Solo Show/Group Show - Essay

Solo Show/Group Show - Essay

People first

One shudders at the thought of increasingly 'professional' artists, curators, directors, critics, etc' whose schooling is aimed at producing prescribed museum quality final exhibitions, performances, exquisitely professionalised displays of cultural resistance, perfectly honed critically positioned texts which are publication worthy. One shudders not because this is dull, though it certainly is that, but because the idea of being able to foresee the expected outcome of an investigative process, is completely alien to the very notion of what [art] is about.”1

Artists are people first - let us destroy the (Kantian) notion of the 'artist as genius' locked away in a separate world of myth and fantasy (more often than not their studio). For over fifty years now, artistic practice has shifted far away from this notion insofar as practice could easily replaced with the word living. Through the happenings and situations originating in the sixties through Allan Kaprow and fluxus, through to today's (quotidian) relational artists of which there are too many to name, artists have and are working with everyday realities far outside the concerns of narrow artistic trends and styles. How different really is On Kawara's I AM STILL ALIVE series made where the artist sent these telegrams to his friends throughout the seventies, to the regular 'updates' we currently post on Facebook and Twitter? “Today, more people are interested in image production than image contemplation.”2 Art and life = the same.

Artists are of course, people, yet through what Jurgen Habermas coined the 'bourgeois public sphere', of which the art-world is a component, we have created a few other preconceptions of what artists are. Through the galleries and museums that constitute the art-world, we have placed the artist on a pedestal as a great thinker or communicator of our times. In the world probably much closer to our actual realities, the artist is conversely known as a scrounger or lay-about, sponging off the state to do what they like to pass the time of day.

Both of these are untrue. Artists are the same as other people - they are interested in things. What makes them artists' is that they make things out of their interests. The problem with viewing the things they make (in Habermas' bourgeois public sphere) is that we rarely meet or speak with them.

Again to Habermas. In his text, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, he identifies that between the middle ages and the 18th Century, the public sphere was almost non-existent, due to the feudal system (of course). The King, or Lord, represented himself before the audience, making the King/Lord the only public person, all the others being (inactive) spectators.

He continues, and interestingly concludes that a ‘public sphere’ of opinion and voice, evolving through bourgeois reading groups in salons and coffee houses, to a ‘self-interpretation’ of the public sphere through the ideas of Kant, Marx and Hegel has been and gone, and what we are left with is that politicians, mass media and organisations (companies) represent themselves before the voters, in a similar structure to the King and the audience of the first instance.

Whether you go along or not with Habermas’ claims that we have gone full circle to a space where we have no (or little) public voice, in it there lays a striking resemblance to our experience of viewing art.

Replace ‘King’ or ‘Lord’ with ‘artist’ and/or ‘curator’, and keep audience as ‘audience’, and you have the current structure of how we interpret artworks. We visit an exhibition and are given a selection of artworks to contemplate and possibly interpret. Then we leave.

"Art institutions are indeed the in-between, the mediator, interlocutor, translator and meeting place between art production and the conception of its ‘public’’… ‘I would suggest that we take our point of departure in precisely the unhinging of stable categories and subject positions, in the interdisciplinary and the intermediary, the conflictual and dividing, in the fragmented and the permissive – in different spaces of experience, as it were. We should begin to think of this contradictory and non-unitary notion of a public sphere, and of the art institution as the embodiment of the this sphere."3

So what of a space where the audience witnesses an ongoing production of art, the artist and curator present as living people?

1. Irit Rogoff, Academy as Potentiality, A.C.A.D.E.M.Y (eds Angelika Nollert & Irit Rogoff) Revolver, 2006
2. Boris Groys, Going Public, Sternberg Press/ e-flux 2010
3. Simon Sheikh, Public Spheres and the Functions of Progressive Art Institutions, 2004. http://www.republicart.net/disc/institution/sheikh01_en.htm