Freedom, vision and the space of expression

for Spanish version

María de Mater O'Neill
This essay was written between January 9 and May 22, 2004.*
Revista del Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña, Año 6, Núm. 11, Segunda Serie, 2005.

Geography precedes history (G. Deleuze)

There is a house where you enter through the garage, walk between two cars and enter directly into the kitchen. To the right is a room with a home theater, accompanied by a sound system and a record player equipped with one of those expensive needles that command respect and which I have never been able to understand. To the left of the kitchen is an area furnished with four retro armchairs from the late fifties and, a little further, a round colonial table with narrow chairs with high backs, the informal dining room, from where one can look at the plasma TV in the other room where there is a generic contemporary sofa. Behind the dining room, and parallel to the garage, is the main entrance. It has a foyer decorated in an obviously feminine and "Marshallesque"-style-slash-Hello-Magazine-which contains the most important paintings in the collection.

Every day, from noon to 4:30 pm, the sun's rays enter the house and mark their trajectory through the main door (consisting of a pair of white metallic French doors, designed to resist hurricanes and thefts). The sun marks its course over the lower part of a painting by Antonio Martorell, one of the ones he made based on paintings from the Ponce Art Museum collection, and then it goes up the stairs that lead to the second floor, to a work by John Balossi, and ends, before retreating at sunset, on one of those Mexican-like abstractions by Augusto Marin. The entrance shares another space where there is another dining room, solemn, formal, which also seems culled from a Spanish magazine, with its uncomfortable chairs which are so rarely used that nobody even remembers the last time they were sat on. Here we find the family pictures. In this house, the part facing the street remains closed. All houses share the same model facade. At the end of the street there are some unfinished houses, because by some "Levittownian" curse these housing complexes always contain houses eternally under construction. It is behind our house, from the kitchen, that we see the patio where social activities take place. In it, there is a bar and a future swimming pool behind high walls. From the patio we can only see the second floor of the neighbors' houses and the walls shared by the houses.

It was a family event, among friends and lots of relatives, where children kept to themselves in the home theater room, making noises that -from the kitchen, where most of the women were-sounded like a gush of water every time the door opened. The men outside were drinking close to the bar and the elder ones were silently sitting in front of the plasma TV, staring at one of those nineteen eighties music stations with generated graphics. At the end of the day we went to the main entrance to stand around the formal table when it was time to blow out the candles on the cake and take the official family portrait. And the sunrays made their way through, slowly, discreetly following their usual track: Martorell, Balossi, and Marin. Meanwhile, I hear David Byrne's lyrics inside my head:
In the future everyone's house will be like a little fortress.
In the future everyone will think about love all the time.
In the future TV will be so good that the printed word will function as an artform only.
In the future people with boring jobs will take pills to relieve the boredom.
In the future everyone but the wealthy will be very happy.
In the future everyone but the wealthy will be very filthy.
In the future everyone but the wealthy will be very wealthy.
In the future communication/distribution systems will be so good that no one will live in cities.

The owners of the house are a young couple, with postgraduate studies from the University of Puerto Rico, parents of beautiful children, good people who have benefited from the fourth revolution: technology. But as you see, it is a house equipped with all the elements that the comfort of capitalism has to offer (you build it, they will come). However, the spaces were unconnected, each one a satellite within a satellite machine that was in itself part of a grand apparatus of satellite systems; self sufficient and self contained, u, a house that does not need anything from the outside. a house that offers each one of its members isolated activity, where each can enjoy their own pleasure, a house that says even if you don't use it, you know what you have it. And among those different spaces in the house, the most feminine and Hispanicized one is where the art is located: an art chosen by another's taste, the decorator's. It is a house that rejects the existence of truths and defends the idea that everything is subject to an opinion: everything depends on the point of view of its owners. This is not an imagined house. I was there. But I have been there many times, in many systems whose names begin with "Paseos", "Alturas", Mansiones", or "Villas". I wouldn't know how to get there because, like a mutating virus, this house appears endlessly in this place we call our country. I have been there and I haven't. This is a house where at some point I have listened to Madonna's Vogue("strike a pose") and in it, the everything goes is precisely the pose.

