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What’s left to talk about?


18 February 2013

What’s left to talk about?

ARCO leaves us speechless. No, not because we are surprised by what we can see there, so much as because each year there is even less to say about the fair itself. Long gone are the discussions and debates about whether it should be a just a commercial fair or if it ought to have a cultural or educational component. ARCO is a commercial fair, period, though the curated programmes, such as the Opening, this year under the direction of Manuel Segade and Veronica Roberts, as well as the traditional forums, this year focussing on collecting, it couldn’t be any other way, are gratefully received and grant the fair the appearance of a sort of macro-exhibition.

The question would therefore be how to reconcile the condition of merchandise with those products designed to be cultural, those that we consider special as opposed to the products realised for mass consumption, such as a pair of shoes. The Marxist geographer, David Harvey analysed in a brief but interesting text, “The art of rent” (Globalization, monopoly and the commodification of culture, 2005) how culture, and art in particular, are subject to the logic of high finance through what he calls the monopoly rent, the one that gains through competitiveness, obtained by wagering on distinction and difference, be it of a cultural product or the profile of an urban environment. For Harvey, so-called cultural products function according to a logic that is established through claims of the exceptional, the authentic, the particular and the special, all categories that have been ideologically constructed, in a highly complex manner throughout history, and all required of art and culture, in some form, by the market. This monopoly rent idea can also be extrapolated from the collective symbolic capital produced in a specific place, the cities.

This year the country invited to ARCO has been Turkey, a country that has always been considered a sort of crossroads between the East and West, an idea that many Turks now seem to reject. It’s true that Turkey has become in the last few years an important niche in the art market, above all thanks to the biennials celebrated in its capital, the first in 1987, that have led to an opening up to the western market. The person in charge of selecting the 10 galleries (Dirimart, Eipsis, Mana, Nev, Non Pilot, Maçka Sanat (MSG), Rampa, Rodeo and X-Ist), all coming from Istanbul, has been Vasif Kortun, a writer and lecture in visual arts and one of the main driving forces behind the inclusion of contemporary Turkish art on the international scene.

But, what does Turkish contemporary art offer in the context of ARCO? Why “invite” a country within the context of a fair? Once again following on from Harvey, in the context of the globalised world there exists a constant struggle, in which so-called “cultural cities” compete to create distinguishing brands, linked to a specific time and place, with the objective of generating “monopoly rents”. The singularity of a city, in this case Istanbul, is a means to create a niche market, to attract an international public and generate additional income through tourism and the art market.

However, a paradox is produced in that while these brands of local distinction are created, at the same time the trend is towards the homogenization of culture and art, due to the inertia and idiosyncrasy of globalisation. An idea that the Turkish artist, Halil Altindere picks up on, of whom CA2M recently opened a solo show in Madrid. In the video Dengbejs (Mesopotamian Triology, 2007) Altindere sets the scene of a community of Kurdish patriarchs singing popular songs in the interior of a traditional Turkish house. However, when the shot pans out to reveal the whole panorama, one sees that in reality this traditional wooden house is placed on top of a rather hybrid skyscraper, revealing the improvised modernity of their homes.

As Fietta Jarque and Ángeles García indicate, the Turkish miracle obeys a series of strategies designed to develop a flourishing market, as well as to project the idea of a country’s culture as much as its actual position in the world. And this idea is in turn used by ARCO, in the sense that by offering the “singularity” and “exoticism” of a country, the aim is to generate connections and new trade routes. However it ends up being hard to distinguish the supposed singularity of Turkish art, even more so in the context of a fair where the aim is to sell, when we are confronted with a global art that tends to absorb the aesthetics of difference.

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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