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1. to resign to ART

        by Catherine Leguillou González


Quick translation done for informational purposes.

The anecdote corresponds to a common scene. During an art and new technologies festival at a European university, an American artist bursts into the conference room to provocatively recruit young artists into one of the various contemporary variants of artivism . At the same symposium two days later, a renowned art theorist puts into perspective the ideological remnants of colonialism and the extractivist logic in art, which is reproduced in its convergence with new technologies. It ends with a call —vague and unresolved— to Ecocriticism: for artists to ally themselves with cultural actors who present an alterity to the capitalist hegemonic discourse as the only alternative to the social crises and the environmental catastrophe of the Anthropocene. The room erupts with enthusiastic applause in both cases, but with specific exceptions, the artistic practices of the rest of the program —dominated by conceptual reviews, video projections, and the ingenious use of cell phones— seem far from the revolutionary enthusiasm of these calls.

The symptoms are generalizable. North American and European Art of the 21st century is reworked as design or theory, but not as generational disruption. Art, in these terms, will hardly be censored or will provoke mobilizations. Their approaches to nature, seeing limited —or predated— spaces of interaction with it, are limited to techno-scientific elaborations and laboratory experiments. The symptom is the inability to construct new forms of mediation.

If we move to the anti-cultural practices and concerns of non-Anglo-Saxon America, we will immediately identify in these calls —artivist and ecocritical— the validation of some of our recent overseas practices, although in our case we use other names. In the first example, we will recognize the creativity of our protests, in the second, the vocation of countless initiatives to approach indigenous cosmogony, to rehearse relational practices in communities and spaces of risk, or to rehearse interactions with non-human subjectivities with the intention to contain the dynamics of predation on natural environments. Practices that some have called live arts [1] or expanded [2], and that in their execution they create spaces for alternative cultural interaction, but that in no way dispute the primacy of the hegemonic conception of Modern Art.

With more or less success in their goals, these practices exist within and outside the Art system. A superficial review will make us realize that their exercise and theorization in the Central European and North American case seem to be under the protection of the art system, especially within universities and under the patronage of some non-governmental organizations. They survive there with the promise of coming out into reality one day, while they rehearse between inbreeding conversations and assume themselves in the continuous construction of divergent knowledge. In peripheral economies, adept groups emerge as subsidiaries of the aforementioned, although as a renewed source of vitality for the central ecosystems of Art. The metropolis has translated as avant-garde the decoloniality that rises up against it.

On the other hand, the large public seems still reluctant to this displacement. Beyond the eventual —and generally limited— success of some initiatives, the vast majority of viewers remain affiliated with the classical scheme of Fine Arts —only adding to it the disciplines of film and photography— even when they recognize the existence of alternatives, conditional to the preponderance of the former is not violated. The way the above is expressed is in distributing resources for Art in the two great structures that govern society: the Market and the State. In turn, a kind of aesthetic populism has emerged with enormous vigor, basing its argument against these practices on the undeniable fact that they do not display a technical capacity that allows us to value them above countless other cultural expressions, as was the case with the great masters of classical and modern art [3]. These criticisms, far from being immediately discarded, invite us to address them from a legitimate claim: Why do we value art? What's so special about it?


Paula Juanpere defines paraphrasing Mario Perniola (2015): “Expanded art, then, would mean an unlimited artistic horizon in which anything can be classified as art: a kind of baptism in which 'if I affirm that something is aesthetic or artistic is because I attribute to it the essence of aesthetics or artisticity' ”, in:


Two popular figures in the Ibero-American sphere of this critical current regarding contemporary artistic practices are Avelina Lésper and Antonio García Villagrán .


Water Lilies by Claude Monet in the Salar de Uyuni

Let us relocate art and assess its universal value. If it weren't for your technical mastery, how would Claude Monet's Water Lilies stand out on the Salar de Uyuni esplanade? Would Caravaggio's Head of Medusa , exposed in an undetermined site in the Darien Gap, have any value? Or what about the sculpture of the Coyolxauhqui placed at the bottom of the Mina de Mir? Or if the indecipherable song of guttural voices of the Inuit (which in many cases is meaningless) emerged one morning off the shore of the Venetian lagoon, would the specific technique that produced a cultural expression be relevant outside the context of its production? ?


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Coyolxauhqui in the Mir Mine

From the above, a double attitude emerges about the concept of art and the activities that are revealed in the face of its semantic rigidity.

Let's go back to the example of the artivist. He insists that his tools are not sustained under an aesthetic or the search for subjective immanence, but rather on his ability to mobilize political positions. The value (not limited to the economic aspect) of their 'actions' therefore should not be evaluated by the classical elements of art [4] or in terms of their possibility of becoming an object of consumption —and collecting—, but rather in terms of its ability to provoke relevant reflections.

His work —which will consist of filling potholes in the public asphalt with endemic trees or tile fractals, placing anti-monuments in the central avenues of the city, and holding demonstrations as performance praxis— exceeds the delimitation of the aesthetic range. For some it will not be art, others will argue that the concept should include it due to its relevance in social terms and given its disruptive potential. Outside of its context —in the Salar de Uyuni, in the Darién Gap, in the Mir Mine or on the Adriatic coast with its back to the Biennale on duty— the controversy is irrelevant. In the surroundings [5] of the art system, depending on its distance from the metropolises and even in these same ones, in their natural peripheries, both positions support an intangible asset. It would be simpler and more coherent to answer: " stay with your Art, I am content with going to transform reality " —the problem of reality with respect to Art, which we will deal with later, will then arise.


Although it is problematic to affirm the existence of elements that distinguish art within a classical tradition, we can identify the prevalence of some concepts in constant revision. As an example let us take beauty , aesthetic experience , form , poetry , creativity , mimesis , imagination , genius , taste , aesthetic sense , artistic truth and style ; as canonical terms delimited by Władysław Tatarkiewicz (1997) in his genealogy of artistic concepts .


Octavio Paz spoke of these as the present-day “that lives on the fringes, far away when not against the currents in vogue - the art and literature of the outskirts” (1979, In/mediaciones, Barcelona: Seix Barral)

Inuit songs and landscape of Venice (VIDEO)

Let us remember the artivist's response to one of the public's questions: if we agree that doing all this, resisting power, exercising citizenship, is more important than succeeding in the great museums and galleries, or even provoking a revolution aesthetics: why not to resign to Art? His answer in general terms will have been the following: because art is important. Because being the most important thing in the world, we want it to defend a better common model, which encourages us to organize ourselves and rescue ourselves from our condition of immobility and crisis.

Indeed, the aspiration is commendable, and following this logic allows us to import into the semantic field of what we call Art all kinds of "micropolitical resistances" [6]. But we cannot fail to recognize in this aspiration also an evident contempt to the art forms that are not instrumentally useful in the criticism against hegemonic structures, which would banish countless of works that today we consider relevant or that show, beyond their moral relevance, an artistic "truth". Someone will add to the equation the fact —not trivial— that it is possible to survive teaching in a North American or Central European university (and its peripheral branches) saving Art from becoming what we do not want it to be. If the humanities of late capitalism have one thing in common, it is their ability to raise private and state sponsorships for multiple schemes of dissent.

This ability to absorb and replicate dissent from Art is not trivial. To strip from it would be to quit it the possibility that constitutes the symbolic potential of its exceptionality.


Suely Rolnik refers to these expressions in the specific field of art as a series of cultural practices defined by "the will to promote the aforementioned displacement of the dominant cultural paradigm." It distinguishes them from the “macropolitical vehicles of awareness, denunciation and ideological transmission”, exemplified by political, committed and / or pamphlet art. (2019, Esferas de la insurrección. Buenos Aires: Tinta Limón, p. 85)

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Having settled this double attitude, it would be convenient to ask ourselves about the series of historical continuities that have led us to value everything that we define under the concept of "Art " above a different multitude of cultural expressions. This, to the point, that in order to integrate exogenous cultures to the European ideological scheme, far from granting them comparable own concepts, we have given their expressions accreditations of artistic citizenship. [7] The process is easily discernible in the history of Western art from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, with the adoption, imitation, and assimilation of plastic forms from Africa, America, and Oceania, as well as 'pre-modern' cultural expressions, from a long list of Western canon artists. [8] The integration of forms of ontologization and cultural transmission of native peoples —either as inspiration or as a genuine metaphysical dislocation— in the artistic work exhibited by the system of Western museums, galleries, and universities today is common and finds their background in the integration process described above. It will be less evident, although equally tangible in its logic of conceptual absorption, the reading that the said system makes of expressions exogenous to it, as art. Hence, for example, people talk and write about “ popular art ” [9], “ Andean theatricality ” [10] or “ shamanic performativity ” [11] —among so many recent concepts assigned to rather atavistic practices— interpreting expressions non-artistic as art partly as a strategy to give them value in the concerned system or even, to introduce them into it as a novelty —sometimes disruptive novelty in terms of aesthetic avant-garde, monetarily marketable, or at the service of an ideological agenda.

