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Towards a Definition of Format Art. On the social, political and critical effects of Thierry Geoffroy’s art formats. By Johanne Schrøder

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Towards a Definition of Format Art.
On the social, political and critical effects of Thierry Geoffroy’s art formats.

Text By Johanne Schrøder


More about art formats :
http://www.emergencyrooms.org/formats.html

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Towards a Definition of Format Art. On the social, political and critical effects of Thierry Geoffroy’s art formats. By Johanne Schrøder

  1. 1. 1 Towards a Definition of Format Art. On the social, political and critical effects of Thierry Geoffroy’s art formats. By Johanne Schrøder Time after time it has been claimed that the Danish-French artist Thierry Geoffroy / Colonel is first and foremost a catalyst1 . Seen in the light of the artist’s practice, which he refers to as format art – a term first invented and developed by Geoffroy – to use the description of a ‘catalyst’ in defining the role of the artist seems accurate and of no small importance. Being a catalyst involves precipitating events, and whenever he creates a new work of format art, this is exactly what Geoffroy does. When the artist for example asks people to debate while running in his art format Critical Run, or when he invites other artists to express about the emergencies and crises of today every single day in the exhibition format Emergency Room, he causes these artistic events to happen on the basis of an aesthetic, which can be characterized as socially and critically engaging. Following a short introduction to Geoffroy’s methods and practice, we will look into the nature and aesthetics of, as well as the motivation behind format art. Through an analysis of the art format Emergency Room, it will be considered how the aesthetics of format art can be characterised within this specific art format. Finally, the social, political and critical aspects and effects of format art will be discussed in the context of contemporary art practices, especially in opposition to another field of aesthetics, namely relational aesthetics as formulated by Nicolas Bourriaud. The art format’s reproducible ‘now’ and the ‘now’ as subject The term format art has been used in numerous contexts to describe Geoffroy’s practice, but rather little work has been done to define or specify the concept itself. Therefore, let us first start by characterising the origin of the term and some of the key elements of format art, which have been examined in earlier work. The theoretical foundation of format art was released with the publication of Geoffroy’s Moving Exhibitions Manifesto in 1989, where the framework of five different types of so-called moving exhibitions, which have all been executed by the artist in different forms, is laid out. Like Geoffroy’s art formats, the artist’s 1989 manifesto prescribes the recipe for unfolding certain concepts of the artist, adapted to different situations, locations, and audiences. In the 1 Rosenvinge, Line, Thierry Geoffroy / Colonel – ”Catalyst.”, David Dunchin, trans. Written and produced in conjunction with the Top Up salon featuring Thierry Geoffroy / Colonel, held at Rahbeks Allé 32, Frederiksberg, Denmark, 18 November 2010, p. 12.
  2. 2. 2 manifesto the moving exhibition is defined as ‘the creator in an eternal search’, as ‘mobile both geographically and in its form of expression, in that it adapts to life’2 . It goes further, explaining the different shapes a moving exhibition can take when realised under different circumstances in e.g. a museum, a supermarket, and other more or less unconventional exhibition venues. All types of moving exhibitions have been realised by Geoffroy numerous times in various ways. However, the unpredictability of the shaping, content and context of the moving exhibition is a consistent element. “The exhibition is unpredictable. The exhibition is alive”, as it reads on the door of the entry to one of the artist’s most known art formats Emergency Room when it was exhibited at MoMA PS1 in 20073 . Similar to the moving exhibition, format art is based on a given set of rules, some of which can be altered each time the art format is activated according to the particular setting and participants. Besides the changes within the structure of an art format, it can be argued that the relation between the art format, space, and time changes accordingly – like in the moving exhibition concept, in order to ‘adapt to life’. Dr. Rita Sebestyén writes how “an art format put up in a museum would differ slightly from an art format activated in a gallery. Other outward factors that could change the art format could be the political climate4 ”. Take for example the before mentioned art format Critical Run, in which the viewers are activated and transformed into participants of a run – not to compete, but to debate together. While the concept of running while debating is always the same, the setting and subject to debate are variable components of the art format. This morning (Wednesday, 10 October 2018) Geoffroy posted a video on his Instagram profile, shot in the current exhibition at Kunsthalle Mannheim, in which he and curator Sebastian Baden run around the museum building, exchanging views on contemporary art’s possible incapability of expressing about emergencies due to the current structure of the museum institution. In comparison the Critical Run format has also been activated at the Venice Biennale several times where groups of participants were stimulated to question the structure and motivations of the biennale while running5 . The two cases show only two out of several different ways in which the individual art 2 Rosenvinge, p. 9. 3 Geoffroy, Thierry, The artist’s flickr profile, which works as an image archive and database, https://www.flickr.com/photos/emergencyrooms/3047050289/sizes/l/ (accessed on 7 June 2020) 4 Sebestyén, Rita, ”Before It Is Too Late”, on Sebestyén Rita, 30 May 2016, http://sebestyenrita.com/before-it-is-too- late/ (accessed 25 September 2018). 5 Baden, Sebastian, ”Thierry Geoffroy’s ’Emergency Room’”, in Kunst und Öffentlichkeit, Dagmar Danko, Olivier Moeschler and Florian Schumacher, eds., Springer VS, 2015, p. 133.
