Friday, September 19, 2008

Collaborative Art and Relational Experiences in Public Space, Jordi Claramone, Javier Rodrigo (La fiambrera Obrera)

What’s all this about collaborative art?

Conventional public art tends to be defined as an aesthetic object by its relationship to a physical place; in contrast, the emerging practices of public art in the 90s constituted interventions in the public realm that included the processes of discussion and construction of a community will and a project of community, able to house all meaningful subsequent work. It is about this that we wish to speak.
Collaborative work does not mean, as some seem to have thought, that what was negotiated before with some “authority” (installation of a dolt on a horse) must now be framed by a more or less ethereal and un-localizable “community”.
We do collaborative work because artistic processes tend to be inextricably bound to the processes of constructing an identity and a public realm currently threatened by the neo-liberal steamroller.
Much of all this used to fit into the concept of “empowerment”, essential to collaborative work, which sustains “the creative values of the fragmented, -decentralized and democratized- power to develop local narratives against the great globalized discourses of the power groups…” M. Miles. At this stage it should be clear that “empowerment” is useful to us as a challenge to the deconstructive postmodernism that began by negating the very possibilities of the processes of significance.
Having reached a medium in which the political appears so directly, surely someone will make us note that all this is fine and good, but is it still art?
(whoever doesn’t care that much about this question, as we “fiambreras” don’t care may stop reading now without further hesitation, because what follows is hardcore theory)

The person who does care to answer this question faces the task of reconstructing history from the avant-garde and even before, spinning the thread that consistently shows how the practice of art is wholly united within these processes of the radicalization of democracy:
Adorno asked us to consider how art could be saved in so far as it included a bunch of things that were not- yet- art. In that sense, Rosalind Krauss develops a possible connection when she speaks of minimal art as a practice capable of inciting the environment that envelops the work; that the piece incites that which it is not and puts it into operation as space. Hal Foster also goes in this direction when he affirms the identical function in a more social rather than merely topographical sense, as in works by Buren or Haacke regarding exhibition spaces and powers. From there, it’s not hard to imagine a model that puts the work into different categories of relation and tension with the social and political context in which it is produced and distributed.
The October theorists read the Frankfurt School theorists who in turn had read the old enlightened scholars and so on, no matter how many turns we make, that’s where we’re heading: to Diderot, who calls beautiful “everything that contains in itself something with which to awaken the idea of relation in my understanding.”
Watch out, because thanks to encyclopedic old Denis, we can take on a whole bunch of things, in a very clarifying way, that the moderns had such a hard time separating under the names of art and life and such. Let’s get used to thinking about the relevance of that which awakens in us the idea of relation, and that it does so, to follow with the Enlightenment, without being limited to concept.
And therefore recall Proust, for example, speaking of how no artist succeeds in contributing more than a single beauty, which is to say a single relationship or kind of relation, a kind of production, of conception therefore, an ontology and a pragmatics (a “representational space” Lefebvre would have said; a play on words the other would have said)

I know we’re moving very fast, but if we are with Diderot, with Proust (with Valery or with Mondrian) in that the practice of art has meant putting into circulation ways of relating (whether it be in music, painting or narrative) which can be read as ways of life… it so happens that the specificity of collaborative art is now limited to contextualizing that practice within the current conditions of the production and distribution of signs, representations and discourses… (Conditions clearly marked by a growing impossibility for the autonomy of lives and consciences.)
And in doing so, we have to accept from the start (or from the end) that our work can no longer be confined in any way to the artworld, our work must take on, as its specific morpheme, the combat against unitary or monolithic thought (or unitary, monolithic life) and its small un-astonishing agents: if in our work we run across rehabilitation plans that eject residents, bishops that rob parks and so many privatization plans, it is because together they form a kind of puree whose common enemy is the proliferation of relational liberties that in another time were called art… or life.
In the end you make collaborative projects because you find that you “can’t” do anything else; that is to say, you know that any other thing doesn’t have to be what it says or wants to be: at another time in history you could compose a sonnet and imagine that with it, you made art, that is to say, you put into circulation the elements of a certain way of relating (new or not).
Now, as soon as you try to do something like that, you’ve got to be a real imbecile not to notice that neither the publishing channels nor much less the art galleries are free spaces for the free circulation of relational proposals. You have to see that they are taken over and stagnant worlds. And that the freedom of others to take our proposals and our own freedom to propose them and live them, these liberties I say, are not some piece of information, they are something to be constructed and defended.

