2016

Traps, Clues, Trails, Nearsightedness

Sala d'art jove

Presentation text of the exhibition Follow the trail as though you were nearsighted, co-authored with Txuma Sánchez and Marta Vilardell. Sala d’Art Jove and Arts Santa Mònica19.07 – 02.10.2016

 

In 2016, it has been ten years since the Sala d’Art Jove began implementing a working model that has been widely recognized by the Catalan art scene. (1)With an initial phase under the name Sala d’Art Lola Anglada, the Sala d’art Jove is a facility run by the Public Authority for Youth Matters within the Department of Labor, Social Affairs and Families of the Generalitat de Catalunya, which has been promoting emerging art since 1984. In 2005, a significant renewal of the facilities was proposed, spearheaded by Núria Martínez Vernis, with the collaboration of Oriol Fontdevila and the association Experimentem amb L’Art [Let’s Experiment with Art]. The Sala d’Art Jove began a new period in 2006; one year later Txuma Sánchez and Marta Vilardell joined the team. In terms of public recognition, the work done by the Sala d’Art Jove has received prizes on various occasions: in 2011 by the ACCA, the Catalan Association of Art Critics, and in 2013 by the Barcelona City Council, with the awarding of the Visual Arts prizes. This occasion can provide a certain amount of exposure for an exhibition initiative like Segueixi els rastres com si fos miop [Follow the trail as though you were nearsighted]. At any rate, all exhibitions are full of traps.

 

Trap No. 1

We couldn’t turn down an opportunity like the one provided by Arts Santa Mònica to create a retrospective exhibition about our facility: being given a showcase to promote the projects produced by the Sala d’Art Jove over the course of 10 years should serve to intensify our work in disseminating emerging art, to evaluate our progress and, as a result, improve the public positioning of our project.

All things considered, the continuing crises that have occurred in Catalonia during this period affecting museums and contemporary art centers have made us suspicious about the possibility of increasing our visibility on the cultural map. We are not the first to admit it: “As far as visibility goes, everything is rigged,” (2)Quote attributed to Jacques Lacan in: Phelan, Peggy. Unmarked: The Politics of Performance. New York: Routledge, 1993, p. 6. According to Phelan, “Visibility is a trap; it summons surveillance and the law; it provokes voyeurism, fetishism, the colonialist/imperial appetite for possession.” and, in fact, the management team has recognized, on more than one occasion, that occupying a secondary position in the scope of Catalan cultural policy may even have been a good thing for the program’s development. (3)The potential of the Sala d’Art Jove as set apart from cultural policy is something that is discussed in some of the conversations and texts compiled in Sala d’Art Jove. 2010-2011, Generalitat de Catalunya. Department of Social Welfare and Family, Barcelona, 2012. And in: Fontdevila, Oriol. “Naturaleza contradictoria. Algunas instantáneas de la fauna y flora del desierto catalán.” In Eremuak # 0. Department of Education, Linguistic Policies and Culture. Basque Government, 2013.

We won’t insist on listing the institutional experiments that have failed to prosper in Catalonia in recent years. With this text, we only hope to emphasize that the price to be paid by remaining on the outskirts of cultural policy can also be very high: in a piece we wrote recently for a publication edited by our friends at Sant Andreu Contemporani, (4)Fontdevila, Oriol. “De l’èxode a la insurgència.” In Article no. 2, Sant Andreu Contemporani. Barcelona City Council, 2016, p. 7-25. we talked about the fact that, under the auspices of institutional crises, spaces like ours have begun working as a kind of cultural maquiladora. (5)Maquilas or maquiladoras are companies located in developing countries (generally considered third world) where multinational corporations can find cheap labor and import goods without paying customs duties. George Yúdice was the first to use the term maquiladora in the cultural sphere in his well-known work El recurso de la cultura. Yúdice, George. El recurso de la cultura. Barcelona: Gedisa, 2002, p. 352-357.

In cases like the Sala d’Art Jove, but also Sant Andreu Contemporani or Can Felipa Arts Visuals, the production of knowledge and artistic value has been accompanied by flexible working structures that have held up because, in the name of artistic emergence, they have subjected their supposed beneficiaries to considerably unstable conditions.

Visibility, therefore, is a trap in different ways. On the one hand, because recent history has shown that being on the radar of cultural policies is not a guarantee of structural improvement; on the other hand, because despite the opportunity for visibility that it offers, an exhibition celebrating 10 years of the Sala d’Art Jove, held at Arts Santa Mònica, has to be experienced with a certain amount of precaution: although improving the public presence and positioning of our program is important, we should guard ourselves against producing a legitimizing effect on an institutional landscape that has regressed during those 10 years.

