Practice Based Dance

“It’s more complex than that, really much more complex.” Isn’t that a horrible sentence and you, or at least I, hear it not so rarely. Because what does it really mean? Initially it points out that what I proposed was naïve or simply stupid, which I can live with, but more over it silences the person who made the proposal, and in a pacifying, deflating kind of way. Perhaps one could say in the style of Bartleby – I prefer not to – as the person probably is right but doesn’t need to answer to what, how, why, more complex? As if that wasn’t enough, in fact I believe the sentence is a smokescreen disguising a liberal opportunistic voice that simply chickens out from any real position. Or translated into neoliberal jargon, the murmur of a resilient subject that practice rather than states.

Practice has over the last few years emerged as the new cool in dance and performing arts, but as much as this move might be interesting one can perhaps also question if it’s not a shift that in more than a few respects rehearse neoliberal strategies and approaches towards subjectivity, production, distribution of power etc.?

An insurance company in Sweden no longer give their fresh recruits any introduction or tasks but simply propose, “This is your desk. In six months we expect a self-evaluation”. In other words, make yourself useful, we won’t tell you what useful but expect you to provide the company with a reason to keep you.

Performance as we know it, with a few exceptions, function as a statement. It is an utterance and a manifestation of a position, and hence something that can be subject to critique, discussion, disagreement and so on. It also means that a performance is never more complex than that but exactly that is also what gives it leverage, reason and justifies its existence.

Performance – theatre and dance certainly but also extended into performance performance – operate through what one could call transcendent capacities. We play Ibsen’s “Enemy of The People” but the drama transcends the local situation. However lousy it was done it’s still a great play. The director’s position of power transcends the individual, and we kind of know that it’s part of his or her job description to be an asshole. Similarly, the performers ability transcends the person, as it is some more or less discernible technique that is applied or as long as the dancer does what the choreographer proposes his or her personality, background, social skills, imagination, ability to collaborate etc. might be used but is secondary to executing instructions.

This is a modus operandi that evidently establish, live and thrive through power, hierarchy, exclusion, punishment, homogenisation etc. But as much as it is full of horrors it is also pretty much transparent and obvious. It’s a clear cut disciplinary complex, which means that it is fairly easy to navigate or simply avoid.

This is the template that is used by most conventional directors and choreographers although not rarely with blurred edges where the performers are being milked of ideas serving choreographers that have run dry, or use them as raw material inserting them in frames through which they are exposed as the off spring of a brilliant mind. Here discipline and control is mixed up into a rather nasty concoction that more than too often produce deeply toxic environments.

Practice, as in practice based dance, shifts things around, favouring more lateral forms of exchange, sharing, conversation, heterogeneity etc. in front of centralised transcendent power that gives itself the right to punish. Often this means inviting people more or less without preference to participate and share one or several practices, e.g. dancing in respect of a set of open instructions. Instructions that the individual participant interpret and give form and expression. After the practices it’s common that one shares experiences and observations which might be inserted into the instructions or form that base for a new set of instructions. In practice based dance instead of transcendent capacities what is emphasised is what is immanent to the situation, the initiator, participants etc. The practice can for sure be proposed in different context but what occurs in one situation cannot be compared one to one with another situation. The individual or group proposing the practice neither transcends the situation or themselves but are as individuals or group immanent to the situation. Similarly, the participants are not utilised in respect of identifiable sets of skill but instead of who, what and how they are – through what is immanent to them.

This on the one hand can be understood as an opportunity to realise oneself, to explore abilities, inner spaces, spiritual connections, or to practice different relations to one’s body, self-image etc. but one can also consider that, in fact, the initiator is “using” the participants themselves. It is not the participants’ skillset that is taken into account but instead what the person is, which is exactly what contemporary capitalism is largely about. Namely, the financialization of life itself.

If centralised or top-down power is disagreeable and leans towards asymmetry and possibly abuse, it seems like an emphasize on practice where the initiator rather than decides proposes is less prone to create toxic environments. If conventional methods of production claim the performers time it appears that practice instead allow the participant to invest in him- or herself. This is certainly agreeable but again, to what extent is this a matter of disguising power or of creating environments where the initiator through a minimal amount of information (decision) rely on the investment and creativity of the participant in ways that perhaps aren’t so far away from the insurance company.

Instead of practice based dance being understood as a form of resistance to contemporary phenomena in society, perhaps we have to consider that it might also coincide with neoliberal strategies and forms of governance. Strategies that we are all subject to concerning resilience, gig-economy, precariousness, affordance, identity and so on.

Evidently the art a society generates correlates to general modes of distribution of power, resources, production etc. Both artistic work benevolent to a system and an art that resist, protest or distance itself reverberate of its context. So perhaps practice based dance is just a child of its time, which certainly can be interpreted both as a small disaster – oh no what happened to our leftism – or perhaps as a indication and something we can learn from and hence transform or propose alternatives.

