USES AND MISUSES OF ARTE ÚTIL: THE ARCHIVE, THE CONVERSATIONS AND THE INSTITUTIONAL SCALE

ASLI SEVEN

5 EKİM 2018

Tumblr Inline Pg2kmlvbjn1u3cpgv 500 Photo: Mustafa Hazneci, 2018
Photo: Mustafa Hazneci, 2018
Art in Use: Case Studies From Turkey was a two-day workshop organized by SALT's Office of Useful Art and run by independent curators/researchers Gemma Medina and Alessandra Saviotti, working with the Association de Arte Útil. Around 25 people participated at the workshop, ranging from artists, architects, curators, and students interested in the concept of Useful Art and in reviewing the Turkish cases that were selected by Onur Yıldız and Naz Kocadere from SALT Research and Programs. The following is an attempt at documenting this experience as it unfolded over two days, while at the same time shedding light on some critical questions that arose from our exchanges.

I. Arte Útil as an Archive in Use

In its current state, Arte Útil presents itself in the form of an online archive of artistic projects selected on the basis of their public utility. It is therefore worth considering what an archive is and what it does when it takes artistic forms. Archives operate through selection, indexation, and regulation. The archival reason is one of representation; it operates partly in withdrawal from the real through frames for selection and accumulation, with one eye looking to the past and one eye looking toward the future, determining what can be said and seen, in a prefiguration of what is to come, based on its own predicaments. Therein lies the curse and the promise of the archive. On the one hand, the archive is a tool of power. It is the site for pinning down historical and/or scientific truths and, as such, it produces and reproduces the narratives of those in power. On the other hand, the archive can also be a tool for resistance and disruption. It can become the site where the residual transforms into a reserve for action and change, and where the narratives of those that are repressed and/or marginalized can be articulated.

Browsing through the web-based platform of Arte Útil, which gathers around 300 projects with a relatively wide geographic scope, one cannot help but notice the indexation itself more than the projects that are being classified. Spread across the categories of urban development, science, pedagogy, politics, economy, environment and social work, the indexation collapses all the classified projects together into a surface composed of initiators, short project descriptions, goals, beneficial outcomes, and an identifiable set of users. At first sight, the Arte Útil Archive seems like a frame that reveals its own operation of framing but conceals its process and that of the projects it holds together. For this reason, instead of focusing on the archive itself as an enclosed entity to critically evaluate its actual use, I suggest that we conceptualize it as an index, a trace that points to larger processes at work outside the archive's limits, and that cannot be completely contained in the archive itself. In other words, to reverse the question that Arte Útil poses about the world of artistic initiatives and their uses, and to scrutinize the potential usefulness of the archive itself.

Dsc0308 4 Alessandra Saviotti and Gemma Medina<br />
<i>Art in Use: Case Studies from Turkey</i>, Office of Useful Art at SALT Galata<br />
Photo: Mustafa Hazneci, May 2018
Alessandra Saviotti and Gemma Medina
Art in Use: Case Studies from Turkey, Office of Useful Art at SALT Galata
Photo: Mustafa Hazneci, May 2018

In the essay '10 Thesis on the Archive', Shaina Anand – the co-initiator of the online pad.ma archive – argues against the reduction of archives to the particular forms that they take and opts instead for an active and creative approach. Anand argues that the archive is not a representational but creative tool and states that "the naming of something as an archive is not the end, but the beginning of a debate."1 To properly assess the value of the Arte Útil archive – and the value of conceptually binding art and use together in a more general sense – we need to balance our critical take on the archival index by looking at its uses, deployment, and activations. In other words, and taking Anand's lead, we need to ask: What conflicts and contradictions does the Arte Útil archive hold and reveal?

II. Conversations On Art and Use in Turkey

SALT's Office of Useful Art is an open space, making room for working stations and collective discussions around an agora-like seating arrangement. It's a place of circulation where the collective discussions might infect individual working stations and vice-versa. As we took our respective positions in and around this agora, a series of questions were already emerging in my mind: What is the place of collective discussion and collective action within the Arte Útil archive? How to select what's useful and for whom? At what scale(s)?

Dsc1020 1 Photo: Mustafa Hazneci
Photo: Mustafa Hazneci

The debates we had during the workshop Art in Use: Case Studies From Turkey centered on the presentation and collective evaluation of a series of 20 cases researched and selected by Onur Yıldız and Naz Kocadere - which, as a constituent process in itself, is significant in terms of an archive that works through activations. Confronting these projects with potential user narratives about them was one of the most interesting moments of the workshop. One area of criticism was the absence of user narratives within the archival index, which, if included, could potentially liberate the projects themselves from the burden of utility and put the emphasis on how users take hold of any given 'tool' in a multiplicity of ways that might not be foreseen or calculated by the initiators of the projects. Furthermore, the inclusion of user narratives was proposed as a way to make the online archive more accessible, transparent, and readable.

