Art as “commonplace” (Conference, 1st Thessaloniki Biennale, Thessaloniki, September 2007)

Mihalis Papadakis
Thessaloniki, 22/9/2007
I will speak to you as a representative of the Chamber of Fine Arts of Greece (EETE) in the Board of Directors of the National Museum of Contemporary Art (ΕΜΣΤ), and I would like you to judge my speech mainly as a methodological approach on the issues of culture policy at national museums.  
The “commonplace” (social site in its historical dimension) is the geographical location, where the historically formed social act is unfolded as a distribution system of its various forms – sides (material and spiritual) and the positions, the contradictions and the ruptures of this act are realized.
The discrete “sites”, realizing the variety of the forms – sides of the social act, operate among them not only complementarily but also competitively in an abrasion and rejection relation (due to historical disparities), realizing this way the historical dimension of the Being of the social act as well. Each “site”, though, doesn’t cease to be determined by the general conditions that the “commonplace” sets in general.
Hence, the “variation” of the different “sites” cannot be “completely different from the other positions” [2] but only totally relevant and thus necessary. If we admit that different “sites” comprise a social system, under the same logic also them (the “sites”) that seem to be moving outside the perimeter of the social system (“heterotopias”), belong equally well to it, because: either they comprise remnants of past phases of the system operation and have developed, more or less, the grounds for new roles that satisfy it (see kingdom, church etc in the “godless west democracies”); or they comprise suggestions for possibilities of a new phase of the operation and organization of the social system. And these, the essentially ideological “sites”, form “real spaces of society”, where acts of opposition to the present social system are prepared.
In this category you will also find a lot of “heterotopias”, “closed and open”, which express the whole range of internal conflicts of the system by communicating them to possibilities of forms-solutions of its regression or development (of the social system). Here I mean different sociopolitical organizations. What is left, then, from the meaning of the term “heterotopias”? Probably nothing, because it fits everywhere.
Foucault, recognizing the danger for his finding to fall to nothing, tries to describe differences between the “site” and the “heterotopia”: “Of course, writes Foucault, one might attempt to describe these different sites, by looking for the set of relations by which a given site can be defined (…) But among all these sites I am interested in certain ones that have the curious property of being in relation with all the other sites, but in such a way as to suspect neutralize, or invent the set of relations that they happen to designate, mirror, or reflect”.
It is obvious that here Foucault talks about “sites” mostly ideologically loaded, which, due to this feature, are lying at the borders of the official ideology “of the real space of society”, in a way that “they are combined to all the rest” that “they nevertheless deny”. I am not familiar with a “site” that doesn’t have, to one extent or another, these properties.
And Foucault continues: They are “… functional places, places that do exist and that are formed in the very founding of society – which are something like counter-sites, a kind of effectively enacted utopia in which the real sites, all the other real sites that can be found within the culture, are simultaneously represented, contested, and inverted”. ”.
And based on this “explanation” he numbers suggestively some of these “heterotopias” which are: infirmaries, psychiatry clinics, quarters, prisons, cemeteries, theaters, cinemas, gardens, museums, libraries,  festivals, villages of vacations, bordellos, colonies, boats, trains…
Before I go to Art as “commonplace”, as a place of the “real social space”, I will mention an “heterotopia” according to the terms mentioned in the above extracts by Foucault, which is found, though, (and I wonder how Foucault did not notice it) in the center of the “real social space” –like the black hole is found in the center of our galaxy and controls its fate: the stock market.  
In the stock market the different private productions that comprise the sum of the wealth “are represented” (using the term of Foucault), but also the “utopia” of productions that have not been realized yet (do not have a place, are just promises). “They are contested” (using the term of Foucault), related and socialized, the private productions in the impersonal form of the general equivalent impressed in papers in quantitative measures, which make them accessible to a wide range of incomes up to micro savings, converting them, them also, to shareholders of an amount of accumulated social time and of the “utopia” of the promised future social wealth. And, finally, the previous properties and relations are “inverted” (using the term of Foucault), by the intervention of big economical coalitions, which, like concentrated social powers-authorities, manage, convert and assume the realized social wealth and its “utopia”. The consequences of such a turnover we can see on how the urban society behaves to us in the real natural space, in which it exists.
As far as the environment is concerned, I think that everyone here knows that every “solution”, which is suggested and forwarded until today, is only the one that magnifies the concentration of the stock market and the political power, irrespectively if in the future it will create bigger problems than the ones that it solved (see nuclear energy, mutations, bioenergy etc.).
Why shouldn’t we thus say that in the stock market we see the reversed reflection of the socialization of the social wealth that cannot be realized in the stock market? That is another property that makes the stock market the most interesting, let’s say, “heterotopia”.
Marxism, since the end of the nineteenth century, had stressed the discrete character (with historical terms) of the stock market as the place where the getting over of the thing is realized (of the capitalism) in itself. Globalization owes a lot to this. 
Now we are coming to Art as the place “of the real social space”.
The meaning of time and history in human mentality is a product of the standing position, of the anatomy of the hand and the tool.  I believe of Art too.
A question that has been set recently is: the phenomenon of Art is simply signaling another distinction of homo sapiens from the other homo or is it the concessive “tool”, which gave him the ability to set the foundations for the current civilization?