What however complicates the story is when practice based dance steps out of the “studio” and onto the stage. Because indeed the stage is a context that operates prominently through and with transcendent capacities, not least concerning how we look and how representation consolidates. Is it so that the promise of practice and its reliance and allowance of immanence collapse when it enters the dispositive of the theatre, deflates as it has little or no compatibility with “theatrical” representation, and end up exposing the illusion of freedom, the creativity of the individual or something similar? Is it perhaps the destiny of practice based dance to remain in the studio or in the park and as long as it does it is something rather beautiful and caring? The fact of the matter remains, when practice goes on stage it simply isn’t practice anymore and at that moment it loses its intricacy and end up in “it’s more complex than that, really much more complex” but to whose benefit or happiness?

We all know that there is no possible withdrawal from representation, for some thing to be something it’s necessarily entangled in complexes of representation. Practices are equally entangled but when on stage in what ways does its representational dynamics change? Or said differently how does its performativity shift, when it’s not just a practice but represents itself as practice? Practice turned demonstration?

Now, this is not an attempt to bash practice based dance but instead an attempt to shift perspectives. What we have seen over the last bunch of years is a departure away from performance to practice, from transcendence towards immanence, from showing to sharing and situations where the relations between transmitter and receiver are blurred. Process has been emphasized and results secondary, which one can also understand as an interest in avoiding experiences that can be assessed in respect of measurability in favour of individual or even affective experiences.

Is it possible to consider that in certain cases that practice is twofold or operate on different levels at the same time, so that when we practice a set of instructions for how to move in or occupy space that we are also practicing the possibility for alternative ethics, of cohabitating space, caring for each other or whatever it might be? One question is what dynamics those ethics etc. operate in respect of (probabilistic, contingent or something in between) and even more importantly vis-à-vis what ideology or political positions? Because, evidently, nothing says that because “it’s practice based” doesn’t mean its politics automatically is hunky-dory?

It’s common to understand the encounter with art as a confrontation or engagement with potentiality. Potentiality outlined as an intensity that operates on the individual spectator expanding or compressing the individual’s opportunities to act in the world. It is an intensity, a vibrant capacity without direction, contrary to a force or power that without exception are directional. A force cannot not know it’s destination, it’s imbued with causality and can therefore only generate possible (and impossible) thoughts, experiences or sensations, whereas intensity, being void of causality can generate a thought, experience or sensation that is emerging from a realm beyond the possible (and impossible), namely potentiality. Using a different vocabulary force links to effect and measurability while intensity associate with indetermination and affect (as defined by Delueze).

With this in mind it becomes interesting to consider “where” this capacity is located? Is it in the art work itself, thus taking on a sense of anonymity, reaching a zone of impersonal indifference or perhaps better acquiring a form of publicness. Or is it in the artist, emanating through the “performance” and the creative and conceptual activity of the artist, rending the “work” a token of the artist’s genius.

Evidently aesthetic production and appreciation is never clear cut but it is never the less compelling to consider towards what direction practice based dance lean, and what consequences this suggests in respect of, on the one hand responsibility and accountability and on the other spectatorship and aesthetic appreciation.

It appears that practice based dance ends up in a somewhat awkward space, privatising the experiencing or even producing a proprietary environment that rejects the spectator, who finds herself being degraded to the position of admirer.

But what happens if we turn it all around and instead of departing from the stage and practice, instead make or generate dance in respect of a transcendental framework, creating performances but performances that when on stage practice, so to say with the audience or the entire “theatre”, which is to say destabilise the dispositive theatre with its coagulated strategies concerning looking, representation, elaboration of time and space, social code, strong boundaries between transmitter and receiver etc.

In other words make performances that create the illusion of submitting to the dispositive of the theatre at the same time as it engages the audience in practicing the possibility for alternative ethics, of cohabitating space, caring for each other and so on. In other engage in the possibility of different social ecologies.

Although a too simple diagram but for clarities sake. Instead of moving away from transcendent models of making and seeing performance in favour of practicing “all together” in the studio, and when this situation in brought on stage nothing remains (exaggerated), what if we use a transcendent model or awareness when making performance but in favour of generating a moment of practice or practicing together in the theatre, which would mean to blur the dispositive of the theatre just enough so that conventional modes of appreciation, judging etc. is dissolving so that we as audience, simultaneously, as individuals and a group, have to build or construct modes of seeing, understanding, sharing and being, in favour of the situation at hand. That is to generate a shift from transcendence towards immanence, where immanence is not already co-opted by process of financialization but instead gains traction as potentiality (in the Deleuzian sense of the word), a move that would also satisfy Jacques Rancière’s emancipated spectator.

To practice being an audience in an open-ended way does not mean to enter the stage and start dancing, singing or in other ways participating but exactly to practice being an audience otherwise or differently. To undo crystalized modes of seeing, interpreting, co-habiting space, experiencing, lose control and allow for other behaviour and habits to emerge. For this to occur it is however necessary to locate potentiality in the work of art, and this can only be done through insisting on transcendent capacities and reaching for a zone of impersonal indifference. The price to pay is of course identity, belonging and confirmation but what is gained are forms of complexity that dissolve power and ownership, through which the individual spectator can gain experience of themselves and constitute themselves as forms of life.

