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[- Progressive Art Institutions in the Age of Dissolving Welfare States
By geraldraunig, Section guest host history
Posted on Tue Feb 10th, 2004 at 07:14:33 PM EURODISCORDIA TIME
as our institute, the eipcp, is organizing a conference on public art policies and the function of critical art institutions (vienna, 26-28 feb 2004) - as we know them since decades at least in Europe -, i would like to use the opportunity here on discordia to discuss the main questions of this issue.


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"The final word of power is that resistance is primary", Gilles Deleuze wrote, and there is hardly another statement that as aptly expresses the indistinguishability, the interweaving of power and resistance in the postmodern setting. Yet there is also hardly another statement that better describes the contradictory situation, the opportunities and the traps, in which progressive art institutions increasingly find themselves in the dissolving European welfare states: although resistance and criticism are primary, it is power that has the final word.
On the one hand this statement from Deleuze and the associated theorems from Foucault illustrate the functions of the institutions of the art field in the pacification, assimilation and instrumentalization of political practices, themes and phenomena. As power is nourished from the productive force of resistance, the art institution as an (out-sourced organizational form of the) state apparatus seems to be dependent on constantly new portions of critical art, which keep both the mediating institution and the apparatus (in the narrow sense, the state) alive.
On the other hand, in the neo-liberal process of transforming the welfare state into a particle of a globalizing network of transnational corporations, supra-state institutions and powerful nation-states, the art institutions themselves seem increasingly to be losing their basis for being able to deal with critical, anti-state and anti-capitalist phenomena: along with the financial constraints of the art institutions, the financing bodies exert an increasingly direct influence on the programs.
In this twofold dilemma it is a matter of discussing the status quo of what is regarded as the primary self-definition of the contemporary in art: criticism, resistance against what is established, minoritarian concerns. At the same time, though, it is also a matter of the elementary survival of progressive art institutions in a field that is dominated more and more by conservative colossuses of culture and the neo-liberal business of spectacle culture.

There is no need to recapitulate the pathos of the subversive role of the art producer with regard to the state and institutions, but rather to explore the strategies of the actors in the art institutions themselves for at least temporarily emancipating themselves from the grasp of state and capital. This involves both self-criticism and precarious attempts to break out of the logic described above: what are the responses of the art institution that regards itself as progressive to the hypostatizing of the concept of the audience, the political demand for ever "new audiences", to a populist tendency to simplification, sometimes even to the recollection of the old masters whose aura can also be exploited for spectacles? How could the function of the art institution as a medium between state apparatus and production be read/turned in an emancipatory way?

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Progressive Art Institutions in the Age of Dissolving Welfare States | 14 comments
[new] more than one "shining" institution (Avg. Score: 2.00 / Raters: 1) (#2)
by geraldraunig on Wed Feb 11th, 2004 at 12:37:56 PM EURODISCORDIA TIME
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hi trebor,
of course i am neither talking of artistic practices of the 90s nor the 70s (with all their influential and important aspects as well as their reactionary inversions). it is not about institutional critique, it is even not about artistic practices and about the "subversive role of the art producer" this time. at least in the vanishing european welfare states there is more than one macba "shining" that is to be affirmed and defended as an exemplary platform useful for critique and resistance (see among others the institutions that will be discussed in "public art policies").
in a situation that is best described with the foucauldian term of "governmentality" when government is not only an part of the state structure, but diffused into many forms of tiny little state apparatuses in the society, it becomes difficult to draw a strong dividing line between "technologies of the self" and "technologies of domination". in this situation it is theoretically impossible to put up a dichotomy between "free networks" and institutions, and it is tactically wrong to understand institutions as pure instruments of fiefdom. this is why after some time focussing on the non-institutional side, activist and political art practices (s. discourse section of, we now ask about the strategies of the actors in the progressive art institutions.

