Art as a Social Movement:
The Final Artwork of Michelangelo Pistoletto
In February 1994, the Italian artist Michelangelo Pistoletto laid the foundations of his Progetto Arte or ³Art Project² in Munich. This was a remarkably open-ended title for a work. What then could this title mean? Would it deal with the ultimate work of art, or maybe with his very last one? Or, does Progetto Arte suggest in a somewhat ironic manner that we are dealing with Pistoletto¹s first real work of art? Upon closer consideration, it appeared that The Art Project is not a material object. It is not an artistic artefact or an image. Rather, it comprises a concept that originated in 1994; yet, still has not been completed. It looks as if the project will not be brought to completion within the artist¹s lifetime. For this reason, Pistoletto is doing everything he can to guarantee the continuation of The Art Project after he is gone.
The Art Project could be described as an ongoing conversation. From 1994 onwards, Pistoletto has been organizing workshops, mainly at art academies all over the world; Munich, Turin, Milan, Vienna, London, Tokyo and his present residence in Biella have all been sites where discussions and videoconferences are held. The subject of the discussion: ³the role of art and of the artist in the world of today.² Pistoletto found the initial impetus to all these talks in some rudimentary assessments with regard to the present condition of our society. In his view, the 20th century witnessed an exponential acceleration of scientific and technological developments. On the one hand, fast communication technology brought the inhabitants of this earth closer to each other; on the other hand, this situation has exacerbated conflicts between ethnic groups who are desperately seeking their own stable identity. Within the global system, only one logic is playing a dominant role, namely that of the neo-liberal economy that no longer leaves space for a counter-position with regard to the rule of profit-making.
Michelangelo Pistoletto appears to be especially sensitive to such sociological phenomena. That is why he founded in 1996 as a continuation of The Art Project a huge organization and activist-artistic movement called Cittadellarte. Before I describe this ³final artwork² of Pistoletto, I offer an overview of his work.. I argue that substantial parts of Pistoletto¹s oeuvre can be interpreted sociologically as the preparation for a heterotopia in this late modern society. That is possible because Pistoletto¹s work is social from the beginning and it comments on society in a very sensitive way.
Anno Bianco or the art of contingency
In 1988, Michelangelo Pistoletto announced that the next year would be the Anno Bianco (The White Year), an artistic project in which the dimension of time occupied a central place. Pistoletto attempted to organise twelve exhibitions in galleries all over the world, registering the most important events of that year. Just like the mirror is reflecting the surroundings in which it is placed at random, Anno Bianco was to reflect the year in which the project condensed. In other words, Pistoletto allowed his work to depend on relatively contingent factors. Besides, this is one of the central motifs underpinning his oeuvre. In his work, a lot of space is allowed to the fortuitous or the accident¹. Every fact corresponds with an accident and an artistic oeuvre is both separated and linked by fate.
By embracing this concept, Pistoletto reveals himself to be the artist of contingency. Everything that is, could just as well have been different: nothing is necessary and nothing is impossible in the capriciousness of history. With this vision, the artist penetrates into the very core of the question of the place of art within contemporary society. It is a place that can no longer be actualised by means of unequivocal, abstract positions. For instance, for decades, the quintessential role that artistic artefacts and concepts play within our society does no longer consist of an alleged imitation of reality. This mirror function has been taken over by other mediums for quite some time. Art¹s basic preoccupation also does not lie with its critical function. The artist does not stand outside society, as so many creative individuals would be quite happy to believe. Like all other subjects and objects, they always are part of society. The putative outsider position is simply based on an exotic misunderstanding. Yet artistic artefacts do confront commonsense concepts with other conceptions of reality and with other conceptions from all over the world. In other words, they open up a horizon of possibilities and thus make visible the contingent character of the continuous reductions of complexity through which the world is being observed and consequently reduced. The artistic domain shows that contingency is a necessary prerequisite for a viable, because perpetually possibly different¹ world: the ultimate protection against social claustrophobia or societal compulsive neurosis. By making contingency into the central subject of his oeuvre, Pistoletto consciously thematizes this effect of art.
³Order is not determined by an a priori will but is a combination formed by accident or by a series of accidents. The fragment is ordered material interrupted by accident; the generating or regeneration element is therefore accident. The knowledge and the experience of ordered forms is projected into the future through the accident of today. To place difference of every kind (of style, conception, space, meaning) between my various works is to mark as deeply as possible the condition of accident, hence the vital present² (Pistoletto, 1988, p. 241).
Whether by coincidence or not, 1989, the year which was chosen to be the Anno Bianco, would go down into history as the year of the student revolts at the Tien An Men Square in China and, probably to a much larger extent at least with regard to the European situation of the fall of the Berlin wall. This crumbling of the physical borderline between East and West confirmed a new phase in the process of globalisation. The competition of the free-market place becomes the ultimate organising principle within global social interaction. By choosing this very year to be his Anno Bianco, Pistoletto becomes the registrar of this series of events with their great impact. The introduction of the historical fault-line in his work could be considered to be an important substrate for the Progetto Arte: the reflection upon the position of art and of the artist in this new world. Furthermore, the artist assessed that they were slowly drifting away from their surrounding historical condition. The Kantian paradigm of immanent artistic beauty that is marked by its a-historical universality and disinterestedness still inspires a great many thinkers. Quite to the contrary, Pistoletto conceives of art and of the artist within reality. This implies that both relate to a historically-determined artistic, but also to scientific, economic and political contexts. In his view, the artist ought to play a role in all of these social spheres. He can no longer withdraw into the cocoon of his own artistic universe, since society can no longer be understood in terms of neatly defined territories. The existential conditions of this universe are determined elsewhere and the artist has to interfere with this, if he is to play a role in the future.
By maintaining the position that the artist has to weave a web between all pre-eminent threads that make up the contemporary fabric of society¹, Pistoletto is defending a relatively a-modern idea. The artistic domain cannot be conceived of as an independent, sovereign space, because art has been decentralised. This means that, like all other social practices, from its very inception, art is embedded within a complex network of relations of power and of epistemological relations; this is the case even before artefacts are being launched on the art market. Within this concept, both art and the artist are hybrid beings which are at the same time artistic and political and economic, and Whereas the Modern Constitution liked to keep things separated within a constellation that could be described as either/or¹ - one was either political or economic or scientific or artistic - Pistoletto tends towards an impure¹ form which, at the same time, is of much greater complexity. At present, it is this very body of ideas that nourishes the debate in the Progetto Arte: is there any need today to rethink the model of the artist what is still based on the premises of purity dating back from the Enlightenment?
