Poetry of precariousness addressed in language of contemporary art

Tuesday, 28 June 2016 14:54
Denis Maksimov

Denis Maksimov is a critic, curator, consultant and educator of art and politics.

A conversation between Caroline Carrion (CC) and Denis Maksimov (DM)
Caroline Carrion is an independent curator and art critic based in São Paulo, Brazil. She holds a degree in journalism from the University of Sao Paulo, where she is currently pursuing a second degree in philosophy, after having studied management et communications intercuturelles at Université Paris IV (Sorbonne). Caroline has worked in the art field since 2008 in different segments of the market, such as cultural centres, museums and art galleries. In 2015, she curated “Eccoci!”, an urban-intervention project by artist Berna Reale held in Venice, during the opening and closing weeks of the 56th Venice Biennale. She was one of the emergent guest curators of the Prêmio CNI SESI SENAI Marcantonio Vilaça para as Artes Plásticas. She is the author of texts for exhibitions and artists books, presented in Brazil and abroad and is a member of the PIPA prize 2016 Nominating Committee.

DM: Conversations about insecurities in modern life seem infinite. What do you think?

CC: Borders are socio-political conventions, so it seems only fair that notions of territory and limits, both in their material as metaphorical meanings, would be blurred and somewhat fluid in moments when certain paradigms about civilization are being revised.

During the still young 21st century, we have been watching the emergence of an economic crisis (leading to social convulsion) all over the world, from the EU and US to the BRIC countries, accompanied by the outbreak of terrorist groups, like ISIS or Boko Haram. We must keep in mind, when looking at such phenomena, that the idea of crisis is essential to the functioning of capitalism, especially in its current neoliberal form. Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean that local historical processes and idiosyncrasies can be disregarded. The effects in material well being that result from this growth in insecurities are very different for the European middle-class compared to those experienced in Latin American, for instance.

DM: Poetry is, from a practical perspective, useless when it comes to the issue of dealing with risk to material comfort. However, its emotional and psychological effects are, from my perspective, invaluable. Is it possible to reveal the essence of this treasure we possess, which is becoming more and more rare in light of growing materialism, consumerism and omnipresent culture of entertainment?

CC: I’m not sure if it’s useless from a practical perspective. In the short term, this uselessness is unquestionable, but long term, poetry has the revolutionary potential of affecting opinions and world views, reaching the core of contemporary modes of understanding the self and the other, which necessarily will create material impact–thus the importance of poetic approach to the issue, as you mentioned.

I believe that critical forms of thinking, from aesthetic philosophy to social theory and psychoanalysis, attempt to reveal the essence of this treasure, as you called, but they can only do it within their own language, in the form of knowledge and information. The experience of real revelation can only come from art itself. In times like ours, when entertainment is more powerful in mind-shaping than any propaganda conceived by totalitarian governments, being in touch with art can be a transformative experience. For me, this is particularly true for the fruition of visual art forms, with their immediate impact and variety of interpretations.

Even with all the possible criticism that we can, and should, make, we must acknowledge the essential role that the art market plays in the diffusion of art, and the possibilities it creates for artists to make a living. On the other hand, experimental and independent art exhibitions are fundamental for works that stretch beyond the bounds of the market’s dictates. As for us, as curators and art critics, I believe that we can do our part to expose treasure by creating a forum for the artworks to be known and seen.

DM: Mitigation of risk is not the same as avoidance of risk. It is indeed about reaching the point of being at peace with living in a world of constant flux. Any sort of “promise” that all our systems provide us are as ephemeral and uncertain as an economic forecast. So why do we keep building the castles of predictability, all those foresight models and “2050s” plans? Isn’t it better to communicate to the public that living in constant unpredictability is the norm? I don’t want to sound Marxist, but from my perspective, it’s all just grounding for the usurpation of power and control of resource distribution systems.

CC: I couldn’t agree more. And this control you mentioned doesn’t happen exclusively within the realm of social hierarchies, but also in our understanding of subjectivity. The rigid and univocal comprehension of identity, sexuality, gender, political affiliations, etc., is directly related to the control of material prosperity. That’s why, in my opinion, the deleuzian concept of devir [‘what is to come’, ‘emergence’] remains so important–after all, the devir is always a devir-minority.

It is interesting, though, to notice how the appearance of social mobility and gain of freedom are essential for such societal systems. The austerity imposed by neoliberalism is only acceptable with hope of future personal prosperity. If it were clear to all that financial gain remains in the hands of the 1%, while the costs and crisis are paid by everyone, changes would come quicker than ever imagined.

