A Collaborative Exhibition and Publication Project by Eduardo Padilha and Michael Schwab
Huisrechts, Amsterdam 13.9 to 16.10 2007
Using the figure of the ‘circle’ as conceptual parameter in this project, the artists’ aim has been to continually activate a multitude of its connotations through an ongoing process of critical discourse and studio practice. The resulting exhibition of new artworks will form only one part of the overall enquiry as the project develops through workshops, and with the assistance of contributors, into a concise publication. The exhibition at large will allow us to escape given ideals associated with the ‘circle’ – as closed, perfect
and pure modernist or abstract vehicle. The artists’ stress that the relative symbolism we associate with it “is as much an aesthetic idea and a social concept as it is mathematical figure”. Eduardo and Michael subvert the gure in this way to re-order and positively charge it as a platform for deconstructing and expanding its key inherent properties.
It is on this basis that the main exhibition takes the form of a systematic multimedia installation with the artists separate works overlapping and intersecting both visually and conceptually. On the walls, floor and ceiling are mounted: drawings, paintings, photography and sculpture. We are continually reminded of the fabric in our eclectic and urban environment through the presentation of these works on all sides. Cognitively we are able to utilise these interrelating motifs in order to see beyond the gallery walls and yet find ourselves back where we started. The resulting formal effect is a jarring one, but where further investigation leads us to an intelligent and balanced mapping of an imperfect universal.
Abstraction, schemas, and inscriptions
‘I stand up from my chair with a monstrous effort, but I have the impression that I carry it with me and that it’s heavier, for it’s the chair of my subjectivity.’[i]
Collaboration, an exhibition of many parts, an investigation, a turning over of sense, and perhaps an appeal to another time, but above all else a circulation of many things. Above all else what is in circulation is the aspiration drawn from Wittgenstein: ‘One doesn’t put the question marks deep enough down.’ The question though is always how deep enough before a disappearance of sense is enacted? I do start to have a feeling about the questions that might be in circulation, for instance the question of art’s absorption into aesthetics, that question that has defined the very restlessness of contemporary art, a question that challenges the nature of the metaphysical division of object and subject. But before we continue with this we are dealing with a visual event and thus need to draw other lines before such issues might start to agitate their demands.
So what is the nature of this presentation[ii]: for it is a presentation that is before us? Firstly, it is a presentation of many layers, layers composed out of surfaces, patterns, images and forms. Within this layering we also have intersections, which record material transformations, social circuits, displacement of patterns, re-conceptualisation through appropriation, and shifts in material and figure: In effect, all the possible signs of chaos, which invariably would indicate an incline toward displacement; instead this is the starting point of a creative relationship between this incline and the regulative rhythms established with pattern. This is a tension that is sustained throughout between contesting elements such as material and image, virtual and actual, abstraction and decoration, appropriation and origin, construction and rupture, and finally, between language and matter. The main point at this juncture is to emphasise that the regulative judgements across the visual field are determined as much by the feeling that issues from aesthetic encounter, or play, as by any analytic determined by a notion of theoretical practice.[iii] What is closer to being the case is the presentation of thought, both as pattern and interruption.
We have textiles, photographs, diagrams, found objects, patterns, diagrams, art historical reference, marks, layers, serial spacings, appropriations, intersections, circuits, velocities, repetitions, displacements, gestures, gaps and interference. The exhibition is always, as stated, a matter of circulation rather than established forms, like a walk around the city that is transposed into circuits that configure material, figure, form and image. A dialectic between social space and the artwork appears to be offered, but the question as to how this is constituted is in a state of flux. We are never sure if this is a means of finding something or becoming lost or even oscillations between states of something, anything and nothing. It is difficult for instance to detect beginning and end points, for the question of origin is being placed under severe stress. Invariably appropriation carries an insistence of the memory of its source, but what if appropriation was to be in some way stripped of memory? Likewise architecture is not employed as a ground or a frame but is destabilised in ways that disturb figure-ground certainties. Likewise art historical figures or moments appear to surface such as Helio Oiticica, Daniel Buren or Art Povera, yet equally such referencing might be derailed in the process of re-inscription. Likewise the literary figures relating to the episode, the aphorism, and the labyrinthine narrative (Borges, Novalis, and Calvino, for example) are in evidence, but is all of this too much by way of restlessness and thus a gesture of the principle of uncertainty? The understanding of the presentation in an overall sense is much more to establish a form, in which this circulation of form coheres within the circulation of restlessness. Another way of posing this would be to claim that such working with material form is invariably placed in relationship to the function of language.