Throughout her work, the French art sociologist Nathalie Heinich outlines a type of genesis of the artistic model. In her view, the conception of the artist as a timeless prophet is an archetype which, towards the end of the nineteenth century, was based upon the Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh. In her work, he is the figure symbolising transition in a period wherein the communal regime of academia collapses to be replaced by the singular constitution of modernity. Furthermore, the developed discourse with regard to Van Gogh points at a shift within several important artistic values. For instance, the focus shifted from the oeuvre to the individual who creates it; the normal is being traded in for the abnormal, just like conformity to the academic norm is traded in for the cult of the strange. An image of particularity¹ is associated with the artist; it is based upon concepts like excess¹, personality¹, marginality¹, et cetera. According to Heinich, this emphasising of particularities happens by means of amongst other procedures - linking the uniqueness of the work of art to biographical and psychological information about the artist. This entails the personification of the work of art: subject and object, art and artist conclude an obscure pact what is definitely sealed and marked by a signature. In closing, all of this is being solidified in the well-known notion of authenticity. To the romantic artist, this leads to the expression of a connection between the artwork and his innermost being. The artistic artefact is the mirror of his unfathomable psyche: art as expression, as it were. Think of the painting in which Van Gogh portrays himself with his ear cut off. On the other hand, to the avant-garde artist, the successor of this romantic artist, this labour of individualisation implies a transgression of the frameworks defining art. However, these deviant findings have to be marked by the label of the artist: transgression always needs to be ascribed to an individual. It is his or her brand name. As such, for almost fifty years, Pistoletto has been chained to this one distinctive discovery¹ of the mirror.
What does it mean when an artist trades in the painted self-portrait for a mirror? To begin with, it points to a lot more than to a simple politics of distinction within a modern logic of art. An evident angle of incidence lies with the positioning of the mirror with regard to the painting. For one thing appears to be rather evident: the painting fixates. It fixates an image through which it freezes time at first, after which it will inevitably be caught by time. The first makes it possible for paintings to have a special documentary value regarding events that took place both within and without the art world during the period of their making. The second move entails the possibility to speak about dated¹ images. The painting can be situated in time and, for this reason, can be labelled classic¹ or déclassé¹. The image, reflected by a mirror, is of a totally different nature. It abandons fixation in favour of instability. The image presented by the mirror only refers to the moment of its genesis in minimal manner. First and foremost, it attempts to continuously catch up with time. The reflected image comprises the instantaneousness wherein past and present merge. It was for good reasons that the first mirror that Pistoletto exhibited in Turin in 1962 was titled Il Presente or The Present.
The self-portrait as pars pro toto¹ of a form of painting not only freezes time, but also incarnates the way of realizing this fixation by means of the personality of the artist. The artist who fixates himself emphasises his own uniqueness and singularity. It is no coincidence that the self-portrait has gained considerable importance during the Renaissance, the cradle of bourgeois individualism. The linkage of the artist to his artwork is visually sealed in this type of artistic artefacts. The singular authorship is triumphant, as it were, in the self-portrait. The artist places himself in an auratic perspective at the centre of the world. He construes his ego as a historical figure at the junction of different events. The mirror does not only change the dimension of time, it also radically breaks with this ego-staging. The artist who observes himself in the mirror, does not only see himself anymore, but also his surroundings. Furthermore, any spectator can take his place. By means of the mirror, Michelangelo Pistoletto allows heterogeneity to irrupt and he can no longer leave it unaccounted for afterwards.
³There arises a relationship of triplication of the subject: I the viewer, I on the surface, I in the reflection; and there arises a weaving together of relations among all the other elements² (Pistoletto, 1988, p. 246).
The artist conceives of himself as a heterogeneous being with regard to all other things and therefore also to his own relativity. When he steps out of the reflecting surface of the mirror, his own image disappears. Its space is cleared for the reflection of other objects and people. The artist in the mirror is but a passer-by like numerous others. The politics of the ego, symbolised by the self-portrait, is being handed over in favour of a politics of an alter-ego relationship. By doing this, the artist also intensely relativises time and space. Pistoletto often emphasises this idea by introducing people in the mirror. While the people who have been fixated on the mirror freeze in time, many other egos pass them by. In other words, it is in the mirror that Michelangelo discovers in 1961 a particular capacity, namely the one of heterotopia. It was only twenty years later that the French philosopher Michel Foucault would make a comparable association:
³The mirror is a utopia after all, since it is a placeless place. In the mirror I see myself where I am not, in an unreal space that opens up virtually behind the surface; I am over there where I am not, a kind of shadow that gives me my own visibility, that enables me to look at myself there where I am absent a mirror utopia. But it is also a heterotopia in that the mirror really exists, in that it has a sort of return effect on the place that I occupy. Due to the mirror, I discover myself absent at the place where I am, since I see myself over there. From that gaze which settles on me, as it were, I come back to myself and I begin once more to direct my eyes toward myself and to reconstitute myself there where I am. The mirror functions as a heterotopia in the sense that it makes this place which I occupy at the moment when I look at myself in the glass both utterly real, connected with the entire space surrounding it, and utterly unreal since, to be perceived, it is obliged to go by way of that virtual point which is over there² (Foucault, 1994, (1984), p. 179).