 

A special thanks to Georg Döcker on whose genuine knowledge and research on practice based dance and performance this text relies.

Sherlock Holmes’ Violin

Why does Sherlock Holmes have to play the violin? Was he a simple music lover that wish for a position in the local symphony orchestra or was the violin a substitute of his absent mother etc. childhood trauma? Nah, it’s neither but the violin is crucial for Holmes activities and key to his ability to solve the craziest crimes. The violin is nothing more or less than a concept, a devise that the detective inserts in order to stop thinking and for indetermination to possibly emerge. It’s when he runs into a cul-de-sac that he needs the violin, to be able to see what can not be seen through the lens of reason, deduction, conclusion. He has to have it to defuse his gaze, to stop being human. It’s not that he wants to or could look at the world through the “eye” of the violin. Not at all, he just needs to vibe with the violin, let the violin transfer its agency without knowing to what end. A concept is a machine that carries with it the capacity to dislocate causality. This can only happen through an agency that is non-human.

It has too often been considered that Gilles Deleuze is a relational philosopher among other postmodern and poststructuralist thinkers. It’s evident that phenomenology and its continuation can not have it otherwise; the world is its relations and there is no founding moment or origin. Value is relational or relative. With Deleuze nothing could be more wrong. It is true that transformation is central to his work but becoming is not a transformation from one known to another known, nor from a know to and unknown – which also is knowable as absence. Instead becoming is a change from something to some thing – contingent change – which is to say from something that is inscribed in a web of relations to some thing which has no relation, where the lack of relations instead renders it being, but a being that is withdrawn. A different way of describing Deleuze becoming is, from reality to immanence, and in a way back again.

This fact has almost consistently been ignored by continental philosophy, critical theory and anything Marxist because it would undermine, although to some extent different but yet their fundamental premise. Poststructuralism simply had to insist on Deleuze as relational in order not to poop in its own shoes. Deleuze’s reasoning on the other hand was that only through insisting on immanence or potentiality could philosophy have anything to do with truth, although not as in consolidating truth but instead as in generating or producing truth, a truth that when colliding with reality, language or representation without exception dissolve into and/or are violated by any of those capacities, that in any case is the same. Curiously however, it is not truth that is incorporated into reality but the other way around. It is reality that needs to transform in order to generate compatibility with truth, because: nothing can or must exist within reality that is not inscribed in a web of relations. For something to be true, on the other hand, it cannot have relations, if it has each relations is different, and hence truth cannot be true. In order not to collapse reality will transform contingently in order to establish any or some kind of relations with truth, however the moment relation is established truth loses its being, is swallowed by language. Deleuze knows truth can not be established only generated. This makes him a productive rather than consolidating philosopher, but it also makes him a philosopher, aware of the problems of relations, that places faith in being, or perhaps better, in realism.

It goes without saying that for Deleuze truth cannot be produced, because production is always directional and known – it just doesn’t work to produce “I have absolutely no idea”. Deleuze however proposes that one under certain circumstances can produce the possibility of production, but there can obviously be no guarantee. This production of possibility can not be linear or probabilistic but must be contingent which is why Deleuze needs to introduce a capacity for the possibility to possibly happen. This capacity, which is not a tool as a tool always knows it destination, is known as a machinic assemblage, or a concept. A concept is an indetermination machine, which also must be indeterminate to itself

Knowledge is performative whereas being is not. Knowledge is relative whereas being is true.

What does it mean to produce knowledge, or what are the implications of knowledge production? To learn, or participate in a course has nothing to do with knowledge production, but means to possess established knowledge. Education is the opposite of knowledge production, there is no production going on at all, all the student does is to consume established packages of knowledge. Creative or artistic education is no exception.

For the notion knowledge production to have any bearing it must signify to make or create knowledge, knowledge that was previously not existing or possible. Consequently knowledge production at the end of the day means to bring something new into being, something that is and must not yet be knowledge.

It appears impossible to produce knowledge, as one can not through determination produce what one can not know. Therefore in order to produce knowledge a devise is needed. As we have understood this devise is known as a concept.

To engage in knowledge production is to attempt to engage in being. To engage in knowledge production implies to engage in the possibility of the production of truth. To engage in knowledge production further means to call out an agency foreign to humanity.

Now, how does this relate to art and aesthetic experience? Art is to a large extent connected to knowledge, but is not the same as aesthetic experience. The moment art is “only” knowledge it transforms into service and aesthetic experience is nullified. Knowledge is consistent, causal and continuous, it is reliable and ownable. Aesthetic experience or the encounter with art is something else, it is that that goes beyond reason, cognition and conclusion, it is to vibe with that violin or in other words the aesthetic experience is to be engaged by an agency that is non-human. Since non-human agency cannot be knowledge and therefore must be being; aesthetic experience is a productive encounter with truth. For aesthetic experience to possibly take place there is a need for devise, indeed an indetermination machine – a concept – both in respect of artistic production and experiencing or viewing art. The aesthetic experience implies an engagement with foreign agency, it is to engage in something that is not yet human, which is something to which no relation can be established yet it is there. That that is yet there is being and being is always alien.

