Another Visuality. The Discourse of Display / The Display of Discourse

Conference, 24 and 25 November 2006

MACBA Independent Studies Program

The aim of this conference is to establish a context for debating the role and meaning of the exhibition as a specific instrument in the public sphere and, more widely, the ideology and consequences of regimes of visibility in contemporary cultural practices.

Modernity has been characterised by the construction of a logics of rationality based on hegemony of vision. Vision and knowledge become synonymous. The emergence since the mid-19th century of systems of social identification and control based on the use of photography, and the spread of public forms of visual entertainment that culminated with the birth of the cinema at the turn of the century are the most eloquent forms of what we understand as modern culture. This implies the historic emergence of an autonomous rational subject that moves through the public space, looks and is looked at (alternatively, voyeur and exhibitionist), attends exhibitions and social events and expresses him or herself through the channels of public opinion and critique. Artistic spaces began to be constructed at the birth of historical modernity precisely as spaces for public debate. The museum and the salon are spaces for the subject that looks and expresses him or herself through language. Vision is the central metaphor for the knowledge and sovereignty of the liberal bourgeois subject in modern culture.

Against such a background, the fact that the exhibition was born historically during the critical period marked by the cultural and industrial revolution in the modern age speaks eloquently for itself. Just as the museum and the salon embody the bourgeois public sphere, the universal exhibitions are a symptom of the colonial age and the artistic space as representation of new forms of hegemony.

The exhibition is an instrument for public visibility based on a notion of universal access that presupposes a rational, autonomous subject, understood in the ideal terms expressed by Habermas in his studies of modern public opinion. This is a subject that seems beyond conditions of gender, class or race, one that corresponds to no specific reality (although, in fact, the condition of male, cultured, middle-class, Central European bourgeois subject is implicit). The rise of minority discourses and post-colonial theory in the second half of the 20th century is linked to the historic emergence of an explosion of subjectivities, discourses and practices that experiment with and theorise about processes of subjectivisation that liquidate the old universal modern subject and incarnate it in specific bodies that live in specific circumstances. This process dismantles the notion of universal knowledge and the visual paradigm that is implicit in forms of public circulation used by discourses, generating new ways of fighting for visibility and representation. These public forms of representation, amongst which the exhibition is the most outstanding exponent, appear from now on as a space of conflict and negotiation. In such a context, the centrality of that the paradigm of modern visuality occupies needs to be questioned.

The debate on visuality that this seminar proposes is articulated by the debate opened up at the previous two-part seminar Another Relationality (Part One, Rethinking Art as Experience, 25-26 November 2005 and Part Two, On a Cure in Times Divest of Poetry / On Poetry in Incurable Times, 17-18 March 2006) in which we discussed the hypothesis of a possible relational paradigm as a critique of the representational paradigm at the centre of museum activity, that is to say, a paradigm that hierarchises the museum’s public activity around the visual, with the exhibition as the central element. In response to this, and in an attempt to overcome the limitations of retinal representation and to encourage experimental spaces that promote processes, activity and debate rather than their reification into artworks, we suggested that the relational model could offer a useful theoretical and practical framework.

To this end, this seminar attempts to provide a context for reflection and critique on the visual paradigm that it is still necessary to reinvent, whether or not from a relational alternative.


Friday, November 24:  Voyeurism: Vision, visibility and modernity; genealogies of the exhibitionary complex

4.30 pm. The Scopic Regime of Modernity           
Martin Jay

6 pm. Break

6.30 pm. Perception, Attention, Techniques of the Observer… Public Entertainments and Subjectivisation Processes. Transformations of Vision…
Jonathan Crary

8.30 pm. Debate. Conducted by Carles Guerra.

Saturday, November 25: Exhibitionism: Institutional critique end new exhibionary methods. The limits of the exhibition and beyond. The visual display of the relational, the discursive and the immaterial.

4.30 - 8 pm. Presentation of experiences:
Martha Rosler, Utopia Station, Library…
Marius Babias, The Open City…
Roger Buergel, From “How do we want to be governed?” to Documenta 12

8.30 pm. Debate. Conducted by Beatriz Herraez.

Registration and information
Registration at the Museum reception (except Tuesdays) or at from November 6
Registration free. Places limited
Venue: MACBA Auditorium. Plaça dels Àngels, 1 08001 Barcelona
Simultaneous translation
Programme subject to last-minute changes
Information: tel. (+34) 93 481 46 82 / p_action=show_page&pagina_id=33&inst_id=21868&lang=ENG&PHPSESSID=al2oipa etv1scd2729bo7stjs4