The Minus Artist
Pistoletto calls himself a Minus Artist: the artist who devises a modest move within an immense configuration network of many moves, of what he himself is a constituent part. Each work becomes a new point in this interplay which is no longer completely subordinated to the artist. The author¹ moves to the side-line as soon as the artistic intervention is completed in order to have it filed in¹ by other things: contemporary surroundings in case of the mirror, for instance, or a contingent succession of historical events in Anno Bianco. Pistoletto thus construes perpetuum mobiles¹ or motionless movers. After having been constructed by the artist, the artefacts start to operate autonomously as a cause in-and-of-itself, sui generis¹. The mirror continues to endlessly reflect in front of it, independent from the artist. One could state that Pistoletto constructs open¹ works of art that are based on an awareness of otherness. At times they let the latter slide in, or at least invite it to do so. The Minus Artist does however retain his singular character, but always relates it to a much larger world and history. The artist in the mirror no longer is a person who falls back upon himself; instead he opts for a directed self-relativisation of his individual position. At the same time, it implies a calling into question of the role he plays within the present constellation of the world. Pistoletto puts the humanist inheritance of the belief in the autonomy of the artist between brackets. The artistic act of complete self-determination is approached with due scepticism. However, self-relativisation does not imply a minimisation of the role of the artist. It simply quite literally means: to relate itself to¹. Acts, whether or not of an artistic nature, always take shape in an interdependent chain of actions and reactions between people and things. The world does not revolve around the artist. He is but a tiny particle within a gigantic quantum conglomerate.
Minus Objects / Quasi Objects
In the midst of the sixties, the above-mentioned idea is further buttressed by Pistoletto¹s Oggetti in Meno or the Minus Objects. The reflection in the mirror is left behind in favour of the practice of placing the most divergent objects in a given space. The only thing that keeps these objects together are the differences between them. Compared to the mirror, these objects bestow a more active role upon the spectator as the latter needs to move in between these artefacts. This performative statute bestows the role of quasi-objects upon the Oggetti in Meno, as they were described by the French philosopher of science Bruno Latour: hybrid beings in the border-zone between an ideal and a material world. Latour problematises the dichotomies between the idea and the material, mind and body, subject and object, culture and nature, et cetera They originated in classic antiquity and have subsequently been reinforced all over the West throughout the following centuries by Christianity. The oppositions have ultimately been validated as basic differentiations by several scientific disciplines.
In his oeuvre, Pistoletto regularly plays with this deep-rooted dichotomy. For instance, in Anno Uno, a piece of theatre performed in 1981, he places people by means of columns under a wooden construction. In this work, subjects became objects, or rather quasi-objects: if they were to break down, the fragile architectural construction would collapse. Within the frame of reference of Bruno Latour, one could locate the Oggetti in Meno and the quasi-objects of Anno Uno in between and underneath the crystallised poles of people and things. They are located on the very spot where splitting up becomes unthinkable because, as Latour argues, dualism and dialectics are endlessly revolving around it without focusing on it. For instance, as artistic artefacts, the Minus Objects are much more social¹, much more construed and much more communal than natural objects. Yet, one can by no means reduce them to simple machines for the projection of meaning. They are much more real, a-human and objective than mere symbolical representations.
³... with regard to the Minus Objects¹ and to Pistoletto¹s oeuvre as a whole, one should not speak of symbols. These things don¹t represent¹, they simply are¹. They do not carry concepts, they are the arrival point, the terminus.² (Serafini, 2001, p. 30).
The Oggetti in Meno constitute a terminus, indeed. For this reason, Pistoletto does not refer to them as constructions, but much rather as liberations¹. They were constituent parts of a whole from which they have been subtracted, hence the minus. The artefacts do not signify a surplus, but rather a less-than-the-whole¹. This negative¹ definition might, at first sight, appear to be quite opaque, maybe even mystical. Yet, Pistoletto¹s discourse relies on a well-known paradigm, namely that of semantics. This scientific discipline departs from the idea that words only get meaning in relation to other words. The context is decisive for the frame of interpretation of the concept in question. Consequently, meanings are interwoven in a network of words. A comparable thing is at stake with the Minus Objects. In Pistoletto¹s view, they get new meaning as the combinations between them change. Yet artefacts do have some defining power, albeit merely as a result of their materiality. Quite simply, they oblige the spectator to walk around them, for instance. In this sense, they represent a relative ontology and not an absolute relativism, as some semioticians and other post-modern characters would like to make us believe. However, the artefacts barely have any immanent value. I did indeed write barely¹; as a result of their use throughout history, the Oggetti in Meno do fixate certain meanings in the same manner as some signifiers solidify as a result of their being used repetitively within the same semantics. An identity is fixated in the refrain, in repetition.
In the Minus Objects, the refrain is contained in a programmatic manner in the plural of their name. The Oggetti in Meno can be exhibited as singular objects, but with their collective label their interpretation cannot elude a connection with other artefacts. Once again, their very name points out to us that we are dealing with heterogeneous entities whose identities and the roles that they play are in part determined by the relations between them. The relational is the very instrument to acknowledge them. Each artefact exists in a juxtaposition with other objects, enhanced throughout time, and it is linked to the latter as a result of the title in the plural form. Consequently, every modality of presenting implies a simplification of the work, for it is but one choice out of many possibilities. In theory, an indefinite number of combinations are possible; in practice, however, the patterns of interdependency are limited to a certain number of configurations. Within a given presentation, the possible contributions of the Minus Objects to the whole are temporarily located within a relatively marked definition. Consequently, both the architecture the material and the discursive space and the exhibition curator carry a special responsibility, for both contribute to the way how the Minus Objects will enroll¹ the spectator. This refers to the way in which the spectator will be defined by the presentation and to the role which will be allotted to him or to her by means of this presentation. Subsequently, the contextualisation of the Oggetti in Meno decides upon the possible scenarios according to which the spectator can enroll¹ himself, for he or she still has the personal choice between several parcours within the (pre-)organised space.
Whereas the above is implicitly valid for all presentations of art, Pistoletto thematises this complexity in his Minus Objects. The title in the plural form shifts the focus from the singular object to the relations between them and consequently also to the problem of displaying them. Furthermore, the artefacts represent a whole minus one and time and again, they need to be redefined to arrive at this whole. The Oggetti in Meno are conceived in such manner that they refer to the contribution of several actors as well as to their shared responsibilities. In their quality of quasi-subjects, they call upon an extended social configuration. Once again, the impact of the artist is put in between brackets or is at least related to and hence made dependent upon the contribution of other people, institutions and objects. They become co-authors or co-producers in a heterogeneous game within one unique presentation. By doing so, Pistoletto¹s shift of accent from the singular object to interrelations and mediation emphasises the event-character of every exhibition. The focus on the intentional artistic act shifts to the perceived event. The total of actors can only try to create the conditions for an in optimal experience. Every exhibition brings together objects, subjects and social configurations in a different relational context, thus also in a new frame of meaning. For, each and every time, they are turned into a conjectural event in co-production with objects, subjects and configurations that may or may not be of relevance. In other words, the Oggetti in Meno are not dealing with the order of things, but with the process of ordering. In this manner, Pistoletto does not only impact upon our perception of art, but also upon the way in which the art system functions. The Minus Objects can be read as a modest institutional comment: only up to a certain degree is the meaning of artistic artefacts depending upon the intention of the artist since a polyphony of connotations is woven by a heterogeneous company of subjects and objects. It is this collective configuration what generates artistic meaning by its interwoven-ness.
