Interaction between creation AND mediation in light of contemporary art
The BBB centre d’art is set up in a former industrial electrical coil factory in Toulouse. Its team has been supporting contemporary artists in the field of plastic and visual arts since 1993. Production, works distribution and the conditions of their reception by art professionals and enthusiasts are the everyday life, ambition and long-term work of our trade. Creation AND mediation? This is the free invitation and question raised by Christian Ruby.read
Many discussions about contemporary culture still oppose creation and mediation. It is not uncommon to hear each of these notions defined in a tight-knit context. This way of fixating words, of isolating them, has a detrimental effect upon thinking. Above all it fails to acknowledge any links currently conceivable between existing cultural activities.
Our research into a European cultural history of spectators has strongly indicated that we cannot talk about classic, modern or contemporary exhibition works (as opposed to religious works), without referring in equal measure to spectators and artists. Also the spectator is the subject of an art, and by continuously being renewed, is likely to make a work of art of the spectator himself. These dynamics correlating works of art and spectators provide thinking material for this theme: creation and mediation, and above all outline the potential changes.
In a word, offering to determine the relationships between creation and mediation, means first of all understanding that words, like the people and the activities designated by them, cannot exist in full measure as separate worlds, under pain of death. It is necessary to stress the connections – and/or – and, as a consequence, the possible exchanges between them or the shift in their relationships. We must also learn to wield the function of ‘and,’ in such a way that it does not indicate overwhelming totality, but is instead in line with plurality banking on a continuation. This conjunction must involve friction, allowing new energy producing surfaces to prevail on both sides of the relationships between creator and mediator, in mediation intrinsic to creation (act and result), in creation intrinsic to mediation, lastly, in the relationship between creation and mediation.
A Mechanical Separation
Those who know the field of art know that it not only encompasses creators and creations, but at the very least spectators and mediators too: dealers; cultural intermediaries; institutional staff of the French Republic, …
If you are familiar with this field, you will also know that, since the expansion of cultural mediation (1980), relationships between creators and mediators have been strained, like between Jean de la Fontaine’s monkey and cat (in the eponymous fable). More often than not they ignore each other or pitch themselves against each other, sometimes believing that they have been duped. More often than not, those at the top of their field feel indebted to those prominent in mediation empowered to do anything for the artist’s success.
If this is the case, it is a fact, not a right, and a sad state of affairs. In many cases, it effectively still functions far too much like a kind of separation of duties. For mediators, public relations would take precedence; for creators tradition would dictate the work of art. Mediation would then creep into creation, but limited to considerations that are not essentially theirs, in line with the public and enjoyment in the pride in succeeding.
The First Change
It is advisable to extricate yourself from this automatic intention to separate. Contemporary art is conducive to this. It has a different approach to artistic ‘creation.’ It calls upon notions of ‘producing situations,’ research, developing experiments, contemporary archaeology, the activation of energy and provocation. It is likely that the notion of ‘creation’ no longer has any unilateral meaning.
We know that this notion has Biblical origins, even if modernists have reworked it. It is even said that: ‘In modernity, liturgy has provided the model for artistic activity, through a process that has reached full self-awareness for Mallarmé, but that has perhaps found its zenith in contemporary performances.’ Written by the philosopher Giorgio Agamben (Opus Dei : archéologie de l’office, (Opus Dei: An Archaeology of Duty) Paris, Seuil, 2012).
In any event, the secularization and continual transformation of the notion of creation offers new opportunities: a vision of creation as mediation, and no longer as an authoritarian act. In addition, contemporary ‘creation’ is engaged in a new correlation: this time, with the spectator. The image of creation in the spectator has become a moment in the ‘creation,’ like the creation of the ‘spectator.’ The latter becomes the mediation that gives life to creation. It can also be confirmed that the highlighted presence of the spectator changes the creation (the act and the result) into mediation.
The work is thus not only a mediator, but through the creation, on the one hand, by the artist (it does not exist prior to the process), on the other by the spectator, it should not be forgotten that he is on a trajectory and a permanent evolution, or a practice that does not involve waiting, passive, the revelation of a truth conveyed by the work.
A Second Change
If the cultural and artistic mediation concerned here is consistent with a clear social function, as well as with a new profession in contemporary society (even if at times it struggles to assert itself as such), convergence as well as institutional practices and links come into play within this function, as well as the definition of a necessary or possible, newly shared aim (artistic, political and aesthetical). In our society, external mediation (in general) more or less exists, but now mediators, staff whose function it is to establish or implement relationships within cultural programmes take precedence.
This role certainly warrants creation and relationships that requires being taken seriously. We cannot bypass mediators and their approach to culture, their concept of culture and the arts, and their concept of their role. For it is there that the preconceived notions of culture, of the public and of mediation activities, impact on the discourses and the practices focusing on art or cultural works, on the institutions to deploy and on exhibitions to present or interpret.
The understanding or misunderstanding of the discourse or attitudes by the mediators according to social and cultural relationships also depends on the concept of culture, the public and its activities, through mediators, among enthusiasts or the public. The notion about ‘the culture of others’ derives from this data, which of course, when one’s own concept of culture is normative, is always ‘secondary’ or ‘uneducated.’ The best way, in many cases, is to enjoy the opposite of a ‘dominant’ position in the field. Or to understand from mediation it is important to create a new self-concept or relationship with others.
