Local gestures, global effects (*)

Ricardo Basbaum

b #05

As the name implies, the MAGNET group intends to exercise some kind of collective practice to cause things to move on. That is, to install a field of attraction and repulsion, a magnetizing core that concentrates and produces invisible forces, visible only through their effects on things, structures and people (living beings). Certainly MAGNET is seen and felt differently by each one of its members, who were brought together (I imagine) by a game of simultaneous coincidences and careful choices. The group comprises agents in search for various types of connections to the art world, revealing rich dissimilar patterns of agency towards the art circuit, be they centripetal or centrifugal. But now that we are after all a working team, the game is on and we are going to be displaced in time and space in consequence of the impact of the actions in which we partake. That's why it seems to me that MAGNET is a strange and (perhaps) mutant (and therefore fascinating) kind of grouping: each one of the participants carries her or his own local background and experience, her or his own struggle against or favoring local compromises and commitments: Is 'local' just the place where we are right now? Is there a place where we 'belong' to?; What kind of personal fantasy we associate with the 'global' experience, as a reality yet to be constructed, invented, evaluated, inhabited? As a group, MAGNET has no other choice but to occupy an experimental space; therefore MAGNET needs to develop new forms of senses (to improve perception) and tools (to dismantle traps, to create shelters).

It is almost consensual (and fashionable) among art workers today that many aspects of the art game have been played in a global theater. Obviously, it is possible to note that many other centuries and cultures had their wide range perspectives as well, which transcended the strictly local environments, the notion of 'global' being the subject of continuous changes in time. Maybe we could think of the word 'cosmic' as quite more ambitious than 'global', the latter stresses a realist and pragmatic tone while the former implies a spiritual merging with things and living beings. In fact, if since the sixteenth century the Western world became larger with the inclusion of the Americas, and since the twentieth century Western Eurocentrism is being dismantled by the inclusion of the perspectives of different cultures from the five continents, now, in the beginning of the new millennium, the world seems to be moving into everyone's minds represented by the image of a shrinking surface, a consequence of the telecommunicative and trade spaces which potentially interconnect all the networked (that is, far less than half of the world’s) countries. We could see this image as a technological construct planned to fit into people's minds, a brand powerful enough to seduce an audience seeking the new. It's not difficult to suppose this new field of the global as having emerged as a consequence of the technological and communicational developments achieved since the 1950s, implying new perception practices that have transformed the current notions of time, space and experience, generating a new sensorial texture. If this potential space is being colonized by the big economic corporations operating in a global market, it does not mean that it is 'their' space: in fact, those companies just expand as fast as they can ("time is money" has never been such a truism as today), as they fear to lose the competition for new commerce zones. But it is necessary to bring to the foreground several strategies of colonization of the global belonging to the artistic and cultural range of practices, showing that different strategies of settling down on the regions of the global are in fact taking place.

In order to avoid an easy misunderstanding, it is not correct to consider the global as a "space" or "territory", as it has no physical concretion: to consider that London or New York are more "global" than Rio de Janeiro or Mombay is to mistake the concept of the global and at the same time collaborate to make it an issue closer to the great financial centres (that is, make it an easy-to-handle item for them). It seems more interesting to take the global as a "field", a region inhabited by relationship patterns, where symbolic representations can re redesigned and rearranged. We are not far away from a battle field, to which groups (I don't think there is space there for single individuals, in the traditional sense: subjectivity as well needs to be reframed) should increasingly pay attention and direct their strategies. I see that MAGNET should direct its practicing artists, curators, art workers and thinkers' "expertise" to carefully dismantle certain structures of the global field with the aim of re-articulating valid operational tools as a way of building local interventions (remember: local can be located everywhere). Thus we are conceiving of the global as a field of relationship where a symbolic battle is currently taking place: meaning and representation are negotiated every second, and art has a role in that play, one of simultaneously sensitizing and conceiving, setting up the conditions of an experimental field. The global as a brand is directly driven to the mind; but as a field it is directed to the outside, forming a kind of collective thinking connecting the bodies physically spread around the planet.

