New Left Review no 66: Playtimes

Issue no. 66 of the New Left Review (November/December 2010)contains my essay "Playtimes" (pp. 125/140). The text grew out of a talk I gave in a seminar on games and play organized by Eric de Bruyn in Groningen, and like many recent texts it is part the work on my book-in-progress History in Motion, on the representation and production of history through moving images in film, video, and performance.

"Playtimes" discusses various moments in history of the theory of play - of play as something opposed to modern capitalist society, as an activity more at home in the distant past or in a possible future. From Schiller to Kaprow and from Huizinga to Debord, play was seen as an anachronistic presence in modernity.

This essay analyses various forms that such theorizing took, from early Romantic-Idealist utopias and their collapse in the later phases of the French Revolution and during the Restoration to Huizinga´s conservative pessimism and neo-avant-garde´s attempts, in the 1950s and 1960s, to unleash a revolution of play unhindered by rules - of play freed from any basis in conventional games.

By now, play seems to have caught up with the present, or vice versa; post-Fordist capitalism seems to have made a "ludic tun" echoing that of the 1960s neo-avant-garde. But if the modern theory of play is itself something of an anachronism in the age of game studies, this text argues that it may be a productive one.

Image: Rod Dickinson´s version of Debord´s Game of War, made for Class Wargames.

January e-flux journal

The January issue of e-flux journal, edited by Paul Chan and myself, will be a report on the political situation in Europe and the US. Paul and I have been talking on and off since the US midterm elections this past November; it struck us that One of the right-wing movements in the US (the Tea party, for instance) echo in words and in deeds right-wing movements in other Western European states. From Wilders in Holland to Sarrazin in Germany to Sarkozy’s anti-immigration turn to any number of political personalities and groups that have taken the political stage in recent years, in particular after the great global financial collapse of 2007-2009. These politicians and movements seem to profit from widespread unease about globalization and the excesses of financial capitalism, yet their agenda is usually one of market liberalism combined with ideological attacks on convenient, visible scapegoats. We have asked various authors to write from their national/regional context on the rise of these nationalistic, xenophobic, sometimes homophobic, and financially dubious movements and analyse how (if at all) contemporary art and thinking intersect with these movements. The deadlines are insane and no doubt this will ruin the holidays for all involved, but it just had to be done. I will work some of the materials from my lecture on neo-nationalism in the Netherlands, slides of which were posted here for a few weeks, into my own contribution to this collective assessment of the present situation.

Twenty Years of Texte zur Kunst

The new issue of Texte zur Kunst, no. 80, contains my review of Falke Pisano's exhibition at Extra City in Antwerp. In addition, to mark the magazine's twentieth anniversary, two anthologies of writings from the past two decades of Texte zur Kunst will be published (in German) in the Fundus series. The second volume, Erste Wahl: 20 Jahre »Texte zur Kunst«, 2. Dekade, contains my essay "Leben mit Abstraktion."

Acting on the Omnipresent Frontiers of Autonomy

As one artist told me recently, the Van Abbemuseum is the only Dutch museum that one would even consider criticizing seriously - as an ambitious enterprise worthy of an immanent critique that rather than merely external criticism. In the near future the Van abbe will hopefully get company from the Stedelijk Museum, after years of utter malaise. One symptom of the intellectual bankruptcy of the Dutch museums for 20th- and 21-century art is their chronic inability to develop projects that involve significant and innovative art-historical research and/or a theoretical component. I certainly don't see anything comparable here to a historical investigation such as the MUMOK's Changing Channels, and in a different way the project To the Arts, Citizens! organized by Serralves in Porto (the exhibition opens on 21 November) likewise offers a stark contrast to Dutch business as usual.

