Today more than ever the artist is assigned with the difficult task of embracing the public and social field and everything that surrounds them. Only recently has the artistic profession followed a more winding road in education, combining it with pedagogy. Since unmemorable times the artist has acted as teacher too, that had to transmit his art to his followers, aiming at the autonomy of art; but nowadays, from a multi-disciplinary perspective, the pedagogy of art turns out to be a precious instrument to social and cultural knowledge. It is becoming more and more common for the artist of the global era to be invited by various institutions in order to participate in conferences, symposiums, classes in various universities in the world; with him he/she brings the baggage of personal and collective experience, that he has carried with him in all the places where he had been before. That way, the artist turns into the spokesman of an international criticism that has never taken place before. Considering the fact that education should teach people how to remove the barriers of time and space and how to exit from themselves and all the things that surround them – so that they get to know other places and cultures in the world –today’s artist can accomplish, with the mobility of his body and mind, the positive successful of the transcultural individual (Marc Augé, Por una antropología de la mobilidad, Gedisa, Barcelona 2007, p. 92).
During the first trimester of the academic year 2007-2008 in the Faculty of Arts and Design of the University IUAV of Venice internationally known teachers, curators and artists were invited.
The laboratory of the Visual Arts 1 confirmed its experimental composition by entrusting the artist Antoni Muntadas with the workshop dedicated to the search, the contextualization and the critical process, to the site specific and time specific. Limits, borders and confines was the sociopolitical subject proposed by Antoni Muntadas, who aimed at the elaboration and realization of projects and works characterized by three fundamental activities: the work, the production and the act. The development of the working plan was based on the analysis and the in-depth examination of concepts like confines, borders and limits; it clearly originated from an intuition that had already been verified by research and historical, social and economical analysis and was consecutively given a direction thanks to the discursive support of the teacher-artist. In this first phase a proliferation of ideas, defined and expressed in a sufficient and critical manner by concepts, took place; then came the phase of the concrete realization of the projects, where there were various expressive techniques used, such as design, installation, video, photography and other representational devices and systems.
Thus emerged the idea, as a reflection that needs to be considered inseparably from the way of expression and the technique.
The critical analysis permitted many students to generate small narratives, where the instinct, which is more than an urgency, was fed by a conceptual corpus capable of penetrating the territory (whose definitions are space, location, place), of getting to know it, analyzing and criticizing it, so that it can act in itself. A territory more and more exposed to continuous redefinitions because it has been subjected to “mobile filters” that modify its history, culture and identity. In fact, the confines, the borders and the limits are osmotic filters that often rub into the character of a place and the existence of the people that occupy it. They are the sensors of the dynamic of the contemporary globalized world, dominated by individual, commodity and information fluxes. As such, they are politic, economical, social, cultural and psychological segments that have delimited the geographical and certainly the mental space.
These analyses have led into an in depth vision of the macropolitics of the segments and the micropolitics of the fluxes. In other words, from the institutional and cultural borders of the public space, that have nested on the territory –and by this we mean the territory viewed within its specific forms: city, squares, streets, centers, peripheries, industrial settlements, countryside– to the limits of the private sphere –where there is a system of differentiation that starts with the division of the sexes and continues with the language, the body and the collective or individual identity.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the terms of identifications were spatial, if we consider the fact that such devices express the identity of space and of the people that live in it. The main part of the research took place in Venice, that was transformed in an instrument of recognition to arrange a critical view on the real; but in other cities too (like Brescia, Trieste and Marghera) there were real, media or virtual places that turned into a laboratory of experimentation. This allowed the young artists to move around the borders with critical strategies and that way to intervene into the everyday things.
The analysis of the local reality drives inevitably to a clash with the universalized models that hold on to the homologation or, paradoxically, to the emphatization of the territorial and human divisions. This is particularly evident in the cities, because they function as a receptor of the internal and external tensions and therefore are always structured in “surveyed interiors” and fortified fences; fences that seek to orientate, determinate and control gestures, actions and civic paths.
The surveillance net generates, however, a latent feeling of psychological insecurity that could possibly create violence and conflicts with other unwanted social groups; this turbulence could lead to the degradation and the abandonment of some areas, and, last but not least, to urban praxes of gentrification, that have actually produced a scarce informal control and a disorientation from the original essence of these places. Thus we could say that there is a new urbanism of fear, which transforms the city into a giant panopticum and creates spaces of prohibition, places where the poor, the immigrants, the gypsies or simply people that are considered as a nuisance are separated from the mass. Therefore we can see a tragic paradox: one can be at the centre of the city and remain unseen.
It comes as no surprise that the physical or ideological barriers today are turning into realities and instruments to maintain a balance that constitutes in the relation between the visible and the invisible presence of the fear.
Because of this the students come to face with a major responsibility as they approach the complex net of relations that are articulated in public space. Actually, in this panorama, there emerges a theoretical and operative modality of intervention that orientated the students to recognizing in the definition of the public space, the social and political dimension of a diversified and complex collective.
From one hand, he idea of the intervention as a public instrument promotes a direct association to the real; on the other hand it can emphasize the artistic event. This event comes as a result of the artist’s need to expresses his/her microcosm, which today, more than ever is the reflection of a macroreality in contraposition to the definitions of the local. Therefore it seems like the idea is more like an urgency that reduces the spatial and temporal distance in everyday reality. Thus, the redefinition of a public art coincides not only with the redefinition of the status of art but also with the redefinition of the concept of the public. In this context art turns out to be one of the most efficient and visible means to shape the strategy for the promotion of the local patrimony, the recuperation of the public places and the social reactivation, through innovative instruments and debates respectful of various behaviors, content and culture.
As a practice of viewing and showing, the art today often turns out to be a critical and flexible instrument, capable of striking a dialogue with different disciplines; that way not only can it play a positive role for the community, but it can also function as a means to support architecture and the project of urban reshaping and regenerating. It seems obvious that contemporary art by now doesn’t produce works that could be defined inside the esthetic paradigm of the autonomy of art, but interventions that, more than anything else, are processes in which the artist is absolutely taken by his/her interior necessity.
In fact it is an interior necessity for public acts to aim at giving dignity to the historical memory of a place, at acting in the interstice between the public and the private, to the interior of life itself, the macro and the microanalysis of our perceptions, in a continuous transversal movement, that crosses limits, confines and borders, whether they are identity or cultural, political or social ones.
The creative act is thus a mental path which drives the idea forth to the places of the critical and conceptual findings; up until the visual event is materialized into a specific place and time. Only that way will the work constitute a precious instrument of knowledge.
Images are published courtesy of Antoni Muntadas. Images: On Translation: Die Stadt. Barcelona, Graz, Lille. 2004 / Muntadas, The Construction Of Fear. Kent Gallery, New York. 2008 / C.E.E. Project, 1989-1998