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Roger Sansi Universitat de Barcelona/ Goldsmiths University of London.
1. The Paint Attack.
The 6th of October 2006, the Museum of Contemporary Art of Barcelona (MACBA), in Spain, suffered the “fury of a group of people out of control” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kMSYzVL8ZeM), who threw missiles of paint to the façade of the museum. The missiles didn’t break any window, and nobody even tried to break-in the museum. Still, the visual impact of the colour paint on the glass and white surface of the museum was quite clear. The MACBA is a pristine, spotless modernist building, its cleanliness is almost uncanny: in more than a decade, I have never seen it tagged, in spite of being surrounded by old dark buildings covered in graffiti. I often wondered if the museum has a special brigade of cleaners working really early in the morning to erase any stain that may sully it’s shining walls. But that evening, the pure white cube was under attack. The reporter actually says, “ it seems that the main problem is the painting”. Seeing the museum splattered in colour was a shock. Who were these “people out of control”? According to the
Furthermore. since the police had no proof of their participation in the event. without previous consultation. squatters. and as a result a local protest that wouldn’t have had much coverage ended up having a wide public repercussion. But they were quickly absolved. splitting away from a spontaneous demonstration that had taken place earlier in the evening. In fact the very identification of the authors of the “missiles” with squatters was never proved. and a demonstration that walked down from the plot to the city centre. This resulted in the outrage of the neighbours that used the plot. In any case. The morning of the 6th of October of 2006. the European summit on housing that had to be celebrated in Barcelona some weeks later. popularly called “El forat de la vergonya”. was the last empty plot left in the Old Town. The demonstration started about half a mile away from MACBA. and from there. they were “Okupas”. accused of public disorder. as a reaction to the police occupation of a plot of land. the city council started to “urbanise” the plot under massive police protection. To this day the authors of the paint attack to MACBA remain anonymous. damage to public property and aggression to public authority. This plot of land. the Hole of Shame. in another section of the Old Town of Barcelona. to MACBA. was cancelled because of fears of public . The plot had been used as a small garden and a playground by the neighbours.police. the media explicitly made the connection between the demonstration and the paint attack to MACBA. The attack to MACBA resulted in the detention of two people.
without direct consultation to the neighbours. the museum’s self-image is the radical opposite. The Agencies. this process has been essentially directed from the top down. o perhaps the Troy Horse. bohemian. beginning and end of the process. Since the turn of the century. The “Hole of Shame” was the last bit of the city that escaped from Artistification. “globalisation” and “gentrification”. back then a poor. 2. the MACBA defined itself as a centre of political activism opposed to “capitalism”. artistic heaven. Paradoxically. and some ended their demonstration throwing paint at MACBA. MACBA is not just a contemporary art museum. according to him. MACBA is the White Elephant. Why would a local neighbourhood demonstration end up throwing paint at MACBA? According to the anthropologist Manuel Delgado. According to Delgado. and perhaps interestingly.disorder. the demonstrators spontaneously linked alpha and omega. The MACBA opened in 1995 in the Raval. but a symbol of the process of gentrification and “Artistification” of the city (Delgado 2008). . a focus of counterculture that promoted practices of direct action very similar to those that were directed against the very museum that evening in 2006. which started the process of urban transformation of the Old Town of Barcelona in the nineties into a “radical chic”.
When Manuel Borja Villel became the director of the museum in 1998. in brutal contrast to the dark and old nineteenth century tenements of the area. The first project was the workshop “Direct action as one of the Fine Arts”. empty square was unfolded to “lighten up” or “sponge” the densely populated neighbourhood. The Agencies .dilapidated neighbourhood in the Old Town of Barcelona. Borja and his team also proposed projects that would “rearticulate the relation between the museum and the city” (Ribalta 2010: 225). he had the clear idea that the museum had to engage with radical politics. This workshop was explicitly organised in response to the events of Seattle in 1999 and the public emergence of the anti-globalisation movement. not so much. but in fact produced an international modernist white cube structure. as a “catalyst for the regeneration” of the neighbourhood. In front of the Museum a big. Borja (as I will call him from now on) organised exhibitions of 1970ies political art. who claimed to have designed a building in response to its historical environment. Its immediate result was a project called “Las Agencias”. On the one hand. in 2001. The MACBA was clearly following the model of the Pompidou in Paris. the Agencies. The building was commissioned to the American architect. The “container” of the museum was defined very clearly since its origin. but the content. The objective of the workshop was to create a platform of coordination of the movement in Barcelona. what this engagement would entail was not totally clear. But at the beginning. Together with these exhibits. Richard Meyer.