We then have that beyond a concept that allows a series of specific objects and praxis to be specifically cataloged, art would be nothing but a quality that grants the ideological structure of the expanded West to different cultural activities in a specific context. A brand, more than quality.

In Life and death of the image [12], Regis Debray recovers the 1991 Manifesto for a global society declared by the World Arts Summit in Davos [13] as evidence of the consolidation of art as a central element of the ideological substrate of the global market —"Universal religion"—. Being a dynamic repository of all forms of symbolic expression —ancient and modern— of objects and events that we consider valuable, given its ideological malleability and thanks to its ability to integrate all kinds of otherness under a single and common concept, art never devalues. This quality positions it in a relationship of mutual valuation with respect to financial capital, which it indirectly supports, feeding it qualities which, by itself, it lacks.

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Cultures exogenous to the modern West produced a myriad of cultural practices with particular ends that precede the existence of the concept of art and are generally focused on other ends. However, it has been modern historiography that has defined them as "art" based on the particular use (of contemplation and preservation, above all) that modern civilization gives them.


This influence is widely known and documented. The arrival of artistic pieces from overseas to the colonial metropolises and their museum exhibition is decisive in the transformation of modern European art.

In the genealogy of the nineteenth-century French avant-garde, for example, Claude Monet's predilection for Japanese art is known, as well as that of Tahitian art for Paul Gauguin. Years later, Pablo Picasso would make his influences the central element of his work, adopting aesthetic elements from African, Greco-Latin and prehistoric art. His contemporary and then friend, Diego Rivera, would adopt the same strategy, taking up pre-Hispanic aesthetics as the central axis of his work. An extensive review of these last two cases can be found in Michel Govan & Diana Magaloni (2016) Picasso and Rivera: Conversations Across Time , Los Angeles: LACMA


In Mexico, the term “popular art” has been used by the State since the post-revolutionary regime to anchor the precepts of cultural nationalism to the very varied Mexican artisan tradition, particularly those of indigenous origin. The term is adopted institutionally from the Popular Art Exhibition organized by Dr. Atl on the occasion of the centenary of national independence in 1921, but it continues to be used to this day. An example of this is the opening of the Museum of Popular Art in 2006 by the National Institute of Fine Arts.

A detailed narration about the event referred to here, its ideological use, and its relationship with the artistic avant-gardes in Mexico can be found in the article by Víctor M. González for Historias Nº 90 (January-April 2015)


Thinking about the sacred, multicultural, and anthropological theater inquiries of Jerzy Grotowski, Peter Brook, and Eugenio Barba; Miguel Rubio writes: “attending the traditional Andean festival made us suspicious of certain“ universal and hegemonic criteria ”that establish what theater is, leaving aside experiences based on game dynamics that in many cultures are the basis of the theatrical event from of the assignment of roles, conventions and codes of representation ”(X Encuentro para la Promoción y Difusión del Patrimonio Inmaterial de Países Iberoamericanos, p. 248)


In this way, Paul M. Liffman calls the series of ritual practices and sacred stories of the Wixarika (Huichol) people shared in their annual journey throughout the Mexican territory. This anthropologist interprets them as a central element in his forms of negotiation with external agents, either in the confrontation with the mining corporations that threaten their sacred territory, as well as with the intercultural publics with whom they converge in transactions and strategic alliances ((“Historias, cronotopos y geografías wixaritari”, en Relaciones. Estudios de historia y sociedad, vol.39 no.156 Zamora dic. 2018)..

The term has also been used by Ana Mariela Bacigalupo in the context of the Mapuche people to describe the ritual uses of textual objects ("bibles"). It describes the following modes of shamanic performativity: “multitemporality, ritual remodeling of the past and the future, recreation of local history through the shamanization of official documents and bibles, spiritual obliteration of Chilean national history and transformation of memory through of death and rebirth ”(“Grafismo chamánico, conciencia histórica mapuche y biblias como objetos rituales de poder en Chile”, Scripta Ethnologica, vol. XXXVI, 2014, pp. 42-76).


(1992) Vie et mort de l'image. Une histoire du regara en Occident, Gallimard: Paris.


"Art is the language of culture, the unique form of creative expression that allows us to communicate and build truly global bridges."

Hence, Debray's suspicion can be extended to the process by which the concept of Contemporary Art has not only absorbed forms of expression and appreciation of objects that until recently were alien to it, but also the vigor with which it seems to adopt in the last decade traditional discursive forms and emerging epistemologies.


Vochol (2010), Collective creation

The ease with which traditional knowledge, critical practices on the use of heritage and archives, feminist and decolonial discursivities, coexist in art with laboratory research, neuroscientific epistemology, and the technological novelties, would be surprising given their apparently organic coexistence —without great or violent splits as happened in the avant-gardes— if did not know that they are part of the same process of absorption by the State and private valuation mechanism inherent in the Art system. As will be immediately suspected, this absorption hides the threat of containing (or 'capturing') what Suely Rolnik calls the “creative vital power” in the environments and time limits set by the State and the market for artistic practice, inhibiting its force disruptive [14].

Now, if our intention is to put the concept of art in perspective in the face of the need for the development of a genuine ecology, it is necessary to question as a whole the ways in which we assign value and exercise cultural practices, at the risk of not replicating with them forms of depredation of natural environments that are inherent to the consumer society.


This implies, not only analyzing Art based on its place in the State structure and its participation in different market shares but the very fact that its existence and valuation above other aspects of reality, prevents a glimpse of the possibility of transform collective provisions [15] that condition the preservation of most of the planet's ecosystems. [16] Thus, the question of Art goes beyond its concrete practice. The way in which we collectively position ourselves before it will define our position vis-à-vis nature and our overall understanding of it.

The question of the meaning of art can change the world.

1.1 When art is no longer enough

In his novel The Savage Detectives, [17] Roberto Bolaño seems to foresee an anecdote that in the following decades would portray the searches after the exhaustion of the artistic avant-garde model. In the narration, a couple of young poets —Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima—, leaders of the anti-establishment movement of "visceral realism", fight in the field of literature the hegemony represented in the Mexican context by the poet Octavio Paz, before whose figure they put before that of the disappeared stridentist poet Cesárea Tinajero. The poems of this last character together with her biographical line —a woman leader of a literary avant-garde movement that escaped from the capital and got lost in the desert— become for young poets an anti-hegemonic symbol understood in territorial terms: to rebel, also means, to escape.



We are talking here about lifestyles, strategies and ways of evaluating the world. What the sociologist Pierre Bordieu calls the habitus .


As a result of the fire in Notre Dame in April 2019, and the subsequent ones that occurred in the Amazon in August of the same year, A certain controversy was unleashed in social networks and at the political level about which of the two heritages should be prioritized in their care . Although the controversy may seem trivial, it reveals a fundamental ideological crisis regarding the valuation of art with respect to natural spaces.


Los detectives salvajes (1998), Anagrama: Barcelona

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Poem by Cesárea Tinajero

Taken this idea to its radicality outside of the cultural circles that publications and literary gatherings make possible, it would imply that the great transformation in the poetic experience regarding the canon cannot but be concretized in the writing of a private poem. The real break, we understand together with Belano and Lima, will have been to escape from Literature as a system. Cesárea Tinajero as a model of dissent will not return to the metropolis to claim the centrality of the heterotopia it represents but will remain on the sidelines at the risk of being forgotten. The young poets will go their way indirectly, either by supporting the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua —a model in which art is useful for the transformation of the world— or by reporting armed conflicts from sub-Saharan Africa —renouncing fully to the poetry. In the latter case, the reminiscence of Rimbaud will be evident, [18] as a nod to the prevalence of a romantic spirit that, seeing denied the possibility of adventure that is innate to him in the literary field, throws himself into the vicinity to find what art barely sketches.

This nonconformity with art, in this literary case, with respect to the promise that it draws — to be the highest form of human expression — is observable in countless cases outside of Bolaño's novel, with different variations.

We are given to know innumerable cases of artists who, having or not had "success" in the cultural market, leave it to become notable speleologists, physicists, farmers, chefs, founders of extraordinary communes or hostels. They become notable researchers, full-time parents, or radical activists for a cause that exceeds their work in attention and enthusiasm. A traditional consideration with respect to the above would be to think that resignation or withdrawal from artistic activity responds only to the exhaustion of youthful emotion, the need to find a stable livelihood, or the mutation of their intellectual concerns. However, it is possible to observe in these the same disinterested commitment that they previously showed in art, comparable creativity, which makes us attribute to this new exercise the same or greater “vital power” [19] than the activity they previously performed.

