Michel de Certeau wrote about the practice of the everyday as a tactic to create ever evolving micro-resistance acts to the dominant culture. He suggests a way of operating for “the ordinary man” – creating resistance spaces that poach (or steal) the necessary means. An attempt to apply this idea to the art world would require to examine what a contemporary resistance art space would be.
Since the idea is to “poach” a place, the meaning of place in this context needs to be understood. To keep matters simple, a useful definition for place is an environment with a connotative meaning – a meaning that is understood through the placing of an element in an environment, giving it a relationship with the social and cultural identity of its occupiers. In psychology and social science the view of this relationship has transformed from physical determinism (the environment directly effects behaviour) to a mutually dynamic one.
The loading of meaning through the context is reminiscent to the art world term “readymade” coined by French artist, Marcel Duchamp. Readymades are everyday objects placed in an arts environment and thus redefined as artwork. A readymade is communicating not only the intentions of the artist who made it into artwork, but also the social and “personal” history attached to its being, and the social context of its new, artistic, existence.
A term that captures a reciprocal engagement between objects and context, similar to readymades, between a space and the occupying community, is “conviviality”. In Ivan Illich’s Tools for Conviviality (1973), discussed tools to reestablish the know-how of the community to decrease the handing over of control. “Our present attitudes toward production have been formed over the centuries. Increasingly, institutions have not only shaped our demands but also in the most literal sense our logic, or sense of proportion. Having come to demand what institutions can produce, we soon believe that we cannot do without it.” (Illich, 1973) The convivial place allows for the community to act in a reasonably independent manner within the environment so that the place and the community influence each other.
In the second half of the 20th century the form of site-specific art emerged as location was recognised as having an impact on the meaning of a work of art. “Site Specific derives from the delineation and examination of the site of the gallery in relation to space unconfined by the gallery and in relation to the spectator.” (Suderburg, 2000) This term leads to contemplating the relationship between the object, the space, and the individuals occupying the space. Often this relationship is composed of two parts – the space and the artwork, and the individuals and the artwork. In order to create a convivial resistance art space the desired relationship is the more complex possibility with all three elements – space, individuals, and artwork taking part.
The pieces accompanying this text give an example of artwork that offers this kind of complex relationship and could be considered to create contemporary resistance convivial art places. Borrowing from an art term synonym to readymade, found object, they could be called Found Places. Both are photographs taken in abandoned factories in New York, produced as part of a trespassing and graffiti writing act, transforming the space so that it becomes a place which engages with the creative community it is part of. Means of creating found objects are community-based and casual from inception. Scouting for locations to trespass requires continuous, occasionally years-long presence in the area, paired with an understanding of the social context that makes a scene suitable. These become places with the understanding of the artist that institutions, private or state-controlled, have retreated from moulding, leaving them open to have a reciprocal relationship with the community within which they sit. The location, the objects in the artwork, the trespassing act, and the photographed outcome – all are pirated as an act of resistance.
Like readymades, these locations communicate their original social background and the artists’ intention, as well as comment on the art world into which they are introduced. The relationships these pieces are involved in are all put under scrutiny – is the artwork the act of trespassing, the manipulation of the space, or their documentation? Is the pieces’ audience the institutions the space is poached from, the spectator of the artistic publication or the members of the community it is placed within? Found Places allow for these questions to remain open as comments on place, society, and art, while working subversively within all these worlds.
Joseph Anastasio is a writer, photographer and web designer. His interest in graffiti and urban spaces are a result of growing in NYC during the 1980s, when both were plentiful and every kid in the city had a ‘tag’. When he’s not busy building websites he can be found lurking around the dark corners of town and the tunnels beneath, documenting spaces generally unseen by the public.
The Temporary Autonomous Zone – Bay, H. Resling Publishing, 2003. P. 8-10, From forward by Dr. Moshe Elhanati to the Hebrew translation.
Identity and place: a critical comparison of three identity theories – A.L. Hauge. Architectural Science Review, 2007
Mapping Bejamin: the work of art in the digital age – Gumbrecht H. U., &Marrinan M. (Eds.) Stanford University Press, 2003, P. 22
Tools for Conviviality – Illich, I. (1973) available from: [http://www.preservenet.com/theory/Illich/IllichTools.html]
Space, Site, Intervention: Situating Installation Art – Suderburg, E. (Ed.) University of Minnesota Press, 2000, P. 4