This is an essay on public space and art/political interventions. This version online is partial and fragmented because it was an experiment that I started attempting to write academic articles directly online. The article is being completed off-line and will be presented and become public soon. In the meantime it is available online in order to offer an idea of the problems and social complexities of contemporary art interventions and engagements.
THIS PUBLIC SPACE IS MINE: ART INTERVENTIONS, PUBLIC POLITICS AND PRIVATE HYPOCRISIES
The perception of public space is often determined by a series of engagements that are supposed to be free from restraints, regulations and controls. This may be the ideal mental representation that each one of us may have of the public space, a clear slate devoid of social, political, economic and cultural contexts. The reality is starkly different: public space is highly regulated, politicized and structured in terms of economic status and class. The narrative of the public space is the narrative of the Body Politic. Furthermore, the high level of regulation of the public space clashes against the idea that the people have of their own rights within the public space itself. These rights are a reflection of an entitlement to the use and at times (others would perhaps write the word often) abuse of the public arena.
Public space, in the Mediterranean in particular, is also highly charged, since the public space, agora – piazza – meydan- square, is a space of political and social living as well as a place for manifestation or flaunting of hierarchical status. Public space in the Mediterranean, in a cultural juxtaposition to the use and interpretation of public space in Anglo-Saxon and Nordic countries, highlights profound interpretative differences, perhaps not so much at a legal level, but certainly at societal behavioral and customary levels.
The analysis, therefore, should be on the cultural behaviors of the groups that engage within the public space that would create a too large sample of analysis for the scope of this writing. Therefore I have decided to bring forward an analysis of public space that is based on a series of recent contemporary interactions which I believe could shed light and clarify an interpretation of public space that is, within the Mediterranean, shaped and constructed by its own cultural definitions as a highly contested and conflicted space.
The roots of this conflict are in the hierarchical political structures of society that are increasingly obliged to face interpretative models that are based on community and interactions within communities that evidence the role of the self and groups of selves as active participants in the framing of the socio-political discourse. If there is a socio-political tradition of intervention and allocated spaces for a variety of alternative forms of discussions (albeit increasingly under threat) in the UK, America and Canada or other European Countries, the Mediterranean is characterized in large part by highly regulated forms of interventions in public life.
… but the ideal representation of ‘community in the west’ versus the reality of what it is – generates a clash and the contemporary fractures are exposing these false democratic models. It also reveals a lack of ‘society’ and ‘societal’ in those countries that are defined as ‘democratic’ in the contemporary imaginary.
Public space, politics, performance, interaction, art, visuality, and revolt
Public space, participatory, community based, inclusive and interactive, have been ‘fashionable words’ for the contemporary art world. Curatorial committees, art organizations and policy makers have pushed an agenda that would involve the ‘public’ into activities that would promote a sense of participation and therefore belonging, generating the impression that there is social cohesion and that we are all part of it.
Following Jean Baudrillard’s thoughts on the conspiracy of art, the consequence of the above premise is that art, in Platonic and Baudrillardian terms, is a distorted and pale image of the truth; a tool of contemporary propaganda in order to enforce the illusion of the simulacrum. (Baudrillard’s note to be placed here.) There would be no other reason for politically inspired committee or privately sponsored organizations to promote anything else but a self-serving agenda. The image of art is – still today – a powerful megaphone able to convey and support status, ideas, branding and behaviors.
and the ‘clash’ between the Istanbul Biennial and Istanbul based art activists, in a year in which the Istanbul Biennial is supposed to be ‘all about’ public space?
It is the art economy, stupid! This could be a succinct answer that could be used to avoid to describe a much more complex series of interactions and contrasts that are happening all over the world, in a variety of forms, between a social idea (which does not mean socialist) of the public space and a financial privatizing approach to public space, art, and any other aspect of what once was the res publica (literally translated the thing of the public, which includes between many things also the public space).
It is the zombie capitalism and the democracy of zombies, which provide a good definition for the current structures of capitalism and democracy, that may represent a more appropriate answer to the current turmoil that is also emerging, as a reflection of current social trends and upheavals, within the art world.
“21st century capitalism as a whole is a zombie system, seemingly dead when it comes to achieving human goals and responding to human feelings”