And here is that considering the concept of Art, not as an end in itself, but as a disorganized collection of creative processes, endows it with a more exciting —and perhaps enlightening— perspective, not only on its exercise itself but also on the non-artistic activities carried out by those who exercise it. This seems to bring it closer to the original meaning of its Renaissance conception, which defined Art it as everything that is done with technique and mastery. [20]

This perspective seems to dominate the spectrum of practices that, considering art as a form of action and thought rather than a specific result, put it to the service of a series of agendas —not necessarily political— that are perceived as pertinent or necessary, to in turn, in different ways of investigating problematic elements of reality. In this way, we find abundant recent examples in which artistic practice has moved from the traditional places of its exercise —museums, cultural centers, theaters— to spaces that were previously completely alien to it.

Synthesizing the wide universe of practices that reflect the above would be impossible, however, we distinguish below four that seem illustrative of a common condition:

  1. art as liberation, characterized by attempts to weave creative forms of resistance against environments of poverty, exclusion, domination, and injustice;

  2. art as historical reflection, as practices dedicated to revisiting the archive and heritage in a critical way, as well as to revalue or reveal hitherto "hidden" aspects of the past and place them in the space of public discussion;

  3. art as identity reflection, which is made up of exercises that problematize the belonging of minority or underrepresented groups with respect to hegemonic cultural expressions;

  4. art as natural research, characterized by forms of creative approach to scientific and humanistic knowledge and its methodologies of apprehension of reality, sometimes trying to question its epistemological precepts.

The above would be just some of a long list of conceptions that as a whole form part of what we will call hereafter as the artistic function, [21] which, cohesive with a multiplicity of different disciplines, would have as its objective the production of knowledge reluctant to the conventional disciplinary boundaries giving primacy to creative intuition. In this way, to the symbolic value creation strategy described in the previous section (through objects, goods, and events) we would add the generation of knowledge of various kinds.

This all-encompassing function of art as knowledge, although it may be new to some, it is not at all. Even the most archaic architects will be more than familiar with the notion of Art that is collectively constructed through processes of negotiation, experimentation with the environment, and permanent dialogue with heritage. In his discipline, the futility of fortuitous destruction is revealed more clearly, as well as the genius of novelty that arises from patient observation and arduous study. [22] In a certain way, architectural art is more present in the knowledge that it built and revealed from its construction process, than in the building that resulted from it.

In the same way, the artistic function is prone to be interpreted as engineering of symbols which contributes to their serving as a source of solving problems of various kinds. Examples range from forms of collective experimentation to address community conflicts [23] or deficiencies in common spaces, [24] to the use of artistic and design tools to clarify unresolved cases of human rights violations and forced disappearance in areas of conflict. [25]


In section 25 of the second part of the novel, the character Jacobo Urenda writes: “[…] but I kept thinking that history was limping somewhere, in Africa one always comes across strange stories. Do you think it is possible for someone to travel to such a remote place looking for death? I asked my wife. It's perfectly possible, she said. Even a forty-year-old guy? I said. If you have an adventurous spirit, it is perfectly possible, said my wife, who has always had a somewhat romantic streak […] ”(ibid).


Rolnik dixit.


What we differentiate here from the homonymous term proposed by Oliver Marchart, defined by him as the organization of the public sphere . As we have previously stated, the perspective on art that we deal with forces us to include gestures of a private and even intimate sphere.


Teodoro González de León wrote that architecture as art “ unravels the way of life of a society and creates the scenes of our daily life. Architecture is also the part of culture that lasts the longest. ”(2018, Lecciones , Mexico: El Colegio Nacional)


Alfredo Palacios Garrido defines communitarian art as the “artistic practices that involve the collaboration and participation of the public in the work and an attempt to achieve social improvement through art ” ( 2009, Arteterapia . Vol. 4 , pp. 197 - 211 ).


In his iconic Skoghall Konsthall (2000), Alfredo Jaar provides a temporary museum to a young Swedish industrial population that lacks of it. After a few days, he sets it on fire, provoking a reflection among the citizens of the site about the need for cultural spaces for their community.


A paradigmatic example of this is the research carried out by the Forensic Architecture agency, (2017) The enforced disappearance of the Ayotzinapa students

Beyond the sterile controversy that would result about the correspondence or not of these practices to the field of art, their relevance as human acts in the contexts in which they occur is undeniable. It is, therefore, appropriate to question whether, given the importance of what they investigate, it is this field —Art— that is capable of solving them with the greatest capacities and rigor.

Returning to the previous analogy, an excess that is not alien to contemporary reality is to end up in the copiousness of architectures —understood as art and as technique— deeply reflective on the problems of our cities, but without buildings built or worse, in entire cities without population. [26] Despite the enthusiasm it provokes among those who exercise it and those who contemplate it, Art does not replace other forms of organization and social transformation that are essential for solving problems. A threat that underlies the fact that art becomes the only field of representation of certain dissidents is precisely in the immobilization of the same in other areas of common life.

This has a not inconsiderable effect in the case of concern about the environment and the pertinent question of whether art can contribute to its rescue. As Debray himself describes it in detail, it is just at the moment of his agony that artistic forms seem to place special emphasis on making natural environments visible. In the case of European art history, this is revealed in the way in which the gradual disappearance of pristine ecosystems resulted in the consolidation of an Art dedicated to them: the landscape.


This situation is illustrated by the city of Chandigarh in India. Designed by Le Corbusier under the principles of architectural Modernism —of wide international influence during the second half of the 20th century—, it now fights against the rampant abandonment and looting of art speculators.


In his reflection on the physical process by which reality is transformed into digital video and photography, [27] Sean Cubitt describes how audiovisual arts transform intangible aspects of reality present in the environment, such as animals, plants, ecosystems, symbols, and even dreams, in products made profitable by the cultural industry with a specific and quantifiable material concretion: metadata. This information, when shared through the different digital platforms, is simultaneously stored in industrial repositories with a specific physical existence that belongs to transnational corporations. Its storage has a cost, its possession produces financial profits. In turn, its existence has a not inconsiderable environmental footprint: this is the material expression of our collective unconscious and the collected fruit of our creativity.

Cubitt concludes a disturbing statement for audiovisual media, the scope of which can be extrapolated to other analogous cultural practices: art, as a transformative practice of the environment, is an extractive activity. This infers a sinister warning for artists who, in the context of the ecological emergency typical of the Anthropocene, have decided to adopt the environment as the central theme of their work: that their representation is nothing more than a symptom of a general abdication on your rescue. Introducing flora, fauna, and material ecosystems in general in the flow of value relationships that ends up turning them into symbols according to the scheme proposed above, would in turn mean having made their transformation into financial capital.

One breath around the world (2019), Guillaume Néry

In response to the above, it will be difficult to find human activities that could still be considered outside the system of creating surplus value, but clarifying the process by which art participates in it forces us to reconsider it in its supposed specificity, as well as to question ourselves about the uses that we attribute to it based on said valuation.

1.2 Art and the End of time

At the opposite extreme of this consideration of the artistic function is the recognition of its effective transforming capacity. Returning to the aforementioned examples, in the case of the involvement of artistic agents in issues of human rights violations, this implies the political mobilization of institutions exogenous to litigation system —museums, foundations, galleries, and resources generally dedicated to entertainment— for the accumulation of social and cultural capital that makes it possible not only to make the issue visible to the general public but specifically to collaborate with the victims and achieve justice. In both cases, we verify that art is a viable alternative to transform reality.

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Given the effusiveness that the previous statement could cause, we must not ignore a perverse effect that said transforming potential supposes. The philosopher Marina Garcés warns us when elaborating on the concept of the contemporary posthumous condition, [28] that our time seems to be addicted to the solutionists: people and groups that, from their disciplines or spaces of action, seem to always offer fragments of an unproblematic future to arrive. [29] Solutionism as an ideology is the teleological application of scientific and technological advances, as well as our emotions, to the exercise of certain disciplines with the aim of saving us from catastrophe. It is a direct legatee of the apocalyptic stories, by means of which the present is captured in anticipation of the inevitable catastrophe, and then, through a magical leap, be transferred to a messianic time —in this case, techno-utopian— without avian the process of gradual resolution of the overwhelming sum of problems of the present.

