Public art as political action

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Responsibilities of the curator-anthropologist

In the introduction to the catalogue of the 53rd Venice Biennale, Birnbaum reflects on globalization in relation to the mode of exhibiting of the event that, in 2009, he was called to curate.

On one hand, he asserts, globalization makes it possible to put the products of different local spheres face-to-face. However, there is the risk that the cultural differences are levelled. The anthropological concept that is revealed by these concerns, according to which there exists a human cultural sphere subdivided into a certain number of blocks derived from some mysterious primal nuclei, is of the positivist mould, and is not at the base of 20eventi.

The risk is that of considering culture an isolated (or isolatable) entity and subjecting it to a process of museumification, similar to that undergone by the work of art; values of rarity, immortality and exceptionality, to be conserved against deterioration, reproduction and contamination. It was precisely the art of the nineteen hundreds that showed that culture itself is subject to deterioration and has always been open to contamination.

In the case of an art curatorship that wishes to anthropologically contextualize an exhibition, if cultures are wrongly considered as separate tesserae of a vast mosaic, then one will find themselves vainly attempting to select works and artists able to mirror presumed cultural identities. In this way, not only is a mistaken vision of anthropology reinforced, but we would go back to saying that Plato was right, ensuring that art is offered to the public as a copy of reality. Although art cannot be separated from the social influences from which it is born, and in spite of the fact that the restitution of this split is often one of the greatest results an artist can achieve, an artwork can never be reduced to this. It is neither a highly representative cultural product nor of a higher order. Perfectly integrated and functional to the development of cultural contaminations, art can be considered the outpost from which it is permitted to put cultural orders back into discussion, of which it reveals the arbitrary nature and baselessness.

The anthropological worth of art must be truly assisted by the curator, who does not limit themselves to selecting, but acts as a mediator between artist and society, with the aim of analysing and contextualising the work of the artist. The resulting work, of which today nobody can debate its plurivocal nature, is not completely other in respect to local production (typical culture, that I would call folkloristic). But neither is it mixed with these if we continue to think of art as an engine for the continual rejuvenation of the semantic order of culture (or better, of its apparent uniqueness), maybe through the propagation of disorder.

If Birnbaum, in front of the danger of the levelling of cultural specificity hopes that art can maintain and defend its statute of “antagonistic force against such a flattening”, I hope that it can represent ever more an engine of cultural differentiation. Vivacious and with no respect for the limits and the specificity dictated by inexistent (or unnecessary) cultural confines.

It is in this context that 20eventi puts artists face to face with already mixed solutions; it works in a context that favours not only a synchronic cultural exchange and contamination, but also a farsighted gaze on the sedimentation and long-term effects that this exchange will bring in the years. The territory of the Sabina, in which the artists are invited to work, is not that combination of characteristic and immobile traits to be preserved, but a jumble of potentialities that mutate with time, including the intervention of 20eventi.

Emanuele Sbardella

Translation:

Lincoln Dexter

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