Bertolt Brecht introduced the notion that it was necessary to pierce the surface of the text of the play in order that an alienation effect might be achieved, that is, the writing might be understood as a device, and that the didactic, textual intention will follow from that process of realisation. Could the artwork in this insistence be seen in like terms or even more broadly as an act of writing?[iv] Again the issue of what is at stake here relates to the process of inscription. We can understand that a stencilling procedure is the inscription of pattern into material and the act of writing inscribes language across a surface. Each form of inscription alters not only the surface appearance of things but also impacts upon reading, perception and value form. Ploughing fields, writing books, painting surfaces, building walls serve to make manifest this inscriptive logic of production, but invariably other surfaces are disturbed, interrupted or destroyed in this process. In Kafka’s book The Prison Colony, the body is inscribed with words. In a way writing implies here the recreation of a new bodily order, because body – surface – writing are brought together in a new mobility of meaning, or bodily economy, whilst another order of the body is as a consequence silenced. The abstraction is of surface inscribed and re-inscribed, coded and then recoded so that new orders of subjective form are made legible and sensible. At the heart of the inscriptive processes is the reconfiguration of material into pattern in ways that raise the question of how the subjective encounter is thrown because movement is always implicit.
The relationship of the whole and the fragment is touched upon in several ways, and this takes us, as if by detour, to the question of Romanticism, or at least the way this might be figured within the formation of the modernist schema (Alain Badiou, of course, questions if Modernism has in fact its own schematic forms). Within Romanticism the fragment invariably functions in order to sustain the potentiality of the whole or the absolute (a key word in Romanticism is ‘unity’, conceived as a living principle). Jean-Luc Nancy and Phillipe Lacoue-Labarthe propose in The Literary Absolute that, ‘the fragment is the romantic genre par excellence’[v] even though this takes on different forms and guises. The fragment functions in part through ‘the fracture that produces it’ but this fracture functions as ‘an autonomous form as much as the formless or deformity of the tearing.’ What is evident in Romanticism, but not always understood, is that it is based on a counteractive movement, in which the mind expands into the mysterious and yet reverses itself into a return to the ordinary and familiar. Thus the familiar can be made unfamiliar as a means or possibility of looking at the world with wonder. Romantic philosophy is in this context the portrayal of the unexpected or the interruption of ordinary life by potentializing the objects of the world. Within this exhibition it is at times unclear where works begin and end, indeed, as to what really constitutes a work. It is not my intention to read this exhibition as an exercise deriving from Romanticism, even if a fractured form of Romanticism. Romanticism is far too much its own image within the present, even though in becoming its own image, its own philosophical speculation is invariably misunderstood. If the fragment is employed within Romanticism as the promise of the whole, in this exhibition we see the fragment employed without such promise. What I would claim though, is that the relationship of the question of autonomy and the speculative content[vi] of the artwork assumes an interesting form in this case because it should be immediately apparent that autonomy is placed under a severe pressure, whilst the speculative content finds counter investment. This in turn raises the question of the relationship between forms of speculation and the possibilities that issue from the notion of research. Much of the reading of the show might reside, and in turn circulate, within these questions.
