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Boris Groys

Politics of

Installation

The field of art is today frequently equated with

the art market, and the artwork is primarily

identified as a commodity. That art functions in

the context of the art market, and every work of

art is a commodity, is beyond doubt; yet art is

also made and exhibited for those who do not

want to be art collectors, and it is in fact these

people who constitute the majority of the art

public. The typical exhibition visitor rarely views

the work on display as a commodity. At the same

time, the number of large-scale exhibitions Ð

biennales, triennales, documentas, manifestas Ð

is constantly growing. In spite of the vast

amounts of money and energy invested in these

exhibitions, they do not exist primarily for art

buyers, but for the public Ð for an anonymous

visitor who will perhaps never buy an artwork.

Likewise, art fairs, while ostensibly existing to

serve art buyers, are now increasingly

transformed into public events, attracting a

population with little interest in buying art, or

without the financial ability to do so. The art

system is thus on its way to becoming part of the

very mass culture that it has for so long sought to

observe and analyze from a distance. Art is

becoming a part of mass culture, not as a source

of individual works to be traded on the art

market, but as an exhibition practice, combined

with architecture, design, and fashion Ð just as it

was envisaged by the pioneering minds of the

avant-garde, by the artists of the Bauhaus, the

Vkhutemas, and others as early as the 1920s.

Thus, contemporary art can be understood

primarily as an exhibition practice. This means,

among other things, that it is becoming

increasingly difficult today to differentiate

between two main figures of the contemporary

art world: the artist and the curator.

ÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊThe traditional division of labor within the

art system was clear. Artworks were to be

produced by artists and then selected and

exhibited by curators. But, at least since

Duchamp, this division of labor has collapsed.

Today, there is no longer any ÒontologicalÓ

difference between making art and displaying

art. In the context of contemporary art, to make

art is to show things as art. So the question

arises: is it possible, and, if so, how is it possible

to differentiate between the role of the artist and

that of the curator when there is no difference

between artÕs production and exhibition? Now, I

would argue that this distinction is still possible.

And I would like to do so by analyzing the

difference between the standard exhibition and

the artistic installation. A conventional exhibition

is conceived as an accumulation of art objects

placed next to one another in an exhibition space

to be viewed in succession. In this case, the

exhibition space works as an extension of

neutral, public urban space Ð as something like a

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side alley into which the passerby may turn upon

payment of an admission fee. The movement of a

visitor through the exhibition space remains

similar to that of someone walking down a street

and observing the architecture of the houses left

and right. It is by no means accidental that

Walter Benjamin constructed his ÒArcades

ProjectÓ around this analogy between an urban

stroller and an exhibition visitor. The body of the

viewer in this setting remains outside of the art:

art takes place in front of the viewerÕs eyes Ð as

an art object, a performance, or a film.

Accordingly, the exhibition space is understood

here to be an empty, neutral, public space Ð a

symbolic property of the public. The only

function of such a space is to make the art

objects that are placed within it easily

accessible to the gaze of the visitors.

ÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊThe curator administers this exhibition

space in the name of the public Ð as a

representative of the public. Accordingly, the

curatorÕs role is to safeguard its public character,

while bringing the individual artworks into this

public space, making them accessible to the

public, publicizing them. It is obvious that an

individual artwork cannot assert its presence by

itself, forcing the viewer to take a look at it. It

lacks the vitality, energy, and health to do so. In

its origin, it seems, the work of art is sick,

helpless; in order to see it, viewers must be

brought to it as visitors are brought to a bed-

ridden patient by hospital staff. It is no

coincidence that the word ÒcuratorÓ is

etymologically related to ÒcureÓ: to curate is to

cure. Curating cures the powerlessness of the

image, its inability to show itself by itself.

Exhibition practice is thus the cure that heals the

originally ailing image, that gives it presence,

visibility; it brings it to the public view and turns

it into the object of the publicÕs judgment.

