mediating conflict ::::

Sylvie Lacerte

What is the term “mediating conflict” if not redundant, since mediation itself implies the existence of conflict? And why would anyone create and organize an exhibition on the subject?

This exhibition is intended as a reflection on the need for access to a middleman to resolve conflicts—latent or declared—in society in general, but also in the contemporary art world. With La mediation du conflit/Mediating Conflict, I hope to delve deeper, into the reasons why disagreements are rarely resolved, particularly in the sphere of art—a sphere where these quarrels often lead to frustration among “those who feel they are not being heard.” The exhibition aims to prompt questioning about the meaning of mediation and its intrinsic conflict, whose dark underside we seem so fearful to confront in the art world. If the exhibition title therefore seems redundant, given that mediation by definition incorporates the notion of conflict, it is so worded to ensure it is not simply implicit but is in fact emphasized. Its purpose is to stand in stark contrast to certain opaque discussions on art in which only the players intimately involved can fully grasp the issues. Those outside contemporary art circles frequently find themselves ill-equipped to understand the finer points of a work or exhibition. It is often out of this implicit doxa savante(1) that the conflicts emerge, and should they then become highly charged and unrestrained, efforts are made to silence them at all costs lest they tarnish art’s image. Why should conflict within the art milieu generate such alarm? After all, conflict already permeates our day-to-day existence. It is present in our personal and professional lives, and in foreign relations and the political arena, conflict is fast becoming the order of the day.
1. The notions of doxa savante (scholarly discourse) and doxa ordinaire (public discourse) were put forward by philosopher Anne Cauquelin in her work L’art contemporain (Contemporary Art), published in 1992 by PUF.

I must admit that I was somewhat skeptical when, in 2006, Joanne Germain, head of the Maison de la culture Plateau-Mont-Royal, asked me to curate an exhibition based on my work La mediation de l’art contemporain (The Mediation of Contemporary Art). After 10 years of reflecting, discussing and writing on this thorny question, I could not imagine mounting an exhibition on the subject without falling into the didactic trap, or worse, that of the opacity I so criticized. But Joanne was insistent, and the idea grew. Prior to and following the publication of my work, I had the opportunity to sit on various research committees and participate in meetings on these very issues. I have also had the pleasure of meeting many generous readers of my book, who have shared with me their points of view on the question. It is largely due to these influences that my reflections have evolved and the exhibition initiative has taken shape over the past two years.

However, the real impetus came in Seoul last fall during a conference I attended on the documentation and conservation of the media arts.There, I met many passionate individuals, including German curators Hans D. Christ and Iris Dressler. For these co-directors of the Württembergischer Kunstverein Stuttgart, mediation is far removed from the hollow term or buzzword it seems too often to have become.(2) Instead, mediation stems from a practice inexorably linked to the creation of contemporary art exhibitions. Mediation is therefore no pastiche, like some spin-off activity tacked onto the end of an exhibition, but is rather a philosophy inherent to the project and essential to its very creation. Spanish artist Daniel García Andújar, another lecturer at the Seoul symposium, spoke with audience members of Postcapital, a project created by the irrational collective, of which Andújar is a founding member. The Postcapital exhibition represents the very incarnation of contemporary art mediation integrated into the heart of an artistic project. It examines difficult subjects (war, global terrorism, the rise of religious fundamentalisms, the loss of freedom of expression, etc.) and complex issues and is always presented without compromise.(3) I quickly realized that the die had been cast and the cornerstone of La médiation du conflit/Mediating Conflict, established.
2. Precisely because the notion of conflict is eliminated.
3. This exhibition has already been presented in Barcelona, Dortmund, Santiago de Chile. Its next iteration is planned for the Württembergischer Kunstverein Stuttgart in November 2008.

the artists

The artists in this exhibition make use of technology and explore the notion of conflict and confrontation, both in the public and private arenas. These arenas are much more closely aligned to one another than we think, in much the same way that religious issues, which not so long ago were still considered highly personal,(4) have recently re-entered the public domain.
4. Applicable to societies became secular following the French Revolution (and the Quiet Revolution in Quebec), which advocated the separation of Church and State.

Daniel García Andújar (Barcelona, Spain), who works under the banner of technologies to the people, defines himself as a militant and “hacktivist.” He strives to alert the public of the dangers posed by technology when it is manipulated by information communication consortiums, often unbeknownst to the public. But Andújar also claims that “access to the technologies is a human right.” Andújar’s works confront us with the issues and pitfalls that come with the overuse and over-consumption of technology in our day-to-day lives, notably video games. His installation Honor provides a gripping and indeed dizzying view of these traps. In it, the artist samples the virtual “points of view” of video games set in global world conflicts with actual views of the same battles being fought in these relentless and incomprehensible wars, all uploaded from the web. It sounds the alert about the ruses that technology may hold in store for us. Andújar is also concerned by the loss of freedom of expression since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, a loss exacerbated by the terrorist acts of September 11, 2001. These events opened the door to the religious wars of the 21st century, increasingly giving way to theocracies in both the Near East and the United States and even resonating here in Quebec, where they reared their heads during hearings held by the Commission on Reasonable Accommodation in the fall 2007.

