︎ Prev       Index︎       Next ︎
Mark
[1] I have used the word ‘genre’ here rather than the more conventional ‘medium’ in order to accommodate multidisciplinary and cross-medium artistic practices that are concerned primarily with participation or community.
[2]The nomenclature of ‘work’ in this genre is contested, with different authors naming it differently, while each variance reflects individual critical priorities. Clare Bishop, for instance, has called it ‘participatory art’ (Bishop 2012), while Grant Kester prefers to speak about ‘dialogical’ art (Kester 2004, 10). In each case, these differences in naming also circumscribe the author’s field of reference, excluding potential examples not strictly relevant to the particular discussion. My intention at this point is the opposite: to indicate a very general field of influence on institutional programming by art concerned with the ‘inter-human’ encounter (this adjective is used by Nicolas Bourriaud [Bourriaud 1998, 6]).
[3] Bergen Assembly is a triennial exhibition held in Bergen, Norway. The inaugural event was held in 2013. 
[4]The Situationist International famously called for the integration of art and everyday life. Through practices such as psycho-geographical exploration and mapping of their immediate surrounds, they imported activities such as walking, map-making and psychological interpretation. The presumed power of the artist was brought into particular focus in the late 1960s in Europe and America through the ‘institutional critique’ movement, which was identified with artists such as Hans Haacke, Marcel Broodthaers and Andrea Fraser, amongst others. Alexander Alberro and Blake Stimson’s 2009 collection, Institutional critique: an anthology of artist’s writings, offers a thorough overview of this field.
[5]Notably, the credit information in the exhibition showed a familiar disparity in the quantity of biographical information given about Neto and his co-authors. The label of the work included the following information: ‘Ernesto Neto: * 1964 Brazil, lives in Rio de Janeiro / Huni Kuin, or Kaxinawá, indigenous people living in the Brazilian state of Acre, and in Peru, the Amazonian forest’ (exhibition label, np). This replicated the convention in modern European ethnographic museology of giving the tribal and broad geographical provenance of cultural objects collected from non-European, and especially rural and pre-industrial, societies, rather than the names of the individual creators.
[6]I use the term ‘Eurocentric’ to refer to canonized Euro-American art, instead of the more commonly used adjective ‘Western’, because the latter term fails to acknowledge, on the one hand, the centrality of European art in canonical art history, and on the other, the continuing centralization of the global art world’s intellectual and commercial power in Europe.
[7]This work was formerly known as the Dorchester Projects, and is still sometimes referred to using this title.

[8]Constant used only his first name in professional contexts; this essay follows the convention by referring to him as ‘Constant’.
[9] See Simon Sadler’s The Situationist City (particularly pages 25‒26). [10] Constant’s work has been the subject of a fairly recent survey exhibition entitled New Babylon: To us, Liberty, coproduced by the Gemeentemuseum in Den Haag and the Reina Sofia museum in Madrid (Reina Sofia, 20 October 2015 - 29 February 2016; Gemeentemuseum, 28 May - 25 September 2016). [11] Derrida introduces this idea in relation to the invisible, non-physical presence of technologies such as the internet, email and satellite transmissions that cut across the physical thresholds separating private and public space. For Derrida the transgression of boundaries entailed in this spatial duality leads to reflection on an aporia, the inevitable vulnerability of these thresholds, their necessary solicitation of transgression. In addition, however, Derrida begins to enunciate thought-provoking observations about the spatiality of transmission technology (the Internet, satellites, etc.), as well as the implications for our understanding of mobility and the ontology of intangible entities, among other notions. While it does not lie within the scope of this essay fully to explore such concerns, Derrida’s sense of the relationship between technology and hospitality resonates strongly with Constant’s hypothesis that future technologies would demand a revision of theories of mobility, privacy and the uses of space.

‘Yes to who or what arrives’: Hospitality and Property in Contemporary Art


Since the late 1990s art concerned with relational encounters and positive social change has come to be recognized as a genre of contemporary art,[1]achieving visibility even on the least public-spirited of mainstream platforms at contemporary art fairs and at commercial galleries. Under the extensive influence of what we might provisionally call ‘socially-engaged art’,[2]many contemporary art institutions have in recent years begun to address the topic of hospitality as a means of interrogating the relationship of the professional art community to its perceived outside. Either implicitly or explicitly drawing on Jacques Derrida’s notions of hospitality, as presented inOf Hospitality and On Cosmopolitanism, a spate of public programming in museums, galleries, academies and alternative spaces has appropriated such terminology with a view to signalling an activist concern for audience development, a ‘radical’ break with a notion that the world of contemporary art is hermetic and unwelcoming. In 2012 the SMART Museum of Art at the University of Chicago organised the exhibition Feast: Radical hospitality in contemporary art, which focused on ‘sharing food and drink to advance aesthetic goals’ (Feast 2012, np). More recently, freethought, a collective of scholars commissioned as co-Artistic Directors of the 2016 Bergen Assembly, organised a public lecture by curator Laurence Rassel entitled ‘On Radical Hospitality’.[3] The latter was held at the Hordaland Kunstsenter (Hordaland Art Centre) in Bergen in December 2015.

