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The Fundació Joan Miró presents a genealogy of doit-yourself artistic practices
Joan Miró, Tela Cremada I, 1973. © Fundació Joan Miró, Barcelona. Photo: Pere Pratdesaba.


BARCELONA.- Self-Organization is an exhibition project by Catalan artist and curator Antonio Ortega based on a personal and historical overview of some of the works associated with the DIY practices that started to find their way into art, particularly from the 1960s onwards. The exhibition also addresses recent work by artists, in an effort to try and appreciate the potential of some of their attitudes regarding self-organization. As Ortega explains, by using selforganization strategies, “these artists have taken control over the production, diffusion and reception of their works through gestures of empowerment that have resulted in new ways of understanding and experiencing art.” The exhibition also shows how DIY attitudes raise broader issues relating to aspects such as the role of the spectator in art, the meaning of art in contemporary practice, and the relationship between art and the socio-political context.

The exhibition explores certain artistic expressions from the sixties as the precursors to the self-organization turn in contemporary art. The international movement Fluxus, with its rejection of traditional art objects as commodities, its inclusive and cooperative approach to art, its fondness for DIY aesthetics, and its experimentation with everyday objects, was a turning point that shifted the centre of the artistic narrative away from museums and into the sphere of selforganization. Fluxus is represented in the show by some of the artists who were part of the movement, including Gustav Metzger and Yoko Ono. Other neoavant-garde groups emerged at around the same time – such as Zaj, linked to the Spanish scene – and embarked on artistic practices that emphasised the dematerialization of art through action, as in the case of Esther Ferrer, who was a member of Zaj, and who is also represented in the show.

Contemporary self-organization in the cultural sphere crossed a second threshold in the 1980s with the punk movement and the creation of an independent production and distribution network for various types of artistic expressions. Although as Ortega points out in the publication that accompanies the exhibition, “as Gustav Metzger rightly guessed, unlike cultural manifestations which used mass media production as a support for the distribution of their products – music, storytelling, and film –, art found itself lacking an alternative to an obsolete business model.” And, he continues “while in other cultural spheres there proliferated inclusive and democratizing possibilities – in short, a popularization of culture – the eighties opened the way to the vulgarisation of art.”

It was, however “a paradoxical vulgarisation, because although potentially opening itself up to the public at large, it created an economic sieve like never before: the prices of works became the new value system, and in order to guarantee a certain level of exclusivity, it grew from 'art for all' to 'art for all who could afford it'.” In response to this tendency, artists began to develop practices that positioned themselves outside of the art world, preferring to minimise material production and build alternative bridges between art, life, and culture. This was the case with Gilbert & George, for example, a British duo whose work is included in the exhibition. As Pilar Bonet – art historian and author of one of the essays in the publication – points out, Gilbert & George's “defense of the democratization of art does not include the vulgarization that characterized the generation of artists from the 1980s, but rather proposes a game and a surprise without intermediaries.”

According to Antonio Ortega, the third stage in the incorporation of self-organization in contemporary life came at the start of the twenty-first century with new information technologies, the internet, and social media, which globalised the basic need for expression. As well as becoming a precondition of hyper-modernity, they allowed artists to directly disseminate their work. The increasing affordability of these new technologies for content production have led to the realization of the dreams of artistic movements of the past, which defended the idea that everybody can make art. As a result, the professional-amateur binary has disappeared in the midst of do-it-yourself experiences made possible by new media. Although, Ortega says, the continuity of self-organization ideas and practices today could also be explained by other contextual factors such as the economic crisis and the questioning of the art institution.

Aside from these circumstantial questions, the exhibition addresses several other aspects linked to self-organization in contemporary art. Firstly, Ortega mentions inclusiveness, because, he says, “there is no point promoting selforganization and then putting up an elitist barrier that prevents entire social groups from accessing the means of artistic production.” A second aspect is simplicity or modesty in production, as an ethical rather than an aesthetic position. And lastly, the artists' decision to control their own output instead of allowing the voice of interpretation to take over and explain their work, and to manage what Ortega says may be their only capital: self-expression or communication.

With the collaboration of the Banco Sabadell Foundation, Self-Organization presents sixty-three works including paintings, sculpture, drawing, photography and video, covering the period from the 1960s to the present. It also includes three installations on which the artists worked directly in the exhibition rooms, and a modification of the wall texts and labels by Mariona Moncunill, in a gesture of appropriation and dialogue with the institutional codes that runs through the entire show.

