Gnomes and Trolls

In the beginning of the last century the Swedish artist John Bauer created a large series of illustrations to accompany stories for slightly bigger children. These books that were published on a yearly basis for quite some time were called “Amongst Gnomes and Trolls” and Bauer illustrated them in a Nordic jugend style full of mystery with stones that come alive, trees that run around, princess, mousse and moosse and lakes amazingly clear. They are fantastic.

It has been told that Edvard Munch from time to time left paintings that didn’t come out right in the nature. Who know in the forest behind his summer house, deep into the Norwegian wilderness, beyond people and civilisation or something. I’ve hear both that he was convinced that the paintings would ripen and find themselves before he could start working on them again and, alternatively that he punished the paintings to sit around in the bush for a bunch of weeks, scared shitless leaning against some ancient tree with moss and weird creatures.

One can basically consider two meanings to the word speculation. Either as in the stock market where one speculates on ups and down, movements within given frameworks. Speculation on the stock market is based on probability. Something moves up, something else goes down, we win if we can predict probability. Difficult but not impossible. Another understanding is, perhaps one could say philosophical. Speculate here is the opposite of projections which is all about estimating the future based on what is already possible. Speculation implies, the somewhat impossible project, to elaborate e.g. the future without grounding it in what is or can be known. This is a form of speculation that bypasses probability in favour of contingency. Evidently one can not predict a result but have to suffice with whatever it is concerning speculation.

Speculation on the stock markets is not exactly rational but a matter of having overview, information and people that creates watertight algorithms. Sharp tools make mucho dollares. Philosophical speculation on the other hand can not be set out through reason or any tools that – which all tools have in common – knows its job. The first obstacle indeed is to bypass or unhinge reason, history, probability, desire, hierarchies, patriarchy, fish, gravity so on and forth. There is only one tool that has the capacity to do this – and it comes with restrictions. This tool, that Deleuze and Guattari made so popular already in the 1970s (just kidding), is know as a concept.

This difference is important; speculation in regard of probability or speculation vis-à-vis contingency. The point has been made before, it is obvious that speculation on the stock market remains in the realm of the possible. You make more or less much money, but never more than that, it all stays with in the reasonable and makes total sense. The second kind of speculation which has nothing to do with money (or rarely) moves beyond the logical, causal and reasonable and into contingency which we can also name immanence or potentiality. It is not so tricky to figure out that speculation version one is both epistemological and performative, whereas the second, if not actually so at least close enough, is ontological and non-performative. Add to that one equals relational and two is non-relational or in other words singular.

One should however keep in mind that just because something crosses paths with potentiality it doesn’t mean that what comes out is absolutely crazy, fucked up, amazing, weird or the solution to everything and a bit more. Pas de tout it just means that that is also possible and that that it is is already enough of a promise, at least for some. Perhaps for, at least according to Deleuze and Guattari, scientists, philosophers and artists.

In parentheses potentiality is also a word that can have two more or less connotations. On the one hand it has turned into to more or less mean possibility. A football coach or gallerist can say “that kid has great potentiality” which means, worth investing in which already is fully inscribed in probability. On the other, the philosophical meaning of potentiality. Here, depending to an extent what philosopher one speaks to, potentiality instead can be described as the realm beyond, not just what is possible but also beyond what is not possible, i.e. to a realm beyond knowledge, signification, language and etc. Or if possibility is imagination, and unimaginable is the impossible, then potentiality is that that that we can’t even imagine imagining. Yet, only potentiality can change something, the world, universe or the subject in ways that is not already predictable, possible, manageable, measurable or probable. Full pêle-mêle so to say, but that that it is is already enough of a promise, at least for some. The first version points only to difference in degree whereas the second promises difference in kind.

A concept can be said to be a tool, but perhaps better a machine. There are two kinds of machines. Machines, such as a toaster that knows its job and does it well. A toaster is good when it produces toast with strong determination. No matter what you put in it should come back up again with a different colour. Most machines, or all of them operate in relation to determination, they are reliable and that is most of the time good. But, and obviously a concept is the second kind of machine. It is a machine that produces indetermination, i.e. to which the outcome is contingent. There is a catch though, which is that there must be no determination to the indetermination neither, therefore it’s not just the result that is indeterminable but also the machine itself. Toasters are easy to build whereas concepts are motherfuckers to construct and you have no idea if they’ll work or not until it’s too late, and then what the hell they worked for or against. Concepts are machines you can’t know what they are good for.

Unfortunately concept is often used as a way of defining. The concept of this or that is this or that. The concept of e.g. determination is and a compressed explanation or even worse, formulations such as “in this paper I intend to unpack the concept of”, help me. But equally often – and that’s where concepts, thinking or working with concept is interesting and vital for e.g. art – concept refers to a specific kind of machine.

More confusion. Conceptual has a lot to do with the first, unfortunate, version of understanding concept and very little or nothing at all to do with concept as in a machine that generates the possibility of indetermination. Conceptual in art, especially first generation, has rather to do with displaying concepts (first unfortunate version), or one could say translating concepts from text to some kind of visual representation. Joseph Kosuth’s work is a prime example but also more recent artists but we perhaps recognise them more as smart-ass than conceptual. Never mind in today’s art world it appears that conceptual is an art that appels to cognition rather than emotions or energy. In fact conceptual is just something one adds in the end to seem a bit more deep.