Applied to art, it is possible to observe the above in the restorative impulse of countless initiatives that aim to free it from its typical understanding of production and consumption. Reminiscences of Walter Benjamin are revealed in these proposals, both in his criticism of art to which he is inclined given its technical reproducibility, [30] and in his implicit proposal in the face of the critique of history, which would be the search for messianic time, [31] not as a final moment that concludes the human experience, but in the multiplicity of experiences that it contains. Hence, the artistic function is translated into the attempt to resolve parcels of reality, beyond its attitude —critical or not— on the totality of it.

This certainly unconscious interpretation of time, could explain the abundance of performative approaches to action in the context of contemporary arts, ending up turning this attitude into the fate that characterizes them in their critical sense. Having tried to evade the production of new particular objects —either in response to their probable absorption by financial capital, or because of their lack of aura— the artistic function turns into what Giorgio Agamben calls operating time, [32] that is, the present of the experience where the apprehension of the subject, his situation, and the events in which he can be a participant is possible. Indeed, to survive, art had to become decidedly political. But its upset was not necessarily due to the collective adoption of the commitment to certain causes, but to the very deterioration of its resources to produce sensible experiences.


Concept that refers to the continuous experience of threat, ecological crisis and systematic worsening of living conditions that we collectively perceive as irreversible, and which throws us into a kind of abdication of the future and a sense of civilizing death.

It is found in Marina Garcés (2017), Nueva ilustración radical, Barcelona: Anagrama y  (2019) “Condición póstuma, o el tiempo del «todo se acaba»” NUSO Nº 283


A limited reflection on this topic applied to the architectural discipline —relevant for our examples— was presented at the Festival Mextrópoli 2017 in Mexico City.


Walter Benjamin, The work of art in the age of its technical reproducibility


Surely the fortune-tellers, who asked the time what he was hiding in his lap, did not experience that it was homogeneous and empty. Whoever keeps this in mind may come to understand how past tense was experienced in commemoration: namely, commemorating it. It is known that the Jews were forbidden to scrutinize the future. Instead, the Thora and the prayer instruct them in the commemoration. This disenchanted the future, to which those who seek information from fortune-tellers succumb. But this did not mean that the future for the Jews was becoming a homogeneous and empty time. Since every second was in him the small door through which the Messiah could enter ”. In Walter Benjamin, “Tesis de Filosofía de la Historia”, Revolta Global, p. 10


Giorgio Agamben (2006),”Cuarta jornada: Apóstolos”, en El tiempo que resta. Comentario a la carta a los Romanos, Madrid: Trotta p. 70-73

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Draft: En la noche, los relámpagos (2015) University Museum of Contemporary Art (MUAC) UNAM, TV UNAM, Teatro Ojo

The process described above finds innumerable echoes in the way in which the classical avant-gardes concluded, in the case of the then-novel Soviet state, with the consolidation of that which overturned the concentration of all creative impulses in the radical transformation of reality: "the Total work of art ” (Gesamtkunstwerk) Stalinist.

As Boris Groys explains in his homonymous book, [33] the officialization of Stalin culture expressed in the generalized adoption of the aesthetics of socialist realism was due, rather than to a massive process of censorship of certain aesthetics or the regression to traditional forms promoted by the popularist policy of the Soviet state, precisely the ideological radicalization of the artistic avant-garde contemporary to the revolution. These, in their claim to supplant art prior to socialism and the values ​​it represented, promoted the consensus that adherence to the demiurgic project of the leader of the revolution —a force of nature truly capable of changing reality in total terms— was the only consistent way of assuming oneself as a true artist, or as part of a continuous performativity in which all the actors in society were participants. [34]

We should not underestimate the conflictual relationship that is revealed in this case between the artist and its craft, with reality. [35] Although its concretion no longer happens mediated by the structure of a party, it is not for this reason that the analogous apparatus of the Market and the liberal State cease to promote with comparable enthusiasm the initiatives related to the artistic as a way of affirming a determined objectivity, and with it a model of human time.



Boris Groys (2008), Obra de arte total Stalin (Gesamtkunstwerk Stalin), Trad. Desiderio Navarro, Valencia: Pre-Textos


"Socialist realism is precisely that partisan or collective surrealism, which flourishes under Lenin's famous slogan" You have to dream "[...]. The popular definition of the method of socialist realism as "representation of life in its revolutionary development", which is "national in form and socialist in content", refers precisely to a dream realism, which hides behind its popular form, national, a new content, socialist: the grandiose vision of the world that is constructed by the Party, the total work of art that is created by the will of its true creator and artist: Stalin. ”, In Ibid. p. 111.


“For the artist in this situation, being realistic means avoiding execution due to the divergence of his personal dream from Stalin's, understood as a political crime. The mimesis of socialist realism is the mimesis of Stalin's will, the inner assimilation of the artist to Stalin, the surrender of his artistic ego in exchange for the collective efficacy of the project he shares. " Idem.

Soviet artists, accepting the comparison of their work with other technical activities —hence the nickname "engineers of souls"— contributed to the process of social construction of reality that ended up establishing the Stalinian condition: that of being assumed in a posthistorical time. In contrast, the artists of solutionism, accepting the equality of their work with the rest of technical and scientific activities, contribute to the social construction of knowledge, which ends up establishing —along with a multitude of other expressions, practices, and trades— the posthumous contemporary condition: that of being assumed in a posthistorical time. By merging Art and Reality, the living or expanded arts in their most radical expression imply the establishment of a renewed totalitarianism, not by the establishment of a homogeneous model to understand reality and its transformation, but by its capitulation to the notion that we live in the times of the Apocalypse.


How to escape from that impotence in the face of the advent of the end of time —which is nothing but the sacred terror—, the advent of doom? Faced with this question, the perception that Art is no longer enough will not be at all unusual, but perhaps it underlies the very act of raising said doubt in the context of the statement that accompanies it, the genuine enigma of whether it is possible in the middle of the Anthropocene to develop a true Ecology.

The terror cited here corresponds to the fear of the artist —and indeed of any human being— of no longer being a historical subject. [36] Hence, the immediate reaction of this, and of anyone who wields symbols, is to reposition themselves and them desperately in the realm of reality. However, considering "reality" as the object of its activity, although it could apparently endow the artist with unusual powers that enhance its creation, imposes it an ontology that ends up robbing the possibility of symbols to criticize the way in which we perceive and interact with the processes of reality itself.

Mark Rothko wrote in the early 1940s that Western civilization had developed its art with an agenda that deliberately evaded the development of a mythology of its own. [37] Hence his need to repeatedly recover Greco-Latin and Christian narratives, allowed him to give dramatic content to his authentic search through the principle of sensuality, that is, the stimulation of sensations. In this way, for the modern world, the model of reality is unitary and objective, but it finds in art the possibility of bifurcating into an exuberant multiplicity founded on the principles of pleasure and pain, Eros and Thanatos, which in turn allows the irrevocable particularization of those experiences.

Western art, Rothko concludes, appeals to the individual, not the community. Within it conflicts and contradictions, emotions in their wide spectrum, sacred and profane narratives, values, impulses, and tragedies, concur. Art —understood here as a multiplier of sensations— is a biological function that complements our impossible synthetic understanding of the real. This notion, however, implies a failure when approaching what should be the culmination of the act of representation: turning emotions into a communal experience. [38] The painter writes: “the more we participate in the expression of individual objects and their purpose (art), the further we are from being able to refer to these (the basic feelings of humanity) in a general sense ”. [39] Modern art, in his opinion, fails due to its impossibility for myth to emerge from it, limiting itself to a mere stimulus in a world of consumption of sensations.

This idea is expanded by Rothko when referring to the Mexican art of that time —clearly personified by the muralist movement [40]—, which by recovering pre-Hispanic symbols managed to recreate visions of revolutionary terror, but was unable to reconstruct the communitarian experience of the indigenous peoples to who ancient mural-art and monumental sculpture —parts of the unity that was the Mesoamerican cosmic city— were an expression of the ever-conflicting forces that governed the universe. Nothing less than that. Just as for the ancient Greeks, tragedy had been the performative expression of the primacy of the gods over human hybris, and Christians perceived in sacred art the extension of the gospel —the renewed incarnation of the verb— the art that Rothko imagined, it would present itself as a universal force. "We cannot but wait for the return of the myth" as a collective experience, he concludes, given the gloomy prospect that any attempt at anachronistic recovery would be doomed from the beginning to fail.

Recovering the vision of Rothko in his facet as a thinker, not only allows us to frame our reflection in the milestone that his work as an artist signifies in formal terms —with the renunciation of representation and the pretense of achieving the realization of the myth from the sensuality of abstraction—, but to the inflection point in which Western art found itself at the moment in which it had to turn, forced by circumstances, into the expression of the terror concretized in history that was the atomic bomb, an unequivocal vision of “the destruction of the world ”. [41]

If Western art had stripped the artist of his power over technique —which, as we have said before, was his fundamental attribute when the term arose— then suddenly this era was reintroduced into history as an event and an image. In its purity, terror shown as a material consequence of the laws of nature dominated by the human being and without any narrative to protect us against it, the same immobilized us as a species, which rendered futile any attempt to reappropriate the technique to through Art. From this perspective, humans seem condemned to the destruction of the world for our sake, to the desperate attempt to build a community myth based on partial solutions, and to an art that despite its continuous novelty, seems no longer enough.