In order to arrive at the satellite system, we have to pass through an expressway and then through streets in constant state of repair, the kind full of plastic drums with orange and white stripes, which I have already taken a liking to because they are so many and now seem so familiar that they make me feel at ease, not lost at all. To go to the movies, or to the school, or to the grocery store, one has to exit one system apparatus and enter another; that is the navigational interface. These connections are the only uniform elements in our streetecture, and everything else we see as a blur in motion. Suddenly, we encounter a visual accent that marks a space, commissioned by a mayor or a governor. It is something you see from a distance, in motion, from the car's looking glass, but you realize that that you "cannot understand it in the object mode, since it refers to another matter"[2]. Then you realize that what you have just seen is a public artwork. Now, what are we supposed to do with that thing?

I ask because if it is difficult for me not to think about the city through the filter of cultural theory, this filter becomes even more necessary when thinking of art in urban spaces. Theory is a guide for me, which can gives meaning to practice, as far as it is not distanced from daily life. After all, theory comes from practice.

Perhaps Terry Eagleton is right when he states that the time of the postmodern heroes of Jacques Derrida and Roland Barthes is over. It is true that some contemporary writings pose provocative ideas but in the presence of such overwhelming novelty, of so many attempts to impress history, of the absence of genuinely important questions like "what is my place in the long path of humanity?," I have had to go back to the nineteen sixties, or even the thirties, in order to find a paradigm on which to base my own meditations on the human condition. It is not retrospective gaze; culture is not a progressive result like science. In culture, 2 + 2 could also equal a cat and not a 4.

My point of reference is the possibility of being able to think from multiple decentralized points, to try to offer a panoramic view that could indicate the difference between doing, accomplishing and contributing. I propose to think of the city -or in the case of San Juan, which is not even a city but a metropolitan area-as a production of images that at the same time could entice us into a new way of psychologically thinking (ourselves) in space. If there are traps, one of them would be, as Deleuze would say, to mistake those images for clichés that could produce in us the nostalgic desire for the European city, or the critical nostalgia of the failure of modernism. Or even the worst of all, the populist outlook on art.

Therefore, in order to introduce my overview of San Juan and its spaces devoted to art, I would like to offer you an urban image as an exercise to capture our visual attention. It takes place in the Plaza del Mercado (marketplace) in Santurce, where we see the avocado sculptures by Annex Burgos[3] and, behind them, an electronic screen that occupies half of the building's façade. In this urban space, where small businesses still operate, many of them restaurants and bars which open towards the street- which among these is the space that we understand, that connects to us, the screen or the bronze avocados? Is it the mediatized or the art object?

Has architecture, urbanism or even art theory lost the intrinsic relation of form and content, of structure and meaning? Is it a theory devoid of ideas? If architects and urban planners consider the city an apparatus of satellite systems, of containers filled with people, wouldn't that then be the same mentality of "compartmental zones" that many of us employ as a way of life? Could we conclude that art can have "its own zone," its own space, separate from the rest (you have it but you don't use it)? And, is that art space more important than other spaces?

After obtaining the proper permits, the owner of the Plaza del Mercado building has the right to place his electronic screen. It is the right conferred on him by private property and free trade. Whether we like it or not, the screen is there and so are the avocados. When entering this space- which at the same time contains other spaces that are not in constant negotiation between themselves- it is not so much the fact that they affect our senses and personal tastes but more along the line of how all these things create a symbolic impact that affects our behavior in relation to others and in regard to ourselves. Spaces are modulated by perceptive patterns determined by our motivations. If the latter change, our perception will change and the space will be altered, much like a domino effect. I think that seeing is a way of acquiring knowledge, which does not necessarily mean that what we know must always be the truth.