 

Trap No. 2

The possibility of articulating a structure that is also emerging in itself has been a concern of the Sala d’Art Jove since 2006. While the cultural industry has given rise to an emerging culture based on promotion in the style of a “Top Ten” list, at the Sala d’Art Jove we have understood emergence in a dialectical sense, with quasi Marxist roots: parallel to the ideas of Raymond Williams, an emerging culture introduces new values and practices, the effect of which is to destabilize a dominant culture, with the possibility of leading to social change either immediately or in the long term. (6)Williams, Raymond. Marxism and Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977. An initial development of this discourse with regard to the Sala d’Art Jove was posited in: Fontdevila, Oriol (2010), “L’actualitat de les cultures emergents.” In En cos i ànima. Una dècada d’art emergent. Generalitat de Catalunya. Department of Culture and Media. Tarragona Territorial Services.

Though it may seem paradoxical, the art system is often resistant to this type of emerging processes. Rather than experimenting with modes of repercussion and dissemination, artistic institutions tend to work like retaining walls with a disruptive potential for the art. In that sense, at the Sala d’Art Jove we have taken up the challenge of accompanying emerging art with equally insurgent mediations; (7)In this case, we are referring to the idea of insurgent mediation laid out by David Harvey: “The target of insurgent politics is to capture, reform, or replace the mediating institutions and thereby transform the rules of translation from universality to particularity.” Harvey, David. “Spaces of Insurgency.” In Subculture and Homogenization. Barcelona: Fundació Antoni Tàpies, 1998. in other words, we have understood that emerging processes cannot be possible without establishing correspondences between the processes of creation and the processes of mediation. The way we see it, insurgent mediations allow themselves to get tangled up in the same processes of experimentation, thus facilitating the articulation of artistic practice as an antagonism, while at the same time preserving the institution’s position as an open and collective process of construction, a permanent negotiation.

Education has been one of the areas in which we have introduced experimentation in that sense: when, in 2006, we began the first advisory processes, aimed at accompanying the work produced by the artists selected during the call, in no way was it our intention to articulate a merely educational system. (8) From the beginning, the programming for the Sala d’Art Jove has been put together based on a public call for proposals targeted to people under 30 years of age. One of the major changes that was introduced in 2006 was offering an educational program addressed to the selected participants, where a series of professionals from the visual arts world were invited to share in the production processes. Provisionally, we called these processes, advisory sessions and, although we were never entirely happy with the name because of its paternalistic associations, it remained in use until 2014. From that point forward, we have tended to replace it with the concept of mediation. At the Sala d’Art Jove, the advisory sessions have generated an environment for ongoing debate and experimentation concerning the methods of producing and distributing artistic practice, and the debate has continued to thrive. Currently, the characteristics of the programming for exhibitions and activities are reevaluated in keeping with the needs and desires of the artists and mediators who make up the working teams for the year in question.

Our intuition is that experimentation cannot be limited to the production of a series of objects or representations that can be identified as artistic. On the contrary, we need to guarantee that artists are given the possibility to influence how their practice relates to society. The idea is not to apply a specific set of cultural policies to the art; rather, using processes of mediation created as described above, the aim is to catalyze the political vision that is inscribed in the artistic practices themselves. To paraphrase Jacques Rancière or Chantal Mouffe, therein lies art’s potential for shaping the world order and the perception of what is common to all of us. (9)Rancière, Jacques. Sobre políticas estéticas. Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona. Barcelona and Bellaterra: Servei de Publicacions de la Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, 2005. Mouffe, Chantal. Prácticas artísticas y democracia agonística. Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona. Barcelona and Bellaterra: Servei de Publicacions de la Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, 2007.

Another way of intensifying the uncertainty regarding the processes of creation and mediation has been to increase the number of collaborations. The most powerful attempt included the creation of a continuous collaboration network involving youth-centered, artistic and educational associations through the territory, which also had a line of communication with the local and provincial administrations. (10)The network in question is the Xarxa Nacional d’Art Jove [National Young Art Network], which we worked on putting together from 2007 to 2009 in collaboration with the five territorial coordinators under what was, at that time, the Secretariat for Youth. Although the experiment was unsuccessful, it was the embryo for the co-production processes subsequently spearheaded by the Sala d’Art Jove involving museums and art centers throughout the territory. In addition, systematic collaboration processes were also set up with schools, associations and organizations of many different kinds: to such an extent that, with recent programming such as Avantsala + Fuga (2013), Pica i Fuig! (2014) and La gran il·lusió (2015), both artists and mediators moved a significant amount of their activities to other locations, which left the Sala d’Art Jove’s own exhibition space with hardly any programming.

