“The right to imagine is unevenly distributed”, said the Spanish curator Maite Borjabad López-Pastor when describing the “asymmetric agency to design and activate desired futures” (interview with Samatha Ozer, Pin up Magazine, 2020). The New Patrons Protocol, proposed by the Belgian artist François Hers in 1990, is a methodology towards an “art of democracy.” It includes three basic roles: artist, mediator and commissionaires. A commission is triggered by the need of a community which catalyses a process of mediation. Then, an artist develops a context-specific artwork that responds to the need. The Protocol remarks that any community on the planet is entitled to claim a commission. This implies a democratization of the art practice and its re-insertion back in society.
A New Patrons commission called El Gran Trueque, by Nicolas Floc’h, took place in Chile in 2008. Conflux Barichara 2021 is an on-going New Patrons commission around the situation of water in Barichara, Colombia. It aims to plant the seeds of a long lasting exchange with the region. Designer, researcher and artist Juan Pablo García Sossa, in his project Tropical Virus / Viral Tropic: A Tool Box for Disruption (since 2015), has been examining translations of technology usage in diverse regions of the planet. He says: “Cultures react differently to instruction manuals. While in Germany instructions are followed rigorously, in Latin America we might not even read them – in fact we rewrite them”. What opportunities, questions and challenges does all this entail?
1 Avoiding assistencialist approaches
Latin America carries in its history the imposition of foreign models – a long lasting Eurocentric / North American pursuit of exogenous “development”. External interventions often fall into assistencialism and disempowerment of the local population. In this regard, manifestations of The New Patrons Protocol in the region should read the context – what is already there and what is really needed – and work in establishing horizontal frameworks of projects.
2 Reframing “development”
Under the mainstream definition of development and progress, Latin America appears to be in need of infrastructural investment. Therefore, culture is often not on the top of political agendas. But what if culture were to become a motor of social transformation dealing with the contexts and specificities of Latin America? As Pepe Mujica, former Uruguay’s President stresses out in Emir Kusturica’s Film El Pepe, A Supreme Life (2018): “You can change the material, but unless culture changes, no real change occurs.”
3 Re-adaptations of the notion of the public and the private realm
Due to a distrust in the public realm for its often dubious administration of funds, relying on it tends to be uncertain. As an aftermath, in some countries, the notion of citizenship is not a substantial form of collectivity. Rather, this collectivity often emerges through networks of affection, “comunidades” and cooperatives, amongst other expressions of assemblage.
4 Decentralizing cultural centers
It is common to see in Latin America large metropolitan areas which tend to centralize the cultural activity and, as a contrast, other areas with a reduced fluctuation of such, triggering even more inequality in the region. What if The New Patrons Protocol were to contribute to the decentralization of such flow through encouraging commissions outside the metropolitan areas?
5 Territory and nature as living beings with agency
It is worthy that commissions of The New Patrons Protocol are able to recall that there are diverse ways to relate to territory. For instance, through the understanding of territory and nature as a living being, Ecuador and Bolivia have included in their constitutions Nature as a legal entity. For many communities, territory has been gained through ancestral struggles, it is sacred and contested.
6 Re-mixed belief systems entangled in the region
Along the region, a deeply embedded Judeo-Christian influence merged with other religions, beliefs and mystical approaches. It might be valuable to approach these through a pluriversal and decolonial gaze. The richness in belief systems can imply that the approach to the symbolic imaginary – that of mystical traditions and of contemporary art – is a language already embraced by the region.
7 Local expressions of contemporary art
It is also important to acknowledge that there is a great variety of qualified local contemporary artists in the region. The Protocol already takes art out of the white cube – an important achievement. Now we can take contemporary art out of the cities which have centralized cultural movements and even consider taking contemporary art out of the mainstream canon.
Because Latin America is a complex and diverse region, difficult to approach as a single concept, working through plural understandings and local specificities is highly recommended. The New Patrons Protocol – Latin America should definitely not represent the new “patrón” but rather a new pattern: an adaptable framework to reactivate communitary agency and to redistribute the right to imagine.
Daniela Medina Poch (Bogotá, Colombia, 1992) is a visual artist, writer and researcher interested in unveiling some of the complex interrelations between the Global South and Global North. She lives in Berlin and is part of The New Patrons mediators network and the MA Kunst im Kontext at the Universität der Künste Berlin.