I start to think about the role of grammar, because part of the unbounded condition appears to be regulated by the unstable employment of grammar. For instance if it was possible to imagine a kinetic or floating form of grammar such that full stops, question marks, colons, semi-colons and commas constantly appeared to be on the move, then we might have the means of seeing ways in which fragments and the totality function. A higher unity of art is gestured within this, but likewise the threat of entropy appears as an equally likely outcome. Perhaps this sense also relates as a way of thinking about the relationship of mind and nature. Gregory Bateson’s writings revolved around the notion that mind and nature were continuous. Bateson sees everything in terms of patterns; indeed he defines aesthetics as a mode of response ‘to the pattern which connects.’[vii] The mind is viewed as an aggregate of interacting parts and this interaction is triggered by difference. Mental processes require circular chains of determination in which the effects of difference function as transforms of events preceding them and this requires collateral energy. For Bateson the ‘mental function is immanent in the interaction of differentiated “parts”. “Wholes” are constituted by such combined interaction.’[viii] One of the implications of this series of propositions is that objective and subjective modes of knowing are invariably fused together, but in ways that are dependent upon the switching of levels and functions within systems. This in turn implies for instance that a ‘world of sense, organization, and communication is not conceivable without discontinuity, without threshold.’[ix] Perhaps it is appropriate that this discussion of the mind and pattern is linked to the discussion of Romanticism, because the concerns might both coincide or converge in ways that might lead to the reposing of the Romantic question within the late modern context. What is at stake though, is much more a matter of invention (finding something for the first time). When Adorno proposed the ‘new is a blind spot, as empty as the purely indexical gesture “look here,”’[x] he was highlighting part of the difficulty of discovering a form in which the contemporary situation might be negotiated. The inventor proceeds in a manner that is invariably without a given method, but rather with what Derrida calls ‘an economy of imagination.’[xi] Derrida goes on to discuss the way Schelling views invention as the pathway to complete a whole or ‘to fill in where there is a gap and thus carry out a program.’[xii] Invention is then the revelation of God or the absolute, because ‘it completes the revelation as it carries it out.’[xiii] Invention might be seen in this exhibition outside of the Romantic context as simply the exercise of possibility and in turn the potentiality of a future-to-come. The exhibition we are considering is simply the self-exposure of its own process of invention, a research even, though a form of research that erases its own method, because its own horizon is not that of repetition or reiteration.
The question remains in regard to the nature of the relationship between how philosophical knowledge is figured in relationship to aesthetic form. Surely it is not possible to raise this question of philosophy’s relationship to art without thinking of this in a contrary manner. Schelling called for a philosophical poetics, because it represented for him the artistic drive in the philosopher because the philosopher is required to invent new forms or take a new step within the formal sphere. In this regard innovation within form is always connected to the possibility of revealing new forms of knowledge. What is being sought in research are precisely new forms of encounter with form, thought and sense as opposed to a union of these different registers. A philosophical poetics, as a passage of invention is the means of negotiating the heterogeneous discharge that results from the conjunction of theory and practice.
Finally, I would like to pose the relationship between gesture and the work of art, or at least propose the proximity. Indeed we might claim that art is the gesture of interruption. Gesture exists in a realm between the body and language; in this respect it bears the trace of both realities without the differentiation of each. As such it is both expressive and intentional, residing as a mode of co-extensively. In this respect gesture might be viewed as the before and after of language, carrying both the elements that signify the origins of communication but also the impossibility of its realisation. Art is similar in this regard, it both gestures toward that which cannot be ordinarily said but in doing so opens itself onto the horizon occupied by language. Kant said that genius expresses and communicates the unnameable. Art is simply a form of self-exposure, existing on a border region that is not clearly discernible. Yet if art is an exposure, then it is a form of withdrawal also, for in gesturing toward a future-yet-to come, it cannot be represented entirely as presence. The work of art can never complete itself within its own proposed orbit, and this is why it remains an event or an encounter. Such encounter of the work of art is in the border region between art and non-art, which implies as part of this condition the notion of the end of art. So then, what is the task of art in this late period? Certainly we cannot simply say that it should be of its time, for such a statement does not imply either transformation or resistance to the way, in which time is constituted. There are signs that might be read, the way the exhibition meanders around itself, the way it deals with its own attention to attention, the placement of its own distinct grammar, the oscillation between form and the formless, the gestures of speculative intention, all of these might be understood as ciphers of a distinct time. There is the process of opening gaps which not only sustain doubts but form, as if by detour, the possibility of another mode of exhibiting, a mode which understands the work not as an object as such but a new kind of subject. There is in this a reversal of sense that is being exhibited here and with this a displacement of the dialectic of presentation and representation. Ultimately what is exhibited is the way material creates insistence, the way that mind creates insistence, the way that pattern weaves the actual and the virtual is an insistence, and that all that is left is to determine one’s own form of insistence in relationship to this encounter. Everything that is left over from this event pertains to description.
