urbanTension 04

Interview with Ricardo Basbaum

museum in progress: You realized an image for the project urbanTension. Please tell us about the ideas that lead to the piece?

Ricardo Basbaum: My piece is a consequence of a series of drawings I've been developing which I call "diagrams": a combination of lines and words, forming structures that are almost "in movement". I always develop the diagrams around the pronouns "me" and "you": all my diagrams are related to this relationship: the "subject" (me) and the "other" (you) – but this "me" is not myself, the diagrams are not self-biographical. The me/you pronouns are addressed to the viewers, opening up spaces where h/she can locate him/herself. Thus the diagrams always show a kind of me/you game, reinforced by the presence of other words that stress issues of time, space and action ("instant", "here", "play", "stop", "affection", etc). It's a kind of mental or psychological game, that relates to what the situationists used to call "psychogeography" – a particular state resulted from the displacement and experimentation of oneself. This particular diagram, developed for the urbanTension project, shows a set of "micro-creatures" composed of lines and words. Where are they? They inhabit our bodies, nerve cells, brain, etc, as particles that contribute to the circulation of meaning inside us. This piece is a sort of mental landscape that projects a micro world in large scale in direct contact with the streets and the urban space.

mip: Can you tell us about the relationship of your work and the experience of tension in urban space?

RB: My work considers "urbanTension" from the point of view of the "game": tension is not necessarily negative, it is a state that push things on and produces the necessary movement that creates randomness and new chances for things to happen. The game or event has moments of tension and moments of quietness. This particular diagram offers its colour field surface as an environment that contrasts with the hurry of the city, juxtaposing another space to it. The space presented by the diagram is conceived of to create a difference towards the urban space, establishing discontinuities.

mip: What kind of effects do you expect, what sort of reception by the viewer/reader/passerby?

RB: Although this diagram does not use the language of advertising it does share a preoccupation with a communication field: the viewer's perception is engaged simultaneously with words and images (like in the cinema, television and billboards). H/she is no more a reader or viewer but the two things at the same time: one who reads and watches. And the use of the "me/you" pronouns addresses the diagram directly to the viewer/reader, who locates him/herself as part of the diagram. My expectation is that the passerby enters the game arena – or, better stated, that the diagram's organic particles (the "micro-creatures") enter the passersby's bodies and circulate inside, like a virus. This virus might contaminate and transform them.

mip: Have the visual arts become an "involuntary discipline" (cfr B. Vanderlinden / B. Sterling)? Is it therefore that the visual arts are tending to give up their own cultural space, often referring to or mixing up with other disciplines such as architecture and urbanism? Do those disciplines offer more "production value"? Is it a matter of going "where the action is"? Or is there more?

RB: I feel sympathetic towards the concept of "involuntary discipline" in the sense of establishing connexions of art with the other disciplines. It is clear that when the field of art is simply enclosed within itself it becomes a formal and sterile exercise. The thrill and challenge appear when art is displaced towards an inter- or trans-disciplinary field, making a hybrid with other forms of knowledge. Although I find it important yet to consider that an art piece must be understood in its autonomy (i.e. a process or object in itself), this autonomy should be seen as an open and membranous process (creating a contact surface) and not as a self-enclosed one. Yes, it is therefore necessary to consider its effects or "production value" in terms of its direct encounters with the different situations towards which it will function.

mip: It seems that after giving up religion, aristocracy, craftmanship, the visual arts are now giving up the museum (as an institution and as a concept of art) and other specialized spaces for art as well. Will we find ourselves soon again in a kind of Lascaux or Altamira situation, a situation in which the making of art is simply a way of confronting reality, artists spreading throughout networks in many different ways personalized cultural messages?

RB: I think that the condition of art as a means for "confronting reality" is more or less present since the beginning of the process of its autonomy (early modernism). However, in the historic period known as "modernism" this condition was very much veiled by a strong idealism which connected things to pre-determined ends (history, revolution and so on). Today, after situationism, we understand that we live in a de-illusionistic world, and we have to build our own structures to confront things, to create continuously new forms of mediation. Art is one of such mediators: it is one of the most special ways of confronting reality simply because it does not close anything but points out problems, contrasts, nodes and paradoxes and keep them as open and visible structures.

mip: museum in progress is a network which wants to popularize the arts similar to the agit-prop movements of the avant-gardes. Today however it is important to make a firm distinction between "popular"/"popularity" and "populist"/"populism". How would you define "populism"?

