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Re-socialising Art (with Foucault)

What strikes me is the fact that in our society, art has become something which is related only to objects and not to individuals, or to life.

That art is something which is specialised or which is done by experts who are artists. But couldn’t everyone’s life become a work of art?

Why should the lamp or the house be an art object, but not our life?

Michel Foucault

Art objects are a form of urban communication. The streets, squares, façades and other urban elements are being transformed by artistic interventions which at times are ephemeral, permanent or cyclical. Artworks released in the public realm are often used to communicate different messages through highly diverse approaches, depending on disciplinary visions and technical options. They might be interactive, participatory, critical… many different forms correspond to rich and contrasting aims. When looking at the work of art in its multidimensionality it is crucial to acknowledge its legibility within the ‘urban mess’, and therefore as a communicative moment.

The idea of kairos (gr.) reminds us about the proper timing for any art to convey a lived mix of time, space and the public.  On the other hand, each art piece has a specific relation to Time, certainly according to the individual character of each creator, producer, spectator or participant. The artistic process has its durée, which might be communicated as a social fact and which is not necessarily stated in the art object itself. To communicate the artistic process is in addition not exactly the same as communicating the artwork.

Whenever involved in a process of creation and expression artists may turn to Foucault for the critical potential which they might benefit from in order to shape their artworks. In critical public art, a term coined by Krzysztof Wodiczko, we frequently acknowledge the resonance of specific concepts proposed by Foucault. This means that in the presence of these artworks we — the public — understand them as autonomous artworks but also as visualisations or installations of Foucault’s research tropes. Even more, sometimes these artworks evolve deliberately and openly around Foucault’s concepts, exploring their critical limits in order to create in the city what one might call heterotopic utopias.

One of the artists who perfectly depict such a phenomena is Krzysztof Wodiczko — a world renowned Polish artist, one of the key figures in contemporary art, famous for his urban photographic projections.

Krzysztof Wodiczko: Guests | ©Courtesy of digitalColeman /Flickr.

Krzysztof Wodiczko is well known in the art scene for his large scale projections, which he has already realised in almost a hundred countries around the world. His interest lies in public space, citizenship, communication, conflict and memory. The projections result from a great combination of sensibility, sociopolitical commitment and technical expertise.

Wodiczko creates interventions in the cityscape, as his objective is to give back the voice to silent issues/people and provoke critical awareness, broadly stimulating citizenship. For him, the city is a stage for democracy, which needs constant creation, constantly needing to be delegitimized in the name of excluded elements. Krzysztof Wodiczko explains that in his works the Foucaultian parrhesia is not only a way to confront powers but also inquire the silent community, as for him: “silence and invisibility are the biggest enemies of democracy” (Phillips 33).

In his art, visual projections are tools to communicate with and via the urban fabric, they belong to everyone including those who are excluded and through this way they could rejoin their democratic city. Therefore, the urban projections of Wodiczko can be understood as a critical tool and a manner of fighting for a change. By means of technology the artist is throwing on the walls/ facades/ monuments projections images that tackle problems that are currently not at stake of public discussion or purposefully put aside as uncomfortable issues.

Wodiczko is not only a case of how to illustrate Foucault’s concepts but also how they can be ‘translated’ into the urban form; they also inform our own autonomy as citizens experiencing the urban space. Paradoxically these projected images are new layers (idea of palimpsest), which don’t exactly add images to the city. In fact, they make it more transparent, clearer, uncovering ideologies encrusted in the everyday. These artworks make the very city device more open to participation, for in the artistic ethos of these two artists lies a strategic objective: to “re-socialise” art. Especially, and foremost, as Wodiczko’s creations communicate about challenges and realities of marginalised communities. 

Wodiczko is highly involved in understanding the context where the interventions happen to realise his visions, developing very precise responses to new demands (site specificity) in an ever changing and evolving public sphere. One can observe an awareness that his interventionist art practices stand for a strong defence of poetic imagination, considered a model to deal cognitively with the urban fabric (buildings, facades, monuments, pavements…).

Considering the relations or expressions of power within the urban device Wodiczko keeps Foucault alive and turns his ideas and books – of course, also of other critical theorists – into lived situations.

By Agata Wiórko Caeiro


Foucault, Michel. “On the genealogy of ethics: An overview of work in progress”. Rabinow, Paul (ed.). The Foucault Reader. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin, 1991. Print.

Phillips, Patricia C. “Creating Democracy: A Dialogue with Krzysztof Wodiczko.” Art Journal . Vol. 62. No. 4. College Art Association (Winter, 2003). Print.

OpenEdition sugere que esta publicação seja citada da seguinte forma:
Agata Wiórko da Câmara (30 de Março de 2024). Re-socialising Art (with Foucault). Desenvolvimento Humano Integral. Recuperado em 15 de Julho de 2024 de

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