  3. 3. 3 format can be activated, leading to different outcomes and effects every time it is performed. Baden refers to Geoffroy’s art formats as Bewegungsmethoden6 , methods of movement, which applies to the state of the participants involved in an art format both physically and figuratively speaking. For Geoffroy it seems that the physical movement, often including the element of haste (running, producing artworks in the moment, etc.) connects with the movement of the participators’ mind to activate critical thinking. Baden states how the aspect of simultaneity is always at play in format art, as the effect is always produced in the ‘now’, before it is too late7 . Besides the fleeting hit et nunc of the art format, its unique existence in a particular time and space, which can never be reproduced, the format still allows for reproducibility in its form per definition. As Sebestyén stresses, the same format can be adapted according to different participants and situations8 . One could claim that the nature of the art format thus draws parallels to the practice of the late French artist Yves Klein, one of Geoffroy’s art historical sources of inspiration9 . In this sense an exemplification can be made through Klein’s famous invention of the colour International Klein Blue (IKB), which can be considered an art format similar to the ones of Geoffroy to the extent that Klein’s particular blue did not only serve as an artwork in itself, but allowed for endless reproducibility extensively throughout the artist’s career in his monochromes, performances, etc. The irreplaceable ‘now’ that the IKB colour creates by the lack of any secondary significance to the very presence of the colour (think for instance Klein’s monochromatic paintings), simultaneously constitutes a ‘now’, which can be endlessly reproduced in new constellations through the repetition of the exact shade of blue. Likewise, an art format by Geoffroy always provides the same framework for a new and each time slightly differing artistic event to take place every time the art format is activated. This framework, designed to take multiple forms, thus constitutes the potentiality of establishing multiple ‘nows’, which, despite their form always point back to the original concept of the art format itself as well as the large network of different versions of the given art format, which have ever been produced. 6 Baden, p. 131. 7 Ibid., p. 134. 8 Sebestyén, http://sebestyenrita.com/before-it-is-too-late/ 9 Gade, Rune, ”Et solidt fundament. Kunst og fotografi 1980-2000”, in Mette Sandbye (ed.), Dansk fotografihistorie, Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 2004, p. 397.
  4. 4. 4 Format art as response to a globalised world The reproducibility of Geoffroy’s art formats also relates to the fact that the artist developed format art with knowledge from the entertainment industry, namely the television program format, which he views from a critically reflective perspective. As with TV program formats, art institutions wanting to use an art format must purchase a license and agree to use the original title, concept and method10 . Another element of format art, which derives from TV, is the vast video and photo documentation of the formats, which facilitates their expansion to online platforms. The artist is always in the middle of the turmoil, encouraging the participants and documenting the events. Danish art historian Rune Gade emphasises how the fleeting, fast paced, and perfomative nature of Geoffroy’s art formats unlike other similar artistic approaches, is designed to be caught on camera11 . Hence the art formats are always documented, though not for the archives, but to be “transposed into new works, destined to achieve their autonomy in fresh contexts, and so conducing to an ever-proliferating mise en abyme12 ”. From Geoffroy’s ever new ways of operating across media and thematics one recognises how format art is not only to be understood as an isolated series of works in the artist’s oeuvre, as it rather constitutes the very method of creating artworks based on the consistent use of a carefully developed and intertwined vocabulary of images and concepts. Thus, format art does not only seem to happen in the moment but leaves physical traces as well through vast video and photo documentation, facilitating an infinitely recurring sequence of images produced inside and across the individual art formats. However, for Geoffroy, this method of producing and circulating images does not only function as mere documentation of the art formats. Rather, this method constitutes a sociological, almost scientific, approach where the extraction and collection of ‘data’ in the form of newspaper cuttings, photographs, video recordings etc. serve to understand and shape communities and relations through the artistic process. As curator Inka Schube writes Geoffroy is ‘a sociologist of the everyday13 ’. He extracts data in the form of images that at first sight seems ‘like an accumulation of 10 Geoffroy, Thierry, ”The Emergency Room Format”, on Emergencyrooms.org, http://www.emergencyrooms.org/short.html (accessed on 10 October 2018) 11 Gade, Rune, ”But His Wife Is Danish – on colonization, being colonized and Colonel”, in Colonel: Avoir L’air, Line Rosenvinge and Marita Muukkonen, eds., NIFCA Publications, 2006, p. 58. 12 Gade, p. 58. 13 Schube, Inka, ”Technomads, anti-apparatuses and other imponderabilities”, Sprengel Museum Hannover, 2002. http://www.emergencyrooms.org/texts/by_critics/english/inka_Schube-gb.html (accessed on 7 June 2020).
  5. 5. 5 media rubbish14 ’ but from these objects and images the artist is able to identify viewers and participants and even other artists’ motivations, endeavors, and patterns of reaction. Through the accumulation of visual evidence it becomes possible for Geoffroy to detect what is important to the individual and how concepts of for instance empathy and apathy works in larger networks and society. This method becomes evident in the art format EXTRACTEUR, which is specially created by Geoffroy to extract information and opinions from participants, turning the accumulated data into artistic material15 . Here, the artist functions as an extractor of evidence, which can be processed and interpreted in order to create movement and change. In his current exhibition ‘The Anatomy of Prejudice’ at IKM Museum in Oslo (2018-2022) the extraction of photographs taken by the viewers with their phones thus becomes a tool for participation and invention as the viewers are invited to give their personal opinions about prejudices, through images and statements as part of a growing art installation. Tijana Miskovic writes how an art project like this comes to function as a social tool and historical document that can be ‘turned into a useful archive for further study and analysis16 ’. In this sense, the outcome of the art format becomes a source for further investigation. Format art is intended to reach a vast audience, which, together with the fluid design of the art formats, allows for a flexibility that makes format art suitable for activation on a global scale. Like many other contemporary art practices, format art works on a global level to expand critical platforms in different societies, taking an active, even interventionist, role in addressing and responding to the problems of globalisation17 . For Geoffroy this often revolves around the issue of identity through what appears to be parodies of current discourses on notions of cultural ‘inbetweenness’18 . But as curator Seamus Kealy writes, “in fact, the ongoing Colonel project is a deliberate set of encounters that make this very ‘inbetweenness’ (and its dizziness before the lens of the video-camera or within the odd parameters of the Peter Sellers-like, charismatic persona of Colonel’s naïve questions) shimmer with familiarity and buckle under the weight of a gaze … as it 14 Schube. 15 Miskovic, Tijana, The EXTRACTEUR – ”The Anatomy of Prejudice”, http://www.emergencyrooms.org/anatomy_of_prejudice_IKM_museum.html (accessed on 7 June 2020). 16 Miskovic, Tijana, ”Beyond Photographie d’auteur. An artist’s way of using photography and engaging in the fields of of anthropology and sociology”, in Visual Archiving #13, Kunstakademiet, Charlottenborg, p. 12. 17 Ratnam, Niru, ”Art and globalisation”, in Themes in Contemporary Art, Gill Perry and Paul Wood, eds., Yale University Press, 2004, p. 292. 18 Kealy, Seamus, ”Awareness Muscle: A Text in Two Parts. Part One: Pre-Arrival”, on thierrygeoffroy.blogspot, 17 June 2007, http://thierrygeoffroy.blogspot.com (accessed on 11 October 2018).
