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by Lorenzo Sandoval

Spaces of Anticipation. Symposium at EACC in May, 2014

“This future does not have yet a name, but we are standing on its brink. If the last forty years have been marked by ‘posts’ (post-war, post-colonialism, postmodernism, post-communism), then today, at least, we seem to be in a period of anticipation – an era that museums of contemporary art can help us collectively to sense and understand.”
Claire Bishop, Radical Museology [1]

“Ultimately, the idea of community leads to philosophies and ideologies marked by fear and impotence: the community as a disappointing experience and commitment to it as a failed requirement (something that is lacking). How does one move on from there?”
Marina Garcés, Commitment [2]


When the novel developed in modernity as a frequent format for narration, it imposed a distance between the storyteller and the audience. It was a spatial distance, but also a temporal one. In conjunction with its capacity to distribute stories, it also produced a separation between the individuals through the object book. It worked as an isolation device. Telling a story was no longer shared time, partly because it was not a shared space, where people came together joining their experiences gained by travelling or listening to others. The consequences of this very well-known proposition [3] of Walter Benjamin could be easily translated from the book device to exhibition-making, as they were parallel in time in their emergence. The stories were detached from their usual ecosystems in social spaces as the artworks were taken out of their context to conform the modern experience of the exhibition and the visit to it: isolated individuals looking at artworks, navigating around supposedly in silence. [4] With the rise of capitalism, orality suffered a loss of value with the radical separation of object and subject, as well as between subjects.

Certainly, there is an actual lack of public spaces (one would say common instead of public). Nowadays, there is an urgency for agoras, spaces of encounter, and critical discussion, beyond the participation models we have witnessed in (art) institutions. If in the last twenty years we have been witnessing a huge number of projects that promote participatory processes with no critical insight, it is only in the last decade that agents have appeared who are looking at the phenomena with an analytical gaze. As Markus Miessen pointed out in his by now long-time classic The Nightmare of Participation, participation has been used more as a promotional tool rather than as a critical process on its own. [5] When we look at all the social movements that were popping up in different geographies around the world, we should be aware of how those groups arrange their actions, because that has a correlation to art institutions: it has an impact on how spaces are designed and the experience is reorganized. The question that emerges from there is how to rethink institutions in terms of cultures of assembly, to use Miessen’s expression, and the problematic that is by default inserted on the construction of any idea of the ”we.” This lack of a politic arena seems to claim to reassemble the spaces of experience that Benjamin claimed had vanished, while adapting them to the current conditions. It brings forth the problem of how to restore the relations between subject and object and how to generate the experience of a common space.

It seems that we cannot elude the commitment towards building up the experience of the “we” though. A crucial question, a fundamental question is opening up: what is it that commits us to others and to what extent? [6] If we think about how different agents are organized in the space, the terms are not only architectural but also choreographic. When one dives into the etymology of the word choreography, one can find that it is the writing of a chorus, of a plurality of voices, or tonalities or languages. [7] The ongoing accelerated socioeconomic changes are reshaping the relations between individuals, and between them and objects. This rearrangement of relations has a reflection on how space is formulated and how bodies come together in art institutions. It is possible to trace how there is an embodiment of criticality, how the question about performativity and context appear again and again. This draws attention to the different positions of these situated agents, resulting in a cross-disciplinary praxis where the different roles permute. The focus is extensively expanded from the single artwork to the entirety of the elements that shape an exhibition, [8] producing a deep reflection of how those elements operate and how they blur into each other: from the curators to the visitors and the critics, the architects and, obviously, the artists—just to mention a few—including the artworks and the literature, are all involved in the production of the space and its storytelling, which shapes the exhibition.

In recent years, some agents have been reflecting upon all these processes. In terms of storytelling and organizing, it is pertinent to mention the analysis made by Claire Bishop: “A more radical model of the museum is taking shape: more experimental, less architecturally determined, and offering a more politicized engagement with our historical moment. […] They do not speak in the name of the one percent, but attempt to represent the interests and histories of those constituencies that are (or have been) marginalized, sidelined and oppressed. This doesn’t mean that they subordinate art to history in general, but that they mobilize the world of visual production to inspire the necessity of standing on the right side of history.”[9] Though she writes about museums with collections, she presents a certain attitude that is traceable in other kinds of art institutions, too.

What is addressed in this project is the practice of some art institutions that reshape the experience of visiting an exhibition as a collective situation, where the orality is re-emerging as a critical tool. This moment of construction of the ”we” offers a moment of anticipation, proposing another way to think and design the space, one with conditions that enable the exercise of a political imagination.

Lorenzo Sandoval, Berlin, March 2014.


Claire Bishop, Radical Museology, or, What’s ‘Contemporary’ in Museums of Contemporary art? (London: Koenig Books, 2013), 62.

2 Marina Garcés, Commitment (Barcelona: CCCB Breus, 2013).

3 Walter Benjamin, The Storyteller (1936); El narrador, trans. Roberto Blatt (Madrid: Editorial Taurus, 1991).

4 As clearly described by Dorothea von Hantelmann: “Time is a vital factor here. Classical works of visual art tend to compress time in the object rather than manifesting it. But how can time be decompressed again in the exhibition? In late Renaissance and Baroque curiosity cabinets, it was often the prince himself who presented the objects to visitors. Seventeenth- and eighteenth-century painting galleries were social conversation spaces. […] The perception of art required the spoken word in order to become a social event. Such conversation enriched the works not only with language but also with time. They linked the isolated work with temporal duration, repeated perception, and thought.” Dorothea von Hantelmann, “Notes on the Exhibition,” in dOCUMENTA (13) The Book of Books (Ostfildern: Hantje Cantz, 2012).

5 “Participation has become a radical chic, one that is en vogue with politicians who want to make sure that, rather than producing critical content, the tool itself becomes what is supposed to be read as criticality.” Markus Miessen, The Nightmare of Participation: Crossbench Praxis as a Mode of Criticality (Berlin: Stenberg Press, 2010).

6 Marina Garcés, Commitment.

7 “Interview || Paz Rojo, ” escenas discursivas, accessed February 15, 2018, http://escenasdiscursivas.tkh-generator.net/2011/04/interview-paz-rojo/#more-45.

8 A very relevant example is the critic series initiated by Afterall Books on the subject called Exhibition Histories, where in each book they realize an extensive analysis of the exhibitions they include. See http://www.afterall.org/books/exhibition.histories.

9 Claire Bishop, Radical Museology, 6.


Spaces of Anticipation was organized in EACC, Castellón in 2014. The contributors were: Markus Miessen, Federica Bueti, Santiago Cirugeda, DPR Barcelona, Mijo Miquel, and José Luis Pérez Pont.

The symposium was a first step for an exhibition curated with Emanuele Guidi, which never happened at the end because of the cuts of structural funding in the context of the Comunidad de Valencia. This unrealized exhibition was one of the multiple beginnings of this publication.

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