Anabel Roque Rodríguez is a curator and writer currently based in Munich, Germany. Her research focus is: feminism; art activism; questions of representation; territoriality; temporary artistic occupations, and the politicization of space in contemporary art.
Contact: anabelroro (at) gmail (dot.)com
There is a difference between representing the political and acting politically—to talk in the manner of Steirischer Herbst, it is not that “truth is concrete” but action. Political art or socially engaged art…etc. (the phenomenon has so many names) deals with explicit conditions and does not remain in the level of association. It is concrete action that challenges current circumstances. The impact and value—on an artistic scale or market index—is difficult to measure with old-fashioned indexes and starts often where people usually think the so-called aesthetic experience is over. Political art transcends the field of art, entering daily life without knowing how big the real impact will be in the end. It is not just about raising awareness, but about being uncomfortable, sharing knowledge, and affecting local situations.
I am often asked why the art world needs politics. But isn’t this the wrong question? Isn’t the world of art evidently part of the political, with its own norms and orders:
Firstly, artists, curators, theorists, etc., are part of the society because they are first of all humans and defined by social relations. Secondly, the world of art is built upon its own hierarchical structures and rules. The exclusion of minorities (women, ethnic groups, classes, states…etc.) is still not over in the curatorial programming of a lot of institutions. Thirdly, there is a responsibility—moral, legal, and curatorial—of institutions that invite activists or social practitioners. Who decides what art is? Is there a possibility to give the socially engaged project a visual appearance without absorbing the activist strategies? Do we need activist elements in museums?
In my opinion the question is not whether the art world needs politics, but when we start to act political in the art world. There are several points with a need for concrete action:
(1) Public transparency in the choice of juries/board members and artists (2) Responsibility of institutions with sponsorship cooperation (3) the rules and procedures in the art world should apply equally to all citizens, independent of gender, background, and beliefs. (4) Change in the display format. New concepts that break with the tradition of just showing certain objects as the result of art production, in order to find formats where indefinite relations, networks and the whole “ecosystem” can be shown. An artwork cannot be reduced to an object anymore; it rather encompasses gestures that the artist has conceived specifically for it, repeating actions, ethical views, political decisions and economic considerations in his or her project. The idea of bringing a group of like-minded people together is the oldest form of political structure and can be rethought in exhibition formats. It is difficult to expose strategies out of their context, especially in the political field, without forcing a museification and turning the strategy into a meaningless tool in an archive box. Political strategies belong to their site-specific context. (5) New knowledge backgrounds to understand certain phenomena not out of the art specific field (aesthetic, art history…) knowledge of sociology, community organizing, or new media facilitates a common language.
Institutions need to re-examine their definition of public by questioning who their audience is and how they want to relate to it, as well as if they want to be instruments of a closed community that reproduces their own norms. The process of defining what kind of community art institutions want to address or be part of and how they want to organize themselves is a highly political act.