The Way Out, Out, Out (2022)
[Text to be published in the book “The Way Out”, edited by Steirischer Herbst, Graz (Austria), 2022]
We might have thought, following the Coronavirus policies of masks, distancing, lockdowns, inoculations, that these responses would be the way out, and that with time, all would pass. But we didn’t see the bigger picture, because the change was very slow, beyond our scope of recognition. We didn’t see all the scars being carved into our social body. We didn’t measure how our relations and interactions were changing. Now, after almost two years, we look at each other in awe. Did she get it? Did he get it? Will he ask? Should I ask her? What do we think? What did we experience during all that time—what did we live for?
The negation of the negative does not necessarily produce the positive. And here, the negative and the positive seem to have switched places in order to perform an exclusion of people instead of the virus—or rather an exclusion of the non-vaccinated. However, from the beginning, my work has been based on non-exclusivity. To work for and include a “Non-Exclusive Audience” fulfils one of my most important missions. The “Non-Exclusive Audience” is indubitably the hard core of my projects. To address the “Non-Exclusive-Audience” under all circumstances, to fight any and all “elitism,” to break down the tendency of self-enclosure and oppose the temptation of isolation or self-isolation has always been my mission. My work has always aimed at the “impossible,” which means creating an encounter, a real encounter, and this “impossible” can only be accomplished on the basis of total inclusivity. I have written about it and I have lived it throughout my works in public space based on the principle of “Presence and Production.” Art is an absolute, inclusive movement. Art must include the “Non-Exclusive Audience,” the Other, the neighbor, the stranger, the person on the margin, the uninterested. Art can never act in exclusion—for any reason, Art can never act in resentment or negativity, Art is always and in all circumstances against all kinds of discrimination. Art is openness to the presence of the Other, the presence of everybody, not only of those who can present whatever passport, whatever legitimacy or kind of code. Therefore I can’t accept any exclusion due to the differentiation between vaccinated, cured or non-vaccinated. As an artist who has worked and wants to work for and with a “Non-Exclusive-Audience,” it’s just not possible; there’s no way I can accept this kind of segregation within my work.
Art institutions today have been humiliated by being qualified as “non-essential”— and with them everybody who loves and believes in Art. Less so for the artist, since every artist knows his/her non-essentiality, and since each artwork is an attempt to prove the necessity of its existence as such. We know that Art—all Art of all times and all places—crosses borders. That Art—all Art of all times and all places—never builds walls, never establishes borders, or imagines separations. Not the institutions. They’re now trying to regain their essentiality—but only for one group of people. They gave up on their inclusivity without protest, following every sanitary instruction without any complaint or protest—or at least, it was long forgotten—, only concerned with filling up their spaces and proving their essentiality again. On their way out they forgot what the mission of a museum and art institution is. In their panic, they confronted their death—not the individual death nor the death of the social body, but the death of the cultural institution—and were willing to accept every atrocity, every exclusion, every split.
Therefore, the way out is—again, again and again—the way out of art institutions. The Coronavirus crisis has pointed this out in the extreme—asking once again: “What is your position? What do you want? What is your mission? What kind of relation are you creating toward the world? What kind of critique are you establishing within your work?” Those are the questions that we need to confront and to which we—artists—need to give a response in our work.
I will now draw three necessary “Way-Outs”: “The Way Out of . . . the COVID-19 Response,” “The Way Out . . . into Public Space,” “The Way Out of . . . Obsolete Institutional and Museum Practices into ‘The Museum of The Future.’”
The Way Out of . . . the COVID-19 Response
The way out of the COVID-19 crisis and its response is urgent. We must get out now, out, out, out! We must see this way out as an urgent mission. The most urgent task is to reduce “social distancing,” step by step, meter by meter, centimeter by centimeter. The art world—and by this, I mean artists, art institutions, art academies, art criticism, the art market, must not adopt “social distancing.” Simply because Art is autonomous, universal, absolute, and necessary, and as such can’t have any distance. I have never questioned the temporary usefulness of the toxic term “social distancing”, but it must, under no circumstance, become the new paradigm for living together in the world, in the art world. It is urgent to work on it and show that Art—because it’s Art—can create a dialogue or a confrontation one-to-one, at eye level. It is important to insist that Art is “resistant,” which means that art resists economic, cultural, political, aesthetic facts. The question is not about ignoring the Coronavirus issue—on the contrary, it’s about taking it seriously and understanding it as a warning, as a test, as a challenge. I believe that contact, encounter, exchange, neighborhood, confrontation, freedom, freedom in non-freedom, inclusivity, multiplicity, solidarity, equality, creativity are concepts that are more important than ever, because they’ve been challenged by the imposed “social distancing.”
