CAUTION: CHILDREN AT WORK
Curated by Gitanjali Dang
EVERY HUMAN BEING IS AN ARTIST. Mistakenly attributed to Joseph Beuys, the idea was first uttered by the eighteenth century German philosopher Novalis. Since, however, this supremely utopian declaration has been reiterated variously by among others, Ananda Coomaraswamy, a pioneering scholar of Indian art, Marxists and the Russian avant-garde.
Be that as it may, it was Beuys who popularised the idea, eventually transforming it into a maxim. In I Am Searching for Field Character, 1973, a brief statement of intent as it were, the polarising German artist and pedagogue places the utopian declaration front and centre, supporting it with his thoughts on social sculpture. He proposes that creative individuals/artists should take charge of the construction of the ‘social organism as a work of art.’ In this way, he asserts, the social order of the future can become—if such a frighteningly lofty ideal were ever possible—a gesamtkunstwerk or a total work of art.
In letting the idea breathe and attempting to tease new meaning from it, one hopes to pull it out of the generational bed to which it has been committed.
In a recent essay "The Weak Universalism,"1 theorist Boris Groys playfully points out that if the world turned into the art world, in which every human being had to produce artworks and compete for the chance to exhibit them at the next hot ticket event, it would be a complete nightmare.
Every human being is an artist; it’s the sort of thought we should hold on to, not for reasons of romance but just to ensure that we don’t find ourselves constantly clutching at straws. In the absence of the thought, momentum and efforts would be doomed; there simply would be no reason to try.
In related news, one ought not to hold on to the grand and problematic narrative of the gesamtkunstwerk. Pursued doggedly by Beuys, such a total and idealised artwork can only be synonymous with the spectacle. Instead it might be worth our while to employ our fragmented and transient epoch for leverage. Taking a hint from Duchamp and Beuys we should keep widening the definition of art by pushing for inclusiveness, interdisciplinarity, and newer creative impulses; nothing pathbreakingly alternative, just a generous parallel to the unshakable institutional practice. In doing so we will hopefully encounter an expanded territory that will pose as an antidote to our current spectacle- and icon- mongering ways.
This exhibition comprises two broad sections. The one has participant artists contemplating the merits, if any, of the much-bandied maxim with which this essay opens. The other involved a series of loosely structured workshops where the elasticity of creativity was discussed with a group of four neighbourhood children. Activities were devised to make the process more engaging for the children and these activities eventually evolved into two videos.
Having said all of the above, it is only fair and prudent to point out that Caution: Children at Work is anchored in a non-profit arts space. Moreover the project is formulated in a vocabulary that belongs predominantly to the visual arts. One must always attend the dinner. At the dinnertable try and swing the argument in your favour. If things don’t work out as planned, you can always have yourself a food fight.
1) Boris Groys, "The Weak Universalism," e-flux journal #15, April 2010
Excerpted from Gitanjali Dang’s curatorial essay