There is a historical section with various documents, but this exhibition is mainly a survey of work by youngish contemporary artists (and collectives) focusing "on some of the intersections between art and politics − understood as action, representation or reference − as manifested in our time." The list of artists (which includes Bureau d'Etudes, Chto Delat, Zachary Formwalt, Nicoline van Harskamp and Gert Jan Kocken) looks promising, though it remains to be seen if the project can escape the usual problems of the museification of the political. The point of departure seems somewhat generic - and the title To the Art, Citizens! does not strike one as the best possible choice. However, I am looking forward to the two-part accompanying publication; one volume will be the catalogue while the other contains essays commissioned for the occasion from Peio Aguirre, Federico Ferrari, Brian Holmes, Roberto Merrill, Hito Steyerl and myself.

The authors were contacted well in advance, which suggests an awareness that these things take time - an awareness that is rather rare in my neck of woods. I haven't yet read the other texts yet, but the montage looks like it might be a productive one, and conducive to thinking about and beyond the limits of such museum projects. My text, "Acting on the Omnipresent Frontiers of Autonomy," investigates the use value of the notion of autonomy in these interesting times.

Image: overgrown rafts by Robert Jasper Grootveld moored next to the International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam.

Grey Room no. 41: Transforming Time

Issue no. 41 of Grey Room (Fall 2010) contains my article "Transforming Time," which is based in part on my earlier essay "Liberating Time" in the Art of Projection book. This, whose antecedents reach back much further than the Art of Projection essay "Liberating Time" from the Art of Projection essay, is now a more or less finished part of my History in Motion book project. Other chapters will deal with the dialectic of suspense and shock, with the ideology of play, with television and performance, with unnatural history, and (finally) with revolution and the event.

Transforming Time constitutes a specific take on the rise of film and video art in the last few decades. The focus is on art that I call "cinematic," which is to say that it exists in relation to the history and conventions of the cinema, regardless of whether the artwork in question uses actual film as its material substrate or, for example, video.

Against the background of theoretical analyses of the regimentation of time under capitalism by thinkers such as Debord and Negri (the latter is also interviewed in this issue of Grey Room) Transforming Time explores ways in which various works of cinematic art intervene in the dominant temporal regime, constituting momentary transformations and possibly liberations of time. Artists/directors discussed in the text include Godard, Joseph Cornell, William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin, Stan Douglas,and Günther Förg; the final section focusses on Harun Farocki, Allan Sekula and Wendelien van Oldenborgh, all with works that constitute cinematic reflections on the factory.

The full text can be accessed here:

Image: Wendelien van Oldenborgh, Après la reprise, la prise, 2009.

Joep van Liefland

Until 28 November, Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam is showing Joep van Liefland's exhibition Black Systems (Extended Version), the latest installment in his ongoing series of Video Palace installations. Is discussed Van Liefland and Video Palace briefly in my essay "Viewing Copies" in the e-flux journal, and my text for the SMBA Newsletter takes up elements from this previous essay, while mirroring the increasingly elegiac qualities of Van Liefland's exercises in media archaeology. A digital version of the complete newsletter (in which some glitches from the print version have been fixed) is here:

Texte zur Kunst no. 79: Life at Work

I served as co-editor for the September issue of Texte zur Kunst, "Life at Work." This is André Rottmann's final issue as editor. It has been a pleasure to collaborate with André these past few years, and he seems to have dealt with the strain of processing my last-minute edits of translations and rewrites of edits remarkably well. Freed of his editorial burden, André will now be able to focus on his PhD thesis and other writing projects. Luckily, his final effort at Texte zur Kunst is a strong, coherent and stimulating collection of contributions by some of the most interesting authors and artists working in the US and Europe today (and by me). To conjure with some imaginary statistics: I'd say that whereas the abstraction issue, my previous stint as guest editor, was 75 % successful, this time around we're nearing the 95 % mark.