[new] institutions + protocol (Avg. Score: none / Raters: 0) (#15)
by ryangriffis on Wed Feb 18th, 2004 at 06:27:44 PM EURODISCORDIA TIME
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i was thinking about Geert's statement about authority and randomness... and the notion of randomness vs. ideological imperatives. i related it to a recent post to Rhizome by Alex Galloway that discusses the creation of protocols to replace identifiable ideology or politics (at least that's my take on it) in relation to decentralized networks. from my own experiences with authority, whether it's being randomly shot at with plastic bullets in Miami or arrested for skateboarding on a sidewalk, there is a degree of randomness on the surface, but i think it's about protocol. the cops don't have to have an ideological/political reason to abuse protestors/kids - they're just doing their job (supposedly following rules). many have pointed out such protocols in architecture and urban design, like Nils Norman. in terms of institutions, could we say that what they do is create protocol as their primary function? i don't want to get into the progressive-or-not discussion, but maybe one way of looking at institutions is to view them as protocol generators that have the potential to be more or less supportive of different political leanings (in the broadest sense). then what matters is how receptive the protocols are to change by the people they a/effect. this is extremely simplistic and even naive, but i think the concept of protocol could be useful here. best, ryan

[new] institution//progressive (Avg. Score: none / Raters: 0) (#14)
by geraldraunig on Tue Feb 17th, 2004 at 12:01:59 AM EURODISCORDIA TIME
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a few thoughts responding to some of the comments: i like the notion "progressive" for its multiple retro-sound. it is not only geerts idea of "true 70s", sometimes there is an echo of communist times, for some a reminiscence on social democratic welfare politics and for some it strikes the chord of (the wrong tracks of) enlightenment. when we (in the context of our institute with the monstrous name "European Institute for Progressive Cultural Policies") use the word "progressive", we mainly refer to bert brecht's sentence: "Wirklicher Fortschritt ist nicht Fortgeschrittensein, sondern Fortschreiten." so it is not about being progressive, but about progressing. this becoming progressive happens between the two poles of movement (micropolitical actions etc.) and institutions (political organisation etc.). the abstract negation of one of these two poles would lead directly into myths of freedom (which i also suspect behind notions like "open cultures" or "free networks", especially if in connection to the art field) or reformist reductions. it is kind of naive to ask people living and working in the austrian cultural field whether ars electronica is progressive or not. in the above sense, it is not, of course. maybe the notion of "institution" is a bit misleading, in particular when used in the colloquial style here. maybe it is better to shift to brian's proposal "micro-institution". and maybe also brian's guess, public netbase t0 in vienna, is one austrian example for these. others are the ones we will highlight during our conference (sorry, links only in german, as usually we will publish the papers in our multilingual webjournal within the coming months). this is not really a "specific scene", but a plain of different forms and strategies of institutions, all of them losely connected to political art practices: Kokerei Zollverein in Essen, germany; Kunstraum der Universität Lüneburg, germany; LCCA in Riga, latvia; Rooseum art centre in malmoe, sweden; NIFCA in helsinki, finland; or, trebor mentioned it already, MACBA in Barcelona, Spain. you do not need to tend to self-punishment to be interested in the strategies of the actors in these (micro-)institutions. though i think foucault's governmentality is not very fruitful if thinking on strategies of resistance, i really liked brian's sentence: "Let's not leave governmentality to the governing classes -- it can be exercised reflexively, as collective self-government." collective self-government for me also means: creating new forms of organisation and institutions, and sometimes reappropriating the old. these should be open spaces, and they also - as monika put it in her reply to felix - have to negotiate and define "temporary and dynamic - political goals that can and should be criticised, antagonised and transformed". BUT: as you can see by the scepticism of the concept (and beyond the distinction of "resistance-power" and "experimentation"), there is no clear dividing line and no innocence and purity - but this concerns everything, also so called "free networks" and the actors within.

