October 2015

Enrique Vila-Matas, Pierre Huyghe, Ai Weiwei and I at Kassel, Documentas 12-13

“I’d been fascinated at the beginning of the seventies by some questions that had been put to Alain Robbe-Grillet, which made him writhe against theories like an upside-down cat: “Let’s say I’m old-fashioned. For me, all that counts are the works of art.”

“The works of art! These days such ingenuousness would trigger laughter. At Documenta 13, separating work and theory would have been seen as very old-fashioned, because there, according to all the information I had, you saw a great many works under the ambiguous umbrella of innovation presented as theory and vice versa. It was the triumphant and now almost definitive reign of the marriage between practice and theory, to such an extent that if ou casually came across a rather classical-looking piece, you’d soon discover it was nothing more than theory camouflaged as a work. Or a work camouflaged as theory.

“Was there any artist at Kassel with sufficient courage to just hang a painting on the wall, a straighforward painting? I imagined the great peals of laughter that would ring out if it occurred to some poor brave devil to hang a canvas on a wall in the Fridericianum. It seemed nobody there wanted to be regarded as terribly old-fashioned, so there was no way of seeing painting anywhere.”

– Enrique Vila-Matas, The Illogic of Kassel, p. 69

Untilled, characters who appear in Enrique Vila-Matas’s novel, by Pierre Huyghe at Documenta 13

Strangely, I happened to be involved in the Documenta 12 Magazine Project through <<empyre>> soft_skinned_space, a listserv onto which I have foisted my sometimes welcome, mostly unwelcome, and usually ignored observations, reflections and scribblage.

The following I wrote into the listserv under the subject heading of “Fugue” – which is interesting in so far as I have in front of me a volume by Sergio Pitol with a foreword by Enrique Vila-Matas, the writer of the foregoing on Documenta 13, entitled The Art of Flight. The English translator of this work, George Henson, apologises, that “already in the title” he has failed, because the Spanish fuga translates as both fugue and flight and in the original Spanish, the book is called El arte de la fuga. The Art of Fugue. Indirectly, for Documenta 12, I wrote:

Dear Empyreans,

the following I pursued for my own interest: I apologise if there’s nothing in it.

Roger Beurgel [artistic director of Documenta 12. It was Roger Beurgel’s “provocation”, on the question, Is Modernity our Antiquity? that led the discussion, here] in quotes:

“It is fairly obvious that modernity, or modernity’s fate, exerts a profound influence on contemporary artists.”

How is modernity tied to its fate that, either the thing itself or the myth, exerts a pull – as if equally and interchangeably? And if there isn’t anything in itself there? Only the mythic Fate, then isn’t this a description of tragedy? Is a degree of that influence to do with the desire not just to reinstaurate the determinism or fatalism of modernity on its certain path but to redeem it?

“Part of that attraction may stem from the fact that no one really knows if modernity is dead or alive.”

Which suggests exactly the spectral/corp(u)s/e mode modernity was so good at advancing: and pomo was so good at extracting – half-life apparitions and death-drive amortisations.

“It seems to be in ruins after the totalitarian catastrophes of the 20th century (the very same catastrophes to which it somehow gave rise).”

Surely, that ‘somehow’, tenuously holding on, like spectral rider to ghoulish horse, confirms that the modernity described here is in the grand European tragic style – or pomo pastiche thereof. The taste for setting such great store by aesthetics (however deeply internally politicised or outwardly conceptual and dematerialised), that ‘totalitarian catastrophes’ ensue from them, is modernist at the fascist end of the spectrum.

“It seems utterly compromised by the brutally partial application of its universal demands (liberté, égalité, fraternité) or by the simple fact that modernity and coloniality went, and probably still go, hand in hand.”

As a colonial antipode – foot in hand, sometimes in mouth – I’ve thought a little about colonialism’s place in respect of modernity. My view, from NZ, of modernity is only historically, not ‘utterly,’ ‘compromised’ by the cultural marginalisation that goes hand-in-hand with modernity’s centralist concerns. But this issue brings us round to whether modernity has a political armature in praxis, a Realpolitik, such that it could be ‘brutally partial’ in the application of demands that are by no means ‘universal’ nor endemic to modernity, as an era (or a constellation, an infirmament, of historically informed assumptions and happenstance).

