OPORTO.- The Serralves Museum
in Oporto, Portugal presents an exhibition titled To the arts, citizens!
Inspired by the refrain from the Chant de guerre pour l'armée du Rhin [The War Song of the Army of the Rhine] , this exhibitions title To the Arts, Citizens! embodies a desire to forge a community: the creation of a platform for discussion, that will foster encounters between artist and spectator, while highlighting the common power shared between them. Primarily linked to political rights and duties, the concept of citizenship originated in Greece and is intimately connected to democracy, i.e. the sovereignty of the people. This exhibition set against the centenary commemorations of the Portuguese Republic has been developed from this participatory perspective. It aims to highlight certain contemporary artistic forms that reveal intersections between art and politics. Today unlike the era of La Marseillaise there is no enemy horde to be overcome. Instead the primary objective is to allow people to discover different views on an open-ended topic through the works produced by thirty artists and collectives.
The present exhibition presents works made by artists born from 1961 onwards, the year when the Berlin Wall was built a construction which, although demolished in 1989, continues to cast its shadow on the present day. Many current tensions originate from this key twentieth century rift, as reflected in the works of the artists invited to take part in the exhibition. Walls that have been erected for political reasons may be interpreted as objective, palpable materializations of an ideological division, which is abstract by definition: these barriers have a political dimension which oppresses us and, through their coldness, they dehumanise the everyday existence of all those who come into contact with them, whether they live in the Middle East, South America or Africa.
Each invited artist and collective was asked to think about intersections between art and politics, and thereby prepare new works, present existing work(s) or offer a combination of the two. The exhibition itinerary includes rooms dedicated to a single artist, together with spaces intended to foster dialogue and tension. The objective is to reveal multiple perspectives on a topic that inspires us to think about concepts such as globalisation, democracy, activism, ideology, memory, exile, revolution, iconoclasm and community.
To the Arts, Citizens! thus includes moments that enable us to reflect upon events that have defined universal history from classical antiquity to the collapse of New Yorks twin towers in 2001. This context where notions of ideology and archiving play a central role includes works by Ahlam Shibli, Ahmet Öğüt, André Romão, Andrea Geyer, João Sousa Cardoso, Mariana Silva, Nicoline van Harskamp, Rossella Biscotti and Kevin van Braak, Sam Durant, Shilpa Gupta, Simon Wachsmuth, Vangelis Vlahos and Danh Vo. Many other participants may also be included within this group, such as Pedro G. Romero and Gert Jan Kocken, whose works shown in Serralves Villas chapel, reveal a converging approach towards the question of iconoclasm.
Political activism whether pursued collectively or individually is evident in the proposals by Chto Delat?, Carlos Motta, Carolina Caycedo, Tom Nicholson, Sharon Hayes, Nikolay Oleynikov and Rigo 23. Other artists proposed works that explore questions ranging from political economy, e.g. Zachary Formwalt, to libidinal economy, in the works by Claire Fontaine. Other works include those by Gardar Eide Einarsson and Matias Faldbakken, who explore the different forms of expression that are habitually associated with subcultures. Although seeking contemporary relevance, the exhibition also reviews the past through lines of enquiry such as the environmental concerns and mapping of control society systematically implemented by the Bureau détudes, revisiting of historical avant-garde movements by Stefan Brüggemann and Asier Mendizabal, and notions of bio-politics and catastrophe in António de Sousa.
To the Arts, Citizens! raises more questions than answers; it questions the visitor, and invites him to reflect on the works and ideas produced by artists who feel that art should serve as a possible platform for building political awareness. The exhibition thereby provides continuity to the essentially republican tradition of the museum as an institution, which started when the Louvre opened first its doors to the public in 1793, the year after the birth of the French Republic. However, while political references in twentieth century art in the past from the early modernist movements to the 1960s and 1970s was a means of contesting and critiquing the museums role in society, it is now important to question the role of political references in a world where art is increasingly an indicator of globalised society at the level of economy and culture.