DOUBLE TRANSGRESSION AU MoMA WITH GOOGLE GLASS BY FRED FOREST
SOCIOLOGICAL PROMENADE OR AUGMENTED VISIT AT MoMA
A DOUBLE TRANSGRESSION AT MoMA OR THE ART OF COMMUNICATIONAL STRATEGY
The sociological promenade, or the augmented visit, of which I am the instigator, without having been mandated in the slightest to produce it, is intended to question the Institution. It is an integral part of a process placed within the realm of institutional critique under the label of sociological art. Its goal, amongst others, is to question the museum about the nature of the objects it has validated as works of art. The goal of my demonstration being to establish the difference between objects that are susceptible, given the museum’s power and its arbitrariness, of having the required legitimacy to be represented, even produced, within its realm as “works of art” and…the others.
As well as to enable one to observe how it is possible for an artist to make these objects go from one category to the other, and vice versa, via a subtle game of language.
From this point of view, what is the exact status of the performance named, by virtue of circumstance, “sociological promenade”, “museum visit” or “augmented visit”, which I am going to produce (which I have produced) at MoMA on May 9, from 4:30pm to 6:00pm?
It should be know that two years prior, on September 23 2012, MoMA’s administration had me neutralized by its security service in order to forbid me from doing a performance.
A performance I made without having been invited to do so and which I had announced via the press under the title “Invisible Square Meter” --an action that was supported and theorized at the time by the critic Pierre Restany.
MoMA will justify its interdiction by the fact that it being a private place, no one can arrogate for oneself the right to do a performance there without having been duly invited to do so.
Owing to its incapacity to anticipate, however, MoMA, like a chess player who is constantly one step behind his adversary, did not have the time to adapt itself to an artistic strategy defined by myself a long time prior. A strategy that had not only cast its bets on this interdiction and its consequences, but especially on the opportunity for me to create, on such an occasion, another piece.
A critical piece in keeping with the principles of sociological art. The communication strategy that was used consisted in launching, as one would a lure, the performance “Invisible Square Meter” via the issuing of a press release. This information was relayed by New York’s artistic community to MoMA´s management, amongst others, and one just had to wait and see what would happen on that day.
A maneuver which, according to my forecast, would lead to an unavoidable interdiction, allowing me to create a “second piece” that would substitute itself to the one that had been announced. And which happened irrefutably, in accordance with the programming I had anticipated. All that had to be done now was to substitute the announced title “Invisible Square Meter”, with that of “The Conversation” so that, via a simple trick of language, the conditions for the creation of a new and critical video work would be aligned, just like I had anticipated initially.
This piece, the essence of its staging, as of its content, was to be made up of the involuntary participation of MoMA´s security services in my performance. This was verified with exactitude by my expectations, its security agents having been called up to take position around me in order to neutralize me. Threatening me even, walky-talky in hand, to have me arrested on the spot by the New York City police, should I persist with my project. Without suspecting that at that very moment, trapped, they were already participation in the shoot of “The Conversation”.
I would have almost jumped for joy and hugged the chief of security, a tall, rather friendly looking black man, who far surpassed me in height. I will thus draw your attention here, not without a touch of irony, to the fact that this transgressive production was created from beginning to end with the generous participation of MoMA´s security guards, rushed on the spot by the museum’s administration.
From the moment that my piece, the aptly named “The Conversation”, was in the process of being finalized according to my own desires, I had no reason to persist in a refusal to converse with my guard dogs. I thus launched into a convivial and very interesting conversation with them, most notably with the chief security guard who even admitted to me, whispering in my ear, that he was himself a painter, outside of working hours.
Which brings into question, in and of itself, the issue the staff’s status within MoMA, at the same time as all the ambiguity, the vacuity, the elasticity, the relativity of the status of performance and of its authorization in the Museum as we pose it here.
Henceforth, MoMA proved for me to be, after this first fruitful experiment, a field of experimentation rich in promises, for being able to develop within it a sociological art practice based on institutional critique. I hence decided to strike again.
Having, however, taken the precaution to remember, somewhere in the confines of my mind, that MoMA, being a private museum, neither artist or citizen, as creative as they might be, could lay claim to this quality in order to do a performance there without running the risk of being immediately nicked by the police like a vulgar delinquent.
This somewhat long detour, for which I excuse myself to the hurried reader, was nonetheless necessary to grasp the context in which my current project, still doable at MoMA and called “Sociological Promenade” or “Augmented Visit” took shape. A sort of private visit which I have planned to make on Friday May 9 between 4:30pm and 6:00pm, New York time.
I prefer taking all the necessary precautions with language vis-à-vis of MoMA´s administration to indicate that this time around it is not a performance in the literal meaning of the word, but a so-called sociological “promenade” or “visit”. To avoid any confusion between two essentially different things (and yet perfectly identical in some aspects); two eminently distinct things that are, on the one hand, performance and on the other sociological promenade.
As far as performance is concerned, the different etymological acceptations of the term are linked in a quasi organic way to behavioral criteria which are in turn tributary to the notions of body, space and time. The latter are subjugated to more or less rigorous protocols, some of which can echo rituals, ceremonies, rites of passage or religious, social, corporate, political, sportive rites. That being so, performances also have to be connected to intrinsic notions of the public (with its gazers and its agents) as well as to its specific production locations (museums, art galleries and a few obvious urban spaces).