Here, the artist has a decisive role to play, since concepts such as distance, control, social control, containment, security, guarantee, tracing, repression, exclusivity have nothing to do with the experience of Art. Rather, resistance is needed to combat opportunistic, consumerist, and exclusionary tendencies—which have always existed in the art world. My weapon will be my work—and I want to do it with exaggerated bienveillance. I use the French term bienveillance (kindness, benevolence) —bienveillance exagérée—because it describes precisely what I mean. Exaggerated because this crisis is exaggerated, the response to COVID-19 is exaggerated, while—unfortunately—the consequences of the increasing loss of primary and fundamental personal freedom are not exaggerated; they are truly real.
I want to work with exaggerated bienveillance toward the other. I want to work with exaggerated bienveillance to the world—to our whole and only world—and I want to work with exaggerated bienveillance to myself. I want to learn something from this crisis and take decisions. It’s about using Art—more than ever—as a tool to engage with the world, to confront the time in which I live and face the reality surrounding me. I want to confront the precarious, the insecure, the non-guaranteed, the uncertain, the indeterminate, the strange, the frightening, the uncanny with exaggerated bienveillance in my Art. I am thinking of an intelligent, generous, dynamic, demanding, active, asserting, practical, and combative bienveillance—it’s not about a passive, wait-and-see, spiritual, religious, theoretical benevolence. I want to point out what I am prepared to live and work for—this is my mission as an artist working today. “Social distancing” and “home office” are not part of it. It would be a mistake to step into this stupid and clumsy—but also tempting—trap. “Virtual exhibitions,” “virtual artworks,” “virtual learning,” “virtual exchange,” “virtual communication” are only sham solutions or excuses, all the more dangerous because they are desired, encouraged, or even required by state authorities. But nobody—not even the State—can tell me how to work in the future. Therefore, it is essential to be sensitive, critical, alert, and attentive to the virtual and the digital—there is no need to hide behind the computer. We must resist the temptation of “keeping among ourselves” and “diving into the internet”—in the art world as well. To give way to the tendency of “isolating” or “self-isolation” would mean to give up debate, discussion, criticism, conflict—everything that Art can create. That’s why I question—like many others—the ongoing dogma of distancing technologies.
Art, because it’s Art, is universal. Universality means Justice, Equality, the Other, Truth. We need to remain truthful to this prerequisite. We must never give up the notion of beauty. Beauty must be occupied and preserved from capitalism, from consumerism, from the fashion industry. We do not want to abandon beauty to the glamor business. Everything that is beautiful has to come from the inside, from myself, from ourselves, in confronting the world. Something beautiful arises if there is an engagement and if the mystery contained in this engagement remains. It is the autonomy and the absoluteness of the artwork that gives it its beauty.
The Way Out . . . into Public Space
The way out is literally the way into public space. The goals, the ambition, the mission for work in public space are to establish a new form of sculpture, in making encounters, creating an event, and to think sculpture in public space today. I believe that we must rethink Art in public space as an experience that can lead to a transformation, while keeping in mind that Art in public space is not a success nor a failure—Art in public space, or simply Art—is never a total success nor a total failure. Art is an event, Art proposes an experience, an existential experience. The “Non-Exclusive Audience” is the essential public to conquer and reconquer. It understands and is willing to experience that an event without transformation is not an event. It knows that transformation can only happen because “non-satisfaction” is experienced as “resistance.” “Non-satisfaction” is a tool to resist cultural, economic, political, and social habits. Art in public space must be a work of art and not a cultural event. Culture leads to satisfaction—a satisfaction that remains passive—as opposed to Art, which offers “non-satisfaction” and is active. I believe that this “non-satisfaction” allows the shaping of a new dynamic, a dynamic or a movement in which a new form of sculpture in public space is created, deployed, and even redeployed. It is the strong and fragile, the beautiful and conflictual, the enlightening and problematic affirmation of a form. It is a precarious form of friendship through the experience “Art”. Like every friendship, it is something beyond argumentation, beyond proof, beyond guarantee. Friendship is one of the most valuable things we can gain in this world. Friendship’s essence is loyalty, the loyalty to Art and to its search for form, for freedom and for mystery.