For that reason, we call collaborative art the process by which a group of people construct the specific conditions for a setting of specific freedom and in doing so free and release a way or a handful of ways of relating; that is to say, it frees a work of art…
We know that the choice itself for this discourse to circulate is its insertion in a certain “way” or fashion that has carried a most NGO-like spirit to the world of art.
Even the professors, who yesterday celebrated the jinx of postmodern incommunicability, today are all mixed up in signing manifestos against this and against that. That’s why we trust even less than ever those who waste their breath in idle chatter and distinctions, the purisms, that’s why it is crucial that the practices do exactly as they please, that the discourses last just enough and that we meet each other on the streets.

Domesticated and staged experience. Problems and contradictions within collaborations.

The public space simply cannot be considered a neutral and willing setting for the experience (aesthetic or not) of a specific agent (the artist or cultural worker). The experience that one seeks to represent passes for genuine and unique, even though it is totally artificial. That is to say, it is established and described within certain parameters of contention set by the artist and above all by the institution from which the artist gets the experiential field for the aesthetic experience.

The spectator appears as a participating-passive element, given a setting in which the subject matter is already fixed, as the means and conditions of distribution of the product, and in which the activation of the work always remains subordinated to an institutional frame from which its distribution and repercussion are controlled. They may sometimes go no further than the walls of the museum or the temporary spatial frame in which the author’s intervention is set. The dichotomy museum and public space, or museum and streets, no longer serves as a means by which to catalogue the work of a political activist or socially committed person. To the expansion of sculpture, proclaimed and celebrated as the liberation of the 90s, one now adds the expansion of the field of art and the creative sector to all public space. Perversely, with several and uncontrolled effects, culture appears like a custom to exploit or a mine to proliferate its social and clearly speculative dimension. In this way, the gallery, the museum, the biennial, and even Documenta (standards of the art institution) expand the terrain of the public, but very much to our chagrin, nowadays so too does the cultural market (present in the creative industries, in the agencies of urban renewal that municipal governments manage and in the public art projects), as spaces of colonization and the re-appropriation of certain social modes and currents that are captured and represented as a value in the third sector.

Additionally, in these settings, the artist or group of artists (this question is of no importance in terms of the degree of experience contained or packaged to be sold) construct their image and profile as the only active agent capable of constructing a meaningful experience and therefore set themselves up as the true Enlightened leaders of the inexperienced masses, or rather, of the un-identified or over-identified masses: the groups that are worked with have had certain classifications imposed on them which help us central Europeans or members of the white middle class feel good in our work in a kind of enlightened populism which serves to clean our social conscience.

This relationship entails the “stretcher” effect of the NGO, also called aesthetic messianism by Kester or sub-contracted services. The artist, artists or cultural workers (there are several labels…) construct a relationship of service and temporary assistance to the other and this other in turn lends them their social representation. This other is determined as the needy, the underdeveloped or the subordinate class. Since these people’s experience does not allow them to see beyond their meted and decimated horizon of life, they show us that it is the artists who regulate a kind of activity that, it seems, will reveal the path of their liberation, their emerging consciousness (the famous “conscience raising” or “empowerment” that feminism and the politics of identity defended so necessarily in the 80’s, now refashioned into a social advertising campaign seen everywhere). This collaborative relationship is founded after a prior tacit agreement, like a Rousseauian contract; from the start it establishes a continuously asymmetric relationship between the artist and the collective and maintains a kind of experiential production that limits and annuls the complexity of the social, the contradictions of the field and the diverse tensions and differences that always arise in the public space. With it, the experience appears already canned and delimited, its design, its contents, prefixed, and it is imprinted like a recipe book on the communities or groups with which it has had its shindig (where needless to say the experience does not emerge, it is designed and staged ostentatiously). And we say “shindig” to refer to the celebratory range of the production of this docile space where the artists create these temporary and unlikely contexts for social coexistence: call them soup kitchens, a clothes exchange fair, open air videos or projections, or streaming in real time between who knows who or what. In all of these artificial settings, the important thing is not so much their degree of fiction or intervention, which actually could be feasible and effective for certain situations or for certain works, even as an engine for later work (who doesn’t remember the projects of the grandfathers of public space at the end of the 80’s such as Holzer or Wodyzckwo?). Rather, our argument here rests on the nullification of the conflict, the obliteration of the multiplicity of views and above all on the later instrumentalization of this experience in the Art Institution for its benefit only, in detriment of any work or reciprocal benefit for the community or social network with which it has been developed, beyond the mere excuse of “giving voice” or raising “critical consciences in the subordinate masses” (and other messianic proverbs).

