Spectacular Ambivalences – The Playground of Gustavo Artigas by Nike Bätzner



Spectacular Ambivalences – The Playground of Gustavo Artigas


Play & game

For the exhibition Escultura Socialin 2007 Gustavo Artigas sets the coordinates of a Ball Gamethrough the introduction of a simple element into the sculpture garden of the Museum of Contemporary Art and a sports ground in the Pilsen neighbourhood of Chicago: a basketball hoop is removed of its net and attached vertically to a wall of the garden or in its designated position in the sports ground. This brings a piece of Mexican cultural history to the city, as the ring’s inversion refers to a Maya ball game. It has to do with the cycle of life and is based on the mythic struggle of two twin brothers – who later transformed into the sun and the moon – against the Lords of the Underworld. The ritualised game played out the conflict between good and evil, life and death, sovereignty and subjugation, annihilation and resurrection.

The players only hit the ball with certain parts of the body, e.g. the hips or the shoulders. The ball symbolised the sun and had to be kept in the air at all times and passed through a ring attached at some height to a wall. The pyramid grounds at Chichén Itzá, for example, include large ball courts, whose stone rings, engraved with the feathered snake of fertility, can still be seen.

The winners of the game – or at least their team’s captain – was sacrificed to the gods, since death was regarded, in accordance with the myth, as a necessary caesura enabling rebirth and metamorphosis into a heavenly body. The meaning and rules of the game changed many times, however, in the course of its pre-Columbian history. According to various accounts it was a substitute for warring conflict, a fight to the death between prisoners, a sweepstake or simply the focal point of a festival.

Artigas adapts a formal element of this ancient Mexican game, but the game played on his altered court is American basketball. It is a minimal gesture that initiates a cultural transfer, which gives rise to a hybrid of US-American and Latin American culture. For Ball GameArtigas also collaborated with a social scheme in Chicago’s Pilsen district that is using street basketball to prevent the young men of this predominantly Hispanic and Afro-American neighbourhood from joining the gangs. The scheme, which is called the Resurrection Basketball League, hopes to guide the kids towards a social rebirth, a new social integration, through sport.

Sport is the relic of a holy ritual. In his book Homo Ludens(1938), Johan Huizinga talks about the cultural significance of play and the sacred performance that exactly corresponds to the game, in that both are removed from everyday life and take place in a defined space according to predetermined rules. The consecrated ground is a playground. Through play, the community expresses its interpretation of life and the world. A decisive, socially binding factor is the “sacred earnest” with which the game is played. Although we know it is only a game, we devote ourselves to it with an intensity as if we were playing for our lives. The thing that makes a game into a social scheme is the belief in the revitalising power of play.


Turning a spotlight onto a given social situation through play can produce a greater awareness of everyday life. In the “as if” of a game, the “seriousness” of life can be “enacted”. Artigas’s video piece The Rules of the Game(2000-2001) is also concerned with the polarisation of the imaginary world of play and the serious world of everyday life, and combines amusing scenes with the gravity of political reality. The video documents two related sports events – taking place in two different places – that Artigas organised as part of the bi-national art project InSITEon the border between Mexico and the United States. The site-specific duo reflects the geopolitical situation of the border region of San Diego/Tijuana. Artigas invited two Mexican football teams and two basketball teams from San Diego – i.e. representatives of the most popular sports of their respective countries – to a tournament in the sports hall of the Lázaro Cárdenas High School in Tijuana. The four teams played simultaneously on a single pitch/court, loudly supported by their respective fans, and the interweaving of the two games led to some bizarre comings-together. Cultural and political contact was more to the fore here than sporting rivalry; as the opposing teams both came from the same country, the emphasis was less on competition between nations than on the possibility of peaceful co-existence.