I continue to ask myself, and still have no answer: who is responsible for what is happening in a time of CNN-like multi-images?[4] It's true that multi-images capture the fragmentary nature of our postmodern world but do they really always connect truth to subjectivity now that we have learned that history in non-linear?

Deleuze stated that to hand over a radio program to marginalized communities in France was not an act that promoted self-empowerment, since these communities imitated the State discourse (a measure of how high social endogamy is). In the same manner, to place a work of art in the public space does not provoke an automatic reflection about its meaning in relation to us. Instead, it automatically grants permission to insert more things into that space, since our gaze is so ultimately CNN, so satellite-like that we do not interconnect. The space inhabited by things is the one that interests me the most, the space that exists between things, that one which, even though it is there, is invisible to us. We ignore the distance between the screen and the Burgos's public art work, even though it is minimal. We perceive that space-between as empty. It is the void, the uniform streetecture. Something is here and something is there--- and where exactly are we?

Continuing with my quick montage gaze, I'm compelled to say that dirt is a determinant of social class, whoever cleans after it being a determining factor. The connection is obvious: the higher the social class, the less they clean up after their fluids, garbage and refuse generated by their bodies. Others come clean up for us, from our chemical peels to our laundry. The fact that we do not clean our own toilets places us within a particular social order. There are, in fact, people who separate their bodies from the filth it generates; those who establish a distance from their own filth. In the same manner, urban discourse has that same class connotation in puertorrican society and, furthermore, has been criminalized. Strolling through the streets of Old San Juan (or other nostalgic areas of the metropolitan area) or walking towards the post office or to a local restaurant, take place as "tourist" actions. But to walk the streets is considered something that only the lower classes and criminals do. Who, among the readers of this essay, will go to wait for the Urban Train at night in the mega-stations of Hato Rey, in the financial district? All the stations are immense with their public art works, like Bilbao wannabes[5] ; considering there are only two train tracks. I expect train stations are as empty as our museums. One has only to pass by Hato Rey at dusk to realize that the sidewalks are a sort of no man's land. The recent news that public bathrooms were not built in the stations because they could foster criminal activity does not amaze me in the least: "I don't clean my bathroom; I don't walk in the city." Architects, as well as politicians, are notorious for not understanding how an idea that looks good on paper can be a failure once its transfer to the street.

Shopping malls constitute the simulacra of city experience. There, we walk alongside people we don't know; the shopping mall turns its back to the street, just like the house of our young couple. We have been efficient in creating an island with its back turned away from the sea, lacking the vision of a movable horizon. We live surrounded by the artifacts that we manufacture. From our first acquisition of space as an adult, the car (which so often brings out the Mr. Hyde nature in us), we are surrounded by uninhabitable spaces, contrary to our nature. Not nature as you imagine it, that of the landscape we visit every now and then, I speak of our own nature. It is not that we flow in harmony with it. We are chaotic essences, blurred and dynamic: we are natural beings.

I can apply the same theoretical filter to urban development. Satellite systems -preceded by the proliferation of condominiums which have occupied our urban landscape since the seventies through the nineties-were constructed by developers who would have probably never made the same aesthetic decisions for their own houses.

Like the proliferation of economic poverty, aesthetic poverty affects us all. Our interaction with the impoverished environment of strip malls and burger joints coarsens us. Limits our options. Dismisses the subtleties of the natural world, and trains us to see nothing that is not loud, red and obnoxious.

This quote is from Brenda Case Scheer, who then goes on to make an interesting connection: Those individuals promoting the culture of aesthetic poverty are often art patrons. The increasing disengagement of art from real life allows them to separate art (what they buy for the museum or sponsor for the symphony) from business (what they make or build for the city)[6] .