What about an art that forgets the conceptual and instead is a concept? No to conceptual art and yes to concept art. An art to which there is no good or bad interpretation, no answers or smart-assness, no cynicism or institutional critique but where the engagement with the work is the engagement with a machine that so to say incorporates the viewer in favour of an indeterminate production, of contingency and the possibility of potentiality.

Now the question is, who do you want to be John Bauer or Edvard Munch. Obviously non of them but it seems obvious that Bauer just used his imagination and fantasised a bit whereas Munch in some or other way placed a kind of agency in the paintings themselves. In the most elementary and naïve way but didn’t Munch pass the paintings on to themselves, he introduced them to the indetemination of nature. ‘

It’s kind of cute to think about how when Bauer made paintings with gnomes and trolls in them, that Munch instead placed his paintings in the forest to spend some time with those gnomes and trolls. Sometimes gnomes and trolls is all you need for a brill concept.

More Performativity

In a world where identity is performative it becomes the responsibility of the individual to iterate identity. Every aspect of a person, every action, thought, modes of navigation and so on becomes part of a process to coagulate a seemingly continuous identity however we know that every moment implies a slight yet re-iteration of how the individual is forming relations to the world. Within a performative regime where language is groundless or have no foundation identity becomes a matter of affording and/or investing in yourself as yourself. Here identity is not just a matter of politics, more importantly it becomes a matter of economy. Your identity is private and can be owned like any other something in the world.

Since 1990 your identity has become a commodity like any other, and it is your most important asset. As we all know what you sell is ultimately your identity.

Some identities are valuable others economically uninteresting and hence packaged away or just stored in the lost and found bin. Your identity, if you are not one of those packaged away, doesn’t just need maintenance, it also need protection, both digitally and in the physical world. Your identity needs surveillance.

The price to pay for an identity that is understood as performative is a paranoid world where each and everybody constantly looks after and surveilles the position of her identity. The problem is not so much if your identity gets stolen or hacked, but what is a problem is that somebody or everybody can want to appropriate your identity, attack it due some sort of power, capitalise on it for some reason or use information to tailor campaigns, trolls, commercials and that’s what we know. More over you always run the risk of losing the precious identity that you have invested in with a single wrong move, any utterance can be used against you and in today’s world it is fairly easy to be disqualified and dismissed. And you know, we all know, that it doesn’t matter what you did or didn’t there is anyway no ground to what is right or wrong, only lobby and economy.

When Nixon sold out gold standard and Derrida language in 1971. What happened is that they disqualified any form of prominent stability – one of them and important was ideology. After 1971 there is only one ideology which an ideology of lack, lack of conviction and it’s nobody’s fault. It can be in no other way in a world that is governed by an understanding that all value is performative and has no grounding, no origin, no reasons to not change. But as nothing in this world is fixed things are even better or worse, because without fix points how can be know or verify change. It’s all floating Boss.

Ideology can perhaps be defined as “under no circumstances” or “over my dead body”, no fuckin way, and this is a matter or principles, no matter what. Politics on the other hand is the very absence of permanence and instead we have negotiation, and the only thing that must not happen is that we agree, that we reach a point of grounding, of settlement or index. A definition of politics might be “under these circumstances it is necessary to…” or “in this situation it has become important to…”. Ideology is stable, static, long term, grounded and heavy handed whereas politics is the exact opposite: unstable, dynamic, short term, floating and easy going. Most of all politics is performative and as long as it is it certainly has no substance, it cannot have.

A world formulated around performativity is in many ways great but we should remember that is not only good but comes with a lot of darkness, and one of the darkest ones is called paranoia. Paranoia prompts fear, the building of walls and proprietary views of the world. In a world governed by performativity we will all tip toe acting as saturated airs of Bartleby. I rather not since whatever I do can and will be used against me. Temporarily it might be the case but in the long run, performativity dis-empowers.

Performativity with its relations to phenomenology and postmodern or post-structuralist thought proposes that everything in the world, in reality or within symbolic order if you like, does not “exist” in itself but we can only access its representations. Things soft or hard, physical are not “real”exist only as the sum of its relations in the world. This is our lucky day because had it been otherwise, could we have a direct relation to thing in themselves transformation would be impossible, and with that movement, time, dynamics, change. Something cannot not have relations and, however impossible, something without relations simple doesn’t exist. Evidently relation doesn’t mean to be friendly and engage in water cooler chats although it’s a real good show, it simply means that there is the possibility for some or other cohesion, or transfer.

An interesting question is what happens to imagination in a or our performative regime. One possibility is that imagination simply vanished because the very idea of imagination is that it is ruled by totally fuzzy logics, impossible impossibilities, by non-relations, indetermination and contingency but such stuff cannot exist in our current regime as that would tear down the entire system in so much that some thing can exist without relations, at least to some degree at some point or moment. Another option is that we indeed fear imagination because it has this inscription of being unfaithful and contingent and who wants to end up contingently some where else? Scary shit and instead it seems that our current regime’s capitalism plus provides us with tools that perform the illusion of imagination but the safe version, from retreat centres to computer games, from an afternoon in the spa or tarot reading, care practices (at least too many), pilates and nameless forms of escapism, but it is never imagination. Animated Hollywood movies is perhaps a good example for how something that was created to stimulate imagination today has become so extremely saturated that there is no space for imagination left. Everything is delivered so that I don’t need to feel haunted but instead sconsume properly and certainly don’t imagine.

