First, it is made to challenge and seduce at the same time; what people take for granted is heritage here, while elsewhere, it is actually assuming something that contemporary art takes for granted – that old, unexpected and surprising is a form of critique, that is – it is opening questions, and also opening the question about what is the cultural agent which comes directly from the contemporary field. Now, the difference between this situation and the standard operation is that we are not asking the artists to take these questions into completely new works all the time; in delegating that function, we are not assuming that those questions can be achieved through direct action procedures in three weeks, in the village, with three plasticine boxes. We assume that those are very complex and long-term questions, and that they need to be addressed with a certain historical perspective, as well.


Manifesta venue. Press photo

Chris Dercon, the director of Tate Modern, expressed his fascination with “ones which depart from being a mere physical body, the ones who are becoming communitie”, like Burkina Fasso project.

It is good to say that I really feel that we need to understand that we are producing social forces, these institutions without the idiotic freedom of Demurge. We depart from existing structures. We need to operate on understanding on what they are. Chris Dercon is describing the object with a certain intentionality, which allows him to make the decisions to reach those goals. He is producing a good hegemony; one thing that we have to to learn, or re-learn, is that we can produce good hegemonies. The thought is – what is good power about, without being horrified in the Christian way. One of the most significant experiences of that community structure that is modern and contemporary art, is physical proximity – bumping and coming together around certain cultural practices or an object. The exhibition form, as we know it now in modernity, has to do with negotiating the corporalization, the physicality of a certain community, which is able to not only look and talk, but to also smell each other. There are these incredibly beautiful chronicles of the meetings in the French salons in the 17th century, which Thomas Crow beautifully compiled, that talk about the smell of the perfume of the French aristocrat colliding with the stink. Chris is saying that one important power that we have is that of operating though convening people, to actually interact, talk, or stare at something, rather than slipping by or avoiding each other, and that is a physical condition that I find enormously powerful. There is a way to renegotiate with the relationship of what we called an object. (I am not saying that art has to be visible and something that can be sold; I think that that is an idiotic reduction.) There is an agent that we are creating, and a social body created around that agent, and there is a historically powerfull decision of the species to communicate through things, of inscribing memories in things, not being able to make signals to each other. I presume that in the next years, museums are going to be evolving in that form and rethinking it, including questions on how to start using the accumulated historical wealth that they were storing in different forms. Clearly, the sort of strange Cold War obsession of piling up atomic bombs was mirrored by the obsession of MoMA to pile up artworks in the storerooms that no one sees. This is a very peculiar anthropological practice; Tate is different. But 95% percent of the works acquired by MoMA, these works are not going to be seen by anyone. They are kidnapped. They are somewhere; they are not going to be lent out, because loan lists are ridiculously long. Institutions have a sick satisfaction from storing them without usage. The question, for me, has to do with pressing past, into the future space that I occupy as a cultural practitioner, writer and curator; it is something that I owe to the biennial system as well. The geographical prejudices that built the imbalanced structures of institutions of modernism were dismantled by the proliferation of biennials. So those that do not come from NATO countries, like me, and I presume, you, also are able to be part of this discussion and dialog, simply because of the Havana biennial; onwards, the whole geography of the system was perverted. I am very committed to preservation; that means that a lack of ambition in using the art, the inexpensive, cheap business of pampering some collections, and instead, using some rather uneducated visual interests, is, on the contrary, putting them in danger.

Similarly, there are institutions, like Tate, that have been constantly challenging the possibilities of the museum. It is still a museum, in an establishment sense, but the routes that they are taking have not been taken before; in that way, they are: a) creating a social institution that is more diverse than any other institution in the UK has been before; b) conveying a social energy towards culture which is constantly arguing for the preservation of culture in Britain and elsewhere – and you cannot keep pointing out that it is an elitist structure; and c) opening possibilities for many other practices in many other places in the world to take place. Tate has to be judged in a completely different way than the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, which I don’t think that, in the long-term, has shown that is is building a different kind of society around it; it has been a good showcase, adventurous in its social commitment, and it has not been launching intellectualism. We need to come down from critisizing the museum, the biennial, the artist; move away from qualifying, specifying and distinguishing one operation from another. We have to say, that “this biennial is doing this”. For example, the Mercosul Biennial has reinvented the educational possibilities of the biennial in a way that makes its operation make sense more than any other biennial in all the world. So in Porto Allegre, this biennial has to be defended. By defending the biennials at large, they are saving the badly cooked biennials that do not matter. We are constantly trying to tap money which is floating around over there, but without trying to refine the negotiation. When the big bulk of the resources are in danger of being lost because we do not have a proper argument for what we are doing, then the operations are feeble. There has been an argument in the field to get the money “10% above” of the project. Both of the resources are coming from society. Tate, up to now, has been able to play both of these roles beautifully. It has a very interesting program. It has built a social contract that builds audiences. Yeah, it also has ability to come to the surface and help. There is a certain alchemic trick there, but it is not missing any of the three points.


Cuauhtémoc Medina

manifesta.org