  6. 6. 6 very well should19 ”. It should be mentioned that Geoffroy’s artist name Colonel derives from the military rank of the same title, which, according to Kealy “becomes twisted in meaning to convey a duty that must be done20 ” when modified by the artist. Similarly the concept of format art is based on the idea of a duty to be done, namely the call of the artist to fight apathy on a global scale21 . This can be considered the major motivation behind format art, which will be elaborated further in the following sections through an analysis of the art format created by Geoffroy, Emergency Room. The social engagement of Emergency Room Emergency Room is one of the first internationally activated art formats by Thierry Geoffroy, from which all other of the artist’s art formats emerge in one way or another. The format is a specially designed space for exhibitions changing every day, where professional artists are invited to express and rank the most alarming emergencies of today. At a certain time each day during the exhibition period, the artworks in the exhibition must be replaced by new ones. Approximately 450 artists have participated in Emergency Room in eight institutions around the world, including MoMA PS1 in New York22 . The fast paced conditions of constant daily production generate artistic experiments and new forms of artistic expression, which can be considered the aesthetics of emergency. In the following we will look further into how the aesthetics of emergency can be understood by unfolding Geoffroy’s art format Emergency Room. Now before it is too late In 2007 Emergency Room was activated at MoMA PS1 in New York. As always the exhibition was vastly documented by Geoffroy and the photos and video clips has since been circulating on the artist’s website and social media. Taking a look at pictures of the then exhibition space, one recognises that the Emergency Room is placed inside the museum’s usual exhibition space as a separate circular construction with an entrance and exit. The circular architecture of Emergency Room musters inclusion, equality and involvement per se, taking the form of a debate chamber rather than a traditional exhibition space. Outside, next to the entrance, a clock is placed on the 19 Kealy. 20 Ibid. 21 Geoffroy, Thierry, Emergency Room Dictionary, Revolver Publishing by VVV & The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, Schools of Visual Arts, 2010, pp. 17-19. 22 Geoffroy, http://www.emergencyrooms.org/short.html
  7. 7. 7 wall, allowing the participating artists and museum visitors to keep track of the time until the next change of works on show would take place and reflect upon what it means to be in time, in advance, or in delay. Every day prior to the change of works in the exhibition Geoffroy would meet with the participating artists under the clock and film and interview them about their motivations, ideas, opinions, feelings, etc. just before they would bring their works to the room23 . As examined by Gade, the documentation serves as an important element of Geoffroy’s art formats, not just as regular documentation, but also rather as individual pieces of art, adding to the bigger picture of the artist’s practice24 . In Emergency Room, capturing the anger, frustration or nervousness of the artists on camera in the moment, the documentation of e.g. drops of sweat on an artist’s forehead serves as an indicator or evidence of the artists’ emotional state, proving the relevance and emergency of their newly produced artworks. As Geoffroy writes in his definition of format art, “a format is a concept including acteurs with their feelings, desires, pains, complaints, jealousy, etc., interacting.”25 . To cite Baden’s reference to format art as ‘methods of movement’26 , Emergency Room becomes an in time rendezvous for artists and museum goers to express and exchange viewpoints, the movement manifested in the interaction of the artists and audience being emphasised by the fast moving concept of a constantly changing exhibition. In this way the art format Emergency Room suggests new and unconventional ways of perceiving contemporary art, where news value and relevance serve as overshadowing aesthetic criteria. In relation to our usual perception of the contemporary and contemporary art, it is important to stress that Geoffroy sees the contemporary as an impossible condition, therefore using the term ‘ultracontemporary’ instead when referring to the art exhibited in Emergency Room27 . The idea is that contemporary art as we know it, exhibited and experienced in the museum, is not fully capable of expressing about contemporary problematics due to the delay in time from when the artwork is created and when it is actually exhibited. This relates to why, after being on show for 24 hours and then being replaced by fresh artworks, the most works by the participating artists at MOMA PS1 would go to the Delay Museum, another exhibition space situated in elongation of the Emergency 23 Lassen, Nikolaj M., ”Præsens. Den dansk-franske kunstner Thierry Geoffroy og hans Emergency Room – en kunstudstilling som skifter indhold hver 24. Time – har haft enorm succes de seneste seks uger på New Yorks fineste kunstgalleri”, in Weekendavisen, Kultur, No. 13, Berlingske Media, 30 March 2007, p. 11. 24 Gade, ”But His Wife Is Danish…”, p. 58. 25 Geoffroy, Emergency Room Dictionary, p. 84. 26 Baden, p. 131. 27 Geoffroy, Emergency Room Dictionary, p. 41.