What is the place of art in a world that look and operates like this one? With a bit of pushing and pulling one could say that performativity undid art. In this world there is no place for art, there is no place for contemplation because what art does is to open up for the possibility of losing oneself – it is a letting go of the subject and identity, and that would be deep torture for a contemporary identity. In this world art has transformed into information, efficiency and participation, when in fact what we need is contemplation, uselessness and the promise of spaces where performativity is disqualified. Art’s job is not to make friends but instead to insist on the possibility of autonomy.


Some Thing, Not Good or Bad For Something

For Emma-Louise

Across the street two guys are standing around smoking cigarettes and doing what guys do. It’s rather unpleasant not least because they are doing what guys are doing, which already occupies space and in a somewhat aggressive way. One of them has had the brilliant idea of bringing his portable Bluetooth ready loudspeaker to which his smart phone is connected. It’s really great with Bluetooth and loudspeakers are one of the more extra cool innovations. Great, but it is pretty much irritating that loudspeakers lately have turned into something people, i.e. men carry with them to accompany cigarette smoking and doing what guys do. All of that is quite crappy but what makes this irritating is, however just a street corner or pavement, how these loudspeakers rearrange public space. Because also a street corner is public space and not to under estimate, but with the loudspeaker dudes those spaces are made private, perhaps just temporary but even so transformed from environment to territory. From smooth to striated, authorizing only certain kinds of behaviour and tagging the space with signs of ownership not just loudspeakers but also through other means of communication and code.

Perhaps one could say that my street corner has turned from being just a street corner to become a stage. In a way cute and something one should appreciate but really isn’t this a slight problem in our times that the world to a larger and larger extent has turned into a stage. Not in a Shakespearian way which rather proposes that we are all part of some grand narrative that can’t be escaped, it’s inevitable and not so far from faith. Today the stage is another one where each and all of us are responsible to perform ourselves successfully. Shakespeare’s stage one could say was public whereas today the stage has turned into private space, where destiny and faith has been swopped for affordance and investment. What happened on Shakespeare’s stage was happening but was not performative, today however even if something is not happening it is always performative. There is an important differentiation to be made: just because something is performed, in the sense of carried out, it doesn’t by necessity mean that it is performative. And the other way around, the moment something is in the world it cannot not be performative.

A human being performs being a human being, she carries out being a human being, but that doesn’t mean that being a human being is performative. On the other hand being a human being is always performing something into the world, in the sense of meaning or signification, and that is always performative.

Same thing with a painting. A painting carries out being a painting but isn’t not therefore performative, but as a painting always performs something into the world it is always performative, or is carried by some kind of performativity. A painting is not by itself private, as an object it rather withdraws from becoming private as that in ways render it subject, but the moment when viewed from the perspective of performing something into the world it cannot not be private.

As long as something is public it can become anything, the public is open and, although not unconditionally, allows what is public to be, become and not whatever. One could say that in public some thing doesn’t need to be something. The moment something becomes private, or leave the public sphere, it automatically and by necessity become this or that and not anything or whatever. In the private sphere something cannot not be something and is never just some thing. Consequently, as long as something is some thing it cannot be held responsible. Only something can be accountable as some thing is that that slips through naming or so to say being located. But to the same extent as some thing can not be accountable it can also not be owned and therefore not used strategically. On the other hand, as long as something is something, private and ownable, it can only  and always be used strategically. Said differently what is public is amazing because it is not good or bad for something which is exactly what is the tragedy of the private; in the private something is always good or bad for something and as long as it is it’s not something else or ambiguous.

The public carries with it the promise of not being performative but just performed, carried out, whereas the private is always or whatever is there is always performative and as long as it is it is always less, less than itself as some thing, less than it self in any respect exactly because it is named.

Performative is nothing good. And it is not something that something can be more or less. For some thing to be something, or to be in the world or reality, it cannot be performative. Performative is not like a colour, more or less red or blue. It is a condition that a certain understanding of the world makes inevitable.

As long as we view the world through an urgency of giving things soft or hard, more or less tangible identity this world has no other spaces than private. Here, in the private, everything is owned and ownable and what carries the world is investment and affordance. That might be irritating like the loudspeaker men in the street corner, but really what is a tragedy is what this way of viewing the world – through the lense of performarivity – or if you like a world to which we have access only through language – is doing and has done to imagination. The moment when imagination turns private one can only imagine this or that – what already can be imagined and as long as it is something. Public space or the public, might not or is definitely not a safe space, but it is a space where imagination is prominently free, where some thing can still be and remain some thing. An art addicted to performativity is petty – good or bad for something, private and ownable – whereas an art that insist on being public is an art that carries with it the promise of contingency.