Despite their apparent original opposition, the paths of art bequeathed to us in the twentieth century by socialist —represented here by the total Stalinian— and capitalist work of art —which we illustrate by Rothko's abstract expressionism— [42] arrived in the form of parallel to keeping the messianic notion of time intact, as well as placing ourselves on the horizon of an unproblematic present, albeit adverse.


Octavio Paz writes: “for the first time the future lacks form. Before the birth of historical consciousness, the shape of the future was neither terrestrial nor temporal: it was mythical and occurred in a time outside of time. The modern man brought the future down, rooted it in the earth, and gave it a date: he turned it into history. Now, by losing its meaning, history has lost its empire over the future and also over the present. As the future is disfigured, history ceases to justify our present. " (2017, Los signos en rotación: ensayos y cartas, Mexico: El Colegio Nacional, p. 92.)


Mark Rothko (2004) The artist's reality: philosophies of art, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, p. 91-104


Rothko gives as an example the Tragedy of Ancient Greece, which was - in his perspective - not only an artistic spectacle, but the communal experience of the incarnation and actualization of the myth. It assumes a role similar to the artistic representations of Giotto in Renaissance churches. Ibid. p. 103.




Possibly one of the first deliberate attempts in modern art to replace not only formal values, but the cosmology of Judeo-Christian art.


Octavio Paz (2017), La nueva analogía, México: El Colegio Nacional


These are obviously two extreme generalizations. If we have chosen them here, it has been just because of their totalizing ambitions.

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@dailyrothko - Instagram account that shares works by Mark Rothko

If we end history —once again— our experience becomes a mere succession of destructive images, among which the ecological catastrophe (described in detail with the instruments of our technique), is but one more of the long list of fatal experiences [43] that we may feel on a daily basis throughout our own lives with no alternative other than resignation. Reality has become the techno-scientific apocalypse; the aesthetic experience of sacred terror no longer requires art to present itself to us in all its brutality. However, we seem to find in this hint no communal articulation —the rite that will appease divine fury— but a permanent dissociation.

Despite collectively contemplating the planetary catastrophe in which we are immersed, this circumstance appears to us in its paradox as a solitary experience. Could art modify this gloomy scenario? Or in the opposite case: would we give it up in order to escape this crossroads?


Destruction of ecosystems, extinction of languages, extinction of species, destruction of cultural heritage ...

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1.3 Art as a renewed analogism

Not a few have been those who have seen this panorama with some notion of 'optimism'. Octavio Paz predicted that at the moment described above we would rush into a revolt of repressed realities, which in his perspective would mean a public restoration of the metaphorical faculties of language.

Influenced by Claude Levi-Strauss and the findings of structuralist anthropology, the Mexican poet assumed the aforementioned sensation —the terror at the shock that the image of the destruction of the world attacked by technology represented— as a great split in historical terms. If previously the human being had been the great articulator of symbols, the "source of all meanings ", now it lost that central place to become "one more element in the discourse of nature: a moment in communication between the most important structures. simple and the most complex, from viruses to solar systems ”. [44]

This restoration of a non-humanist vision, [45] that Paz associated with the cosmogonic conception of countless ancient cultures —the Mexica, the Hindus, and the Christians themselves— implies not only an interpretation of the world in which the human being abandons its privileged position as denotator and giver of meaning but also that history ceases to have the preponderant role in the interpretation of time. In this way, humans become mere incidents within a universe that works by autonomous and completely elusive codes, although with the possibility of accessing them through the art of language, which is poetry. The artistic function thus becomes the key to transform, not just reality in social terms, but the way we interpret our place in the universe and, in the face of the vision of nuclear terror produced by technique, the way to reintegrate ourselves into a community sense that transcends the notion of the human and implies our unity with the cosmos.

In anthropological terms, Paz proposes a return to analogism, a form of ontologization that opposes what he understands as the dominant trend in modern society. This interpretation, analogous to that of the structuralist school, implies the recovery of experiences exogenous to Western modernity, but also the integration of them with perspectives arising from the findings of contemporary science. This, far from constituting an exceptionality, illustrates the aspiration of a series of countercultural movements that have confronted the western and anthropocentric notion of late modernity and have opposed it, from controversies about the gnoseological subject [46] —to thus introduce into the model from history to colonized peoples, women or more recently to non-humans— to the inclusion of mediation and thought schemes outside the instrumental reason —such as the reconsideration of altered states of consciousness, shamanisms or popularization in western Zen thought. Although they do not constitute a unitary vision, we can identify in them a project of cultural revitalization that, through the integration of multiple alterities, as a whole propose a model of cosmic unity. It is enough to look at icons of popular culture such as the popularizationists Carl Sagan and Jaques Cousteau, as well as global expressions about the environment such as the concepts of Gaia, [47] biosphere [48] ​​or Pachamama, [49] to identify in the result of the countercultures that came to the avant-garde, the search for a new analogism.



La nueva analogía, Op. Cit.


"We are living the end of historical humanism: the meaning is not in history or in man but in the systems of relationships, permutations and meanings." Idem.


Who thinks their place in reality and who is capable of acting on it.


Taking the name of the Greek goddess of fertility, the Gaia hypothesis proposes that life as a fundamental element causes the surface layer of the planet to function as a self-regulating unitary system. Although it does not have absolute scientific consensus (due to its possible spiritual or metaphysical considerations), it is a theory with great influence inside and outside the scientific field. It was proposed by James E. Lovelock and Lynn Margulis in 1974 ( “Atmospheric homeostasis by and for the biosphere: the gaia hypothesis”, Tellus, Volume 26, Issue 1-2 ).


The concept, of origin in geology, refers to the regions of the surface or the atmosphere where there is life. It is understood in turn as a self-regulating system. The term has also been used for closed ecological systems, artificially created, such as Biosphere 2 or MELiSSA .


Metaphor of nature as mother used by various South American indigenous peoples. Although its Inca origin was not generalized in America, in recent decades it has become a tool for discursive confrontation against Western discourse on the part of various indigenous communities in defense of their territory and the traditional use of it.

Rather, Omar Felipe Giraldo speaks of “ pachamámicos ” paradigms such as “ the discourses promoted by some Latin American social movements, which are inspired by the rationalities of some rural cultures of the subcontinent, and which in their content are related to relationality, complementarity, correspondence, reciprocity, balance and harmony as the principles that should guide all political action. In stark contrast to the essence of modernity, utopias are being built based on relational ontologies, which can be interpreted as a response to the inability of modern discourses to face a crisis that has put our species in question. ”(2012, Polis. Revista Latinoamericana, 33)

It is still too early to think that this renewed analogism constitutes per se an imminent hegemonic practice. But it is convenient to review its environmental and cultural implications since its adoption has the capacity to transform our very notion about reality and therefore our daily practices.

One of the publications that in the last decade have transformed the panorama of the humanities regarding the environment is Beyond Nature and Culture, [50] by the French anthropologist Philippe Descola. [51] This recovers his experience of several decades with Tzetzal communities [52] and Achuares, [53] and together with an ethnographic compendium that covers the four continents of the anthroposphere, concludes that the notion that in the West separates nature and culture is not only wrong with respect to the diversity of human interactions but also absolutely provincial and exclusive to modern western thought. This form of ontologization that Descola calls naturalism, would be characterized by understanding our relationship with nature under a common physical-biological scheme —with a similar externality with respect to the rest of natural subjects, but a particular interiority, which only gives us consciousness or soul—. In this way, the western objectification of the rest of natural species and cultures is explained, as well as the definition of cultural activities, as an exchange that can only occur between humans.

This characterization of modern Western thought —which coincides with the one previously exposed by Paz and the countercultural movements— differs from analogism in that the latter understands the relationship with reality in a scheme of similarities (or more precisely, of analogies) between a multitude of elements that together encompass the entire universe. These similarities —ranging from ideograms, territories, animals, plants, planets, and any perceptible (or not) element of reality— require a continuous exercise of interpretation and metaphorization in the face of an elusive existence where a particular element can imply multiple meanings.


(2008) Beyond Nature and Culture, Trad. Janel Lloyd, University of Chicago Press


Disciple of Levi-Strauss who ends up being a great detractor of some central postulates in the thought of his teacher.


In the jungle of Chiapas, southern Mexico.