net/fiambrera/) from Madrid. white . These strategies of public visibility were developed on various fronts: a media agency that constituted the base of the local Barcelona Indymedia website. Highly inspired by art practices. Las Agencias were formed by various activist collectives like La Fiambrera Obrera (http://www. who took charge of the bar. Tute Bianche. who was a source of inspiration for the demonstration artwork. “manifestacion” or “mani” in Spanish).were set up some months before the World Bank meeting programmed for June 2001 in Barcelona.fr/) from France. Head of Public Programs of MACBA. “Art Mani” ( playing with the words “art: and “demonstration”.nepasplier. Las Agencias had a central role in the organisation of the counter-summit. and Ne Pas Plier (http://www. According to Jorge Ribalta. Both Ne Pas Plier and Tute Bianche were born in the nineties proposing alternative forms of organising political demonstrations. Another source of inspiration were the Italian group Tute Bianche. white overalls.sindominio. a bar in the ground level of the museum. a workshop that developed a line of “fashion” to be used in demonstrations ( Prêt a Revolter) and “photographic shields” to be used in demonstrations. that was used as a “relational space” by different political collectives to organise actions. in particular “designing communication strategies and public visibility that transformed the methods of the anti-capitalist movements in the city” (2010:235). their objective was to rely on visual shock rather than actual physical confrontation. and in particular.
Because of the massive mobilisations that had been foreseen. Art Mani had a very similar objective: the posters displayed high quality. The demo of June 24th 2001 ended up with the police chasing back some demonstrators to the MACBA. under direct pressure of the local authorities. but at the same time they could be seen as a threat because of their organised uniformity.overcoats. and two. arty appearance. big sized images of children and Zapatistas without any written slogans. the director of the museum. in their own terms. Carnivalesque.net/proyectos/pret-arevolter/). Both Art Mani and Pret a revolter had two objectives: one. and the MACBA Bar/ Activist centre was smashed to pieces. presented themselves as a “block” wearing white. Las Agencias were building on these ideas. in a sign of peace and non-violence. confusing the police with a non-aggressive. was to provide clothes for direct action but also for direct representation (http://leodecerca. positive image of the movement for the general public. The objective. There the Tute Bianche group used the Art Mani posters. looking more “art” than demonstration posters. had to cancel the project. As a result. Las Agencias participated actively in the demonstrations against the G8 summit of July that same year in Genoa. But Genoa was also a moment of crisis. carnivalesque clothes designed for direct actionpaddled to offer protection from physical attack. The . creating a good. But the anti-summit demonstration wasn’t cancelled. Pret a revolter proposed to dress up in very colourful. Still. the Word Bank summit in June 2001 was finally cancelled.
without an institutional base at MACBA. Rancière was invited to give a series of talks at MACBA : “ Aesthetics and Politics. a bond to be reconsidered”1. The dominant images of Genoa were violent police and “ Black Blocs”. were also disbanded.the museum has to “reach out” of the museum.extremely violent police repression of the demonstrations in Genoa. After this abrupt ending. Rancière discussed amongst other things. where one young man was killed and many injured. questioned the effectiveness of “arty” approaches. Rancière radically disagrees: for him the political function of the art 1 Published as Sobre Politicas Esteticas (2005) . MACBA entered in a phase of in-depth discussion on what it meant exactly to work on the “edge” of art and politics.Art “inside” and “outside” the Museum. The work of Jacques Rancière. There. Las Agencias. could perhaps provide some answers. The Tute Bianche and people like Las Agencias were almost ignored by the media. After Genoa. In May 2002 . the Tute Bianche group went into crisis. Dissent. and disintegrated. This “reaching out” is a result the notion that the museum as a public institution has to create “consensus”. and the assumption that this separation is a problem to solve. Rancière questioned this very topography that separates the “inside” from the “outside” of the museum. 3. the relation between art spaces and their context.
even if for Ranciere. which produces a clear separation of responsabilities and authorities. Borja Villel. it involved a massive “research” project. By 2006. it doesn’t really make sense to make these distinctions. aspiring to propose a “countermodel”. the director of the Museum. In this sense. it very clearly restricted itself to a “disagreement” within the art world and its particular narratives. Disagreements. could explicitly say that the Museum had moved on from its “activist” past. the MACBA had clearly retreated from the “Outside”. and it doesn’t have many pictures). This notion of dissent. 2003:46). The art space has to create dissent.space is to “discover new forms of dissent. conferences and texts (The catalogue is a four volume publication. became the title of MACBA’s next big exhibit. . And yet. In another interview. Together with the exhibit. or disagreement. ways of fighting against the consensual distribution of authorities. as opposed to consensus. but we are emphasising more knowledge and poetics (…) This doesn’t imply (…) a renounce to politics (…) but to rethink the politics from the poetics” ( A-Desk). spaces and functions” (Rancière 2005: 76). But disagreements on what grounds? Desacuerdos proposed to challenge the historiography of contemporary Spanish art. to justify this connection of poetics and politics. “ We are not withdrawing from the political dimension of artistic practice. Borja makes reference to Rancière . The art space has to question these separations. Desacuerdos.who said that human beings are political animals because they are literary animals (ARTELEKU.