In modern and contemporary aesthetics, the relationship between art and life is as crucial as it is problematical; this issue seeks to re-examine this unavoidable pairing, with a focus on performance art and post-Fordist immaterial labor. It contains essays by Eric de Bruyn, Sabeth Buchmann, Paul Chan, Branden Joseph, Rachel Haidu, and well as my own text "Acting in the Age of Performance" and a conversation between Hito Steyerl and myself on objecthood and subjectivity. My own essay, "Acts in the Age of Virtuoso Performance" (German version pp. 36-53, English version pp. 124-132), starts with Allan Kaprow's notion of the artist "changing jobs" in order to become a beach bum or a politician; I relate Kaprow's idea to Harold Rosenberg's writings on the act and his concern that the act was absorbed and neutralized by events. This is the background for a discussion of the contemporary regime of performance:

"We live in a culture of performance, and this 'performance' is as ambiguous as Rosenberg’s “acting”, standing both for one’s quasi-dramatic self-performance and for one’s economic achievement—and increasingly, the former is essential to the latter. If the act of old was, in theory, its own norm, contemporary performance constantly tries to meet external targets. To act is to move beyond one’s previous identity and position, whereas to perform is to 'get with the programme,' to be in the event, to readjust and recalibrate. To act is to step beyond the now; to perform is to extend the now, to prolong the present. But this need not be a static opposition. What is a failed performance if not an act, whether intentional or not?

"Using the term 'virtuosity' to refer to “the special capabilities of a performing artist”, Paolo Virno stresses that virtuosity is 'An activity without an end product: the performance of a pianist or of a dancer does not leave us with a defined object distinguishable from the performance itself, capable of continuing after the performance has ended.' On some basic level, all of us are virtuosos, even if we are clumsy virtuoso; speaking is the most basic act of virtuosity. Of course, the term is traditionally associated with great opera singers or musicians; but while artistic and intellectual labor long were exceptions within developing industrial capitalism, Virno notes that 'Virtuosity becomes labor for the masses with the onset of the culture industry. It is here that the virtuoso begins to punch a time card.' Time cards, of course, have become an anachronism; the screenwriter working for one of the classic Hollywood studios in the 1930s or 40s had to subject to this temporal regime, but the contemporary freelance writer is on duty all the time.

"In a number of interconnected and overlapping texts, Jan Verwoert has reflected on the problematic position of the act in a society marked by the pressure to perform: 'Where do the barricades stand today, anyway? We are the avant-garde, but we are also the job slaves. We serve the customers who consume the communication and sociability that we produce. We work in the kitchens and call centres of the newly opened restaurants and companies of the prospectively burgeoning new urban centres of the service society. To offer our services we are willing to travel. Being mobile is part of our performance. So we travel, we go west to work, we go north to work, we are all around, we fix the minds, houses and cars of those who stay in their offices […] What would it mean to put up resistance against a social order in which performativity has become a growing demand, if not the norm? What would it mean to resist the need to perform? Is ‘resistance’ even a concept that would be useful to evoke in this context?' What Verwoert proposes is basically the development of strategies for turning performances back into acts, for making the leap from the implementation of an economic imperative to forms of action – that may in fact take the form of choosing not to act. While this could certainly be the nucleus for an ethic of performance, individual ethics need to be placed in a constellation that would ultimately delineate a political-aesthetical project.

"Jérôme Bel’s choreography Cédric Andrieux (2009) is part of Bel’s series on individual dancers, who tell the audience about their lives and dance extracts from various pieces. Cédric Andrieux danced for Merce Cunningham for years; when he dances extract from pieces by Cunningham and others, there is no music; his breath is clearly audible, stressing the intense labor required for performing Cunningham’s choreography – which, as Andrieux emphasizes, regularly push dancers to and beyond the limits of their possibilities. Practice with Cunningham was a 'slow and laborious process'; the nearly impossible things Cunningham demanded resulted in a feeling of humiliation, as Andrieux cannot keep torso in a strictly horizontal position; when balancing on one leg, he makes little jumps so as to not loose balance. During daily practice, Cunningham had the dancers do the same exercises every morning. Noting that it was a Cagean 'zen thing' for Cunningham, a way of emphasizing that every moment is unique and that there is in fact no such thing as repetition, Andrieux adds that 'For me, mostly it’s totally depressing.” The performance is not, however, some kind of debunking exercise. Andrieux notes that Cunningham never remarked on mistakes, stressing that “it’s when movement starts to be awkward that it becomes interesting.' Still, the dancer mentions his relief upon leaving Cunningham and shedding the dreaded 'unitard' outfit. He wore more comfortable clothes and experienced less physical pain dancing for Trisha Brown or Jérôme Bel—with the latter, 'We are people before we are dancers.' Repeating Cunningham’s repetitions, Andrieux examines himself as a quasi-subject and quasi-object, as body in perpetual training.

