Sören Meschede is the coordinator of Concomitentes. With degrees in philosophy and law and a professional background in journalism, he has been working as a cultural manager and producer in Spain since 2006. In recent years he has worked mainly with art in public spaces and in contextual and relational projects. He is interested in the creative side of art management and art that manages to combine social and performative elements.
For Commissioned by – Art in Relation, international mediators reflected on the significance of the New Patrons Protocol for their work: The Protocol can in principle be put into practice anywhere in the world, as it does nothing more than describe a way in which people can work together. All decisions are made locally by independent actors. Moreover, the protocol enables not only contemporary art projects, but also scientific research commissions, as well as theatre productions, music, architecture, and much more.
But how universal is the protocol, which emerged in European contexts against the background of a French cultural policy around 1989, really? How is it interpreted and possibly adapted not only in different regions of Europe, but also in Cameroon, Colombia, Lebanon and Tunisia? How do different historical, cultural and political backgrounds change the perspectives of art on behalf of citizens and the concrete work of mediators? Can they recommend that the protocol be taken up in societies where it has not yet played a role?
The Mediators have reflected on these questions and their texts are now published in this series.
The New Patrons protocol has been in use in Spain for ten years now. At first, and under the name of Nuevos Comanditarios, four projects were carried out in the Basque region. In 2017 the Daniel and Nina Carasso Foundation asked five curators and cultural managers if they wanted to found a Spanish network of the New Patrons. The association Concomitentes, founded for this purpose and currently consisting of Veronica Valentini, Julia Morandeira Arrizabalaga, Felipe González Gil, Fran Quiroga and myself, Sören Meschede, has been working since 2018 on four pilot projects in Galicia, Madrid, Catalonia and Tenerife, and is trying in parallel to consolidate the initiative at a national level.
Concomitentes is a made-up word from con (‘with’) and comitente (‘client’). Although it may be phonetically challenging, we believe that this neologism emphasises two elements that for us are particular to the New Patrons protocol. The word con shows that we understand our task as to work with the patrons on their project. And with comitentes we want to appeal to a sense of community not so much derived from the joint creation of added value but expressing a desire for social closeness. Comanditario, the obvious translation, is a fixed term in contractual law, while comitente comes from the Latin committere, which can be translated as to entrust, to bring about.
We have deviated from the previous nomenclature, on which the French and German names are based. Have we also veered away from Hers’ protocol? No, certainly not. We have simply adapted it, the better to communicate an aspect that seems particularly important to us.
In this sense we definitely believe that the New Patrons protocol can be applied universally, for the very reason that its author is no dogmatist, so the text can be read with a degree of interpretive leeway. To be honest, the aspiration of relational art to find a tailor-made response to every context wouldn’t sit with a rigid protocol – for discussions about the universal applicability of particular methods usual begin where one concept is grafted summarily onto another. More than a protocol, Hers’ text is therefore also the attempt to understand how to create certain frameworks to contribute to the best possible acceptance of artistic projects in social situations.
Relational art often works with subject matter and social constellations that exist in the same way or similarly in other places. So as not to continue reinventing the wheel, it is therefore worthwhile to consider how one concept can be transferred to another. Globalisation has shown us how to introduce an element into a new context. Broadly speaking there are two possibilities. One can develop an artificial space that is able to exist anywhere because of its complete autonomy. Embassies, hamburger franchises or flagship stores function according to this principle. Or, more subtly, one adapts the product to the space by reducing it to its constituent parts – to its brand essence.
The effectiveness of the first of these concepts in art is shown by the exhibition format of the white cube. In her article ‘Global White Cube’ 1, Elena Filipovic describes how this neutral projection surface has created the preconditions for the establishment of something like a globalised art. The reason why relational art often doesn’t fit into the classical exhibition circuit, where it appears sterile and unintelligible, lies precisely in the fact that it wasn’t made for this artificial space. It lacks the temporal and spatial context on which it is based and from which it gains its authority. So the replication of context-related art in another place or time is only possible if the original initiative is reduced to its constituent parts and imbued with life elsewhere.
In recent years there have been two interesting initiatives relating to this. One is the association Arte Útil 2, founded by the Cuban artist Tania Bruguera; the other is the protocol of the New Patrons.