Ilienkov (1970) set the issue as follows: In a society that wouldn’t have art, would it be possible to have science? The answer that he gave was definitively not.  
For two years now, paleontology can see strong evidence that supports this opinion. Neanderthal was a well organized society without Art.  
Neanderthal inhabited Europe together with the newly arrived homo sapiens for 4.000 years, before he extinguished. The tools were equally developed for both of them. Natural conditions leading to the disappearance of the better adapted Neanderthal have not been detected, and this theory has been abandoned. The only thing that they can detect as a difference is that Neanderthal not only did not do Art, but he didn’t even show the slightest interest for the widely known in the groups of homo sapiens objects of Art.
So, was Art the privilege of sapiens against Neanderthal? Only at the level of knowledge, of the role of Art, that is to say, in the procedure of knowledge, it is possible to give an answer with certainty.
The phenomenon of Art is either the phenomenon of a mysterious property of homo sapiens, which belongs only to him and connects him to… what? Or it is the phenomenon of a causative phase in the evolution of mentality. Of a phase, where man makes an object of his mentality the representation of its meaning (of mentality). Art is the representation of the meaning of mentality.  
This is the “site” of Art, and, exactly because of the properties defining it as a part of the “commonplace”, it cultivates and develops its own special operation systems.
In the tool, the meaning of the presentation of the object to the senses and the meaning of the presentation of the abilities of the subject are connected and identify in a common presentation that is also the presentation of the intended aim of the will. The tool is the objective presentation of the will of the subject, and the subject can think on it and get humanized.  
Aesthetic meaning makes its appearance with the evolution of the presentation of the tool, as a presentation that contains and combines multiple properties in the simplest shapes. Science defines aesthetic meaning as: the extreme economy in the illustration of the most general, possible, truth. In the aesthetic presentation, the mutual deductions of multiple properties to a common shape reveal its properties to mentality, they satisfy it and charm it.
Moreover, the presentation of the tool in present contains the presentation of the experience of the past time, historical time, as well as the future act.  
Historical time finds in the tool one of its “real social spaces” in the present and in the assertion of the future.
Foucault’s point of view that time and history is what “we call time and history” and that “their systematic description has as an object… their description” (!) does not only deconstruct time and history, but also the whole objective world to a sum of subjective narrations. Now, from which world and how the “narrators” surfaced, probably only a God knows…
On the long experience of the tool is where the meaning and the value of the aesthetic presentation is recognized and Art appears, so that it can express that in itself.  
Art was never imitation, with the meaning that the term is used today, in none of its expressions. It was always the imitation of the presentation of the meaning of mentality, where properties, operations and relations of the objects identify with the presentation of the operation of mentality, giving the content of its meaning. Something similar, that is to say, to what we can see in the tool as well, in a previous stage, though, where imitation refers only to the mutual relationship of properties, functions and aim.  
The Art work is, in other words, the presentation of knowledge itself and of its content (meaning), which gives the possibility for rethinking to become an experience and to develop. Nothing magical. “Magical” is the endless extend, shape and motion of nature.
Philosophy and science are supported since their appearance by the experience of rethinking and thus by Art. Philosophy has clear relations with aesthetics and aesthetic criterion belongs to the criteria of science.
The Museum cannot have but one sole aim: the promotion of the relation of Art with the “commonplace”. When it’s about a Museum of Contemporary Art, especially, things get somewhat more complicated. You have the whole artistic creation present and relatively very little or no theoretical material.  
When it’s about a National Museum of Contemporary Art, especially, that the responsibilities of its management refer directly to a “social bursary”, things get somewhat more complicated. The command of the “social bursary” is to overcome subjective tastes and market fashions and for managers to focus to a “systematic description” (as Foucault says) of artistic creation.
A “systematic description”, though, of the phenomena of artistic creation of today means a without theoretical bias approach to the whole of artistic creation.  
Practically, this means that all the artistic material is collected, on which theoretical approaches will be tested and cultivated (congresses), which continually will be displayed together with the relevant artistic material (exhibitions) on a public debate. For example, the present conference would better have been conducted 3 months before the Biennale, and with a subject open to the variety of philosophical systems combined to Art.  
Are we so sure that Art dares not call its soul its own (illustrates), it is independent, that is, from every philosophical – ideological – political current and is not (whether it wants it or not) a diachronic “heterotopia” (commonplace) with its own laws, rules and aims?
If the Museum of the “social bursary” is not equally open to all the trends of contemporary artistic creation, the most that it can assert is the role of a “decent” node in the franchise web motion of the invested in Art capital.
A role that the private big galleries have adopted. This role is being also promoted by the perception that the Museum is an “heterotopia of time accumulation” [that is, of fashion objects] in infinity …”.

[1] This announcement was done in 22/9/2007 in Thessalonica, as part of an intra-scientific congress with international participations, dedicated, as the Biennale, in the meaning of the “heterotopia” of Foucault.
[2] All the citations (italics) are from the text of Foucault, which is found in the Biennale catalogue.

Mihalis Papadakis














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