The other site of the work was the Colonia Libertad district on the outskirts of Tijuana, a point of departure for illegal border crossings into the United States. Here Artigas set up a frontón court (the game is a Mexican version of handball) right up against the border wall. The local community soon took possession of the court, to which they added a basketball net. In the heat of the moment the ball sometimes sailed over the wall and had to be retrieved. This simple ball court points out a complex political and economic situation. Geographical borders serve to distinguish between an inner and an outer region, between the familiar and the foreign. Crossing a border is one of the conditions necessary for it to become reality at all, for without this act the demarcation of a border – for reasons of power or economic relations – would become unnecessary. The manifestation of the international boundary between Mexico and the United States through this wall is a visible indication of the division between rich and poor, and can barely prevent illegal immigration or drug smuggling. The fact that it is politically and ideologically loaded, and not simply an “abstract” power-political symbol but a signature image of “foreign” intimidation, is also embodied in the American civil defence corps, which has been officially in action protecting “its” border since 4 April 2005. In Artigas’s video, crossing the border and retrieving the ball becomes a metaphor of the fate of the many Mexicans who enter the United States illegally in search of a better life.

An important aspect of the work is that the frontón court remained at the border; it was not built in ephemeral materials for the duration of the project. The scope of activity presented by this project goes beyond the established boundaries of art, and is free to develop its subversive potential in daily life.

It was also for this reason that Artigas installed the first “inverted” basketball ring as an unauthorised intervention in New York City.


The enraptured community

The infiltration of a political comment into a community experience is also a characteristic of the event entitled Vive la Résistance, which Artigas carried out with students in Toulouse in 2004. Ten people are hooked up to a stungun operated by the artist. In Mexican bars it is usual to lend such gadgets to inebriated guests for contests, and the macho ritual of proving one’s own strength echoes the rites of admittance to gangs or other male alliances. In Artigas’s video it is not certain whether the protagonists are laughing to cover up their fear, because of being observed, or to give themselves courage; the body needs laughter for stress relief. They know that their situation is not perilous, but the temptation to explore the limits of their physical endurance is strong. Laughter is a strategy of overcoming; it enables a carnivalesque reversal of the situation. Laughter does not signal amusement, but rather the lack of grave danger. Comedy has to do with the contravention of a norm, the breaking of a taboo; it is the surprising and the unexpected that causes laughter.

And what is expected of the viewer, empathy or schadenfreude? The disbelieving question, “They aren’t really doing that, are they?” is answered by the video’s documentary character. The “as-if” of a game is counterbalanced here by a real experience; the players really are in pain. And this is the allure of the game, for a boundary is being infringed – although it is obvious that the infringement is limited in time and that the players can decide when to enter and exit in accordance with the basic parameters of a game. Yet Vive la Résistanceholds a background intimation of torture, of the fear that other people could suddenly determine the rules. And the outcome of the game shows that group pressure – supported by the dictatorship of the apparatus and the commanding presence of the artist – takes on this function: none of the remaining, spastically crooked young men want to drop out as a pansy. It is the artist as overseer who finally interrupts the game. The heroic perseverance here is a meaningless closed circle. Résistanceis undoubtedly a deliberate salute to the courage of the French partisans, but it also bathetically means resistance of the urge to put up a defence, the ability to drop one’s weapons.

Nicolas Bourriaud’s observation of a late 20th century tendency in art can be usefully applied to this piece, as to other works referring to restricted social contexts: “What artists are trying to do now is to create micro-utopias, neighbourhood utopias.”[1]

Particularly artists like Rirkrit Tiravanija, Christine Hill, Carsten Höller or Andrea Zittel

have created experiential spaces for a specially invited or informed audience, with their soup kitchens, temporary shops, clubs or the establishment of specific preconditions. These user-friendly, relational concepts are seen as “ways of living and models of action within the existing real, whatever the scale chosen by the artist.”[2]


A cabal or fellowship is also held together through exhilaration. If in Vive la Résitance this effect is achieved through the release of pain- and stress-reducing endorphins in the participants’ bodies, in another of Artigas’ contrived game situations a retail drug is the catalyst. Domino effect, which was created in Cuba in 2000, has four female prostitutes and four male artists join up for a game of dominoes in a public square. The player who loses a round is obliged to down a shot of rum. Players who are no longer able to drink or play are out of the game. The winner is one of the women, who is rewarded with a bottle of rum.