However, one can say that curating functions as

a supplement, like a pharmakon in the Derridean

sense: it both cures the image and further

contributes to its illness.

1

The iconoclastic

potential of curation was initially applied to the

sacral objects of the past, presenting them as

mere art objects in the neutral, empty exhibition

spaces of the modern museum or Kunsthalle. It

is curators, in fact, including museum curators,

who originally produced art in the modern sense

of the word. The first art museums Ð founded in

the late 18th and early 19th centuries and

expanded in the course of the 19th century due

to imperial conquests and the pillaging of non-

European cultures Ð collected all sorts of

ÒbeautifulÓ functional objects previously used for

religious rites, interior decoration, or

manifestations of personal wealth, and exhibited

them as works of art, that is, as defunctionalized

autonomous objects set up for the mere purpose

of being viewed. All art originates as design, be it

religious design or the design of power. In the

modern period as well, design precedes art.

Looking for modern art in todayÕs museums, one

must realize that what is to be seen there as art

is, above all, defunctionalized design fragments,

be it mass-cultural design, from DuchampÕs

urinal to WarholÕs Brillo Boxes, or utopian design

that Ð from Jugendstil to Bauhaus, from the

Russian avant-garde to Donald Judd Ð sought to

give shape to the Ònew lifeÓ of the future. Art is

design that has become dysfunctional because

the society that provided the basis for it suffered

a historical collapse, like the Inca Empire or

Soviet Russia.

ÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊIn the course of the Modern era, however,

artists began to assert the autonomy of their art

Ð understood as autonomy from public opinion

and public taste. Artists have required the right

to make sovereign decisions regarding the

content and the form of their work beyond any

explanation or justification vis-�-vis the public.

And they were given this right Ð but only to a

certain degree. The freedom to create art

according to oneÕs own sovereign will does not

guarantee that an artistÕs work will also be

exhibited in the public space. The inclusion of

any artwork in a public exhibition must be Ð at

least potentially Ð publicly explained and

justified. Though artist, curator, and art critic are

free to argue for or against the inclusion of some

artworks, every such explanation and

justification undermines the autonomous,

sovereign character of artistic freedom that

Modernist art aspired to win; every discourse

legitimizing an artwork, its inclusion in a public

exhibition as only one among many in the same

public space, can be seen as an insult to that

artwork. This is why the curator is considered to

be someone who keeps coming between the

artwork and the viewer, disempowering the artist

and the viewer alike. Hence the art market

appears to be more favorable than the museum

or Kunsthalle to Modern, autonomous art. In the

art market, works of art circulate singularized,

decontextualized, uncurated, which apparently

offers them the opportunity to demonstrate their

sovereign origin without mediation. The art

market functions according to the rules of the

Potlatch as they were described by Marcel

Mauss and by Georges Bataille. The sovereign

decision of the artist to make an artwork beyond

any justification is trumped by the sovereign

decision of a private buyer to pay for this artwork

an amount of money beyond any comprehension.

ÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊNow, the artistic installation does not

circulate. Rather, it installs everything that

usually circulates in our civilization: objects,

texts, films, etc. At the same time, it changes in a

very radical way the role and the function of the

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exhibition space. The installation operates by

