From the art institution to instituent praxis: configurations of power in the contemporary European art world
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date02/07/2021
The thesis is the outcome of research that considers ontological and political conceptualisations of the notion of institution in relation to practices and discourses in the contemporary European art world and the power relations therein. The concept of ‘instituent praxis’, as theorised in Pierre Dardot and Christian Laval’s Common: On Revolution in the 21st Century (2019), is centrally employed. The thesis proposes an extended theoretical framework around this concept, taking into account the late capitalist socio-political condition and responding to aspirations for political autonomy. Τhe conceptual move from institution to instituent praxis is advocated in the belief that the second concept enables a more productive angle from which to address configurations of power in the context of contemporary art institutions and across their diversity in Europe. The first part of the thesis delineates this move from institution to instituent praxis. Chapter 1 traces definitions of institution in accounts of European (neo)avant-gardes and threads of Institutional Critique. Chapter 2 outlines instituent praxis, i.e. the collective and common creation of significations that can become rules of law. The concept’s engagement with notions of power and the creation of the historically new is accentuated against other (politically transformative) understandings of institution. The analysis also expands on Félix Guattari’s ideas on signification and the production of subjectivity through affect – already incubated in Dardot and Laval’s definition. Chapter 3 deploys this theoretical framework and speculates on art-institutional intersections with non-art-world practice – around issues of labour organisation, managerialism, algorithmic and institutional infrastructure. In the second part (Chapters 4, 5 and 6), art-world case studies are further dissected in three thematic sets. First, discourse in the art world, in relation to Michel Foucault’s notions of power and parrhesia, as well as concepts of (counter-)publics. Secondly, a geopolitically minded contribution to the discourse on experimental European art institutions. Finally, the condition of the real, as advocated by instituent praxis and portrayed in alter-, para- and mock-institutions. Overall, the analysis underlines interweavements between affect / desire and the production of meaning as rule-making; sketches the contribution of instituent praxis to political transformation; and ponders on persisting or parallel functions of power.