Is this piece about values? The game is comparable to strip poker; in broad daylight and in public view, the players gradually lose the ability to control their actions, and the title tautologically describes the analogy of dominos and bodies – both are doomed to stumble and fall. According to Roger Caillois[3], ilinx(exhilaration) forms one of the four main categories of games, alongside agon(sporting rivalry), alea(chance, probability) and mimikry(masquerade).

In Havana, the teams competing against each other are characterised by individual rivalry rather than solidarity. Artists and whores are peripheral figures on the margins of socialist society, not subjects of public admiration and respect. From the official point of view, artists are needed for propaganda purposes– a negation of individuality the Havana Biennial has rejected. Prostitutes are part of every society – particularly those eroticised ones that are increasing their capital surplus value through a booming tourist industry – but they are forced to remain in the shadows. The state-controlled tourist industry in Cuba condemns drugs and prostitution (on pain of long prison sentences), preferring to focus on families and wealthy pensioners. But a large number of young women and men regularly top up the family income by offering themselves to sex tourists from all over the world.

The frame of association expands in an anti-capitalist stance that includes the artist as a market whore, with the gallery owners and curators as its pimps and profiteers. Deliriously enslaved to old clichés, the viewer might also categories the artist as a bohemian figure, on a quest for inspiration in the company of wine, women and song. In this case it is impossible to polarise art and sex as opposites because both parties are outcasts, whose precarious situation is reflected in the mirror of foreign tourism.

And now a booze-up is taking place in the middle of the town square according to the established rules, and so it naturally follows that the winner is presented with a bottle of rum to continue the game at home.



Although Dominoeffect focuses on a variety of differently marginalised figures, other Artigas pieces put the spotlight even more explicitly on its protagonists. In 2006 Artigas invited 13 artists and academics in Mexico Cityto a supposed presentation of a new piece of work titled Unexpected. Without being informed beforehand, his guests were led from a neighbouring flat into the darkened Sala de Arte Público Siqueiros. There they suddenly found themselves in the full glare of the stage lights, greeted by the tumultuous applause from an instructed audience. The tension that had grown during the preceding wait morphed into sudden shyness, outbreaks of stress, or expressions of pleasure and relief of simply having been the subject of a “presentation”. After the run-up to the exercise, a full unexpected minute on a big stage can seem like an eternity, especially if an individual perception of time takes over.

The element of surprise is a key factor in all of Artigas’s creations. Social rituals, like the accolades given to a star in the limelight, become both a farce and a process of self-discovery for the participants. The audience is presented with a range of typical human behaviour. They are the only ones who have an overview of the situation, while – as on a talk show – remaining an integral part of the performance as a whole.


But even if the situation seems more applicable to the invited performers, the course and the outcome of the events are open, yet determined by their particular context. This element of the pieces becomes especially apparent in the mud wrestling matches that were staged in two different places: Johannesburg, South Africa, pitched Geeta vs. Sagein 2001, and Lappeenranta, Finland, presented Liisa vs. Susse in2006. Accompanied by rock music and a master of ceremonies, the battles took place in a bar or a disco. In Johannesburg the professional fighters flirted with the sexually charged atmosphere of the situation and amused themselves mimicking the act of copulation, in effect showing up the vulgarity of the spectacle. This also occurred when two men jumped into the arena shortly after the start of the fight. One obviously wanted to “join in the fun,” while the other attempts to deflect his virility romping around with him. In Finland, by contrast, posters were put up inviting students to participate, and it remained a purely “sporting” event. Behaviour was controlled or even restricted. The differing mentality of the participants and the audience thus determined the course of the event.

The outcome of this corporeal event is an earthy piece indeed: a minimalist looking square or circle of dried clay, the relics of the mud in the arena. The origin of the material is documented by a series of photographs, the dirty bikinis and a video. In Finland the piece was exhibited as part of a ceramics biennial, a deliberate affront to a branch of the art industry focused on tradition and design. In Johannesburg the piece was presented after a study period at the Bag Factory artists’ studio.