In the Amazon of Ecuador.

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This opposition of ontologies elucidates the obsession and failure that Rothko observed in the artistic discipline in the modern West. Living in the notion of an objective reality —subjectively perceptible— Modern Art devoted its reflection on human experience to sensuality —that is, to the synthesis of subjective sensations. Hence, its most sophisticated expression fell on the generation and experimentation on the experience of light, " instrument of a new unity " for the artist, [54] and absolute principle within a relative universe for the scientist. [55] This creative experimentation on light resulted in the development of the different pictorial disciplines and, more recently, audiovisual disciplines: the art of images.

Thus, the search for an ecological ethnography places us at the crossroads of an exponential iconographic saturation, which would be nothing but the symptom of predation as an ordinary —unconscious event, as well as the expression of the modern inability to imagine sustainable survival.


Mark Rothko, Op. Cit. p. 33


Einstein's theory of special relativity starts from the observation that the speed of light in vacuum is constant throughout the universe.

Àrvore gives life (2013), Jacques Perconte

In a recent interview, the French philosopher and art historian Georges Didi-Huberman was asked about the possibility of imagining a world without images, or about the possibility of building spaces of refuge before them. The French philosopher's refusal could not have been blunter: "a world without images would be a world without language, a world that, in short, is impossible." [56]

Regardless of whether or not one agrees with this opinion, the answer illustrates the extent to which the contemporary West depends on the image —a material sign of the appreciation of light— as the anchor of symbols to reality and their emotional interpretation. It is not surprising then that even by simultaneously reviewing remote cultural expressions —in time and space— to the modern West, and presenting them in the enumerative logic of museum curatorial discourse, they are reduced to a rigidly iconocentric narrative. [57] Despite their otherness, novelty, and transgression, artistic images leave reality intact.

Faced with this condition, the neo-analogism proposed by Paz and some of his contemporaries revealed itself, as part of the series of displacements in the artistic function that we have described in the previous section; a symptom. It was an attempt to recover an alternative to building a sense of community in its Rothkian expression, and in a way, to elaborate a new modern myth. As also discussed earlier, this aspiration contains risks. If the fundamental bias of modern Western naturalism is anthropocentrism, analogism itself entails an equally problematic cosmocentrism , which by including in itself all alterities ends up excluding from the model of the world, those that do not concur in its totalizing vision. It is after all a renewed sacredness that entails possible dogmatisms.

In the end, the question arises as to whether, in the face of the epistemological chaos in which we seem to find ourselves, the overturning of the symbolization schemes that imply the search for a certain "lost unity" to which the human being has access —in the social dimension, in ways of introspection and religiosity, or in the relationship with the environment— as the only viable alternative, despite the totalizing risks that this implies. And in that case, what would be the role of the artist? Should it subscribe his creative effort to this ecological analogism, or should it maintain a relationship of critical ambiguity in front of it? Should it renounce art as something exercised by an individual and merge into a movement of total (and collective) renewal of the concept of the real, of communion through symbols, of eco-technological salvation? Wouldn't this imply a renewed form of alienation?

Here we find ourselves in a reductionist scenario in which there seem to be only two possible forms of ontologization: modern Western naturalism and its analogistic opposition, commonly misinterpreted as its "ancient" alternative. But the latter in its diversity of known forms is neither ancient nor unique.

Descola sees examples of renewed forms of analogism in contemporary Asian societies, particularly China and India, whose hegemonic cultural traditions —Confucianism and Hinduism— mixed with the dominant ideologies of mass society, have led to forms of hybridization with naturalism. [58] However, he seems blind to this trend observable in the very bosom of the West, where the remnants of Judeo-Christianity —analogist in turn— far from dissolving, prevail in the messianic notion of which we have already spoken.

In the end, despite the particularities that each civilizing sector concerns, the coexistence of both notions in a continuous flow and exchange are intuited. Just as the lyrical faculty of the associations of analogism has nurtured the materialist-objectivist vision of the world, the images have repeatedly confronted allegories turned dogma. Analogism and naturalism, in their swing, have been a dynamic part of the transformation of human thought and, in turn, of the material transformation of the planet. However, the universe of human ontologizations is not exhausted in them, as well as the diversity of forms that our species finds of relating to other natural subjects. Descola distinguishes at least two other ontologies, more strange to modern society than the models described above —which has caused that they are often mistakenly judged as primitive or irrational [59]— but no less capable of developing thought and culture perfectly capable of knowing, interpreting and preserving the environment they inhabit: animism and totemism.


It is enough to review the overseas collections exhibited by the British and Louvre museums to appreciate this primacy of the image in the way its collections of very different cultures are exhibited. The objects are displayed as works of art in gallery format, devoid of the context in which they could have originally been produced and used.

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Although it is not our intention here to present Descola's ethnographic model in its entirety, it should be reviewed taking into account the little attention it has aroused in the art system —generally discarding reflection on itself. It is not strange to think that this model reveals to us that for a huge variety of cultures, a wide spectrum of artistic activities would be revealed as incomprehensible or meaningless exercises. Let's start by asking ourselves what a work of art or a poem would mean for a tree, a mountain or a jaguar. What would our song mean for the sun, our dreams for the whisper of the sea, our dance for the rain? Perhaps every genuine ecology begins with these questions.

1.4 Animism and Totemism: where Art does not exist


Once the ethnographic scheme is completed, we are faced with four fundamental forms of ontologization, from which multiple forms of hybridization arise. Just as it has been impossible to approach in detail the multiplicity inherent in naturalism and analogism, it will be impossible to approach animism and totemism without the reductionisms typical of writing. However, before moving on to examples that illustrate these models of thought, we must note that if the latter are problematic for modern consciousness, it is precisely because of their consideration of non-humans as fully functional subjects: capable of reflection and praxis. , not only with each other and with the rest of the entities of reality, but in permanent entanglement with human subjects, something that is directly confronted with our objectification of the modern natural world.

If modernity relativized the position of the human-subject, it maintained the notion of a universal materiality, which is precisely the one that is questioned in these last two models. Animism and totemism start from a relativism regarding the very nature of things, which includes us. The Cartesian subject —"I think, therefore I am"— is blurred here, not by its inability to think, but by its inability to affirm itself as a self: When I think, how many in me do, as part of what I do? Am I the one expressing, or part of a multiplicity of natures that live in me? Do I dance and sing, or when I dance and sing, do I do so as part of an environment, of a group —human and non-human— that over time has developed —and will continue to do so— a chain of mimesis that transcends me?

For animism, the interiorities of humans and non-humans are equivalent, the physical forms in which these interiorities are contained are different. This implies not only our coexistence with consciences comparable to ours —if we equate 'conscience' with 'spirit' or 'soul'—, but the forms of coexistence and negotiation with the rest of subjectivities in nature would be similar to those that we engage with. humans.

Descola illustrates this condition with the relations of familiarity and kinship that he himself observed in the Amazon between the Achuar and some non-humans that we would call 'biological structures' of a very diverse nature, or 'spirits' and 'guides'. These non-human subjectivities —sections of the Amazon rainforest, groups of animals and/or plants, specific animal subjects— establish interactions with the Achuar as intimate and complex as marriage or the exchange of goods. From this point of view, it will not be strange that its most representative cultural expressions —among those known by the West— is the anent or magic chant. Practice for initiated, this art with no apparent meaning is aimed at private entities in the jungle, who in turn respond, help, and collaborate on a day-to-day basis. Being able to identify the scope and nuances of their dialogue is a discipline whose complexity implies a preparation comparable to the most sophisticated of the arts. Not surprisingly, their classifications far exceed those made by Western taxonomy: the entire rainforest is the space of representation. [60]


“As a general rule, each vernacular name corresponds to a species within the western botanical scientific nomenclature. However, certain species are given two names, alternately used according to the context of their use […]. It also happens that a unique name is applied to two morphologically very close species, but wild in one case and cultivated in the other ”.

In Philippe Descola (1988), La selva culta. Simbolismo y praxis en la ecología de los Achuar, Trad. Juan Carrera Colin y Xavier Catta Quelen, Ecuador: Abya Yala. p. 113-144

Anent achuar (2018), Yamaram Tsawan

At first glance, the advancement of agro-industrial society on the planet seems to limit the survival of animism to a couple of isolated remnants in geographies remote to large urban conglomerations. Although the knowledge about these cultures by the West is incipient, they seem to survive in ecosystems that we have commonly called 'pristine', but in which they successfully prevail with survival strategies with low environmental impact. A detailed review of their practices —to which we are now approaching in a barely speculative way— will show us that their survival is due to a complex and sometimes dramatic system of compensations with respect to natural subjects, rather than to paradisiacal indolence, as commonly they are used to be idealized. Not in vain are we talking about territories whose extreme conditions of survival have remained outside the intensive settlements due to the difficulty of adapting exogenous ways of life to them.

