A Sense of Life

Over the last few months it has been difficult to keep a sense of life, joy, balance, and perspective on the relevance of one’s work. Living in such a secluded time feels a little like a test of our condition, of our patience. I always feel uneasy when people address the potential positive sides of difficult times. Suffering and sadness cannot be the foundation for better artworks or constitute the conditions for a better society. It is inaccurate to elevate the devastating effects of an illness to the status of “learning time,” or to repeat the romantic mantra that the best art emerges out of miserable times. Why do I say that it is inaccurate? Because right there, alongside the pain, the restrictions, the sadness, the frustration, and the fear about the near future, there is another force at work: generosity. It is barely ever mentioned, and it has never been recognized as the true soil in which great ideas and possibilities can flourish. But it is generosity in all its variations—empathy, care, love, unselfishness—that we need to thank for art. The sense of our whole being intensifies with the radical restrictions we are experiencing; it is then that we gather around a timid, upward-beating heart, all the forces we have spared in order to be there for others and for ourselves. Oh! Still sad and tired, but it is then, once you realize that mutuality is the key for opening the tiny doors of our near futures, that something starts to happen: warm feelings spreading among us like a moving sea between the shores of our souls, as the poet Kahlil Gibran would put it. Yes, forget all the imperialistic narratives about superhuman strength, and turn your face toward the diamagnetic force of the new values that will—hopefully—shape the humans of our near future. Humans are part of an ecosystem: we can achieve nothing without the energies that pull us toward togetherness.

It is within this sense of trust in you I have that I can see possibilities for art. If traditional institutions are resenting this crisis, it is not only because they have lost their audience and their revenue. There is something happening on a deeper level, a desire to reconceive the encounter between the social sphere and the work sphere. It is easy to imagine that certain terms, such as “local,” used as boundary markers to separate the realities of here and elsewhere, would cease to make sense. Additionally, “exhibition” programs may slowly be replaced by more fluid rhythms of working with shorter durations, injecting long-planned projects with more dynamic inventiveness. The notion of the “resident” may also gain a better momentum. Not as a desirable retreat to perform your work in solitude, but as the true possibility of coexisting and discovering happiness in union. Ah! There are so many places I can imagine that are longing for artists to join their journey. For example, in Brazil and Mexico in the 1960s, artists could live together with children in their schools. And with the elderly, too. Even the market. Don’t you see how difficult it will be to sustain certain large-scale studio productions? As with the development of the farmers’ market, we may be able to witness other modalities of production and exchange in our lifetimes.

I admit: I love art and artists. Even in these times of late capitalism and neoliberalism, of numbness, I believe art really is capable—it has the agency—of proving the radical potential of emotions—of love, empathy, and pleasure—as vital to our new political futures. We are not talking about taste here, but about the intelligence of life preserved in the sensorial forms of artistic practice. Audre Lorde wrote: “Love is the resounding ‘yes’ to the yes that beckons us toward connection, communion, and companionship” (Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power, 1978). Note that “love” here is not a selfish romantic impulse, but art, namely, the bond that echoes life and its values through an experience of the political expressed through the sensorial.

We hope you have a happy Christmas. You truly deserve a joyful time and all the love you can gather around you. 

¡Feliz Navidad!

Chus Martínez & the team of the Art Institute


Drawing: Eduardo Navarro
Animation: Esther Hunziker