Touched by Thruth

There is this cute story about how somebody really clever, it could have been Pierre Klossowski but it is also possible that it was Henri Michaux and that matters a lot but not right now, is asked when the paintings at the Louvre is at their best. Maybe on Saturdays because then there’s really a lot of people, or on Tuesdays with all the school classes or during September because then it’s a lot Japanese tourists and they are really attentive. The really clever person comes up with a very different and for me surprising response. “Well of course when the museum is closed, because the paintings can be themselves.

A wonderful response and a beautiful thought.

The answer can certainly be interpreted in many ways. Then, after closing, the animals, humans and things in the paintings don’t need to perform any more but can relax and just be paint on a canvas. Nor does the paintings themselves have to perform their historical position or value on markets. Another version is that only when the museum is closed, when the institutional framing is dislocated can the paintings be looked at properly, away from all the filters and conditions superimposed on the image. Fair enough but I think the sentence becomes something even more, perhaps sublime when read as then – when the museum is closed – then the paintings are released from human agency, they are no longer anthropomorphised, no longer objectified, but simply paintings and being that is to give the paintings their own agency, to render the paintings autonomy, the right to be paintings without looking back with a human face or confirming anthropomorphism.

 

There seems to exist a small misunderstanding in regard to what knowledge is in respect to truth and art. First, we know that since 1971 knowledge and truth has more or less nothing to do with each other. Knowledge in fact is the very opposite of truth. Something that one can have and gain knowledge about, something that can be taught, something that can be discussed and used can simply not also be true. To have knowledge about truth has nothing to do with truth. And what is true for you might not just be true to me. The moment when something can be known it simply can’t be true any more. Something that is true is one and undeniable, it is non negotiable and, most of all, it is itself.

 

Art is not knowledge. One can know things about art and the surroundings or art. Art historians, gallerists, curators and art lovers are all full of knowledge, but the knowledge is not the art but about everything surrounding it. Art’s job is not to inform or be useful on the contrary its job is to be useless and true. Yes, its job is to be true.

There however is a difference between the truth as in undeniable evidence that something fuckin small in universe is both and particle and a wave and something being true. Art or the encounter with art is not true as in undeniable evidence but there is truth in art.

 

The beauty of it all however is that the truth in art withdraws the moment one tries to grab or harvest it. The aesthetic encounter is an encounter with truth, or even better it is the experience of truth.

 

Knowledge is not truth, art is not knowledge and since it is not knowledge it can not not have Being and Being can not not be true. It goes without saying that Being withdraws the moment one tries to catch it, drag it into knowledge and make it human.

 

Drawing on Ian Bogost arguments in “Alien Phenomenology” we can conclude that art in order to not transform into knowledge or even reason must withdraw from anthropocentrism. Only when it is governed its own intelligence, contingent to humanity, can art fulfil its mission. Only when it is granted to be non-human can art be itself and true. It is just important to remember that art’s truth is not this or that truth, as we said before, it is an encounter with truth as truth, with truth itself and yet that experience carries the intensity to change the world.

 

Our problem however is that in comparison, all other art is piece of cake to make. An art true to itself is way more complicated to make, if make in any respect is adequate. It cannot be made as we humans only can make what humans can fathom and imagine. Instead we must develop conceptual tools or rather tools or machines that are concepts. But concept is not the same as conceptual on the contrary a concept is a machine that generates indetermination or contingent experiences.

 

Let’s face it, we can’t do art any more to free ourselves (if we ever could) no, but perhaps we can reverse the sentence. Today our job as artists is to free art from us, to allow it to not be human but itself.

I’m certainly not advocating for closing museums but I am for an art that is fully indifferent to the museums opening hours. I am for an art that is granted its own intelligence and an intelligence to which I have absolutely no access, and still there I am mesmerised, blown away, speechless, overwhelmed, touched by truth itself.

Pet or Independent

A few hundred years ago due to some mix up of terminology and God somebody came up with the idea that all creatures are equally in the world. Flies, cows and humans are not more or less, we are after all all God’s creation. Easy life until a local farmer decided to press charges against the grasshoppers that had eaten his crops. When the grasshoppers didn’t show up at court they were granted an attorney in their absence. It seems the attorney wasn’t that smart because he lost the case for the grasshoppers who were made pay quite a sum of money. Shit happens when agency is mixed up.

