Who is Speaking? Who is the Public, the Institutional, the Major

“Submitting to a voice”- me listening as part of an artwork at Liquid Architecture exhibition Eavesdropping at Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne, August 2018

I’m reading the introduction to the book Locating the Producers: Durational Approaches to Public Art, 2011 (edited by Paul O’Neill and Claire Doherty): it takes big steps – from willing to commission dynamic “place-based” art, understood as constellation of social relations, –  to open-endedness of process to defy instrumentalization of art [1]. However, with parameters such as  “place-based” art and “public art” taken as genres, impacts, and meanings, there is a kind of mindset and text already elaborated – from which it is perhaps too hard to jump out anyway. How to handle the big claims of “public art”? Perhaps, scale down to a situation, a project and art work, but also make them even bigger thinking “public” in  the sense of humanity. This makes me think of the manifesto-like Theory of the Minor by curator Chris Sharp. There he defends the rights for art to be “minor” and so to be against what is called “major.”  The major/minor contradiction is one reflexive mechanism that simply displays the question of art autonomy on the banner and provocatively asks – hey, what about art just being itself?  In Chris Sharp’s words –

“the major, like allegory, instrumentalizes. [..] Seeking the lowest common denominator, which is often found in either spectacle, topicality, or use value, it continually asks what art can do, as opposed to what it is or can be, which  it almost always takes for granted” [2].

The reality is  specific. The  art world is composed of people: artists, audiences, and other agents. Reference systems and policies are language, voices, that come through our own words and mold our thinking, perceptions and emotions. Some sort of voice or rhetoric “often” resonates the value with leaflets, FB posts and information panels. People require and expect translations. In reality, the institutions are made of people, and policies are drafted by (mostly) passionate art-loving and practicing people. On deeper level, there is no contradiction between groups of agents, and there is a “common interest” overarching the whole “art field” including practitioners, insiders-politicians, producers and organizers. Making a separation between information and the field of reality can be a methodology.  What if we read through/behind buzz-wordy statements that claim the use value of the arts sector and rather locate people, human beings separately. What if we reshuffle and deflate the focuses on “public art” and “place-based art”.  The point is – isolate the language and ask – who is speaking, or – where does it come from, “whose” voice is it, what process is behind?

Cutting through the icing of the cake when dealing with language as text, information, words, is not idealistic but practical. Being in the shoes of a producer of information and translations, I find it interesting and fair that the speaker identifies themselves, or maybe manifests their absence. Authorization is transformed into communication between agents.

 

[1] Paul O’Neill  and Claire Doherty (eds.), Locating the Producers: Durational Approaches to Public Art (Amsterdam: Valiz, 2011).

[2] Chris Sharp, Theory of the Minor, Mousse Magazine, 57, 2017.

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