The secular nation-state, to my mind, better expresses the political ideas and ideals of the modern era, and of modernity, than the Colonial Empire. The failure of the former – in its current crisis or decadence – offers perhaps a clearer index to the vivacity or morbidity of a political modernity.

“Still, people’s imaginations are full of modernity’s visions and forms (and I mean not only Bauhaus but also arch-modernist mind-sets transformed into contemporary catchwords like “identity” or “culture”).”

There is something about this ‘transformation’ (of ‘arch-modernist mindsets’) that merits discussion. I think it was Brett, forgive me if I’m wrong, who said that postmodernism is built on the foundations of modernism. Christine has poked a little, deservedly, at the idea of Hegelian synthesis, in the n-state. In both views there inheres the idea of transformation – a redemption even of modernist assumptions. I think this archaeological impulse, this restorative ‘moral’ and critical project – such, indeed, that the question heading this discussion can be asked – may be promoted by precisely the kind of spectacular mise-en-scene we see in Roger Beurgel’s statement on modernity.

“In short, it seems that we are both outside and inside modernity, both repelled by its deadly violence and seduced by its most immodest aspiration or potential: that there might, after all, be a common planetary horizon for all the living and the dead.”

Pa Ubu: “Hornstrumpet! We shall not have succeeded in demolishing everything unless we demolish the ruins as well. But the only way I can see of doing that is to use them to put up a lot of fine, well-designed buildings.”

Finally, a brief word regarding the n-state, an idea with its own fascination; and I’d like to know more about its provenance; since, as well as zipping up a certain bodybag – synthetic teeth mesh – it also iterates management/bureaucratic themes of ‘technological progress and infrastructural improvements’. (By way of contrast, inspired by a Polish grandmother on a European train, ’82, I chanced on the related idea of ‘n-set’ – a play on ‘NZ’ and also an acronym. The grandmother said that all her countrymen were doing in those days was watching satellite TV and making babies – “like Africa!” she said.

(N-SET became a script-scenario dealing with a covert (insurgence) operation starting in Poland to postmodernise via media’s softsell immersion the East and West and foment political revolution: to postmediatise consciousness. N-SET stands for ‘non-specified enemy territory’ – carrying forward its scenario through random acts of state-sponsored terror, according to the view that the civilian population as a whole is the only object on which a postmodern war can be waged.)

Simon Taylor

Fairytale, 1,001 chairs, Ai Weiwei, at Documenta 12

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Gottfried Helnwein

Epiphany (Adoration of the Magi), 1996

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Our dystopia – Regine’s excellent article reporting on the keynote presentation by M15 spy Annie McMahon (now blowing whistles, writing books, giving keynotes) at The Influencers in Barcelona 22 October 2015

HERE

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white vinyl

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more transparent boxes … if you can build some for Minus Theatre, please contact [email protected]

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revisiting butoh … the ad before this asked me to choose my cheesecake. I did.

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Polish Night Music … and a snap of The Fence

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another quotation towards Minus Theatre’s workshop at Performance of Hope Symposium, on decomposition, illustrated with some photos by Sebastião Salgado and a clip of Rita Renoir

