CHRIS FREMANTLE

C words at the Arnolfini

Posted in CF Writing, Exhibitions, Research, Texts by chrisfremantle on November 16, 2009

Nina Möntmann’s essay for the e-flux journal, (Under)Privileged Spaces: On Martha Rosler’s “If You Lived Here…” is a useful analysis which could almost be written about the C Words show at the Arnolfini.  Many of the same issues are raised.

This essay was commissioned on the occasion of “If You Lived Here Still…: An Archive Project by Martha Rosler,” an exhibition of the archives of If You Lived Here… running from August 28 to October 31, 2009, at e-flux in New York.

The essay sets out the context of homelessness in New York in the 80s and 90s (for which we could substitute our own circumstances of climate change in the first decade of the 21st Century).  It is precisely the market, as unquestioned driver, which is challenged by both exhibitions.

It discusses the role of the institution, then the Dia and now the Arnolfini, and the decisions leading to this form of work being programmed, concluding by linking this work to wider discussions of ‘institutional critique’ or ‘new institutionalism’.

If You Lived Here… was, like C Words, initiated by an artist/artist group, and drew in work by a number of other artists, through a cluster of linked elements.  The character of documentary art raises questions about the role of art in public life, the reference to things that have, or are, taking place outside the gallery, and the questions that need to be raised about presence and absence, about knowledge and the senses.

One of the precursors to If You Lived Here… is evidently Joseph Beuys’ Free International University at Documenta 6 in 1977. In each of these cases, from Honeypump in the Workplace, through the Reading Room as Asylum Seeker’s home, to PLATFORM’s tent/boat/quadricycle, each seek to make the pedagogical space also a visceral, somatic space.  Each of these works disrupts the artworld production/exhibition/distribution structure.

“Art that can not shape society and therefore also can not penetrate the heart questions of society, [and] in the end influence the question of capital, is no art.”  Joseph Beuys, 1985

Of course the question of time plays a role, and we must be careful not to fall into a narrative structure that values avant gardism, making Beuys the greatest because he is the earliest, and PLATFORM an afterthought, as if it took 30 years for an idea to travel from Kassel, via New York, to Bristol.  Furthermore, whilst Möntmann’s essay provides an effective ‘art history’ of a work, it also leaves many questions hanging, such as the inability of members of the ‘artworld’ attending events during If You Lived Here… to do other than sit silently.

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