– Autumn/Winter 2011

Ricardo Basbaum, Or That Elusive Object of Emancipation

Pablo Lafuente

The materialist doctrine that men are products of circumstances and upbringing, and that, therefore, changed men are products of other circumstances and changed upbringing, forgets that men themselves change circumstances and that the educator himself must be educated.

[…] The coincidence of the changing of circumstances and of human activity can be conceived and rationally understood only as revolutionising practice.

Karl Marx1

No intoxication is as intoxicating as enjoying the freedom of others.

Pier Paolo Pasolini2

We have no art, we do everything as well as we can.

Sister Corita Kent3

When the first Portuguese explorers arrived at the Guinea Coast in Western Africa in the fifteenth century, they are said to have been extremely surprised by the peculiar relationship that, to their eyes, the ‘natives’ had to a certain type of objects, anthropom-orphic or zoomorphic idols made of stone, clay or wood that were venerated by them as actual gods.4 Asked by the Portuguese if these idols had been manufactured by them, the locals replied affirmatively; asked if they were true divinities, they gave the same response. The explorers coined a word to encapsulate this unsustainable contradiction: the adjective ‘feitiço’, coming from ‘feito’, past participle of ‘to do’ or ‘to make’. The term suggested form, figure and configuration, but also something that was artificial and fabricated, and even fascinated and enchanted, mapping a semiotic field in which fact, construction, agency and truth combined together.

For the Portuguese, such fetishism had to be either naïve or cynical, the result of a lack of awareness of the incompatibility of human agency and ‘objective truth’, or

  1. Karl Marx, ‘Theses on Feuerbach’, in Friedrich Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical Philosophy, Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1976, pp.61–65. Also available at http://www.marx2mao.com/M&E/TF45.html (last accessed on 20 February 2011).

  2. Pier Paolo Pasolini, ‘Infabulation’, Manifesto for a New Theatre: Followed by Infabulation (trans. Thomas Simpson), Toronto, Buffalo, Chicago and Lancaster: Guernica, 2008, p.54.

  3. Motto of Immaculate Heart College. Quoted in Corita Kent and Jan Steward, Learning by Heart: Teachings to Free the Creative Spirit, New York, Toronto, London, Sydney and Auckland: Bantam Books, 1992, p.6.

  4. For an account of this encounter, see Bruno Latour, ‘Sur le Culte moderne des dieux faitiches’, Sur le Culte moderne des dieux faitiches, suivi de Iconoclash, Paris: Les Empécheurs de Penser en Rond/La Découverte, 2009, pp.15–134. My argument, for the next few paragraphs, follows Latour’s in this text. 

  5. In Pasteur’s own formulation, the fermentation of lactic acid that he registers in his laboratory is real because he has carefully set up, with his own hands, the scene where the fermentation reveals itself. Ibid., p.44.

  6. See ibid., p.36.

  7. Ibid., p.53.

  8. http://www.nbp.pro.br/projeto.php (last accessed on 10 July 2011).

  9. For a full list of experiences, including dates, participants’ names and visual documentation, see http://www.nbp.pro.br/experiencia_data.php (last accessed on 10 July 2011). 

  10. http://www.nbp.pro.br/nbp.php (last accessed on 8 July 2011). 

  11. See Guy Brett, ‘Art in the Plural’, in Novas Direções (exh. cat.), Rio de Janeiro: Museu de Arte Moderna, 2002.

  12. http://www.nbp.pro.br/projeto.php (last accessed on 8 July 2011).

  13. Ricardo Basbaum, ‘Would you like to participate in an artistic experience’, Art & Research, vol.2, no.2, Spring 2009, available at http://www.artandresearch.org.uk/v2n2/basbaum.html (last accessed on 13 July 2011).

  14. R. Basbaum, ‘me-you + system-cinema + pasageway (NBP)’, in Annette Balkema, Li Ning and Xiang Liping (ed.), The Shanghai Papers, Ostfildern-Ruit: Hatje Cantz, 2008, available at http://rbtxt.files.wordpress.com/2009/09/shanghai_papers_txt2_.pdf (last accessed on 10 July 2011). 

  15. Jacques Rancière, Le Maître ignorant: Cinq leçons sur l’émancipation intellectuelle, Paris: Fayard, 1987, p.8. Translation the author’s. 

  16. Ibid., p.25.

  17. Paulo Freire, ‘Education as the Practice of Freedom’ (trans. Myra Bergman Ramos), Education for Critical Consciousness, New York: The Seabury Press, 1973, pp.1–84.

  18. Ibid., p.33.

  19. Ibid., p.41.

  20. Ibid., p.42.

  21. The ones printed in the book are versions of those drawings by Vicente de Abreu, as the originals were lost. 

  22. Hervé Fischer, Fred Forest and Jean-Paul Thénot, ‘Manifeste I de l’art sociologique’, Le Monde, 10 October 1974; reprinted in H. Fischer, Théorie de l’art sociologique, Tournai: Casterman, 1977, p.25, and F. Forest, Art sociologique, Paris: Union Général d’Editions, 1977, p.153–54. Translation the author’s.

  23. Fred Forest, Art sociologique, op. cit., p.197. Translation the author’s. 

  24. See ibid., p.71.

  25. As life-size floor plans for the exhibition ‘Bauhaus 1919–1928’, which took place at MoMA from 7 December 1938 to 30 January 1939.

  26. ‘Ricardo Basbaum on Urban Tension’, November 2002, available at http://rbtxt.files.wordpress.com/2009/09/interview_urban-t_basbaum.pdf (last accessed on 8 July 2011).

  27. For more information about how the project developed in relation to documenta 12, see http://www.nbp.pro.br (last accessed on 8 July 2011).