What is uncovered in the process, is one of the few things that can be stated with regard to the work of art with relative certainty. During its entire history, the artwork has attempted to connect itself. For instance, music begs¹ to be listened to; paintings, sculptures, dance performances, beg to be seen and/or heard. Without these interested eyes and ears, the artefact does not have any artistic meaning. With the rise of modernity, this urge to connect has only been intensified. In pre-modern times, only nobility and the clergy decided upon the artistic¹. This all-controlling royal or religious gaze on the artefact has been sidelined by modernity. As a result thereof, however, the point of reference of the artwork became less unequivocal. With whom or what ought it associate, as of yet? For, in the modern world, the work of art is the object of economic, political, artistic, configurations. Despite the struggle of a great many, it refuses to be reduced to one of these categories. Whenever the artistic artefact shows itself in public - for example in a museum - it is subject to the gaze of politicians, businessmen, sponsors, art critics, programme-makers, curators, et cetera. Consequently, it is at this very locus that the artefact engages in the most heterogeneous of connections. Like a tiny machiavellist¹, it is searching for fans¹, coalition partners or allies. In the process, it is oblivious to those who might be in the exhibition hall or in the museum, for, as everybody knows, artefacts cannot see. Artworks not to be confounded with artists can unconditionally and without any preference associate with everything and with everybody. After all, it is up to the spectator for the work of art still is in the eyes of the beholder¹ to decide whether its desire to construct a network is reciprocated or not. Quite paradoxically, in this urge to connect, the artwork does not counter the modernist claim to autonomy. In fact, it is dependent upon an amalgamation of spectators and mediators. The Oggetti in Meno make this abundantly clear. Michelangelo Pistoletto further extends and expands the heterotopical artistic reality of the mirror by emphasising the relational instead of the immanent, differentiality instead of univocality, heterogeneity instead of homogeneity, ambivalence instead of unequivocality. Pre-existent frames of reference and categories of observation are increasingly shaken and shuffled.
In his book The badlands of modernity¹, the English sociologist Kenneth Hetherington probes the nature of the social order within modernity. For this purpose, he searches for spaces that, during the eighteenth century, gave meaning to marginality, transgression and resistance. Michel Foucault¹s concept of heterotopia occupies a special place in this research. In Foucault¹s work, this originally medical concept is translated into sociological terms as the organisation of a social space that is somewhat different from everyday surroundings. Heterotopia displays itself in between eu-topia: the place of good, and ou-topia: the non-place. Already in the sixteenth century, Thomas Moore intertwined both Greek notions in the neologism utopia: a good place that does not exist anywhere, only in our imagination. Utopia shows us the way to a better place, yet only exists as a socially constructed desire. It is the horizon, a point of possibilities beyond reach which creates a glimpse from the other side of both the world and of heaven. However, as we progress, this horizon continues to move forward as an unreachable border. To be sure, such a collective fiction does generate reality effects. It organises real spaces by means of ideas and of practices that, in some way or other, represent good life¹ or at least the desire therefore. Heterotopia expresses a concrete translation of this sort. Whereas utopia is an imaginary construction of a well-defined social order, heterotopia constitutes the uncertain local play of social ordering in reality. Utopia somewhere is up in the air over there and one can feel, see and smell it in everything that happens there. Heterotopia does so by offering a place to hybrids and to paradoxes. Contradictions are only experienced as such because the larger surrounding space is organised according to different principles of ordering. Consequently, heterotopia only exists in relation to other social forms of organisation.
According to Hetherington, at a certain moment in history, the Palais Royal - what was built for cardinal Richelieu in the vicinity of the Louvre in Paris - was a good example of such a place of paradoxes. Towards the end of the eighteenth century, its then owner, the aristocrat Louis-Philippe, Duc d¹Orléans (a cousin of the King of France) transformed the complex from a monolithic function as a place of residence into a multifunctional space with several shops. Rather quickly, the Palais Royal developed into a polyphonic complex with theatres, an opera, cafés, restaurants, commercial undertakings, coffee houses, etc. Festivals and circus entertainment generated a carnivalesque atmosphere. They were the vehicles which brought about social inversion between the highest and the lowest strata of the population. Quite paradoxically, all symptoms of modern consumer culture found a place within the property of one of the leading members of aristocracy at that time. Incidentally, it was in a coffee house at this complex that, on July 12th 1789, Camille Desmouling jumped on a table and gave his famous speech, after which the Bastille was stormed, sparking the French Revolution. In other words, the Palais Royal was a stage for a curious mix of the orthodox and the heterodox. Whilst being a heritage of the Ancien Régime, it was at the same time a place for a new era. These are more or less the features of a heterotopical place. The boundary between centre and periphery cannot be drawn by evidence. Every social order always implied deviant forms that converge at those places populated by irreconcilable things, people and ideas. Cultural practices that are experienced as paradoxes, merge in an unexpected bricolage. In other words: disorder always is already present within order.
This very principle introduces Michelangelo Pistoletto with his Art Project:
³Progetto Arte is the visible sign of a possible principle that of the joining of opposites which can be applied to all social contexts, in terms both ideal and practical² (Pistoletto, 1994).