means of a symbolic privatization of the public

space of an exhibition. It may appear to be a

standard, curated exhibition, but its space is

designed according to the sovereign will of an

individual artist who is not supposed to publicly

justify the selection of the included objects, or

the organization of the installation space as a

whole. The installation is frequently denied the

status of a specific art form, because it is not

obvious what the medium of an installation

actually is. Traditional art media are all defined

by a specific material support: canvas, stone, or

film. The material support of the installation

medium is the space itself. That does not mean,

however, that the installation is somehow

Òimmaterial.Ó On the contrary, the installation is

material par excellence, since it is spatial Ð and

being in the space is the most general definition

of being material. The installation transforms the

empty, neutral, public space into an individual

artwork Ð and it invites the visitor to experience

this space as the holistic, totalizing space of an

artwork. Anything included in such a space

becomes a part of the artwork simply because it

is placed inside this space. The distinction

between art object and simple object becomes

insignificant here. Instead, what becomes crucial

is the distinction between a marked, installation

space and unmarked, public space. When Marcel

Broodthaers presented his installation Mus�e

dÕArt Moderne, D�partement des Aigles at the

D�sseldorf Kunsthalle in 1970, he put up a sign

next to each exhibit saying: ÒThis is not a work of

art.Ó As a whole, however, his installation has

been considered to be a work of art, and not

without reason. The installation demonstrates a

certain selection, a certain chain of choices, a

logic of inclusions and exclusions. Here, one can

see an analogy to a curated exhibition. But that

is precisely the point: here, the selection and the

mode of representation is the sovereign

prerogative of the artist alone. It is based

exclusively on personal sovereign decisions that

are not in need of any further explanation or

justification. The artistic installation is a way to

expand the domain of the sovereign rights of the

artist from the individual art object to that of the

exhibition space itself.

ÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊThis means that the artistic installation is a

space in which the difference between the

sovereign freedom of the artist and the

institutional freedom of the curator becomes

immediately visible. The regime under which art

operates in our contemporary Western culture is

generally understood to be one that grants

freedom to art. But artÕs freedom means

different things to a curator and to an artist. As I

have mentioned, the curator Ð including the so-

called independent curator Ð ultimately chooses

in the name of the democratic public. Actually, in

order to be responsible toward the public, a

curator does not need to be part of any fixed

institution: he or she is already an institution by

definition. Accordingly, the curator has an

obligation to publicly justify his or her choices Ð

and it can happen that the curator fails to do so.

Of course, the curator is supposed to have the

freedom to present his or her argument to the

public Ð but this freedom of the public

discussion has nothing to do with the freedom of

art, understood as the freedom to make private,

individual, subjective, sovereign artistic

decisions beyond any argumentation,

explanation, or justification. Under the regime of

artistic freedom, every artist has a sovereign

right to make art exclusively according to private

imagination. The sovereign decision to make art

in this or that way is generally accepted by

Western liberal society as a sufficient reason for

assuming an artistÕs practice to be legitimate. Of

course, an artwork can also be criticized and

rejected Ð but it can only be rejected as a whole.

It makes no sense to criticize any particular

choices, inclusions, or exclusions made by an

artist. In this sense, the total space of an artistic

installation can also only be rejected as a whole.

To return to the example of Broodthaers: nobody

would criticize the artist for having overlooked

this or that particular image of this or that

particular eagle in his installation.

ÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊOne can say that in Western society the

notion of freedom is deeply ambiguous Ð not only

in the field of art, but also in the political field.

Freedom in the West is understood as allowing

private, sovereign decisions to be made in many

domains of social practice, such as private

consumption, investment of oneÕs own capital, or

choice of oneÕs own religion. But in some other

domains, especially in the political field, freedom

is understood primarily as the freedom of public

discussion guaranteed by law Ð as non-

sovereign, conditional, institutional freedom. Of

course, the private, sovereign decisions in our

societies are controlled to a certain degree by

public opinion and political institutions (we all

know the famous slogan Òthe private is

politicalÓ). Yet, on the other hand, open political

discussion is time and again interrupted by the

private, sovereign decisions of political actors

and manipulated by private interests (which then

serve to privatize the political). The artist and the

curator embody, in a very conspicuous manner,

these two different kinds of freedom: the

sovereign, unconditional, publicly irresponsible

freedom of art-making, and the institutional,

conditional, publicly responsible freedom of

curatorship. Further, this means that the artistic

installation Ð in which the act of art production

coincides with the act of its presentation Ð

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becomes the perfect experimental terrain for

revealing and exploring the ambiguity that lies at

the core of the Western notion of freedom.

