UNIA arteypensamiento, a project of the Universidad Internacional de Andalucía in Seville, has been collaborating in the publication of Afterall journal since issue 22. This association is the result of a recognition that both UNIA arteypensamiento and Afterall share a set of interests and attitudes towards contemporary artistic practice and the discourses it generates, as well as an intention to explore art’s relationship with and projection onto the social, political, economic and cultural context from which it emerges and where it is developed.
Since its foundation in 2001, UNIA arteypensamiento has been operating as a transformative, generative and critical agent engaged in the production of knowledge on and around artistic practice, with a view to open a space for creation and production – a space in which artists and thinkers can develop projects that are not limited by a cult of the art object but instead defined by attention to process and dialogue. The overall goal has been to give both art and thought the ability to reconsider the world and, at the same time, improve their transformative and emancipatory potentials.
As well as these, UNIA arteypensamiento shares with Afterall a methodological approach shaped by notions of transversality and extra-disciplinarity of art, which leads to connections between practitioners and resources from the art field and projects and experiments situated outside of it. By means of seminars, workshops, symposia, online projects, publications and film programmes, UNIA arteypensamiento attempts to generate ongoing research, favouring a notion of shared intelligence – that is, creating links between activities that are often thought of as unrelated, and at the same time putting into question conventional notions of authorship and intellectual property. 01
Many projects have been developed in the nearly ten years UNIA arteypensamiento has been active, but at the core of all of them are elements shared by Afterall in all its projects: a questioning of the limits of artistic and discursive practice, an opposition to hegemonic discourses and a search for moments of disruption and blind spots – as well as the commitment to the singularity of art as a mode of expression, and therefore a mode of production of language and thought.
Because of this parallel history, I am very proud to introduce issue 23 of Afterall journal, which reflects this strong commitment to art practice from a variety of positions, times and places, all with a questioning approach. This attitude is clearly exemplified with the two opening essays, which look at recent art history in order to propose new ways of thinking about art and its potential. The first, by Miguel A. López, is an attempt at problematising recent modes of historicisation of Latin American Conceptualism, which have read it in terms of (its difference to) the North American and European canon. Instead, López shows the importance of recognising and reconstructing the contexts where artistic and political practices originally took place, in order to reveal their full critical and theoretical potential. The second, by Lucy Reynolds, is dedicated to the shadow play employed by artists from the British Expanded Cinema movement of the 1970s, such as Malcolm Le Grice and Gill Eatherley, and suggests a connection between British Structuralist cinema, normally thought of in terms of its modernist purity, and the shadow as both an index of presence and a link to an uncanny, pre-cinematic imaginary – a connection that opens very interesting lines of investigation in the field.
This destabilisation of the conventions created by the institution of history also connects the work that Carl Einstein did in the first decades of the twentieth century with that by Georges Didi-Huberman at the beginning of the twenty-first, each dedicated one essay in the current issue. For Einstein, the task of the art historian is to break with the linear, epochal model and release the social and collective potential of art, not by means of exposing social wrongs or simply commenting on history, but through the invention of new ways of exploring and producing reality and its conditions – an experience that is related to the object of art and to subjective approaches to it. For Didi-Huberman, only through an anachronistic knowledge of the images from the past, achieved by exploring their place in memory and history instead of treating them as an a-temporal fetish or mere figurative documentation, can we understand them and, consequently, draw new models of temporality and forms of resistance.
The four artists featured in this issue, Babette Mangolte, Trinh T. Minh-ha, Lidwien van de Ven and Thea Djordjadze also have this questioning attitude towards generalised assumptions of their respective areas of practice. Through their films, photographs, sculptures and essays, they expand art’s analytical and critical potential, focusing on formal experimentation as a privileged point of access to the subjectivity and memory of the viewer. Mangolte does this through the radical transformation of strategies of documentation, for example by including the audience in the footage, contextualising the actors and thereby abandoning the illusion suggested by theatrical space; Trinh T. Minh-ha, through the deconstruction of traditional representative strategies, including that of her own persona in the work; Lidwien van de Ven, through images that are complex spaces for recognition, opposed to the alienating and anaestheticising emptiness created by the media; and Thea Djordjadze, through the use of formless matter combined with objects and modern architectural settings, which oblige the spectator to confront the fragments of forms, times and context with his or her own memory.
Together, all these approaches to art and its histories compose a picture full of passion, depth and diversity – a perfect introduction to what UNIA arteypensamiento’s collaboration with Afterall will bring.