However, far from being radical, the appropriation of the tropes of hospitality is inherited from established artistic practice. The invitation of everyday life into the rarified sphere of culture – in which gesture artists have often assumed the role of host and regulator of the presence of ‘non-art’ content in their work – can be traced as far back as twentieth-century European modernism;[4]such practices persist to the present day. It is not unusual to find contemporary artworks in which the artist literally plays host to non-artist others, who are invited (and sometimes coerced) to participate in situational works as actively contributing guests or as ostensible co-authors. The recent Venice Biennale of Art, entitled ‘Viva Arte Viva!’, offered us a highly visible example: an installation called Um Sagrado Lugar (A Sacred Place) (2017). Credited to the Brazilian artist Ernesto Neto and the Huni Kuin (an indigenous people from Brazil and Peru), this installation occupied a central place in one of the two main exhibition venues, the Arsenale. Neto created a nest-like environment in which visitors to the exhibition were invited to ‘hang out’, in the words of New York Times reviewer Holland Cotter (Cotter 2017, np), and participate in discussions and religious ceremonies conducted by Huni Kuin representatives. Following Cotter’s description, Neto invited members of the Huni Kuin as part of the work to be present in the installation for the duration of the biennial’s preview and opening days. Dressed in traditional ceremonial attire, these individuals were both Neto’s guests and second tier hosts (Neto himself being the primary host) to exhibition visitors during this exclusive period of the biennale’s presentation (ibid). Neto’s objective was problematically unclear: on the one hand he used his invitation to the privileged platform of the Venice Biennale to extend access to this social setting to the Huni Kuin group. At the same time, their presence as his guests was tightly circumscribed: their proper territory was his installation; while occupying this space, they were expected to demonstrate an indexical relationship to their ostensibly real home, their villages is rural Brazil and/or Peru.[5]Instead of disrupting traditional divisions, Neto’s solicitations were premised on a form of hospitality that is highly conditional and serves to reify a preconceived narrative of the redemptive power of art.

Neto’s piece is but one recent example of an endemic preoccupation in Eurocentric art since the twentieth century.[6]Drawing on a selection of historical and contemporary examples since the mid-twentieth century, this essay considers the engagement of art with the concept and practice of hospitality. The incursion of the theme of domestic hospitality into the field of art is itself an enactment of the idea that contemporary art extends an invitation to its outside. However, at both the normative and the reflective level, some of the most prominent instances of hospitality-as-art fail to move beyond appropriations in their interrogation of the conventions of hospitality itself. The examples considered in this discussion all identify homes or house-like spaces – that is, enclosed, built environments to which access is limited – as the contested ground of social interaction. And in each case, the power of the artist to ‘[intervene] in the condition of hospitality’ (Derrida and Dufourmantelle 2000, 149), to grant access to an otherwise prohibitive space, is contingent on a relationship to the private property market (even if as a disavowal). In Theaster Gates’ Dorchester Art and Housing Collaborative (DAHC) (2009-ongoing)[7], for example, the artist purchased an abandoned two-storey house in a depressed neighbourhood of Chicago and refurbished it as ‘a site of community interaction and uplift’ (Gates 2016, np). While living in an old shopfront next door, Gates created a library, a slide archive and a ‘soul food kitchen’ for use by residents of the area (ibid). According to Gates’ website, the project ‘empowers community members to engage in the movement of radical hospitality by physically transforming their surroundings and filling them with beautiful objects, diverse people and innovative ideas’ (ibid).  

Decades earlier, in 1974, Gordon Matta-Clark made the now-famous intervention Splitting in a house that was purchased by his dealers as a property investment and was soon to be demolished. Rather than using this site to offer hospitality to a community, Matta-Clark sliced the house in half, rendering it effectively uninhabitable, and casting a shadow on the values of conviviality and belonging that are associated with the home. Both Gates and Matta-Clark treat the house as a site marked by ethical positions. However, while Gates affirms the ethical duty of the master of the house to promote the wellbeing of his guests, Matta-Clark challenges the grounds of this mastery by literally cutting across the thresholds of the master’s domain. In both cases, probing the relations between host and guest, private and public, as played out through metaphor, allusion and other non-literal means, is shadowed by a real, inflexible jurisdiction: access is governed by ownership.

This uneasy collusion of capital and critique emerges from, and speaks to, a ubiquitous culture of private wealth, in which the concept of home is entwined with that of ownership. However, whether guided by Marxist politics or other positions, there are artists who have explored systems of spatial and social relations that disavow the notions of property and entitled access. In his long-term project entitled New Babylon (1956-1974), Dutch artist Constant Nieuwenhuys (hereafter ‘Constant’)[8]proposes an alternative to the separation of private and public space in the service of work and the accumulation of wealth. In line with a critical position common amongst his contemporaries (including those belonging to the Situationist International, of which he was a founding member), Constant maintained that postwar (European) cities were being designed to accommodate private automobile transport and a hierarchical division of labour.[9]Constant experimented with an array of spatial and architectural arrangements for a future form of urbanism in which rights of movement and abode would not be contingent on the ownership of property or on the related powers of permission and invitation. Presented through a collection of sculptures, speculative maps, drawings depicting ambiguous architectural environments and descriptive texts, New Babylon remained an intentionally unrealized (and unrealizable) work of spatial and social transformation.[10]This speculative city of the future would rely on technology to automate all forms of functional labour, and this same technology would enable freedom of movement on an unprecedented scale. In contrast to works by Theaster Gates and Gordon Matta-Clark, in which hospitality is staged or subverted in the context of privileged access, New Babylon proposes the irrelevance of private property, and therefore of its most potent symbol, the house. This unsettles the conventional terms of hospitality, through what Derrida calls a ‘“derange[ment]”’ of ‘the trace of a frontier between the public and the non-public, between public or political space and individual or family home’ (Derrida and Doufourmantelle 2000, 49‒50).[11]






Contact me: antheabuys@gmail.com 
Mark