“…what strikes me is the fact that in our society art has become something which is related only to objects and not individuals, or to life. That art is something specialized or done by experts who are artists. But couldn’t everyone’s life become a work of art?” Michel Foucault

Grant Watson

Grant Watson

The idea that life can resemble a work of art was suggested by Foucault in an interview with Hubert L. Dreyfus and Paul Rabinow which was published in the November issue of Vanity Fair in 1983 under the title How We Behave. In this interview Foucault comments – ‘what strikes me is the fact that in our society art has become something which is related only to objects and not individuals, or to life. That art is something specialized or done by experts who are artists. But couldn’t everyone’s life become a work of art?’

Elsewhere Foucault proposes that bios could be the material for a work of art, and points to classical texts whose authors describe an aesthetics of existence. From these texts Foucault develops the term ‘Care of the Self’ epimeleia heautou a system from antiquity, through which a person could understand and gain mastery over themselves and live a good life. Foucault’s proposition is that the rules governing epimeleia heautou came not from a given template (such as religion, science or the law) but according to an aesthetic schema. At its best this schema allowed for a process of self fashioning that continued throughout life, and which was completed at the moment of death when the form a life had taken was fully understood. In this, Foucault was not suggesting people today repeat the practices of the past, but rather that they try to invent new forms of subjectivity which could take aesthetics as a guiding principle.

Foucault’s proposition that life can resemble a work of art is explored in a one day programme of talks, performances, screenings and artist interventions which has been conceived as part of WE ARE THE TIME. The day will start with a presentation of Foucault’s Vanity Fair interview in collaboration with If I Can’t Dance I Don’t Want To Be Part of Your Revolution, followed by a series of presentations from David Dibosa, AA Bronson, Yael Davids, Adrian Rifkin and interspersed with film screenings selected by participants.

Grant Watson is Senior Curator and Research Associate at the Institute of International Visual Arts in London (Iniva). Iniva (Institute of International Visual Arts) creates exhibitions, digital initiatives, publications, education projects and undertakes research, at Rivington Place and elsewhere, which engage with new ideas and emerging debates in the contemporary visual arts and reflect the cultural diversity of contemporary society.

As curator at the Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst Antwerpen (MuHKA) 2006 – 2010 his projects included  Santhal Family positions around an Indian sculpture, Cornelius Cardew, Search for the Spirit, Textiles Art and the Social Fabric and the Keywords lecture series. He was previously the Curator of Visual Arts at Project in Dublin between 2001 and 2006 where he focused on solo commissions from contemporary Irish and international artists as well as themed projects such as a series on communism that included an exhibition, book and radio programme. Watson has worked with modern and contemporary Indian art since 1999, researching this subject for Documenta 12, as well as co curating Reflections on Indian Modernism a series of exhibitions, talks and events at the Office for Contemporary Art Norway (OCA). The touring exhibition ‘Nasreen Mohamedi: Notes’ is the first instalment of this programme. Watson studied Curating and Visual Cultures at Goldsmiths College London where he is currently a PhD candidate. He is also an associate professor at the Dutch Art Institute/ MFA ArtEZ in Arnhem.