A trap or a mirage: the one who is unaware can easily open the door and enter, but there is no actual space inside (there's no inside!), no action takes place, there will be no movement at all there. The global condition is attractive, but produces nothing besides effects. We repeat: it is not a place to reach, but an operational condition to achieve if we wish to intervene in a certain world scenario. Yet it is a region to occupy with a set of tools under development: sensitizing the global is equal to making the sensorial field problematic, to discuss the politics of perception, collecting the diverging effects as a re-arrangement of representation (or what we would call its criticism).

There is no sense in working towards the global as a one-way strategy: being a symbolic and linguistic space, all the gestures that reach its structure but have no connections to the outside of it just waste energy in cyclical and self-destructive loops. That's why I insist on writing a script that locates a specific site for actions in a local context: the connection local-global is the productive combination as it articulates two different and complementary fields that can produce effects on each other. Operating locally but with one eye open to the global scenario is a formula that proved valuable (the big companies know it) for making it possible to act over local circumstances as a changing signifier, a political joker who brings unpredictable games to the social arena. The task would be bringing this plan to the (un)characteristic forms of action of the cultural and the artistic (not without questioning what makes or not such areas particular), as a way to engage in a particular kind of debate, in which it is believed it is important to question the sensorial, perceptual and cognitive experiences and discourses. MAGNET is an errant tool seeking to engage in such a combat.

Under such circumstances, Brazilian artists have actively embraced in various ways quite diverse attitudes of engagement towards the appeal of the global dynamic. Hélio Oiticica, for instance, lived in New York for seven years (1971-77) but refused to establish strong links with the local art circuit and market, preferring to cultivate an on-going conversation with his friends living in Rio de Janeiro, London or Paris. One can say that at that moment Brazilian culture was for him a displaced and quasi-mythical reference, presented as a subtext in most of his writings at the time: his refusal to play the conventional NY art game was supported by his conscious effort of connecting his work with certain particular references on the international scene (John Cage, Yoko Ono, The Rolling Stones) without giving up the traces of what he had invented in Brazil, which the world would discover twenty years later, ten years after his death. It's possible to see his attitude as one of active resistance against a 'natural internationalization' of his work: if there should be an international arena it must take into consideration a different way of thinking, another sensorial attitude, a less moralist politics of the body and sexuality, etc. Quite an opposite scene was built in the 1980s, when the Brazilian art circuit (like many other art circuits in the world) benefited as well from the easy cash flow of the Reagan-Thatcher conservative era and implemented a gallery scene that started up an efficient connection with the international mainstream art market. It is possible to say that such links were already established in the mid-1990s and that a few galleries managed to administrate their regular participation in art fairs and events, selling work to international collectors and museums. One can see that Brazilian art somehow entered the global art theater by the front door, achieving professional standards that added credibility to a whole range of art professionals, from artists to curators, art critics and editors, gallerists and collectors, etc: the whole internal rearrangement produced can not be easily measured, but a decisive update of the art circuit took place, in part as a consequence of the new, incoming market deals instituted, in part as a result of a more accurate attitude towards art languages and their mediation. The most obvious and almost-naive questions anyone should formulate about that commodification process are: What kind of debates are represented by the art exported by the new Brazilian art market, in relation to Brazilian art practice and history and its social representation? Due to the strong economic inequality that structures Brazilian economy and the country's very bad and disastrous profit distribution index, does the Brazilian art market mirror the same characteristics, failing in the distribution of the symbolic capital it produces? In what sense is it possible today to speak of a 'Brazilian art', as far as its mobility is determined more by the flux of capital than by the questions raised by the art production itself which remains in the background? Given the novelty brought about by its presence in a global art context, what was the impact of this on the Brazilian art circuit by the end of the twentieth century?