Another of the documents that make up the show is a fanzine comic in which Carla Fernández outlines the relationship between art and life in the work of Gustav Metzger, a precursor of self-organization as an artistic practice whose influence can be felt throughout the exhibition. It also includes the ten oil reproductions that Pere Llobera painted to illustrate the publication that rounds off Self-Organization, an unusual way to reflect on the use of images in art exhibition catalogues.

Self-Organization unfolds over four rooms. By way of introduction, the first space presents the more didactic examples of the spirit of self-organization in artistic practices. It includes a series of works in which the interaction with the exhibition space is negotiated, either by action – critically reproducing the codes and consensus that give rise to the creation of the museum canon – or by omission – preventing the museum institution from monopolising the aesthetic experience. As Ortega writes in the publication in reference to one of the notable works in this section, “Pietroiusti's One hundred things that are certainly not art questions whether it is the museum that turns the exhibited object into art, given that when the exhibition is over those objects recover their previous status. Pietroiusti coincides with Duchamp in highlighting the gesture as art, but not the object itself.” This first section also includes a work by François Curlet that ironically comments on the concept of the exhibition space as a “white cube”, various photographs by John Cox and a film by Harold Liversidge documenting Gustav Metzger's Auto-Destructive Art series, and several works from the Proyectos Espaciales series in which Esther Ferrer works at an inframaterial level, creating tiny stages in recycled cardboard boxes.

The exhibition continues with a section focusing on examples of spontaneous gestures of empowerment and opposition to the art system. The artists whose works are shown in this room experiment with ways of resisting the imposition to build a consistent career or to become part of a particular movement. Ortega comments on two of them in the publication: “The painter Joan Hernández Pijuan explained to me how he arrived at the decision to stop painting in the idiom of Informalism. It seems that one day somebody asked Joan Tharrats […] about the meaning of one of his paintings. Tharrats said that it was about a 'cosmic emergence'. When Hernández Pijuan heard that, he decided that his career as an informalist painter as over and he began painting an egg or a ruler on neutral backgrounds. With that gesture, Hernández Pijuan tried to minimize the scope of interpretation of his work, putting forth a representation that intended to be direct and unequivocal […]. It is the same literalness that Michelangelo Pistoletto applies in his Struttura per parlare in piedi, in which the artist removes all possibility of interpretation by indicating that his sculpture is a structure on which to lean while chatting with others, and nothing more.” Keith Arnatt, Siegfried Anzinger and Joan Miró, mocking the art market through the provocative gesture of destroying his paintings, round off this section.

The third space features a selection of works that explore the concept of selforganization in art from the perspective of inclusiveness. According to the curator, their practice “eschews exclusive attitudes, fighting both the literature that insists on the singularity of the artist, and the idea of spectacle that we associate with the characteristics of expensive productions.” This section includes an installation by Adam Nankervis, who revisits Museum MAN, his legendary collection of everyday objects, and an intervention in which Laura Porter reflects on artistic practice and the role of the artist in contemporary art in an installation created in situ with available materials and within a specific period of time. This room also presents a selection of photographs documenting the work of Jiří Kovanda, a Czech artist who seeks direct communication with the spectator through austere minimal actions in public space. In addition, Ortega projects the film Accions a casa by the duo David Bestué and Marc Vives, who, as he says in the publication, “ended up making an indelible mark on their generation and the next, serving as a model for works by young artists eschewing an industrial finish and moving in the direction of DIY.”

The exhibition ends with a section that explores the naturalization of DIY ideas and attitudes in art. According to Ortega, the artists represented in this room use self-organization practices as one possible means of expression among others, and also as a signifier that allows them to add complex content to their work through a minimal gesture. The artists in this section include Sílvia Gubern, a pioneer of conceptual and action art in Catalunya, who has developed her practice without resorting to the official presentation channels of the art world. There is also Yoko Ono's Painting to See the Skies, a frame that invites visitors to view their surroundings in a different way, and a series of paintings by Henk Peeters, a member of the German group Zero, who wanted to get rid of acts of ritualisation in art and defended direct artistic practice without artifice. This section also includes works by Franz West, Elisabeth Wright and Christian Jankowski.





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