In formal terms the piece is a fusion of polar opposites: on the one hand the demonstrative physicality of the wrestlers pandering to male fantasies, on the other the neutral geometric “traces” of the game on the floor of the exhibition room. The spectacle encounters the sublime.

Another decisive factor separating the two videos is the differing camera perspective: the South African video introduces the women before the fight, following them from the changing room to the arena, documenting the fight from a variety of angles, and showing clips of the environment in which the fight took place. This subjective camera, to which the competitors actively respond, is countered by the set, neutral look of the video from Finland. The camera takes up a central position above the arena and focuses entirely on the fight. The audience is reduced to background noise or a few hands glimpsed as they clap down on the side of the arena. We only look the contestants in their spattered faces once they are flat on their backs in the mud. A further effect is achieved by the fact that the camera turns around itself like a disco ball, slowly and incessantly, making the viewer feel dizzy, although the actual course of events was far more sober than in the Johannesburg version. Once we have finished watching the video, the whole world seems to have started spinning in front of our eyes.


According to Guy Debord’s[4]definition of a spectacle, all participants in a regimented society must play a pre-determined part. The event is wholly confined to a surface defined by consumerism and the media. Things are no longer experienced individually; everything is reduced to a pose. Sensual reality is replaced by surrogate experiences, the fake world of advertising, TV, clichés and propaganda overwhelming and eventually becoming our reality. This process of alienation reduces the individual and his or her “freedom” to a pattern of consumerist behaviour. The commodity and its exploitation are the decisive factors, so the issue here is not simply manipulation by the media. The spectacle is a form of control that relies on suggestion, delusion, fascination, deception and seduction. Equipped with dream machines and generators of information, it largely relies on the power of its images.

Artigas’s media events draw on both the “social practice” of Joseph Beuys and the activities of Situationist International, which replaced the homo faberor homo oeconomicuswith the homo ludens. Situationist play aimed to change our reality by reconnecting the imagination and repressed desires to a space beyond the spectacular. The practice that resulted from this strategy, however, could not open into fiction or suggestion, which naturally made the concept of “art” seem pretty suspect. A contemporary artistic practice that transgresses the border between art and non-art will benefit from self-assertion and recommencement. Because we have long been consumed in our turn by the media, it can over-fulfil the requirements of the spectacular with a few cleverly manipulated divergences, making its criticism palpable and giving us back our ability to think for ourselves. Of course, art pays the price of such balancing acts through the suspicion of indefinableness, and ambivalence that also becomes transferred to the role of the artist.


The vanished author

In all the scenarios described hitherto, Artigas stays in the background. In Duplex, a reading that took place in 2001 in Madrid as part of the exhibition The End of the Eclipse, it seems that we are meeting him at last. Five men, who at intervals introduce themselves as Gustavo Artigas and very closely resemble him, read an English-language text that questions whether art can be ranked above national affiliation, originality or ascribed identities. When the reading is over, ten further doubles suddenly appear, mingle with the original five and the audience and take photographs with disposable cameras. All wear black, uniform-like clothing, in the manner of René Magritte’s multiple men with their bowler hats. The artist appears as amultiple personality – a split which may equally portend mental illness and creative powers, for the loss of unity also implies gain in the spectrum of viewpoints.

The Madrid exhibition set out to present Latin American art, and thus avoided defining art in national terms, but in presenting the culture of a continent it nevertheless committed an act of re-colonisation, because it set out a certain framework of expectation that called for due fulfilment. It was as if it sought to replace the reports brought home by Christopher Columbus under the Spanish flag – reports that prompted a number of nations to initiate their own colonisation of America – with others of greater authenticity but the same geographical parameters. The artist draws attention to this dichotomy through his use of the doubles, who speak English with a Spanish accent in Madrid while also embodying a typical representative of Latin America.