"Cédric Andrieux examines the labor behind and in the dance; it is performative treatise on the aesthetico-political economy. Bel no longer looks for life elsewhere, à la Kaprow; he locates it in the practice at hand. Nor does he engage in an ultimately empty celebration of the artistic act as free and therefore universal, as a mythical substitute for political action, à la Rosenberg; instead, he examines artistic acts as being universal precisely in so far as they are concrete examples of contemporary labor. To be sure, to the extent that such a practice becomes hardened fact, becomes a defined oeuvre, it also needs to be negated – with precision, with attention to its specific successes and failures. To this end, it needs to be put in a provisional montage with other performances – performances that may or may not be art, but that together form a constellation of acts that evince various admixtures of forethought and improvisation, of refusal and over-acting, of planning and breakdown."

Edit: a PDF of my essay has been posted here.

Images: Jérôme Bel, Cédric Andrieux, 2009.

Fillip no. 12: Once More on Publicness

I wrote a short text for Fillip that looks back on my 2006 book Secret Publicity and on its relation to the discourse on "new institutionalism" that emerged virtually simultaneously. The text was written for issue no. 12 for Fillip, which focuses on questions of publicness; this print issue will be out in the fall, but the article is already online at

Three Autonomies and More

Things are bit quiet on the publication front at the moment and they will remain so over the summer, until (to extend the military metaphor) the fall offensive kicks in. However, June does see the publication of the first issue of The Autonomy Project Newspaper, to which I contributed the text "Three Autonomies and More." The Autonomy Project is an initiative of the Van Abbemuseum, the equally Eindhoven-based art space and publisher Onomatopee, and a number of Dutch, German and British art schools and universities. I'm involved via the Platform Moderne Kunst, an initiative of the Onderzoekschool Kunstgeschiedenis (Dutch Postgraduate School for Art History).

Aimed at young and future practitioners, the Autonomy Project seeks to investigate the contemporary relevance of the notion of autonomy. Should it be dumped like so much Modernist toxic waste, or is a different conception and practice (or practical conception) of autonomy possible and indeed necessary? My essay in the first newspaper, published by Onomatopee in preparation for the Autonomy Summer School at the Van Abbe later this month, argues for the latter position by distinguishing between several different forms of autonomy. The text was written and edited under severe time constraints, which shows in a shockingly large number of glitches - which, ironically, can be seen as reflecting the text's content, emphasizing as it does the pressure to perform marking today's economy. I will develop elements from this text in an essay for the catalogue of a show taking place at Serralves later this year.

A Tale of Two Criticisms 2.0

The publication Judgment and Contemporary Art Criticism, a co-production by the Vancouver-based art space Artspeak and the equally Vancouver-based magazine Fillip, was announced some months ago, but it has been delayed. Being the bane of editors everywhere, I treated this as an opportunity to tinker with my contribution, the essay "A Tale of two Criticisms." In May I gave a talk on the basis of this text in Vitoria-Gasteiz, in the context of a seminar on art criticism organized by Peio Aguirre, and my own talk and that by Esther Leslie triggered me to rethink and rewrite the middle section of my essay. Thanks to Jeff Khonsary (the book's co-editor, with Melanie O'Brian) for processing my last-minute changes.

