Josť Luis Brea on Wed, 10 May 2000 18:42:52 +0200 (CEST)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

[Nettime-bold] Online critique

Online critique.
Transformations of art.criticism in contemporary societies

We live in a time of profound transformations, which radically affect the 
way in which we tend to articulate our relationship with the world around 
us: transformations which affect the general framework of our comprehension 
of the world, of what it means to inhabit it, of what we can expect of our 
existence and of what it means to share that existence with our fellow 
beings. The old "grand recits" that articulated that comprension have 
collapsed, and although forceful ideas -such as freedom, brotherhood and 
justice- continue to orient our practices, the models of response that they 
support are no longer rigid, stable and univocal. We thus find ourselves 
facing the need to reformulate the horizons, the mediations: we need new 
maps for understanding our times, new visions that will help us articulate 
our relationship with the world and all that it means to "be human" within it.

Regarding the practices of symbolic production in the ambit of visual 
things, I believe that those transformations have two principle signs.

- First, the appearance and already accomplished settling of a time-image, 
of a moving image, in the ambit of the technical image. It is true that 
this appearance of a moving image already has a century long history with 
filmmaking. Nevertheless, that could not affect the practices of visual 
production in such a decisive way. Not until the general conditions of 
expectation, of contemplation, varied enough so that the time-image was 
converted into the dominant form of experience of the image -something 
which has already begun to occur-, permitting for the first time in the 
history of humanity that representation be made ponderable in itself as an 
event, as a "happening", not as something definitively given and forever 
identical to itself. That implies great transformations not only in the 
general symbolic ordering that mediatizes our whole relationship with 
representation, yet also and consequently in the totality of the social 
devices of production, transmission and experience of the image and visual 
things in contemporary societies. It is therefore inevitable to assume that 
those great transformations have affected not only artistic practices but 
also the modes in which the practice of art criticism can be developed with 

- The second of the great signs of which I am considering refers to the 
current proliferation of the mediums through which their social and public 
distribution are verified. If the mechanisms of collectivization of 
experience of visual practices in modern societies were formerly 
conditioned by the requirement of presence, and they were therefore 
mechanisms of a spatialized nature (such as museums, galleries, urban 
spaces, specific locations, citizen's spaces or even alternative spaces), 
the current proliferation of mediums and new mediums profiles a much 
broader, swarming and lively panorama of devices. A panorama that, above 
all, is no longer conditioned by the obligatory resolution of the 
presentations in terms of presence or specific location, spatialization. It 
seems to me evident that from there follows an almost immeasurable 
challenge for the creative practices, and by extension a peremptory 
transformation of the space for art criticism (which will soon find itself 
facing the possibility of utilizing a multiplicity of channels, mechanisms 
and forms for which it was not conceived).

I would not like to omit pointing out that there is a third sign of even 
greater importance, if indeed possible, that also conditions the modes of 
experience of that visual communicative practices in contemporary 
societies, which is the very emergence of a paradigm of diversity in the 
cultural organization of experience, submitted to a bursting process of 
geopolitical globalization which ought to be administered cautiously within 
a postcolonial paradigm. Let us say that this new paradigm profoundly 
affects all the processes of the construction of subjectivity and therefore 
of the circulation of whichever modules of social "communitary" 
identification, through the imaginary visuals. In any case, and since this 
refers more directly to the questions of content which are the specific 
responsibility of the creators and cultural producers, and since many of my 
colleagues have also alluded to them, I will leave that question aside, yet 
not without first confirming my conviction that, for however much we 
situate the "structural" problems, in other words, those that refer to the 
social mechanisms of production and social distribution of artistic 
knowledge, these questions of content will always prevail as the truely 
principle ones.

 From now on I will try to be precise and specific, and I apologize if, due 
to this, I fall into a simplifying schematism. Below, I will enumerate, in 
a very synthetic manner and parting from these considerations, what I 
believe to be the 5 principle challenges imposed on the practices of art 
criticism by this transformations.

1. The expansion of the entertainment industries, which follows the 
consecration of the spectacle in contemporary societies, absorbs the 
practices of production of sense into its territory, converting the critic 
into an integrated manager under the figure of curator, who is virtually a 
negotiator of cultural offer. It is the task of the critic to resist the 
trivialization of his work by opposing the aim which precedes the demand 
-the increase in audience- an aim in keeping with the increase in the 
ammount of sense in circulation. If this compels him to organize fewer 
exhibitions or to tailor them toward more specialized audiences or those 
more willing to make an effort to participate in the processes of 
construction and distribution of sense, she or he should not falter. The 
current inflation of curatorial work hardly disguises the need for the 
contemporary cultural industry to supply itself with products that 
demonstrate meaningful elements of novelty or content. It is the work of 
the committed critic to demand that those contents do not merely "appear", 
demonstrating the deceitful brilliance pertaining to phantasmagoria, but 
that they can truely be inscribed and partaken in with the maximum 
intensity and ponderable critical elucidation.

