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As has been repeated ad infinitum, we are living through a paradigm shift. All the roles (and not just in the art world) are in the process of being redefined (“redefine yourself or die “, seems to be the motto). The role of the institution is one and perhaps also one of the most problematic, because the institution itself has created a series of mechanisms and dynamics that limit dynamism and flexibility to be able to respond to the demands that currently are called for, not just by artists, but the whole of society. Today we recoup from the A*DESK archives an article from 2009 in which Martí Manen analyses this subject through an element that is key: the factor of time. Now that in a recent event such as the Venice Biennale, the Arena space has acquired a central prominence precisely so as to activate the deployment of the exhibition over time, this article by Manen, also a co-protagonist in this same biennial, seems to us to be more than opportune.
The desire for communication with society persists within the sector of contemporary art. Not just for communication, as there is also an idea of incidence, reconsideration, redefinition and reading of what is happening around us.
One of the options with which to achieve this contact has been through the reformulation of exhibition spaces and institutional models. From stagnant programmes we’ve passed to flexible systems, with weight given to education and the growth of all types of activities carried out in museums, art centres or the motley variety of institutions that make up the art scene. Work goes on in parallel creative spaces (if we can separate culture into clusters) and cinema, literature, politics and music are incorporated into artistic discourse.
The urge to become part of reality, to activate and form part of the mechanism that defines society calls for a reconsideration of times of action and definition. Museums and also art centres programme years ahead defining their own modes of action and wagering (in the best of cases) on elements that enrich the final programme but always within the coordinates that define each institution. But this programming, years ahead, also needs to assume a certain capacity to adapt and the possibility to respond to adjacent realities. This situation demands a total awareness not just of the global art scene but also of local socio-political changes and interests.
Up to here all well and good. Many artists also work under the same premises, but exhibition formats continue to complicate life at the moment you seek direct communication, this desire to work in “real time”.
The very concept of “real time” so criticised by linguists, stems from a concept of reality tied to the Internet. The term derives from something that has also suffered from the speed that envelops us. This “real time” of the Internet that augments to the extent in accord with each new step taken by technology. But, what happens with the exhibition? The exhibition in the majority of cases continues to be this closed format that is defined by an inauguration data that marks the dynamics for the communication of the centres and the media. Once opened, that’s it, we move on to the next project (or to the other three or four we have in hand). If exhibition proposals ask for time in the present, working within the institution is resistant. Some practical examples: external curators don’t tend to be present in the exhibition space, nor in the city, once the exhibition has opened. The workers in the institution also don’t have time (nor is it contemplated in their work schedules) to maintain a present time in the exhibition. And the exhibition guards or informers tend to have little communication with the “programming” part of the institutions. Not to mention the evaluations that never occur due to a lack of time.
But the underlying problem doesn’t lie solely in these structural issues. The consumption of the exhibition also stems from a distinct idea of time. The white cube, black box or its multiple variants tends to offer a reality “distinct” from that of “the street”. Time in an exhibition is different and comes predefined by a habit of consumption as much as by an attitude that permits few modifications. To break with these habits leads on many occasions to a high failure rate.
We could talk at length about “the relational” and about how proposals that want to be “real” become representations or endeavours to be something that the very format hinders. We could talk of these attempts (failed or successful) to modify the rhythms to offer more intimate, emotional experiences or dialogue. And it’s not easy, because institutional time tends to be distinct from the time needed by these types of proposals. Institutional time doesn’t have to coincide with reality. If entering into a museum things change, the relation with objects is other, ideas of truth and importance flutter through exhibition spaces, perhaps it’s about coming to terms with the fact that the struggle to encounter other rhythms and connections will never be an easy task.
"A desk is a dangerous place from which to watch the world" (John Le Carré)