The local art and culture tissue of Brazilian art is far more complex than that, revealing diverse efforts of engagement in the contemporary scene that approach the context in a more critical way, that is, avoiding to accept its actual contours as natural, fixed and stable. The strong contrast between the configuration of an art circuit that has already made its way up into the global art theater, and its internal reality of great economic difficulties, portray a situation where the principal features that come out are mostly market oriented, leaving almost no space for positions that take into account aspects of the critical and cultural debates or strategies of market resistance. Nevertheless, some artists have been assuming the need to organize themselves in order to be able to play a more decisive role in terms of the politics of the arts. Thanks (but not exclusively) to the artists' initiatives, the last ten years have revealed a very intense transit of information and experiences among diverse parts of the country, where groups have embraced the tasks and duties of self-organizational strategies. Many of these initiatives are very ephemeral, but they demonstrate a different consciousness, aware of the importance of the mediation strategies for the construction of art languages in the art circuit. A magazine like item (published in Rio de Janeiro), groups like Visorama (Rio de Janeiro), Arte Construtora (São Paulo/Porto Alegre), Torreão (Porto Alegre), Alpendre (Fortaleza), Agora/Capacete (Rio de Janeiro), Camelo (Recife), Linha Imaginária (São Paulo) and Atrocidades Maravilhosas (Rio de Janeiro), among others, have been active into the job of inventing new paths for the transit of the artwork and its concepts: such efforts have proved effective in producing changes. Surely none of this would be possible without the celebrated close encounter (a collision?) the local market had with the international art scene in the mid 1980s: the entrance into the global theater (typical of the new economical order emerging at the end of the twentieth century) produced into the Brazilian art scene a stronger awareness about what the local conditions are, when contrasted with the promises of the global dynamic and its rewards.

Working under local circumstances but setting up relationships among a global network: that's perhaps the first strategic step that independent groups of artists learn as a means to become less dependent to local connections, assuring a political mobility that is necessary to produce changes in the local environment. That's the point where I think MAGNET can be effective: constituting a field where problems around the local/global are constantly created and de-constructed, thus helping to establish a set of tools to intervene into the global structure, contaminating with unexpected virus and memes the area of linguistic, symbolic and logic support that informs and constitutes the global. I imagine how useful MAGNET could be as a structure connected to certain strategical points of art production and discussion around the different local circuits, via people working as active agents who are engaged in the concrete demands of art and culture.

MAGNET is from now on a live organism composed of the parts of nine different people; no one knows where it is going to or how it will behave, or in which direction it will take us. Like a collective body, it is much more than each one of its members and therefore each one of us should listen to what it can say and try to experience what it can bring to us in terms of a different perception of the world, of the sensorial interfaces it establishes with things. MAGNET has already been conceived as a device attached to our bodies and minds: one thing we should think about is why at this particular moment a group of people was put together to work on something which they cannot exactly define. MAGNET is located in the realm of potential gestures. How many projects have ever been conceived of as an open strategy whose goals are felt as liminal clues that attract participants to the centre of events as much as to its borders? The very word 'art' is under attack here and Magnet's proposal won't succeed if we won't (carefully) avoid a vast set of certitudes we are used to when we refer to it. Yes, it's an interesting game: attraction x repulsion. If we avoid being fixed into one or another position we can approach the economy between both forces as the dynamics that will lead us somewhere.

*First published in Magnet #1 - non-place, Londres, inIVA, 2001.

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(Text written by the group MAGNET and published in Magnet #1 - non-place, Londres, inIVA, 2001.)


MAGNET is a group of artists and curators from different parts of the world.

WE want to produce a field of exchange on a global basis where local differences can be discussed, confronted and problematized.

LOCAL is, for us, a multi-meaning word, changing from place to place, from context to context.

GLOBAL is, for us, a complex contemporary condition encompassing social, economic and political issues. WE are not afraid to confront it also as a pleasurable space of contacts and networks.

MAGNET acts between the development of art languages and their mediation, wandering around that thick membrane that makes the shifting between art and life a political struggle: MAGNET acts in the (micro)politics of art (in its broadest sense).

WE do not position ourselves as representatives from our countries but rather as agents who act as nodes of the various networks connecting local and global contexts. WE believe MAGNET can play a transformative role in the so-called art circuit, extensions included.

MAGNET as a group is an organic entity which surpasses its individual members, a form of life in itself with a non-linear and unpredictable behaviour. (We ask: where will MAGNET take us?)

MAGNET will produce a magazine and a website as its initial steps towards the establishment of regular tools to support this on-going discussion: "How is the phenomenon of globalization changing the nature of art action and its mediation?" We want to play an active role in that process.

MAGNET is Ricardo Basbaum, Clifford Charles, Suman Gopinath, Hou Hanru, Michelle Marxuach, Steve Oudit, Guillermo Santamarina, Gary Stewart, Miria Swain and Gilane Tawadros.