“The material things do not lie bare and naked before us; they are there by engendering perspectival deformations, halos, mirages, scattering their colors in the light and their images on surrounding things. Human bodies too move in the world engendering profiles and telescoping images of themselves, casting shadows, sending off murmurings, echoes, rustlings, leaving traces and stains. Their freedom is a material freedom by which they decompose whatever nature they were given and whatever form culture put on them, leaving in the streets and the fields the lines of their fingers or feet dance, leaving their warmth in the hands of others and in the winds, their fluids on tools and chairs, their visions in the night. Bodies do not occupy their spot in space and time, filling it to capacity, such that their beauty would be statuesque. We do not see bodies whose form and colors are held by concepts we recognize or reconstitute. We do not see bodies in their own integrity or inner coherence. We are struck by the cool eyes of the prince of inner-city streets, moved by the hand of the old woman covering the sleep of a child. We are fascinated by the hands of the Balinese priest drawing invisible arabesques over flowers and red pigment and water. Our morning is brightened by a slum-dweller whistling while hauling out garbage. We hear the laughter of the Guatemalan campesinos gathered about a juggler, like water cascading in the murmur of the forest. When we are beguiled by the style with which the body leaves its tones, glances, shadows, halos, mirages in the world, we see the human body’s own beauty. In the decomposition in our memory, in so many bodies greeted only with passionate kisses of parting, we have divined being disseminated a knowing how to live trajectories of time as moments of grace.

“When the scale of a human presence scattered across vast spaces seems unconceptualizable, as also the utter simplicity of certain gestures and movements seems undiagrammable, we have before a human body a sense of the sublime. The sublimity of a body departing into the unmeasurable spaces make the ideas we form of the superhuman and the divine seem like second-rate fictions. The sentiment of the sublime is a disarray in the vision, a turmoil in the touch that seeks to hold it, a vortex in our sensibility that makes us ecstatically crave to sacrifice all that we have and are to it.

“Human warmth in the winds, tears and sweat left in our hands, carnal colors that glow briefly before the day fades, dreams in the night, patterns decomposing in memory, sending our way momentary illuminations: bodies of others that touch us by dismembering. The unconceptualizable forces that break up the pleasing forms of human beauty and break into the pain and exultation of the sublime are also delirium and decomposition. Not sublimity in the midst of abjection: sublime disintegration, sickness, madness. The exultation before the sublime is also contamination. Porous bodies exhaling microbes, spasmodically spreading deliriums, viruses, pollutions, toxins.”

– in Abuses (1994), Alphonso Lingis, pp. 137-139

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a quotation for the Minus Workshop at the Performance of Hope Symposium 9-11 Nov. 2015

a group listen to Pavel Haas’s Study for Strings. A Czech composer, Haas wrote the piece in Theresienstadt, shortly before being transferred to Auschwitz, where he died.

“We listened to the piece standing, with the same grave expressions as everyone else gathered there, watching other spectators … In the end, a group of around thirty people formed, who had followed the concert of violins and cellos with emotion, remaining motionless and sunk in thought, moved, profoundly silent, as if recovering from the collapse provoked by what they had heard, and also by what they remembered, what had been evoked, almost reenacted, I’d go as far as to say experienced, because it wasn’t difficult to feel vulnerable and tragic there, like a deportee.”

… “it seemed incredible to me I hadn’t been aware from the outset that the political, or more accurately the eternal illusion of a humanized world was inseparable from artistic endeavours, from the most forward-thinking art.” …

“I would have like to say […]: How could I have been so stupid? Or perhaps the opposite … Whatever the case, I opted to keep quiet and devote myself to carefully observing the general mental recovery of the people gathered there. I ended up identifying an intense communion between all these strangers, who, having surely come from such different places, had congregated there. It was as if they were all thinking, we were all thinking: we’ve been the moment, and this is the place, and now we know what our problem is. It was as if a spirit, a breeze, a current of morally bracing air, an invisible impetus, were pushing us toward the future, forging forever the union between the diverse members of that spontaneous, suddenly subversive-seeming group.

“This is the kind of thing, I thought, that we can never see on television news programs. There are silent conspiracies between people who seem to understand one another without talking, quiet rebellions that take place in the world every minute without being noticed; groups form by chance, unplanned reunions in the middle of the park or on a dark corner, occasionally allowing us to be optimistic about the future of humanity. They join together for a few minutes and then go their separate ways, all enlisting in the hidden fight against moral misery. One day, they will rise up with unheard-of fury and blow everything to bits.”

– from The Illogic of Kassel (2015), Enrique Vila-Matas, pp. 60-1

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teeth in cave

– from here

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