Private Art

“Tell me love isn’t true/It’s just something that we do” sang Madonna in 2000. At that time it felt cool – cynical enough, smart ass enough, apathetic enough. But shit what a tragedy, if love is just something that we do then it’s all a matter of calculation, measurability and economy. In Madonna’s 2000 universe love has turned to nothing more or less than a decision, something we put on or off like a coat or maybe a diet. I’m vegan. Or if love is something that we do it’s turned into negotiation, investment and affordance. In 2000 love ended up being economy one o one.

Roland Barthes was a little earlier than Madonna: You fall in love, you fall out of love, you recover from love and you fall in love again. Holy Moses what a horrible thing to say, love is just something that we do and the last part again is really really sad. Again proposes another one or more of the same and the the book closes with the insight that love is comparable, measurable and simply different in degree, business as usual. There is nothing special with this love and there is certainly no singularity to love.


But why, why such a mediocre understanding of love? Well, for anybody who proposes the death of the author and the end of essence and authenticity it’s evident that not even love is allowed to transgress language and have anything to do with magic, blown away or overwhelmed. For Madonna it might be the other way around and that the song rather proposes, if I just convince myself that love is something that we do, it means I can’t really have a problem or be heart broken. It’s just reasons anyway.


If postmodernism and its entourage was keen on letting us know that language is the capacity with which we have access to the world nothing must bypass language and hence love must be degraded to something that we do, causality and reason. The other way around, since love is something that we do, that is negotiated, one can also be held accountable for one’s actions, for one’s love.


What about swopping love for art. “Tell me art isn’t true/it’s just something that we do”. Well, in fact perhaps art councils and venues, museums and commissioned should consider the sentence, because if art is just something that we do it goes with out saying that making art is something one also gets paid for. But then again if art is just something that we do, how come some of it is just valued so much higher – monetary or symbolic – and if art is just something that we do it would be difficult to argue anything about originality. If love is just something that we do wouldn’t that mean that if there were a shortage one could also be ok with second best. Like, I really prefer Volvo but what the heck if you only have Volkswagen that’s also o’rite. Or, if there’s no Ad Reinhardt around I’m ok with that black wall.


As has been mentioned, if postmodernism claim language to be how we access the world it can simply not allow art to be something else, art can’t be magical, overwhelming or transcendental, because then apparently language is not the only etc. But the price to pay for making art something that we do, or inscribing it into language, it also means that art always is calculable and measurable, in other words that is has become a matter of investment and affordance, simple economy and that the artist at the end of the day is just a manipulative shit, a seducer and that all artists are con artists. More over it also means that the artist can be held accountable for his art and that a person who makes art that is weird or deals with awkward representations is somehow sick. An art in short becomes a prostheses of the artist’s fucked up mind. If this was the case quite a bunch of artists would be in trouble and Frances Bacon sent at least to Coventry. Aesthetics exchanged for ethics. Contemplation with policing.


When Judith Butler published “Gender Trouble” in 1990 that was absolutely terrific but an understanding of identity as performative is not all pros, because doesn’t identity politics tell us that from now on it’s all up to you. When identity becomes politics there is so nobody or else to blame, the only one responsible is you and for every decision or action you do or don’t. You equal your actions and how you iterate “yourself” becomes a matter of affordance and investment. With “Gender Trouble” identity became 100% economy, and indeed identity was repackaged into commodity – you become private property and property – since there is only dynamics and relative value – that needs to be surveilled and invested.

Two things come out and disturbing. If art is just something that we do and so on it ends up with that all art always is private. Art can of course happen, be and exhibited in public/space but is always private, but there is no public art. Not just it the sense of – who owns that paintings – but private in the sense of accountability. An art that is private, that can be owned is be necessity inscribed in the terrain of possibility which means that is cannot carry with it the occasion of aesthetic experience.

Jacques Rancière, another poststructuralist that cannot extend art’s life beyond language, writes that the definition of politics is the maintenance of two worlds in one. It is and has to be an endless negotiation, argument against argument until the sun goes down which also means that politics is conducted through or within language. For Judith Butler identity is two “worlds” in one, it is always a negotiation. For those folks art is the same and must be – or their arguments crumble – it’s two worlds in one, negotiation. It is not political but it’s always politics, which at all times will stand in the way for it to be political. For art to carry within it potentiality it must withdraw from politics and from negotiation, only then when two become one can it slip out of reason, causality, accountability and give rise to the unconditional singularity of aesthetic experience.

August 1971

In August 1971 Richard Nixon during some kind of panic attack abolished the gold standard. Congratulations, universal equivalence i.e. money was from then on free from any attachment, sailing about without being anchored to no nothing. Universal equivalence means money can buy anything, but when not connected to actual gold it also means that value in general no longer is attached to nothing at all. On the 15th of August 1971 Richard Nixon abolished truth once and for all.

That same August Jacques Derrida delivered a lecture in Montreal called “Signature, Event, Context” where he for the first time – at least sort of – proposes, along with Austin’s thinking around speech acts and performativity, that language can have no origin but is in its entirety performative. If language wasn’t imposed on humans by some amazing super power it can simply have no starting point, no substance, but is in fact through and through conventional and hence value, whatever value cannot not be relative. In August 1971 Jacques Derrida abolished truth once, no second and for all.

