Intense Proximity

A couple of media clips have made me think about our shared public space recently. Intense Proximity the art triennial exhibition 2012 in Paris: Intense Proximity  is about “sharing space, social experience, and aesthetic antagonism…without resorting to the strident pieties of identity politics, nativist self-regard, ethnocentrism, and myths of national cultural cohesion”. The proximity suggested  is the public’s relationship to the artistic works, but also the relationship between art and society. “The goal of the project is to shift from the idea of national space, as a constituted physical location, to a frontier space that constantly assumes new morphologies (local, national, trans-national, geo-political, etc.)”

To me this is a very important art project in a globalized and interconnected world where national borders could be seen as the imagines borders that they really are. Cecilia Blomberg at Swedish Radio P1, who has visited the exhibition, describes how an older woman in a video by artist Alfredo Jaar sits and plays monotonously on a string instrument. Every wrinkle is visible in her sad face. The hair is covered with a scarf, she is wearing folklore clothes . The video zooms in and the women becomes a small dot on the large square in front of Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. This is a typical scene from any western European city today – we pass by these people without looking him or her in the eyes – are we scared? A person is sitting in front of us and we don’t see her. UNTIL this women is placed in a museum at a large art exhibition! We see her then because the artist with the right cultural capital has taken her story and places it in a museum. Now her story suddenly becomes very interesting. As Cecilia Blomberg puts it: “Hon behöver hamna två trappor ner i ett mörkt lite halvförfallet källarplan i en stor konstutställning för att träda fram. Och då kommer frågorna: Var kommer hon ifrån, vad gör hon i Paris, vad är det för instrument hon spelar?”

She needs to be taken two flights of stairs into a dark little dark basement in a big art exhibit to come forward. And then the questions are asked: Where does she come from, what is she doing in Paris, what instrument is she playing?.

The others media clip is that of a wonderful mob in Copenhagen last week where the Copenhagen Phil surprised the passengers in the Copenhagen Metro by playing Grieg’s Peer Gynt. A wonderful idea which seemed to have made all the other co-passengers happy.

After having seen the clip twice I started thinking about other musical experiences I have had at the metro and in trams and how that music usually not made people happy but instead irritated. The music I am thinking about has been played by people like the women at the triennial exhibition in Paris. Our behavior in these situations shows that some people are more worth respect than others. Why is that? What happens with us when we meet a street musician who does not have the right (=our) cultural capital.

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