Another interesting moment came as the workshop participants appropriated the 8 criteria of Arte Útil in their collective discussions, questioning the conceptual grounding of these criteria in relation to the cases from and context of Turkey, and emphasizing the need for context-specific re-evaluations against the archival index. As one of my discussion partners argued for the importance to see whether or not a project creates new models of operation that could be applicable elsewhere, I thought the idea of creating a 'model' would contradict the criteria of 1:1 scale, but fit the rules when it comes to challenging its field of operation.

Dsc0432 2 “Researchers at SALT” <br />
Photo: Mustafa Hazneci, May 2018
“Researchers at SALT”
Photo: Mustafa Hazneci, May 2018

My own extra-sensitivity to authorship surprised me. Disciplinary boundaries seemed to provoke debate: Can Loading – an art center operating from and within the southeastern city of Diyarbakır, a context prone to highest political, ethnic and economic risks - be considered a useful art project if it is an art center, benefiting only the artists in Diyarbakır? Can we eschew the specificity and urgencies related to the context of Diyarbakır in answering such a question? Is the scope of a project such as Siyah Bant – which documents and discusses censorship cases in the Turkish art world, provides a network of support and disseminates information on how to legally handle such situations – exclusively limited to the art world, or can it, potentially, say something about the larger socio-political context and offer tools to deal with censorship within the existing legal framework, beyond contemporary art? To what extent can it be considered 'artistic'? Can Kültürhane, a library-turned-education platform and cultural venue, founded in the southern city of Mersin by several recently dismissed academics for peace, really be considered a case of art if it only operates as an educational platform? What about the urgency of academics and of Higher Education as a whole in Turkey?

As we collectively walked to visit one of the Turkish projects recently added to the Arte Útil Archive, Özge Açıkkol – the co-founder of the artist collective Oda Projesi – mentioned her doubts about usefulness, considering Oda Projesi and the impossibility to know or to measure the use it may or may not have generated for the people it engaged. Once we arrived at Dünyada Mekân, a free co-working space and labor-solidarity network for freelancers and white-collar workers recently added to the Arte Útil archive, Zeyno Pekünlü welcomed us with a brief presentation. To the question why she had been reluctant to use her artistic legitimacy to raise funds for Dünyada Mekân, she answered poignantly that trying to pay the rent and doing the cleaning of the space is what makes you a collective, underlining thereby the importance to hold onto the value of collective action and struggle instead of taking the shortcut of artistic legitimacy.2

III. Matters of Scale

Arte Útil's story is closely associated with the Museum of Arte Útil exhibition that was held at the Van Abbe Museum in 2013. In fact, that very exhibition is presented as the association's founding moment. Physically transforming the museum building from the inside and the outside, the Museum of Arte Útil exhibition presented case studies of Useful Art, collected through a process of open call.3 The exhibition presented the first display of the association's archive. It also openly asked the visitors to become active users of the museum, to take inspiration from the case studies, and to take ownership of the exhibition's public programs by proposing various uses.4 In 2015, Medina and Saviotti initiated the workshop series Broadcasting the Archive and designed them as a response to local urgencies. Thereby, they made it possible for the archive to grow beyond and below art institutions.

This state of affairs presents us with several scales at work that define the space of action of Arte Útil and which need unpacking. These include the scale of a single artistic project in relation to its context, the scale of the archive as an active discursive system with its selection criteria and indexation, and the scale of various activations of the archive within temporal and spatial limits. The latter may come in the form of exhibitions, residencies, walking tours and workshops including the one at SALT. Lastly, operating not within the archive itself but tangentially, the institutional scale. Along with the Van Abbe Museum, several other institutions have initiated temporary Office(s) of Useful Art since 2013: Middlesborough Insitute of Modern Art (MIMA), the Queens Museum, Tate Liverpool. Each time an institution hosts Arte Útil within its space, both physically and in terms of its operations, research is carried out to expand the geographic and historical scope of the archive. The users are invited to take hold of the archive and participate in the rethinking of the institution's relationship with its audiences. Furthermore, collective discussions are organized around the idea of art and its possible uses.

It is worth stepping outside of the Asociación de Arte Útil and its archive, to consider what it means for an institution to initiate an office of useful art. As SALT was initiating the Office of Useful Art in September 2017, "the potential of co-learning among the institution and its users" was stated as an investigation area.5 One of the most visible results of this investigation came in the form of 'Researchers at SALT' presentations. The institution scaled down towards its users and asked them what they were doing at SALT Galata, how they were using the institution's online archives, and what their research projects were about. A series of public presentations took shape around the users of the building and its resources. These presentations served as a space for discussion where new institutional programming could emerge based on the initiatives of the users themselves, opening up a public discussion around ongoing academic and independent research. In addition, by making the research conducted through SALT's resources public, they provided a user-led form of mediation and activation of the institution's archives.


