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Foreword Afterall Journal Issue 28

In the book Public Sphere and Experience: Toward an Analysis of the Bourgeois and Proletarian Public Sphere, published in 1972, Alexander Kluge and Oskar Negt write:

It has become obvious that a concept of production was at the base of social production all along (but concealed by the absolute domain of commodity production) — a concept that had as its object the production of agents of socialisation, of language, of the construction of the drive structure, the production of experience, of collective entities and public spheres, in other words, the production of life contexts. This concept of production is oriented toward the production of social wealth and the appropriation of the production by the producers themselves. The alternative to commodity-production society can be apprehended through it. 01

This ‘public sphere’ as the horizon of social experience and the production of life contexts provides the ground for many of the political, pedagogical and artistic proposals of the twentieth century, and runs through some of the artistic and political phenomena that are tackled in this issue of Afterall.

In 1906, José Oiticica, the grandfather of Hélio Oiticica, founded the Colegio Latinoamericano in Rio de Janeiro — a pedagogical centre that followed the libertarian model of the Escuela Moderna (Modern School), set up in Barcelona by Francisco Ferrer y Guardia in 1901. The Modern School was a cultural project that included a publishing imprint and a popular university, and aimed to be an educational and community centre. One of its basic beliefs was the conviction that education can be an instrument of social transformation. Alongside its comprehensive curriculum on art, the school sought to establish the idea that each student is his or her own master, and that everyone can learn from everyone else, even by chance. The Modern School spread during the 1910s and 20s throughout South America, Mexico and the US, including one in New York, where Man Ray taught.

In 1964, after his stay with the inhabitants of the Mangueira favela and samba school, Hélio Oiticica started making his Parangolé series, taking as a starting point the habitat and popular creativity of the Mangueira dancers. This experience was for him a profound revolutionary and political inspiration, allowing him to ‘discover my “individual position” as a person integrated in the world, as a “social being in its full sense”, and not as a member of a class or “elite”.’ 02

This gesture by Oiticica is also one of the most lucid exercises of resistance to the dictates of colonial subordination in Latin America, and points to the core of the problematics of the relationship between artistic practice and pedagogy as emancipation (associated with the practice of the Modern School) and of the wider debate on the common and community (that is, about how to recuperate the idea of the public good in a contemporary context in which the common has been reduced, in most occasions, to commodity production or totalitarian ideologies). The gesture of becoming an other to oneself, of breaking with a community constituted through identities based on blood, land or social origin, implies a move from the ‘singular being’ to the ‘being with’, 03  to a collective ‘us’ composed of an endless number of anonymous beings, one containing ‘whatever singularities’. Singularities like those put forward by the collective Tiqqun, who are discussed in the pages that follow as inheritors of the Situationist movement, and who assume ‘exile, separation and estrangement not as poetic or existential circumstances, but also as political’.04

In 1971 Oiticica writes a text titled ‘MARIO MONTEZ, TROPICAMP’, which until now has not been published in English, that draws parallels between the Brazilian Tropicalist movement and the US underground, especially the queer underground and the highly artificial, baroque forms of Jack Smith’s films. Oiticica’s concept of ‘tropicamp’ insists on the need to develop a consciousness that is not determined by established structures and which allows for the development of new cognitive structures, new languages that undo given representations.

In the wider frame created by this production of context — as opposed to production of commodities — by co-education, and by the recognition of anonymity as a potential for a constructive relation for a community of ‘nobodies’, sits the work of some contemporary artists who, through their practice, try to open up spaces for shared knowledge. The work of Ricardo Basbaum and Lia Perjovschi are here paradigmatic, although from very different places and through very different actions. Basbaum is also a thinker of the role of pedagogy and emancipation in Brazilian art and culture, a relationship that goes back to the work of Oiticica and Lygia Clark, but also to Oswald de Andrade’s ‘Anthropophagic Manifesto’ from 1928 and to Paulo Freire’s pedagogical programmes and writings.

With his NBP (Novas Bases para a Personalidade, or New Bases for Personality, 1990—ongoing), Basbaum proposes an aesthetic experience in which the artistic subject and the artistic object are constructed simultaneously, throughout the aesthetic experience. With this he shows, as he writes in this issue of Afterall, that the most interesting artistic practices are those that contribute to the production of alterity, and in which the ‘I’ and the ‘you’ are ‘continously replaced by a larger and eternal contact area’. 5

Community understood as a community ‘without a common origin’, based on a movement of de-subjectivation and anonymity, in the ‘being with’, represents for political practice in the twenty-first century a form of resistance to capital and party politics. Lia and Dan Perjovschi’s Bucharest art studio at the end of the 1990s, and their flat in the 1980s, had a key role in the development of a ‘micro public sphere’ that survived through very complex and difficult conditions. As the archive of this work, this art studio is also the centre of an emancipatory artistic practice, in terms of an activation of strategies of self-institutionalisation and self-historisation in the face of narratives defined by the West. But, above all, her archives and collections have to do, as the text dedicated to her in this issue claims, with a non-monetary economy of discourse and care.

The pages that follow also reflect on other instances of political mobilisation and artistic action by marginalised collectives, such as the AfriCOBRA group in late 1960s Chicago. The essay examines how the collective used the metaphorical and semantically loaded notion of ‘family’ to impose a mode of self-perception in order to escape the violence of dominant representations. A refusal to be constructed as the object of discourse of the other and instead construct yourself through your own discourse is a constant in emancipatory artistic and political practices.

This issue also includes essays on the work of Jean-Luc Moulène and Emily Wardill. Moulène analyses the mechanisms and networks through which images and objects are produced, distributed and exchanged, and creates an estrangement of the everyday and the banal by effecting small transformations or de-contextualisations. Wardill’s films bring together a palimpsest of references, mainly literary, and shape them into highly coded baroque narratives. From a very different position to Perjovschi’s, but with a similar conclusion, Wardill’s films outline — through their almost excessive stylisation, their adoption of melodramatic conventions, their use of allegory and their ontology of objects — what might be called authentic social relations, unmediated by language or institutional discourse.

Finally, Peio Aguirre poses in his contribution to this issue a reflection on the categories with which we assimilate, understand or use history by means of the notion of ‘semiotic ghost’, which transcends the realm of science fiction to signal a look at the past that impregnates and shapes our cultural perception.


  • Alexander Kluge and Oskar Negt, Public Sphere and Experience: Toward the Analysis of the Bourgeois and Proletarian Public Sphere (trans. Peter Labanyi), Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003, p.8.
  • Jean-Luc Nancy, Être singulier pluriel, Paris: Éditions Galilée, 1996.
  • Peter Pál Pelbart, Vida Capital: Ensayos de biopolítica, São Paulo: Iluminuras editora, 2003.
  • See this issue, pp.16—21.