19 / 06 / 2012

An interview to consonni in the frame of SCREEN FORUM PRO (WHAT ABOUT PRODUCTION)?

consonni was interviewed by Julia Morandeira on the frame of María Mur Dean, the director of consonni, being invited to coordinate and chair a round table within the SCREEN FORUM Pro debate section, under the title WHAT ABOUT PRODUCTION? , which is the product of Screen from Barcelona (LOOP FAIR)’s interest in opening up a space for a professional and collective exploration and examination of concerns and challenges to be faced vis-à-vis the production of films and videos by artists who have been identified at different levels.

1. Define production. When does it start and when does it end?

The concept of production in general is the process of transforming certain objects into one or more different objects, undertaken to satisfy (human) needs. While all societies have had different tools of production, which have inevitably defined their ways of functioning, it could be said that it is with the industrial revolution and the modern economy, that the term production reaches a climactic exaltation. It is perhaps because of this that the concept has taken on such a prominent role in the art world in the last few decades. It could also be that the term is useful in relation to the market at a time when culture is increasingly understood as more of a resource than a right.

2. Which production parameters have recently been altered? What are the demands of this contemporary setting? What new forms of production do you consider necessary?

Today in the context of contemporary art, production is spoken about and written about so much, it is given great importance or alternatively it is denied it, without even being given a mention.  Part of the uniqueness of art lies in the fact that it is one of the areas of human activity which best reflects, and at the same time challenges the existing ways of doing disclosing paradoxical situations. Despite the precarious conditions of the economy through which a large part of art is developed, the art system itself is in fact an efficient system of production. While within many cultural policies the term production is linked to the idea of the creation of a surplus value, there are tendencies that suggest that in the Post-Ford era the distinction between action (praxis) and production (poesies) is blurred. Today, production work could be in some cases “acquiring the traditional connotations of political action”.

3. In a perfect scenario, what would you like to produce? What is the perfect scenario?

In utopian thought, but also in the everyday, it is not a matter of what we do as much as how we do it and from where. Action (political) and production (of work) become intertwined. The optimum conditions of production for artists, collaborators and consonni are difficult to reach but they are the objective. To work developing political concepts and to carry them out politically -something that artist Maria Ruido paraphrasing Godard states- is the challenge. Another warning sign to bear in mind in order to not move away from self imposed ideals, is that projects that don’t have the form of an exhibition object and which are based in the experiential can be easily co-opted for other purposes. It is therefore fundamental to note that from consonni’s position we consider ourselves as working in the production of contemporary art.  Understanding that art can’t exist outside of the political and social realities it is inscribed in, and knowing that the formats themselves can sometimes be innocuous. A zombie march for example. It can serve to critique consumer society, as with the Dutch clowns collective Rebelact, but it can also be used to promote a brand as with the Eastpack Zombie Walk (2008) which was part of the Horror film festival in Sitges, Barcelona. It could be part of simply enjoying dressing up as a zombie or to pay homage to a genre of cinema as with MZM, Marcha Zombi in Madrid. Or it could be part of an art project: Quedense dentro y cierran las ventanas (Stay indoors and shut yourr windows, 2008) by Iratxe Jaio and Klaas Gorkum, produced by consonni. The format is actually the same in all of these cases. Again what matters is that the intentions, the objectives, the decisions taken, the mode of execution, the contexts and the way it is communicated are distinct and they are what make the difference. 

4. At what point in the process do you intervene, and to what extent do you involve yourself? What alliances do you establish? For what aims?

In consonni we invite artists to develop projects, for the most part without putting constraints on the form, the objectives or with regards to time frames. In this sense, we participate from the beginning in the whole process with the artist: brainstorming and developing ideas and concepts, formalising and presenting the results…Production takes on the significance of a communicative action where a dialogue with the artist is everything, but there is also a dialogue between the consonni team itself, with the public institutions, with the framework of the art, with the media and with the public in general which is essential. This form of working collaboratively, as well as the need to make exchanges and network with other social, political and cultural groups, is something that has been adapted from feminisms.

5. In terms of production, which project do you feel especially proud of and why? In which type of project does production as a methodology and as a subject meet?

There are many projects produced by consonni that reveal the means of production. Each one deals with its own set of interests specific to the work, but in one way or another they all make explicit the modes of production of the system of art itself; they are all contextualised in a wider system of contemporary capitalist production. Among others, examples include: Subasta Internacional de Tipografías Vascas (International Auction of Basque Type Fonts, 2001), Little Frank and his carp (2001), GLF (2010) and Electroclass (2011). Subasta Internacional de Tipografías Vascas with Hinrish Sachs was a public auction of the operating rights and the 14 software programs of the Basque type fonts “Euskara”, constituting a social and political public debate concerning the transmission and use of immaterial cultural property; its possession, its use and its control.