Let us add to the previous example, that of the inhabitants of the Siberian taigas whose survival scheme is based above all on hunting animals and the intensive exploitation of natural resources during certain seasons of the year. Applied these practices from a naturalistic logic, would most likely result in rapid depredation of said ecosystems. [61] On the other hand, the Inuit have survived under a scheme of redress regarding the species they hunt that implies, superficially, giving them a funeral and “asking for permission” to use their bodies, but basically a continuous transit of souls. [62] Any abuse has, according to this perspective, terrible consequences that the Inuit take care not to provoke by breaking the laws and taboos that govern humans and non-humans. Each human death, whether due to age or illness, in turn, enters this compensation scheme.

For the animist, all human action, no matter how minimal, has consequences on the environment; we are in turn affected by the expressions of other natural subjects. It is understood not only from the causal logic of the so-called “butterfly effect”, but from an extreme perceptual sensuality: the song of a bird in the distance, the collapse on a mountain, the nest of an insect, or the smell of wet grass, details seemingly insignificant, guilty of joy to the point of excess or the prediction of a calamity.

Masters of this symbolic ecology are the shamans. More than being possessors of a pre-established knowledge or power, shamans are signatories of a series of conventions with natural forces that allow them to interpret the environment in a dynamic way. Seen by Westerners —considering them without the prejudice that commonly associates them with superstition— their expressions and rituals will have a remarkably performative component, but these will be insignificant if their (non-human) interlocutors do not respond to their symbolic arts. It will not be surprising then that the performing arts are the ones that find the greatest affinity with shamanic thought [63], but we should not confuse this apparent collusion with mutual understanding: shamanic ritual out of its context —in a theater, for example— would be indolent. As experience shows, a cinematographic documentary or a textual chronicle is incapable of portraying the shaman in an authentic way of thinking to an audience; their real interlocutors are the spirits.


In fact, its most recent application has shown it.


Roberte N. Hamayon (2011), “Los trucos de la transacción o cómo los cazadores siberianos juegan el juego del intercambio de vida” en Chamanismos de ayer y hoy, México: UNAM, p. 123-142


A paradigmatic example is the Butoh dance, created in the 1950s by Kazuo Ōno and Tatsumi Hijikata, inspired by shamanic practices.

See: Michael Sakamoto (2009) “Parallels of Psycho-Physiological and Musical Affect in Trance Ritual and Butoh Performance”, Pacific Review of Ethnomusicology, Volume 14

Shamans (2020) , Bad Planet / Alexander Mata Fedorov

For its part, totemism also understands the interiorities of humans and some non-humans as identical, and in turn extends the assimilation to their exteriorities. Through the association of one and the other in hybrid collectivities, the basic field of cultural enunciation extends to a 'we' that includes non-human entities. In a certain way, the subject's position is relativized, but not because of its partial perception, but because it is fused at all times within a collectivity that includes a chain of non-human materialities of which it is a part.

To illustrate this ontology, Descola alludes, among others, to the Ojibwe, an indigenous group in the region near the Great Lakes in the United States and Canada. This example is particularly significant precisely for being from which the term totemism was introduced in Western literature, recovered from the testimonies of the fur trader, John Long. [64] The surprise of this first approximation illustrates the usual confusion generated by trying to understand said ontology. Long describes the social subdivisions of the Ojibwa as patrilineal clans under the patronage and nomination of certain animals, whose membership is indicated by kinship or co-residence relationships. Faced with the testimony of an Ojibwa that his guardian spirit, a bear, is upset because he murdered a relative, and that this prevents him from hunting successfully; it becomes confusing to know if it was a person, a spirit, or a plantigrade, the upset and murdered.

The association from zoogenic names seems common to many North American peoples. Among the Hopi, this matrilineally transmitted belonging implies in social terms that, although the same clan has a presence in different communities, they share among themselves a set of practices and knowledge that are exclusive to them. [65] In this way, each Hopi settlement has a certain “biodiversity” of clans, in whose festivities everyone in the community participates, but whose specific ritual practice is only carried out by the clan to whom the calendar indicates that it corresponds to express themselves at that moment —even if you can integrate members of your clan from another community. In this way, each community maintains a wide spectrum of knowledge and ritual forms within its daily life but entrusts collectives —not individuals— with specific “cosmogony ”. Knowing, understanding, and putting into practice the stories, knowledges, and rituals that constitute belonging to a clan, could take a lifetime. To do it of all the existing clan structures is simply impossible.

It is because of the above that despite the efforts of ethnographers and anthropologists to record and detail the legends and customs of the Hopi —despite the fact that they have directly eluded their documentation in books and audiovisual media— in the end, we only have a very partial approximation to their culture, the result of the information provided by members of specific clans and not by a representative group of them. A detailed observation of the above will make us suspect that, despite the voluntarism of these attempts, the impossibility of perceiving the small nuances and details that over the years the environment of the Arizona desert and its multiple co-inhabitants transmits its partiality. definitive.

However, it is possible for us to identify an exuberant and complex system in their ritual practices of which we have witnessed as external. Of these, possibly the best-known expression has been the " snake dance", which the US government in its attempt to assimilate the Hopi at the beginning of the 20th century tried to make profitable from a tourist logic. The ritual is performed by the snake clan with the participation of wild vipers —with the tautology that this may imply—, which, entering a kind of “trance”, participate in the dance of propitiation of the ritual agricultural cycle. This symbolic expression would not be understood without the presence and participation of non-humans (the snakes), to whom their fellow Hopis whisper prayers addressed to the spirits, which they will transmit once the dance and song are finished.


“[…] Each one of them has their totam, or favorite spirit, which they think takes care of them. This totam that they conceive assumes the form of some beast or other creature. They never kill, hunt or eat the animal whose form they believe said totam embodies ”. (Philippe Descola, 2008, Op. Cit. p. 169.)


Wesley Bernardini (2008) "Identity as History: Hopi Clans and the Curation of Oral Tradition" Journal of Anthropological Research, Vol. 64, No. 4, pp. 483-509

Hopi People's Eagle Dance (2020), Hongvi Hoya

Observing these rituals we will immediately notice the inseparably collective character of their execution, but also the similarities that they keep with the behavior of the animal species to which they are entrusted. The Dance of the Eagle, for example, will constantly remind us of the behavior of this creature seen at the center of the human celebration, but also as part of the ecosystem in which it occurs. However, we should not mistake this resemblance as a mere imitation on the part of human subjects, but rather a commonly understood identity. In other words, the eagle dances as one more of the representations of the unrepresentable [66] that participate in the festival and in the annual cycle of natural expressions, a specific portion within the day of those-who-dream. Dancing and singing is not only a show of skill and genius but also a meeting with friends, animals, plants, and spirits, who together celebrate the possibility of renewing life.

Does art have the possibility of renewing life?

An immediate temptation when facing alternative ontologizations is to assume them from an immediate orthodoxy. In the terms announced above, pose them as solutionisms, depriving them of their own forms of problematization about reality: assessing them without worrying about what ails them, symptoms of which we express pathologies without noticing. However, a detailed review of their concerns and doubts will show us that, expressed in all their magnitude, these reflections would not only contribute greatly to perceive ecological aspects that generally overlook us, but to genuinely question our place in nature. and the cosmos.

Possibly this summons us to banish the idea of ​​promoting an ecology based on solutions and opportunities, and instead raise one under the uncertainties that have not been repaired before. Modify our scheme of time: abandon the idea of ​​our experience as history and confront it with the notion of alteration on the cycles of life. Assuming daily responsibility for this —the terror of living in error—, not only based on our consumer practices but from the same questions that we formulate about our own existence; about the dreams we have.


Moisseeff, Marika (1995), Un long chemin semé d'objets cultuels: Le cycle initiatique aranda , Paris: Éditions de l'École des hautes études en sciences sociales, cited by Philippe Descola (2008), Op. Cit., P. 296

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As Descola himself clarifies, none of these ontologies is found in a pure way in the ethnographies of the world, but rather they coexist within them. Even in non-Western schemes, this hybridization is the norm. Among a culture like the Wixárika for example, we know that analogism prevails —in the way in which their collective traditions and ritual cycles are defined—, while there are some individuals with a specific category —shamans, those who “have the gift of seeing”— are initiated in clearly animistic practices. [67] Both notions are fundamental so that the group conserves knowledge and practices that are indispensable to them as a community.