  8. 8. 8 Room. As the flip side of the Emergency Room, the Delay Museum questions the durability of the artwork even so created in an emergency. Once an artwork goes to the Delay Museum it is turned into a ‘normal’ piece of contemporary art. The event of the transition itself invites the viewer to reflect upon whether the artwork will still be pertinent years after its creation and if so, how. The understanding of the artist as someone who is capable of warning and alarming society about future emergencies is inherent in the event of this transition as it emphasizes how, what we consider to be ‘contemporary’ art already becomes more or less obsolete when perceived as such. With the Delay Museum Geoffroy underlines the time-sensitive aspect of producing art that is capable of addressing emergencies of today. By creating a ‘delay museum’ in relation to the Emergency Room, Geoffroy brings the viewer’s attention to the expiration of the specific ‘nowness’ of the exhibited works, a ‘nowness’, which attains a different value when perceived in the state of emergency than in the state of delay. When encountering an artwork with the perception of the aesthetic criteria of emergency and ‘nowness’ that format art calls for, it is tempting to ask oneself the question if contemporary art as we usually experience it in a contemporary art museum is qualified to express relevantly about the contemporary? With Emergency Room and the corresponding delay museum, Geoffroy points to how the aesthetic value of format art must consequently be perceived in terms of its own premises, which are the premises of action taken and debate spoken by artists and viewers in the ‘now’, proposing that what we usually understand by the concept of ‘contemporary art’ is by default already too late. This problematic has proven itself relevant in light of the Covid-19 outbreak, causing museums and art institutions to temporarily close on a global scale. The state of delay that Geoffroy identifies in the creation and exhibition of contemporary art seems to manifest itself when exhibitions can no longer be created or viewed inside the museums and art institutions in real-time – or at least in time for artists to reflect upon and comment on political and social problematics of today. “THE EMERGENCY WILL REPLACE THE CONTEMPORARY28 ” Geoffroy wrote on one of his signature tent installations at Documenta in Kassel in 2012, by then already emphasizing the urge 28 Geoffroy, http://www.emergencyrooms.org/documenta_kassel.html Images and details of the tent installation, which was exhibited at Documenta in Kassel in 2012, can be found on the artist’s website (accessed on 15 June 2020).
  9. 9. 9 for global art events and institutions to act upon accelerating crises of today’s society. Geoffroy’s point is that museums must be able to address pressing matters of climate change, xenophobia and other threads to humanitarian principles no differently than other institutions in our society. For Geoffroy, the role of the museum must be requestioned and reconsidered in order for museums to stay relevant and be involved in the efforts to create movement and change both on a smaller and bigger scale. Sebestyén writes that the action or event in format art ‘has in itself an immediate aesthetic value’, whereas the socially and politically sensitive side of the method is more distinct, having a ‘contemplative-reflective effect’29 . According to Sebestyén, Geoffroy works to shorten or reduce this effect30 , which is done in the Emergency Room format by giving the participating artists and museum goers the opportunity to express about the emergencies of today, going behind the, for artists often time-consuming process of collaborating with a museum on making an exhibition. Instead, Emergency Room offers a shortcut for artists, institution, and viewers to rank and raise questions about the social and political emerging situations today. Thus, format art functions as an answer to what can be considered an increasing and urgent need to raise these questions about urgent political issues, whether it be the environment, migration, women’s and minority rights, etc., simultaneously providing a critique of the art world, and, as present in Emergency Room, a critical view on the museum institution as addressed by the institution itself. As Danish philosopher Carsten Friberg writes, when Geoffroy questions the art institutions, the assumption about the museum, the biennales, art fairs etc. “is not that they do not matter, or that they are not actively participating in the negotiation and redistribution of the sensible, hence challenging the political”31 . Rather, Geoffroy warns against “falling into a self-confirmation and collective indifference to the world outside the art world and art events”32 . In the case of Emergency Room this is done by minimising the delay of artist’s response time to contemporary social and political issues, suggesting a model where the museum becomes capable of dealing with contemporary art in a way, which allows for the necessary immediacy such works often call for, 29 Sebestyén, http://sebestyenrita.com/before-it-is-too-late/ 30 Ibid. 31 Friberg, Carsten, ”’Now before it is too late’ – Ultracontemporary art as a response to contemporary political apathy”, on Copenhagenbiennale.org, http://www.copenhagenbiennale.org/carsten-friberg/rmx2s5lhmnetk52cmn2bdzz3ye2zp9 (accessed on 12 October 2018). 32 Ibid.
  10. 10. 10 simultaneously creating an open and critical discourse. It can be argued that modern institutions, like the museum, posit an ideal world, from which a critique of the real world can be phrased33 . If the role of the museum institution, born out of the Age of Enlightenment and democratic ideals, is still, among other things, to educate and alert the public, format art provides in the case of Emergency Room a standard for avoiding indifference or apathy towards urgent sociopolitical matters inside, and eventually outside, the art world and walls of the museum, giving artists and visitors the tools to react to such. Speaking of format art as a ‘method of movement’ (Baden) this might be the most crucial movement of the mechanism of format art, namely to provide a model for institutional critique embedded in the very structure of the museum and its exhibition production, eventually leading to change in society at large. Whereas Emergency Room takes artists, museumgoers and the museum institution itself as its subject, each art format created by Geoffroy is shaped to reach different layers of society and communities, involving different segments and crowds to create maximum impact and change on a global scale. As previously touched upon, the main motivation behind format art is to fight apathy inside and outside the art world, which can be seen as a growingly urgent task as the accelerating access to and circulation of information in society today consequently leads to insensibility and indifference among the population34 . If the museum represents a global platform for addressing this problem, Emergency Room and format art in general carries social and political change as its potential by demonstrating a model, which contains an aesthetic dimension that constitutes a system of realisation through movement, participation, and engagement, manifested in the drops of sweat on an artist’s forehead, the immersion in a vibrant debate, the physical and emotional exhaustion from producing artworks every single day, and so on. The aesthetics of social engagement Every museum exhibition can be considered a strategic system of representations, which will always seek to achieve influence, thus figuring as an integrated part of the culture industry35 . 33 Birken, Jacob, “’Is the Contemporary Already Too Late?’ (Re-)producing Criticality within the Art Museum, in Katarzyna Murawska-Muthesius and Piotr Piotrowski (eds.), From Museum Critique to the Critical Museum, Routledge, 2015, p. 226. 34 Friberg, http://www.copenhagenbiennale.org/carsten-friberg/rmx2s5lhmnetk52cmn2bdzz3ye2zp9 35 Ferguson, Bruce W.,”Exhibition Rhetorics: Material Speech and Utter Sense”, in Bruce W. Ferguson, Reesa Greenberg, and Sandy Nairne (eds.), Thinking about Exhibitions, London: Routledge, 1996, pp. 178-179.
