Curator and writer Camilla Boemio presents a new cross-section, initiating a debate on art theory in interview format among various experts. The goal is to understand how curating works and what are the methodologies with which we can critically analyze curatorial work today.
The interview took place in January, 2015 for Exibart.
The first speaker is Mario Perniola, philosopher, essayist, writer, and Professor of Aesthetics at Tor Vergata University in Rome.
His upcoming book is entitled l’Arte Espansa (Art Expanded), and will be issued by the Einaudi publishing house. L’Estetica Contemporanea (Contemporary Aesthetics), published by Mulino in 2011, was recently republished under the title 20th Century Aesthetics. Towards A Theory of Feeling, from the Bloomsbury publishing house, was published in 2013 in New Delhi, London, New York and Sydney, and will be followed by translations in Chinese from Fudan University Press, in Spanish by Machado Libros, and in Turkish by ILETISIM Yayinlari. Perniola directs the magazine of aesthetics and cultural studies, Ágalma. http://www.agalmaweb.org
Camilla Boemio: Let`s talk about aesthetics, whose connections can be traced through art, in reference to your book, Contemporary Aesthetics, published by Mulino. A global overview.
Mario Perniola: ”The problem facing aesthetics today is that of developing a notion of art that goes beyond the Eurocentric perspective in which it is still confined; it must become truly global. My book presents a critical exposition of the main aesthetic trends of the twentieth century, articulated over five fundamental notions (life, shape, knowledge, action and feeling), to which a sizeable chapter on extra-European (Japanese, Chinese, Indian , Islamic, Brazilian, Korean and South-East Asia) aesthetic thought is added.
CB: How much do you think the curatorial approach has changed in italy from the 1990’s to today? And how much does the historical context influence a considerable segment of curatorial practices?
MP: ”In curatorial practice we see a radical change in the very notion of ”art,” an evolution of the cognitive category of what to this point has been called art. This phenomenon does not concern only italy. There is a profound, ongoing destabilization of the ”mondo del arte” (art world), which was established in the early sixties with Pop Art, and by all subsequent artistic trends, according to which art is such when recognized by institutional brokers (museums, galleries, critics, exhibitions, historians ...). Today we face two opposing curatorial strategies. The first tends to attribute the qualification of ”artist” to all those who identify themselves as such. For example, the Saatchi Gallery in London held an open-access session in 2006, where any ”artist” could create, via the Internet, a personal page containing his/her resume and a limited number of works, without being subjected to any judgment or assessment. This enterprise, known as Your Gallery, involving more than 60 thousand ”artists,” constituted a major media event because it gave them an opportunity for worldwide exposure. It instituted a kind of radical democratization that allowed all the ”artists” unlimited virtual visibility. The other strategy, far more radical and innovative, saw its most important exhibit at the Venice Biennale of 2013. It was entitled ”Encyclopedic Palace,” and contained 158 articles, the vast majority of which had no relation to what had been defined as art until that point. Most of the authors never thought of themselves as artists, starting with Marino Auriti, whose 1950’s architectural model gave the show both its title and its thematic framework. Thus the fundamental distinction between Insider Art and Outsider Art, which had been two distinct environments, was negated, and the following came to be included in the category of ”artist”: amateurs, psychics, seers, visionaries, inventors of religions, bohémies, adventurers, futurists, and even the devout who introduce votive shrines into sanctuaries, psychoanalysts and alternative physicists, together with a few ”artists” of international reputation.”
CB: What is art’s place in a socio-political environment aggravated by star-worship and the spectacularization of the vacuous?
MP: ”The ”art worlds” typically predate socio-political events, but are then overtaken by the media. For example, the Post-human trend (also known as ”return to reality”), which considered shock as the aesthetic experience par excellence, became obsolete after SeptemberDAN 2001 because art cannot provide trauma comparable to that event. Star-worship and anti-star-worship are two promotional strategies that apply to all areas of culture. ”
CB: Is there the possibility of greatness for today’s art?
MP: ”The process of resetting “artistic” value does not refer only to contemporary art but also to art of the past. The tourism boom has led to an extremely superficial and frivolous interaction with works of art, which have all been indiscriminately subjected to insipid, senseless attention. So a visit to a museum or any unique place is no longer the result of an individual choice motivated by interest, desire, or even curiosity, but rather a task to be performed passively because it is included in the consumer’s tour package. Overall, art in itself is no longer enough; in order to acquire credibility and authority, it requires a process of ”artestication,” which can only be accomplished by philosophy and the humanities. ”
CB: At what stage are we, in Europe and in italy, regarding the relationship between knowledge and power? If culture creates nature (Bruno Latour), are we in a phase of denial of the latter? An example can come from the global crisis regarding climate change and water policies.
MP: ”It is not enough to learn; one must know how to learn: the main thing is the process by which knowledge is transformed into power. Knowledge has a strategic aspect that turns its holder into a warrior; otherwise it is pure erudition, which is still extremely important, but which does not encounter the sphere of effectuality. As for environmental issues, they find their most emotional manifestations in extreme experiences of voluntary disconnection from communications media. Not for nothing have Thoreau, Hamsun and Jünger become authors of cult status.”
CB: An explicit discussion, on a theoretical level, regarding community is an urgent requirement in the context of `curating`; explicit and implicit cultural activities are confronted, and produce the community itself. It was Jacques Rancière, in particular in The Politics of Aesthetics: The Distribution of the Sensible, to stress the importance of visibility and audibility as they enable or disable access to a community. Could you speak about this?
MP: ”Social ties that may arise from collaborator and from artistic enjoyment have nothing to do with ”community,” an obsolete notion that was best treated by sociology in the late nineteenth century: today only a ”community” of people who have nothing in common is possible! But this is a jumble of misunderstandings, a mass of misconceptions, an ephemeral convergence of interests. As for sight and hearing, these are the noble senses already identified by Plato, because they are characterized by distance. These characteristics anticipate the central idea of Kantian aesthetics: lack of interest in the existence of the object. ”