In “Alien Phenomenology” the philosopher and game designer Ian Bogost proposes an interesting view on AI. Bogost might be one of those how identify with triple O so evidently there is something about objects here, but rather than having objects withdraw and make things complicated he uses triple O to charge objects with agency. This agency however has nothing to do with human agency or with anything anthropocentric hence humans can have absolutely no idea about how, if, under what circumstances, when, perhaps already and right now this or these agencies can gain traction and provoke something in the universe, perhaps also resonating into the human realm. In other words the agency of object is contingent to what is human, or simpler it’s just non of our business. There is no use in trying to figure out what this or that agency is since every attempt will anthropomorphise it and make it however vague never the less human. Yet, if we just manage to stop trying there are possible forms of transfer between humans and other capacities in the world, also innate. Such transfers could perhaps be said to be qua potentiality and therefore immeasurable, contingent and, with a bit of aiming from the hip, perhaps metaphysical. A crux is further that this form of possible transfer must be indifferent, or in any respect useful because the moment it lands some kind of value it has gone through a process of actualisation and is not potentiality any more. Add to that, that the transfer obviously also is non-relational, for the very same reason.

Bogost goes on proposing that AI is already happening independently of human attempts. It is futile to think about if humans via computers can create intelligence that bypass us. Of course it’s possible, but it is never the less only “human” intelligence, even if self-generated by the AI. It is human intelligence because we can recognise it. What is more interesting to ponder is the possibility, and this is Bogost argument, that intelligence is created and consolidated independently of human, so to say in the motherboards, between the circuits, along those millions of cables, all the way to my keyboard or and so on. This is the real deal, and the intelligence we should both fear and cherish exactly because it is happening contingently to humans and is completely indifferent to us, the world and so on. There are according to Bogost then two kinds of AI; man made that can be scary because it might take command and enslave us, “Planets of The Ape” style, and intelligence that is radically independent to humanity, which in ways are much more frightening because it might just wipe all of us out not even knowing about it, totally unaware and without warning. An intelligence that is carried by its own agency.

AI is often posed as a threat. Popular culture is full of AI ding-dongs called HAL, Ava, Kevin Spacey or Michael Fassbender who failsafe is deep Satan underneath their silk sweet voices. AI is taking over and if needed it will take us out, wipe us off the table and have dinner with another bunch of heartless pragmatics.

But something started to change, perhaps with Samantha – Scarlet J so good – in “Her” and it seems that cute versions of AI currently is invading the art world and its AI that’s so human it’s disgusting. In gallery spaces all over the place AI is something slightly incomprehensible yet sweet and adorable passed on to the viewer through a nice high-res display. AI has turned away from HAL and become a pet, a nice one that you can establish a kind of Tamagotchi relationship with. Why in the first place does AI gain any kind of representation. I want AI to be abstract just for starters and why do these representations roll around like a bunch of heart breaking animations somewhere between an accordion and a mole. It’s not right and if they learn anything it’s generated through algorithms which means approximately as complex an AI as a google search.

Of course it’s great that art keeps up with it’s time and technical innovation. It’s a must and in ways it can’t avoid it anyway but why embrace AI and VR today with such benevolence and naïveté. First of all because it’s a better investment. I mean why go for individual collectors when you can sell a piece to a corporation. But what about if it indeed is strategic. When AI has already invaded our lives, more or less shady and without us knowing about it, that the corporate world wants to promote an image of AI as exactly that and when connected to the creative and artistic that’s just added value. Used by artists AI becomes part of a world that’s attractive, that’s rich and global and yet it proposes itself as individual, unique, open minded and innovative. The more pet like representations AI gain the better not least in order to avoid a kind of uncanny valley of the mind. If AI becomes too human it might get rejected but everybody likes a kitten.

This never mind is whatever and fine, but the moment when AI is made human and friendly, when it’s gestures can be read as intimacy, care, frustration or any other human like responses, as we know it loses its independent agency and becomes useful like an immersion blender, which means that it is “granted” agency, human agency. If we instead were to follow Bogost argument and work on AI as an intelligence independent from humans, i.e. as autonomous and carried by its own agency – that is not geared through representation but through intelligence – which appears to be abstract or if not at least slippery in respect of representation – wouldn’t that as experience or encounter coincide with the aesthetic experience or an encounter with art. And that experience, because it must be indifferent to itself and its relations, equals that form of transfer to which knowledge is useless and to which our only response is awe or a sense of being overwhelmed. Aesthetic experience is perhaps not so far from an encounter with AI, it is to be touched by an intelligence that is felt and yet absolutely foreign.

When Are You Finished

“You’ve done it Pollock. You’ve cracked it wide open.” One of the best Hollywood scenes ever; when Marcia Gay Harden as Lee Krasner celebrates her husband Pollock’s breakthrough drop painting. And it gets even better, the scene and the film knowing that Ed Harris who plays Pollock also directed the film. That’s an ego.

But Hollywood isn’t particularly, just a bit over the top because isn’t more or less all western history writing applying the same strategies, celebrating male white subjectivity, genius and the moment when it happens – when Ed Harris slash Pollock stumbles on drop painting. Amazing.

