10/10/2016


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

One of the functions of artistic practices is to generate a space of resistance against an increasingly standardised and regularised world, in which the field of freedom is being reduced. The idea of the public sphere was defined as a concept by Habermas. He said that citizens act as a public when they concern themselves with issues of general interest without being coerced. Artistic practices cannot take place except in conditions of absolute freedom. Nonetheless, the public space has been getting very much smaller, which is a threat to artistic practices. If there is no space of freedom to develop that artistic practice, it is very difficult for us to construct that public space.

Unfortunately the field of development of artistic practices, above all in this country and under this state, has been getting smaller. In recent years a field of regulations has been imposed that has affected what we understand by the public sphere with laws like “the gagging law”. Some months ago German public television interviewed me about it. The journalist brought me the catalogue of my last exhibition at the Reina Sofía and told me, piece by piece, which works that I had made in the 1980s and 1990s are illegal right now: you can’t put on a police uniform, you can’t hire this type of thing, you couldn’t have brought out this website, you couldn’t have taken this photograph… Habermas also said that “the political public sphere in the welfare state is characterized by a singular weakening of its critical functions”. I believe we find ourselves in that state of things.

There are also other fields in which we can develop the public sphere: the pro-common, which also has to do with ownership and the theory of value. That which we think belongs to all of us, which is in the pro-common space and is outside the market and its regulations. The ownership of a work like Guernica, the central jewel of the Reina Sofía Museum, is not free of controversy. It never appeared in Picasso’s legacy except for that mythical receipt that Picasso signed at the Universal Exhibition of 1937 in favour of the Spanish Republic, a form of state that does not exist today, which is why its ownership has always been in limbo. Nonetheless, there is international recognition that the picture belongs to all of the Spanish people and that is why it is placed in the museum. On the one hand, there is the feeling of ownership and, on the other, the theory of value: Guernica’s symbolic capital belongs to all of us. It is through this symbolic aspect that we should influence that space of construction of that pro-common value that cannot be manipulated through its condition as merchandise.

10/10/2016


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

When I am asked one of these deep questions, I always use the same strategy: I anchor the question, concretise it, bring it down to earth. This time I have been asked in what way artistic practices contribute to creating the public sphere, and without any doubt it’s a deep question. For that reason a concrete memory at once comes to mind. Last December I went to Berlin, that Berlin where it was cold winter and people were thinking about the situation of the refugees. They have spent three winters now concerned about that issue. I arrived in Berlin just when they were holding a powerful festival on audio-visual arts. The festival was dedicated precisely to the situation of the refugees. Its epicentre was being developed in a big theatre, in the island of the museums, in the centre of the city. The directorship of the theatre was in the hands of a woman for the first time, a German woman who was the daughter of Turks.

We went to see a performance organised by the theatre. At first we were not at all sure what on earth the performance was about: the workers told us it was on the upper floor, but when we went up all we saw was an exhibition of different works. And people like us, spectators, going back and forth. Walking the way we do in that type of place: quite slowly, quite calmly, quite quietly. We were also walking about like that when, suddenly, we saw five or six people crossing the hall without stopping and in a strange way. One went very slowly: two steps a minute at the most. Another went quickly instead, walking fast and noisily. The third was jumping, the fourth dancing, and the fifth was walking normally, but every now and then stopped dead and changed direction…OK, OK, OK, we knew it was a performance. However, it didn’t affect us at all, or at least that’s how it seemed. We watched and smiled at the walking actors, and we wondered whether we had identified all of them.

The change came later. The moment at which artistic practices create a public sphere happened to us later, when we left the hall, when we reached the enormous Unter den Linden Avenue, open and full of people. We couldn’t walk normally. That is, we couldn’t automatically take steps like we normally do, without thinking carefully about each of our muscles and movements. We couldn’t walk automatically, as we do normally, without thinking about each and every one of the consequences of walking. We didn’t walk like we did when we entered the hall, at least for a while.

10/10/2016

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

(…) I am certain that a part of recent art has consisted in bringing about a space of expression, interaction and advanced dialogue. And that in this sense the proximity of the notion of the public sphere as a political project is important, in particular in everything that involves collaborative or relational practices. I have the impression, and this is related to my own experience, that artistic practice (independent of the form it takes) produces parallel spheres of opinion. There is a way of acting – above all in recent art – that involves constructing fields of discussion on everything not included in the debates of the public sphere, fields that are not validated by language, as they are constructed in an academic way or politically, or are aimed at raising concerns that are not yet completely formulated. So, these parallel public spheres are not integrated in the greater public sphere and in a certain way they are both places of experience and possibilities that would not fit in anywhere else, in the same way that the poem contains verbal possibilities that cannot be expressed on television.

10/10/2016


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

In the production and interpretation of artistic practices I try to abide by certain words by Robin George Collingwood who, in The Principles of Art, said: The artist must prophesy not in the sense that he foretells things to come, but in the sense that he tells his audience, at risk of their displeasure the secrets of their own hearts. His business as an artist is to speak out, to make a clean breast. But what he has to utter is not, as the individualistic theory of art would have us think, his own secrets. As spokesman of his community, the secrets he must utter are theirs. The reason why they need him is that no community knows its own heart, and by failing in this knowledge a community deceives itself on the one subject concerning which ignorance means death.

COLLINGWOOD, Robin George, The Principles of Art, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1938.

10/10/2016


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

It would be interesting to think of the idea of the public sphere as an abstract and totally flexible concept rather than as a concrete situation or place. The interesting thing about the public sphere is that it is a potentiality. It is something that can exist at the moment at which different people, entities, issues or questions that are related to a particular community (whether or not it is geographically fixed is not important) converge, become separated, collide and produce some type of result. That is the definition of the public sphere: a type of potentially difficult conversation that, in some cases, gives rise to a solution, to a way out of this convergence or separation.

The public sphere as a cultural conversation, not only as a verbal conversation between people, is an interesting idea for every type of intervention in the social machinery. And art, of course, has tools, languages and tactics not only for intervening in the public sphere but for creating it.

In contemporary society, especially in the network society, we are speaking all the time. Nonetheless, we often have the not totally unfounded sensation that we are speaking without knowing with whom, and even that we are wasting time, not creating true conversations.

Curiously, the public sphere is something that can diminish, that can even disappear. What is interesting are those tactics, including artistic practice, that can reopen this public sphere in any place, in any context: in the street, in the public space or online. Or also in that hybrid space in which we find ourselves, the post-Internet condition, where when we find ourselves in the street or in the public space, IRL (In Real Life), we are connected all the time. A hybrid situation is produced where we can no longer distinguish between being online and offline, between what is analogue and what is digital. A situation is produced in which everything is now mixed. So: where do we find the public sphere?

The work that many artists including myself are realising, which we are both producing and disseminating, has precisely this goal: to describe forms in which, if you are not careful, the public sphere diminishes, closes or becomes private, and by definition there cannot be a privatised public sphere. Private not in the sense of intimate, private discourses, but of privatisation and exclusion from decision-making. The challenge, in the age of the connected society and social media, is precisely to see where these conversations can take place, where to reopen the public sphere when it was closing. It is a paradox because we have the sensation that the digital networks and media have provided enormous tools of self-expression and democratisation for interaction. Although this is often the case, at times these emancipated interactions and free expressions only take place in the most superficial part, at the interface of networks. The challenge is to discover what structures are found behind free expression in the online media. An even more specific challenge is created for artists who are seeking to open up the public sphere. This consists in studying in what conditions it currently exists, at what level of depth, or at what levels it is traversing this great structure of technological, social and mixed layers that shape contemporary, mediatised society.