Autonomy Jaime Iregui


One of the principal characteristics of contemporary artistic thought is the growing self-organization of its approaches, many of them contradictory, which organize and reorganize the experience of the world without following unique and homogenous patterns. There exists no privileged position of observation—there are as many observers as possible, and many of them with various coexisting positions: one observer can take on transcendental, relative, and self-reflexive positions without one prevailing over the other.


The self-organization of a system basically means that the “order” of its structure and its functions are not imposed by the surroundings but established by the system itself. This is not to say that the system is isolated from its surroundings—on the contrary, it interacts with it continuously, without it determining its organization. It is possible to define three forms of self-organization that a system can take on in its interaction with the surroundings, to which a series of both artistic and scientific approaches can refer:

– linear. When the limits1 between systems2 and their surroundings can be determined in their totality, both appear with a defined outline, as what belongs to the system and what belongs to the surroundings is known; given that the system and its surroundings do not alternate there is an absolute position for the observation of the system, a privileged place for accessing the truth: the notion of certainty is born from structural balance, from harmony, from rhythm and proportion, from the agreement that is established between the Order of the Spirit (clear and distinct ideas) and the Order of the Universe. In this context all certainty, all possession of truth, is religious in the primordial meaning of the term: it ties the human being to the essence of the real and establishes, more than a communication, a communion which makes it possible to perceive the world as a harmonious, ordered, and perfect system.

– relative. When the limits of the system are altered by the surroundings, there is a set of relative positions for observation. Interpreting and modeling the observed surroundings demands a conversation between all possible observers, as observation is relative to the conditions of observation: the modern definition of history as true and ordered narration of past and memorable events is based on a notion of objectivity which has undergone profound questioning and transformation. At the beginning of the 20th century the relativization of this objectivity was reflected in art with the emergence of the avant-gardes: cubism, constructivism, surrealism, etc., at the same time as science developed the theories of Einstein’s relativity.

– self-reflexive. When the limits of the surroundings are altered by the system, there is no exterior position—neither absolute, nor relative—for observation. The observed surroundings have no meaning as an isolated entity and are only understandable as interaction, correlation, process or event between various systems of observation and interpretation: on sub-atomic levels the observed object behaves like a wave or a particle; to make this dual characteristic of matter understandable, the physicist Niels Bohr introduced the notion of complementarity—that is to say, the wave and the particle are complementary dimensions of the same reality, which by being observed are activated in one of the two states, depending on the systems of observation and mediation with which it is forced to interact. In this way, the observing system alters the behavior of the observed system. The object is deformed by the observer: what is observed is not the object but the way of observing it, of interacting with it.


Different artistic manifestations have gone further in institutional spaces, generating complimentary possibilities in a process where diverse, autonomous ways of understanding not only the very notion of artistic practice but also that of cultural space, cohabit: projects have been developed by artists which deal with the various ways of receiving their processes in nonconventional places (wineries, abandoned buildings, suburbs, commercial premises, family homes … ), public spaces (parks, participatory actions, billboards … ), the Internet (websites and forums for discussion) and projects specifically designed for the artistic, university, and citizen communities.

It can thus be appreciated that no ideal or privileged space exists; there exists a series of mutually complimentary possibilities which demand autonomy from the artist and clarity in their modus operandi when defining the space which belongs to their work: the same artist could conceive a project in areas where space-time properties can be understood as stable (museums, galleries, institutional events), fluctuating (publications, communications, media, the Internet), and ephemeral (actions, interventions in the city, research and work with the community, tours, etc.), without any experience necessarily prevailing over the other.

In the artistic and academic media, reflection on space becomes more relevant every day given the implications it has on the structuring of artistic processes and, therefore, on the way in which it relates to a specific context.

The same notion of space is problematic not only in its physical sense—belonging to a place of exhibition—but in its relational sense: artistic processes are no longer taken on as autonomous objects and are considered as events and/or situations linked to a place, a public, and a city.

This leads to thinking about the goal of the artist’s activities not only as the creation of objects, but also as the articulation of a thought process through a network of research practices, spatialization, contextualization, documentation, and promotion.


1 / The presence of limits in the system precisely differentiates the concept of system from the concept of structure. The limits of the system are not physical, but of the senses, as these function as a selective strategy through which each observer chooses between various possible readings, but without definitively eliminating the possibilities which were not selected. If we try to define its form, it would be that of the mobile and continuous displacement of the limits of understanding, exchange, and reception. A limit separates elements, but not necessarily relations; this means that all border projects, such as the exchange of information for example, keep functioning when the frontier has been crossed, but in another sense.

2 / Systems can be understood as units having structures that are configured from the interactions and interdependence of their parts. The transaction process is inherent to the activity of systems, understood as the simultaneous and interdependent interaction between multiple components. In operational terms a system is understood as a set of elements, which interlaced in an orderly way, intervene in a function, scheme or plan, and make up in turn a complex and irreducible unit. Systems can be visual, conceptual, cultural, social, etc.