Thuistezien 212 — 22.03.2021
How do artists deal with the notion of the future? Considering the current shifting and fragmenting artistic landscape, the suggestion has come up that it is a necessary element to an artwork to attempt to include awareness of social and economic contexts. What scenarios are there for the art world to tackle this hypothesis?
In this talk Annie Fletcher presents her project of the Van Abbemuseum in light of these questions and their debatable urgency, where transformation of and alternatives to art institutions seem to be demanded. She also relates it to a previous talk by Frank Theys, who proposes ‘P2P’-art, which is participatory and open source in nature (peer-to-peer) and is set up as a project that could give the needed boost to the societal value of art in these times. Fletcher’s initiative sprung forth from witnessing the 2008 financial crisis in Ireland, which as a moment of chaos also showed the culmination of a ‘rich life’ which up until that point involved a ‘libidinal excitement’ on wealth and progress. Such a moment of castration then, awakened also for Fletcher the observation that there is a need for new alignments, and that art institutions play a big role in this. Instead of a futurism, there might be a demand for ‘presentism’, where cultural heritage and museological structures account less for maintaining values for future generations and rather insist on engaging with the present.
This does not, however, imply that the practice of heritage and archiving should not be actively preserved and in that sense, maintained. It is the incentive of archiving that calls for change. Meaning that the function of art or art institutions, the white cube, is not anymore in service of ownership or spectatorship; of ‘an artwork’ and a viewer. It has become redundant for museums to propagate a kind of ‘expert culture’ and lead with a set of established values to educate society. The way society has developed into technological networks and ‘users’ across all sectors (whether for better or worse), also demands of the cultural sector to be reciprocal and collaborative. And it is the challenge of museums to constructively lead this dialogue, so as to produce and transform beneficial ideas. Fletcher emphasises that focusing on the present, in order to then repurpose social structures, consists of understanding the political importance of reading our history - a task art could fulfill.
Hence archiving gets a new, crucial role to play. Fletcher suggests looking at an ‘archive of presence’ where usership is acknowledged, i.e. interpreting the archive and heritage in light of a recent past. Here art accounts for and questions the social fabric, instead of resigning to be merely symbolic. Appropriating network culture by collaborating with its ‘users’ (or rather: makers) would be the only way to break down the opposition between consumption and production, and holds true potential for the transformation society and art demands.
Annie Fletcher is the Director of the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin and was previously chief curator at the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven. The presentation took place in the framework of the symposium '100 Years from Now' organized by West in 2015 in the Grote Kerk of The Hague.
Text: Yael Keijzer