"A Tale of two Criticisms" briefly traces the intersecting paths of Enlightenment art criticism and Romantic art criticism through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. While the Enlightenment mode of criticism passes judgment on artworks in the name of the public and of supposedly universal standards, Romantic criticism (or critique) tries to reconstruct and extend the work of art’s unique inner logic. The second and third parts trace the transformations of these distinct types of criticism in the twentieth century and up to the present:

"Meanwhile, most art magazines publish a debased version of Romantic critique. The Romantic “completion” of the work of art is turned into a theoretical virtuoso performance that above all seems to aim at strengthening the author’s position on the market. The specialist criticism published in magazines and catalogues functions as market-driven romanticism that uses infinite reflection to avoid arriving at some sort of judgment; it finds its counterpart in the increasingly beleaguered reviews in newspapers and other mass media, which often amount to a debased Enlightenment criticism that offers judgments without reflection. When art magazines publish top tens and 'best of' lists, it would appear that what matters is less what is being said, and more that something (of whatever nature) is being said about a certain artist or show—by a certain critic or curator. And is the same not true of newspapers? While the space allotted to reviews has been decreasing over the past ten to fifteen years, papers have increasingly taken to 'translating' the content of a review into three or four out of five stars and publishing lists of “shows worth seeing.” In the latter case in particular, judgment has been reduced to the mere act of mentioning. One might conclude, as Boris Groys has done, that 'yes/no' or 'plus/minus' judgments are anachronistic and ineffective. The only form of judgment that still functions, Groys argues, is 'one/zero' criticism; the judgment lies in the decision to write about an artist or show, or not. In a way, this has been the modus operandi of Romantic criticism all along; after all, all only a good work of art demands and deserves textual 'completion.' But one/zero criticism is hardly the triumph of Romanticism; if anything, it signifies the entropic collapse of both historical models. In Romantic criticism, the one/zero form of critical judgment was largely a side effect; what really mattered was to engage with those works that seemed to demand it. Now, however, the one/zero judgment has moved from the margin to the center, in the process not only transforming Romantic criticism, but also Enlightenment criticism: critics may still pass yes/no judgments, but these could now be seen as surface phenomena that distract the attention from the real judgment. The 'no' of every negative review is negated by the fact that the review was published at all—by the fact that it is a'“one.'

"To observe the features of the current textual landscape is a beginning, but it is not enough. That all forces seem to be aligned in favour of this form of criticism does not mean, as Groys seems to suggest, that there is no room for interventions in this critical regime. A fundamental problem of the current form of one/zero criticism is that its judgments remain implicit and thereby unquestionable. Surely it is an impoverishment of discourse if nobody is prepared to criticize an artist or project outright and put their own criteria to the test—to risk opening ourselves up to the criticism that we have not been attentive enough to an artwork’s complex logic, that we might have failed dismally to produce an Übermeister [a reference to Friedrich Schlegel, who referred to his critical essay of Goethe's Wilhelm Meisters lehrjahre as the 'Übermeister']. However, I would argue that to continue the inherent and implicit work of reflection in a critical text is also to be attuned to the work’s contradictions and aporias, which may be more or less serious and detrimental to this work’s success. To practice 'completionist' criticism, then, does not preclude value judgments, but these will be rather different from those of Enlightenment criticism with its apparently fixed criteria. Especially in its historicized and politicized form, as Benjaminian strategic criticism, the practice of Romantic critique does indeed arrive at judgments—but these spring from taking the work of art’s logic (faulty as it may be) to a point where it goes beyond and against the work’s limitations, where it is confronted with other logics operating in its cultural and historical context. Following Andrea Fraser’s suggestion that art criticism should be practiced as a site-specific activity, it seems to me that part of the job for a critic writing for art-world publications that tend to neutralize debate (magazines, catalogues) is to try and push reflection to the point of site specificity. This can also mean writing about artists one has serious doubts about—even if it may contribute to their status and increase their symbolic capital. This is a price that has to be paid for breaking the deafening silence. If writing in art magazines and catalogues needs to push reflection to the point where its interpretations become discriminative judgments, other forms of criticism need more reflection on the a prioris and aporias of evaluating art. It is probably too late in the day to worry about traditional newspaper criticism; more relevant is the Web, in particular, blogs. Here, site-specific criticism would mean capitalizing on the informality of the Web in a way that goes beyond proud displays of personal preferences. Media that are not traditional platforms for criticism of visual art can also be fruitful, and in establishing connections between different media, site-specific criticism may become truly strategic. Turning against the limitations of the media in question, such criticism may momentarily open up spaces for partisan reflection amidst the ones and zeros."

