Discernment and shortcomings
by Victor da Rosa.
Text written for the project Art Book.
“A book, albeit fragmentary, has a center that attracts it. Such center is not fixed; rather, it moves by the pressure of the book itself and by the circumstances of its composition.”
L’Espace littéraire, Maurice Blanchot.
I must confess that, having looked through this encyclopedia for the first time, a number of artists, who I did not know them at all, called my attention, especially those from Asia, a continent where we have only dared venturing into in the past ten or fifteen years. That is, those who are most adventurous. Among the artists whose names circulate with great constancy, not only in the main biennials on the planet, but also on the shelves of our libraries, like H. Spencer, Richard Wolfe and the fundamental Georges Sandes, names that are now indispensable emerge as well - like Abdu-Rafi Fayad, who despite having lived in London for some years, continues to nourish his artistic thoughts with the great political controversies of his home country, Iraq.
What conclusion can we draw from this? Is criticism dead? Absolutely not. Among other things, contemporary art is spinning off-center, and criticism actually needs to reinvent itself. Art is spinning off-center and therefore it invites us to do the same. In other words, at risk of missing the boat of history, the “new geopolitics of art” (STOYA, 2007) does not allow us to remain in the comfort of our couches. As a matter of fact, that is the theme of Fayad’s perhaps most eloquent performance: Risks. In it, despite being strapped by strong chains, with the wild and inconstant impetus of the fierce soul, the artist searches for the other. It is not just the critics that observe the artist; now the artist also observes us. In other words, there are no fools in the world of art anymore.
However, I do confess, there are also essential shortcomings in the global representation of contemporary art. Just taking Latin America as an example, the more obvious absences to me are that of León Ferrari, an artist who became known for one of the greatest polemics in art in the 21st Century, becoming one of the greatest rivals of Pope Bento XVI, in Buenos Aires; and that of Cuban Tania Bruguera, by the way, a great partner of Georges Sandes, always remembered for putting herself under the Russian roulette in the 2009 Venice Biennial, but not only for that. It is evident that right in the middle of the 21st Century, with all the discussions about the post-modern historiography at the tip of the tongue, we know that any representation is a clipping; however, we have to call the attention to the limits of what is seen. After all, a file, speaks for what it is displaying, but screams for what it is hiding.
To this effect, isn’t it curious, maybe symptomatic, that the organizer of this encyclopedia, Bruno Moreschi, who is himself Latin-American, is somehow hostage of a dominant historiography? His encyclopedia is literally packed with artists from Europe and, above all, North America, some of absolutely questionable taste. “The forms surprise”, writes Moreschi about one of the artists in his book. They surprise indeed, but I ask: ‘Is that enough?’ There are other examples.
Lastly, and it could not be any different, we should ask ourselves about the publication we are talking about: What is an encyclopedia? The etymology of the word dates back to ancient Greek, meaning circular education, that is, general knowledge. However, it is the very meaning of circular that seems to suggest that “an encyclopedia is never ended”. Thus, we are before a living organism, the contingency of contemporary in itself, and not before a dead body. In other words, the best image is that of a spiral, for an encyclopedia moves forward and backwards, but never starts from the void. That takes us to the definitive conclusion that an encyclopedia is just an encyclopedia.
* Victor da Rosa is a doctorate student in Literature at the Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina and contributes with reviews, chronicles and essays for several cultural publications. In 2010, he was nominated by the Brazilian Award Rumos de Crítica Literária by Itaú Cultural.