Artigas declines to have a single artist-star who might be the show’s hero. He delegates actions to others. The artist’s mask seems to be a hollow shell which can be filled with a range of different contents and projections. Because the character multiple additionally expatiates on a personality disorder, the enfilade will not do as a model for the public, which looks to art for unity as a guide to meaning. The artist cannot serve as the identification figure for all the specialists who have lost touch with their basic needs as a result of the division of labour, and crave to see works of art that represent a wholeness that they themselves will now never be able to attain. Multiplication of the stage figure makes the role ambivalent. The role-playing of mimikryleads to the disintegration of the autonomous personality. Yet the shadow of the artist remains present, for it has long been clear that the withdrawal of the author[5], variously hailed and bewailed since the 1960s, has not in fact made art more anonymous or less differentiatedthan it was. The artist’s distinctive signature resides in the ideas, not in the inspired exhibitionism of the artist as he (re)produces himself, nor in any psychic trace deep within the hand that wields the paintbrush.


Where can the artist hide? Is he to vanish among the crowd of his lookalikes, or does he opt for physical disintegration? In Spontaneous human combustion(San Diego, 2002), a man seated in the background by the woman speaker suddenly bursts into flames. Spontaneous combustion is a chemical reaction in which certain combinations of substances ignite of their own accord through a process of oxidation or, for instance, absorption of water vapour from the atmosphere. In terms of the human body, one of the daring theses advanced by SHC researchers has it that spontaneous combustion originates in the cells’ energy sources, the mitochondria, as they are called: if the mitochondria were to spring a leak, hydrogen and oxygen could ignite explosively within living human cells. The catastrophic consequence of that would be that the victim burns to death from inside.One of the earliest instances of recorded SHCis the death by fire in 1731, near Verona, of Countess Cornelia Bandi, an event used by Charles Dickens in his novel Bleak House(1852). At one place in the countess’s bedroom – which was covered in particles of ash and grease but otherwise undamaged – searchers found a heap of ashes in which parts of her extremities and her skull were lying. In all the documented cases, spontaneous combustion is less likely than the alternative explanation that a person in shock from a sudden outbreak of fire, or weakened by illness, is not able to deal effectively with a localised blaze. The fire begins to liquefy the victim’s subcutaneous tissue, and in combination with the clothing overlying it a kind of human torch results, and may burn for a long period at a high temperature.

In the Artigas spectacle, the man does not burn from the inside out – it is his clothes that are on fire.A human body on fire and running is a standard ingredient of disaster movies, and of stuntman performances, where the spectacle is used to demonstrate great courage. Other genres again see constructive potential in the burning body. In the comic-book series The Fantastic Four(USA, 1961 onwards), devil-may-care Johnny Storm can become the Human Torch with the power to ignite different parts of his body or indeed his whole body; he can hurl fireballs or use his fingertip for useful jobs like welding metal. He is a superhero, waging war on the world’s evil in conjunction with his allies, who have all likewise had their molecular makeup modified by cosmic radiation.

In the context of art history one also recalls Salvador Dalí’s blazing giraffe and René Magritte’s burning objects made from both combustible and non-combustible materials. These are based on the surrealistic juxtaposition of ideas which in terms of the reality principle are incompatible and shocking. These supernatural, paranormal manifestations have their pedigree in the saints whose powers of endurance were legendarily tested in the “ordeal by fire”.True believers can walk on fiery coals, submit to being boiled alive in a cauldron or roasted on a spit, and suffer no harm, nor do they renege on their faith.

In Artigas’s scenario, the white platform creates a stage-like environment physically framing the scene with the two performers. In this performance area, the surrogate figure of the artist burns for art. Will he prevail in the ordeal by fire? This is an act of self-reflection. The artist accepts the loss of his identity. He injures himself. He bequeaths his ashes to the public who are free to mix them with whatever they are smoking during the wake, as he declared in his Last Willin 2007. Keith Richards, the guitarist of the Rolling Stones, was reported to have inhaled his father’s ashes through his nose, like coke weeks after Artigas’ piece production. If Richards’ act of desecration of the dead body is an Oedipal ingestion of the paternal essence, the declaration of intent by Artigas speaks of total and unconditional self-sacrifice – at some point in the future – to the cultural community.