Images: stills from Eva Meyer and Eran Schaerf, Flashforward, 2004.

The book is now available via Motto Distribution:

Art and Thingness, part 3

Issue no. 16 of the e-flux journal contains the third and final part of my article "Art and Thingness" (which is something of a first sketch for a larger research project I hope to focus on after my current project, the book tentatively titled History in Motion). While part 1 dealt with the readymade and part 2 with the Constructivist counter-commodity, this final installment takes up both these strands and discusses transformations of the art objects since the 1990s. An extract:

"Last year, in an exhibition that was part of a series of events on “social design,” curator Claudia Banz combined elements from the publications of Victor Papanek with a selection of multiples by Joseph Beuys. Bringing together Papanek’s designs for cheap and low-tech radios and televisions for use in third-world countries with works such as Beuys’ Capri Batterie (1985) and Das Wirtschaftswert-PRINZIP (1981), the exhibition subtly shifted the perception of Beuys’ works in particular. The works were displayed in the usual way, in display cases that tend to turn them into relics; yet the proximity of the radio and TV designs brought out aspects of these things that often remain dormant. Yes, the appropriated East German package of beans with its non-design has become a meta- and mega-fetish like so many other readymades, yet the constellation in which it has been placed opens up new connections, a new network of meaning. The Capri Batterie, like the 1974 Telephon made from tin cans and wires, may be tied up with mystifying anthroposophical conceptions of energy and communication, but this combination emphasizes that it would be a mistake to see such Beuysian things purely as expressions of a private mythology. In a different field and in a different register from Papanek’s work, they too are counter-commodities—and while it would be a mistake to lose sight of their compromised status, it would be an even bigger one to be content with that observation.

"Even if we were to disregard Beuys as regressive and unmodern, many of the 1960s and 1970s practices that are most steeped in the tradition of critical theory that Latour seeks to toss into the dustbin of history show that a critique of commodification is something rather different from a 'ceaseless, even maniacal purification.' Martha Rosler’s various versions of her Garage Sale piece involve her mimicking this American suburban version of the Surrealists’ flea market; having been advertised in art and non-art media, it is a more or less normal garage sale to some, and a performance to others. However, Rosler noted that the setting transformed even the art crowd into a posse of bargain hunters, who did not pay that much attention to the structure of the space, with odd and personal objects tucked away in the outer corners, or to the slide show and sound elements. For a 1977 version, Rosler assumed the persona of a Southern Californian mother with 'roots in the counterculture,' who on an audiotape that played in the place mused on the value and function of things: 'What is the value of a thing? What makes me want it? . . . I paid money for these things—is there a chance to recuperate some of my investment by selling them to you? . . . Why not give it all away?” The woman goes on to quote Marx on commodity fetishism and to wonder if “you [will] judge me by the things I’m selling.'

"In such a work, the object is placed in a network that is social and political, not merely one of signs. Semiosis is always a social and political process. There is a diagrammatic dimension to such a piece, as there is, in different ways, to many works of Allan Sekula or Hans Haacke. If the diagram in Rosler’s piece is one that primarily concerns the circulation of objects in suburban family life, a number of Haacke’s works contrast the use of corporations’ logos in the context of art spaces, where they become disembodied signs, with those corporations’ exploitation of labor or involvement in authoritarian or racist regimes; Sekula’s Fish Story and related projects chart the largely unseen trajectories of commodities and workers on and near the oceans. Things and people. These practices, in particular those of Haacke and Rosler, spring from a critical reading of both the Duchampian heritage and the Constructivist project, which was being excavated in the same period by art historians, critics, activists, and artists. In their reading of these two genealogies, these artists recover some of the impetus behind the Constructivist/Productivist attempt to redefine the thing."

Art and Thingness, part 2

Issue 15 of the e-flux journal contains part 2 of my serial Art and Thingness. Titled "Thingification," this installment focuses on Productivism and its afterlife. The same issue contains an essay by Hito Steyerl that resonates strongly with my own. After feedback from Eric de Bruyn, I also tweaked the ending of part 1 of my text, from issue no. 13, and the new and improved version of that part is now online as well (thanks to my tolerant editor, Brian Kuan Wood).