Exactly, everything in western history is individual men that stumble over stuff and kind of become genius through the stumbling. There were never no team work, maybe it was Lee who figured it but didn’t bother to you know, or networks of circumstances, dialogue, conversation, study. Nope it’s always a stroke of genius.

It goes without saying that the cult of genius is not eternal but rather the consequence of circumstances, such as the understanding of individual property, a societies relation to progress etc. In short capitalism needs geniuses so let’s make some and let’s make some of the right kind so that power relations are maintained. In fact the genius often seems to suffer more than anything else. Pretty much expectations on a genius, right. The ones to questions is rather the institutions and powers that choose and maintain the status of all those geniuses.

When it comes to art, it’s just great to read all these stories of lonely men in their studios, painting or composing symphonies in gloves because the money is gone and the logs for the fire place too. But we all know that these stories are fabrications and even if there is some truth to them – that the winter of 1947 was really cold or whatever – the reasons for why painting, and everything else, ended up where it did had much more to do with how capitalism understands progress, the saturation of markets, the distribution of power and wealth and other fairly simply things to analyse and detect.

If we agree on that capitalism’s first dictum is expansion at any price it can not be otherwise concerning art. The lineage from the break with figurative painting up until today is nothing different than the linage in any other business. Before the introduction of republic and bourgeoisie culture there could exist no secondary market for painting, hence no gallerists. Before the introduction of republic and the end of aristocratic society the conditions for progress in painting or any other art was entirely otherwise. As a matter of fact change was not appreciated so the successful painter was obliged to paint in accord to his master, maintaining traditions and hence feudal values. So, it wasn’t Pollock that invented anything at all, it was capitalism that needed it happen and Pollock was lucky enough to stand in the way. The history of painting, the history of art is not a history of male genius, it’s the history of capitalism – case study version.

In lieu of this what is key is to alternatively break new territory or push boundaries and consolidate one’s position on a market. But mind you, if you push to bad you might just fall of established markets and become obsolete or excluded by markets because your proposal will deflate the markets diverse interests. The successful 20s century artist was the one that could master the balance between expansion and consolidation. Cynical definitely and perhaps that’s why the story is told differently. Heroic is not much better but better than cynical. It’s also a little bit sad to resign to that that, say the war on representation was not a matter of ideals, devotion or conviction, but more or less a strategic battle to be part of the show.

Of course it’s not this easy but pretty much. It’s conventionally understood that abstraction was a “logical” step in the history of painting. I just had to happen, all the rest was exhausted and in order to captures paintings “being” it was necessary to get rid of figurations, depiction etc. But what about if there was another reason, one that couldn’t be voices. Isn’t it equally possible that painters or whatever artists, especially in American after WWII had they decided to paint, so to say ”their story” their destiny would have been exodus and poverty. From a certain perspective abstraction was a heroic battle with conventions around representation but from another perhaps a smoke screen that was there to masquerade the artist’s subject, political position, sexuality, you name it. Abstraction in the 50’s was a solution of getting away with identifying as a communist, something that could be “in” the painting but must not be represented. Questions then opens to both what abstraction in painting today is and what it does, in other words to both its actual and relation values.

 

Never the less, when examining the modernism’s battles around representation it is remarkable to what extent these are specific battles largely concerned with making sure that the battles stays in the museum or gallery world, perhaps with an open door but never far away enough to not hear the murmur from the crowd. It is largely a battle in respect of what is in the painting, from painting as a mimetic practice towards something that only reference itself, i.e. has no value outside itself as itself. Modernism’s painting in this respect was a non-relational art. It is from this vantage point we should understand “in the eye of the beholder” because what you experience in front of an artwork that reference itself is yourself experiencing experience, a self-referential experience.

 

Reflecting briefly about abstract tendencies in contemporary painting it is tempting to interpret these attempts as a continuation – critical or benevolent/admiring, stupid or uber-clever etc. – but what about if it is all reversed. Abstraction today can and is of course just a matter of economy but I believe it’s neither – at least very rarely – a matter of questioning or modifying representation nor about a withdrawal in respect of some kind of smoke screen. No, the question is if abstraction at all is abstraction or if it just looks like it. To me it seems that painting today to a large extent has left abstraction behind and somehow degraded into a mimetic relation to the image. The crux is just that it is a mimetic relation not in respect of what is “in” the image, what you can see. But it is a matter of miming phenomena.

A painting or in fact any or most kinds of art works can appear or look abstract but in fact are mimetic, because what is mimed is not what you see but in respect of what you experience. Today painting mime experience, in particular experiences that are contemporary and satisfying for a contemporary liberal individualised subject. Painting mime the experience of being on Facebook, browsing the internet, playing computer games, swiping or shopping on Ebay, and it’s congenial because at the same time as I contemplate an abstract paintings I get the rush from posting an image on Instagram, winning an auction on Ebay or getting to a new level of some game. Similarly, when we today, if we do, talk about networked painting it’s certainly nothing critical but just another method to make the viewer feel as connected in gallery as when on the phone.