Remarkable, that was indeed a kick ass month for humanity as both money and language totally lost its reliability. From now on everything started to float and truth was just nowhere to be found (as if it had before). It is not far fetched to claim that that week of 15th August 1971 was the day neoliberalism for real entered competition and that there were no other contenders left. Shit happens.

From this perspective it’s kind of comical to think about how Judith Butler twenty years later added identity. Until then one could at least, with a bit of good will, say things like “true for me” but with “Bodies That Matter” not even that. I mean who me if at all in the first place?

August 1971 could also be understood as a performative turn or turn towards a hegemony of language and language as we know is conventional. Now, if Derrida argued something in the line of that language is the capacity with which we have access to the world it comes not just with a price but several. The first that postmodernism must be understood as altogether anthropocentric and the second (and there are more but not here), which is not exactly new but now better, that only that can exist that can be contained, named or located by language. In other words only that can be that is possible, that is already possible for humanity and language. Shit happens, but really, from then on only that that could be named had a place in the world, dreams and imagination included. If language is how we have access to the world and language is conventional, dreams, fantasy and imagination is too however hard one tries. Thinking outside the box which already felt a bit embarrassing become in the fall of 1971 simply bogus.

That fall must obviously have been a terrible moment of crises for any avant-garde attitude as Nixon with his gold also made the idea of explorer deflate and Derrida made sure that there was no such thing as an outside any more. But the men – they were always men – of the avant-garde quickly re-educated themselves and found a new name institutional critique. Brilliant and equally male. How many artists and art lovers et al. mustn’t have taken down their Yves Klein “Leap Into The Void” postcard from the fridge that autumn. Oups.

But there is one more thing, a thing that I think hasn’t been considered properly that Nixon and Derrida collapsed, which of course is aesthetic experience. Because if language is the capacity through which we access the world art and its encounters can not be otherwise and detach from the conventionality of language, from relativity or from performativity which means that aesthetic experience either simply ceases to exist or is transformed into something that can be dealt with through reason and ethics. Art can no longer be contemplated because there simply is no way out of teleology. At the moment when any kind of transcendence, truth, metaphysics or great outdoors is abolished art become synonymous with culture, something that can be measured and calculated, i.e. instrumentalized and smart ass. In a way postmodern understanding of art in fact reminds us about pre-Kantian 18th century rationalism. In 1971 art lost its transformative capacity and postmodernism disgraced it by forcing it into the narrow world of possibility, or in other words into the predicable backyard of probability stealing away from art the universe of indetermination and potentiality.

It is paradoxically this moment when neoliberalism kicks in and makes art into policy documents and business proposal that that also is the green house of socially engaged art. Of course if aesthetic experience has been ostracized and art has become brimful of discourse social engagement makes perfect sense, but it certainly has nothing to do with aesthetic experience and again judgment is not aesthetic but ethical or moral, even more 18th or even 17th century art theory.

Recently though it seems we have bumped into a problem again. Derrida was totally crucial and so was Butler, but something has gone wrong when both language and then obviously identity has been down to its knickers co-opted by capitalism. Identity is big bucks and dollar signs and according to e.g. Franco Bifo we live in semio-capitalism where language itself has been financialized. So however much we were impressed by postmodernism and it’s companions might it not be high time to reclaim aesthetic experience and however it feels weird insist on aesthetic experience – which obviously is not an art work but a possible experience generated through an encounter with an art work or situation – and that those experiences by necessity brings with them a, however minute or tiny, encounter with something beyond language, value, history and convention, something that has many names and non of them is good enough. Yet, in the vagueness of those names resides the potentiality of other kinds of life – because if capitalism owns language we can not imagine a way out of where we are now, but need those experiences that bypass the possible more than ever. That is the hope that resides in art, in those experiences that art carries within.

It Was Possible

In an interview with Nicholas Serota from 2006 Gerhard Richter is asked how it at a certain moment happened that he started to make out-of-focus paintings. The interview is from a documentary and in this particular section Richter is sitting in an oversized totally fancy sofa. One can sense from the tone of Serota’s voice that he is looking forward to a juicy response that will touch upon art historical mysteries or secret conflicts nobody knew about circulating in the Cologne scene of the late 60s. Richter, dressed more like a Chinese worker than a stinking rich superstar touches his nose and changes position, says after a slightly too long pause.

– Well you know, at that time it was… possible, adding a very generous smile. I can’t recall what happens afterwards but it doesn’t matter, the answer is intriguing enough on it’s own.

What first comes to mind is that Gerhard Richter is just another asshole that obviously and under no circumstances would reveal anything especially nothing that in any way could smudge his genius. Gerhard Richter doesn’t get inspiration he is inspiration in it’s much pure form. If one Mr Richter ever gets inspired from somewhere else than himself it is from God and God only, but that is probably only when he has a headache or is haunted by a vague hangover after yesterdays opening party. Well, it was just some retrospective who cares where, really. Conclusion Gerhard Richter is a shit.

But what about a different interpretation. Perhaps Richter said something more than about focused or out of paintings but instead touched upon something central to aesthetic production in general.

