Orginially published in Humanité, 22 February 2002 and viewable here

Translated from French by Timothy Comeau
and presented here courtesy of
Opinion column 22 February 2002.

"Islets" and Utopia... by Nicolas Bourriaud

Rather than speak of 'intermediary spaces', I prefer to speak of interstices. Marx gave a particular value to that word, as the assembly of islets of resistance - for example, during the Middle Ages, to the blossoming of capitalism. The interstice, presents the possibility of functioning differently. In a world more and more homogenized and subject to a single law, it is important to support spaces which try other things, especially as there is not today a united global discourse presenting an alternative to the system. It is the problem of current radical politics. The experience of community in the 1970s carried a particular message. Currently, the majority of the political struggles are sectoral fights which relate to " micro-politics" and "micro-utopias", to borrow Felix Guattari's phrasing. From there it is important to privilige these small islands that are apart from the system, or which form a dam around the reigning system. The more we multiply these points of systemic divergences, the more we multiply the possibility of another dialogue emerging one day.

The discourse of the market is totaling, not to say totalitarian. And there is no alternative, either imagined or actual to this idea of the market. I am not persuaded that we should respond to this sort of 'all or nothing' by another globablising system. I'm under the impression that we are approaching an era of 'dolce utopia,' to quote Mauricio Catalana. It's the idea of constructing temporal spaces which permit for a while experimentation, or what the situationists called "situations". It is not for the artist to determine the modes of application of the spaces they build: they do nothing more than build 'models' which are either realized or not. (...) This time does not lack political projects, only the means by which to implement them. The dominant form during the French Revolution was the 'assemblee', and during the Russian Revolution, the 'soviet'. Then there was the demonstration, the sit-in, etc. Our time lacks the forms necessary to express our political projects, or to even bring them forth. Today's dominant form -which is not political - is that of the 'free party' or 'rave', that of a spontaneous and momentous assembly of individuals around the same goal, who occupy a place not envisaged for that purpose.

This idea of inadequacy of the function is finally very subsversibe. It exists also in the form of the 'squat'. If the free party is also strong today, it is also because it corresponds to what Jean-Francois Lyotard called post-modernism, that is, the idea that is better to orient yourself in relation to what already exists, rather than start from scratch. The question asked is less, "how to we rebuild" then "are we trying to inhabit these places differently?" And this problem runs through contemporary art and politics. (...) The near totality of today's spaces of presentation are those of retail. Artists show with the goal of selling or of making a profit. How could we not be delighted when a space allows one to show something without it implying a sale? From there, relations can be tied together between an audience and a body of work, between a public and a project. This new 'space' only needs the mediation of a sign, an object or an image. (...) There needs to be negotiations. Many of today's problems come from there not being a space for that - which in my eyes is the foundation of democracy. Art is enthralling insofar as it is an object of negotiation.

Nicholas Bourriaud is the Co-director of the Palais de Tokyo. Latest work: Formes de Vies: l'art moderne et l'invention de soi, Denoël 1999; Rencontres (avec Rebecca Bournigault), Images modernes, 1999; Relational Aesthetics, Presses du Réel, 2002.