Ever since the supposed occurrence of the pedagogical turn (O’Neill & Wilson, 2010) in the past decade or so, the discussion of emancipatory potential of contemporary art and its correlating institutions seems to be at a certain high. The question not only how to critically engage the audience — which has already been raised by various art practices that served as the basis for conception of relational aesthetics (Bishop, 2004) and supposedly produce the so-called microutopias (ibid., pp. 54), changing society here and now on a micro level, relieved of the pressure of a total breakage with the present in the sense of revolutionary emancipation — but also how to envision an alternative production of knowledge that would in the basic Foucauldian sense correspond to this microutopistic production of subjectivity (1) (therefore creating a form of resistance immanent to the productive mechanisms of power (2)) is ever more represented in the discourse on curating and production of contemporary art.
Its basic theoretical influences seem to be Foucault’s conception of power (which is not restrictive but rather productive, manifesting through the production of knowledge and subjectivity — see Foucault,1980, 1995, etc.) and Ranciere’s idea of an emancipated spectator (Ranciere, 2009), closely linked to his conception of the politics of aesthetics (Ranciere, 2013) and his idea of alternative production of knowledge (especially its emancipatory potential) as presented in The Ignorant Schoolmaster (Ranciere, 1991). Both represent a de-hierarchical and disseminated conception of the triad subject-knowledge-power, out of which (as already described in the context of relational aesthetics by Bishop — see Bishop, 2004, pp. 52) the majority of art projects (3) derive the idea of an artwork in flux or in other words an artwork that is “[…] open-ended, interactive and resistant to closure, often appearing to be ‘work-in-progress’ rather than a completed object” (ibid.). An artwork that functions more as a riddle or a learning tool, producing the same emancipatory effects as originally conceptualised by the two theorists, although it remains unclear if and how they actually achieve this.
The 31st Biennial of Graphic Arts, held last year in Ljubljana, is a clear example of this conception of microutopistic potentials of contemporary art, its curatorial needs, and its misunderstandings. Titled Over you / you and curated by Nicola Lees, it explored “the sociopolitical characteristics associated with graphic arts, particularly in relation to reproduction, publicity and community” (Lees, 2015, pp. 8), referring to the democratic potentials of the graphic medium in general as well as to the biennial’s own structure and history as a space — albeit heavily conditioned by specific political conditions of the former Yugoslavia (especially its role in the Non-Aligned Movement) — where ideas could be exchanged, mixed and distributed. Continue reading “Pedagogical Impossibilities”