The debate that was started with the Art Project in 1994, was continued in a physical translation in 1996 in the form of Cittadellarte. This contraction of the Italian words for citadel and for city refers to the presence of two categories which are difficult to reconcile. For the former stands for a secluded, protected area, whereas the latter is a metaphor of dynamism, expansion and a complex of mutually interdependent elements that fan out into the world. By means of these internal paradoxes, the word refers to one of the basic paradoxes of heterotopia, as it had been described by Michel Foucault. It presupposes a mechanism of opening and closing: at the same time, it closes off the place and makes it accessible. The most adequate metaphor to understand a comparable heterotopic place may be the one of the sailing ship, according to Foucault.
³...the ship is a piece of floating space, a placeless place, that lives by its own devices, that is self-enclosed and, at the same time, delivered over to the boundless expanse of the ocean, and that goes from port to port, from watch to watch, from brothel to brothel, all the way to the colonies in search of the most precious treasures that lie waiting in their gardens, you see why for our civilization, from the sixteenth century up to our time, the ship has been at the same time not only the greatest instrument of economic development, of course, but the greatest reservoir of imagination. The sailing vessel is the heterotopia par excellence. In civilizations without ships the dreams dry up, espionage takes the place of adventure, and the police that of the corsairs² (Foucault, 1994 (1984), p. 184-185).
Cittadellarte materialised in a previous textile factory with an adjoining previous mill along the river Cervo in the city of Biella. During both the Middle Ages and under the rule of the house of Piemonte-Savoie it was one of the centres that contributed to making the North of Italy into a prosperous textile region. In a short period of time the Fondazione Pistoletto founded a genuine organisation. The time-honoured practice of weaving is one of the many metaphors that abounds to somehow verbalise the organisation of this centre. For, within the walls of this factory, a network is being woven in which the artistic element functions as a link connecting the most divergent practices. The organisation is conceived in a manner that all possible art forms such as music, theatre, literature, dance, photography, architecture and the visual arts can be connected with other types of societal systems. Cittadellarte reveals itself to be a mediator between art and economy, politics, science, education, et cetera. By doing so, Pistoletto, opens up a social space for his previously described a-modern and/and¹-discourse. His artistic trajectory has been translated into the social sphere in a very ambitious manner. The classic modern¹ singular position of the artist is transformed into that of someone who places himself in a position of a collective collaboration, not only with other artists, but also with scientists, businessmen, politicians and a very diverse group of social actors. In a way, one could say that Pistoletto started to combine his original relationship to his artefacts with a social setting marked by quite very intensive interactions and negotiations with a lot of people in order to work out a huge work of art¹. By doing so, he transformed his own artistic position and career into an inventive communal model. With Cittadellarte, Pistoletto initiated an open space in which other actors can come to work at an artistic process. This implies that this project can be translated and transmuted by others. Some of them pass by and leave after some months, whereas others stay at the place to work for many years. Some people leave to come back after months or a year. By operating in this way, Cittadellarte became a central focal point in an expanding network and the identity of this passage is the outcome of many interactions and collaborations. Consequently, one could not state anymore that there is only one auteur¹ for this artistic project. In other words, Pistoletto made his concept of the Minus Artist very concrete. The man literally became an actor who devises a modest move within an immense configuration network of many moves, of which Pistoletto himself, of course, is a constituent part. All the artists and other social actors in Cittadellarte retain their singular character, but always relate it to a much larger world.
Uffizi¹ as organizing principle
By means of slogans like Eliminate distances while maintaining differences¹; Art at the centre of a social responsible transformation¹; The artist as sponsor of thought¹ and the like, Pistoletto is adapting a heterogeneous cluster of the most divergent forms of social praxis. These direct one-liners work as a factor of attraction to many people in different social spheres. The discursive regime is building up a horizon to which other actors can relate themselves: this means they can get involved with or distance themselves from it. The heterogeneity is also illustrated by the activities within and around the Uffizi¹, as they are called within the Cittadellarte. The term Uffizi¹ refers to the Renaissance concept wherein economy, education, politics, philosophy, religion, art and science, but also both private and public life interacted in a pre-modern hybrid manner. In one of these offices the work currently carried out consists in building the architecture of an alternative economic system, an economical organicity¹, which attempts to implement social, ecological, ethical and aesthetic values within contemporary economy. In the Economics Office¹, artists and scientists set up a research to find a possible answer or answers to the dominant neo-liberal system. By attempting to bring art in the centre of the economic field and by describing the artist as an actor who has to take his responsibility in this system, Cittadellarte wants to break open the contemporary dominant capitalist system. They do this not by working against the system, but by creating an open space for artistic contingency inside it. This not only happens on a macro-level by trying to develop a so called grand theory¹, but also by working on a micro-level in particular companies. The Economics Office¹, for example, functions as an intermediary between artists and companies in order to stimulate an influence of art on those factories. In that way, artists can become a kind of free space¹ in companies to develop projects with workers and other employees. By giving this room to the unknown¹ called art, companies demonstrate at least an opening to the other which can be the starting point for further transformations. Cittadellarte is now at a phase of creating as many rooms for art in the economic system as possible, in the hope that the latter will change step by step. By combining the research for a new grand theory¹ with very practical empirical artistic research, we can describe the organisation in Biella as working on a middle-range level that tries to find the right concepts for a concrete praxis on the one hand, and uses the experiences from these concrete artistic acts to develop a different vision on how economy can function on the other hand.
In the context of another project that originated in the Politics Office¹, Cittadellarte works on an artistic movement for Inter-Mediterranean politics, called Love Difference¹. This is an attempt to find an answer to globalisation and the new world order. The project that was presented at Utopia Station¹ at the Venice Biennial in 2003 can be seen as the start of a participatory artistic movement that is open to anyone interested in the artistic encounter between different societal systems that are a reflection of world-wide tensions. The Politics Office¹ of Cittadellarte conceives of the Inter-Mediterranean area as a symbolic place where the major problems and conflicts of the world come together. The countries around the Mediterranean sea, for example, are the locus of oppositions between rich and poor, between different religions and confronting cultural habits. The political movement of Cittadellarte wants to stimulate the interaction between all those extreme differences and, therefore again, conceives art to be an important communication modality.