[new] More on Museums (Avg. Score: none / Raters: 0) (#11)
by BrianHolmes on Sat Feb 14th, 2004 at 08:21:30 PM EURODISCORDIA TIME
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Gerald Raunig asks how critical and socially engaged museums can survive the dissolution of state institutions subjected to neoliberal governance? That's a timely question in France, faced with the rise to power of a neo-Thatcherist right - or it would be a timely question, if we could find any museums that were critical and socially engaged...
One thing lacking is a multidimensional evaluation of art activities, able to shift the discussion towards topics that could lend some legitimacy to the institutions. There has maybe been some progress on this recently, but I find the usual critical discourse to be too closely targeted on art professionals - i.e., the artists and all those who earn their living or their prestige from manipulating insider codes, such as "institutional critique." Recognizing the problem, the neoliberal museum becomes populist, looking to widen its audience (and its corporate patronage base) by references to "what people like," i.e. traditional figurative art and pop-media images. That plus a seductive consumer environment is almost a ticket to survival. We have a great example of this institutional populism with the Palais de Tokyo in France, half funded by the private sector. One can wonder whether the destiny of these fornerly public museums, such as the Pompidou Center, is not that of becoming a kind of cultural multiplex. With or without the popcorn?
The optimistic, politics-as-usual half of me (the one that doesn't want to just blow off the conversation altogether) would be interested in hearing different questions. Maybe Gerald's on the right track. My intuition is that state managers in Europe are now really concerned about the survival question, potentially willing to take risks. Is it true? I think most everyone knows that the mere inclusion of radical, vangardist-type initiatives is not enough. These too appeal to a relatively small public, partially overlapping with the art professionals. Thus the phenomenon of "political art," to which it's sometimes hard to respond positively. I think museums have to really make something of all the row that such initiatives generate, and actively look for forums where they can carry out the difficult job of facing it-- transforming themselves according to the critique of which they are almost inevitably one of the first objects. Let's not leave governmentality to the governing classes -- it can be exercised reflexively, as collective self-government. Can museums expand the transgressive, vanguardist activities into wider exhibitions and workshops on the role of aesthetic and conceptual practices in social communication generally?
Another question concerns production resources, offered to a small coterie of artists who have been validated by the magazine-gallery-museum system. This validation process structures what sociologists call the "institutional market." My suggestions would theoretically act to weaken it, by taking the museum out. But the reality is, that just weakens any museum tht takes the risk -- because you won't see the competitors, Guggenheim and Co. for instance, withdrawing from the gallery-magazine nexus any too soon. Would it be possible to offer less sophisticated, less publicity-hungry cultural producers some access to tools, spaces and materials, and thereby gain the support of politically active sectors of the population, which have their own ways of bringing pressure to bear, particularly on municipalities?
Finally, I'm not sure micro-institutions are really that bad. Something like Public NetBase in Vienna suggests the contrary. Remember, neoliberalism itself learned some of its tricks from a very popular libertarianism (in Europe that means "anarchism," for all you confused American readers). It's important to continue taking apart the bureaucracy. But you have to put something in its place: substantial participation. As far as I can tell, Public NetBase became successful by offering tools (expertise and server space), by using the participatory strengths of the Internet, specifically for political and activist issues, and also by offering a more workable, less constricted environment for "underground" culture -- without exactly refusing public funding. Some even call it art. It would be nice to hear of other examples.
I've been working for six or seven years along the lines suggested by my questions. But I don't know the answers. I have a hard time to judge the real effectiveness of what I support, and I'd be curious to hear more opinions. Right now I'm in a country whose institutions were entirely dismantled by an ultra-corrupt neoliberalism: Argentina. Here you find groups of people like Colectivo Situaciones (the radical, independent sociologists) or HIJOS (children of the disappeared) who have been able to generate extraordinary cultural powers from positions of resistance and autonomy. In the case of HIJOS, what emerged is a highly legitimate force of street protest based largely on cultural and aesthetic practices, which has actually been able to reknit certain elements of a contemporary social tie -- taking strength from contradiction and difference, outside any bureaucratic framework. It's impressive. But despite the recent uprising, this is also a formerly developed country whose "modern" (Fordist) institutions and guarantees have been destroyed by the transnational elites -- leaving working people to immiserate and even starve, while a shrinking middle class tries desperately to think about an unlikely return to prosperity. And that, too, is impressive.

best, Brian

[new] resistance and experimentation (Avg. Score: none / Raters: 0) (#10)
by felixstalder on Sat Feb 14th, 2004 at 04:20:10 PM EURODISCORDIA TIME
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>How could the function of the art institution as
>a medium between state apparatus and production be
>read/turned in an emancipatory way?