Andújar has exhibited his works in many countries in Europe and Latin America and is making his second foray into North America.

Marie-Christiane Mathieu (Montreal) immediately accepted the invitation to participate in La mediation du conflit/Mediating Conflict. She had been working on a project on this very theme, which she has since finished specifically for the exhibition. Parasite is an interactive sound installation that illustrates the many “shifts and drifts” that create the misunderstandings or miscommunications experienced every day by individuals and groups both in public and private. The artist states that in our search for truth, we often put up smokescreens to create confusion and achieve our ultimate goal, which is to take control, be it on a personal or public level.

Mathieu is an accomplished interdisciplinary artist. She has worked in animated film and holography and has produced an ambitious online work, Le monument du vide. She was the director of Studio XX and also produced public artworks under the Politique d’intégration des arts à l’architecture et à l’environnement(5) of the Quebec Ministry of Culture, Communications and the Status of Women.
5. Percent for art policy.

Caroline Seck Langill (Peterborough, Ont.), artist, author, researcher, teacher and experienced curator, completes the exhibition triangle. Her project, never before presented to the public, is a video installation comprised of two videographs entitled act three and Firce. The work is based on the third act of The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov. It includes two scenes, one of which presents a modern interpretation of a family conflict, notably provoked by the loss of ancestral land returned to “strangers” (formerly serfs on the estate) at the dawn of the Russian Revolution. act three offers a dramatic 20-minute story, with Chekhov’s characters appearing as ghosts in an ultra-modern décor. The second monitor broadcasts a short video in a loop that emulates how this scene from the third act of The Cherry Orchard might have been staged at the Moscow Art Theatre in 1904. These seemingly remote, parallel worlds are brought together through their common subject and powerful dialogue despite the more than 100 years separating them: variations on the theme of loss against a backdrop of conflict.

conclusion to conflict

Let’s return to this notion of conflict. While conducting research for my Ph.D., I was often met with closed doors. The people behind these doors, as mentioned above, were part of certain contemporary art circles where it is felt there is no need to build closer ties between art and the general public by providing the keys or codes that foster a better understanding of the significance of artworks. I was told many times that there was no problem, and that in any case, “contemporary art is simply not intended for everyone.” At the other end of the spectrum, another obstacle just as formidable and insidious is infiltrating public discourse (doxa ordinaire), urged along by the mass media and detractors of contemporary art: public opinion. Also limiting the reach of art, it is often based on rumours, ignorance, or sensationalized information that is unfounded or presented out of context. Buoyed by these “false friends,” denigrators of contemporary art declare that there is no place in society for such forms of expression.(6) What results is a conflict between two diametrically opposed visions engaged in a dialogue of the deaf and refusing to debate the very subject that examines the problems associated with contemporary life. The paradox and conflict are further accentuated when one considers that contemporary art has never been more popular among the financial elite and the “jet set.” Its prominence is growing exponentially on the highly lucrative international art market, with it often representing a more solid investment than the stock market. We hear about certain works being appraised at astronomical prices, with their status soaring equally high among buyers and collectors within very select circles. This irrefutable fact only serves to drive an even larger wedge between art and the general public (seldom aware of these dealings) in a domain that has become too abstract for the average citizen.
6. In Quebec, we have recently been witness to two controversies that have enraged the public over public artworks: that of Martin Bureau, Kwebec 1759 – 2009/ Quart de piasse, censured in Summer 2008 by the foundry charged with casting all of the works in the project Folie/Culture, and Latitude 51° 27’ 50” – Longitude 57° 16’ 12” by Pierre Bourgault, following its installation in fall 2007 on the Promenade Samuel de Champlain in Quebec City.

Yet, despite these drawbacks, it is reassuring to know that we have undoubtedly a greater ability to analyze and decipher a contemporary work of art(7) than a 13th century altarpiece, whose symbols and iconographic codes can only be recognized and understood by religious art experts who specialize in this period in art history.
7. Whether such art features the use of technology or not.

La mediation du conflit/Mediating Conflict is an attempt to expose the conflict, wherever it occurs, and above all an invitation to resolve it, while drawing a certain amount of pleasure from the effort.

Sylvie Lacerte

Translation by Cory Mc Adam

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