Texte zur Kunst no. 77: Harun Farocki

Issue no. 77 of Texte zur Kunst contains my review of the Harun Farocki exhibitions in Cologne and London (English version pp. 155-158, German version 233-239). Here are the opening paragraphs:

"Two simultaneous exhibitions of Harun Farocki’s video installations, at Raven Row in London and Museum Ludwig in Cologne, amount to two variations of a small-scale retrospective of this body of work. One show is, as it were, a replay of the other, swapping some elements for others and establishing a somewhat different constellation of works – creating a different diagram of Farocki’s pieces for art spaces. Both exhibitions are accompanied by screenings of Farocki’s films for the cinema and television, but the shows themselves focus almost exclusively on the gallery pieces he started making in 1995, in response both to the worsening conditions for independent film production and distribution and to specific possibilities offered by exhibition spaces. With a few exceptions, most of these gallery works consist of two or more channels (either projected or on monitors).

"The Raven Row exhibition is accompanied by a solid publication, with a number of insightful texts both by Farocki and others, that will remain a benchmark for some time to come. By contrast, the Cologne show comes with by a small cahier containing the German translation of an autobiographical text by Farocki from the British volume, with a fold-out poster that (on one of its sides) sports a diagram which can also be found on a wall in the museum. This diagram contains titles and images of the works in the Ludwig show plus the titles (but no images) of non-gallery films that are shown in the screenings. Most of these elements are connected by arrows pointing either in one or in two directions, though sometimes pieces are placed in each other’s vicinity without any such physical contact. Sometimes these connections are very direct: a gallery piece such as Auge/Maschine III/Eye/Machine III (2000), shown at the Ludwig, uses some of the same material, and covers similar ground to, the single-channel film Erkennen und Verfolgen/War at a Distance (2003).

In a less direct way, the recent double projection “Immersion”, which shows a demonstration of a computer program with which traumatized US soldiers can relive their experiences, is connected both to the documenta 12 installation “Deep Play” and to non-exhibition films such as Die Schulung (1987) and Die Schöpfer der Einkaufswelten (2001). With the former, they share the investigation of technology, with the latter, the element of the rehearsal of roles and the “programming” of behavior. The connections in this diagram do of course represent a choice, and thus a reduction; they make visible certain connections by obscuring others. A text analyzing the Farocki shows cannot help functioning in a similar way."

Image: wall diagram at the Ludwig.


Until June 6, the MUMOK in Vienna is showing Changing Channels, an exhibition (curated by Matthias Michalka) that investigates the different ways in which artists have used and reflected on television, from the 1960s to the 1980s. The catalogue contains essays by Manuela Ammer, Tom Holert, Christian Höller, David Joselit, Pamela Lee, Matthias Michalka and myself. My text is called "Chronovision", and it investigates television as a time machine.

"Television is video, video is television; they are part of the same technological dispositif. What is a video artist if not a television producer without a station at his disposal? The formal characteristics of much video art are hardly compatible with the dominant regime in TV programming, video art has developed its own modes of distribution, mostly based on tapes or DVDs sold in limited editions. However, television remained an object of fascination for artists—both abject other and ideal to be aspired to. If, as Martha Rosler has argued, video art was accompanied by myths revolving around its resistance to corporate TV, with an artist like Nam June Paik functioning as a mythical hero who '[freed] video from the domination of corporate TV,' and who 'has done all the bad and disrespectful things to television that the art world’s collective imaginary might wish to do,' it is equally true that there is a history of attempted rapprochements between video art and television that reads like an extended tragicomedy. In the collective imaginary of the video art world, television was both bad and good object, a tainted ideal to be rescued from its fallen state.