  RB: I think your proposal of differentiating "popular" and "populism" is correct. "Populism" could be defined as a means for dissemination of ideas that believes it is possible to reduce ideas' complexity without affecting their nature: actually, populism wishes to set up its own proposals connected to the ideas it wants to simplify. In that sense, "populism" is a strategy for simplifying complex messages adding subliminal messages of control and submission of the people's minds (messages like: "Don't think by yourselves, we know what is correct and what is better for you"). In art, it could be said that "populist art" wants to address the public works that are aimed to bring satisfaction and comfort, without any form of challenging the audience's expectations.

mip: How important is it for an artist in our days to act politically and what can be achieved in this context? Today artists act as sociologists and social workers, as barkeeper and journalists, as photo reporters – how would you define the role of an artist in this context?

RB: I think that any form of art is political – art doesn't need to address political issues directly to be considered as such. Of course, we are in the territory of the micropolitical and molecular gestures, as Félix Guattari stated. Since its "invention" – and I consider art as a "technology for intelligence" (Pierre Levy), i.e. a particular way of thinking, of creating and displacing problems and questions, of opening "strange" spaces æ art is directly linked to the question of the "otherness", in the broad sense. The artist as a practicioner is someone that, through his/her practice creates deviant/deviating structures and processes – that neither science or philosophy are able to do in the same way, with the same tools. When "artists" act "as sociologists and social workers, as barkeeper and journalists, as photo reporters" they are bringing a set of "techniques" and a taste for the "otherness" inside these other fields of practice, and so obtaining results that these practices would not normally expect to achieve. For me art is always political in the sense that it aims to question established knowledge and expertise in whatever it touches, wherever it goes – and so raises a multiple sort of debates and discussions that touch various fields of the existence and practical life.

mip: Which role plays the audience confronted with art which extends into everyday life?

RB: I think that one of the most interesting aspects of such an audience is that it is confronted with art outside the frames of the formal conventional "art spaces", and so it necessarily mixes the "art fruition experience" with any other kind of action they are performing at that moment. Therefore instead of having a pure artistic experience such spectator has another kind of aesthetic fruition, an "impure" one which is closer to the real actions and gestures of everyday life. As stated in the previous question, such encounter of art with the other aspects of life can bring to life the artistic mode of questioning and raising problems. Of course that any projection and presupposition of how the audience might behave is highly idealized and we can not preview concretely how it will be. That's something that interests me when the audience is not a specialized one: there is a chance for the emergence of what is unexpected. In my particular case, I'd like the audience to interact in indirect ways with my proposal: I believe that my diagram/drawing is introjected (conscious or unconsciously) by the viewer and that it begins to circulate – as virus or other microforms of life – inside their mind/bodies.

mip: The question of identity was and still is one of the most important tasks of modern and postmodern art. How is this question placed in social circumstances which become established inbetween the push of globalization, networking and global structures?

RB: This is one of the most complex questions of today: how to combine the impulses of establishing the borders of the object (be it the nation, the culture, the individual, the body, etc) with the subject's needs for clear limits to think of itself and of the other things around. We live in a time when the borderlines are not stable anymore and remain constantly changing their contours – where are the clear limits between me and the other if the other constitutes me, is part of my borders, if a clear idea of myself is only available through the other? It seems clear that today the 'question of identity' is put towards the collective, the community and the group as forms of acting that can be reshaped in each action: the world is tired of the individual alone (although the market is not) as the sole protagonist of revolutions, romances, narratives, etc. Particularly, I've been developing works around the particle "meyou" [in portuguese, "euvocê"], constituted by the two pronouns linked together, which I call "superpronoun". This particle acts as a commentary about identity patterns and strategies in the contemporary world.