Opinion - Mexico

Brenda J. Caro Cocotle

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19.07.2020

Connecting, Disconnecting, Reconnecting: Museums Launched into the Digital

The series of opinions around the cultural policies of the Mexican government regarding a public cultural system in crisis continue. On this occasion, Brenda J. Caro Cocotle reflects on the virtual format of museums in Mexico during the current quarantine period, which replicates and reinforces a limited institutional logic about the consumerism of the orange economy.

Make
Reinvent yourself
Opening up to the digital world
Produce
To justify that you are
Answer
Produce

I would like to find a way to ensure that this text is not just another of many texts that try to explain what the situation of the pandemic has meant for art and culture in Mexico. However, this claim is absurd. Even if I hide my head like an ostrich, the matter would slip through the earth’s vibrations. On the other hand, I cannot help but pretend, like everyone else, to write and elucidate a setting because I find it—we find it—overwhelming to accept that it escapes any rule, theory, or philosophical position. Having said this, I write the following.

Make
Reinvent yourself
Opening up to the digital world
Produce
To justify that you are
Answer
Produce

I’m not going to talk about the 4T or its cultural policy. Or am I. I would like to point out a wider context which, although it includes it, I believe allows me to have a broader perspective, less polarized; colder if you like; less subject to circumscribing “adherence” or “opposition” to a character, ideology or cause. I am halfhearted, I will condemn myself to Hell—worse still, to the Purgatory of simple opinion.

Make
Reinvent yourself
Opening up to the digital world
Produce
To justify that you are
Answer
Produce

One of the most significant aspects we face today is digitalization as an immediate response to the temporary closure of physical spaces and a certain fraction of social spaces. Specifically, in the case of cultural institutions focused on researching, safeguarding, exhibiting and disseminating visual arts and cultural productions—museums, cultural centers, artist-run spaces—as well as other bodies in the art market—galleries, fairs, and biennials—the situation resulting from the health emergency brought to the fore a series of mechanisms, formats, and working devices that have formed its root. For the moment, art and its platforms [with capital letters? With lowercase letters?] have seen suspended a way of being and operating that, paradoxically, has depended on virtuality—understood as the power to update an image and/or discourse through a medium[1]—and on the imprint of corporeality that allows it to be activated. The closure of the museums—I take the museum as the figure that sums up all the others, knowing that important differences are obvious with it—was interpreted as the closure of an entire institutional machinery. For certain extreme positions, this closure implies the loss of art in its entirety. (¿!)

The closure of the museum is presented as an inconceivable alternative. If it is stopped, it does not exist (which it does not). It is then required to remain deploying a visual architecture and presence from the digital. To make, to reinvent, to open themselves to the algorithm, to produce, to be in the network.

I would like to think that this demand is urged by a need to rethink the social character of the museum and its own institutional inertias with respect to the type of public space and public sphere it builds. However, I am afraid that the shift and the demand to move to the digital world comes from other types of economic logic and policies that have become part government, university, and private cultural policy, and that has been presented as a paradigm and must be inevitable for any institution that respects itself.

The museum is asked to be a content producer in constant activity. Produce, produce, produce. A production not so much linked to the critical sense towards other possibilities of research or of questioning of certain discourses, narratives, and institutional inertias; but to produce with the relevant being. In other words, produce to entertain or to justify a halt; produce within the margins of cognitive capitalism, produce to remain in the mainstream… Produce, produce, produce. The museum is not Netflix, but something similar is required of it: availability, renewal of the catalogue of options, novelty; providing experiences; whether they are significant or not. All it matters is to produce.

The demand for production also comes from another logic: that for which institutions have a justification if and only if they can prefigure that an (abstract) citizenry can have access to art and heritage, which implies the guarantee of a right to culture. However, under this perspective, cultural rights continue to be viewed from a unidirectional perspective (the institution) and restricted to only a part of them (of access). So, it has to be produced to demonstrate the role of institutions and that they fulfill their role and remit in that regard. The museum’s public action under the public administration must be made visible. Produce, produce, produce.

Maybe I’m being biased and unable to be assertive. I hear, not without interest and lack of reason, that the circumstance forces a new moment, that we have in our hands the opportunity to tear down the architecture of art; that museums will have to assume the challenge, to break down the barriers. No doubt about it. But what we have set out to do, for the moment, is to reproduce that same architecture, both literally and symbolically: We are still in search of a (virtual) exhibition that replicates the museographic format, to the extent that, if we have the resources, a 3D route that best translates the experience of the transit in the exhibition rooms will be articulated; the visual is reinforced, the body becomes mere eye; the “Art Star-system” is maintained; the numeralia of assistance gives way to the stats and the number of likes, reproductions and seen. We reproduce the same public sphere, the same themes as always, we stick to a single way of doing research from the museum. Neither our playlists nor our virtual conversations nor our lives dare to dismantle what, until a few months ago, was our certainty.

In fact, many of the practices that we try are aimed at sustaining those paradigms that have made the museum a business machine, a cultural industry that is valued for the goods and services it offers: to rescue an orange economy that is beginning to show itself to be sour and bitter. It is difficult to understand how these practices can be used as a means of making demands on public administration. How and in what terms are such practices considered? Do these practices include solidarity with demands for fair working conditions? Do they also imply a critique of what they maintain and reproduce, that is, the blockbuster museum, the piggyback museum, the design museum, the author’s museum?

Temple Museum/White Cube Museum/ Forum Museum/ Industry Museum/ Media Museum/ Company Museum… Why don’t we opt for silence, for the non-visible, for a pause to think about another public space, other bodies, the construction of new networks? Why have we stridently thrown ourselves into talking about how—HOW—to maintain the learned management models on which we have built schools, programs, trends, saints and names, instead of accepting that we know so much as nothing? And when we come back, what will we come back to? Who will be able to come back?

Make
Reinvent yourself
Opening up to the digital world
Produce
To justify that you are
Answer

A Zoom meeting is waiting for me. I produce. My radical stance ends where it meets the next mail that forces a response. Connect, disconnect, reconnect. I produce.

(Did I mention I’m halfhearted?)

Notes

  1. For Bernard Deloche, virtuality is at the heart of the communication mechanisms deployed by the museum, starting with the museum institution itself. Take a look at Mr. D’s wonderful book: Bernard Deloche, El museo virtual: hacia una ética de las nuevas imágenes (Spain: Trea Gijón, 2001).

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