The Quest as an Artistic Methodology
All of these projects are based on the very big ambition to make a real difference departing from art. In order to do this, they combine a utopian desire with a high level of pragmatism and entrepreneurial orientation. The aims, often expressed in the above-mentioned slogans, point out the direction and energise the artistic process of transformation. The activities are intended to make real progress in the desired direction. In order to make this difference on the ground, all possible roads are being followed and continuously reconfigured and all possible resources are being invested and reinvested. Full time staff members, experts, trainees, young residents, civil servants, members of the family and ever more former residents compose a very hybrid group that gets involved in the ambitious plan.
By means of slogans and manifests, Michelangelo Pistoletto attempts to generate a space for alternative societal praxes. However, the discourse that buttresses it is quite robust and unfinished. To be clear, at this moment, Cittadellarte does not so much articulate a constituent part of any well-delineated scientific framework, nor a sophisticated, let alone verified theory. This probably is a characteristic of an artistic approach; for art wants to go fast and often impacts upon situations before they have become facts. Quite to the contrary, any form of scientific progress depends on specific methodologies they become a consistent conceptual whole. For this reason, scientists work at a considerably lower speed than the artist, since the latter is not bound to something like the onus probandi¹ or burden of proof. This does not mean that the artist would not make use of any form of methodology, but he or she develops his or her own one. Speaking with artists in Cittadellarte, one can discover that this artistic methodology¹ is often considered by them to be a question of ethics. Can I really interfere in an economic system, can I really participate in a political movement? And, what then is my position as an artist, how can I define or re-define my praxis? These are reflexive questions you often come across in Biella. But one thing seems to be certain: in spite of his or her doubts, an artist can react to historical events and to the world surrounding him or her in a much more tentative manner than the scientist. According to the American sociologist John Manfredi, it is the very independence from standardised methodologies that enables the artist to quickly and in a sensitive manner point to places where the angels of science dare not thread. Compared to the scientist, the artist therefore always is in the avant-garde. Cittadellarte does not constitute a model for well-founded scientific research on a possible social model. But it does offer space for a quest. Like in mediaeval ballads, this word does not refer to a search for something that has already been adequately defined. For the quest is a type of research that produces its own object, like the Knights of the Round Table fabricated their Holy Grail. Furthermore, it is a search that never ends.
³A quest unlike a search, never ends; it alternates between striving for resolution and immediate relaunching, between the certainty required for action and the demolition of certainty that results from reflection, between the very human dreams of sitting still and moving forward² (Czarniawska, 1997, p. 160).
Characteristic of such a quest is the fact that it entails quite a lot of trial and error. In other words, sitting still and moving at the same time does imply a considerable loss. The great number of oppositions and paradoxes regularly lead to blockages and tensions, which have to be resolved and for which time and again solutions have to be found. Consequently, loss is a part of the productive quest: no experiment, no laboratory, no invention without loss. Time and again, there is a need to search for other ways in an empirical manner. By means of his slogans and his manifests, Pistoletto constantly produces borderline ideas or markedly ambivalent categories that are used as vehicles for this purpose. This ambitious performance of hybrid ideas is provocative to the curious spectator, company executives, scientists, politicians and young artists, because Pistoletto refers to a different order than the one to which we are used to at the present time. The Manifesto dell¹Arte e dell¹Impresa¹ (Manifesto of Art and Enterprise¹) of 2002 can be seen as one example of this hybrid discourse:
³Italy possesses the essential elements required to move towards new and significant horizons, recombining ideals and activity in the present, a period in which the need for a new Renaissance is clearly evident. The Italian productive and artistic spirit has in its DNA the characteristics of multiformity, multiplicity and difference, previous values of the past that project towards the future. They are resources that must be preserved and protected in every possible way, like the major historic monuments, of which Italy has the greatest number. At the same time, ancient ambitions must be reconverted into the shared commitment to produce a new history. The artistic-entrepreneurial figure established with this project embodies a moral¹ factor which comes into the economic calculation of the entrepreneur, whose objective is enriched to become a full-fledged mission. The manifesto can basically be summarised by this slogan: Italian enterprise is a cultural mission² (Pistoletto, 2002).
The ethics of modern art
To the sedentary modernist, this curious mixture of art, politics and economics will appear to be extremely suspect. From modern times onwards, social reality was conceptualised as a differentiated space. Art occupies an autonomous place within this space what is to be cut off from other social realities in order to remain unpolluted. However, the ordering of the world, according to this morality of purity, leads to a particularly ambivalent methodology of repression. As early as 1977, the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu already pointed out in great detail that artistic activity is draining economical transactions to the darkroom of the socially unconscious; yet, the same goes for political practices or private matters. The good¹, or rather, the genuinely incorruptible¹ artist is solely devoted to his artistic endeavour. The rest is of secondary importance, according to the artistic ethics of modernism. Quite paradoxically, a comparable rhetoric of independence leads to a great measure of dependence. For instance, the artist who does not deal with economics or politics will not develop alternative systems of distribution and is also not concerned with the powers that deal with him or her.
Not only the artist, but also artistic institutions stage this autonomy. For example, if one is to enter a museum of contemporary art, on one side of the entrance one will notice the names of politicians who contributed to the realisation of the building or the collection, whereas on the other side, he will see the names of sponsors who somehow contribute to its functioning by means of financial support. When the spectator subsequently enters the museum halls, he leaves these representatives of power and economy behind him in order to let himself be surrounded by nothing but pure Art. He imagines himself to dwell in an autonomous and spotless space. The generally white walls emphasise this virgin nature. This is the very staging that Michelangelo Pistoletto calls into question. According to him, this (western) way of ordering is overripe. The internal contradictions it breads whilst continuously trying to obfuscate them are proliferating and need to be brought to the fore. This, amongst other things, is the aim of Art at the centre - of a responsible social transformation¹, a sequence of exhibitions which takes place every year at Cittadellarte. Young curators are invited to develop models of exhibiting which target the borderline and the possible relations between art and politics, economy, science, etc. In this regard, it becomes a matter of fact that representatives of economy and politics are involved in the exhibition. Maecenatism, sponsors or instances that grant subventions are not acquitted by merely cashing in on their generous financial support. A more thorough form of engagement is expected from them what, at the very least, implies a relation to the artistic. For example, the New Agora¹, the title of an exhibition in 2002, did face up to the interdependent relations with corporate business structure and with the political arena. The exhibition of 2003 Public Art in Italy¹ investigates the complexity of public art, again rendering visible the broader network around a work of art. According to Cittadellarte, this integrated approach offers the sole possibility to arrive at a sound analysis. Subsequently, one could attempt to redefine the relation between the artist and his surroundings. Perhaps, this line of thought is not all that odd. More than in the recent past, the world of visual art of today is hemmed in by political and, most of all, economic types of logic. Trying to suppress this reality does not appear to be the most efficient strategy. Only upon acknowledging different relations of dependency, one can start to work on new models for artists, for organisations, presentations and distribution systems for art.