Each other in turn
We can say that the current world of art benefits from a strange but central dynamic: perpetual movement, within which art, in all its forms (from creation to mediation) will in turn be creation and mediation. This requires considering it like in a work by the artist Peter Downsbrough, haunted by Gilles Deleuze’s philosophy. Coordination is possible around creation and mediation without aggregation, or a normative reference system, work on space and divergence that would lead not to entities, but seamarks continually forming archipelagos.
This other way of thinking consists of understanding that it would be possible to love creation and to practice mediation, to be as ready to work for one as to be prepared to develop the other, and reciprocally.
Another point to add is that their constantly changing relationship should remain critical and tolerate criticism, rather like Michel Foucault sketches out lineaments, with regard to counteracting ‘the meta-stability of institutional arrangements by relying specifically on their fundamental characteristics; to articulate different practices in a manner, not only to preserve the powers of challenges that are expressed forcefully and efficiently on a local level, but above all so as to intensify them whilst establishing from a pinpointed source of resistance a certain resonance with other struggles’ (in Michel Foucault, un parcours philosophique, Hubert Dreyfus and Paul Rabinow, Paris, Gallimard, 1984, p. 287sq). Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics)
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The terms coupled together for our reflection, creation and mediation, are effectively subject to all sorts of movements that threaten and blur the fixed and unilateral intentions. Good! We can say that, for today, it is worth continuing to question the possible community of artists known in the past as ‘creators’ and mediators, in the light of contemporary art. Which also amounts to questioning the notion that is the most absent from contemporary discussions and talks: the spectator, even transformed alternately into observers, spectators, activators, pleasure-seekers and perceivers, …
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Christian Ruby, Doctor of Philosophy, teacher (Paris). Recent publications: L’archipel des spectateurs (Besançon, Editions Nessy, 2012); La figure du spectateur (Paris, Armand Colin, 2012).
BBB – centre d’art
FORMS OF DISTANCE
Certain recent circumstances have led me to deal with the concepts of scale and distance. The former thought in methodological terms, the latter in moral terms, both from a historiographical point of view. As a curator, I have been involved in the research of topics linked to colonial histories that call for a constant reconsideration of where one is positioned, and from where one is speaking. Furthermore, a project (exhibition or else) is not autonomous from its conditions of production and reception and one cannot sublimate it from its contextual existence. The issue of distance becomes then crucial, but also its artificial sibling, distantiation (in Brechtian terms), which is perhaps needed as a form of translation and relation to reality.
Reading through the wealth of approaches represented in uncoupdedés.net and its celebration of institutional decentralisation experienced in France, I thought it would be useful reconsidering the implication of scale -or rather shifts scale – and distance in the production of contemporary art or in the way we think about art as a means to approach reality. Of course, I am not talking about this in absolute, all-encompassing terms, but rather as a way of offering a nuanced reading of how a decentralised network, to which uncoupdedés.net offers a visible existence, shows the relevance of these many ways of operating at different scales in the geopolitical entity called mainland France. In a way, all this has to do with what now seems a hackneyed expression: the production of knowledge.
Edouard Sautai’s collaboration with the Centre d’Art et Photographie de Lectoure offers an immediate consideration of the implication of a change of scale. By evoking flying, a situation that allows to see a reality at a particular level of detail, but also the making of models as another way of representing this reality at a different scale, Sautai reminded me of Bernard Lepetit’s considerations about the dialectic relationship, and constant oscillation between the micro and the macro. For Lepetit the fabrication of a model “does not distinguish between the different parts of the object but between the differents dimensions in which it spreads out” (Bernad Lepetit, “Architecture, géographie, histoire: usages de l’échelle”, in Genèses, 13, 1993, p. 129.) Likewise, Aurélien Mole’s fictional narrative about the future potential of research in the margins seems to reflect on the importance of considering particular micro-realities in order to recapture larger macro-perspectives.
But it is perhaps the question of distance that interests me the most here. In artistic research –and we may want to consider its modes of existence and qualities as in Jean-Pierre Cometti’s interview with Eric Mangion for Le Centre National d’Art Contemporain de La Villa Arson – distance is sometimes created and annihilated in a stroke, or perhaps created in one dimension of a project and obliterated in another one. Stephen Willats’ work offers perhaps an example of such dialectical interaction with a context where the artist is embodied in the photographic work, in the relative distance of the camera and what it points at which through composition, offers an immediate intimacy, and yet, paradoxically, a sense of estrangement. From a different perspective the idea of hosting as a form of offering a shortening of distance is dramatically staged in Berdaguer + Péjus’ intervention in the back building of the Centre d’Art Contemporain La Synagogue de Delme, where space is considered in it physical, affective and ghostly dimensions, materialising the multiplicity of directions in which distance operates.