We believe, and we emphasize as an ideological point of view, that this kind of experience is pre-described, pre-assigned and programmed beforehand so that it is staked out in the public space in order to be sufficiently pleasurable and celebrative of the social space, and at the same time, minimally transgressive for the cultural institutions or cultural policies that promote its celebration. That is to say, transgression and conflict are minimalized or symbolized in order to make a profit for the culture market. So this transgression often consists of a site outside of the museum, or an interaction with collectives, translated into events that do not “bother” anyone and do not work on the institution’s political structures (and if they are given the label of educational, better yet). We believe that the key point of any work with meaningful experience resides in an organic and articulating element, since it is impossible to delimit and much less to constrain experience to a given enclave, since it can always flow, interact, relate and be collectivized in unexpected places, and with that, possibly, create agency.
Here, much to our regret, the unpredictable nature of the social space is domesticated into the cultural institution, and the critical autonomy of culture is planned and simplified in the field of the social. The experience understood as “modal” in so far as it can be reiterated and appropriated evaporates. Only the postmodern superficiality of the event remains, that point where “it seems” as though it’s beyond everything, while the experience disappears and will be replaced by another postmodern event the next week: one day it’s counter-cultural hip-hop, the next it’s children’s story telling. The experience is quickly consumed and we can’t digest it or make it meaningful beyond the symbolic spectacle it’s served for the museum or cultural institution (that spends its money afterwards in making catalogues or in representing these social events in great marquees). As we see, this kind of preconceived, canned and rapidly digested experience can well be described as a “fast food” or cultural “junk food” that loses the contextualization and ecological and articulating depth of the experience as a space of long-term collaborative work.

In these pseudo-participative relationships with the experience as a collective element, we finally see how the relationship with the field of public space is limited by a vertical regulation towards the other, through a degree of contained experience. This degree can be quantified, though at a qualitative level, in order to be made visible at a later date, that is, documented, packaged and institutionalized as a product for sale . Here the experience that supposedly is constructed as collective is really canned to be sold as a symbolic value within the institution. The cultural capital of the people involved in the experience (or better, their lack of cultural capital in the institution’s eyes), whether they are communities, a group of people or the X-group, is sold as a group experience, meaningful and emancipating for the art institution, without bothering anyone. Much less can it be re-appropriated, so that in the end its subversive capacity has been neutralized at the end of its distribution.

Articulation from practices: final considerations
To conclude this text, we think that seeking to translate this rhetoric into concrete projects would be the best way to discuss the statute of intervention necessary for collaborative practices, if we really want to construct a continuous articulation. Throughout these years, and among the successive people who have crossed our paths and produced their forms and ways of making and doing within our works, we have been able to see how the collaborative experience always emerges invisibly from between the nooks and crannies of systems, and how it was extended, constructed and appropriated contagiously in an infinity of settings and very different situations (we have made a great number of friends, comrades, but also enemies).

It is curious that most of our works that have lasted the longest (or that others have continued and disseminated) have been precisely those which, as they were set at the edge of legality, were always articulated by different collectives and already active as social networks for their dissemination. It is there that a part of the work, as continued, delayed or submerged activism--we would speak of long-term collaborative practices--has gotten people talking and has probably been more effective in its behavior and continuous articulations. Thus, always thinking about some kind of DIY policies (“do it yourself” policies), an “I cook it, I eat it” collective, has helped us conceive collective projects in which people teach and follow instructions on how to rob as a form of life, having only to download the famous red and purple books, and thanks to that, acting out themselves in an endless variety of different supermarkets and fashionable shops. We have also been witnesses to a process of how to develop amusing and ironic means of representation in order to advance the use of public space, taking parks with the effective help of the neighbors, and even, why not, sexual relations from a setting of independence and work in action (well, this work in fact made us come out in the media and even in the tabloid gossip pages).