[i] Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet, London: Penguin, 2002, p. 137.
[ii] The function of presentation is the production of intuitions, which implies that it is an activity of the imagination, because imagination gives rise to intuitions. Imagination is thus the faculty of presentation and is responsible for the exhibition of concepts of the understanding, a process that Kant calls schematism. Schemas serve as mediations between concepts (or universals) and intuitions (or particulars). The importance of aesthetic judgements lies in the work of presentation and disinterest is exhibited within presentation because we take no interest in the actual concept of the object before us within this context. See: Alison Ross, The Aesthetic Paths of Philosophy, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2007.
[iii] I am not really convinced by this term ‘critical practice’. It suggests two subject positions, one inside of the work and one outside, in order to be able to create enough distance that might determine the position of the work. Although process of theorisation are evident in this show, the design is not of creating a dialectical unity or identity with practice but perhaps rather the self-exposure of both with the promise of a destiny of reconciliation.
[iv] Adorno says that, ‘All artworks are writing, not just those that are obviously such; they are hieroglyphs for which the code has been lost.’ We could also claim that artworks appear to stimulate a desire to speak intimately of them and yet invariably never present the means of doing so. The artwork is in this context always the presentation of a gap between the materiality of the work and the order of language. The presentation of the work and the regime of representation are thus invariably displaced from teach other.
[v] Jean-Luc Nancy and Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, The Literary Absolute, Albany: SUNY, p. 40.
[vi] The speculative theory of art makes art the other of philosophy, the place where it reflects itself, the promise of its future development or its dialogic partner. The specificity of Romanticism in relation to the later developments of the theory of art lies in its double structure; not only is art endowed with an ontological function, but it is moreover the only presentation of speculative ontology, of speculative metaphysics. See: Jean-Marie Schaeffer, Art in the Modern Age, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000. Also: Karl Ameriks (Ed), German Idealism, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
[vii] Gregory Bateson, Mind and Nature, London: Flamingo, p. 17. Bateson is an interesting figure for several reasons. He developed the theory of the ‘double bind,’ which was important in terms of understanding schizophrenia, he wrote about Balinese agriculture, a text which in turn influenced Deleuze and Guattari in their book A Thousand Plateaus; he was one of the founders of cybernetics and his book ‘Steps to an Ecology of Mind’ played an important role in the understanding of feedback loops, which link mind and nature. I find an interesting affinity between some of Bateson’s figures of thought and the structural elements that reside within this exhibition.
[viii] Ibid, p. 103
[ix] Ibid, p. 209
[x] Theodor Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, New York/London: Continuum, 1997, p. 27
[xi] Jacques Derrida, Psyche, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2007, p. 41
[xii] Ibid, p. 42
[xiii] Ibid, p. 43
From right to left
Acrylic wall painting of a found pattern; size-H 260 x L 400 cm
Stencilled found pattern with spray on the wall, open found sleeping bag and perforated curtain; size- H 260 x L 400 cm
Postcard size photograph with colour pen intervention in acrylic box on stencilled wall
Sprayed wall with vegetal crate as stencil and perforated curtain with the shape of the gallery’s next door office gate
Detail of previous image
Sprayed wall with glossy white colour on mat white wall with baker’s crate as stencil and a perforated found image and colour pen intervention