Both claim to have developed a concept for making context-related art projects socially relevant even beyond their immediate context. Like François Hers, Tania Bruguera describes the genesis of Arte Útil as the attempt to bridge the gap between contemporary art and the wider population, which has grown away from art. And as with the New Patrons, the direct beneficiaries of the art with Arte Útil are not institutions or artists but the people for whom the work was made and whose lives it was meant to change, even in a small way. 3
Although both methods concur in their analysis, their approach to a problem is very different. Arte Útil identifies already completed art projects that it considers socially useful, introduces them as case studies, demonstrates their underlying method and makes them available to potential imitators for use in their local (and also non-art) contexts. Artists become initiators, spectators evolve into users, and art becomes a means to a higher social end. Tania Bruguera is explicit in her idea that only art with a practical use can be seen as arte útil. ‘For Art Útil, failure is not a possibility. If the project fails, it is not Art Útil.’ 4
The New Patrons take the opposite route. The starting point isn’t an already existing work, as with Arte Útil, but a set of guidelines that describes how citizens and artists, with the aid of a third party, the mediator, can create works of art directly related to the people who commissioned them. The potential of the New Patrons is that the protocol initially sounds astonishingly banal. It doesn’t seem to require anything more from participants than to fulfil their proper roles, and the often difficult part, that of mediation, is delegated to a third person. So artists can remain artists, and the patrons need in fact do nothing more than assign a commission and receive the finished product. Hers’ text has the appeal of straightforwardness, and therefore speaks to sections of the population and artists who would normally give relational art a wide berth. Once a group of patrons has been set up, the actual and implicit part of the work begins. The planned work of art serves as a projection surface; it creates a space that enables a dialogue between the participating protagonists that would perhaps be impossible if they were to talk about specific problems. People who didn’t know each other previously come together, established hierarchies are questioned and the collaboration with the artists gives all participants the opportunity to consider their situation and their relationships from a new perspective. In this sense the short guidelines are a door opener to an often urgently needed interchange between different social groups. For me it is in this social aspect that the true value of Hers’ protocol lies. For even if the work of art isn’t realised, this shouldn’t necessarily be seen as the project’s failure. You can never predict the direction a New Patrons project will take, or the value that participants recognise it creating on a completely different level. For it is the participants who decide what benefit they take from their collaborative project: nothing has to happen, but much can.
Just as it is left to the patrons and artists to develop a specific collaboration from an abstract method, it is also important to anchor the discourse of such guidelines historically and politically, and to question it frequently. For example, the firmly established civil identity on which the discourse of the Nouveaux Commanditaires is based in Belgium and France doesn’t exist in the same way in Spain. Were the Concomitentes to adopt the French text directly, there would be a danger of it being understood as an elite initiative by a limited number of beneficiaries with shared values and educational background. It is also important to place what might be called the paternalistic power of the mediators – who for Hers are pivotal to the projects – in a historical framework and to interpret it accordingly.
In this point it is vital to follow Hers’ undogmatic example in his protocol in our dealings with the patrons and artists. For if the guidelines of the New Patrons protocol can be understood as largely neutral, this doesn’t automatically mean that we organisers and mediators behave neutrally in our work with the patrons. We all have a clear idea of why we want to work with this method, and are therefore – even though we believe otherwise – not neutral brokers. This need not be a flaw, if we are aware of the situation and if we succeed in communicating our own position is such a way that it is understood and can be questioned as such.
Sören Meschede is the coordinator of Concomitentes (www.concomitentes.org). With degrees in philosophy and law and a professional background in journalism, he has been working as a cultural manager and producer in Spain since 2006. In recent years, he has worked mainly with art in public spaces and in context-oriented and relational projects. He is interested in the creative side of art management and art that manages to combine social and performative elements.
1 Elena Filipovic, ‘The Global White Cube’, in OnCurating, no. 22, April 2014, OnCurating, Zurich, pp. 45–63, online: www.on-curating.org/issue-22-43/the-global-white-cube.html
3 Conversation with Tania Bruguera in Bomb magazine, 01/07/2014, bombmagazine.org/articles/tania-bruguera/
4 Tania Bruguera, ‘Reflexiones sobre el Arte Útil’, in Pablo Martínez y Yayo Aznar (eds.) ARTE ACTUAL: Lecturas para un espectador inquieto, CA2M, Madrid, 2012, pp. 194–197 online: www.taniabruguera.com/cms/files/reflexiones_sobre_el_arte_util_-_eng_1.pdf