"I'm interested in tools from the art world that help to reveal collective desires”
Interview with Fran Quiroga, mediator of our Galician Concomitancia.
Fran Quiroga is the mediator of Legado Cuidado, our Concomitancia in the Galician town of Betanzos, A Coruña. In this interview, Fran—a self-described interdisciplinary researcher with a background in activism, art, and participatory processes—talks about his experience so far, as he puts all his knowledge and experience at the service of this project in 2021: a key year when the selection of the artist will be finalised after the commission has been defined.
What does cultural management mean to you?
What a question! When it comes to doing or thinking about cultural management, my motivation is what we can do together, as a community. In this sense, culture is the capacity to generate shared imaginaries. There’s always a certain tension with the word “management”, we’re actually talking about cultural practice or mediation: how you enable, promote, inspire, or bring leverage to respond to or question hopes or desires.
So we’re talking about a kind of connector.
We’re talking about the idea of crossroads or intersection, the point of friction that reveals things that would not come to light in more unilateral circumstances. I think there’s power in this kind of serendipity even though it also generates tension, because you don’t know a priori where it can lead. That’s why it’s important to have clear frameworks, in terms of both timeframes and budgets. These are generative spaces, and participants must be aware of the parameters of possibility.
What skills do you have to develop for this work?
You have to build generative spaces. To accept that you’re not in control of everything, and that failure is present. There are always moments of angst and uncertainty about where a process is heading, and it may often seem that a project is going to collapse or break down. The key is how we deal with and respond to those critical moments.
Tell us about the participatory process created for Legado Cuidado?
One idea that hovered over the project when we began was: why not spend the funds for the artistic intervention on the restoration of the park? Considering that the park was, and remains, closed, that was an urgent need. Other voices—not a majority—did arise during the participatory process, saying that it may not make sense to spend more money on the restoration. However, Concomitentes is an association supported by a foundation that works within the framework of contemporary art, we can’t step into the role of a public administration that has failed to fulfil its duties.
It seems to be a recurrent situation in the art field...
It’s a common complaint, tensions always arise when there are unmet material needs and we talk from a more subjective position.
But the selection of the artist can align with this same objective.
Of course. What we did was start a process based on the participatory-action-research (PAR) approach, opening up the group of citizen-commissioners to include all residents of the region. This complicates things, because it’s not just about amassing a lot of ideas or choosing the most popular one. The crux of the matter is how to problematise the commission beyond surface appearances, delving into the tensions, frustrations and desires regarding the relationship between citizens and this heritage site: Pasatiempo Park.
That’s where your capacity as mediator comes in.
A mediator is not a person without a soul, a body, or a voice. Everyone has their own baggage, but we have to make an effort to ensure that we, the mediators, don’t determine the processes. Legado Cuidado is a constant negotiation, within the frameworks of contemporary art.
How would you explain your work in this project?
I’m really interested in the concept of art that springs from an independent position—the “heteronomous” art that the cooperative La Fundició talk about (here)—, art that is connected to life, not cut off from it. There is power in making the most of the tools, devices and methodologies of contemporary art to reveal these collective desires. So the process is more than just the culmination in a work of art: the idea is to overcome the fetishisation of the object, and focus on the production of communal agency.
“In Legado Cuidado, the process began as a result of the collapse of the sculpture in the Park’s pond, and the local community’s calls for a solution to this situation. From Concomitentes we deal with this conflict and accompany the community with the resources and time that we have.”
How do you deal with the conflict?
It doesn’t mean we are “solutionists”, that’s where the question of limits comes in. I’m interested in how we put forward spaces of enunciation, without speaking on anyone’s behalf, which would be arrogant. We’re making a space available so that anyone can participate, if they feel it concerns them. At the same time, it’s important to establish a space where desire can be expressed through dialogue.
What conclusions will the artist work with?
The intervention should revolve around the three lines or focal points that came up: the idea of heritage as a commons, leisure as a form of learning, and the ecology of knowledges. We also thought about how the intervention can contribute to taking care the park, looking after the legacy and the co-responsibility of looking after it. As for the artist, it should be someone who is willing and able to respond to this complex commission. And it should be a recognised artist, who can work with local people during the production phase, generating an exchange.
How do you balance the expectations of the citizen-commissioners with the artist’s creative freedom?
We may have to live with frustrated desire: we can’t always get what we long for, even as we move towards it. The artwork cannot and should not be so watered down as to make everyone happy.
What stage is the process at now?
It’s going slowly but steadily. According to the plan, by September the artist will have been selected and negotiations will be underway for a preliminary version of the work, so we can study the requirements and obtain more funding if necessary. We also have to continue to secure commitments from the local and regional administrations, with a view to starting production in the last quarter of the year, or late December. We hope that the project will be completed next year.