It was possible. Doesn’t that mean that there were no reasons, or no no reasons. It was just possible and I, i.e. Richter did it, out of focus. Of course after the fact art historians or critics can make up a thousand feasible narratives. Do their detective work and track it all down to some childhood trauma, a revenge plot, technological development, a Marxist unpacking of a historical moment or why not just blame capitalism – neoliberalism was invented at the time so capitalism will have to do.

But what if there were no reasons or no no reasons for real. It was possible, proposes that contrary to other kinds of decisions or unfoldings aesthetic judgment or decisions doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with causality. Aesthetic judgement, what green colour to choose, is not a matter of probability, at least not in its entirety. You ask a painter or whatever artist why that one there and most probably the answer will be come across as a rather silly if not stupid. – Cuz, you know… yeah, or something about emotions, feeling, energy or inner necessity. – It could be no other way, and there was no negotiation or probability.

What Richter, the old modernist or not says, is that aesthetic judgement is beyond reason or rational. It can be analysed but some part of it moves beyond probability and measure. One could also say that aesthetic judgement is self-referential because it refers only to itself as itself and that the experience of taking such a decision, whether that is in the studio in front of the easel or in the exhibition space or museum, is not the experience of taking a decision but to make or generate a decision where there previously was not available to make. Since the aesthetic experience is self-referential the outcome of this production is contingent and thus is the experience not of making a decision but of making a Decision. Which since this experience by necessity is empty means to experience oneself as potentiality. Perhaps that is that underlying, that determination that all aesthetic production comes down to, that feeling of generating a decision for no particular reason and to be touched however gently by potentiality.

With a different set of words perhaps what Richter said is that in aesthetic production, just because it is formulated around contingent decisions, hope resides.

Truth, Dare or Sociology

It’s great to visit art museums. To say hello and friendly with the ticket person who can from time to time be a bit grumpy. I can still be friendly. The coffee place has fourteen kinds of coffee and that doesn’t need to make me roll my eyes. It’s just a museum who tries a bit too hard.

The other day I spent the afternoon in one of those museums together with my new born daughter and had a handful of really lovely conversations with staff, guards, other visitors and the woman in the cloak room told me about her children and their children. It was nice to talk to a grand mother for a moment.

It was also brilliant to change on the baby in the ladiesroom being treated with a certain scepticism and then oh how cute and some other niceties. Involving all senses, so to say. Social is top dollar.

But nothing of this was art. It was social situations, encounters that will stay with me as much as the art that happened to be spending time in the exhibition spaces made an impression. Yet these social encounters were not art or generated aesthetic experiences, nor where those paintings, drawings, sculptures, video pieces or even installations social situations although they participated in those social such and such to take place.

It’s a significant mistake to confuse art with social situations and the other way around. But it is tempting. If art equals something social having encounters with art can be justified through bringing people together, especially different peoples and we can together create a loving and open minded society where borders (at least some) are made porous and nice. But isn’t it so that when art is confused with social the door is also opened to confuse art with culture which to some might be great but perhaps not to art.

Somewhere Jean Luc Godard proposed that culture is the stuff we eat. Culture is measurable and hence something that can be analysed and changed in order to make the best out of some or other situation. Concerning Godard, if I eat a lot of beetroots I will pee red. Deduction rules. If I drink too much wine, tomorrow will be disaster. The payback of consuming Brussels sprouts will be smelly. More causality. In other words culture is something that can be determined and installed in order to produce efficiency. If I look at too many Picasso’s I might become a bit (even) more macho but there’s certainly no causality. If I stare at a Robert Morris sculpture for a few hours nothing will happen, especially nothing that can be “found” in those geometrical arrangements or piles of felt.

If art was to be equated with culture art works would not be appreciated for what they were but for what they produced and what measurable “betterment” they would install, i.e. to say a drift away from aesthetics towards ethics. Never minds whose betterment? Arts gift to humanity is exactly that it’s not good or bad for anything. That’s up to you.

Although arts instumentality is a direction socially engaged engaged art is interested in, it’s also precisely the direction that neoliberal politics wish to emphasize. Art being equal to culture – that is social environments or situation – degrades art to be an instrument in the hands of policy makers.

When sociologists and art critics with a sociological agenda approach art and their institutions it can give important insight but it is important to negotiate that they also tend to reduced art to be tokens in networks generating social situations. The painting on the wall is equal in symbolic value to the bench in the middle of the room. Nothing bad per se but doesn’t it imply that the painting on the wall’s job is something else than to be a painting? Moreover, the sociologist obviously pulls the plug out of the possibility that an encounter with art in anyway is different in kind to any other experience. The sociologist analyses the global condition and the impact different entities produce and is so to say completely uninterested in art. In the eyes of sociology art is nothing more than a token that generates forms of behaviour.

It is especially important in our times to insist on forms of autonomy implicit in art. Is it perhaps crucial to claim the specificity of the aesthetic experience and stress the possibility that art withdraws from the social and that that is important?