In that movie a journalist asks, “How do you know when you are finished with a painting?” and Ed Harris answers: “How do you know when you are finished making love?” I don’t know how to paraphrase that one, but western narratives around genius has certainly not ceased and following a sort of equalisation and interchangeability of everything there is no battles around representation to fight, nor between mimetic and abstraction. I might just be that abstraction is key never the less, but not due representation, but in order to generate experiences that isn’t connected, instrumental, ethical, political and economical but instead just that, to generate just an experience.

A Time Passed

Somebody proposes, and means it, that an artwork that cannot be understood and grasped under three seconds is rubbish. Somebody said that recently.

A car that doesn’t start in three seconds is neither very good. There is a difference however. After the three seconds it takes to start the car you go somewhere, maybe on an adventure. When it comes to artworks after three seconds you slide you gaze to the next piece, and go no where.

One of the best movie scenes ever when the three protagonists in “Bande à part” run through the Louvre in less then nine minutes. Smashing.

Only a socio-cultural context propelled by a performative regime can come to the conclusion that an artwork’s relevance decreases second by second after three. And only a context that mistake art for information can come up with something so clumsy and counterproductive in respect of the specificity and intrinsic value of art.

Although the deflation of indexical value, the exorcism of truth and the introduction of postmodern perspectives were all hunky dory and in many ways necessary it came with a price. When language took centre stage, supported by some vague kind of phenomenology everything’s attention turned to relations. And from attention the focus on relations has turned into obsession, first through identity politics but more recently boosted by both Latour and in the US by thinkers such as Haraway and Barad. Relations is everything and the more dynamic the better and everything things and objects are bad or dismissed as commodities. Although Nicolas Bourriaud made an attempt in his 1998 “Relational Aesthetics” it is obvious that the harsh attacks the books gained were shadowing an interest in commodifying relations, making them matters of affordance and investment.

Never mind since the late 60s we have experienced a deep asymmetry between what something is and what it’s effects are, which is to say a shift from being to knowledge, but since when was art a matter of knowledge in the first place. Never!

In any case this passage from being to knowledge, from things to relations further implies two things, first that aesthetics was replaced by spectacle, we could also say contemplation was swopped for admiration (not rarely monetary), and second that something laid out was exchanged for layout, or one thing after the other was replaced by coherence, or even worse dramaturgy.

Isn’t it embarrassing to hear visual artist claim their work to be time based. Really, and btw are you proud of it, dumbass. To define your art as time based is to pronounce that it has no value in itself but is the sum of its relations and on top to that spectacle. It’s not brave to announce one’s work as performative or time based, it’s to chicken out and escape both the possible consequences of announcing something actual – relational has no grounding but are always negotiatied -, something undeniable, but it is also to give up on the possibility of aesthetic experience as something relational simply cannot be contemplated (in the first place) and certainly not, which since Kant has been imperative – contemplated without interest.

Zooming out a little it’s easy to detect how this shift correlates with the shift form discipline- to control-society. Which is neither good or bad but as the name proposes control-society will by all means destroy any attempt to aesthetic appreciation or experience as these are phenomena that require a moment of sliding at least through if not out of control. Discipline is laid out whereas control always has layout. Something that has layout is relational and hierarchical, whereas discipline consist of strong entities that not necessarily are connected or in any way comprehensive at all. As semiotics would have it, discipline has strong entities and weak relations whereas control has weak entities and strong relations.

Dramaturgy is more or less a matter of managing intensity over time, it is a matter of controlling some kind of dynamic and making it efficient. One could say that dramaturgy is like a guide that through a play with dynamics, speed, placement etc. manage attention. Good dramaturgy is good in manipulating the viewers attention, and we know that this is again a matter of investment and affordance. Another way of announcing this would be to say, and this is a bit low res, that dramaturgy is controls soft versions of totalitarianism. It’s just a totalitarianism that you can’t really feel and more over that you can’t revolt against.

Sometimes it is proposed that theatre is totalitarian and exhibitions spaces where people can wonder freely around is not, which is to say they are liberal. Ouch. It’s nice to think about how one converse and look at art, spend time in front of something and make one’s own choices. Bullshit of course but at least it’s the illusion of personal choice.

But when visual art starts to talk about dramaturgy and conceive of exhibitions in respect of dramaturgy – at least considering a slightly more elaborate idea about dramaturgy. Because what dramaturgy does is indeed to confiscate the openness and chanceness that the museum room carries, carries in so matter that encounters and ways of navigating is minimally monitored and controlled.

And to us museum visitors please let’s not ask for relations, correlations or guidance. Instead let’s be brave enough to submit to a discipline of things and object between which it is up to us to create relations or not, because we can also just lean back and let time pass, unmanaged.

