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21 September 2020
Notes for a decalogue to intuit an institution of gestures/gestures that constitute institution

Lorenzo Sandoval

An institution is recognized in a set of protocols, bureaucracy, emails, correspondence, press, social networks, regulated choreographic movements of labor and/or control logics, employment contracts, corporate design, and a public perception―sometimes negotiated, sometimes not. Also, for a few months, anti-pandemic measures and devices such as methacrylate screens, spatial reorganizations, face masks, hydroalcoholic gel, latex gloves and safety distance signs have also been in place. In a cultural institution, it is also necessary to add the event production processes, the people of the assembly team, pieces, projects, pamphlets, posters, posts, blogs, websites, budgets (in some cases requested to three different companies), the staff outsourced for production, the transport of the works, the curatorial lines, the formal and informal critiques made of the pieces, the workshops, the conferences, the inaugurations, the finissages, the concerts, the performances, the multiple routes of the exhibitions, the texts on the walls and posters, the events and the management. In the case that they have a collection, the collection and its readings that are produced over it, the lists of ideal items that are missing, the naturalized systems of exclusion, the conservation processes, entry and exit protocols, diets, trips, negotiations, the cleaning of the centre, the opening hours, care of plants, facades and gardens if there are any, the security force, surveillance cameras, mediators, pedagogical processes, the bookstore, books and booksellers, souvenirs, the library, loans, readers and reading. The cafeteria, or restaurant, and their suppliersand, of course, the visitors, users, customers, school groups and/or agents. Also, everything that is not contemplated as part of the machine: labor conflicts, care, squatting, favors, unexpected use of some devices and pieces, graffiti on garden sculptures (if any), gifts among employees, crises, racist and/or misogynist exclusions,  private conversations, appointments, break-ups, naps in the video room, sex in the bathrooms, sneaking books or souvenirs from the bookstore, meetings on the esplanade and a long etcetera that by own carelessness, for being unknown or unexpected, cannot be included in this list.

All these gestures (and those that I forget or omit) constitute the operational flows of the institutional apparatus. We can think with Aby Warbug, and propose a historiography of the gestures. The question then is: what gestures are we missing?

1.-  A diagram of fiction/the fiction of the diagram[1]

As Justo Pastor Mellado proposes: “Before answering the question of the ‘management model’, managers should think about the ‘fiction of the model'”. Along with the idea of operational fiction and the notion of commons as central foundations, listening and corporeality give us clues as to how to rethink institutional elements, what they are made of and how they work. The fictional diagram helps us to imagine operatively the forms of work with an anticipatory character. How can we imagine diagrams that do not constitute a unique and exclusivist timeline?

2.- Institution from below[2]

A history of images is an incomplete history: those of touch and sound, of tastes and smells are missing. In the book ”Beauborg, a subterranean utopia”, Albert Meister introduces us to the composition of an institution that functions without rules, without a project and without a management structure. The arts that proliferate in this center (without replacing painting, sculpture or performance) are those that have corresponded to the subaltern subjects throughout history, the minor arts or crafts.

We start from a problem with collections: not everything can be preserved in the accumulative and exclusivist logic linked to the colonial program. In recent years, we have seen that thanks to discourses linked to gender, decolonial practices, the recovery and recognition of workers’ struggles and for housing, the climatic struggle and animalism, the collections are beginning to change. However, how to include in them, and therefore in historiography, the arts wrongly considered minor and even that do not come to have the category of art? How to go beyond the notions of value or market? How to reformulate the logic of speculation? How to question the structural racism or misogyny inscribed in the relational architecture of the institution?

3.- Descentralizing history[3]

Ana Longoni proposes to question the history of art that places the large western cities of the metropolis as the exclusive centers of irradiation of the artistic avant-garde. This same practice of decentralization can be applied to the so-called minor arts within the same points of irradiation, and question not only the relations of exploitation between colony and metropolis, but extend it to questions of gender, race and class.

4.-Strategic De-definition: against watertight knowledge

Precarious employment is one of the endemic ills of cultural work. Culture cannot be separated from its conditions of production. One of the problems is the imposed necessity of having to do work of a different nature, different functions and roles, with continuous wear and tear. And yet, as in every element in crisis, there we have a great opportunity for a change of paradigm.  One of the great conflicts in art and history education is the conception of knowledge in separate, watertight departments. Can we learn from the processes that precarization has imposed on us in order to think about history differently? Can this constant change in roles imply a different conception of cultural infrastructures and their stories? Can we even think about changing the scales and tending towards degrowth, or break with the accumulative logic of the collection? And of course, how can we improve the conditions of cultural workers?