"In the 1970s, René Berger distinguished between macro TV (broadcast television), meso TV (local cable), and micro TV (video); at most, some artists managed to infiltrate and utilize the meso level of local cable TV, whose democratic potential was never fully realized. Some managed to establish a foothold in public television; Paik worked with American PBS affiliates such as WNET and WGBH, and Gerry Schum produced some programs for German television. However, in a symptomatic move Shum eventually retreated from macro to micro distribution, moving from the Fernsehgalerei Gerry Schum to the videogalerie schum. Even Warhol struggled for years to get his work on television, finally getting his own MTV show in the 1980s, in a format that hardly lived up to the promise of some of Warhol’s unbroadcast 1970s television projects. But whether it took place on a micro, meso, or macro scale, video art at its best pushed the logic of television to a point where the medium’s potential and its failings, its complexity and its contradictions are illuminated.

"In this text, the writing of history is not conceived as the amassing of positive facts, but rather as the tracing of failed acts, unrealized potentials, missed encounters—the reconstruction of what never took on the positive solidity of an unavoidable historical fact. This essay deals with some episodes in the hesitant history that is the dialogue between (video) art and television, and it does so precisely by focusing on the time-based nature of video and television. Television is the first medium that presented a potentially uninterrupted flow of images into people’s homes (and other places), penetrating daily life much more thoroughly than film had done. Television has often been analysed primarily as a spatial network, or in terms of a dialectic of network and object (the TV set as commodity), and when the temporality of television is theorized, the focus is often on real time and liveness—or on the ideology of liveness. This was already a crucial factor in Rudolf Arnheim’s 1935 essay on the new medium, in which he argued that TV can give us a feeling 'for what happens simultaneously in different places. For the first time in the history of mans striving for understanding, simultaneity can be experienced as such, not merely translated into a succession in time. Our slow bodies and near-sighted eyes no longer hamper us. We come to recognize the place where we are located as one among many: we become more modest, less egocentric.' Here, the focus is on the simultaneity that live transmission creates between different places, and the temporal dimension of this live connection is hardly considered; liveness and the resultant simultaneity are spatialized."

Art and Thingness, Part 1

E-flux journal is publishing my essay Art and Thingness as a three-part serial. The first part, titled "Breton's Ball and Duchamp's Carrot," is online now, as part of the February issue. Because the March issue is a special thematic edition, part 2 will appear in April. These are the opening paragraphs of part 1:

"In modern art, the increasing resemblance of art objects to everyday objects raised the threat of eroding of any real difference between works of art and other things. Barnett Newman railed against both Duchamp’s readymades and 'Bauhaus screwdriver designers' who were elevated to the ranks of artists by the Museum of Modern Art’s doctrine of 'Good Design.' The danger for art was the same in both cases: the dissolving of the dividing line between works of art and everyday objects. Just as ancient art proper should never be confused with the craft of 'women basket weavers,' modern art should never be confused with a screwdriver or urinal. In the 1960s, Clement Greenberg would also worry that a blank sheet of paper or a table would become readable as art, that the boundary between artworks and 'arbitrary objects' was eroding. While not evincing any Modernist anxieties about readymades, Paul Chan’s recent assertion that “a work of art is both more and less than a thing” shows renewed concerns regarding such an assimilation—in a context marked, until quite recently, by an unprecedented market boom in which works of art seemed to be situated in a continuum of luxury goods spanning from Prada bags to luxury yachts.

"But what does it mean to say that an artwork is both more and less than a thing? The notion of the thing is prominent in contemporary theory, and one might say that the thing has emerged as something that is both more and less than an object. In W. J. T. Mitchell’s words:

'Things' are no longer passively waiting for a concept, theory, or sovereign subject to arrange them in ordered ranks of objecthood. 'The Thing' rears its head—a rough beast or sci-fi monster, a repressed returnee, an obdurate materiality, a stumbling block, and an object lesson.

"Rather than building a wall between art and thingness, the work of art should be analyzed as just such a sci-fi monster. If objects are named and categorized, part of a system of objects, thingness is resistant to such ordered objecthood. If we grant that a work of art is both more and less than other types of things, this should not be regarded as an incentive to exacerbate and fetishize those differences, but rather as a point of departure for analyzing the complex interrelationships of artworks with these other things—and for examining certain works of art as problematizing and transforming this very relationship."

Image: André Breton's crystal ball.