Being buried alive is one of the ultimate nightmares common to all humanity. Anybody aware of the plight of the stricken Russian submarine Kursk must be filled with horror today, as rescue efforts are hampered by rough seas and inadequate equipment.
It was a moment that held billions of people transfixed. Trapped below ground for seventy days, they came to the surface one by one. They had survived one ordeal but another was about to begin. Suddenly the centre of world-wide media attention, the survivors were celebrated, interviewed and showered with gifts. For some it was a dream come true, for others a nightmare.
BBC’s This World follows the story of three miners and their families. We meet Edison Pena who filled his time underground by jogging through the kilometres of tunnels and impersonating Elvis Presley. Above ground he becomes a media darling, travelling the world and living the life of a star. Can he use his celebrity to create a new life, or will he become a victim of his own fame like the star he impersonates?
Carlos Mamani lived in a cardboard shack before the mine caved in. Now he has been given a new house for his family. But his euphoria is short lived. Relatives claim they should have been looked after too and the family is fracturing. Will the arrival of newfound wealth destroy his relationship with the people he loved most in the world?
For Ariel Ticona there is another problem. While he is trapped below ground, his wife has given birth to their child, but back in his home he is in no state to fully appreciate what he has been given. Can he find the help he needs to bring his life back on track?
These poems are made out of words from the radio. All of the words are written in the order they were heard. Some words have been omitted. A new station means a new poem. Stations are arranged alphabetically, according to iTunes.
The American author, Heather Christle, whose poems have appeared in the New Yorker, has just published her second collection, The Trees The Trees, and rather than relying on the usual publicity tour, has decided instead to list her phone number on her website. At set times every day until 14 July she will read a poem to anyone who calls her.
Her works have more often, however, involved recordings of her singing. “It’s not a trained voice, but I can hold a tune,” she says. She sings “not as a performance, but as if I am singing to myself”. Usually, her voice is recorded, and she is absent; for one piece, though, she sang down a PA system to unsuspecting shoppers at a branch of Tesco. To be caught unawares by a Philipsz installation is to stumble on an intimate experience: the almost affectless, deliberately unshowy way she uses her fragile, unaccompanied voice stops you in your tracks and makes you listen and look hard – which is part of the point.
Situations is an art commissioning and research programme based at the University of the West of England, Bristol. We produce artworks for places outside conventional art contexts such as galleries and museums. We believe art in the public realm has the potential to create unforgettable and inspiring experiences, to be the beginning of a conversation which changes the way we think about and interact with the world around us.
“Phil Collins’s “the world won’t listen” (2005-2007), a video trilogy produced in Bogota, Istanbul, and Indonesia that depicts young fans of The Smiths passionately singing karaoke to a soundtrack of this British band, is an instance of contemporary delegated performance in which the artist (a longtime fan of The Smiths) finds a community of alter-egos by tracking the global reach of his favourite group from the ’80s. The videos take the form of a still camera trained on each performer, who is positioned against a kitsch backdrop (a sunset beach or an alpine view), fantasy vistas that parallel the escapism of karaoke itself. The results are profoundly affecting, particularly the video filmed in Istanbul, where a young woman with glittery eye shadow sings an emotionally devastating version of ‘Rubber Ring’. Since the video exploits the seductiveness of popular music, it inevitably invites comparisons with MTV and reality shows such as Pop Idol, but the simplicity of Collins’s documentation is stark and uncontrived when contrasted with televised performance. No one is competing for a prize, and there are no judges to reinforce normative standards of success. Indeed, by any conventional musical standards, most of the performances are failures.”—Claire Bishop, ‘Outsourcing Authenticity? Delegated Performance in Contemporary Art’
In Modernity and Ambivalence Bauman attempted to give an account of the different approaches modern society adopts toward the stranger. He argued that, on the one hand, in a consumer-oriented economy the strange and the unfamiliar is always enticing; in different styles of food, different fashions and in tourism it is possible to experience the allure of what is unfamiliar. Yet this strange-ness also has a more negative side. The stranger, because he cannot be controlled and ordered, is always the object of fear; he is the potential mugger, the person outside of society’s borders who is constantly threatening. Bauman’s most famous book, Modernity and the Holocaust, is an attempt to give a full account of the dangers of these kinds of fears. Drawing upon Hannah Arendt and Theodor Adorno’s books on totalitarianism and the Enlightenment, Bauman developed the argument that the Holocaust should not simply be considered to be an event in Jewish history, nor a regression to pre-modern barbarism. Rather, he argued, the Holocaust should be seen as deeply connected to modernity and its order-making efforts. Procedural rationality, the division of labour into smaller and smaller tasks, the taxonomic categorisation of different species, and the tendency to view rule-following as morally good all played their role in the Holocaust coming to pass. And he argued that for this reason modern societies have not fully taken on board the lessons of the Holocaust; it is generally viewed - to use Bauman’s metaphor - like a picture hanging on a wall, offering few lessons. In Bauman’s analysis the Jews became ‘strangers’ par excellence in Europe; the Final Solution was pictured by him as an extreme example of the attempts made by societies to excise the uncomfortable and indeterminate elements existing within them. Bauman, like the philosopher Giorgio Agamben, contended that the same processes of exclusion that were at work in the Holocaust could, and to an extent do, still come into play today.