This reflection on the separation of art from daily life is not new of unique. It was the driving force of the artists at Fortaleza 302[7] with its Situationist-inspired interventions. Within capitalism, the more extreme artistic manifestations are cultivated, supported, produced, and presented by organizations that give the illusion of being on the margins of society but who in fact feed on the very system they critique. Now more than ever, culture responds to the rules of supply and demand that govern industry within this economic system under democracy. The projects at Fortaleza 302 have, from their inception, the seed of neutralization that allows them -empirically speaking-to cause alteration without transforming the status quo. This democratic tolerance operates like a system of checks and balances between power groups that both reject and need each other in order to survive.

Culture and the advertising industry share the influence of propaganda and politics, methods of image/information manipulation, author worship and spectacle. Speed is also a common denominator, that is, the transmission of multiple messages in less time. Nevertheless, I do not think that events like Puerto Rico 00, Puerto Rico 02 and Puerto Rico 04 (organized by the Fortaleza 302 group) should cease to exist. They must continue, albeit under a self-critical perspective of their intentions and their consequences. "Only those artists who have an ability in marketing can survive in the art world. Damien Hirst is a good example", states Superflat artist, Takashi Murakami. He also offers the cynical path to follow: " First of all, distinctively situate his/her position in art history. Second, articulate what the beauty of his/her art is. Next, sexuality. Then, death. Present what he/she finds in death. If an artist aptly rotates this cycle, he/she can survive. (...) There are examples of what an artist should do at a certain age. If someone wants to survive in any field, he or she should conduct research about the field he or she belongs to."[8]

I hear David Byrne once again: "In the future political and other decisions will be based completely on opinion polls. / In the future only the very wealthy will be able to travel or move out their houses. / In the future individuals with soldier inclinations will go out for 'killer' sports. / In the future there will be machines which will produce a religious experience in the user".

Democracy fosters the individual right of "anything goes" - subtly, of course. That right -freely expressed and defended by postmodernists who live by the expression "beauty is in the eye of the beholder"-has produced a void, an undermining of values and a ferocious individualism devoid of accountability. After the inconceivable events of 9/11 and 3/11[9] , political leaders fill this void with myths. This State-supported stance of filling voids with myths and clichés had existed long before the terrorist attacks in the U.S and Spain. When societies confront each other with their full potential for destruction (be it terrorism, governmental corruption or social violence), the individual does not find a "roadmap" by which to guide him/herself. To paraphrase Erwin Straus, the individual finds him/herself in a place outside of geography, outside of any sort of social contracts that guarantee "stability" worldwide. The place in which maps and outlines disappear is identified as landscape by Straus, which contrary to geography, is not a social construct but a vital pulse in itself. It is uncomfortable to find oneself within that landscape because it not only requires different, multiple points of view but a constant readjustment of our gaze since the horizon moves along with us. If we try to insert ourselves in the project of social construction and to reconnect to it, we wind up feeling orphaned and lacking the tools to do so. Many find an alternative through psychological escape or cynical negation, as if salvation was granted on an individual basis. As Antonio García Padilla, president of the University of Puerto Rico, recently told me: "We have objectified the country; it is something that we see in the distance, we discuss it, we talk about it, but it is there, detached, we don't include ourselves." This attitude, which makes García Padilla ill at ease, is described by performance artist Teresa Hernandez as "living in the Foreign Country." This is precisely where Deleuze's phrase, which I quote at the beginning of this text, comes into play: "Geography precedes history." That is, space determines our behavior and our relationships. Therefore, in order to be able to generate new outlines and readjust our geography, we would have to strengthen the human spirit, that vital force that gives us the capacity to live in moments in which only landscape exists.

I find that the need to continue living within geography is structured by what Maurice Merleau-Ponty describes as "operational thinking". When a model has been successful in addressing a problem, it is applied to everything, without taking into account humankind's unpredictability. This promotes a fragmented thinking, like satellites, because it does not link situations. As lines, points, planes of perspective in a drawing, we create spaces for specialized lives; we privatize our infrastructures; we systematize education and culture. Solutions are suggested and applied without the purpose of correcting situations in the long term. These models are repetitive but separate and provide a certain familiarity and the illusion of assurance. Is the negation of landscape: the fear of death.