  11. 11. 11 Additionally, one can argue that institutions exercise control of art that has political, perhaps oppositional, elements by institutionalising it in what Friberg refers to as “a system of perception, controlled by the silent space of the museum in which the solitude and passivity of passers-by encounter the solitude and passivity of artworks”36 . One can claim that art, thus, in the setting of the museum institution, is detached from its world, only to be placed in the context of an aesthetic appreciation responding to the aesthetic expectations of the audience. And this system or spectacle is exactly what Geoffroy seeks to diminish with the art format Emergency Room. In this regard the aesthetics of social engagement, as seen in Emergency Room, can be defined by giving art a critical and political potential through interventions into the very structure of the museum institution – a potential, which is realised through the social engagement of the participants of the art format and seems to carry the power to deflate the spectacle of the culture industry from the inside. When the museum exhibition as in Emergency Room suddenly no longer implies a pursuance of accommodating the expectations of a certain audience, the exhibition model comes closer to being identifiable with lived reality beyond the walls of the museum than being a mere product of the culture industry. However, because of its setting in the museum space, which is usually predetermined to practice the reproduction of a special system that, according to Friberg, controls and pacifies art works and the viewer’s perception37 , the Emergency Room art format seems at first sight to feed into this system by simply being another exhibition played out by the museum institution for the culture industry. But through a familiarisation with the institution and its structures, the art format plays by the institutional rules only to break them, not letting it’s political and social content and potential be controlled or pacified. To exemplify how Emergency Room breaks with the rules and norms of the museum institution, in a review of the Emergency Room exhibition at MoMA PS1, writer James DeWille writes about his experience of the show: “Upon entry, a viewer is confronted by a multitude of pieces, ranging from videos to performances and sculpture, on the walls and floor. There are sounds and screens, and even the artists themselves roam through the crowd. The atmosphere is kinetic and manic, making the gallery an exciting place to be”38 . At first sight, the exhibition appears similar to a traditional museum show with works in different media arranged in the room. But what the review then 36 Friberg, http://www.copenhagenbiennale.org/carsten-friberg/rmx2s5lhmnetk52cmn2bdzz3ye2zp9 37 Ibid. 38 DeWille, James, ”Live From N.Y., It’s Yesterday’s News”, on Columbiaspectator.com, 27 March, 2013, https://www.columbiaspectator.com/2007/02/21/live-ny-its-yesterdays-news/ (accessed on 12 October 2018)
  12. 12. 12 focuses on is the description of a ‘kinetic and manic’ atmosphere in the exhibition where artists, critics, volunteers, and viewers all engage in activities and dialogue – a description, which is somehow out of the ordinary exhibition review of a common museum show. From DeWille’s description we sense how Emergency Room is able to involve its participants directly in the exhibition format and the exhibited works, suggesting another model in which the audience is actually enabled to take action and shape the exhibition through their actions and viewpoints. Thus, through a constant flow of debate, events, and production of artworks, the exhibition seems to reach out to its audience in an attempt to engage and involve the participants in the debate that the exhibition fosters the given day, qualifying the institution to activate itself as a social rendezvous and exhibition space based on dialogue. In this way, Emergency Room seems to elude institutionalisation and censorship by leaving room for the artists as well as the viewers to express freely about socio-political questions of today in the ‘now’ whether it be climate change, migrant crisis, or something else entirely, providing an alternative exhibition model that serves as a platform from which the critique of the institution itself, its system and structure, can evolve39 . The possibility of criticising and even changing the museum institution’s norms and ways of communicating fixed perceptions through exhibition production is in Emergency Room embedded in the format itself. By creating a genuine community, in which concrete experience is built, Geoffroy provides with Emergency Room an efficient tool and model for the museum institution to use in refining and re-adjusting its critical potential, which will in time hopefully mirror a change of things in society itself40 . This brings us back to the by the artist claimed intention of format art to fight apathy, which Emergency Room seems especially suitable for as it gives artists and viewers the possibility to capture important and intricate issues in their world, enabling an exhibition model in a constant state of reconception and flux. Geoffroy describes apathy as the enemy of format art, as the “lack of emotion, motivation, or enthusiasm”, manifesting itself as a “learned helplessness”, “making artists perform for the culture industry”41 . Mainly the fluidity of the nature of the art format (its changing scenario of artworks on show each day during the exhibition period, its flow of events and debates constantly taking place in the exhibition, and the continuous circulation of documentation 39 Birken, pp. 226-227. 40 Birken, p. 227. 41 Geoffroy, Emergency Room Dictionary, p. 17.
