Image: A meeting between artists and curators at the 31st Biennale de São Paulo on August 30, 2014
Artist Ahmet Öğüt published a provocative piece entitled “CCC: Currency of Collective Consciousness” in the February issue of e-flux journal. The piece examines several twentieth-century examples of protests and boycotts by artists and art professional that led to concrete institutional change. Öğüt highlights how such moments of “collective consciousness” can bring progressive reforms to art institutions that are often compromised by corporate funding and elite interests.
Indeed, Öğüt observes that “existing institutional protocols and structures of large-scale exhibitions can’t handle the changing nature of spectatorship, sponsorship, usership, and government involvement in art exhibitions.” As a way to push art institutions to adjust to these changes, Öğüt proposes the figure of the “Intervenor”:
I would suggest the idea of the “Intervenor”: an autonomous outside voice who nonetheless has the right to act within the institution. Intervenors could not only act within the walls of the white cube, but could also directly intercede when it comes to matters of communication, events, bureaucracy, administration, and even the office space itself.
It is not easy to talk about such an antagonistic position without putting it into practice. Let’s imagine how this would work:
Intervenors could be artists, art workers, cultural workers, or academics who aren’t normally part of the institutional decision-making mechanism, and who are aware of the sensitivities of the local context.
Intervenors would have an officially acknowledged agreement that protects their work from financial and political interference.
Intervenors would have a right to vet all forms of communication before they go public. This would include announcements, press conferences, events, and statements.
Intervenors would act in a time-sensitive manner, and would be flexible in times of crisis; they would not act according to preprogrammed agendas, concepts, exhibition schedules, or locations.
Intervenors could leave when it is no longer possible to challenge the limits of structural change.
Intervenors would be the protagonists who go beyond symbolic and harmless institutionalized critical agency. They would intercede if the institution reacted in an authoritarian or judgmental way to any public concerns.
What do you think of this concept of the Intervenor? How can artists fulfill this role without being thwarted by institutional inertia or compromised by financial interests? How do Intervenors bring real change to museums and biennials without merely adding cosmetic legitimacy to institutions that are always seeking ways to appear enlightened and progressive?