DM: I feel contemporary art is among the very few mediums, where the conversation about the fundamental problems of the neoliberal capitalistic totality, foreseen by Theodor Adorno, is still possible. Do you agree?

CC: Yes. Despite being inserted in a multimillionaire market, one that isn’t always legit (as we are getting to know better now, with the leak of the Panama Papers), contemporary art is a platform for critical thinking. While some artists engage in openly politicized practices, others assume a critical posture by insisting on slow and artisanal modes of production and adopting anti-consumerism lifestyles; either way, they point to alternative lifestyles and create a point of disruption, no matter how minimum it is, within the established order.

Identity and univocality are one face of totality; oppositions and plain dialectics are another. Just by existing, contemporary artworks points to multiplicity and question totality.

DM: I really love neologisms–they allow language to stay alive and erode the power of institutional oppression. I find them so important in fighting attempts to close up any subjectivity in opposition to strictness of the objective view of “the winner”. History is always written by the victor, and reality is narrated by those who possess the means to alter the rules of storytelling. How would you describe “danetvozmozhno” neologism meaning from a universal perspective?

CC: I am a lover of neologisms myself, as I am of etymology. First of all, I believe it’s significant that “danetvozmozhno” derives from a colloquial expression. The original term in Russian means “yes, no, maybe”, but never at the same time. It is my understanding that it all depends on context and intonation. As a neologism, “danetvozmozhno” represents an utterly grey zone, where “yes”, “no” and “maybe” are indiscernible and simultaneous–a space of complete uncertainty that, contrary to the original expression, creates no hierarchies of power between the utterer and the receiver, as both of them are in the same undefined position. It means the coexistence of exclusionary categories (affirmation, negation, and possibility), which is basically a way to summarize the permanent flux condition that you already mentioned.

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Caroline Carrion

DM: Brazil is going through very intense period of political and economic turmoil. In the upcoming exhibition “Sao State Bureau for Insecurities Management”, art sort of steps in to address the issues in which socio-political and economic institutions seem to fail. Do you think art can and should replace the failed structures functionally? I see it as the main problem with so-called “socially engaged art” for me. I believe art can inspire, instigate, motivate but should never function, promote or propagate because at this moment it stops being art and turns into design, which serves particular goal and betrays aesthetics.

CC: For sure: either design or propaganda, which is even worse. As I mentioned before, one of the most powerful aspects of art, in my opinion, resides in the production of multiplicity, that is, in the fact that it has no final function and provides no final answers.

The desire of presenting the “Sao Paulo Bureau for Insecurities Management” came from Brazil’s current situation and from the perception that it is not a local problem. By that I mean the world is entering an era of growing insecurity and precariousness. The artists invited to take part in the show approach matters of relevance for the current socio-political agenda, without the intention of solving them. When Giuditta Vendrame, for instance, presents an installation and a performance based on her research on how to get passports from several European countries, she isn’t providing a service or attempting to promote the acquisition of passports as a solution for a more secure way of living. Her action questions the idea of nationality in itself, the pertinence of the concept of nation in contemporary global societies and the power relations implied in the concept. There’s a certain ironic approach shared by many of the works in the show, which is also ironically titled–after all, we are creating a fictional “state bureau” that offers no real service.

DM: Do you think “insecurity profiles” are very different or rather similar in global cultural contexts? The exhibition will feature the selection of European and Brazilian artists, who will design “departments” of the fictional state bureau and therefore will create a sort of Frankenstein out of insecurities originating from very diverse environments and historical moments.

CC: It’s hard to say for sure, and I am actually very curious to see how the artists will interact and which departments will arise from this encounter. In the context of globalization and neoliberal capitalism, many uncertainties are common to different societies. Concerns with the means for assuring rent and food, fear of urban violence, doubts about one’s professional future are probably shared “uncertainty profiles”. The risk of losing basic rights after the rise of a totalitarian regime, or the imminence of terrorist attacks are, in turn, “profiles” that vary according to the location–the first one is very present in Brazil at this moment, while the second isn’t really a concern for most Brazilians (which cannot be said of Europeans, for instance). No matter how different our lives are, every one of us can be fit in at least one “insecurity profile”, and that is the point of the Bureau, to address the only shared certainty we have, uncertainty.

By Denis Maksimov
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