5.- The collection as a prism of readings: continuous negotiation of history[4]

We have to think from the dialectic qualities of the collection’s combinatory possibilities, paying attention to which are the aspects, the objects and the means we still lack to complete readings of the collections. How could readings from below be articulated?

6.- A collection that is made from absence/voices to come[5]

One example of a narrative that is missing from museums is the history of anarchist art. Last year, the IVAM invited me to carry out a project on the history of the textile industry in Alcoy. During the Civil War, the whole industrial fabric of the city was collectivized. As a way of understanding the anarchist story, it seemed appropriate to look at the museum’s collection. However, and to our surprise, it is a story about which there were no works of art in the collection, and only a few publications related to this phenomenon.

What was the anarchist artistic production in Spain? How did it relate to the avant-garde? Which artists continued to work from the underground or in exile? What kind of artistic objects were produced and, if any, how did they relate to the commons? How did they question gender relations? How can this type of narration be produced when the subjects involved do not trust the narrative production device? What pieces are in the public collections that make up this narrative? How can we understand the artistic practices in the underground and how they re-emerge and affect future generations with their discourse?

7.- Commons/pro-collection[6] 

There is also a big problem with the commons, an obscure part of it that is not normally included in the discourses of the common: it is not possible to work on the idea of the commons without generating a closed community at the same time. Governance and management systems require the creation of a commonwealth based on proximity and trust, and therefore exclusion. The challenge is to make this community open, sensitive and permeable. We can think with Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung with the notion of dis-othering:  dis-othering starts with the recognition of the acts and processes of othering. With the revelation of the undercurrents that feed, justify, enable and maintain acts and processes of othering. It is within, and upon, this awareness and consciousness of and towards these acts and processes of otherning that one might be able to build resistance and protect oneself both from being othered and from the urge to other. How can we generate such a community without producing otherness.[7]

8.- Depatterning/Repatterning[8]

Patterns make up the organization and, therefore, the order of the social. Each society produces its translation of the social worldview into its own aesthetic structures made up of patterns. In the history of Western art, ornaments, which often appear in the form of patterns, are structures that are supposed to be merely decorative, and this is how the production of subordinate subjects has been called for a long time: according to this conception, non-Western artists and women have produced crafts, not art.

One must understand and deconstruct these patterns, from inside and outside the Western canon. I would call this practice depatterning. Rethinking history and decentralizing naturalized historical conceptions that involve social inequality is a central element. Once deconstructed, divergent patterns must be introduced. I would call this practice repatterning: proposing divergent genealogies from a proactive solidarity position that introduces forms (and narratives discarded by power structures) to renegotiate the space of co-presence, in porous and elastic constructions of the “we”.

Farkhondeh Shahroudi, Gardens, 11 hand-woven rugs on pillars. Installation at ‘Near Distance – New Positions of Iranian Artists’ curated by Rose Issa & Shaheen Merali at the House of World Cultures Berlin, 2004.

9.- A new radical museality[9]

The museum is undoubtedly one of the projects that have served most to homogenize culture. First, alongside the universalist project based on the conceptions of the colonial program, with Western hegemony. Second, accompanying and giving intellectual alibi to the phagocytization of the world by neoliberalism. However, it is one of the places where one can access the archive of that history, and the traces of its traumas. It is also one of the places where one can project the fiction of the various possible genealogies, porous spaces and different rhythms, temporalities and scales. What to do with the legacy of the museum? How do we re-articulate the differences in the presences and agencies that populate it or that are not there yet? How do we accelerate the processes of reconstituting the dispossessed objects and their narratives? How do we translate heritage issues into contemporary production? How do we reformulate the categories that allow various forms of cultural production to enter the collections and the life of the museum?


10.- Not inconsequential questions

The Argentinean artist Ad Minoliti asked yesterday in an Instagram live: What happens if an abstract painting lives together with animals in another dimension where it is surrounded by the jungle and not by a white cube? [10]


(Featured Image: Ad Minolti, Fantasías Modulares, 2020 (installation view). Curated by Isabel Casso; Photo: Kaelan Burkett. Courrtesy by MASS MoCA). 


[1] PASTOR MELLADO, Justó, ‘Escritura funcionaria. Ensayos sobre políticas de gestión en arte y cultura’, Curadoría Forense, Córdoba, 2013. A device is a set of procedures aimed at field study, reading the context, designing responses, setting up programming initiatives. (…) a cultural centre stimulates procedures for the re-signification of the past of the communities themselves, reconstructing the fabric of old settlements, made visible in the new stories aimed at staging the memories of old struggles. (…) the management of a cultural centre operates as a knowledge intervention team, which puts into practice “pocket” ethnographic procedures, through which it formalizes a certain state of institutional listening. This listening is translated into programming proposals that must gather the most significant signs of this set of neighborhood imaginaries in order to serve as a reference framework and allow the reconstruction of the story of a policy.