Carlo Ginzburg considers and actualises the different moral implications of distance both in terms of time and space (Carlo Ginzburg, “Killing a Chinese Mandarin: The Moral Implications of Distance”, in Wooden Eyes: Nine Reflections on Distance, Verso Books, 2002.) For the historian the inevitability of distance in time (the past becoming ever longer and the future shortening its distance to us permanently), towards which he or she is impotent can be counteracted through the way the past is remembered or written about. Distance in time and space often operates as detachment or oblivion, but also as admiration or desire –or perhaps sometimes as a paradoxical interweaving of some of all of these possibilities. (And here, I find interesting Valérie Mréjen’s fictional account in La Chapelle Saint-Jacques’ intervention on uncoupdedés.net, where the contrast and complex interweaving between civil time and experienced time become evident.) Transposing this to the field of contemporary art, the time-space framework of the artistic project, operates at several levels of close proximity and distancing, often transcended or further materialised through memory and documentation – Elie During’s contribution in relation to visiting the Cneai attests to this in a diagrammatic way. But if experience is at the core of the artistic act, then form becomes a way of shortening or elongating the distance to that which seemed to be pointed at. Adva Zakai’s intervention on uncoupdedes.net –as a step forward in her collaboration with Le Quartier Centre d’Art Contemporain – is a performance that happens in the time-space of a website, an act of giving form which creates an experience of place where the subject is not represented but embodied through words.
On a more often dealt with topic, the relationship, and therefore relative distance, between an artist and a context is problematised in several experiences related in uncoupdedés.net. Apart from the above mentioned work of Stephen Willats, one could quite clearly refer to Claudio Zulian’s strategies of working with specific communities as a filmmaker (portrayed here under the notion of empowerment), or the experience and ethical concerns of involving oneself as an artist with the management of nuclear waste. Is there a normative notion of distance that can be appealed to and therefore a prescribed form of responsibility which can claim a definite response to a context? It seems to me that Dora García and Jean-Pierre Cometti address this issue by discussing what constitutes the work of art which for García is a form of relationship between the author and the audience, and therefore is non-prescribed or scripted in absolute terms.
But what about proximity? What about the physical, embodied relation to what one distances oneself from or moves closer to? What about affects? Producers are affected by those they address their “products” to. As in Matthieu Saladin’s text about Cornelius Cardew’s work, presented in 2009 at the CAC Brétigny: “It [the act of listening] acts directly on its own source and affirms itself as an activity that, in collective production, reflects on what is being heard. Listening is not simply the space of passive affections, for it affects, in turn, that towards which it is directed” (Matthieu Saladin, “Like a Cloud Hanging in the Sky”, uncoupdedés.net, 2013.) It might be that outer space is not that far when one invokes its distance as a form of proximity with one’s own thoughts, but also, it is by observing the sky that one can see into the past, annihilating the physical distance that separates us from it as beautifully out by Emmanuelle Pagano: “To think is to get as close as possible to the absolute present, but our thoughts, our emotions, our memories, take time to travel in ourselves, to be distributed between our senses. To observe space is to watch what’s already happened, observing space is always nostalgic.” (Emmanuelle Pagano, “Night-Light”, uncoupdedés.net, 2013.)
Bolstered by its success and visibility, uncoupdedés.net is restarting and subjecting existing content to new voices. In 2014 and 2015, several personalities from outside France will be asked to become our editorial writers for one season. Their task will be to place the contents of the whole magazine in perspective, presenting them differently through the prism of their subjectivity and their own work contexts. Catalina Lozano (Colombia), Zasha Colah (India), Moe Satt (Myanmar) and Manuela Moscoso (Brazil): each guest editor will reformulate the actions of the centres d’art, various aspects of which they will have been able to perceive through the magazine. Each editor-in-chief will “roll off” a cross-cutting text, presenting an original re-examination of the resolutely fluid geography of the centres d’art. uncoupdedés.net repeats the challenge from the poet Mallarmé, resurrected in the cinematographic art of Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet (Every Revolution is a Roll of the Dice, 1977). The guest editors, coming from a variety of disciplines, will widen the circle of expression even more. Choral and fragmentary, uncoupdedés.net takes just as much after puzzles as it does after memories, and naturally calls for cut-outs of every kind…
Independent curator and researcher, born in 1979. En 2011, she co-founded the curatorial platform de_sitio in Mexico City. Catalina Lozano studied history (Universidad Nacional de Colombia), visual cultures (Goldsmiths College, University of London) the theory and practice of language and the arts (École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris). At the heart of her work are minor narratives and the revision of dominant historical discourses. Her most recent projects include Une machine désire de l’instruction comme un jardin désire de la discipline (MARCO, Vigo; FRAC Lorraine and Alhondiga, Bilbao, 2013-14), Being an Island (with Kasha Bittenr, daadgalerie, Berlin, 2013), La puerta hacia lo invisible debe ser visible (Casa del Lago, Mexico City, 2012), ¿Tierra de nadie? (Centro Cultural Montehermoso, Vitoria-Gasteiz, 2011) and Everything has a name, or the potential to be named (with Anna Colin, Gasworks, London, 2009). From 2008 to 2010, Catalina Lozano was head of the residency program at Gasworks (London). She is a member of the artistic team of the 8th Berlin Biennale (2014).