Art, according to Merleau-Ponty in his essay "Eye and Mind", emerges from that brute force that operationalism ignores, revealing the imprecise, mobile and blurred shape of the world. For Merleau-Ponty, art is closer to the energy of life than science and philosophy because it gives primacy to perception. While I don't wish to get into the topic of whether or not art is the only vehicle for understanding, I full heartedly agree with the idea that satellite thinking operates from its own area without adventuring out into the world. Merleau-Ponty states:
(...) If this kind of thinking were to extend its dominion over humanity and history; and if, ignoring what we know of them through contact and our own situations, it were to set out to construct them on the basis of a few abstract indices (as a decadent psychoanalysis and culturalism have done in the United States) then, since the human being truly becomes the manipulandum he thinks he is, we enter into a cultural regimen in which there is neither truth nor falsehood concerning humanity and history, into a sleep, or nightmare from which there is no awakening.[10]

In the midst of retirement planning, the indexing of information, the preparation of reports which include achievements and statistics, when all things become an artifice of a life plan, we do not stop and ask ourselves why sometimes the apparatus works and other times it doesn't, at least not in everything we apply it to. Art has the capacity to make visible that which is concealed. It makes us reconsider, look at things again and try to understand how we connect to them. To understand is to delve into things, include oneself in them; it is to understand and to sometimes accept without understanding. At a specific time, our body reveals itself to us sharing a space with other things, other bodies, each one wrapped in its own reality. This is my answer to painter Myrna Báez[11] when she stated that painting was an artifice. I now ask Baez, is the act of creation an act of deception? Does it imply detaching ourselves from our humanity?

The reflection on the spaces of art, be it in a concrete or psychological sense, was made clear to me during a trip to London. We have all heard these types of stories before. When getting into the taxi, the driver asked us if the radio annoyed us. He was listening to poetry. Or then there was my experience at the Tate Modern[12] , laying on the floor among unknown people and making faces while looking at my reflection in the mirror of Olafur Eliasson's installation; to afterwards go out onto the stairs at the entrance of the Tate Britain to smoke a cigarette, tired, trying to find a step in which to sit down, most of them taken up by youngsters. It was a Friday night and they were leisurely spending their time, much like young people do here at the San Jose Plaza in Old San Juan. I asked myself, why architects Otto Reyes and Luis Gutierrez had designed such a small entrance at the Puerto Rico Art Museum. Even more intriguing though, is their decision to visually seal off the museum garden with Eric Tabales' stained glass piece. Weeks later I asked García Padilla why he thought that a working class British person was cultured and our young professional couple was not. What had happened at the University of Puerto Rico that made these specialized professionals suffer from aesthetic poverty? And, where is the space to think publicly about culture (the world)? To think out loud not about what happened but about what it means. How do we transfer it out of bohemian circles and university classrooms? Please be advised that I will not fall in the nostalgic gaze of the European city. Londoners, like us, prefer to shop in mega-stores rather than at the local Mom & Pop, if it does indeed exist where we live. Even in private homes in Puerto Rico there are paintings by Reed, Polke, Kiefer, and Ofili, which are lent to exhibitions in London (we also export mangoes there). Yet I cannot overlook the contrast of my experiences. The National Gallery leads to Trafalgar Square and to streets such as Orange, Pall Mall East, and St. Martin's Place. Pedestrians use the National Gallery to cross the block. As in other London museums, the National Gallery is free and only charges for tickets to temporary exhibitions. During one of my visits there, I encountered a young woman who was copying a Rembrandt painting. The museum staff had given her an easel and she eased herself close to the small painting. To my surprise, she was not an art student or an artist; she had been making these copies during her spare time for years just because she was interested in painting. Furthermore, she prepared her own pigments. She was not the only one painting at the National Gallery. A few days later in New York, while I tried to get a closer look at a Rosenquist painting, the guard at the Guggenheim hollered "please stand back" at me. I had "violated" the work's private space in trying to get close (it was not my fault, the painting seemed to beckon me, and on top of that I had paid twenty dollars to see the exhibition). At that moment, there seemed to be no real commitment to the words of Franklin D. Roosevelt -promoter and founder of the Work Progress Administration, which had a huge impact on the arts in our country- during the opening of the Museum of Modern Art in 1939: "The condition for democracy and for art are one and the same. What you and I call liberty in politics result in the long run freedom in the arts".[13]

