Around 25 people participated at the workshop, ranging from artists, architects, curators, and students interested in the concept of Useful Art and in reviewing the Turkish cases that were selected by Onur Yıldız and Naz Kocadere from SALT Research and Programs. The following is an attempt at documenting this experience as it unfolded over two days, while at the same time shedding light on some critical questions that arose from our exchanges.
I. Arte Útil as an Archive in Use
In its current state, Arte Útil presents itself in the form of an online archive of artistic projects selected on the basis of their public utility. It is therefore worth considering what an archive is and what it does when it takes artistic forms. Archives operate through selection, indexation, and regulation. The archival reason is one of representation; it operates partly in withdrawal from the real through frames for selection and accumulation, with one eye looking to the past and one eye looking toward the future, determining what can be said and seen, in a prefiguration of what is to come, based on its own predicaments. Therein lies the curse and the promise of the archive. On the one hand, the archive is a tool of power. It is the site for pinning down historical and/or scientific truths and, as such, it produces and reproduces the narratives of those in power. On the other hand, the archive can also be a tool for resistance and disruption. It can become the site where the residual transforms into a reserve for action and change, and where the narratives of those that are repressed and/or marginalized can be articulated.
Browsing through the web-based platform of Arte Útil, which gathers around 300 projects with a relatively wide geographic scope, one cannot help but notice the indexation itself more than the projects that are being classified. Spread across the categories of urban development, science, pedagogy, politics, economy, environment and social work, the indexation collapses all the classified projects together into a surface composed of initiators, short project descriptions, goals, beneficial outcomes, and an identifiable set of users. At first sight, the Arte Útil Archive seems like a frame that reveals its own operation of framing but conceals its process and that of the projects it holds together. For this reason, instead of focusing on the archive itself as an enclosed entity to critically evaluate its actual use, I suggest that we conceptualize it as an index, a trace that points to larger processes at work outside the archive’s limits, and that cannot be completely contained in the archive itself. In other words, to reverse the question that Arte Útil poses about the world of artistic initiatives and their uses, and to scrutinize the potential usefulness of the archive itself.
In the essay ‘10 Thesis on the Archive’, Shaina Anand – the co-initiator of the online pad.ma archive – argues against the reduction of archives to the particular forms that they take and opts instead for an active and creative approach. Anand argues that the archive is not a representational but creative tool and states that “the naming of something as an archive is not the end, but the beginning of a debate.”1 To properly assess the value of the Arte Útil archive – and the value of conceptually binding art and use together in a more general sense – we need to balance our critical take on the archival index by looking at its uses, deployment, and activations. In other words, and taking Anand’s lead, we need to ask: What conflicts and contradictions does the Arte Útil archive hold and reveal?
II. Conversations On Art and Use in Turkey
SALT’s Office of Useful Art is an open space, making room for working stations and collective discussions around an agora-like seating arrangement. It’s a place of circulation where the collective discussions might infect individual working stations and vice-versa. As we took our respective positions in and around this agora, a series of questions were already emerging in my mind: What is the place of collective discussion and collective action within the Arte Útil archive? How to select what’s useful and for whom? At what scale(s)?
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