Spatial Practice and Context Art

Creative Occupation Pop-up Street Projection, Geelong, documentation still December 2020.

As part of the new freedom and fresh urban vibrancy (after the social restrictions due to the pandemic were lifted), a few of us embarked on pop-up street projections – in connection with artist collective and my curatorial project Creative Occupation. We blended into the streetscape and all that was happening there.– It was a mode of taking a lens to see an assemblage of little events such as music, joyful crowds at a night club, friends having a glass of wine, and so on. Some people wanted to know what we were up to with our tripods and some wanted to take the stage in the ‘photoshoot’ as soon as they noticed our cameras. This pop-up adventure made a simple reminder of a piece of my past reflection, that I recently re-visited:

[…] It is not just representational systems that the artist produces but the systems that interrogate and disrupt dominant spatial regimes. In the post-medium condition the meaning of the work is in the context. The meaning is also in an active practice and enactment through fictional framework. What force of ideology is behind the represented work is usually very important. […] Simulative trend towards social practice is where the current interest and aesthetics is focused. The artist delivers not only work but first of all a proposal of ideological nature that correlates with the activity of social operations. (Dated July 2017)

From memory, a note must be made that the notion “the post-medium condition” was gained from the work by Rosalind Krauss Art in the Age of the Post-Medium Condition. For me it was an interesting illumination of conceptual artists’ practice in the 1960s-70s from the point of medium, with the examples from Marcel Broodthaers and others– Included in this medium theory was also a portrayal of the escape of the meaning from the enclosure of medium-specific objects and the adoption of the behavior of playing with the context of their categorization and commodification instead (take for example Broodthaers’ project of fictitious “Museum of Modern Art, Eagles Department”, 1969-1972).

After re-visiting my reflection I found it tempting to pick up the article by Peter Weibel where he reflected on the whole tradition of what he called context art. Excerpts of this article titled Context Art: Towards a Social Construction of Art //1994 were in Situation edited by Claire Doherty (in the popular Documents of Contemporary Art series published by Whitechapel Gallery and MIT Press). This article testified that ‘context art’ could be identified as methodological trajectory from the conceptual art’s golden age. It followed that it had increased its range of impact in current times (the 1990s when article was written); in Peter Weibel’s words, context art was – “no longer solely about the critique of art’s systems but the critique of reality and the analysis and creation of social processes,” and he added – “artists are now becoming independent agents of social processes, partisans of the real.” Basically, Peter Weibel suggested that context art in its later version was to do with the link with other-than-art discourses and the general social reality (and I think this should rather be understood as a construction or ‘reality’). That syncs with my tone when I was thinking about simulation of (new/fictive) social operations. Spatial practices including the interventionist modes such as our pop-up street projections, broadly – ‘critical spatial practices’ defined by Jane Rendell (as per Introduction of Situation edited by Claire Doherty) express entries into possibilities for modeling social relations.

More recently, Irit Rogoff urged to think about infrastructural containments for practices. The critical view of infrastructure protocols might be another, newer proposition of the context art:

“When we in the West, or in the industrialized, technologized countries congratulate ourselves on having an infrastructure – properly functioning institutions, systems of classification and categorization, archives and traditions and professional training for these, funding pathways and educational pathways, excellence criteria, impartial juries and properly air-conditioned auditoria with good acoustics – we forget the degree to which these have become protocols that bind and confine us in their demand to be conserved or in their demand to be resisted.” [1]

Since Irit Rogoff considered this infrastructure in relation to work practices – although in the ‘expanding field,’ [1] these protocols should be frames for contemporary ideas and cultural practices. In the aftermath of the second wave of COVID-19 (in Victoria, Australia, where I live) I am thinking whether the restricted social and art conditions actually cast a light on this infrastructure field – not just as something taken for granted/missed, but as frames?

[1] Rogoff Irit, “The Expanding Field,” in The Curatorial: A Philosophy of Curating, edited by Jean-Paul Martinon, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 2013; http://yishu-online.com/wp-content/uploads/mm-products/uploads/2014_v13_02_rogoff_i_p012.pdf.

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