Another important factor in Cittadellarte is ³The University of Ideas,² (UNIDEE) founded in a workshop in 1999. Under the banner of UNIDEE, people from all over the world are offered a place of residence in Biella. The organisers of the programme who accompany them have a function what is quite specific for the organisation. They not only support the residents, but also search for translations between the quest of the organisation and their personal research on a permanent basis. They try to connect the individual path of the singular resident with the possibilities of the organisation. They also play the role of translation centres between the individual passengers¹ and the Uffizi. And, in their turn, the offices¹ engage in translations with the world outside Cittadellarte. In a subsequent stage, the offices organise and accompany the residents in their negotiations with companies, politicians, economists, scientists, or whatever the social actors are with whom the residents want to work. In this way, Cittadellarte is conceptualised as one big translation centre between the world of art and all the other societal subsystems.
Also the selection of the residents proves that Cittadellarte takes far-reaching consequences for the way in which choices are being made. The selection of residents does not aim at warranting secure results. It searches possibilities. Openness and aspiration are the main criteria, rather than any professional certainty. The residents may take part in the project of Cittadellarte and eventually transform or widen it by their own orientation. It is also specific for UNIDEE that they have just one very big atelier, called the laboratory, where all the residents have to define their own place. Just like the Minus Artist¹, they have to re-define their own individual position, and, in the first instance, inscribe it within the small network of the other residents. Consequently, the very spatial setting calls into question the classic articulation of the singular artist and egocentric individuality. In the group of 2003, there were, amongst others, a Danish economist and philosopher, an English architect and composer and an Indian designer. Some of the selected residents already have a quite successful experience, while others are very young people who are just starting to develop their own ideas and concepts. All of them are being confronted with the strange mix that is proper to the place: the quest with a dedication to high goals combined with a pragmatic challenge to make real progress on the spot. The residents can work on their own projects, but are also involved in project-based activities supported by scientists, entrepreneurs and other artists.
The guests are strongly encouraged to organise artistic projects within a non-artistic environment. Socially disadvantaged neighbourhoods, business companies, educational systems, urban developments and virtual spaces on the web are sites that have been explored as of yet. It is of great importance that the residents work in a position requiring direct negotiations in which they, time and again, have to fend for their own space. UNIDEE offers a context that also proposes twilight zones to the passengers¹ that may be considered to be particularly risky, such as, for example, to work in a private company. Unavoidably, with regard to this, the quest generates considerable losses what are a quintessential part of a laboratory context of trial and error. As for the projects of Cittadellarte themselves, the volatile combination of openness, aspiration and outside parties (politicians, entrepreneurs, factory workers,) does not guarantee a perfectly finalised output. Both the choice of the settings and the choice of the residents are adventurous and may lead to a result that is not really satisfying, not for Cittadellarte, nor for the residents themselves. Because artists sometimes work in risky twilight zones they can fall short in their aims. Especially dealing with companies can result in a quick adaptation of the artistic project in the main strategy of the enterprise. In some cases, art is used for nothing but sheer image building. For instance, their products are given a new design by as the companies see it - some eccentric creative character¹. In that case, the project is enrolled as an aestheticizing patch-up; quite a clever marketing strategy for the enterprise. This is very much the risk of working in an a-modern area.
In other cases, the interventions have a much more thorough impact. For example, residents could analyse the corporate structure or the production process and subsequently plan an artistic move in the process. They attempt to get a grip on fossilised phenomena like routine, fixed time schedules, standardised production, management, world economy and translate these in to an experiment which stimulates a creative process inside these environments. Those projects shape the possibility for reflection, which can at a certain moment be reinvested in the social system as a place of practical transformations.
The residents at UNIDEE are encouraged to take up the position of negotiators in non-artistic places in order to search for possible intermediary forms. This position is challenging the young resident to take upon her- or himself the full ambition and pragmatism of Cittadellarte. For he or she is to impose his or her artistic will within a context that is not made for it and which, quite often, can hardly deal with it. At times, this requires an especially sophisticated form of ingenuity because they need to appropriate the place of a strategically conceptualised unit of production in an intelligent manner by means of all sorts of tactics. Consequently, the project can turn into a very tiresome process of negotiating, devising detours, making compromises, undoing compromises, etc. Therefore, certainly in the beginning, some of the residents have many doubts. The clear position of Cittadellarte in its willingness to work together with the most heterogeneous categories of societal subsystems provokes a lot of discussions and opposition. They constitute a huge debate within the organisation. In the beginning, a lot of residents have the feeling that, for example, they have to sell out their artistic soul to a company or an other non-artistic environment¹. In discussions they warn their colleagues-residents for the suspect compromises they may engage in, for the incredibility of the intentions of the corporate world or for the presumed naiveté of Cittadellarte¹s utopia. The role of those debates is just as quintessential, since they fuel opponent positions in which, at a certain moment, reflective energy arises. Michelangelo Pistoletto sees this as one of the most constructive conditions, as he explains in his own metaphor:
³This space is free, open and responsive, like an open, free and responsive mind. Free, as the mind needs to be free in order to understand what happens in this place. It is a massive generator, a generator of energy. In nature, energy manifests itself in the meeting/clash between two poles. In the meeting/clash between the positive and the negative pole. We all know about the experience of destructive lightning. But now we can experience productive, civilised lightning, namely electricity: a perfect contact between opposite polarities² (Pistoletto, 2001).
