the actors of the public sphere into relation. This is what some people have come to call super-diversity. Conventional concepts like mediation have been surpassed by the concept of intermediation. Mediation as a space for conversation amongst these actors cannot be considered sufficient; instead, for the real construction of the public sphere, action must start from notions of intermediation. This refers to what Bataille had already outlined in the 1930s: the creation of a headless space in which to raise these questions. That is why the notion of the public sphere reaches a point where it becomes anachronistic, because it is limited to a space that is totally apart from reality.

If we really want to think about how to construct the public sphere, we should perhaps think about how to go beyond that sphere and operate from reality. Possibly the form of doing so will not be through creating grand narratives and the intention to seek a form of explaining everything, but instead will involve thinking in terms of little transformative stories.