  13. 13. 13 of the participating artists and viewers’ reactions), contributes to fight the apathy, which, according to Geoffroy, makes up a threat in society in the world today. Thus, format art stimulates awareness and alertness in its participants. By bringing exhibitions closer to life outside the museum through social engagement and activation of its participants, and by making the Emergency Room format a global phenomenon through online but also physical distribution (soon after the exhibition at MoMA PS1 the concept would travel to Athens, Istanbul, Toronto, Naples, Paris and Hanoi42 ), the art format forms an engagement and interrelation between itself and the outside world through a direct and critical dialogue with its audience and the affecting narratives that the artworks and artists present in the exhibition. Indifference and insensitivity are simply not options of reaction inside Emergency Room where art is created and shown in real time instead of in delay. Format art in the context of contemporary art practices Thus, Emergency Room can be characterised by the aesthetics of social, political and critical engagement in relating just as much to the urgency and immediacy of artworks as to the encouragement and stimulation of critical thinking in its participants. For this purpose, the art format takes the museum institution as its starting point for its continuous production, making the waves needed ‘to amplify capacities and replace repetition with direct involvement and action’43 . As stated by Geoffroy, format art can be described as a method born out of a need to fight apathy in the world at large44 , thus forming a collective practice, realised through the actions and engagement of the performing participants. In this sense, it seems reasonable to view the practice of format art in comparison with and application to another contemporary art practice, namely the one of relational aesthetics as formulated by French curator Nicolas Bourriaud. As Sebestyén demonstrates, Bourriaud’s notion of relational arts can be used constructively in enriching discourses both on the visual and conceptual characteristics of format art and the different art formats’ performative qualities45 . In the following, it will however be argued that format art, rather than fitting unproblematically into the field of relational aesthetics, provides a rather different model within the broader context of contemporary art practices. 42 Friis, Morten, ”Den dag revolutionen kom forbi”, on Cph-art.dk, 22 May, 2007, http://www.cph- art.dk/konceptkunst/EmergencyRoom (accessed on 12 October 2018). 43 Oikonomopoulos, Vassilios, ”The Biennalist in Athens – Emergencies in the midst of unfulfilled promises”, on Emergency.org, November, 2011, http://www.cph-art.dk/konceptkunst/EmergencyRoom (accessed on 14 October 2018). 44 Geoffroy, Emergency Room Dictionary, p. 17. 45 Sebestyén, http://sebestyenrita.com/before-it-is-too-late/
  14. 14. 14 Format art’s social, political, and critical effects Since Bourriaud published his book Relational Aesthetics in 1998, his influential art criticism has extensively marked a perception of contemporary art practices of the 1990’s and onwards. A practice, which, according to Bourriaud, in short can be characterised by the conceiving of artists as facilitators rather than makers, where artworks are based on human relations and their social context and regarded as information exchanged between artists and viewers46 . Gone is the work of art as independent, abstract idea and object, leaving the viewer as participant in the artistic gesture, now an intangible act, proposing new ways of creating social relationships. While Geoffroy’s art formats in many ways seem to apply to Bourriaud’s notion of the artist as facilitator, or as Rosenvinge puts it, ‘catalyst’47 , handing the viewer the means to change the world socially and politically through performative, artistic acts and gestures, the difference between format art and relational art seems to manifest itself in the method and motivation behind the two. Whereas the theoretical horizon of relational art belongs to the sphere of human interaction by building forms of existence and models of action inside the structure of the already existing world, the foundation of format art is built upon the desire to create new models of potentiality of change, which does not yet exist. According to Bourriaud, contemporary artists and their interlocutors are in the process of ‘learning to inhabit the world in a better way’48 , a theory based on observation of the present where the work of the artists, which he analyses, appears as reactions to the conditions that define the globalised social order49 . Though format art responds to globalisation as well, and the format is per definition shaped to become global50 , it nevertheless prepares the ground for a different process, in which artists and viewers are stimulated to engage critically in the outside world through new interferences and patterns. In this sense, format art can be said to operate as ‘wake up models’, offering artists and the public the means to actually create a different reality, instead of only operating inside and accepting the existing model. 46 Bourriaud, Nicolas, Relational Aesthetics, Simon Pleasance and Fronza Woods, trans., Les presses du réel, 2002 (1998), p. 16. 47 Rosenvinge, p. 12. 48 Bourriaud, p. 13. 49 Tapper, Nick, ”Me and You and Everyone we know: The Aesthetics of Joining In”, on The University of Western Aurstralia, August, 2006, http://www.ias.uwa.edu.au/new-critic/two/meyouandeveryone (accessed 9 October 2018). 50 Davis, Jacquelyn, ”Interview with Thierry Geoffroy”, on Jacquelyn Davis, 5 June 2012, http://jsd.instrumentandoccupation.se/interview-with-thierry-geoffroy (accessed 25 September 2018).
  15. 15. 15 Besides its refusal to simply accept and learn to inhabit the world as it is, format art does not in all of its aspects seem to apply to the small-scale, tactical approach, relating to the micro-community in front of the artwork, which is characteristic for art within the field of relational aesthetics51 . Rather, Geoffroy’s project is to eventually accomplish political and social transformation on a much bigger scale, for instance manifested in the implementation of permanent Emergency Rooms at every museum in the world52 . Geoffroy’s art formats, like relational art, also work on a small-scale level, but only in order to reach further out for maximum influence, ultimately reaching a bigger potential and wider audience. It is possible to criticise relational aesthetics for being restricted to the space of galleries and art centres, thus contradicting the desire for sociability underpinning their meaning53 . Similarly, Geoffroy’s art format Emergency Room has been criticised for being unable to live out its social, political, and critical potential within the context of the art institution54 . In a review of the art format, art critic Natalie Hegert writes: “In the Emergency Room, urgent issues are exhibited, but to whom? A gallery setting can only reach a certain segment of the population; whereas the street art model reaches many more people, it is more likely to be disregarded”55 . When directing this criticism towards Emergency Room, it is however important to take the art format’s criticism of the museum into account, which is embedded in the format itself. Simultaneously, one can argue that things are not that straightforward, as realising an art format in a museum does not preclude the possibility of making other art formats elsewhere, e.g. in the street as seen for example in the art format Critical Run. It can be argued that format art must always be perceived as multiple interrelated events or movements, and never solely as individual, small-scale undertakings or exhibitions. Seen in this light, Emergency Room marks only a fraction of the overall approach and action done by Geoffroy through his art formats to ultimately pursue a world of greater alertness, awareness and engagement. The art formats by the artist, including Emergency Room, Critical Run, Biennalist, Slow Dance Debate and Awareness Muscle, only to mention a few, are all interconnected in different ways, shaping a vocabulary of multiple performative and artistic gestures inside the same aesthetic language. Furthermore, Geoffroy’s use of mass media in his art formats, as examined by 51 Bourriaud, pp. 60-61. 52 Friis, http://www.cph-art.dk/konceptkunst/EmergencyRoom 53 Bourriaud, pp. 81-82. 54 Hegert, Natalie, ”Emergency Case”, on Artslant.com, 10 November, 2008, https://www.artslant.com/ny/articles/show/2829-emergency-case (accessed on 14 October 2018) 55 Ibid.
