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The museum can go to hell


03 June 2013

The museum can go to hell

I have always had a problem with directions; I end up taking the right path but I lose the sense of where I am heading. I don’t do it on purpose, and it is neither good nor bad. It just happens. “Please do not touch“, a project curated by Jorge Luis Marzo and presented at Artium, was no exception to this. I had read the statement, the press notes, I’d seen the video… but when I went into the second room I stood in the middle, looking around me, and decided that the best way to continue was to watch the eight videos by Mireia c. Saladrigues. Three works later, I realised that I’d chosen to continue from the end, or at least from the end of the recommended route. An act of rebellion? No, not consciously, but that small, isolated and involuntary episode just strengthened the need to address a topic such as the one being exhibited in Artium.

The exhibition – which in no way seeks to question or judge the work of the Artium Museum staff – takes as a starting point the meticulous recording of incidents since the museum opened in 2002, to question the role of the museum-institution as an unfailing part of the mesh employed by political and economic powers to discipline us. In this particular intersection we find artists like Félix Pérez-Hita, Mireia c. Saladrigues, Joan Fontcuberta, Guillermo Trujillano, Andrés Hispano and Jorge Luis Marzo; plus the group from the Fine Art faculty of the EHU/UPV composed of Oier Gil, Sandra Amutxastegi, Pau Figueres and Arturo “Fito” Rodríguez. This is a great joint work that has been updated and expanded in the project blog and where every piece is unique. However, there are four main avenues: works that show the incidents that took place; those based on the authority of the museum; those that speak of the insubordination of the visitors; and those that talk about the relationship between art and the viewer with a touch of humour and irony. The work of these artists goes beyond simply describing the anecdotic events that have been generated – in this case the recording of the inappropriate behaviour of visitors. They are the product of an idea that comes from further away, in the theoretical ideas of Marzo: the concept of culture as a generator of citizenship, the heir to the 19th middle classes, which is reflected most strongly in the exhibition spaces.

Rather than offering solutions, “Please do not touch” flags up a host of questions. Is being a citizen equivalent to being disciplined, or does that just apply to a certain type of citizen? Does that mean that there are different classes of citizen? How can a visibly complex society accept the strict rules of an institution that it does not belong to without making some kind of objection? Why doesn’t this happen with other institutions, like the army? To what extent does the audience believe in the right to criticise and underestimate art? Is it the rules of cultural infrastructures that offer that right, not to the citizens, but to the citizens that are already moulded by them? Is there an opportunity for revolt or emancipation?

Emancipation in the broadest sense of the word, referring to any action that allows us to liberate ourselves from any kind of subordination or dependence, but also, as in Roman law, the act of liberating a slave by their master. We know that the museum will not liberate us and so the only thing that remains for us is the insubordination that emerges from our own citizenship, which as we have seen, was created by it. That is why Radicalment emancipat (s), a work in progress by Mireia c. Saladrigues is so interesting. It is an installation that takes the statements of people who rob or have robbed, fragments of artworks and see that as being a profound and respectful relation with them, because first of all it shows as we suspected, that to break the rules takes an act of passion, and secondly, that it is only by using the rules themselves that we can get around them. We need art to rebel against the institution, whose role has changed. As Marzo said in Que es foti el public (The audience can go to hell), the paraphrase of which has given me the title of this article: «Art no longer serves to keep us warm. It’s there to pose the question: why the fuck is it so cold?».

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"A desk is a dangerous place from which to watch the world" (John Le Carré)