Little Frank and his Carp (2001) with Andrea Fraser, coming from institutional critique, is a video recorded using hidden cameras in the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao which uses the official museum audio guide soundtrack as a voiceover. GLF, Graffiti Liberation Front (2010) with Nacho Magro, is a work in progress that analyses graffiti and other (re)presentations and (sub)cultures as a linguistic sign as well as its relation to what is referred to as urban art. Electroclass (2011) with Maria Ruido, which takes the archives at ETB as base material and the city of Bilbao as a case study, is a film which reflects on the dissolution of the concept of the traditional working class and looks at how our working conditions have changed throughout the shift from industrial capitalism to tertiary industries, exploring the radical transformation of the “polis” city into the “Bilbao brand”.

Also recently, from consonni, we have started a project entitled Pájaro y ornitólogo al mismo tiempo (Bird and Ornithologist at the same time) that specifically aims at analysing the concept of production in contemporary art, and the objective is to do this through the same way of producing projects with a diversity of artists.

6. What is the role of the producer within the framework of artistic production?

The needs of contemporary artists and the particularities of the profession at the moment are expanding the limits of the exhibition space, extending time frames and also enabling trans-disciplinary collaborations that require that there is somebody to support the artist and take charge of these tasks.  That’s why, as producers, we are building our position and why galleries and museums are assuming more production orientated duties.  But I would say that each producer is working from his or her own particular position because at the moment there is no consensus in the sector on specific ways of working, on objectives and not even on the concept of production.

So each one will influence in its own way. And precisely because of this, I don’t think that the figure of the producer as a “professional” as well as the producer as an organisation is seen as another agent of the art system. This is what often becomes problematic and entails the invisibility of the production work carried out.  Few artists obviate the place where they exhibit, but most of the time they don’t mention who has actually produced the work. consonni is one of the founders of the network ENPAP (European Network for Public Art Producers) that was created in 2009 and seeks to unite organisations that share an affinity for expanding the notion of public art. Three years of research in a network have been an important analysis of those modes and conditions of production linked to specific contexts.  A recent culmination was the international symposium Going Public: Telling it as it is? which took place in Bilbao and was co-ordinated by consonni.  Perhaps this network is a leading example of the collective reflection that is being generated on the concept of production, of the debates surrounding the role of production platforms, and explores whether a sector even exists and whether this would be desirable….

7. In terms of production, what do you think is specific to the Spanish context? What are the deficiencies, long-term problems and facilities?

consonni was created in 1996 in Bilbao. The Guggenheim Bilbao opened the following year. Excited about the effect, at all levels of the government (Basque Government, 3 Diputaciones Forales and the city councils) there was a shared enthusiasm for opening new facilities for the visual arts and for showing a new face of the already existing ones.  Parallel to this institutionalisation at the end of the nineties, emerges a model of small scale structures, mostly non-profit and run by artists and other professionals working in the visual arts, and lacking direct links with the institutions beyond the financial aid.

Fifteen years on and the picture has radically shifted, and in the middle of a full economic crisis we find ourselves on a stage with multiple and monumental containers to maintain and private initiatives that need to be very conscious of the mechanisms of cultural policies in order to ensure survival.

Although there are some positive examples of communication between professionals and public institutions, the economic crisis amplifies a model of direct intervention from the CAV (Basque Autonomous Community) where public authorities, in some concrete cases, make decisions without consulting professionals. This causes doors to be closed and actions that dismantle legitimated projects.

It is a cultural policy strategy, which being global, inevitably affects consonni’s trajectory and is also reflected in its projects. What is known locally as the “Guggenheim effect”, and internationally as the “Bilbao effect”, has become a paradigm for a kind of cultural politics which every city or area desiring to be relocated on the international map aspires to. The social, political, cultural and economic impact of this context (both local and international) on the process of producing a project is definitive. 

8. What are the features that differentiate production in art from other realms of production?

Claire Doherty director of Situations in Bristol, explains in an introductory text for the symposium Going Public: Telling it as it is? that we organised as part of ENPAP, that the producer is much more valued in the world of performance and theatre.  “For the performing arts, the producer is an “alchemist of the impossible” (…) the producer is a protagonist in a project’s conception and destiny. The producer navigates between a bold vision of an idea and how feasibly- and brilliantly- to deliver it, how to give the idea life and locate it in the world.”

There is a part of art that can be aligned to the world of film or theatre, in the sense of enabling projects to come to an end and facilitating a means of achieving aims by sourcing and managing resources.  While there are certainly these similarities, from consonni’s position we argue that when working within the production of art one should always contemplate the Benjaminian assertion of being always aware and revealing the means of production.

Beside the aesthetic form itself, the means of production and distribution and the conditions of production (such as the professionalization of criteria, contracts, payments of artists and other professions, dissemination, the diversification of sources of funding, etc.) are an important part of the process of an artistic creation.  It has been a long time since Walter Benjamin coined the term “artist-producer” to refer to the creator who acts decisively on the means of production and distribution of the work of art. For Benjamin the activities of the artist producer had a fundamentally political dimension: manipulating the means of production and changing the perception of the work of art contributed to a politicisation of culture and encouraged its use for radical ends.