  16. 16. 16 Gade among others, demonstrates the vision of format art to relate to the world outside the museum, involving the large-scale public on a global level just as much as the participants in the front row to the artworks and events on site. International media vastly documented Emergency Room throughout the exhibition period at MoMA PS1, spreading the message to the public around the globe56 . For instance the New York based TV channel ABC News reported from Emergency Room during the exhibition, interviewing some of the participating artists. Here, artist Gail Rothschild presented her artwork of the day to the camera, telling how she ‘was struck by the bizarre die-off of honeybees’ and inspired to make an artwork about it57 . Through massive international media coverage an artwork like this, which is dealing with environmental problems affecting every human, animal and nation on this planet, achieves world-wide recognition in an instant, thus involving a much larger audience than a regular museum show, eventually creating a greater effect. A definition of format art? Like the foundation of relational aesthetics, the basis of format art relies on dialogue, collaboration, and encounter. Nevertheless, a point of criticism, which has been directed towards relational art, most prominently by art historian Claire Bishop in her article Relational Aesthetics (2004), is that, despite the desire of relational art to re-humanise a capitalistic world and puncture a hierarchy, it does not succeed in doing so58 . There is, Bishop implies, a lack of political engagement in the relational art observed by Bourriaud, which makes his selection of artworks incapable of providing a critical, antagonistic interaction with the public59 . If we follow Bishop’s criticism, there must be some aspect of antagonism present in a work of art in order to establish an effective critical interrelation with its viewers. And, as examined by Baden, this is exactly what we find in Geoffroy’s practice. Baden observes how format art often conveys uncomfortable, embarrassing elements, for instance in the art format Critical Run where the participants are asked to run while debating about unpopular questions60 (What are the emergencies today? Is art the last bastion for freedom? Are biennales dangerous?) – A quite unpleasant, both physically and mentally exhausting process. Similarly, the artists and viewers are pushed out of their comfort zones and challenged in Emergency Room, motivated to produce artworks and debate about their relevance in a constant 56 Friis, http://www.cph-art.dk/konceptkunst/EmergencyRoom 57 ABC News, 2007. 58 Bishop, Claire, ”Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics”, in October, January 1, 2004, p. 65. 59 Ibid. 60 Baden, p. 133.
  17. 17. 17 flow. The artists are even asked to defend the relevance of their artwork after the exhibition changes. One can argue that Emergency Room creates an antagonistic relationship between itself and the participants through the uncomfortable or tense relationship between themselves and the questions and content posed in the artworks out of emergency. Following Bishop’s argumentation, format art thus seems to be capable of offering an alternative socially engaged practice, which is sensible to the points of criticism directed towards relational art. It can be suggested that format art provides another methodological lens through which to view social relations to the world and to one another by providing a critical, in Bishop’s terms antagonistic interaction, as opposed to other works by contemporary artists, which according to Bourriaud can be considered relational art, that is art that understands itself as an experimental production of new social relationships – as “the invention of models of sociability” and “conviviality”. To mention a few examples of these artworks; “Rirkrit Tiravanija organizes a dinner in a collector’s home, and leaves him all the ingredients required to make a Thai soup. Philippe Parreno invites a few people to pursue their favorite hobbies on May Day, on a factory assembly line”61 . What makes Geoffroy’s art formats differ from these examples is, besides the antagonistic interaction (the embarrassment and discomfort of being a participator in an art format, perhaps even having different viewpoints from other participants), that Geoffroy does not simply accept the ‘existing real’, being happy to play with the social bond within the constraining frame of the given. Rather, format art is actually concerned with changing this system of social relations (capitalism, the structure of the museum, and even apathy) through an interventionist, often comic, although never cynical, approach62 . As Gade writes, Geoffroy ‘works performatively using interventionist strategies’ and ‘may be accounted an activist artist’63 . And as Rosenvinge points out, it is furthermore ‘the artist’s intention to create more activists’64 . To exemplify this, as observed in Emergency Room, Geoffroy demonstrates through interventions into the act of exhibition making, how the museum can consciously work against its own limitations through new ways of constructing exhibitions, in which the artists and viewers are directly engaged. The social and political content of the day-to-day newly created artworks exhibited in Emergency Room does not 61 Bourriaud, pp. 7-8. 62 Kealy, http://thierrygeoffroy.blogspot.com 63 Gade, Rune, ”But His Wife Is Danish – on colonization, being colonized and Colonel”, in Colonel: Avoir L’air, Line Rosenvinge and Marita Muukkonen, eds., NIFCA Publications, 2006, p. 58. 64 Rosenvinge, p. 12.
