Published in diVERSA magazine, nº 3, June 1995. EHU-UPV, San Sebastián (Spain)
I am a mirror, I reflect.
We know about the power of institutions to absorb any aspect that disturbs them. They adopt a permissive attitude and destroy provocation by legitimizing it. Institutions (I also mean the markets), along with the society that give rise to them, wrap up this kind of events, turning them into implicit promotion of their values.
We also know about the constant distance between art and an audience that is not specifically "of its own". An art that, being an effect of avant-garde, has tended to grow following a straight line, refering necessarily to itself and inflating its rethoric till it is isolated from social concerns. This situation is emphasized by the glorification of artistic subjectivity in front of the mass, together with the elitist myth of the "genius". Moreover, the idea of avant-garde itself involves the opposite: rearguard, more numerous, reaches second-hand acheivements later. There is located an audience accustomed to a comfortable consumption of spectacles, just a recipient, that hides its laziness (if it is induced or not, is a subject for some other time) behind ignorance and prevents from enriching its experience with the artist's, and vice versa.
There are many attempts to involve art in community, and also many failures, due to the reasons explained before. Why do we still make an effort to take art to not-usual places, to include subjects and references? And why do we still insist in developing our desires of social transformation through art? Maybe we are firmly resolved to give art a sense, a satisfactory reason to exist. Or maybe we think that the chance given to art, besides being useful to economic and political power, still allows little amounts of transgression. Does our faith lies on the fact that, thanks to the control exerted by power structures, what is marginal is also much more numerous (at least worldwide), even though it has less influence?
On last April, I assembled an installation in the Red Cross of Bilbao with the following goals, raised as questions: To run away from both obviousness and silence, that is, to make work approachable for unexperienced visitors (more or less abundant in that building), appealing to evocation instead of using an explicit and closed discourse. To mock of the paternalistic humanitarian gesture, consolation for our welfare societies, of a politics and bureaucracy-oriented organization that didn`t want to have anything to do with its exhibition hall. To identify the visitors, from the first glance, with the privileged that watch the huge inequalities below their feet. To criticize (and to criticize us) the lack of commitment of some of the erudite culture holders.
The reactions recorded on conversations and on a comment notebook (turn into an accusing finger: the feet of the educated, happy and well-eated, according to a visitor) lead to interesting conclusions. On the one hand, without ignoring that many of the visitors were artists or related people, the active or creative reception of art has been proved not to be lost, although it may be little practised, and I suspect that it works subconsciously, more intensely and frequently than it is admitted. On the other hand, it was possible to cause reflection, questions and self-criticism at many levels and with several consequences. As days went by, interpretations, replies and sensations followed one another. The installation, that only existed while it was exhibited, had a constantly changing nature.
We haven't modified any bad habit, niether art's nor audience's, and even less society's. Nevertheless, we've still got an area to affect; the fact that it is a small one shouldn't drive us to immobility, it allows us to be more effective. To stand in front of institutional power is to have a vertical relationship, that necessarily creates winners and loosers. To act on an equal footing is to move horizontaly.
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