Even if there is a discussion around the separation of culture from vital practice, this is not the case with the neo-liberal economic system. The market's influence is increasingly visible and since culture does not dictate its parameters, it can only administer them. Culture participates in the current unsustainable development of capitalist expansion. Its merchandise, the product, can be the art object or the image it generates (symbolic economy). The fetish -the desired and created image-is not exclusive of the art object. Often times it does not reside in the object but in its author. In both cases, due to art's symbolic nature, it allows for the implementation of a dominant imagery. Artists produce. Other experts from other fields, who possess the political and economic capacity, are fetish consumers in our narrative culture. Even though postmodernism announced the death of narratives, the market still requires a story to identify its product with (be it an object or a service). After all, Moby Dick, is not about a white whale, or is it? Moreover, if narratives exist in contemporary art, many of them do not appeal to humanity because they are narratives of the "I."

The differences between high art and popular art share the same socioeconomic rift between mental and manual labor. This still holds true even if at present there is no difference between the cultured and the popular. Now that the boundary between fiction and fact has been blurred, culture exists precisely because what it promises, freedom, is absent (Theodor Adorno). We do not live in a participative democracy that creates equal opportunities. That is why I find it so hard to believe that another historical moment will arrive that will provoke an art of the avant-garde (if there ever was one), specially in this world of an economy generated by knowledge and information, an economy organized in relational cells which are electronically linked and aimed at the common strategy of international production. Could we then say that there are degrees of freedom or degrees of the illusion of freedom in our democracy?

A new worker emerges, invisible and peripheral, in the global economy. They work long distance; they are sub-contracted, separated from the unions. These workers do not have job benefits or security, any pension or promotions for good work. There is a muddled relationship between remunerated time and leisure time, this last one bearing more resemblance to the time of the unemployed worker. Unlike the worker of the Industrial Revolution, the "knowledge" worker does not have a marked political orientation[14]. The reorganization of labor is but one of the forms in which global economies impact local cultures. The dissolution of economic frontiers brings about the profitability of the temporal --spatial traffic, sprawl and cultural tourism-which create new values and social behaviors[15]. It is not a matter of innocently assuming the local gaze as a primary space, as emblematized by Carlos Irizarry's painting, Transculturación del puertorriqueño since culture itself is dynamic. Nor is it a matter of simplifying and stating that the territorial displacement of societies homogenizes culture. It is not about demonizing mass culture in its offering of a wide array of products for diverse pleasures, since in some cases it has promoted the civil rights of social groups, as made manifest by television shows such as Queer as Folk, The L Word, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, Will and Grace, among others[16]. But this does not mean that this new cartography must be assumed without suspicion, since we cannot confirm that there is or ever was a "pure" space from which culture is generated. Behind the smoke screen of false utopias[17] , culture enters this new mode of production and consumption of the upper middle class (especially in the case of the nouveaux riche), characterized the particularity of each product and its volatile demand. Hence, the popular impression that every five years a new whiz kid emerges in the arts and that the career of a star-curator only lasts three years. This is also reflected in the actions of our cultural sponsors from the civil sector, who support the model of an international artistic career as a central axis of public cultural policy[18]. Seeing cannot only be knowledge, be is true or not, but obedience.

