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Museums cum munitas


14 December 2012
Aernout Mik , Communitas, 2010

Museums cum munitas

“Thinking community; nothing more necessary, demanded, and heralded by a situation that joins in a unique epochal knot the failure of all communisms with the misery of new individualisms”. Roberto Esposito

For a while now there has been no appreciable debate around museums and art institutions in which the term community hasn’t appeared. It is suffice to glance at the educational programmes of many museums and art centres for there to appear sooner or later amongst its missions that of creating community, thinking about commons or fomenting the cooperation and participation of its users. Community has become a recurring theme to which the “art community” calls upon to justify, in part, its mission or raison d’être.

Roberto Esposito traces (The Origin and Destiny of Community) the etymological lineage of the term community cum (with) munus (charge, duty) from Rousseau and his social contract, as a convention with which we still live, through to the impossible community of Bataille, where desire for community is configured as the negation of life, in as much as the life of an individual coincides with the limits that separate him from others. It is therefore a concept that though ancient doesn´t end, nor can it age, given the impracticality of its promise and its utopian (and necessary) character, and one that seems to revive in situations of crisis. In our current times, when the public, as we have known it (the state) is disappearing into thin air, there exists a crisis that goes beyond the economic and is revealed by the crisis of representation that bears with it a justified distrust of institutions. What use do politics and institutions serve in the 21st century? In this context the term is reintroduced, as an invitation for collaboration to be a way of getting back on ones feet, to rethink a common world, living together, precisely now when it is most needed and in the face of demands from citizens for more participation. And the commons because, in the words of Toni Negri, it is that which makes possible within the public nature the construction of real common spaces, where the resolution, desire and capacity to transform singularities is possible.

On the part of art theory there has arisen an appropriation of the concept of community, and museums, more than being repositories of knowledge (of the community), that as well, today configure themselves as spaces of mediation. The concept of “relational art” theorised by Nicolas Bourriaud, has systematised this tendency over the last few years, by way of an art that creates ephemeral situations that generates networks and new forms of relations. In this way, art is urged to contribute, with its political potential, to the restructuring of the sense of community, the reparation of social links, etc. However, countering the “good vibes” of Bourriaud, the French philosopher Jacques Rancière defends dissent as the only way of guaranteeing that the excluded part, that is, the portionless (anyone), can embody the universal and be included in the sphere of common issues. The museum, therefore, has the task of fomenting networks of common working and of consolidating affective ties and a sense of belonging.

As it happens, the Museo Reina Sofía a few years ago proposed the term “institution of the common” to refer to participatory institutions of the masses, rather than to public ones, of nobody (state). And proposed a system for collaborating, for networks with other institutions, collectives and social movements, as a way of constituting our-self. But how can museums contribute to creating community? And what type of community are we talking about? How does one promote working across networks and in the community? What are the tools that museums use to visualise the commons? What indicators will we be used to prove that “this community” is arising? Faced with the difficulty of measuring or evaluating these questions, it is at least necessary to define the community that we want to build, because communities come in all shapes and sizes: communitarian, neoliberal, identitarian, neighbourly, as well as those determined by race, ideologies, interests or whatever else.

In this context, there arises the paradox that while many art institutions assimilate amongst their functions that of creating community, it is increasingly evident that more than creating an affective community, what many of them are pursuing is in reality customer loyalty, creating a client list, be it of museum patrons, visitors or consumers of events. And whether one wants it or not, the future of museums and art centres in Spain will be determined in part by the management and funding models that they use.

Rosa Naharro endeavours to think about the present, considering its distinct contexts, through culture and contemporary art. Looking at exhibitions, writing, reading, film, music and even conversations with friends serve as her tools. Understanding and interpreting “something” of what we call the world becomes a self-obligation, as well as taking a certain stance, that doesn´t distance her from it. She combines writing for A*Desk with writing her doctoral thesis at the UCM and working with cultural management projects.

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