  18. 18. 18 only prepare the ground for immediate critical reflection in the art formats participants inside the exhibition, but simultaneously strives to encourage long-term change in its audience’s behaviour and pattern of thought after leaving the exhibition at the museum. Thus, format art becomes an efficient tool in responding to crisis situations. It is to a certain degree possible and inevitable to understand format art in conjunction with contemporary art practices such as relational aesthetics, as they are both manifested in intangible acts, rejecting the idea of art as object, proposing new ways of creating social relationships. Both practices respond to local as well as global contexts focused on the creation of collaborative processes that develop the consciousness or awareness of the participants. However, the field of format art calls for a different definition as it operates through different methods and models. First of all, format art rejects the notion of contemporaneity in favor of the ‘ultracontemporary’, that is artworks created in and expressing about the ‘now’, thus opening up for an immediate perception of artworks, even in the context of the museum. Secondly, one can argue that format art and relational art activate the spectator in different ways. Whereas they both produce an experience, the experience in the artworks, which respond to Bourriaud’s definition of relational aesthetics, are enabled by the artists for a small community through the community’s participation. Relational art can be said to shape the public and use the public itself in doing so. Format art’s focus on process not only changes the people involved, it changes the world for people unaware of the work. By creating art formats such as Emergency Room, Geoffroy establishes open and democratic social structures within the aesthetic realm, offering the possibility of a form of art that initiates social change to prevent apathy and ultimately future dysfunctions in society. And this is exactly what format art is all about; putting forward an intellectual, bodily and socially-politically challenging invitation for co-creation that ‘pushes against the commodity of the spectator and engages the participants into a challenging, unsettling alertness and awareness’65 . 65 Sebestyén, http://sebestyenrita.com/before-it-is-too-late/
  19. 19. 19 References ABC News, 2007, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S2hWaNGocek, (accessed on 1 December 2018) Baden, Sebastian, ”Thierry Geoffroy’s ’Emergency Room’”, in Kunst und Öffentlichkeit, Dagmar Danko, Olivier Moeschler and Florian Schumacher, eds., Springer VS, 2015. Birken, Jacob, “’Is the Contemporary Already Too Late?’ (Re-)producing Criticality within the Art Museum, in Katarzyna Murawska-Muthesius and Piotr Piotrowski (eds.), From Museum Critique to the Critical Museum, Routledge, 2015, pp. 215-229. Bishop, Claire, ”Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics”, in October, January 1, 2004. Bourriaud, Nicolas, Relational Aesthetics, Simon Pleasance and Fronza Woods, trans., Les presses du réel, 2002 (1998). DeWille, James, ”Live From N.Y., It’s Yesterday’s News”, on Columbiaspectator.com, 27 March, 2013, https://www.columbiaspectator.com/2007/02/21/live-ny-its-yesterdays-news/ (accessed on 12 October 2018) Ferguson, Bruce W.,”Exhibition Rhetorics: Material Speech and Utter Sense”, in Bruce W. Ferguson, Reesa Greenberg, and Sandy Nairne (eds.), Thinking about Exhibitions, London: Routledge, 1996, pp. 175-190. Friberg, Carsten, ”’Now before it is too late’ – Ultracontemporary art as a response to contemporary political apathy”, on Copenhagenbiennale.org, http://www.copenhagenbiennale.org/carsten- friberg/rmx2s5lhmnetk52cmn2bdzz3ye2zp9 (accessed on 12 October 2018). Friis, Morten, ”Den dag revolutionen kom forbi”, on Cph-art.dk, 22 May, 2007, http://www.cph- art.dk/konceptkunst/EmergencyRoom (accessed on 12 October 2018). Gade, Rune, ”But His Wife Is Danish – on colonization, being colonized and Colonel”, in Colonel: Avoir L’air, Line Rosenvinge and Marita Muukkonen, eds., NIFCA Publications, 2006. Gade, Rune, ”Et solidt fundament. Kunst og fotografi 1980-2000”, in Mette Sandbye (ed.), Dansk fotografihistorie, Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 2004, pp. 366-417. Geoffroy, Thierry, Emergency Room Dictionary, Revolver Publishing by VVV & The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, Schools of Visual Arts, 2010. Geoffroy, Thierry, The artist’s flickr profile, which works as an image archive and database, https://www.flickr.com/photos/emergencyrooms/3047050289/sizes/l/ (accessed on 7 June 2020) Geoffroy, Thierry, ”The Emergency Room Format”, on Emergencyrooms.org, http://www.emergencyrooms.org/short.html (accessed on 10 October 2018) Geoffroy, Thierry http://www.emergencyrooms.org/documenta_kassel.html ”THE EMERGENCY WILL REPLACE THE CONTEMPORARY” (accessed on 15 June 2020)
  20. 20. 20 Hegert, Natalie, ”Emergency Case”, on Artslant.com, 10 November, 2008, https://www.artslant.com/ny/articles/show/2829-emergency-case (accessed on 14 October 2018) Lassen, Nikolaj M., ”Præsens. Den dansk-franske kunstner Thierry Geoffroy og hans Emergency Room – en kunstudstilling som skifter indhold hver 24. Time – har haft enorm succes de seneste seks uger på New Yorks fineste kunstgalleri”, in Weekendavisen, Kultur, No. 13, Berlingske Media, 30 March 2007, p. 11. Miskovic, Tijana, ”Beyond Photographie d’auteur. An artist’s way of using photography and engaging in the fields of of anthropology and sociology”, in Visual Archiving #13, Kunstakademiet, Charlottenborg. Miskovic, Tijana, The EXTRACTEUR – ”The Anatomy of Prejudice”, http://www.emergencyrooms.org/anatomy_of_prejudice_IKM_museum.html (accessed on 7 June 2020). Oikonomopoulos, Vassilios, ”The Biennalist in Athens – Emergencies in the midst of unfulfilled promises”, on Emergency.org, November, 2011, http://www.cph- art.dk/konceptkunst/EmergencyRoom (accessed on 14 October 2018). Ratnam, Niru, ”Art and globalisation”, in Themes in Contemporary Art, Gill Perry and Paul Wood, eds., Yale University Press, 2004. Rosenvinge, Line, Thierry Geoffroy / Colonel – ”Catalyst.”, David Dunchin, trans. Written and produced in conjunction with the Top Up salon featuring Thierry Geoffroy / Colonel, held at Rahbeks Allé 32, Frederiksberg, Denmark, 18 November 2010. Schube, Inka, ”Technomads, anti-apparatuses and other imponderabilities”, Sprengel Museum Hannover, 2002. http://www.emergencyrooms.org/texts/by_critics/english/inka_Schube-gb.html (accessed on 7 June 2020). Sebestyén, Rita, ”Before It Is Too Late”, on Sebestyén Rita, 30 May 2016, http://sebestyenrita.com/before-it-is-too-late/ (accessed 25 September 2018).

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