Each of the collaborations has responded to unique intentions even though there has always been an underlying tendency toward hybridization, dissemination and untimely action. (11)The intent among artistic and cultural institutions in Catalonia to collaborate in a network is something that advanced rapidly during the years following the economic crisis. Nevertheless, for our part, collaboration has always been posited as a challenge with implications on the institutional definition. In that sense, despite the obvious limitations of the project, there is a text that has always been a point of reference for us: Universidad Nómada. “Mental Prototypes and Monster Institutions: Some Notes by Way of an Introduction.” In Transversal. EIPCP, European Institute for Progressive Cultural Policies, 2008. Online at: http://eipcp.net/transversal/0508/universidadnomada/en. That being said, when Arts Santa Mònica invited us to create a retrospective exhibition, that drive intersected with a second force, which pulls in the exact opposite direction: the possibility of canonizing artistic proposals.

An exhibition covering 10 years of the Sala d’Art Jove runs the risk of pushing us toward the “Top Ten” or “shortlist” effect that we have always tried to avoid. Therefore, we ask ourselves: Is it possible to show a selection of the practices and processes brought to the Sala d’Art Jove in the past 10 years without falling into the trap of a success story or a canon based on an attempt to select the best work? To what extent is an anniversary a good time to double down on our drive for experimentation?

 

Clues

Follow the trail as though you were nearsighted looks at a series of tensions that have characterized artistic practice over the past decade, and which have had a particular impact on the Sala d’Art Jove: the question of transmediality; the debate on productivity; the educational turn and collaborative work; artistic research; and the tension between the reflexiveness of discourse and performativity.

Transmediality emerged against all odds. Whereas, at the beginning of the millenium, digital environments and the Internet were still seen as a media utopia and as a line of flight for artistic practice, it was not long before what might be called the last productivist dream went up in smoke. The projects generated at the Sala d’Art Jove tended to respond like the aphorism formulated by Henry Jenkins: “Old media never die–and they don’t even necessariily fade away.” In any case, some are displaced as others emerge. (12)Jenkins, Henry: Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York: NYU Press, 2008, p. 13. The disruptive possibility of art, therefore, is not associated with the specific characteristics of a particular medium; rather, it tries, precisely, to resolve itself in the links and spaces of transfer between old and new media.

Nevertheless, although the Internet hasn’t managed to establish itself as the sole medium, it has led to the generation of ideas like open code and pro-communitarianism, which have shown considerable significance both on the Net and off it. The rise in collaborative approaches in relation to artistic practice can be explained, in part, in reference to the digital issue. (13)The shift in art on the Internet toward collective action proposals in early 2000 is suggested by Jesús Carrillo at the end of: Carrillo, Jesús. Arte en la red, Madrid: Cátedra, 2004, pp. 221-246.

Likewise, the assessment of digital culture as an immaterial phenomenon also fed into the debates concerning artistic research and education: in early 2000 the purpose of art was consolidated as lying in the production of critical understanding. In that sense, from that point forward the debate has focused on its role in relation to other knowledge disciplines and, as such, in relation to the implications for cognitive capitalism or post-Fordism. (14)In the yearbook from 2009, two texts were published that dealt with the so-called educational turn and artistic research. More than once, those texts have served as a point of reference for orienting our work in both those areas: “Apunts sobre el gir cultural de la recerca artística,” by Montse Romaní, and “Posicions en el camp educatiu,” by Aida Sánchez de Serdio. Sala d’Art Jove 2009. Generalitat de Catalunya, Departament of Social Action and Citizenship, Secretariat for Youth. Barcelona, 2010.

In any case the discursive question in art has entered into a tense relationship with performativity: a certain pragmatic approach and a growing politicization of artistic practices has led to renewed questioning of the imbalance between critical perspective and the possibilities of praxis. In that sense, whereas artists and curators from previous generations defended discourses rooted in feminist thought, postcolonial thought and institutional criticism, in recent years the question has shifted toward the limits of art’s possibilities for action and transformation under the auspices of critical theory and the structures of the artistic system. (15)As stated by Dorothea von Hantelmann, performativity in art is based on a pragmatic understanding of the impact of art. In that sense, beyond the discourse or the meanings that art articulates, the interest is shifted toward grasping the methods by which those meanings become socially or politically relevant. Hantelmann, Dorothea von. How to Do Things with Art. Dijon: Les presses du réel, 2010.