None of any of this in my visit at MoMA, which is that of an ordinary and exemplary visitor. The visitor walks all alone along the picture rails. Stops for a moment in front of a piece that caught his attention. Contemplates its. Closely, or from further away, having taken his distance. Sets off again. Stops once more. Sets off again, etc.
As normal as you can get in his physical and behavioral appearance when compared to the average visitor norm. He follows his course, without any distinctive sign on his clothes, without any particular gestures, and without using his vocal organ other than, when necessary, to ask the guard in a low voice for the emplacement of a work or the direction to the restroom.
I will hence focus during the entire course of my sociological promenade, to be mainly myself, meaning a French artist who, while visiting New York, visits MoMA as a knowledgeable amateur and as anonymous as possible.
But my goodness! What if it should so happen that the other’s gaze, against which I cannot defend myself, were to see me as undertaking a performance???
Should I then let go of my reservation, of my displayed neutrality and run the risk, vis-à-vis of MoMA´s administrators, of dangerously entering in the “doing” of a reprehensible performance that in reality would not be one!
Addressing myself directly to all these people observing me, expecting from me who knows what? Some king of gesture? A shout? An artist prank? Having recognized and identified me for who I am and now finding myself forced to explicitly let them know. Let them know that this is in no case a performance by Fred Forest that they are watching, but quite simply a “sociological promenade”.
The latter displaying no sign capable of differentiating it from a normal visit to the museum by any Tom, Dick or Harry. Calling out to them at first with a contained moderation, then, for lack of being heard, asserting myself with a bit more vehemence, finally asking them to pass by without looking at me!
Thus exposing myself to be singled out for prosecution by MoMA’s security guards, who might appear at any moment to arrest me under the pretext of performance offence.
No! That would be too easy. I will not get caught in the trap laid out for me. I will maintain my clam in spite of the others’ gaze. Ensconced in my role as an ordinary visitor, I will pursue my individual visit at MoMA as if nothing were out of the ordinary.
However, once my visit will have ended, if, having taken the first step outside of the museum, out of reach from its guard dogs and their threats, if I affirm to whomever is willing to listen, meaning the people whose path I will cross on the sidewalk, or nowadays the entire world due to the amplifying effect of social networks, what if I affirm that I have indeed just done a performance?
Yes! Ladies and gentlemen, a performance! A performance in this mythical and sacrosanct location called MoMA! A performance right under its curators’ noses and without their permission. Which was translated in the facts in the shape of a factual reality, a true reality, primary and basic.
An entirely verifiable truth, after the fact, with the help of the museum’s security footage recordings, on the condition that it would be willing to put the tapes at the disposal of whoever may want to view them. Which is, of course, a whole other ball game.
The “sociological promenade”, a performance the stakes of which were to do nothing other than to play the part of a visitor like any other, and without doing any additional gestures.
What king of public, administrative or intellectual power jurisdiction would be in a position to challenge this? To claim that my “non performance” with the “Sociological Promenade”, which I have just made in the museum, is in no case a performance?
The goal of my action, based on the “Sociological Promenade”, undertaken this very day at MoMA is thus fully achieved, and in accordance with the principles of sociological art, the theoretical basis of which is institutional critique. This action vows to demonstrate:
-that the use of the most advanced technologies, like Google Glass, is likely to bring an additional augmented value to the usual museum visit.
-that what is forbidden, the interdictions and the dogma of a big institution like MoMA can be easily sidestepped and transgressed thanks to the clever tricks of semantics, a pinch of humor and a zest of irreverence.
-that questioning the status of performance and its update within the contemporary art system, based on an unheard of operational mode, remains eminently possible to whomever is willing to put in the effort, and in the very midst of a power that dictates its norms to artists and all of society.
-that in terms of culture, power can and must belong first of all to artists, to men and women of good will and to those who are sufficiently motivated, convinced and patient to appropriate it in all legitimacy.
-that the strategies of communication technology that use social networks, amongst others, even marketing tools with an artistic end in mind, can be, from now on, considered like integral parts of an artistic practice. A practice of which they represent a determining advantage, as it favors appropriation and the emergence of a complex thought process that function in a loop. One may consider that the affirmed aesthetic “objects” are nothing other that a new category of “readymade” belonging to information society.
-that the documentary that was made in real time with the help of Facebook and Twitter by a dozen assistants during the entire unfolding of the sociological promenade is part and parcel to this issue, all the while widening the scope of this performance, outside of the museum, to other geographical and virtual spaces.
-that as far as art goes, no rule, theory or convention can be agreed upon once and for all and that only the evolution of models can find for an instant the balance at any given moment within society under the impulsion and the initiative of artists.
ON MAY 10, AT 3PM AT THE AC INSTITUTE, NEW YORK: DEBATE/CRITIQUE/DEBRIEFING ABOUT THE “SOCIOLOGICAL PROMENADE” DONE THE DAY BEFORE AT MoMA BY FRED FOREST WITH:
HOLLY CRAWFORD (Ph.D., Director, Editor of AC Institute),
STEPHANIE JEANJEAN Ph.D,
FRED FOREST (Artist, Ph.D Sorbonne, Professor Emertus University of Nice)
assistants: Jean-Guillaume Le Roux
547 W. 27th St, 6th Floor, #610
New York, NY 10001