I just read about Move for Life, a project organised by Littmann Kulturprojekte in Basel for the annual ArtParis fair (this year from 31 March – 3 April). An announcement on e-flux describes Move for Life as an attempt “to create a dialogue between art and the public through major societal issues… using lorries!” (I have always been suspicious of exclamation marks; they propel a sentence forwards at great speed, only to make them stop abruptly at the punch line. I am much more in favour of Alcanter de Brahm’s point d’ironie (irony point, a small, elevated, backward-facing question mark) or Hervé Bazin’s point de doute (point of doubt, a kind of z or Greek zeta over a dot), because they make you stop and think instead of accept the point unconditionally. But this is an aside inside the aside.)
Move for Life wants to enter into a dialogue about issues such as “poverty, aids, violence, racism and environmental destruction” and to that end, it uses artworks created by “internationally renowned artists” (the announcement mentions Ben Vautier, Daniele Buetti, Damien Deroubaix, Jochen Gerz, Isabel Muñoz, Robert Rauschenberg, Mark Titchner and Atelier Van Lieshout ). The works mean to “speak to each and every one of us”. The Rauschenberg lorry, for example, is decorated with a typical Rauschenberg silkscreen constellation with the word “OZONE” written across it. Images of the lorries are to be found on the Move for Life website.
The project attracted my attention because Knud Pedersen, whose latest book I discussed a week ago, has developed a project involving lorries, or rather, beer vans, as well. It was called “Faxe Drives With Art” (Faxe is a Danish brewery and soft drinks producer) and took place in August 1965. The idea was simple: the vans, Pedersen reasoned, drove all across the country every day with their cargo of beer and lemonade anyway, so they might as well carry a work of art, so that everybody could see it, free of charge. The image at the top is of a poster showing Fluxus associate Arthur Køpcke’s contribution to the project. It is reproduced on the website of Pedersen’s Copenhagen Fluxus Archive. But the project was by no means Fluxus-only: Bjørn Nørgaard and Per Kirkeby, for example, who were both associated with the rival Eks-skolen (Experimental School of Painting), participated as well. The project was not designed to (re)present a certain group, style or school. It embraced no specific cause, but only reflected Pedersen’s own ideas.
A comparison with Move for Life is revealing. Pedersen’s role in the Faxe project is very similar to that of Littmann Kulturprojekte, namely, purely organisational. In fact, all of Pedersen’s projects from the 1960s were of an organisational nature; it was not until the 1970s that he began to manifest himself as an artist. But there are important differences as well. First of all, the Faxe project has no ulterior motive; its aim is directly related to the means it employs, namely, art. In Move for Life, by contrast, art is used to draw attention to other issues. Moreover, while the message of the Faxe project lies in its internal structure, the message of Move for Life is external to the art and its carrier(s).
The differences bring to mind Nicolas Bourriaud’s claim, in Esthétique relationelle (1998), that the “relational” art of the 1990s had left grand scale revolutionary avant-garde utopianism behind and merely wanted to create “micro-utopias”. For this type of art, getting people to think about issues such as pollution and poverty for just a little while is enough. Pedersen, on the other hand, wanted to abolish, not so much art, as all the institutions that insert themselves between art and its audience and make art an elitist enterprise. His is a grand scale revolutionary-utopian project, but it is much more specific than “relational” art as well. It wants to combat art mediation by mediating art in an alternative way, while relational art makes use of pretty much any type of relationship.
Bourriaud’s argument is annoyingly specific; the only art he really discusses is that of the 1990s, to the result that history appears to play no role in his argument. Underneath the surface, however, one can discern a sneaking kind of artistic Darwinism: the miniaturisation of the relational aestheticists’ micro-utopias is better than the avant-garde’s clunky utopianism and therefore represents a step forwards. His Esthétique relationelle develops a post-historic argument that is typical of the period just after the fall of the Berlin Wall and its aftermath. What is much more useful, now, 15 years later, is to focus on another aspect of Pedersen’s project, namely the alliance it forges between art and commerce. It is an extremely practical one (“those vans have to drive anyway”), but a rational one as well (“art wants to get out and meet the people and consumer goods want to be notice”). As such, it is the opposite of Move for Life, which is not practical and not rational. It may be able to strike up a dialogue, but not thanks to the lorries or the art. Pedersen’s project makes a case for systemic elegance and conceptual rigour that is still worth stopping up and thinking about today.