As we understand it, this magma of tensions is where artists must take their stand today: between discursive production and the capacity to move into the realm of action; between critical perspective and collaborationism; between self-reflexiveness and the possibilities provided by old and new media for dissemination within the social framework. Even so, it would be a reach to limit the practice of the more than 300 artists and cultural agents who have come through the Sala d’Art Jove to date judging by just a few characteristics. And not merely for a question of quantity: when we try to establish a focus for an analysis of the artistic practices as a whole, there are always outliers.

 

Trails

Based on these clues, we have put together five lines of investigation; by following their trails we will define the curation for the exhibition. The proposals for its execution were offered artists and curators who have collaborated with the Sala d’Art Jove over the years: the question of production was suggested as a jumping off point for Pilar Cruz; artistic investigation was proposed to Íngrid Blanco and Antonio Gagliano; discourse and the critical viewpoint fell to Alex Brahim; collaborative practice and the educational turn to Cristian Añó and José Antonio Delgado, and the question of transmediality to Martí Anson. Breaking up the exhibition into different lines of curation has to do with the need for multiplying the interpretative frameworks we apply to artistic practice; but it also ties in with our need to break away from defining a canon.

Follow the trail as though you were nearsighted is an attempt at an exercise in deliberate nearsightedness. On the one hand, the exhibition can be read as representative of the tensions that have permeated art during the past decade, it is impossible to establish any kind of perspective: the projects included in the exhibition maintain such a close correspondence with the structures of production and mediation that it removes any illusion of an independent point of view that could situate the artistic practices on the margins of the circumstances of those networks. On the other hand, while the exhibition can be read as a summary of the work done in the Sala d’Art Jove, having selected the projects according to the specificities of five different investigations makes the idea of establishing a canon equally impossible.

Bruno Latour tells researches in the Social Sciences to simply follow the trail like someone who is myopic. (16)Latour, Bruno. Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. With his Actor-Network-Theory, Latour encourages researchers to leave behind the articulation of overarching systems and the base their work on a meticulous examination of the networks that make up social phenomena. He suggests they follow the chains of media and mediators that articulate reality and, as such, recognize themselves as mediators, who alter their object of study through their investigation.

A working process with these characteristics leads toward an investigation founded on a constant recognition of the partiality of knowledge, which is posited as situated, in addition to being determined by the tools used in its analysis. As expressed by Donna Haraway, embodied knowledge isn’t a limitation, it’s actually the only way to make knowledge possible. As she says, paraphrasing, the only way to find a broader vision is to be in a particular place. (17) Haraway, Donna J. Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge, 1991. For our part, we saw the exhibition as a possibility for interpreting art from the past 10 years in Catalonia and through the case of the Sala d’Art Jove, rather than as a retrospective to celebrate in anniversary.

 

Nearsightedness

Welcome, Follow the trail as though you were nearsighted. Be suspicious of the viewing lenses provided by this exhibition, the clues it gives, the interpretations it presents regarding art and its institutions. But, above all, take off your own lenses and look carefully at them too. Instead of looking through them, look at what they’re made of. Discover them as one more element, as opposed to a viewpoint. Your nearsightedness will be more acute.

At the same time, keep following the trail and track the art and its mediations as part of the same phenomenon. There’s no possible distance, the vision won’t be clairvoyant. But as you follow the trail, you’ll find yourself becoming a mediator in the network, a new agent of narration and translation.

We hope that the projects we’ve gathered here intersect with your itinerary and that you lead them in new directions. Connect them with other realities, attending to implications that may never have occurred to the artists or the curators. Follow the trail and, as it takes you along, deterritorialize it again.

Notes:   [ + ]