[2] MEISTER, Albert, ‘Beaubourg. Una utopia subterránea’, Enclave ediciones, Madrid, 2014. Towards the end of the book, Meister writes: the arts of well-being, which we once knew as social arts, conversation, games and the decorative arts, in the image of the affability and tranquility of everyday life. Nothing authorizes to qualify such arts as minor, because it is precisely the societies in conflict that invented the classification in order to despise the serenity and to avoid the yearning of their subjects for a more harmonious world. At the same time, these societies in conflict unleashed human integrity, which led to the aberrant separation between body and spirit, and which inevitably led to the primacy of the arts of the intellect over the predominantly manual arts. This opened the way to the impositions of high spirits and the tyranny of grammars of all kinds. From that moment on, the distance separating artists from artisans would always increase, reflecting the conflict between a leading, intelligent and informed minority and a subjugated people, fit only to turn jugs or to be distracted by their folklore.

[3] LONGONI, Ana, ‘Otros inicios del conceptualismo (argentino y latinoamericano)’,

With the term off-center I intend to allude to that which is displaced from the center but also to a center that is no longer recognized as such, missed, disconcerted, that is off-axis. (…) The challenge (and the provocation) lies in reversing the usual flow (tracing the repercussions of the center on the periphery) in order to think about the reverse movement: what is it about the center that is peripheral or off-center?

[4] BORJA-VILLEL, Manuel, ‘Campos magnéticos. Escritos de arte y política’, Arcadia, Barcelona, 2020. Borja-Villel tells us: “There is, in this way, an element shared between the works that make up the collection and the collection itself, between the artistic fact and the museum, between the narrative we write and our actions as historical agents. Politics and art build “fictions”, that is, material rearrangements of signs and images, of the relations between seeing and knowing, of what is done and what can be done. These “fictions” are the way we think about the real: reconfiguring the map of the sensible and discovering new relationships between ways of being, doing and saying. It is then that literary statements, whether historical or artistic, can have, just like political ones, an impact on reality”.

[5] “Shadow Writing (Fábrica Colectiva)” part of “The Society of Performance”, curated by Sandra Moros at IVAM/CADA Alcoy, 2019.

[6] Once again, Borja-Villel: Agency goes beyond individual unity or national identity, as it involves negotiation. (…) The concept of agency is thus inextricable from the common, which requires permanent commitment and questioning, as well as the creation of a network of shared knowledge.

[7] SOH BEJENG NDIKUNG, Bonaventure, ‘Dis-Othering as Method: Leh Zo A Me Ke Nde Za’,

[8] The text is an excerpt from the lecture I gave at the experimental education program “Spinning Triangles” at SAVVY Contemporary, Berlin, 2019.

[9] GARCÉS, Marina, ‘Una nueva ilustración radical’, Anagrama, Barcelona, 2018. We can think with Marina Garcés what paths do we have to explore these proximities and elaborate the meaning of human experience without projecting one model on another? More than being denied, humanism and the European cultural legacy as a whole need to be put in their place: a place, among others, in the common destiny of humanity. It is not a question of continuing with the idea of a juxtaposition of cultures that the multiculturalist model has already exhausted, as a way of neutralizing diversity and its tensions and reciprocities. Rather, it is a matter of occupying a place of receptiveness and listening, including not only cultural otherness but also the tension and antagonism between forms of life, both within and outside Europe.

[10] To confirm the quote, I consulted with the artist by email and she threw these questions at me:

But what is the design of that jungle? Is it the exotic jungle fetish of the colonizer? Is it the jungle that thousands and thousands of indigenous people are dying for trying to protect?

Because the jungle as an institutional model can also be Darwinian capitalism, the “welcome to the jungle” that the wall street wolves love (with apologies to the real wolves that are in danger of extinction).

In my case, the abstraction is not animal as we conceive them (wild, romanticized, inferior, etc.), my abstraction is cyborg, it is a technology as Haraway describes it. The animal enters in my work to be anti-speciesist.

For me the traditional space of the exhibition is not interesting because it is interwoven with misogyny, racism and cis-hetero-binarism, among other horrible things like adulthood, academia,…



Lorenzo Sandoval is as an artist and curator with base in Berlin. He produces spatial devices that allow different configurations. He works on divergent genealogies of the relationships between textile production, image distribution and computing. He has directed since 2015 The Institute for Endotic Research, a task he shares with Ben Busch since 2018. He is part of the Miracle Workers Collective for the Finnish Pavilion of the 57th Venice Biennale, 2019.


21 September 2020

Notes for a decalogue to intuit an institution of gestures/gestures that constitute institution

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