The research carried out thus far by SALT's Office of Useful Art for cases from Turkey seems to aim at potential inclusion in the Arte Útil archive. In its second year of operation, starting from September 2018, the Office of Useful Art plans to expand its research to neighboring countries, such as Bulgaria and Armenia. While we collectively learn from discussing these cases in relation to their inclusion or exclusion from the archive, the final decision on whether or not a proposed project will be included in the archive remains unclear and the decision-making process far from transparent. With this in mind, I wonder whether it would, perhaps, be more productive to shift the focus from the Arte Útil Archive to the criticisms, new understandings and positions that emerge locally from these discussions. Or, to put it differently, to re-conceptualize the centralized, institutionalized understanding of the archive into something like a 'nomadic tool'. This, I believe, would allow us to focus more on the conceptual challenge of thinking art and use together in a local context, from a historical point of view, and from the point of view of art institutions today.6

***


The Duchampian 'coefficient of art' is not a mere percentage to evaluate how 'artistic' a practice is. Rather, as Stephen Wright argues in the lexicon accompanying Arte Útil7, this key concept designates the difference between the maker's intentions on the one hand, and what is expressed in the work as it meets the world, on the other. It captures the value of the unknowable and incalculable within the creative process which is understood as a collaboration between artist and audience, regardless of aesthetic quality. According to Duchamp himself, the expression goes beyond what we might call 'high art' and refers to "art in a raw state, that must be refined by the spectator."8 In this sense, Duchamp lays the ground for thinking of the reception and the spectator's subjectivity as contributors to the creative process itself. If we replace the word 'spectator' with the word 'user' in Duchamp's writing, we can begin to understand 'usership' as co-creatorship in art, and partially erode concepts such as 'authority' and 'authorship'. Putting the emphasis on usership and user narratives also allows for thinking 'use' together with 'misuse' and for approaching forms as collaborative processes, instead of projecting an intent of public utility upon the initiators and artistic forms taken in isolation from the processes of their reception and use.

Juxtaposing art and use, forcing one to think those two notions that are, in modernist terms, inherently contradictory, opens up the potential to create new concepts, to propose new perspectives, and to evaluate current and past art practices in a new light. Shifting toward an understanding of form as process allows for 'co-authorship' and 'collaboration' to emerge as central components of thinking about art and use through community-driven housing projects, neighborhood-lead ecological hubs or alternative pedagogical models. Furthermore, it is worth considering what it means for art to take on the mission of public utility and social change at a time when, globally, the public is retreating from welfare provision. Looking towards the future of Arte Útil, it is also worth questioning how this initiative might instigate infrastructural change for the projects it brings together, the institutions that host it and their economy.9

About one week prior to the workshop, I was reading Pierre Dardot and Christian Laval's book Common. Essay on the Revolution in 21st Century, in which the authors draw a meticulous history and genealogy of concepts such as public good, commons, utility, property, and right to use. While I do think that, in its current form, the Arte Útil Archive suffers from a lack of conceptual clarity and a clear positioning within this dense history of concepts and their use, I also think, and I am indebted to Hannah Arendt in stating this, that in the putting together of our words and actions something interesting happens , that the value of Arte Útil lies in its provocation.
  • 1.
    Shaina Anand, '10 Thesis on the Archive' in: Artikisler Collective (Eds.), Autonomous Archiving, dpr-barcelona, 2016, pp. 79-94.
  • 2.
    Additional information on the five mentioned projects can be found at their respective websites and/or Facebook pages. For Loading see: facebook.com/llloadinggg/; for Siyah Bant, in Turkish only, see: siyahbant.org; and for Kültürhane, in Turkish, see: kulturhane.org. Oda Projesi has a bilingual blog with no translation, see: odaprojesi.blogspot.com. For Dünyada Mekân, which is now listed as an Arte Útil project, see: arte-Útil.org and dunyadamekan.wordpress.com (Last accessed 13 August 2018).
  • 3.
    An international open call was launched prior to the opening, resulting in the selection of 50 projects out of 300 to be included in the archive.
  • 4.
    According to Medina and Saviotti, 44 out of 86 public programs held during the Museum of Arte Útil were proposed and initiated by users.
  • 5.
    saltonline.org (Last accessed 7 September 2018)
  • 6.
    The example I have in mind is the Internationale program titled "The Uses of Art" (2012-2017). See: internationaleonline.org/programmes/ (Last accessed 28 June 2018). While proposing an alternative history of art and its uses is clearly stated as one of the goals of the Arte Útil archive, it is not in the archive itself, but in this nomadic form of networked institutional programming that we find the most interesting efforts of both alternative historiography, and of exhibition and display methods that truly challenge modernist notions of autonomy, authorship or authenticity.
  • 7.
    Stephen Wright, Towards a Lexicon of Usership: museumarteutil.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/Toward-a-lexicon-of-usership.pdf, (Last accessed 28 August 2018)
  • 8.
    Author's translation. Marcel Duchamp, Duchamp du Signe, Flammarion, Paris, 2013, pp. 205-210.
  • 9.
    In this regard, it will be interesting to follow up on the process of acquisition of the Arte Útil Archive by museums and public institutions through a subscription-based contract, a "Certificate of Usership" co-signed by both parties. The process was trail blazed by FRAC Poitou Charentes (France) this year, set to be followed by several other museums, which have shown interest and/or expressed their commitment.
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