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Can Artistic Practices Negotiate the Demands of Cultural Institutions, Public Space, and Civil Society?

Laura U. Marks
2 May 2012

Yes, artistic practices can offer insights into those things – but need they? Many artists in the region deftly wield smart institutional critique without breaking a sweat. But why not pass that responsibility to the audiences for their work? I think the best way to develop civil society is not to demand that artists engage with civics but to support artists' experiments in all forms. 


Of course this implies the need for a non-commercial culture or one in which commercial success is an option, not a criterion. Many institutions in the region are providing forums for experimentation, free inquiry, and spontaneous responses to events. Townhouse in Cairo, Zico House in Beirut, L'Appartement 22 in Rabat, and Traffic in Dubai are just a few that come to mind. 


One specific way that cultural organisations could support free experiments is by distributing artists' video. Presently it is very hard for artists working in video to get their work seen: they must either secure a western distributor (this permits decent access and small fees), classify their work as visual art and try to secure a gallery (very limited access but potentially large fees), or upload their work for free to the Internet (good access, if the artist also takes on self-promotion, and no fees). A non-profit distributor based in the region that catalogues, preserves, and distributes media art for modest fees would provide a platform for experimental media art.

Laura U. Marks

is a professor in the School for Contemporary Arts at Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, and is a scholar, theorist, and curator of independent and experimental media arts. Her most recent book is Enfoldment and Infinity: An Islamic Genealogy of New Media Art (MIT Press, 2010).

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