In all of these projects, the idea of articulation as a space in which people produce their modes of making and doing was key, since it entails the real use of a contagious autonomy in a specific space and structure. Our objective, if it can really be reduced to one, was precisely to produce the most effective tactical means of intervention for the organic structuring of experience. However, or fortunately, - each can judge for him or herself- projects like the agencies meant a weakening due to the illegalization of the very organism of modal practices, and above all a factual demonstration that work which articulates experiences may well include collateral effects that an institution or a museum sometimes cannot stand, as well as direct reprisals (the burning of the bus of the agencies). Events that demonstrate in the end, how much power this kind of collective experience brings together when it is precisely transformed into that: agencies.

Also right now, we have been able to see another direct line of work which we will talk about a bit more and which again responds to this need to create networks for a work of constant articulation. This project is the Bordergames. While not new in its design, we have spent several years with the idea; yes, it means a provocation and a challenge for us in many respects, which furthermore has allowed us again to contrast our collaborative aspirations with the day to day reality and work with networks in other cities and situations.
On defining Bordergames we’ve always known that saying that it was a participatory videogame made by young people, and such things we tend to say (see the Web page of the project, was limited. We also became aware that people confused the the entire project of autonomy, on the one hand, as a space of compulsive metonymy according to which something symbolic could be put forward or carried out. Thus, some people over-identified with the business of aesthetics of the actual videogame, new technologies and art, while others were overwhelmed by the idea of free software and new uses of the web, or even saw in it a great project for working with young people on digital literacy– these are all aspects we’re always pleased to see taken into consideration and in fact form part of the project-. However, nobody talked about the idea of the web as a network, and of the relational-autonomous work that bordergames sought to set in motion. Here the issue was that of bringing together an initial modal proposition with articulation as the final goal: we always imagined groups of young people working and making their own versions at other sites and afterwards making workshops for other people.

We continue our travels and incursions with the first Bordergames under our arm and have been lucky enough to experience its dissemination in two different workshops: the first one in Figueres, with the help of Náu – Coclea, and a second one in Berlin ( within a project of street theater, with the help of Raumlabor during the first stage. Our drifting through these cities has had positive results in terms of the project’s articulation: those of us who wanted to make a Bordergames were no longer a few enlightened types, no, we had a meeting place and space for collaborations with different networks that gave rise to the structuring of autonomous work teams in both cities. Additionally, very different teams emerged, with entirely contextual stories, and above all a network of collaborative work. On reaching out this point, we now also work in Barcelona, thanks to the partnership with an association of social educators working with young people called TEB (Ravalgames will soon be released ). We are also working in Morocco, thanks to the collaboration with Rifsystems at the city Al-Hoicema ( "Rifgames" on the way, as well) and in Gijón thanks to the youth association Mar de Niebla and the Laboral Arts Centre.

In all of these enclaves, collaborative work has meant negotiating and working with the networks and people in each place, with their means and their contexts in order to activate reflection on the public space, and also, make its constant articulation possible thanks to the videogame and the workshops that come out of it. Here some of us still work face to face with educators and other agents, and we continue learning and collaborating – and sometimes even have a few beers—together. Additionally, in this sense, collaborations with new members of the network have been created, fostering team work, in the hope that in a second year round, in different centers, the participants themselves – or some of them- might give the workshops and create their own experiences beyond our presence. For that reason, the work of articulation has always been in tandem, on two fronts, as we don’t only wish to create the setting in which the modal relations may be spread through the different workshops and city representations, but we also think that this work should be activated by the networks themselves in an immediate future. We think that our collaboration with bordergames has served as a toolbox, so that each person can use and create his or her own recipes and methods in each context (or make their own repairs and arrangements). This helped Bordergames to serve as a network and therefore as a mechanism of distribution. With it, we believe we are pointing to the construction of another mechanism of articulation to be used and re-used constantly, in each situation, in addition to an exchange among the different nodes of the network. This is part of the history of Bordergames, which we also hope will soon become disseminated.

Above copied from:

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