As the field of social media performance continues to expand, it is crucial that art organizations with a stake in fostering public practices begin to encourage this kind of work, increasing its visibility for broader audiences and providing new opportunities for artists, just as we have done in physical public spaces. In the age of Twitter, we can no longer see the physical public sphere and the virtual public sphere as distinct. One only has to look at the role of social media in organizing and documenting the popular revolutions that have swept across Northern Africa and the Middle East in recent months to see how these worlds are inextricably connected. To make, curate, and commission public art today and in the future requires thinking across this quickly eroding divide
“I do not want to do an interactive work. I want to do an active work. To me, the most important activity that an art work can provoke is the activity of thinking. Andy Warhol’s Big Electric Chair (1967) makes me think, but it is a painting on a museum wall. An active work requires that I first give of myself.”—Thomas Hirschhorn
“In a work for the 2001 Venice Biennale, “Persons Paid to Have Their Hair Dyed Blond”, Sierra invited illegal street vendors, most of whom came from southern Italy or were immigrants from Senegal, China, and Bangladesh, to have their hair dyed blond in return for 120,000 lire ($60). The only condition to their participation was that their hair be naturally dark. Sierra’s description of the work does not document the impact of his action on the days that followed the mass bleaching, but this aftermath was an integral aspect of the work.57 During the Venice Biennale, the street vendors—who hover on street corners selling fake designer handbags—are usually the social group most obviously excluded from the glitzy opening; in 2001, however, their newly bleached hair literally highlighted their presence in the city. This was coupled by a gesture inside the Biennale proper, where Sierra gave over his allocated exhibition space in the Arsenale to a handful of the vendors, who used it to sell their fake Fendi handbags on a groundsheet, just as they did on the street. Sierra’s gesture prompted a wry analogy between art and commerce, in the style of 1970s institutional critique, but moved substantially beyond this, since vendors and exhibition were mutually estranged by the confrontation. Instead of aggressively hailing passersby with their trade, as they did on the street, the vendors were subdued. This made my own encounter with them disarming in a way that only subsequently revealed to me my own anxieties about feeling “included” in the Biennale. Surely these guys were actors? Had they crept in here for a joke? Foregrounding a moment of mutual nonidentification, Sierra’s action disrupted the art audience’s sense of identity, which is founded precisely on unspoken racial and class exclusions, as well as veiling blatant commerce. It is important that Sierra’s work did not achieve a harmonious reconciliation between the two systems, but sustained the tension between them.”—Claire Bishop, Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics, 2004
“If relational art seeks a unified subject as a prerequisite for community-as-togetherness, then Hirschhorn and Sierra provide a mode of artistic encounter more adequate to the split, divided and incomplete subject of today. This relational antagonism would be predicated not on social harmony, but on exposure of that which is repressed in contriving the semblance of this harmony, and thereby would provide a more concrete and polemical grounds for rethinking our relationship to the world and to each other.”—Claire Bishop, Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics, 2004
“Ten years ago, he took a photograph of a strange concrete platform, like an outsized plinth, in the central square in Brasilia. Along with the surrounding public buildings and the plaza itself, it had been designed by architectural utopian Oscar Niemeyer. ”It’s probably the size of this table, a concrete platform with steps up to it,” he says. ”It feels like the precursor to something, as if it’s dying for another building to be put on top of it. But it’s been like that for 60 years.” He kept the photograph in his studio, ”just waiting for the right opportunity to come along” - this is it. ”We’re going to physically make these objects in the space,” he says. ”They’ll have a weight, a greyness, a kind of beautiful ugliness. I love that contradiction. And I’m really excited about what they are: are they plinths? Are they minimalist objects? I don’t think they are, because you will be able to walk on them. One of them you will have to walk over in order to get to the next space. So it’s a real challenge to the viewer because it’s crying out for you to be a participant. You’re a viewer and you’re a performer … which I think is what we are anyway when we live in a city.”—Nathan Coley | Appearances