Accordingly, in the last decades we have seen the

emergence of innovative curatorial projects that

seem to empower the curator to act in an

authorial, sovereign way. And we have also seen

the emergence of artistic practices seeking to be

collaborative, democratic, decentralized, de-

authorized.

ÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊIndeed, the artistic installation is often

viewed today as a form that allows the artist to

democratize his or her art, to take public

responsibility, to begin to act in the name of a

certain community or even of society as a whole.

In this sense, the emergence of the artistic

installation seems to mark the end of the

Modernist claim of autonomy and sovereignty.

The artistÕs decision to allow the multitude of

visitors to enter the space of the artwork is

interpreted as an opening of the closed space of

an artwork to democracy. This enclosed space

seems to be transformed into a platform for

public discussion, democratic practice,

communication, networking, education, and so

forth. But this analysis of installation art practice

tends to overlook the symbolic act of privatizing

the public space of the exhibition, which

precedes the act of opening the installation

space to a community of visitors. As I have

mentioned, the space of the traditional

exhibition is a symbolic public property, and the

curator who manages this space acts in the

name of public opinion. The visitor of a typical

exhibition remains on his or her own territory, as

a symbolic owner of the space where the

artworks are delivered to his or her gaze and

judgment. On the contrary, the space of an

artistic installation is the symbolic private

property of the artist. By entering this space, the

visitor leaves the public territory of democratic

legitimacy and enters the space of sovereign,

authoritarian control. The visitor is here, so to

speak, on foreign ground, in exile. The visitor

becomes an expatriate who must submit to a

foreign law Ð one given to him or her by the

artist. Here the artist acts as legislator, as a

sovereign of the installation space Ð even, and

maybe especially so, if the law given by the artist

to a community of visitors is a democratic one.

ÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊOne might then say that installation

practice reveals the act of unconditional,

sovereign violence that initially installs any

democratic order. We know that democratic

order is never brought about in a democratic

fashion Ð democratic order always emerges as a

result of a violent revolution. To install a law is to

break one. The first legislator can never act in a

legitimate manner Ð he installs the political

order, but does not belong to it. He remains

external to the order even if he decides later to

submit himself to it. The author of an artistic

installation is also such a legislator, who gives to

the community of visitors the space to constitute

itself and defines the rules to which this

community must submit, but does so without

belonging to this community, remaining outside

it. And this remains true even if the artist

decides to join the community that he or she has

created. This second step should not lead us to

overlook the first one Ð the sovereign one. And

one should also not forget: after initiating a

certain order Ð a certain politeia, a certain

community of visitors Ð the installation artist

must rely on the art institutions to maintain this

order, to police the fluid politeia of the

installationÕs visitors. With regard to the role of

police in a state, Jacques Derrida suggests in one

of his books (La force des lois) that, though the

police are expected to supervise the functioning

of certain laws, they are de facto also involved in

creating the very laws that they should merely

supervise. To maintain a law always also means

to permanently reinvent that law. Derrida tries to

show that the violent, revolutionary, sovereign

act of installing law and order can never be fully

erased afterwards Ð this initial act of violence

can and will always be mobilized again. This is

especially obvious now, in our time of violent

export, installing, and securing of democracy.

One should not forget: the installation space is a

movable one. The art installation is not site-

specific, and it can be installed in any place and

for any time. And we should be under no illusions

that there can be anything like a completely

chaotic, Dadaistic, Fluxus-like installation space

free of any control. In his famous treatise

Fran�ais, encore un effort si vous voulez �tre

r�publicains, the Marquis de Sade presents a

vision of a perfectly free society that has

abolished all existing law, installing only one:

everyone must do what he or she likes, including

committing crimes of any kind.

2

What is

especially interesting is how, at the same time,

Sade remarks upon the necessity of law

enforcement to prevent the reactionary attempts

of some traditionally-minded citizens to return to

the old repressive state in which family is

secured and crimes forbidden. So we also need

the police to defend the crimes against the

reactionary nostalgia of the old moral order.

ÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊAnd yet, the violent act of constituting a

democratically organized community should not

be interpreted as contradicting its democratic

nature. Sovereign freedom is obviously non-

democratic, so it also seems to be anti-

democratic. However, even if it appears

paradoxical at first glance, sovereign freedom is

a necessary precondition for the emergence of

any democratic order. Again, the practice of art

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installation is a good example of this rule. The

standard art exhibition leaves an individual

visitor alone, allowing him or her to individually

confront and contemplate the exhibited art

objects. Moving from one object to another, such

an individual visitor necessarily overlooks the

totality of the exhibitionÕs space, including his or

her own position within it. An artistic

installation, on the contrary, builds a community

of spectators precisely because of the holistic,

unifying character of the installation space. The

true visitor to the art installation is not an

isolated individual, but a collective of visitors.

The art space as such can only be perceived by a

mass of visitors Ð a multitude, if you like Ð with

this multitude becoming part of the exhibition for

each individual visitor, and vice versa.

ÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊThere is a dimension of mass culture which

is often overlooked, that becomes particularly

manifest in the context of art. A pop concert or a

film screening creates communities among its

attendees. The members of these transitory

communities do not know each other Ð their

structure is accidental; it remains unclear where

they have come from and where they are going;

they have little to say to one another; they lack a

joint identity or previous history that could

provide them with common memories to share;

nevertheless, they are communities. These

communities resemble those of travelers on a

train or airplane. To put it differently: these are

radically contemporary communities Ð much

more so than religious, political, or working

communities. All traditional communities are

based on the premise that their members, from

the very beginning, are linked by something that

stems from the past: a common language,

common faith, common political history,

common upbringing. Such communities tend to

establish boundaries between themselves and

strangers with whom they share no common

past.

ÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊMass culture, by contrast, creates

communities beyond any common past Ð

unconditional communities of a new kind. This is

what reveals its vast potential for modernization,

which is frequently overlooked. However, mass

culture itself cannot fully reflect and unfold this

potential, because the communities it creates

are not sufficiently aware of themselves as such.

The same can be said of the masses moving

through the standard exhibition spaces of

contemporary museums and Kunsthalles. It is

often said that the museum is elitist. I have

always been astounded by this opinion, so

counter to my own personal experience of

becoming part of a mass of visitors continuously

flowing through the exhibition and museum

rooms. Anyone who has ever looked for a parking

lot near a museum, or tried to leave a coat at the

museum checkroom, or needed to find the

museum lavatory, will have reason to doubt the

elitist character of this institution Ð particularly

in the case of museums that are considered

particularly elitist, such as the Metropolitan

Museum or the MoMA in New York. Today, global

tourist streams make any elitist claim a museum

might have seem like a ridiculous presumption.

And if these streams avoid one specific

exhibition, its curator will not be at all happy, will

not feel elitist but disappointed for having failed

to reach the masses. But these masses do not

reflect themselves as such Ð they do not

constitute any politeia. The perspective of pop-

concert fans or moviegoers is too forward-

directed Ð at stage or screen Ð to allow them to

adequately perceive and reflect the space in

which they find themselves or the communities

of which they have become part. This is the kind

of reflection that advanced present-day art

provokes, whether as installation art, or as

experimental curatorial projects. The relative

spatial separation provided by the installation

space does not mean a turn away from the world,

but rather a de-localization and de-

territorialization of mass-cultural transitory

communities Ð in a way that assists them in

reflecting upon their own condition, offering

them an opportunity to exhibit themselves to

themselves. The contemporary art space is a

space in which multitudes can view themselves

and celebrate themselves, as God or kings were

in former times viewed and celebrated in

churches and palaces (Thomas StruthÕs Museum

Photographs capture this dimension of the

museum very well Ð this emergence and

dissolution of transitional communities).

ÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊMore than anything else, what the

installation offers to the fluid, circulating

multitudes is an aura of the here and now. The

installation is, above all, a mass-cultural version

of individual fl�nerie, as described by Benjamin,

and therefore a place for the emergence of aura,

for Òprofane illumination.Ó In general, the

installation operates as a reversal of

reproduction. The installation takes a copy out of

an unmarked, open space of anonymous

circulation and places it Ð if only temporarily Ð

within a fixed, stable, closed context of the

topologically well-defined Òhere and now.Ó Our

contemporary condition cannot be reduced to

being a Òloss of the auraÓ to the circulation of the

copy beyond Òhere and now,Ó as described in

BenjaminÕs famous essay on ÒThe Work of Art in

the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.Ó

3

Rather,

the contemporary age organizes a complex

interplay of dislocations and relocations, of

deterritorializations and reterritorializations, of

de-auratizations and re-auratizations.

ÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊ

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ÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊBenjamin shared high modernist artÕs belief

in a unique, normative context for art. Under this

presupposition, to lose its unique, original

context means for an artwork to lose its aura

forever Ð to become a copy of itself. To re-

auratize an individual artwork would require a

sacralization of the whole profane space of a

copyÕs topologically undetermined mass

circulation Ð a totalitarian, fascist project, to be

sure. This is the main problem to be found in

BenjaminÕs thinking: he perceives the space of a

copyÕs mass circulation Ð and mass circulation in

general Ð as a universal, neutral, and

homogeneous space. He insists upon the visual

recognizability, on the self-identity of a copy as it

circulates in our contemporary culture. But both

of these principal presuppositions in BenjaminÕs

text are questionable. In the framework of

contemporary culture, an image is permanently

circulating from one medium to another medium,

and from one closed context to another closed

context. For example, a bit of film footage can be

shown in a cinema, then converted to a digital

form and appear on somebodyÕs website, or be

shown during a conference as an illustration, or

watched privately on a television in a personÕs

living room, or placed in the context of a museum

installation. In this way, through different

contexts and media, this bit of film footage is

transformed by different program languages,

different software, different framings on the

screen, different placement in an installation

space, and so on. All this time, are we dealing

with the same film footage? Is it the same copy

of the same copy of the same original? The

topology of todayÕs networks of communication,

generation, translation, and distribution of

images is extremely heterogeneous. The images

are constantly transformed, rewritten, reedited,

and reprogrammed as they circulate through

these networks Ð and with each step they are

visually altered. Their status as copies of copies

becomes an everyday cultural convention, as

was previously the case with the status of the

original. Benjamin suggests that the new

technology is capable of producing copies with

increasing fidelity to the original, when in fact

the opposite is the case. Contemporary

technology thinks in generations Ð and to

transmit information from one generation of

hardware and software to the next is to

transform it in a significant way. The metaphoric

notion of ÒgenerationÓ as it is now used in the

context of technology is particularly revealing.

Where there are generations, there are also

generational Oedipal conflicts. All of us know

what it means to transmit a certain cultural

heritage from one generation of students to

another.

ÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊ

ÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊWe are unable to stabilize a copy as a copy,

as we are unable to stabilize an original as an

original. There are no eternal copies as there are

no eternal originals. Reproduction is as much

infected by originality as originality is infected by

reproduction. In circulating through various

contexts, a copy becomes a series of different

originals. Every change of context, every change

of medium can be interpreted as a negation of

the status of a copy as a copy Ð as an essential

rupture, as a new start that opens a new future.