If art is not just here to confirm society, social behaviour and identity. If arts responsibility is something else than to support or be helpful, propose an alternative way of living or relating but instead that it’s job is to generate the possibility for a different kind of change, a change towards something that is not yet thinkable, to something that is generated through the uncertainty of the experience and not by the experience’s decisiveness. Said otherwise, if art has anything to do with truth it can only take place as long as the experience is indeterminable or at least is carried by indetermination, i.e. that it is singular which means withdraw from the social, that is is non-relational. When art becomes social it can simply have nothing to do with truth or truth claims any more. Only and art that claims truth is daring or urgent, the rest is simply negotiation and policy documents. Remember only as long as art remains in relation to truth can it be admired and posses us. An art that isn’t granted, that doesn’t insist on the possibility to blow us away, to overwhelm us or make us change our lives is like a love relation kept a live because it’s convenient.


I’m Just Going Painting

When Roland Barthes’ “The Death of the Author” was published in 1967 it started, and quickly, a total deflation of modernist ideals in visual arts. Art in general but most prominently in visual art and in New York. Over night the idea of an essence to art was made obsolete. An artwork pointing to itself as itself was history and instead, at least in certain circles – and powerful – art became a matter of language, clusters of references and the artwork a bundle of signs held together by the very lack of originality.

I imagine Jackson Pollock having breakfast in the house in the Hamptons and after rolling a cigarette and about to put on his stained jacket saying to his wife Lee, “Hey, I’m just going painting.” That was in the end of the 40s or early 50s but what about if Pollock would have had breakfast after Barthes’ essay was public domain? There and then I’m just going paintings might not have been such a good idea. I picture Lee starting to giggle slightly embarrassed, one of those laughs that won’t stop. When the attack finally comes to an end trying to explain to the heroic painter that “just” painting implicit a preserved understanding of essence, and that “just” simply is out of the question since there is no just in the first place. -Jackson, whatever you paint, however much it pains you, you and painting is always inscribed in a delicate network of references, skills, formats, conventions, you name it? You are not free neither is your paintings.

Had Pollock stayed alive what had to happen there in the end of the 60s was that artists and art needed to articulate if not invent some new way of justifying artistic production. The time of innocence had come to an abrupt end. Purity sailed away and spontaneity had become a laughing stock.

Come to think about it, one could also say that art in this moments, had it been a human being, that it passed from being a free individual to be an individual that had individual freedom. Art passed from being a domain carried by sovereignty to constitutional freedom which obviously has nothing to do with freedom but at best with liberty. From now on art had to earn also the illusion of its freedom.

Roland Barthes’ essay was perhaps not such a great contribution to artistic practice, not at all a welcome injection of who knows what but instead a few pages that opened the door to a huge amount of frustration. What if art couldn’t be just any more what then…

In New York in the late 60s, what could possibly offer justification to make art. Well, nobody, not even in the art scene was a communist – “they” had been made extinct ten years earlier – but everybody, at least in the art scene was a Marxist so where to start looking? What the art scene found in Marx was brilliant, critique. Marx first tool and nine years later the first issue of October came out and arts obsession with critique was consolidated.

Awesome, “Lee, I’m going over to the shed to engage in my critical practice.” Fuck “I am nature” this is critique 24/7.

But nothing says that art’s relation to critique in anyway is inherent. Art’s job since 50 years, in certain circles has been critique but it is certainly not arts calling. It goes without saying that an art informed by Roland Barthes in any case would deny the possibility for a calling. No, art is something one does and gets paid for, it’s reason, cognition and semiotics c’est tout, or?

It is this moment, this moment of crises, from which conceptual art emerges and it is tragically an unconditional surrender to arts departure from sovereignty, which means to the very possibility of aesthetic experience.

It is as easy to be posthumously clever, wise after the event as it is to be in denial but perhaps it was Pollock who was brave, devoted and faithful. Who dared go into the studio unprepared for the possibility of being carried away by sovereignty and not the conceptual boys. Were they in fact cowards, so afraid of that something unnameable in aesthetic experience that they closed the door and locked it with critique. Was conceptual art guided by a bunch control freaks so paranoid that they anathematized any form or trace of indeterminacy?

A Little Sol In The End

I like these beginnings.

Not in the “Sentences on Conceptual Art” but somewhere else Sol Lewitt writes something like, the great thing with conceptual art is that you can always cheat a little in the end to make it beautiful.

Sweet words but perhaps not that easy to decipher. It would be a bit too cynical to interpret the sentence as market benevolent or simply sloppy.

It’s intriguing that Lewitt stresses the end. Why in the end and not in the middle or half way, beginning. It seems like his work is carried by an instance of insight and when he know, or have been able to navigate the insight, it’s not so important to state it. At that time, in the end, let it be beautiful.

Too often I wonder if that sentence or conceptual in art hasn’t been reversed into roughly, the great thing with art is that you can always cheat in the end by adding a conceptual edge – or even worse, adding some conceptual -, thus fencing the work from all kinds of attacks or viruses. You can always say it’s conceptual and that’s “Oh yes, I understand…”

Conceptual in art is like diplomatic immunity in politics. When conceptual is added in the end, like some icing, it might just be called smart ass, and it definitely inscribes itself in dominant, if not down right male discourse. Conceptual in the end is like a father who responds to the teenage child “Because I say so.”