2. The transformation of the economies of visuality through the emergence 
and settling of a time-image presses against the spatialized devices of the 
exhibition of the practices of visual creation. The critic ought to join 
that pressure, favouring the rapid transformation of the old devices so as 
to make them capable and adequate, as soon as possible, for the 
presentation of the new forms of a time-based-art emerged on the impulse of 
the settling of such a time-image (even there where this pressure can make 
the disappearance of such devices ponderable). I wish to say that this does 
not only mean working on a transformation of the exhibition form which 
requires the museum, the gallery or the "independent space" to find 
formulas for presenting within its territory "non spatialized" forms of 
immaterial work in the production of time-images. But that it can even mean 
making ponderable modes of social distribution and collective appropriation 
of these new artistic forms and practices that do not cross the required 
rituality of its presentation within spaces.

3. It is highly likely that, as within the arena of criticism, what is 
taking place is that we are witnessing a transformation of the function of 
those devices of public presentation and social appropriation of the 
aesthetic experience, of artistic value. If it becomes clear that to a 
large extent that change of function claims for a task of dynamization of 
the processes of reception -of activization of the instruments of 
enrichment of the participative or interpretive character of expectation- 
perhaps it also ought to become clear that there exists a need to adapt 
those public devices into effective instruments of support for the very 
processes of production.

The contemporary cultural producer feels liberated from the "compulsion of 
the object" that pressured him from a spatialized conception of artistic 
practices, and that leads to a limitlessness of the forms in which it is 
ponderable to resolve and develop his immaterial work (of sense 
production). Since this ought not to be conditioned anymore by a 
necessarily material resolution of one or another object, inscribable in 
the market or presentable under a stabilized appearance in the 
institutionalized space, the institutions must assume a new role of aiding 
the production of these new practices. If that compels the museum to begin 
taking on a new responsibility related to the production -almost in the 
filmmaking sense- of the new expressive practices, it seems evident that it 
is the critic who should take on this work together with the creator, 
conceiving of his role as a cultural producer, and at the same time 
mediating with the institution so as to achieve an evolution therein and a 
newborn receptiveness of this new system of production necessities.

4. However it comes about, it is necessary to restore, reestablish and 
reinforce the terrain of writing as a fundamental domain of the work of the 
critic. This implies in any case a withdrawal from the journalistic space, 
in which criticism succumbs to the demands (always trivialized) of 
information and the advertising interests of the cultural industries in its 
systematic search for a spectacular projection -supported by the media.

The domain in which that recuperation is ponderable cannot be any other 
than the essay space -meant also as a space open to experimentation, to the 
attempt, to the test. The critic must be, first and foremost, an essay 
writer, even more an essayer* than an essayist....

and 5. This essay writing -which appears not only as the domain of 
judgement or valoration, but also and especially as a territory or machine 
for the proliferation of the interpretations and the multiplication of the 
senses- must dare to expose itself to the challenge of interaction, of 
being online, of constrasting itself in the real time made possible by the 
new communication technologies. If the power of writing as a critical 
device charged with a specific ontological potential resides in its being 
structurally projected toward its posterity, toward the other time in which 
it will be read, it is possible to imagine that the challenge of a 
rewriting and rereading online (in the resulting approximation of the acts 
of writing and reading) supposes an imponderable margin of risk and at the 
same time a strengthening, that must be investigated.

The participative act of a critical essay, at all times objectionable, open 
to dissent, in which any enunciation is not exercised in any way other than 
one among many possibilities, profiles a map of a breakdown of the 
hierarchy of interpretive judgement and value, which is expanded in the 
style of a time that knows that only in the multiplicity of interpretations 
and their interweaving, in the diversity of the paradigms and their 
contrast, can any remaining effect of truth repose.

Submitted to that tension, critical writing does not only become accomplice 
to an unrenounceable project of compromise with the radicalization of 
democratic forms, but it is itself submitted to its demands.

I trust that it is understood, in any case, that with these brief notes I 
do not intend to define answers or definitive orientations, but merely to 
point out some of the milestones and challenges that, in my opinion, defy 
and interpellate the practice of art criticism in our days.

Josť Luis Brea
I read this paper at a panel discussion about "The art critic in the 
culture of today" organized by de Appel, Amsterdam, apr2000

[Translated from Spanish by Dena Ellen Cowan]
*. Essayer is Ensayador in Spanish and in that language can also mean 
rehearser. (Translator's note)

Nettime-bold mailing list