9. What challenges does immaterial production bring?

It seems that the binaries material/immaterial, productive/non-productive, increasingly loose meaning as the lines that separate them fade away, and more so within the field of contemporary art production. From consonni’s position, we are interested in the idea of immateriality as a way to emphasise the actual production of thought and ideas as opposed to just the development of a production line of merchandise.

Maybe immateriality is an alternative to the pressure to produce; it’s a rupture in the path of the system which devours fiercely shouting for “more wood”. But it’s a really complicated and paradoxical question, taking into account that within a cultural regime imposed under a “capitalism of the spirit”, it is not products that are sold but experiences, lifestyles, affects and knowledge which have become precious commodities.

Also, even though consonni’s projects are based in process, very few times have the results actually escaped materiality and its later insertion into the art market. The key is perhaps to understand all of these mechanisms, to research them and to participate in them in a way that is conscious and strategic. To create contractual relations to ensure that the best working conditions for artists as much as for consonni. To generate synergies and collaborations with diverse agents, forming systems of production with their own regulation. To seek to influence cultural policy, to diversify sources (public/private, local/international) and types (grants, agreements, sponsorship, patronage, sales of products and services) of funding…

10. Can production be understood as a device for domination or subversion?

To the extent that the distinction between action and production is dissolving, production can either be liberating or alienating. It depends each time how it is done, from where and for what purpose. It depends on the conditions and on the means of production. Today the obsession with producing and consuming can be oppressive and suffocating and at the same time spaces of collective production can generate exchanges of thought, and the creation of a critical mass.  At a moment when we don’t know if we are at “the end of history” or at the beginning of a new one, it’s important to locate spaces of encounter and representation.

For consonni, in this sense, it has been important to have (for the first time in our trajectory) a walk in office that serves as a place of work, but also as a space for exchanging opinions, for presenting projects and for meeting people. At the same time, consonni participates actively in social networks and has updated its web page www.consonni.org.  Finally, an editorial line has been established that reinforces the notion knowledge production and exchange with three editorial collections: Projects, focusing on projects produced by consonni; Paper, for publishing books of art criticism and critical thought from authors with a wide ranging experience in publishing in professional or specialized general disclosure; and Beste, for hosting proposals from outside.

11. Where do the figures of the curator and the producer meet, where do they diverge? What types of overlappings can there be? Can we speak of the curator-producer?

Claire Doherty explains the following in the text which I mentioned previously: “there is a misconception prevalent in the visual arts that whilst “producing” is driven by logistics, “curating” is the preserve of the imagination and the intellect”. I think that a producer needs these curatorial skills as well as the problem solving skills in order to fully support an artist throughout the working process, and in order to realize projects with the best conditions possible.

Doherty links the figure of the producer to public art. From consonni’s position, we are more interested in the notion of the public within artistic practices. As Rosalyn Deutsche sustains, the public condition of a work of art doesn’t lie in its predetermined positioning as public, but in the fact that it carries out an operation: the operation of creating a public space by the transformation of whatever space is being occupied by the work within the public sphere.  It is through this that the work of the producer locates itself in the public sphere, whether this is outside or inside the white cube. Within the framework of consonni’s work, that has not primarily developed the exhibition format but has always sought out the best conditions for each project.

12. What are the particularities and challenges posed by research-based production?

I think that nearly all artistic practices involve research either to a greater or lesser extent (formal, stylistic, conceptual or thematic); this is in one way or another intrinsic to them. For consonni this is fundamental. Iratxe Jaio once used the term “empirical research” at the time to refer to the project Quédense dentro y cierren las ventanas (Stay indoors and shut the windows) and I think it clarifies how research and result can very often end up being the same thing. There are projects such as Segunda mano, Bilbao sólo (Second Hand, only Bilbao) (2004) with Andrea Crews, Thanks (2004) by Itziar Okariz and Boom (2012, symposium Going Public, ENPAP) by Alex Reynolds where investigation, experimentation and public execution often converge.  There are those that are research more than anything else, like Soft Fiction (2009) with Virginia Villaplana or Luces de Lemoniz (Lights of Lemoniz, 2000) by Ibon Aranberri that didn’t end up being materialized. There are others where the research is the more public phase of the project, which occurs in Begoña (2003) with Begoña Muñoz, GLF  (2010) with Nacho Magro, Electroclass (2011) with María Ruido or We could have had it all (2012, Going Public, ENPAP) with Itziar Barrio. They become expanded and complex projects which last years in some cases, involving different devices, adopting and developing their own public formats (interviews, public debates, cinema programming, publications….).





2012. Bird cum ornithologist maria

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