Risk & death

Anticipation of death draws attention to the risks inherent in life, the contingencies that could blow us away at any time. It does not have to be a grand cataclysm that brings disaster, a minor change of direction may be all that is needed. In the performance Emergency Exit, for example, enacted in 2002, a motorcycle stunt-rider races up the entrance ramp of the Museo de Arte Carillo Gil in Mexico City – and straight through one of the walls of the foyer. Invited audience and passers-by watch as fragments of wall fly in all directions. Here too, however, we are dealing not so much with an accident as with a scene from an action film.

The intervention targets the architectural fabric of the institution. And this is the focus of the attack in Opening, shown in 2004 in Mexico City. In this work, two American football teams of five players take turns at attempting to demolish a wall inside Gallery O, in due course combining their efforts to bring it down. The driving force in this show is masculine vigour and virility, optically heightened by the padded kit worn by the performers. This garb and the helmets de-individualise the sportsmen into android fighting robots such as we know from science fiction. Here once again the sportsmen are symbols of an Americanised culture. For a brief period the agonof play, sporting rivalry, fills the exhibition gallery. Far from hanging an artwork on the wall, the performance is about the demolition of this architectural, space-dividing feature, and thus of a symbolic barrier. This breaching of boundaries – action in place of artwork, destruction in place of the physical form-giving that leads to a finished work – is an artistic assertion familiar since the infiltrations of the Dadaists and Duchamps’ extended conception of art, or performance art since the 1960s. As no work of art is destroyed, we are not looking at an act of iconoclasm. Even so, the performance to mark the gallery opening, putting the white cube through the mixer and leaving nothing but debris and a video documentation, has real provocative force. Its effect is criticism of the institutions of art gallery and museum, and of the associated, internationally standardised conventional presentation of art, always on white walls and between such walls; criticism of the erection of barriers condoned under a ghettoised conception of art as being the province of a consumer-minded cultivated middle class. Criticism of that institution has of course long been understood as part of the game, and so the purported breach of the rules is taken on board with a thoroughly pleasurable frisson. To this extent destruction as provocation takes place within the rules of the game. Here we see the ambivalence that is characteristic of play. We are aware that what we are witnessing is not real destruction and not a malicious act, and yet we submit to the illusion that what is happening is something forbidden. We indulge in the belief that the action shaped by ludic and aesthetic considerations is reality imposed by life itself, even though we know perfectly well that it is semblance, that is to say a human construct. It is in this ambivalence that the pleasure derived from fleeting self-deception has its roots. Paradoxically, such awareness does not engender distance from the game; on the contrary, the illusion is embraced even more fervently. Seeing through the illusion is pleasurable, because one can experience oneself as double or divided – one side knowing and critical-minded, the other feeling the thrill of naive acceptance. The game draws us under its spell in spite of our knowledge that its nature is semblance, and creates in us a psychic state of enhanced intensity. Our pulses race in sympathy.


The dividing line between art and reality is under threat. In Three timesa “pedestrian” is hit by a car at exactly the same spot on Rosas Moreno Street in Mexico City, on three successive afternoons, 21 to 23 February 2007, and is flung over the car bonnet. Once again our visual memory refers us back to action films. Once again we have been watching a stuntman, whose acrobatic skills have ensured that the scene’s choreography remains virtually identical each time. Thus in the case of this accident, after a brief moment of horror all is well again; there are no unfortunate consequences. Accident has to do with coincident, with being at the “wrong” place at the “wrong” time. In this case, everything has been pre-arranged: fate is made the victim of a trap, it mimics itself. It is not blind chance that rules here, but purposeful action. The accident resulting from coincidence is the flip side of the opportunity that could equally result from coincidence. The accident is fictionalised, and the event’s gravity is only simulated. Danger and play have formed an indissoluble alliance. A further element in the mix is theatricality, as the situation is not limited to a fictive threat, but is played out for real, three times. Which points the question: “Is this play?”[6]

This accident, moreover, is not part of a chase, not part of any sequential action. It is a free-standing, drastically concentrated event – a threefold variation involving transition from a peaceful moment to the moment in which peace is next restored. The repetition invests the everyday scene with something of the quality of a film, a sense of déjà vu, as if it were possible to run the clock backwards.