If destiny, the goal, is merely the utility of pleasure (of desire) and the spectator achieves his/her aesthetic pleasure in the consumption of the fetish, this is indicative of conformity with the social imaginary[19]. Beauty and technical mastery are granted exchange value but the use value is altered; there is a lack of vision, a seeming utopia of greater freedom. We desire to leave our bodies and yet preserve our lifestyle. Not everything lies within the parameters of the beautiful and its desire as a spectacle's device. There is a space between that which moves us and the meta-narrative of the market where art, like death, cannot be consumed: it cannot be narrated (once its essence is grasped). We can only point out and say, "That's it!" We are therefore placed outside of language, it is impossible to make it visible although that is not the case with its movement, which shares the space with the spectator. The image of things comes before the word; things establish their presence through our bodily senses. There is a moment, before the described, the translated, and the represented. That is the most uncomfortable space to inhabit because it implies our detachment from things and from ourselves. It is the space where both death and art look at us. We are moved, we are speechless before the presence of an eloquent silence. Like death, the beckoning of art's presence cannot be controlled.

That afternoon when my question went unanswered, García Padilla had taken a group of friends to see the art collection of the Law Faculty of the University of Puerto Rico. It was not kept in a vault but rather dispersed around the building designed by Henry Klumb. The most surprising of all the works, even if it did not abandon the Kantian aspect of the collection, was a painting by Wilfredo Chiesa, located in the library designed by Segundo Cardona when the building was renovated. Surprising might not be the appropriate word, because the work -which really consists of a series of horizontal stretchers resting on the upper part of one of the halls-does really not command our attention, or at least no more than the books or Cardona's architectural design. The surprise really consisted in seeing that everything coexisted in an ambiance designed in such a way that all of its parts, even though independent, slow down and promote waiting. Only that which is alive has the capacity to calm down, with or without the anxiety of time. Waiting contains the inevitable as well as hope. We must have distance in order to see. One has to be outside of the world in order to think about it, to make it visible. That is the space that the artist has lost because both author and spectator have packaged that space into a novelty, organized by generations, neatly indexed, and worst of all, warily institutionalized.

"The eyes live in the tissue [of the visible and the invisible] of the human being like a man in his house" (Merleau-Ponty). To have vision, after all, is an act of faith that is not a part of a strategic plan. To have vision is an act of delirium. The opinions on this evasive issue expressed in this text vary, may be called into question, and even my stance is subject to change. This is allowed by contemporary democracy. Even if I have doubts about my own proposals (especially on the issue of whether the autonomy of art exists and the irony of sublime activity in such a corrupt space), it does not mean that there is a lack of compromise with my words, with the responsibility of expressing myself publicly. However, what is not a questionable truth is that the person who writes this, as well as he/she who reads it, all of us, are going to die. Someone would have to answer the question of why it is important to die, above all, anonymously.

Now I hear Abbey Lincoln:
When the party is over
and the people are all gone
you gotta pay the band
that play your song