1.With an initial phase under the name Sala d’Art Lola Anglada, the Sala d’art Jove is a facility run by the Public Authority for Youth Matters within the Department of Labor, Social Affairs and Families of the Generalitat de Catalunya, which has been promoting emerging art since 1984. In 2005, a significant renewal of the facilities was proposed, spearheaded by Núria Martínez Vernis, with the collaboration of Oriol Fontdevila and the association Experimentem amb L’Art [Let’s Experiment with Art]. The Sala d’Art Jove began a new period in 2006; one year later Txuma Sánchez and Marta Vilardell joined the team. In terms of public recognition, the work done by the Sala d’Art Jove has received prizes on various occasions: in 2011 by the ACCA, the Catalan Association of Art Critics, and in 2013 by the Barcelona City Council, with the awarding of the Visual Arts prizes.
2.Quote attributed to Jacques Lacan in: Phelan, Peggy. Unmarked: The Politics of Performance. New York: Routledge, 1993, p. 6. According to Phelan, “Visibility is a trap; it summons surveillance and the law; it provokes voyeurism, fetishism, the colonialist/imperial appetite for possession.”
3.The potential of the Sala d’Art Jove as set apart from cultural policy is something that is discussed in some of the conversations and texts compiled in Sala d’Art Jove. 2010-2011, Generalitat de Catalunya. Department of Social Welfare and Family, Barcelona, 2012. And in: Fontdevila, Oriol. “Naturaleza contradictoria. Algunas instantáneas de la fauna y flora del desierto catalán.” In Eremuak # 0. Department of Education, Linguistic Policies and Culture. Basque Government, 2013.
4.Fontdevila, Oriol. “De l’èxode a la insurgència.” In Article no. 2, Sant Andreu Contemporani. Barcelona City Council, 2016, p. 7-25.
5.Maquilas or maquiladoras are companies located in developing countries (generally considered third world) where multinational corporations can find cheap labor and import goods without paying customs duties. George Yúdice was the first to use the term maquiladora in the cultural sphere in his well-known work El recurso de la cultura. Yúdice, George. El recurso de la cultura. Barcelona: Gedisa, 2002, p. 352-357.
6.Williams, Raymond. Marxism and Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977. An initial development of this discourse with regard to the Sala d’Art Jove was posited in: Fontdevila, Oriol (2010), “L’actualitat de les cultures emergents.” In En cos i ànima. Una dècada d’art emergent. Generalitat de Catalunya. Department of Culture and Media. Tarragona Territorial Services.
7.In this case, we are referring to the idea of insurgent mediation laid out by David Harvey: “The target of insurgent politics is to capture, reform, or replace the mediating institutions and thereby transform the rules of translation from universality to particularity.” Harvey, David. “Spaces of Insurgency.” In Subculture and Homogenization. Barcelona: Fundació Antoni Tàpies, 1998.
8. From the beginning, the programming for the Sala d’Art Jove has been put together based on a public call for proposals targeted to people under 30 years of age. One of the major changes that was introduced in 2006 was offering an educational program addressed to the selected participants, where a series of professionals from the visual arts world were invited to share in the production processes. Provisionally, we called these processes, advisory sessions and, although we were never entirely happy with the name because of its paternalistic associations, it remained in use until 2014. From that point forward, we have tended to replace it with the concept of mediation.
9.Rancière, Jacques. Sobre políticas estéticas. Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona. Barcelona and Bellaterra: Servei de Publicacions de la Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, 2005. Mouffe, Chantal. Prácticas artísticas y democracia agonística. Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona. Barcelona and Bellaterra: Servei de Publicacions de la Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, 2007.
10.The network in question is the Xarxa Nacional d’Art Jove [National Young Art Network], which we worked on putting together from 2007 to 2009 in collaboration with the five territorial coordinators under what was, at that time, the Secretariat for Youth.
11.The intent among artistic and cultural institutions in Catalonia to collaborate in a network is something that advanced rapidly during the years following the economic crisis. Nevertheless, for our part, collaboration has always been posited as a challenge with implications on the institutional definition. In that sense, despite the obvious limitations of the project, there is a text that has always been a point of reference for us: Universidad Nómada. “Mental Prototypes and Monster Institutions: Some Notes by Way of an Introduction.” In Transversal. EIPCP, European Institute for Progressive Cultural Policies, 2008. Online at: http://eipcp.net/transversal/0508/universidadnomada/en.
12.Jenkins, Henry: Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York: NYU Press, 2008, p. 13.
13.The shift in art on the Internet toward collective action proposals in early 2000 is suggested by Jesús Carrillo at the end of: Carrillo, Jesús. Arte en la red, Madrid: Cátedra, 2004, pp. 221-246.
14.In the yearbook from 2009, two texts were published that dealt with the so-called educational turn and artistic research. More than once, those texts have served as a point of reference for orienting our work in both those areas: “Apunts sobre el gir cultural de la recerca artística,” by Montse Romaní, and “Posicions en el camp educatiu,” by Aida Sánchez de Serdio. Sala d’Art Jove 2009. Generalitat de Catalunya, Departament of Social Action and Citizenship, Secretariat for Youth. Barcelona, 2010.
15.As stated by Dorothea von Hantelmann, performativity in art is based on a pragmatic understanding of the impact of art. In that sense, beyond the discourse or the meanings that art articulates, the interest is shifted toward grasping the methods by which those meanings become socially or politically relevant. Hantelmann, Dorothea von. How to Do Things with Art. Dijon: Les presses du réel, 2010.
16.Latour, Bruno. Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.
17. Haraway, Donna J. Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge, 1991.