In perspective, it is possible to observe why many of the predominantly animistic and totemic cultures have historically been interpreted by the West as "primitive". In the set of examples listed by Descola, a semi-nomadic organization accompanied by agroforestry practices is observed in the former, which is the antithesis of what Western civilization —predominantly urban, subsidiarily agro-industrial— considers "development". In the case of totemism, we know in detail its deliberate and continuous rejection of centralized organization systems, which has historically inhibited its co-option by state systems. A review of American continental history in the light of the aforementioned examples will make us observe in what way animism and totemism have prevailed together with the ecological conservation of their territories with greater integrity compared to their analogist neighbors, that is, in front of the colonial spur that it has threatened them for centuries.

A provocative interpretation would suppose that the fact that some territories have been integrated into Western naturalism before —despite the violent encounter that their colonial invasion signified— has been because of their forms of ontologization. [68] Beyond granting reason or not to this, it is suggestive that the invading cultures have made such precise distinctions with respect to “civilized” otherities such as the Mexica, the Mayas, and the Incas, with respect to a universe of barbarisms —that for centuries they have been left without a name, or have taken up the name given to them by the other conquered peoples— which were unintelligible to them. Let us note that, within the universe of identities that the conceptualization of "barbarian" peoples implied, the vast majority had as a consequence the destruction of their culture as well as the material transformation of the natural sites to which it was rooted. This harassment of the barbarian has in turn been the siege of the non-human, of the non-hypostatized site.

Having reviewed the above, we grant certain indigenous communities in resistance a unique capacity for ecological resilience based on their symbolization schemes, but doing so in its ultimate consequences implies contrasting with these, the ontological schemes themselves. With the history of grievances on what we have taken to consider nature, art is portrayed as a futile accessory in contrast to forms of expression and symbolization that know and interact with non-human subjects on a daily basis, and therefore they are cared for and cared for by themselves.


One of the criticisms that Descola's model has received is to presuppose a kind of historical continuity between the ontological schemes, which would suppose them within a temporal succession and geographic distributions. A detailed review of this controversy could be found in: Saúl Millan (2015), « Ontologías en fuga: a propósito de un artículo de Miguel Bartolomé », Trace, 67 

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Faced with disciplines of memory and dexterity, of co-participation with non-humans, of survival in pristine environments; the objects and practices of consumption of sensualities —aesthetic products— despite their generous attributes, leave us a feeling of inadequacy. Is it worth rescuing, among one more of the continuous exercises of rhetorical reworking of the different Western values, Art?

Let's say, no. Because renouncing Art will in no way mean doing so in the face of the multiple expressions that this concept has shaped throughout human history, as well as the relationships of meaning that it has built. It will not inhibit the effects that different works follow and will continue to cause. However, renouncing Art does allow us to position ourselves in a valuation scheme where we escape the imperative of generating symbols as part of human transactions, as well as the restriction of engaging in mediations expressly directed at non-humans. To understand culture not only as a collection of objects and textual sets but as the contemplation and dynamic participation in entire ecosystems.

1.5 The rebellion of symbols


Every time we ask ourselves questions about Art, we end up talking about everything except symbols, just because symbols in the context of ecological agony are no longer articulated as Art. During the last century, the conceptualizations concerning this field have been blurring the traditional categories of Art as one of the aesthetic [69] and cultural products[70], until it is understood as a fact of nature. [71]


Examples of great influence of analysis with aesthetic primacy over art are found in Emmanuel Kant (1790), Critique of Judgment, followed by observations on the assent of the beautiful and the sublime , or more recently in Aesthetic Theory (1970) by Theodor Adorno.

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The aforementioned Georges Didi-Huberman corresponds to this perspective, who in turn takes up Aby Warburg (1866-1929) and Edward Burnett Tylor (1832-1917), who are highly influential in contemporary artistic museology. These last two maintain the idea of “primitive cultures”.


Philippe Descola, Op. Cit.

For this, in effect, it will be necessary to recover forms of symbolic mediation that have used cultures whose form of ontologization escapes western modernity, as well as Art, but that require creative talents and poetic capacities that today we understand as exclusive to artistic genius.

Certainly, Contemporary Arts have broadened their spectrum of possibilities responding to the needs indicated here by including site-specific performative practices, land-art, bio-art, among a broad spectrum barely drawn in this text. Beyond the assessment that we can make of them in terms of their ecological mediation, it is clear that they become conflictive when posed within the Art system, precisely because of the definition of the (human) subject who makes the judgment of it. If an orchestra organizes a concert dedicated to a group of plants, who is empowered to assess such action: the plants, the members of the orchestra, the Art critics, the culture officials of the local council? Should such an event be judged based on the musical prowess of the performers, the reaction of the plants in an environment that is alien to them, or the quality of the video record of said experience and their aesthetic aptitudes as an audiovisual product? This denotes a constant contradiction for those who have approached these expanded art practices: the dictatorship of the archive. The record of this event becomes essential to convert a new exercise of mediation with natural subjects, into something capable of entering the Art system. An effective record, aesthetically presented —preferably a brief— guarantees that accompanied by a timely discourse, these activities are supported, financed, and consumed by various audiences in the most relevant public and/or private cultural management formats. Hence, the contemporary cultural agent, seeking to expand Art, spends most of his time working on how to process these externalities within schemes that allow them to be valued as if they were Art. Returning to the example mentioned, it is clear that when "the concert to the plants" finally achieves its execution, the least relevant will be the opinion or fate of the plants. For the Art system, the condition of the public corresponds to that of a potential consumer; alterities are clearly irrelevant.

Concert for the Biocene (2020), Eugenio Ampudia

Thus, we are again faced with the scheme of reconversion of the intangible into exchange earnings. It seems impossible to recite a verse in the forest, discover the secret symmetry in the wings of the wasps, contemplate the silence of the sand when it takes flight, and then communalize these experiences, without immediately breaking into the verdict of the Art system. Perhaps a possible ecology underlies these findings but faced with the pretense of building new meaningful communities with them, we are immediately absorbed by the extractive logic that prevails over symbols and nature. How to run away? How to free the forest, the sand, the wasps, but also the concrete experience of color and shape, the symbols of nature creating sensory hecatombs in our own body, articulating to induce us to cry or laugh? Renouncing Art may save what has been locked up in its name.

Perhaps then, our paradigms will stop being the city, the museum, and the book. Perhaps then the old works can emerge from the rigid spaces and formats, from their immobilizing denomination as heritages and images, and become environmental subjects by themselves. Perhaps the paradigm ceases to be the artwork and the artist; the human being must necessarily cease to be.

Now, let's not imagine this naively.

Immediately the question will emerge, how to do all this without starving? And before it, it will be evident how being an artist is conditioned by the extractive system over the intangible. A poeticized society is inconvenient for the poet since he can no longer live off his poetry when everyone communicates through poems. The artist's daily survival depends on the particular valuation of his symbolic activity and the renouncement of the rest to exercise it, on his exclusive use of this power and the possibility that this generates beneficial material transactions. Founding a symbolic ecology will not be something to live on.

Indeed, the avant-gardes were right in stating that to change Art was to change the economy, politics, and the entire world. By affirming the renunciation of Art, we do not do so to the elements that have constituted it or to the discourses and reflections that these have provoked, but to our notion about works and artistic acts, to the scheme that exclusive them in a model of evaluations consumption and in a knowledge of some specific communities, within the conceptual boundaries of a word. To let the artistic function escape art is to promote it to flood the rest of the human experience. It would be to make it possible for poetry, beauty, imagination, mimesis, to rejoin our daily relationship with other humans, but also with non-human otherness: with rivers, with seas, with clouds and glaciers. Let the mountains and valleys become myth again, free them from the framed landscape in which we confine them. Doing that should then be an exercise for everyone and not for just a few. To paraphrase Descola: if art disappears, the ontological scheme that opposes civilization and culture to ecosystems will collapse.

Who should disappear Art if not artists?

If the symbolic workers are not the ones who propose models and relationships that replace art, their own cultural activity will continue to be added to the list of environmentally predatory activities.


Now, renouncing to Art in a Museum, in a demonstration, in a Zoom call?


Repositioning the symbols in turn entails a reflection on the territory and the daily interactions that we have in it, as well as the spaces where the transformations can generate processes of collective reconversion aimed at the consolidation of possible ecologies.

Just at the moment when the artistic exercise seems most marginalized, the question about its meaning seems the last hint to demolish the structure that it assumes as irreversible depredation of the planet's ecosystems. The artist recovers his position as a historical subject on the condition of disappearing or transforming itself into the natural elements. A demiurge without name or prestige, the last rebellion of the forces of nature.

Catherine Leguillou González (Mexico, 1989). She is a writer and researcher on ethnography and performance practices. She compiled and translated Santiago Genovés. Obra reunida (2020).

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