Contemporary art has been addressing human rights, ethnicity and indigenousness in somewhat spectacular ways, engaging larger publics, always raising the political stakes and the public salience of its action. The artwork is now a medium for people to gather knowledge and insight into politics, and earlier artistic experiments in social critique (from Guernica, to the situationist pranks of the 1950s, to Beuys’s 7000 Oaks project) have developed into diffused, large-scale performances in which sculpture, installation, architecture, curating, photography, and film serve a political purpose. Contemporary art is becoming a critical tool in processes of critique, contestation, and negotiation over memories, beliefs and routines. Memories crystallize in sites, symbols, narratives, and “heritage communities” (this definition is from the Council of Europe Framework Convention on the Value of Cultural Heritage for Society), and resist attempts to gain perspective and release new discourses. Artworks have challenged this rearguard, their liberating effects is obvious, and their force is reflected in the new status that Museums have gained in our social landscapes. Artists like Ai Weiwei make political statements through simple actions and performances, and these actions resonate on a global scale, affecting our perception of human rights in situations like the current refugee crisis.
2018 is the European Year of Cultural Heritage and this Section could provide fresh insights, and a new perspective, on a notion of heritage that, we believe, is deeply biased, for it frames issues related with the standing of art in the contemporary world in ways suggesting an attitude of stereotyping art as fine art. A global heritage community in which art is not deposited in a sanctuary (the Museum) is a community of equals whose routine efforts to build hierarchies and resort to violence is exposed by the ironic practice of the artist. Think of a recent intervention on a large monument in Bolzano, portraying Mussolini on a horse, framing the dictator as a protector of a ‘people,’ the Italians, that did not include other populations and minorities. Local authorities have managed to disempower the monument by placing a neon script on top of this large bas-relief, in the three languages spoken in town: German, Italian and Ladin. It is a quote from Hannah Arendt: NOBODY HAS THE RIGHT TO OBEY. This work creates a baffled perspective, it turns the monumental element into its opposite, it exposes and celebrates what the monuments hid and repressed.
This Section aims to unveil the age-old nexus between art and politics with Panels on a broad spectrum of topics. The Panels will pick up and develop themes raised in the Framework Convention and explore “the role of cultural heritage in the construction of a peaceful and democratic society;” but we wish to emphasise the role of art in challenging and deconstructing received truisms and communities, and put forth a notion of cultural heritage that is open-ended and self-aware. Analyses on the relationship between art and architecture, and the fading border between one and the other will be examined. The Section seeks to create a venue for members of the ECPR Standing Group on Politics and the Arts with the aim to address new developments in an interdisciplinary fashion.
The Section is endorsed by the ECPR Standing Group on Politics and the Arts and promotes a discussion engaging scholars, researchers, artists and cultural practitioners on questions pertaining to art and its political effects.