Risk understood as suffering envisaged is synonymous with a dosed anticipation of death.

Artists – even the classical painters productive in their studios – always had to face particular risks and precarious living conditions. Some died early from saturnism or an adust lung because of the inhalation of corrosive solvent vapor, or licking the paint brush, saturated with zinc white, to fix the bristles with the spittle to a precise tool. Colour Risksis the title of a series of panels and wall paintings from 2009, in which Artigas combines the monochrome painting with an indication of the material inherent hazards. Lapidary the toxic substances and immanent risks are listed in the center of the paintings like on a patient information sheet. The aura of the work affects our wellbeing.

The scenic presentation of risk in the performances by Artigas gives a visible form to the perceived all-pervasive threat from terrorism, climate collapse and worldwide financial crises. In the 21st century, constant invocation of the risk – self-induced risk, at that – accruing from the radicalisation of capitalist free market principles and from over-played ideology – is leading by way of preventive threat-avoidance measures to an exponentially growing dynamic of control and an insurance risk calculation. The result is the “fear economy”, which is calling the tune in our “world risk society”[7]. The fear economy profits both from the hysteria engendered by the politics of fear and from the precautionary measures undertaken at the prompting of justified, proportionate anxiety. At the same time, however, we are witnessing the collapse of the theory that a more detailed understanding of the dangers, together with development of technologies deriving from them, could make the risk controllable at national level.


In On the Air, 2000, calculated risk as a potentiality is replaced by catastrophe that has really happened. At first glance everything seems innocuous enough. On a certain public square in Havana one can put down a deposit and hire a model aircraft and a radio control headset. On a specified frequency, headset wearers can listen to recordings made on aircraft black boxes during real crashes. One is perfectly free to switch to a different frequency and concentrate on playing with the model. In this way it becomes clear that a risk must be perceived before it can be experienced as a threat. Compassion, which is existential in its intensity, can be switched off in the same way. Artigas first set up this game at a date prior to 11 September 2001. Since that date, catastrophe resulting from human or technical failure, that is to say, from a relatively rare chance event, has given way to catastrophe brought about by a deliberate suicide attack. Today our collective sense of risk is defined by this wholly willed, terrorist threat.


After all the dangerous activities aimed at producing a spectacle, it is natural to feel a need for something quieter. Paradoxically enough, the need is met by a Sireneof 2007. Transparent and made of Plexiglas, this little sound-sculpture has a concealed pneumatic system that is activated by a sensor whenever someone enters. A pair of human vocal cords resonate when air is pumped in, producing a gentle, susurrating tone. The megaphone, a device used normally to amplify verbal propaganda material, becomes a whisper-horn and adopts a questioning rather than exclamatory tone. Its whispering echoes the ambiguity of the artist who has withdrawn into multiplicity.


(Translation: English Express)

[1]Nicolas Bourriaud interviewed in Stretcher, October 18, 2002, Walter McBean Gallery, San Francisco Art Institute. Seewww.stretcher.org/archives/i1_a/2003_02_25_i1_archive.php

[2]Nicholas Bourriaud, Relational Aesthetics(Dijon 1998), English edition 2002, p.13.

[3]Roger Caillois, Les jeux et les hommes, Paris 1958; Man, Play and Games, Chicago/Champaign 2001.

[4]Guy Debord, La societé du spectacle, Paris 1987. Das große Spiel: Die Situationisten zwischen Politik und Kunst, ed. Roberto Ohrt, Hamburg 2000.

[5]Roland Barthes, The Death of the Author, Aspen Magazine 5/6, 1967.

[6]cf. Gregory Bateson, Steps to an Ecology of Mind, San Francisco 1972, Ökologie des Geistes, Frankfurt/M 1981, p. 246 f.

[7]Ulrich Beck, World Risk Society, Cambridge 1999; Weltrisikogesellschaft. Auf der Suche nach der verlorenen Sicherheit, Frankfurt/M 2007.