And as I mentioned. that these mobilisations were directed to an external enemy: globalisation. etc. The Barcelona model of which many felt proud in the early nineties became the enemy. But by 2006 the enemy became much more explicitly internal. For the second time in a few years. The city had changed. the MACBA was at the origin of the suspension of a major “power” event in the city. American imperialism. One still could say. even if this time.Some months after this interview. The transformation of Barcelona into a tourist destination with very expensive real state was starting to affect the everyday life of its citizens directly. a “prank”. MACBA was attacked by that group of people “Out of control”. the official reaction was not of bemusement: the suspension of an European summit on housing and real state that had to take place in Barcelona a month latter. but to promote it. The consensus started to crack down. involuntarily. by then. The Irak war and the terrorist attacks to Madrid had produced massive mobilisations in 2002 and 2003. . a “joke”. with art museums that hosted anti-globalisation activists. Barcelona could still present itself as a “radical chic” city. The attack to MACBA in 2006 was nothing but another example of the growing distance between political activism and the institutions that once claimed not just to support it. who started to be unable to pay their mortgages and rents. Concluding. Not only the MACBA had changed from 2001 to 2006. 4. On Political subjects and Aesthetics.
history repeats itself the first time as tragedy.I know this is a recurrent cliché. The second time around the museum seems to be not so much the agent but the victim of the attack. Perhaps he would appreciate its aesthetic dimension: its intention was not just to attack the museum but to create an image. like other people in the art world. and the “authors”. could not be identified. The first time the public disorder was a direct result of “ The Agencies” of the museum. but when an event seems to repeat a previous one. some argued. somewhat. What would Rancière say of the attack to MACBA? I doubt he would disapprove. and what it stood for: “Artistification”. The event was improvised. but as Marx said. This means that history never actually repeats itself. he would appreciate the iconoclastic “prank”. we have to think about their differences. ultimately this attack was motivated by the museum itself. The second time MACBA was the object of playful attack of a group of people that performed very similar actions to the “direct representation” that the Agencies had proposed some years before. Both events could be described as having an . Two major international political summits were cancelled in Barcelona in 5 years. but there wasn’t any pretense of making “Art”. it wasn’t the result of a carefully planned artistic project. Both cancellations had to do. the image of the pure white museum splattered in colour. the “people out of control”. And yet. with events of “public disorder” around the Contemporary Art Museum of Barcelona. the second time as farce.
a device that produces images. this rejection of “the aesthetic” can be seen as an aesthetic. which they use to re-name and re-qualify a given situation” (…)“a collective of enunciation”( Rancière 2005: 83). recognised.effect: the cancelation of two European summits nonetheless! And yet to reduce these events to its supposed political effects wouldn’t be enough . I am not so sure this is always the case. Still. I quote. attribute themselves a collective name. what is important is the emergence of political agents through aesthetics (Rancière 2008).From Rancière’s perspective. as “ the process through which those who don’t have a name. more than the particular political effects of aesthetics. The attack to MACBA didn’t have an author. which was much more murky and ambiguous: its authors reject any explicit identification. the black bloc is not a collective. any affirmative “aesthetics”. this may work for the first “Art” events – in which collectives like Tute Bianche (re)present themselves clearly as political subjects. but perhaps images closer to the black bloc than to the Tute Bianche. I agree with Rancière’s questioning of the reduction of aesthetic events to their effects. but a tactic. it couldn’t be identified with any particular collective. but perhaps for a different reason. a tactic of anonymity. And as my colleage David Graeber said recently. Rancière holds that an aesthetic event is important because a political subject emerges out of it. Rancière describes political subjectivation. In my understanding. The basis of its “affective” (not just . This is a political subject that resists being identified. represented. But not so clearly in the second event.
unrecognisable. an internal convulsion. The power of an amorphous “mob” that emerges out of nowhere in a glimpse.as an affect. Can we explain this affect in Rancière’s terms? I am not so sure. . “out of control”. as it were. incorporating the “mood” of the city speaking to itself.“effective”) power is being unidentifiable.
Ribalta.org Arteleku 2003 ”Entrevista a Manuel Borja director del MACBA. director del MACBA”. Jacques. Jorge 2010 “Experimentos para una nueva institucionalidad” Objetos Relacionales. “ Entrevista a Manuel Borja-Villel. A-Desk. . 2005 Sobre Políticas Estéticas. 04-09-20006 A-desk. Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona” Zehar Nº51. Manuel 2008 “ La Artistización de las Políticas urbanas” X Coloquio Internacional de Geocrítica Rancière. No7.Bibilography. MACBA. Barcelona. Paris. Le Spectateur Émancipé. MACBA. Barcelona --2008.46 Delgado. La Fabrique editions. p.
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