Geografia Experimental

Enviado por efeefe, qui, 07/14/2011 - 23:39

Geografia Experimental: da produção cultural à produção de espaço, por Trevor Paglen.

Instead of asking “What is art?” or “Is this art successful?” a good geographer might ask questions along the lines of “How is this space called ‘art’ produced?” In other words, what are the specific historical, economic, cultural, and discursive conjunctions that come together to form something called “art” and, moreover, to produce a space that we colloquially know as an “art world”? The geographic question is not “What is art?” but “How is art?” From a critical geographic perspective, the notion of a free-standing work of art would be seen as the fetishistic effect of a production process. Instead of approaching art from the vantage point of a consumer, a critical geographer might reframe the question of art in terms of spatial practice.


My point is that if one takes the production of space seriously, the concept applies not only to “objects” of study or criticism, but to the ways one’s own actions participate in the production of space. Geography, then, is not just a method of inquiry, but necessarily entails the production of a space of inquiry. Geographers might study the production of space, but through that study, they’re also producing space. Put simply, geographers don’t just study geography, they create geographies.


Experimental geography means practices that take on the production of space in a self-reflexive way, practices that recognize that cultural production and the production of space cannot be separated from each another, and that cultural and intellectual production is a spatial practice. Moreover, experimental geography means not only seeing the production of space as an ontological condition, but actively experimenting with the production of space as an integral part of one’s own practice. If human activities are inextricably spatial, then new forms of freedom and democracy can only emerge in dialectical relation to the production of new spaces. I deliberately use one of modernism’s keywords, “experimental,” for two reasons. First is to acknowledge and affirm the modernist notion that things can be better, that humans are capable of improving their own conditions, to keep cynicism and defeatism at arm’s length. Moreover, experimentation means production without guarantees, and producing new forms of space certainly comes without guarantees. Space is not deterministic, and the production of new spaces isn’t easy.


In Benjamin’s “Author as Producer”, he prefigured contemporary geographic thought when he refused to assume that a cultural work exists as a thing-unto-itself: “The dialectical approach,” he wrote, “has absolutely no use for such rigid, isolated things as work, novel, book. It has to insert them into the living social context.” Right there, Benjamin rejected the assumption that cultural works have any kind of ontological stability and instead suggested a relational way of thinking about them. Benjamin went on to make a distinction between works that have an “attitude” toward politics and works that inhabit a “position” within them. “Rather than ask ‘What is the attitude of a work to the relations of production of its time?’” he wrote, “I should like to ask, ‘What is its position in them?’” Benjamin, in other words, was identifying the relations of production that give rise to cultural work as a crucial political moment. For Benjamin, producing truly radical or liberatory cultural works meant producing liberatory spaces from which cultural works could emerge. Echoing Marx, he suggested that the task of transformative cultural production was to reconfigure the relations and apparatus of cultural production, to reinvent the “infrastructure” of feeling in ways designed to maximize human freedom. The actual “content” of the work was secondary.


Experimental geography expands Benjamin’s call for cultural workers to move beyond “critique” as an end in itself and to take up a “position” within the politics of lived experience. Following Benjamin, experimental geography takes for granted the fact that there can be no “outside” of politics, because there can be no “outside” to the production of space (and the production of space is ipso facto political). Moreover, experimental geography is a call to take seriously, but ultimately move beyond cultural theories that equate new enunciations and new subjectivities as sufficient political ends in themselves. When decoupled from the production of new spaces, they are far too easily assimilated into the endless cycles of destruction and reconstitution characterizing cultural neoliberalism, a repetition Benjamin dubbed “Hell.”

The task of experimental geography, then, is to seize the opportunities that present themselves in the spatial practices of culture. To move beyond critical reflection, critique alone, and political “attitudes,” into the realm of practice. To experiment with creating new spaces, new ways of being.


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