Into the Forest of Things and Signs
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Into the forest of things and signs

C’est toi qui as changé – 6 – 

Can we break down hierarchies between artist, curator, art space and public? Watching, listening, thinking, responding, analyzing are as important as making and presenting; one is not more democratic or more meaningful than the other. In the role of public you are not immediately inferior; the artist finally needs you. If you don’t read this, why should I tell?

Just a thought, what if the art space (institution, museum) would take the role of the ignorant schoolmaster? Is it possible to not explain to the public, “but order them to venture into the forest of things and signs”, as Jacques Rancière says?
Often I have this concept in mind as a vehicle in the development and implementation of projects and programs. Isn’t it the responsibility of the institution, the curator, the educator, not to explain, but share knowledge? To learn together with the public and to find common interests? We can call it knowledge production, participation, co-creation, or collaborative learning, frankly, that doesn’t matter. At best it is a precise and balanced combination of all kinds of curatorial and educational methods that we know how to apply.

We shouldn’t be naive about the role of the ignorant master; any form of a partnership involves complex issues of power and negotiation. Can we, those who direct and recreate the art space, unlock it as a place for change, collaboration, conversation, questions, learning, imitation, (im)perfectiondoubts, failure, and improvement? It is not only the responsibility of the art space, however, to let people join in; the role of the public or participant is just as important. They must also choose to want to be a partner in a process that is not expected to give any explanations. (After all, we cannot explain art to dead hares.)

This is, of course, the most difficult task: who are our partners, how do we find them, and how can we best work together? Frequently, forms of cooperation or participation practices are simply a communication strategy, without delivering a qualitative or meaningful engagement with art, or failing as an effective democratization of the art system. Conventional notions of mastery, authorship and originality still play a vast role in the arts whereby we often fail to actually be available and open. The fear of losing quality is a very substantial incentive to reject new forms of learning or involvement. Institutions have the task to stretch those notions, to critically question traditional roles in art and come up with new proposals–without loss of quality and with a durable approach. In the role of the ignorant master, we can only venture into the forest of things and signs, hence make proposals and give place to the unpredictability of learning and change.


This is the final blog post in the series C’est toi qui as changé, which was dedicated to the topic of change, and subsequently, how art allows us to learn, to teach, to think, and thus, to improve ourselves.

An alternate version of these blog posts will appear in a publication by Showroom Mama, Rotterdam, in the autumn of 2015.

Image: Andrea Fraser “Museum Highlights: A Gallery Talk” 1989
DVD (colour video with sound. 29′)
Courtesy of the artist and Friedrich Petzel Gallery, New York

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