The Question: “How (from your experience and perspective) do artistic practices create public sphere?”.

In the production and interpretation of artistic practices I try to abide by certain words by Robin George Collingwood who, in The Principles of Art, said: The artist must prophesy not in the sense that he foretells things to come, but in the sense that he tells his audience, at risk of their displeasure the secrets of their own hearts. His business as an artist is to speak out, to make a clean breast. But what he has to utter is not, as the individualistic theory of art would have us think, his own secrets. As spokesman of his community, the secrets he must utter are theirs. The reason why they need him is that no community knows its own heart, and by failing in this knowledge a community deceives itself on the one subject concerning which ignorance means death.

COLLINGWOOD, Robin George, The Principles of Art, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1938.


The Question: How (from your experience and perspective) do artistic practices create public sphere?

It would be interesting to think of the idea of the public sphere as an abstract and totally flexible concept rather than as a concrete situation or place. The interesting thing about the public sphere is that it is a potentiality. It is something that can exist at the moment at which different people, entities, issues or questions that are related to a particular community (whether or not it is geographically fixed is not important) converge, become separated, collide and produce some type of result. That is the definition of the public sphere: a type of potentially difficult conversation that, in some cases, gives rise to a solution, to a way out of this convergence or separation.

The public sphere as a cultural conversation, not only as a verbal conversation between people, is an interesting idea for every type of intervention in the social machinery. And art, of course, has tools, languages and tactics not only for intervening in the public sphere but for creating it.

In contemporary society, especially in the network society, we are speaking all the time. Nonetheless, we often have the not totally unfounded sensation that we are speaking without knowing with whom, and even that we are wasting time, not creating true conversations.

Curiously, the public sphere is something that can diminish, that can even disappear. What is interesting are those tactics, including artistic practice, that can reopen this public sphere in any place, in any context: in the street, in the public space or online. Or also in that hybrid space in which we find ourselves, the post-Internet condition, where when we find ourselves in the street or in the public space, IRL (In Real Life), we are connected all the time. A hybrid situation is produced where we can no longer distinguish between being online and offline, between what is analogue and what is digital. A situation is produced in which everything is now mixed. So: where do we find the public sphere?

The work that many artists including myself are realising, which we are both producing and disseminating, has precisely this goal: to describe forms in which, if you are not careful, the public sphere diminishes, closes or becomes private, and by definition there cannot be a privatised public sphere. Private not in the sense of intimate, private discourses, but of privatisation and exclusion from decision-making. The challenge, in the age of the connected society and social media, is precisely to see where these conversations can take place, where to reopen the public sphere when it was closing. It is a paradox because we have the sensation that the digital networks and media have provided enormous tools of self-expression and democratisation for interaction. Although this is often the case, at times these emancipated interactions and free expressions only take place in the most superficial part, at the interface of networks. The challenge is to discover what structures are found behind free expression in the online media. An even more specific challenge is created for artists who are seeking to open up the public sphere. This consists in studying in what conditions it currently exists, at what level of depth, or at what levels it is traversing this great structure of technological, social and mixed layers that shape contemporary, mediatised society.


The Question: How (from your experience and perspective) do artistic practices create public sphere?

– Natxo: We have recently been trying to make a map or sketch where we can see or show everything that is done in the non-academic field of the faculty and the university. To place myself in that sketch, I would like to stress three pivotal axes or fields in which we are working at this moment.

– Arantza: It seems at first that the faculty is an educational centre, but we realise that, besides being an educational centre, we also have an influence in another way. Not so much within the university, but rather with respect to the street, the public space and agents or networks that move in that public space. As Natxo mentioned, we have tried to make a sketch to see who we are collaborating with, how we are constructing the city with the aid of, through or due to the faculty, and what type of relations we have.

– Natxo: It is easy to foresee that since the university is a training tool, education concerning artistic practices thus creates the public sphere, as happens in schools and ikastolas. But, we want to emphasise these three axes, amongst many others. On one side, how to construct the city or the community, setting out from the university. We are carrying out several projects to obtain a presence in the city and also to participate in the construction of the city. On the other side, how are networks woven with other agents and with our own community. That is, we support projects by young people and the initiatives made by our former students and the people in their milieu. Finally, we have the project called “zaBBAAlik”, with the aim of trying to open up the faculty budget. In this way, students and former students can propose things to some extent. And not only that, they can also manage and involve themselves in that within the university. In some way, the intention is to place that budget in the hands of the students, so that they can decide what to do, and in that way have the opportunity to do and propose what they want.

– Arantza: And some things have emerged from this that have worked. At first, they were proposed within “zaBBAAlik”, but then they have moved to other fields. That’s where their interest lies.

– Natxo: From the way we have explained it, it might seem that by constructing the public space more things are done in the non-academic field than in the academic field, and perhaps that is so. From my point of view, it is easier from there to have an influence on what can be done. The academic field is very rigid and closed, and the machinery is very slow. But we make an effort, and the truth is we can insert ourselves more easily through the cracks of the non-academic field.

– Arantza: With its advantages and disadvantages. The advantages are that we move at a different speed and obtain results that are much more interesting. On the other hand, that is harmful to us academically, as we are outside normalcy. Within the university, some things do not seem correct to them, because they are done outside the legal framework. This is not to say that they are illegal, but that they are done in a framework of non-legality because there is no arrangement in this respect. Were we to wait for that, the whole machinery would lose speed and we would be unable to participate to the degree that the setting requires of us. Having considered that we are the university and that we speak as such, we think that this university should be different. We have these networks in the sketch, and the three points that we mentioned, and other points as well, are part of the university. Furthermore, the university should also be like that, and not only consist in what is offered in terms of training: degrees, master’s degrees, and that type of closed things. It is necessary to open up to other fields, taking the context into account: where it is, where it moves, where the students proceed from, where the former students are headed, what type of projects they develop, how we can participate in those projects and how they ask us to participate. Seen from the university, that work serves to strengthen the public sphere.

– Natxo: An idea occurs to me for the next time we deal with the issue. If the university is public, then it forms part of the public sphere, but we should question that “public”part, above all bearing in mind the new studies, given that the management is increasingly exclusive. It is not a question of creating the public sphere but of supplying the labour market. Is the function of the university therefore not to supply, make or build the public sphere, but to satisfy private needs instead? That is why it is easier to work in the non-academic field. There is little we can do in the academic field, all the decisions have already been taken.

– Arantza: The question would be to normalise that non-academic part within the university in some way, as if it were another model of university. But taking into account that all the decisions that are taken vertically are intended for economic quantification (what jobs are needed, to later offer these jobs to the students; which companies need what…). It is quite difficult to fit in decisions that do not obtain immediate economic benefits or that are related to immaterial knowledge. Or at least to convince them that they should be fitted in. In that sense, I think that our function is clear, when a work must be channelled towards the public sphere or when an artist has to channel a work. We should not provide them with the questions that they should ask themselves, but instead we should direct them towards listening to what the rest have to say. Some questions are obligatory, although they are not totally defined. We must help them so that they are able to respond to the questions of that public sphere, but without imposing ourselves. And the university must do the same. We cannot decide from inside what is going to be done outside, nor can we leave this in the hands of companies or the economic market. What is the street calling for? And the people in the street? And with respect to what most concerns us: what are the people working around art and culture calling for? They often turn to us. We shouldn’t open the door to them, but we do… (laughter). And that means other movements in the faculty, and I hope that one day inside the university as well.