Remember when we were free to roam the streets of great cities; you would only come across works by male artists celebrating great men. Compared to the one mobile and colourful Fontaine Stravinsky by Niki de Saint Phalle, how many of Rodin’s Balzac would you come across? A certain level of visibility must be achieved in order to have the right to exist in the public space. Women artists’ lack of notoriety has long excluded them from public commissions. A glass ceiling even harder than that for acquisitions and exhibition programming has imposed itself on them for centuries. AWARE had begun research on this subject long before the lockdown. It seemed urgent to us to publish a first overview of it – a thematic tour on women’s presence in the Paris tramway – but also to transform this unequal history of public space. We did this with the help of the Cnap, an organisation that had arrived at the same conclusion by publishing the second volume of a history of public commissions on French territory, L’Art à ciel ouvert, last year.
Now that public space is being “questioned” isn’t it an opportune moment to “deconfine” it from the sculptural and masculine by which it was so limited until now? A phone call was enough to launch a partnership between AWARE and the Cnap just a few days after the confinement was announced.
The project La vie bonne shakes up the history of public art commissions. By addressing itself to women and performative practices, the project opens up a “new public space” where diversity – of both gender and technique – will finally prevail.
In collaboration with AWARE, the Cnap has launched an open call for women artists to propose performative artworks. Ten projects will be selected by a jury and broadcast on AWARE’s website in the autumn of 2020. The project borrows its title from a text by feminist theorist Judith Butler. In 2012 the American philosopher asked, “Can One Lead a Good Life in a Bad Life?” when she received the Adorno Prize, taking up and transforming the German thinker’s question. How can we have a good life “within a world in which the good life is structurally or systematically foreclosed for so many?” This issue is part of a heated debate at a time when the lockdown accentuates inequalities – such as access to healthcare and food – and when broader questions about the “habitability” of the world are raised. In the end, this question applies to the female gender which has been affected by the sanitary crisis in many ways: frontline jobs for those who work, domestic violence for those who are confined to their homes.
Looking forward to the autumn, and starting now, AWARE has given the previous winners of the AWARE Prize from 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020 a chance to think about the lockdown. Following the example of Chantal Akerman’s film from which this project borrows its title, AWARE attempts to open up a new space for exchange that will allow us to address a reality haunted by disaster with hope. Doesn’t living in confinement inevitably mean going through it with the mind elsewhere, focused on what’s next, thinking about potential developments, rearrangements and necessary moves?