*Second essay, part of a series about color, culture, language and urban thinking.
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1. «In the Future [Knee Play 12]», 1985, «Music for the Knee Plays», a series of musical vignettes written by Byrne to be played between the long scenes in Robert Wilson's theatrical epic «The Civil Wars».
2. «The Origin of the Work of Art», Heidegger's central idea about what defines a work of art: an intrinsic combination of being thing and sign that reveals the truth (world) during a historical moment. Spanish version by Helena Cortés and Arturo Leyte in: Martín Heidegger, Martín Heidegger, Caminos de bosque (Madrid: Alianza, 1996).
3. «Favorite Fruit» «(Fruta Favorita»), 2000, commissioned for the restoration of the Plaza del Mercado marketplace in Santurce by the Urban Art Project under the administration of then mayor of San Juan, Sila Calderón.
4. Cable News Network.
5. The so-called "Bilbao effect" refers to the economic resurrection of the Spanish city, which distanced itself from its image as a provincial city and terrorist haven through Frank Gehry's iconoclastic design for the Guggenheim Museum (1997), which was part of an extensive plan of urban renovation. Several attempts to emulate the "Bilbao effect", with its formula of a protagonist and personalized aesthetics have failed. Recently, after 28 years, the Bellevue Art Museum in Washington closed its doors because its architectural design made it impossible to display the more intimate art that its public preferred. Something similar happened with the Lerner Hall at Columbia University and the hostility it encountered from students, who considered it a cold and hostile space.
6. Brenda Case Scheer. The Culture of Aesthetic Poverty, Northampton, MA: Titanium Publication, 1999, 21-22.
7. Fortaleza 302 was the headquarters of M&M Proyectos, managed by Michy Marxuach. It closed a bit after this essay was written.
8. Takashi Murakami, by Mako Wakasa, February 24, 2000,
9. September 11, 2001 in the US and March 11, 2004 in Spain.
10. «Eye and Mind» (1960), Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Merleau-Ponty Aesthetics Reader, Northwestern University, 1993, 122.
11. «Asedio al espejo» («The mirror besieged»), forum held at the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico, February 2, 2002, and recently re-aired on TUTV, WIPR, Channel 6.
12. Another successful attempt to rehabilitate a depressed urban area with the redesign of a factory as a museum space, but I a different way from the Bilbao museum: this one was more discreet.
13. "But good art, like science, is not democratic.", says Michael Kimmelman on the eight proposals for the WTC memorial in NY, "an open competition can produce a Maya Lin's Vietnam Memorial once in a generation, maybe, but mostly it results in the generic monuments that are now the universal standard (...) The disappointment with these Ground Zero plans is that instead of invention they offer novelty: theatricality, gadgets, spectacle, the stuff of entertainment and shallow pleasure, tricked up by treacly titles, the antithesis of what a memorial should provide. Novelty is familiar and commonplace". "Ground Zero's Only Hope: Elitism", New York Times, December 7, 2003.
14. «Los trabajadores inmateriales», Felipe Romero, May 24, 2003,
15. I make reference to the article by Carlos Fajardo «El arte y la cultura en las esferas globales y mundializadas» in order to reflect on this issue. Espéculo, Universidad Complutense de Madrid, 2001.
16. There is not an intention of social justice but rather one of making good business. In postindustrial societies the gay community has a high buying power.
17. An emblematic example would be the project that attempted to give autonomy to the Puerto Rico Art Museum, and the defense on behalf of its board of trustees in order to thwart the public disclosure of an financial scheme.
18. As opposed to 50 years ago, when the State was the greatest patron of the arts. Complying with its agenda of getting closer to people, the state launched the program titled «Operation Serenity». It served as a counterweight to attack the accelerated loss of the so-called Puerto Rican values due to the negative values brought about by the modern industrial development spawned by «Operation Bootstrap», another program fostered by the same government. The scheme of industrial culture, proposed by Operation Serenity gave way to the creation of the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture and other initiatives such as the WIPR (currently known as the Public Broadcasting Corporation of Puerto Rico), the Casals Festival, the Casa del Libro, among others. It seems that the then governor, Luis Muñoz Marín, acted from a sense of guilt and looked for redemption in the autonomy of art. The current Puerto Rico Public Art Project seems to carry the residues of guilt of a benefactor state.
19. "The premise of the Puerto Rico Public Art Project is that human beings are desiring subjects, and that desire constantly finds territories to position itself, including the spheres of art and aesthetics. Accordingly, a competition was announced for the creation of a hybrid corpus of works by local and international artists that would add up to a sort of "exquisite corpse" to be displayed throughout Puerto Rico. The project sought to break mechanical habits of seeing by betting on shared space and revealing its secrets. Due to the resulting tension between perception and desire, revisiting the island where we live, and that nurtures our being, would thus pose a challenge to common perceptions. Hence, public art aspires to become a social experience, inviting the spectator to negotiate his or her desire to accommodate the desire of the Other." Celina Nogueras Cuevas, «Arte Público: nuevas geografías del goce», Espacios tangentes, Puerto Rico Public Art Project website, 7



©2008 - María de Mater O'Neill