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This is the first international symposium for art criticism organised by the ACCA that I have attended, and it is already the tenth! It is also the first to include among its speakers an artist who exudes discourse, because his critical discourse emanates from movement, from “embodied criticism”, as he himself, Aimar Pérez Galí, says (and dances). Another artist, Mark Lewis seems to want to do without discourse, although I don’t believe it, not least because in 1998 together with Charles Esche he created the Afterall journal based in London and because even if he no longer writes (or that’s what he said) he does film, observing reality as if through the eyes of a humming bird. You can’t say that he hasn’t got a privileged view when it comes to the way he observes it.
The symposium opened with a question and, if you’ll forgive me, quite a common one; where are the art critics today?, and that gave way to a chorus of analysis of places and methods of critical dissemination. And although there were (necessary?) obvious remarks: things we were expecting, things we already know, things we already feel, the final sensation was satisfactory, to be honest. Because along the lines of what Joana Hurtado said in the last round table discussion, something like “well I do believe in it”, there was also a bit of ‘come off it!’ and in the end quite a lot of ‘here we go!’, although in a different way.
Peio Aguirre talked about the dangers of the current link between criteria-market-advertising, which are increasingly strong, if we are to consider and respect one of the most leading functions of criticism: that of contributing to the shaping of a public sphere. Nuria Enguita expanded on that generating light and power, broadening through her experience the possible spaces for emission through journals (Concreta), curators and programming.
Irit Rogoff, who we have also interviewed here this week shared some of the elements of her most recent research which observes the “infrastructure” or hidden structure governing institutions, finance, corporations, etc. today, which through their appearance of neutrality are hogging the spaces of freedom of the individual and critical cognition. What she is seeking in her analysis is precisely to highlight the need to find possible cracks for criticism in a frame regulated by the market and “efficiency”.
For Stephen Wright it is the need to adapt and make the terminology more specific (also in his workshop “A lexical turn; rethinking the terms of criticism”), which has to be observed in the constant process of ‘deontologisation’ in art. As a proposal for a change in the type of relationship, the term “usership” emerges, both for the type of “user” (previously ‘viewer’) and in the type of critical analysis or in artistic production.
Thijs Lijster, as mentioned in the interview with Anna Dot, stressed the spatial element of criticism, not from the view of atomising it but from the need for re-localisation and settlement which also includes re-historicisation of its practice, its return to contextual necessity in terms of space and time, even if that return does not mean going to where we set out from.
With an ironic allegory to Greenberg, who he would literally turn upside down from the start, David G. Torres created a necessary tension, essential given the almost linear sequence of presentations (with the exception of Aimar): critics are marginal and so they should be; they are vampire-like, vicarious and “crippled”. But they also form part of a process of creative progress. They are part and parcel; ego, interest and agency.
And among all the conceptual or “conceptological” interventions, there is something that bothers me when I think (and I think myself in it) about the artistic context, criticism, publications, curatorship, setting up or whatever else we are concerned with transversally. And that is the distancing from reality. The danger of seeing – and experiencing – the world from a position where the capacity for abstraction is a privilege; a place where from even if paying the bills is hard enough, the movements of individual productions, to steal the words of Enguita, is a light relief in the end.
It is indisputable that we are highly dependent on the market, opinion and the institutions (David G.Torres), but that is not only true in the world of criticism. Lucky as we are we can place and “position” ourselves in this place of “usership” (Wright) where interaction helps us to receive and destabilise (which some get so much comfort from).
To be able to do that, positioning is the key, because even if it is necessary not to be a theorist to create a discourse from practice (Pérez Galí) it is also true that the production of knowledge is the space we have to influence the world (Rogoff).
Beyond the classical sense of criticism, where non-implicated judgements are made, current criticality contains the power of transformation in itself. It is not just a question of judging; I believe that the challenge lies in extending the already soft boundaries of current production, bringing criticism to the field of reality, once and for all coming to terms with contemporaneity in a holistic way. And being prepared to stick your neck out for it.
"A desk is a dangerous place from which to watch the world" (John Le Carré)