In a context in which the financial crisis is fueling sexism, racism and nationalism and in which the neocon discourse on religion and the traditional family is becoming more visible and legitimate, what role could art play? What kind of art would be more effective? How could art (and cultural work in general) be used as a methodology which explains contradictions and subverts inequalities? How could art be used to develop prototypes which can be improved or freely appropriated by others? How does one analyze the complex and contradictory position of the artist who is aware of his/her responsibility and who knows he/she has to find a balance between being an artist (and therefore part of an art system with all its compromises) and being a citizen? When do you stop calling the things you’re doing “art”? What part of what you do, do you choose to professionalize and when exactly do you stop being an artist and remain a citizen, an activist, a teacher?
How do we adapt these questions to the complex contexts in which we live and work? How do we overcome our admiration for the intellectual beauty of ideas and confront a reality which is often far more intricate, blurry and disappointing?
We studied to become artists. Art was the context in which we met and started working together 12 years ago. We had just graduated from a department where the main effort consisted in finding a framework that had as little to do with the concreteness of human life as possible and was completely removed from daily events, feelings, bodies, anxieties about the future, about the conditions of artistic production or about the role of art in society.
“The danger of literature in art” was a phrase often used out of its historical content in order to prevent art from expressing anything related to the present. “Feminine” was also an attribute which often appeared in conversations about art as something dangerous, connected to “literature”. “Feminine” was anything connected to personal life, to feelings, to the concrete context in which the artist lived and worked (the term “artist” being used solely in its masculine form). Beyond the obsolete artistic and intellectual frameworks being taught in art education a decade ago, the most obvious content (and the most damaging of them all) was the vision of art as a territory of individualism, of a selfish isolation in the land of “sophisticated” ideas (whether these ideas related to religion or to a naïve and reductionist view of art as an autonomous and fully self-referential territory wherein the brilliant artist discovered the pure form). The collective as a manner of working which enables you to discover yourself in relation to others was not the trusting ground on which art (and life) could be built, but the environment which endangered the integrity and purity of your “œuvre”, your exclusive rights over it.
We teach a subject called Visual Education, a subject which, according to the curriculum, should encourage students to cultivate their aesthetic sensitivity in an intercultural context and develop the creativity they will subsequently use in their different career paths as adults. It is a subject which is vague enough to allow space for the subversion of the neoliberal rhetoric of “interculturalism” and “creativity” and for topics such as the intrinsic injustice of capitalism (topics approached using art as both an instrument and a pretext). It is also a subject which enables modes of work which are non-hierarchical, rely on dialogue, emphasize the process and not the end-result etc. […] Some of the schools we work in are elite high-schools (in Timisoara – translator’s note), others enroll students whose lives are marred by poverty and racism.
When we work with students who are not marginalized, art can be a useful filter with which to approach the surrounding reality. But in what ways could one talk to middle-class teenagers about the dangers of consumerism in a context in which they are constantly told they are defined by what they own? How can one talk of structural racism when we all live in a climate in which racism is the norm (more or less camouflaged by the concepts of “tolerance” and “diversity”, both devoid of meaning)? Since we speak from similar positions to theirs, it is easier to use the fluidity of art and the possibility of art to enable constant movement between one’s own life experience and the wider scope of theoretical ideas, but we are aware of how difficult it is to find strategies and ways to illustrate concepts and inspire attitudes and gestures which go against the grain of structural racism, Christian formalism and political apathy which surrounds us. Although we often encounter skeptical looks, those moments when the communication is genuine also occur often enough to motivate us and give us hope. […]