Here I want to pay tribute to David Hammons’s understanding of Art in public space and to the work of this artist. He said: “The art audience is the worst audience in the world. It’s overly educated, it’s conservative, it’s put to criticism, not to understand and it never has any fun! Why should I spend my time playing to that audience? That’s like going into lion’s den. So I refuse to deal with that audience. I will play with the street audience. That audience is much more human, and their opinion is from the heart. They don’t have any reason to play games, there is nothing gained or lost.” This potent quote has followed me since I first read it. This clear way of putting forth the complexity and beauty, but also the difficulty and problematic nature of the endeavor of working in public space, has encouraged and still encourages me. David Hammons knows that Art in public space means conflict, but also an opportunity for the artist to give this conflict a form.
The Way Out of . . . Obsolete Institutional and Museum Practices into “The Museum of The Future”
The way out is the way to change what is obsolete. We have to change obsolete Institutional and Museum Practices; this is an absolute necessity. A lot of things in Contemporary Art are obsolete because they have nothing to do with art, but with fashion, with commerce, with exclusion, with social status, with VIP ideology. The “Non-Exclusive Audience” is a tool against Contemporary Art’s VIP ideology. I reproach museums—in general—for not producing confrontation. I reproach museums for not believing in the autonomy of Art, and I reproach museums for not believing in the universality of Art. A museum must believe and assert the intrinsic power of works of art in establishing a direct confrontation or dialogue—one-on-one. However, museums establish distancing: through communication, history, and culture. Even more so through control and Coronavirus responses. The tendency is to try to neutralize Art through culture. Art is accepted when it possesses a “cultural surplus.” This “cultural surplus” is a danger for the work of art. Tools (or guidelines) to avoid “cultural surplus” are a true and uncompromising logic against the “exclusive audience,” against everything “exclusive” in general. The term “exclusive” is continuously being used in art to argue, to intimidate, and to legitimize. “Exclusivity” has become a positive criterion. In other words, the “non-exclusive public” is the opposite of a predetermined, selected, and initiated public. The deployment of public space in the museum and in the public institution is the way out of an announced disaster. The way out needs to lead to something new. It’s the way into “The Museum of the Future.” It demands a clear, serious, and sober logic, the logic of Truth, of the Universal, of Justice, and of Equality. This is the logic for opening towards the “non-exclusive audience.” The Museum of the Future will be a place to encounter and confront art, philosophy, and poetry. It will be a museum where public space is used, thus becoming a living museum, a real living space.
The Museum of the Future’s guidelines are: “Presence” and “Production.” “Presence” and “Production” are a gift, an offensive gift, given to provoke other presences and other productions. This is a demanding alternative to the lazy, demagogic, and so-called democratic term “Participation.” I am not for “Participative Art,” because the first real participation is the participation of thinking. Participation is only another word for consumption! The artist, the philosopher, or the poet have to give something first, in order to oblige the other (the non-exclusive audience) to give something (his/her time and his/her production). This is another distinction between “Presence and Production” and “Participation.” I believe that throughout “Presence” and “Production”—my production and my presence first—the Museum of the Future can create involvement, implication, exchange, dialogue, confrontation, contact!
Non-programming is another guideline of the Museum of the Future. Non-programming is new and necessary because it keeps us awake and alert. Non-programming is the assertion that art, philosophy, and poetry can create a dialogue and confrontation unexpectedly, without a program, without a schedule. Lectures, exhibitions, discussions, films, performances can run at any time; there will be no “previews” or opening announcements. It will be possible to walk into the Museum of the Future with no set “program” or predisposition. The conditions for The Museum of the Future that I propose are free access for everyone at all times, open every day, 24/24 with no closing hours. The Museum of the Future will have no guards or security. Instead, everyone working in the Museum of the Future will consider himself as “first visitor,” with the task of transforming the Museum. The “first visitor” must be the most interested and most implicated, the biggest lover of Art, philosophy, and poetry. This is the reason for working in the Museum of the Future. This means that instead of security, the institution is present and the first one concerned, the first to stand for Art.
The Museum of the Future has the ambition to offer a public space, to be a home or even a shelter. Therefore, no more fancy, narcissistic and useless “museum architecture” is needed. Art does not need an “ideal” location to exist, Art can exist, will exist, must exist wherever it is, and Art definitely addresses everybody.
Paris, December 2021
 David Hammons, interview by Kellie Jones, Real Life Magazine 16 (1986): pp. 2–9.