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Curatorial Practices
Interview with critic Cuauhtémoc Medina
by Jennifer Teets

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JT: Who also have similar notions of work, within an economic context, but distinct ways of making art...

CM: ....or contradictory responses. I would say that Swetlana Heger's understanding of the relation between the service economy and the arts is interesting in terms of the extent of which she's assumed an opportunist strategy: offering her exhibition platform for hire to corporations, artists and any kind of organizations who openly do advertisement in the museum. Whereas Minerva Cuevas has mocked up a corporate structure so as to bring forth a radical utopian project, which abuses the operation and methods of enterprises. The two of them are addressing the way in which contemporary economies are turning away from the classical opposition between liberal professions and manual work, to involve a quick proletarianization of professional skills and management, but their tactics are politically opposed. At the same time, they are finding challenging ways to occupy the institutional spaces that are currently offered to artists, which now do not merely show "work" but demand an aesthetics of intervention. It is true that the symposium program intended to make apparent those distinctions. Somebody suggested to me the other day this was similar to old-fashioned curatorial practice, because when you decide that two paintings will be hung on the same wall you are expecting an interaction derived from comparison and tension. It was also a matter of luck.

JT: It's like you have a series of begin the panel with a series of conflicts between art practices and you end it with sincerity. For instance, with Neil Cummings and Marysia Lewandowska, their presentations, were very much a sincere gesture about the conditions of a gift. Whereas before, you almost had a rivalry between the art practices of Minerva Cuevas and Swetlana Heger. I also thought it was interesting with Cuevas' speech, where she shows images of protests. Just one day before, Susan Buck-Morss mentioned that these types of images will change languages. Were you aware of these texts before?

CM: No. No matter how much effort you spend in organizing a symposium, ultimately you depend on the participants' ability to activate it. So I would rather point out that what is interesting in the artists and researchers like those in FITAC, is that they do not have any kind of paternalistic or indolent prejudices about the place and context where they are to speak. It is more important to underline the level of engagement that these people have with their own practices than discussing the framework into which they were accommodated. There were two keynote speakers, Susan Buck-Morss and Cildo Meireles, who were to define the field in which the other participants were to join in later. Neil Cummings and Marysia Lewandowska, the last speakers, had a truly interesting and complex argument to bring at the end. The reason why symposiums are an important artistic venue today, and no longer a side dish next to exhibitions, derives from the fact that there is a huge amount of people who have both a very sophisticated account of their practices and abilities to channel their arguments into entirely different contexts. That of course, challenges the traditional expectations people have of artists and what they are meant to do. At the same time, the issues they were highlighting were not a matter of "métier", they are questions that affect everybody's lives on a daily basis and are redefining the place of culture at large. You may discuss how we came up with these issues at this edition, but they were not invented at the conference. They are merely a reflection of the type of cultural practices we are witnessing today.

JT: Referring to Santiago Sierra and his notion of being a quintessential bully [speaking more specifically about the artists]...

CM: He was not presenting himself as a "bully", nor as a classical "provocateur" in terms of what that meant in modern culture. The place of provocation in art is being redefined: it is not just a matter of cherishing the reaction from an action that is created on audiences or the cultural world, but using it as a tool to reflect on the limits of our political intervention.
What Santiago continued to discuss are the dilemmas that his work involves once it went from a marginal position into a wider circulation, even in terms of interacting with some kind of mainstream circuit. By candidly talking about the conflicts in his practice, he was undermining the paranoia and accusations that have confronted him. He explained that his work does not operate outside the structures by which the art world commodifies and neutralizes political and economical critiques. In doing so, he is working (as paradoxical as this may sound) to keep the challenge of his work unscathed.
Had he pretended to lie about his position, he would be open to accusations of being naïve, cynical or an opportunistic. Therefore, he decided to explain the way his works are circulated in the market and that he is merely an artist earning a wage. That implies that the same structures of power that he is mapping in his actions are working at his own personal level.
I think that the discussion was enormously interesting because it showed the amount of sophistication an artist needs in order to be faithful to his or her original political project. I would say the same about what the Gabinete Ordo Amoris did during their intervention when they extensively quoted The Communist Manifesto. In reading from the Manifesto, they were suggesting the pertinence of going back to that text to understand what is at stake in the process of globalization. This long quote also helped them to prevent their position from being instrumentalized by a Cuban official agenda or being represented as "Cuban art". They were refusing to make a choice between two corrupt social systems, explaining also that their experimentation with social models remains unable to truly contribute to an advancement of justice or freedom.

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