Being-With-One-Another: Art as Enactment
There are many types of collectivities, various modes of being together that affect the way we perceive our surroundings and ourselves. Some implicate us more than others. Some we see from a distance; others we experience closely, from the inside; and some we are part of. Others we only suspect. Collectivities are forms of being-with, a simultaneous sharing of space and time. They generate an experience of mutuality that participates in the social and public domains, producing meaning through the relations we establish with-one-another.
This presentation investigates images of “collectivity” and its visibility in the public space. Focusing on contemporary art strategies that deal with the creation of performative collectivities, it examines the boundaries defining certain practices as artistic and others as political. I am interested in how art as enactment and collective representation navigates these contours, testing them, by making possible new modes of being together.
In spring 2003 I traveled to Panama City to attend a contemporary art event titled ciudadMULTIPLEcity. Most of the works in the project took place in the streets: installations, events, and situations “responding to the specificity of the context and the urban environment,” as the curators explained in the various press releases and printed materials. I encountered one of these actions one day while walking around the city. A group of young men and women surrounded me, as well as other people around me, subtly gesturing—their index fingers to their lips—for us to remain silent. The gesture was soon replicated by other passersby, generating a feeling of uneasiness among a group of people, bringing them (us) together in a joint venture, one with no apparent cause. This silent collectivity is a performative work by the Belgian artist Francis Alÿs and the Mexican filmmaker Rafael Ortega.
Through a close reading of 1 Minute of Silence (2003) and its situational context, this study attempts to bring to the surface its embedded aesthetic ideas and sociopolitical implications. By inducing a crowd to unite in a single action, Alÿs and Ortega transform silence into presence, as opposed to absence. 1 Minute of Silence performs a sensorial transformation that becomes political as a result of the redistribution of spaces and roles in the public arena, thus opening the possibility of thinking differently about communality and social power.