Art Is Not Information

There is this story about a painting in some museum in St. Petersburg. The paintings portraits the master-saloon of Lenin’s summer house whatever that’s called dacha, but there is also Lenin’s wife together with a handful of big shots from the revolutionary government all engaged in group sex. Nothing graphic but still without doubt an orgy. An American tourist looks at the paintings. Reads the wall text “Lenin in Moscow” and steps back again, now inspecting and inspecting again. Sherlock-expression but still confused. The tourist, a guy from Boston perhaps, now walks up to the guard – bored as usually – makes an attempt to communicate and when the guard has, asks: “But ehh where is Lenin?” and the guard responds with a smile “In Moscow”.

Maybe now they have taken down the painting. Although this one is rather sad it’s always slightly comical with these kinds of semiotic glitches, but what both the American and the guard is missing out is how they both transform the painting into a set of information. Or that they together transform the paintings from art to culture. In a way they close the painting which now becomes subject to an entirely new regime of judgements. Did the painting communicate what it intended in a positive, clear and efficient way? More over is this an information that we consider valuable and positive for the community that visit the museum or should the painting be taken away because what it communicates is inappropriate?

Art is not information and it must not be. Think about it. An art that informs? Why on earth would I go to a museum to look at mostly square flat things hanging on the walls if their purpose was to inform or enlighten me? More over if that was the purpose what would the difference between an actual Daniel Buren and a reproduction be? Or, wouldn’t that make Isa Genzken total shit. Barbara Kruger too, not to mention, well all the good ones.

If art was a matter of information nine out of ten artists should probably just get a haircut and another job.

If art was a matter of information how would we consider contemporary chamber music or the work by e.g. Steve Reich.

Information is always directional, it tells us something and should be doing it well. Information is not seldom a matter of prohibition, from gendered toilets to no trespassing or worse. Information makes the world smaller. A toilet door with out a sign is, so to say richer than one with. An empty space on the ground floor is an opportunity until there’s a sign informing the world that KFC is moving in. Cock.

Art has another job. Instead of diminishing what something can be isn’t its job to augment what is possible, what something can become. Information in this sense coagulates whereas art is more like turpentine – it’s job is to make something thinner and even better unclear, vague, dynamic and unpredictable. One thing is for sure information was never meant to make you dream away and trip. I mean who reads the New York Time in Berghain, when you can take MDMA and look at something nice Wolfgang Tillmans.

Next chapter. Information is there to make sense and be useful. Arts job can not be to either or. Sometimes art mesmerises me and I fall for it heads over heel. I tell you information nah, I never found myself contemplating a piece of information. Sorry. It goes without saying that art should keep away from anything useful. And again, simple differences, information is good for what it makes clear not in itself – there is no intrinsic value to speak of -, with art the situation is reversed, art is not good due what use it conveys but due itself. At least me, I look at art because what it is not what it does.

Now, there is a complex differentiation to make, which in a way is what is in the e.g. painting and an art works context and surrounding, actual and symbolic. Here Roland Barthes essay “The Death of the Author” proposed something prominent as the authors death also meant that we should check out the art not the authors biography, identity and background – for art critique this was central – but one can also read Barthes from the other end as consider that when the “genius” dies then there is only context, identity and background. And it’s of course great, okay and wonderful to be informed about something through art but that’s not the art.

Isn’t the worst in the world exhibitions that tries to educate its audience about something urgent. If it’s a matter of learning something about the art and the artist almost fine but art historical rigor is a very different thing than a group show that wish to enlighten the viewer about the social situation so and so. And who is the artist, who inscribed in the art world always capitalise on suffering, no matter what. I want to learn a lot about social situations and so much more but if it’s about learning is the museum, concert hall or theatre stage the place to learn? Wouldn’t it be better if we sat down and talked about it and skipped the art part or the aesthetic all the way? Because this is the worst right, art that wants to inform but package information a little bit poetic. Djzouz, oh yes I can totally support that information and knowledge often is strongly inscribed in western determination but we don’t overcome that through packing western knowledge with colourful poetics.

Art’s job is not the same as the job of an institution.

Nor is art’s job the same as the artist’s and they shouldn’t be mixed up. The person the artist is obviously responsible for the world like any other person. But her art can not be accountable for saving or not the world. Art’s job is to be good art not a service for somebody/thing else’s struggle. How an artist is accountable for his or her work is a hard nut and ambiguous but it is definitely of importance to step away from a causality between the artist and the work. If so, artist could possibly only make nice and good art with friendly people and sympathy. But non of this doesn’t say that the artist is not also the person making decisions and deciding if or not something should be shown for an audience.

It’s heart breaking to over and over again experience how art is made into culture, how art is made into information and service, and how art, exhibitions and even the experience of art and an exhibition should be useful. Consider that you exit the Venice Biennale and some fonctionnaire pushes a questionnaire in your face: In what ways was the exhibition useful for you? In what ways has it increased your knowledge about… exactly what is supposed to happen then, about what.

Even more, if art is a matter of information who is to decided what is good or bad information? Maybe the artist will have to call the government or an oracle or so to find out? If art hooks up with information it becomes a service. In other words its the artists goddamn obligation to refuse to inform and insist on art, only then can art reclaim an autonomy, an autonomy that carries with it the potentiality to change the world completely.