In this sense, a copy is never really a copy, but

rather a new original, in a new context. Every

copy is by itself a fl�neur Ð experiencing time

and again its own Òprofane illuminationsÓ that

turn it into an original. It loses old auras and

gains new auras. It remains perhaps the same

copy, but it becomes different originals. This also

shows a postmodern project of reflecting on the

repetitive, iterative, reproductive character of an

image (inspired by Benjamin) to be as

paradoxical as the modern project of recognizing

the original and the new. This is likewise why

postmodern art tends to look very new, even if Ð

or actually because Ð it is directed against the

very notion of the new. Our decision to recognize

a certain image as either an original or a copy is

dependent on the context Ð on the scene in

which this decision is taken. This decision is

always a contemporary decision Ð one that

belongs not to the past and not to the future, but

to the present. And this decision is also always a

sovereign decision Ð in fact, the installation is a

space for such a decision where Òhere and nowÓ

emerges and profane illumination of the masses

takes place.

ÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊSo one can say that installation practice

demonstrates the dependency of any democratic

space (in which masses or multitudes

demonstrate themselves to themselves) on the

private, sovereign decisions of an artist as its

legislator. This was something that was very well

known to the ancient Greek thinkers, as it was to

the initiators of the earlier democratic

revolutions. But recently, this knowledge

somehow became suppressed by the dominant

political discourse. Especially after Foucault, we

tend to detect the source of power in impersonal

agencies, structures, rules, and protocols.

However, this fixation on the impersonal

mechanisms of power lead us to overlook the

importance of individual, sovereign decisions

and actions taking place in private, heterotopic

spaces (to use another term introduced by

Foucault). Likewise, the modern, democratic

powers have meta-social, meta-public,

heterotopic origins. As has been mentioned, the

artist who designs a certain installation space is

an outsider to this space. He or she is

heterotopic to this space. But the outsider is not

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Page 7

necessarily somebody who has to be included in

order to be empowered. There is also

empowerment by exclusion, and especially by

self-exclusion. The outsider can be powerful

precisely because he or she is not controlled by

society, and is not limited in his or her sovereign

actions by any public discussion or by any need

for public self-justification. And it would be

wrong to think that this kind of powerful

outsidership can be completely eliminated

through Modern progress and democratic

revolutions. The progress is rational. But not

accidentally, an artist is supposed by our culture

to be mad Ð at least to be obsessed. Foucault

thought that medicine men, witches, and

prophets have no prominent place in our society

any more Ð that they became outcasts, confined

to psychiatric clinics. But our culture is primarily

a celebrity culture, and you cannot become a

celebrity without being mad (or at least

pretending to be). Obviously, Foucault read too

many scientific books and only a few society and

gossip magazines, because otherwise he would

have known where mad people today have their

true social place. It is also well known that the

contemporary political elite is a part of global

celebrity culture, which is to say that it is

external to the society it rules. Global, extra-

democratic, trans-state, external to any

democratically organized community,

paradigmatically private, this elite is, in fact,

structurally mad Ð insane.

ÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊNow, these reflections should not be

misunderstood as a critique of installation as an

art form by demonstrating its sovereign

character. The goal of art, after all, is not to

change things Ð things are changing by

themselves all the time anyway. ArtÕs function is

rather to show, to make visible the realities that

are generally overlooked. By taking aesthetic

responsibility in a very explicit way for the design

of the installation space, the artist reveals the

hidden sovereign dimension of the contemporary

democratic order that politics, for the most part,

tries to conceal. The installation space is where

we are immediately confronted with the

ambiguous character of the contemporary notion

of freedom that functions in our democracies as

a tension between sovereign and institutional

freedom. The artistic installation is thus a space

of unconcealment (in the Heideggerian sense) of

the heterotopic, sovereign power that is

concealed behind the obscure transparency of

the democratic order.

ÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊ×

ÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊ

A version of this text was given as a lecture at Whitechapel

Gallery, London, on October 2, 2008.

Boris Groys (1947, East Berlin) is Professor of

Aesthetics, Art History, and Media Theory at the

Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe and Global

Distinguished Professor at New York University. He is

the author of many books, including The Total Art of

Stalinism, Ilya Kabakov: The Man Who Flew into Space

from His Apartment, Art Power, The Communist

Postscript, and, most recently, Going Public.

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