Sunday, 28 October 2012

Art Academy reading group: Politics of Installation, Boris Groys

The most recent Art Academy reading group looked at Boris Groys' text Politics of Installation, as viewed at e-flux. Originally delivered as a lecture at Whitechapel Gallery in 2008, it was a text Rosanne had been recommended before, but never fully digested. The reading group was attended by Lauren Velvick, whose practice is focused on writing and curating, writer, artist and creative practitioner Rosanne Robertson who draws upon performance, installation, sound and video, and writer Natalie Bradbury. Each of us brought different viewpoints and experiences to our reading of the text, and all had encountered some difficulty engaging with certain themes and ideas.

Central to Politics of Installation are notions of freedom and agency and how these are manifested both in society, by individual artists and in art exhibitions/institutions. Groys' argument is that the installation is a place of 'unconcealment', which reveals hidden realities about sovereign power which is concealed behind the democratic order.

Groys starts by talking about the dominance of the art market and 'art as commodity', and early on in the text refers to the art system's absorption by mass culture. We discussed where we see ourselves as individuals, artists and curators fitting in this 'mass culture' personally. We each shared our own understandings of the 'art world' and 'art market', and how they work, and how they differ from Groys' representation, which is very focused on the institution, and major museums/galleries, as opposed to bottom-up, artist-led activity. We also discussed the function of the museum/gallery; curiously, Groys sees it as an extension of public space, mediated by the curator as a 'representative of the public'. He appears to conflate the curator with the institution and, in one of the more challenging parts of the text, suggests that the word 'curator' represents a person who 'cures' the 'powerlessness' of individual artworks, which some of us felt was somewhat pessimistic in its assessment of the power of images and art. 

Groys identifies 'communities' of museum/gallery-goers. The installation is a place, he argues, in which the audience 'exhibit themselves to themselves', and he goes on to say that in the contemporary art space the 'multitudes can view themselves and celebrate'. We thought he was suggesting that museum-goers see themselves reflected in the content of the museum, and considered whether visiting museums and galleries could be seen to reinforce the status of the members of these communities as belonging to an elite cultural class (here, we referred to the ideas of Pierre Bourdieu such as social and cultural capital). Groys suggests that the exhibition viewer is on their 'territory' when visiting a gallery, implying that they are empowered, and this led us to talk about what 'type of person' attends museums/galleries and who is 'at home' visiting exhibitions. 

Politics of Installation also discusses the different ways objects/paintings are experienced as opposed to installations, which can be seen as a 'privatization' of public space (the gallery in this instance). By allowing visitors into the private space of an installation, suggests Groys, the artist is opening up and democratising that space. He also touches on individual versus collective experience, and the community of viewers created by an installation, which led us to question whether an installation necessitates collective experience. However, we thought it was odd that performative art was not mentioned as a separate, third type of art experience separate from both object/painting art and installation art. 

We also touched on the authenticity of artworks, and what it means for an artwork to be copied and reproduced, and the particular implications of this for installations.

We found that the reading group was an effective way of getting to grips with the text that had some similarity with the university seminar experience but felt less formal and more open and honest, giving us the freedom to share parts of the text we were unsure about as opposed to feeling like we needed to appear as if we already had all the answers. The reading group enabled us to question statements/viewpoints expressed by Groys, and the audience, purpose and usefulness of the text.