Beyond the Artworld
For, just like the mirror, Cittadellarte also lets alterity irrupt. The place offers a space for contradictions and for contradictory visions. This regularly leads to particularly heated discussions with fellow-residents and last, but most certainly not least, with Pistoletto himself. For we cannot forget that the artist of the mirror is also tributary to the context of modern art. He carries the burden of this heritage unconditionally along with his desire to surpass it. As such, the mirror and the Minus Objects represent the orthodoxy of the configuration of modern art to which heterodoxy is to relate itself in Cittadellarte. In his capacity of a modern artist, Pistoletto generates an a-modern space, just like Louis-Philippe, in his capacity of aristocrat, lets the new world of consumption irrupt. This openness towards alterity leads to both internal tensions and to internecine contradictions and hence to discussions. At any event, there is more than ample space for discussion within Cittadellarte. At times, this is organised within a formal framework, yet, the most interesting debate takes place around the table at night, whilst enjoying the evening meal. Wine and delicious food constitutes the ideal informal context for both constructive discussion and loss. Consequently, it is not only the laboratory of the residents what is at the heart of the previous textile factory, but also its cafeteria. In between copious blathering, a reflexive discourse regularly pops up in which definitions of art and of the artist are made and unmade on a permanent basis. It becomes a real stake because there¹s an aspiration steering it that may be called utopic. At the same time, there¹s not only an aspiration to materialise this but also an incessant openness and willingness to accept otherness. As such, Cittadellarte is generating a field of tension in between art and economy, art and politics, compliant and opponent voices, young artists and Pistoletto, et cetera. This is the main difference with the manifold other artistic places of residence, open ateliers, or postgraduate programmes. In Biella, the artist has to search for relations which reach beyond the art world. While many types of programmes are limited to a citadel or a sealed-off, safe space, a nursery for art¹, Cittadellarte attempts to take in the world with all its complexity and contradictions.
Worlds of Grandeur
As told, the main challenge of Cittadellarte is to develop relations between art and other domains of reality. This is done through experience, by building bridges wherever this is possible. These connections have to find a link between worlds that have different languages, modes of behaviour or understandings. Residents have to be able to relate to other worlds of grandeur¹. By using this concept, the French sociologist Luc Boltanski and his fellow-countryman the economist Laurent Thévenot point at the polyphony of systems of valorisation that co-exist in a given society. For the appreciation of great¹ accomplishments or of persons or objects with grandeur depends on the regime of values in which one operates. For example, the French scientists make a difference between the world of inspiration, the domestic world, the world of opinion, the civil world, the economic world and the industrial world in which qualities are evaluated in a different manner. Consequently, the regime of artistic value or the world of inspiration is characterised by an appreciation of constant move and change that is being dictated by a singular regime.
³This world, in which persons have to be ready to welcome changes of state according to inspiration, is not very stable and poorly equipped. Everything which, in the other worlds, supports and equips equivalence, such as measures, rules, money, hierarchies, laws, etc. is being cast aside. Taking into account its poor level of equipment, this world tolerates the existence of internal tests which are more or less objectifiable, which protects inspired grandeur¹ from the opinion of others it is indifference to signs of contempt by others yet, this also constitutes its fragility. In fact, the inspired world has to deal with the paradox of a grandeur¹ which eludes measure and of a form of equivalence which privileges singularity.² (Boltanski and Thévenot, 1991, p. 200)
We here deal with an apparatus of evaluation what is totally uncalled for in the civil world or in the industrial world. The civil world, for example the domain of politics, is much more geared towards collective and public acknowledgement within a regime of affirmation. Grandeur¹ is being measured according to the degree in which one is dealing with collective objectives as opposed to private preoccupations. It is a world of slogans, resolutions, univocally formulated objectives, programmes, et cetera. They are used to convince as many people as possible. Consequently, this insight of Boltanski and of Thévenot puts Pistoletto¹s use of slogans and manifests in a different perspective. For, in his capacity of artist, he generates a curious hybrid form that steers a middle course between artistic and political value regimes. By doing so, Cittadellarte attempts to force breakthroughs to another world of grandeur¹.
On the other hand, in the industrial world, qualities are being evaluated on the basis of their functionality, operational values and professionalism. Individual acts are collectivised by integrating them within a common plan, homogeneous rules, directives, mission statements to standardise the production process within a rational goal-oriented scheme. Both time and space are organised within a fixed pattern to maximise productivity. Also in this regard, the slogans of Pistoletto function with regard to the grandeur¹ of the industrial world in order to gain access to it. They obtain the statute of the mission statements that are quite well-known within the corporate world. Slogans and manifests operate as vehicles for translations and transmutations that ought to operate as intermediaries between different worlds of grandeur¹. They constitute a method to enroll¹ other, non-artistic actors. By means of interessment¹, Pistoletto is linking different worlds of grandeur¹ and directs them to in-between-possibilities, inter-esse, or the search for links. This always happens according to the same formula: a hybrid third is constructed between two apparently irreconcilable polarities. They are part of a broad aim, not to import new energy from outside into art but to let art become an integral part of that outside again to re-hybridise society. That is the very ambitious plan of Cittadellarte: to make as much as possible passage points all over the globe departing from the heterotopic space in order to reorder society.
From the mirror to Cittadellarte
As of yet, Pistoletto is looking back upon an oeuvre that spans half of a century. In his work, he has transformed his singular artistic trajectory into a broad social movement. The hybrid-ness, alterity and contingency in the mirror or in Anno Bianco and the heterotopia of the Minus Objects have been translated into an ambitious art project. By means of its programme of residence, of pragmatic projects like the introduction of art in companies; as well as by utopian initiatives like the foundation of a political movement and the design of an alternative economic system, Cittadellarte creates a space for heterotopia within the ruling order of the Modern Constitution. Art and reality, fiction and reality are merging into a curious hybrid in Biella. An artistic concept is being transformed into a political movement or into alternative economics and the other way round: politics and economy become a work of art. By means of this a-modern game, Pistoletto is looking for an answer to particularly relevant questions. How can art or the artist still have meaning within the hegemony of the market economy? And how can we continue to observe and evaluate artistic practices within a globalised context? Only the future will show whether this quest will come to determine orders of grandeur, as is the ambition. Yet one thing is certain: with his quest, Pistoletto is asking the right questions at the right moment in time. By doing so, he assumes his modest mission as a contemporary artist in quite a particular manner. With Cittadellarte the Minus Artist created a heterotopic space for a sense of possibility: everything that is could just as well be different.