Conceptual in the beginning, as departure – like Sol had it – instead unveil a desire for transparency or a kind of exposure, if not dissolving of subjectivity. Not in the sense of Duchamp or minimalism where the point was to erase the artist’s subject, the trace of the artist – a gesture that often has been read as humble and a kind of glorious stepping down from a romantic male heroic image of the artist, but in fact functions the opposite way around. When Andy Warhol proposes the he wants to be a machine, it’s not cool it’s quite romantic and comes out as a desire to manifest the artist as superhuman or to reveal the human/heroic/genius be denying it.

Sol Lewitt’s conceptual is not a matter of denying or obscuring the artist’s subject but instead of remaining and faithful to something that has been set in motion, a process that might iterate a completely different subjectivity. To something that stays open – which means that it cannot be closed through a solution – but requires the coming into being of something or an experience that has yet to be given or acquire a name, an ambivalence to gain stability.

With a bit of a stretch one could even ponder the possibility that – contrary to the conceptual guys obsessing with semiotics – Sol Lewitt’s work is queer. Queer not in the end, i.e. representation, but as or through a process that asks for nothing except devotion and that in the end is beautiful.

In The Bucket

In an interview, I have forgotten where, Barnet Newman is asked what he wants with his paintings. This was long time ago and I don’t mean to propose that Newman is forever but his answer is still cool, or perhaps more sweet. He answers something in the direction: “You know I just want the paint on the canvas to be as beautiful as it is in bucket.” Personally I didn’t know he used buckets. Tubes would be favourable as that would keep the scale more modest. Modernists, omg.

In parentheses there’s for me something strange about this quote, something that has nothing to do with the words but rather that it feels really odd to consider a personal looking like Newman to say something so cute. Especially the older Newman, with a monocle, moustache and a lit cigarette. In my imagination somebody that looked very differently, somebody far less prominent or proud of him or herself, formulated that beautiful sentence or is it nonsense?

On the canvas whatever is there, whatever traces or not somebody has made on it, it cannot not be recognisable as something. It’s like with clouds if you look long enough they start to look like something. They certainly always look like clouds and that’s all great but then the shape of a dog appears or the three musketeers or, well it’s always something. What’s on the canvas is always something, this or that. It just can’t be… because even “I don’t know maybe it’s…” is already something. Probably this or probably that and when it is it is already a location, a position to which one can formulate a perspective, an articulation.

In the bucket however the paint is still untouched by probably this or that, it is all the possibly and all the not possibly. Even better it is also all that that is beyond what something can or not possibly be. The paint in the bucket is everything, perhaps one could even say that it is infinity. Not, really it’s after all paint and in a bucket in the studio of Barnet Newman, but still.

The moment the paint ends up on the canvas it passes from the realm of potentiality to the realm of possibility. To me it’s obvious that – that is potentiality – that Barnet Newman is referring to.

An impossible project certainly but – and it certainly had different implications in post-wwII New York – isn’t that exactly what painting or art in general must circulate around. Potentiality.

In recent years the proposal aesthetic experience has surfaced. Nothing new and one can wonder what it is? Something tells us that an aesthetic experience is different than other kinds of experience, but what is that? If aesthetic experience is the same as any other experience one could compare the experience of watching a Kippenberger and having an ice-cream. Having an ice-cream is also an experience, first or second time. If this was the case it would also not be any fundamental difference to stand in front of a “real” Kippenberger or a reproduction in a book, and each time the Kippenberger would be more or less equally excellent, good or bad, too this or that. Might there be something specific about aesthetic experience after all. Might it even be so that the same Kippenberger only generates aesthetic experience once and only in a certain individual? If so we would have to consider that aesthetic experience is not just individual but that it is singular. It is this experience and only this one, it is singular.

Which is perhaps also why one can when somebody asks, why this Kippenberger and not this or that one, answer: “I don’t know, I just love it”. Concerning art it is imperative to not love a painting for a reason – I love it because I love it. And we are back with Newman, the moment when you love something because because you don’t love it for this or that, for what it possibly is. You love it, instead for all what it is and not, and for all the what it is that one can not even imagine imagining.

It is no surprise why this idea of aesthetic experience has been silenced for quite some time and why it still resides is some sort of limbo. When Jacques Derrida proposed that language is the capacity though which we have access to the world it came with a price – along the lines of phenomenology – that only what could be accommodated by language could exist. In that very moment the only thing that could exist had to be probably this or that or, if you like, I don’t know which is still something. From Heidegger we know that nothing is also something and in that moment probability ruled the world. If there was something else that had to be put under a blanket and forgotten, hence aesthetic experience and potentiality had to leave the building. So if post-modernism was good at pronouncing the death of this or that, it certainly killed of art, not this or that art but the very essence of art, the specificity of aesthetic experience, and experience that carries the possibility of an encounter with potentiality.

Of course modernism got it all wrong. Aesthetic experience, the essence of art or potentiality can not be captured, put in a bucket if you like and observed. Well, even if one could capture it, the moment when it gains stability and is recognizable it has already entered the realm of the possible. There is no potentiality in a painting, non of them, but painting, as any other art carries with it the possibility for the emergence of that peculiar moment that some call aesthetic experience others potentiality and Barnet Newman called, “as beautiful as it is in the bucket”.