phantom_publicMichel Jaffrennou and Thierry Coduys, Demon Demos: The Phantom Public, 2005.
The work tracks and creates schematic representations of the behavior of visitors
to a given space, in this case the Making Things Public galleries.

Katti: Bruno Latour recently cocurated his second show at the ZKM (Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie, or Center for Art and Media, in Karlsruhe, Germany), under the title Making Things Public: Atmospheres of Democracy. The wide-ranging thematic exhibition asks a simple question: “Are we well represented?” Some of the basic problems of politics are addressed in this tour d’horizon that, according to Latour, is itself “neither political nor critical.” Of course the provocation in the latter qualification is not unintentional. Without being blatantly provocative, it doesn’t simplify or
narrow down the spaces of conflict in political correctness. The differences between American and European perspectives?especially after 9/11 ? concerning the question of “fair representation” are complicated to articulate, particularly with the recent political upswing in matters of art and culture. The Latin res publica literally means “public thing,” which can at times grow into a nation state? a “thing” that still reflects the historical root of the word republic.

Latours first curatorial project, Iconoclash:Beyond the Image Wars in Science, Religion, and Art, was a huge success. Methodological discussions in art history, the history of ideas, visual studies, aesthetics, theories of culture, and emerging theories of the image reflect this discourse. These developments are deepened by discussions in recent (German) Kunstwissenschaft (or science of art), which tries hard to distinguish itself from art history, as well as by discussions in the even more recent Bildwissenschaft (science of the image?different from visual studies). The digital passions of the 1990s, the parallel deciphering of the genetic code, and advances in brain research, among other developments, have shifted the attention of the art world to science and technology.

Making Things Public opens an investigation into the political effects of globalization. Politics itself will have to be reinvented. Europe – the major focus of this show, and not just because of the depth of its history – stands at the crossroads: it might go the Anglo-American, or “global” way, or it might develop alternatives, if this is still possible. As Peter Weibel observes in the exhibition brochure, “In Europe, with the increasing privatization of public facilities and institutions, the alterations to and reductions of the welfare state and the ‘social market economy,’ trust in the constitutional state and democracy would appear to be dwindling. It is therefore all the more important to find new stimuli for democracy. The exhibition . . . sets out… to rejuvenate the political in the name of the arts and sciences. In this . . . project, more than 100 artists, scientists, sociologists, philosophers, and historians rethink the concept of politics. At a historical moment when many people are starting to doubt politics and its traditional responses to the contemporary problems, perhaps even to despair of them, one possible solution to the problem may be to put anew the question of the political.”

This sounds like a breathtaking endeavor, and it is by no means presented modestly. The short-circuiting of art and politics, one of the most dangerous experiments of the twentieth century, failed in the most catastrophic ways in “old Europe.” This alone is reason to pose a few questions on the project to its mastermind, Latour. [… ]

bruno latour© Otto Pohl, Workers Uprising, 2003, digital photograph, dimensions variable, published
in the International Herald Tribune, June 17, 2003

Latour: I am interested in art precisely because I am interested in the truth of art. I am interested in the truth-making in all of these activities. Law has its own truth-making. I spent five years writing a book about the supreme court in France, trying to understand the precise sort of truth that is difficult in law, with its very specific type of truth-making: veridiction in French literally means “saying truth.” My interest in art is not because art suspends the search for truth – although it does in some ways – but precisely because it has a truthful way of doing so, since the beginning “taste” in art is a way to make the distinction between good art and bad art. There is a strong grammar of choices between “true and bad” and “true and wrong”  in art that must be understood in all its subtlety. I am not an artist, and I am not an art historian. The only way to do fieldwork – because I am an empirical philosopher, I do philosophy through fieldwork, with ethnographic methods, which have to be precisely adapted to the subject each time?with artists was to produce art with them: to situate myself literally in the direction of the process of construction. The products, at least in contemporary art, are not always easily understandable. The process is usually much more interesting than the product. I decided the best way to do that would be to be a producer, so to speak, of art. Not as an artist, but as a curator. And I had the chance through Peter Weibel, who is also an artist, as well as the director of the ZKM, to do so?twice [laughs]. Now I think I know more. First I met lots of very nice artists. I detected lots of terribly bad artists. I sought out lots of good curators and lots of bad curators. I learned a trade. This is my fieldwork. I didn’t do that to produce art. But I found?I think?the way to get into the process of art production.”

excerpts of Bruno Latour and Chrisian S. G Katti Mediating Political ‘Things’ and the Forked tongue of Modern Culture A conversation with Bruno Latour, ArtJournal Vol. 65 n°1 pp.94-115 Spring 2006.

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