Perhaps art's 'role' is less about resistance (which, to some agree, is always defined by its opposite) than about experimentation. In this perspective, the critical role art institutions can play is to fight against what could be called -- ignoring some of the history of the term -- 'overdetermination'. But this I mean simply external agendas, for example state and capital, righly identified by Gerald, trying to describe themselves within the realm of art. But these are not the only ones. I think there are also other ones particularly discursive or normative ones. And the discourse of 'resistance', in particular, like the discourse of 'beauty', is an agenda that ultimately comes from outside the field of art trying to appropriate it for particular agenda. All in all, there are too many of these determining forces, hence my use of the term overdetermination.

So, perhaps, the question is how can art insitutions shield the practice of art against these influences (rather than becoming another layer of determination) and thus foster experimentation that is not following a predetermined agenda (be is commercial, national, or political), but one in which we can experiment with the conditions of existence (which ever aspects interest you most here).

It seems that the places where experimentation or research, the real one where you have little idea of the outcomes, is encouraged are becoming more and more rare. The political realm in the narrow sense is dead. Nothing besides tactic happens there. Academia is becoming more corporate to the point where it is increasingly subsumed under its logic. The Internet, for now, is still lacking institutions that can sustain free exchanges in the long run (though in the area of software development, an 'open source' institutional landscape is emerging.)

So, perhaps, the role of progressive art institutions is a humble one. Providing an open space in which things can emerge.

[new] El artista como abogado (Avg. Score: none / Raters: 0) (#3)
by IgnacioNieto on Wed Feb 11th, 2004 at 05:02:38 PM EURODISCORDIA TIME
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Empezare con un anecdota con respecto a las preguntas aparecidas. Estuve en una oficina el dia lunes del Municipio de Providencia en Santiago de Chile pidiendo una carta de patrocionio para montar una LED electronico.
La funcionara municipal me hablo literalmente de censura con respecto a los mensajes que iban haber ser expuestos en la paleta y que ademas estos no podian contener mensajes politicos ni religiosos.

Creo que la unica figura que se puede establezer en esoes niveles jerarquicos entre la instituciones artisitcas y el estado seria la de la friccion, ya que ninguna de las dos partes estara dispúesta a dar concesiones.

Para que esa figura existiera se deberia contar con un excelente grupo de abogados para que establezcan jurisprudencia con respecto a las nuevas practicas artisitcas.

[new] Institutions (Avg. Score: none / Raters: 0) (#1)
by TreborScholz on Wed Feb 11th, 2004 at 04:04:50 AM EURODISCORDIA TIME
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Hi Gerald,

The first question that comes to mind is what the object of criticque would be. The second thing that pops up is the institutionally paid self-chastizing. The critical artist
is invited and paid to swing the wip telling off the institution how degenerate it is. But those are the sins of the 90s. And you are more after an institutional critical practice not doing the navel-gazing thing.
As you mention actual institutional power quickly comes down to who pays the bills. There are indeed those shining art institutions that managed to be critical (ie. MACBA). Is it dependent on individuals who manage for some years to dance on the nose of those board members until they are fired? That seems to be much more the case than any structure that manages to establish roots in true criticality. Should we strive for free and critical networks rather than an institutional fiefdom? A few thoughts between Tuer und Angel...

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Progressive Art Institutions in the Age of Dissolving Welfare States | 14 comments

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