Texte zur Kunst no. 92: Joseph Beuys

Issue no. 92 of Texte zur Kunst contains my review of H.P. Riegel's biography of Joseph Beuys. The text's punning title, "Cleves and Tartars," was an inspired find by the editors.

I take this German-language biography as an occasion to discuss the reception of Beuys's work in general, which has long been marked by a deadlock between uncritical adoration and complete critical rejectionIn recent years, this has started to change somewhat. 

Riegel's biography might spark a throwback, as the author has diligently gathered incriminating evidence that makes it really tempting to dismiss Beuys as an inveterate mythologizer and liar, dabbler in esoteric nonsense, and friend of right-wing creeps. 

While this material obviously needs to be taken into account, I argue that biographical reductionism must be avoided when coming to terms with the remains and the afterlife of Beuys's practice. The review is online here

Image: Joseph Beuys, Kitschpostkarte 2, 1980. 

Metropolis M: Ann Goldstein

Metropolis M asked me to comment on the departure of Ann Goldstein from the Stedelijk Museum, and the resulting text has now been published in the December-January print issue (in Dutch; the English version will probably show up online at some point). The text is titled "Not Wanting to Write Anything About Ann,"  which is obviously a play on John Cage's Not Wanting to Say Anything About Marcel.

Somehow this seemed to fit my reluctance to get into the fray of Dutch art-world politics and let my agenda be determined, even negatively, by Dutch newspapers and their penchant for focusing on museum directors and their alleged character flaws — flaws which, in the eyes of some vocal and vicious hacks, can encompass being foreign, or being a woman. The text thus analyses what has happened to Ann Goldstein, who has left the Stedelijk prematurely, as a disconcerting symptom of a wider and fundamental disfunction of public discourse in the Netherlands.

E-Flux Journal: World History and Earth Art

Issue no. 49 of e-flux journal contains my essay "World History and Earth Art." This text takes as its point of departure Jonas Staal's smartphone app  and web site, The Venice Biennale Ideological Guide 2013.  

I use this interactive work as a conceptual tool to reconsider both big and more modest questions involving the state, its tenuous but destructive grasp on history, and its role in the data-mining operation that our information economy has increasingly become. 

In the process, the various other artworks and cultural phenomena that are being discussed also serve to produce a richer reading and more substantial critique of the Guide - as a concrete and specific intervention in the quantitative turn that culture is undergoing.

Sean Snyder: No Apocalypse, Not Now

Currently the Kunstverein in Cologne is showing Sean Snyder's solo No Apocalypse, Not Now (till December 22). The exhibition could be seen as a counterpart of Snyder's 2009 exhibition Index at the ICA. Index was a project for which Snyder intended to digitize and upload all his works, destroying their old media - analog videos, photo contact sheets, and so on. 

At the ICA and ever since, Index has been represented by black-and-white photographs of media in various states of photographic enlargement and abstraction (and in various phases of destruction). The projected uploading operation was never realized, and between 2009 and 2013 Snyder's practice was on hiatus. In the main space of No Apocalypse, Not Now, Snyder is showing some of the Index photos together a selection of videos that have as it were re-emerged from Index. However, they have been transformed in the process: they're all shown on the same old-school monitors, even those that were originally projections. They have been abstracted and flattened out, and made more fully comparable in the process. New and at times genuinely illuminating interactions and interferences emerge between different pieces; this is such a strong reconfiguration that it is effectively a new work, like Duchamp's Boîte-en-valise

In separate spaces, two videos are screened that were made around the same time as Index: Exhibition and Afghanistan. They, too, were included in the 2009 Index show at the ICA. Here, they are set apart from the earlier, "indexed" videos as large projections, suggesting that there is life besides and beyond Index

For a small catalogue/brochure that visitors can purchase at the Kunstverein for one euro, I have adapted and updated an unpublished article on Snyder from 2009, "Two or Three Things I Think I Know About Sean Snyder." At the time, I regarded the text as an attempt to state some "basic banalities" about an artist whose reception, I felt, was still in its infancy. While things have not really moved forward in the meantime, the show in Cologne might help change his. It certainly convinced me that one of these days I have to write an entirely new text that more fully reflects my current thoughts on Snyder's practice.

Slow Motion

Book distribution to and in North America appears to be a sluggish process. While some copies of History in Motion made it to Brooklyn in time for the book launch/screening at Light Industry on October 22 (see photo), the remainder still appears to be stuck in transit. 

If you're American or Canadian and don't want to wait, visiting http://amazon.co.uk or one of the other European amazon branches might be a good idea.

Louise Lawler. Adjusted

From 11 October, the Museum Ludwig in Cologne is showing a major retrospective of Louise Lawler's work, Adjusted. The works are scattered throughout the building, in dialogue with the connection. 

In addition to, among many other things, two new large-format photographs that have been stretched to match the proportions of specific walls, the exhibition also comprises a series of ten "tracings" that recast her photographs in a form that recalls children's colouring book.

The catalog contains texts by curator Philipp Kaiser, Benjamin Buchloh, Hal Foster and myself. My essay "'Not Stone'" departs from the notion of arrangement in Lawler's work, but does not focus on the iconic photographs of artworks that have been "arranged by" their owners. 

Rather, I focus on her practice in general as constantly arranging and rearranging objects, subjects, contexts, events. I place particular emphasis on "ephemeral" pieces such as His Gesture Moved Us to Tears (with Sherrie Levine) and An Evening With Julian Schnabel and on various forms of printed matter in her work.


The Dutch magazine Open, which had to cease publication due to the cuts, is now online as Open! under http://www.onlineopen.org/ As before, Open! continues deal critically and theoretically with intersections of art, media and activism as a way of charting the transformations of publicness and the production of commons. In addition to new essays (and links to the old issues), the site is publishing a series of short columns that take stock of the situation and/or propose new projects. I contributed one of these columns, "The Conversation."

This Is Television

Judy Radul's show This Is Television is on view till the 19th of October at the daadgalerie in Berlin. The exhibition encompasses a 16 mm film, video stills and a set-up of monitors and cameras for which I compiled a video programme that contains artistic reflections on the medium as well as direct interventions in broadcast or cable television. The pacing of these videos is used to manipulate a local television feed through the intermediary of two live cameras.

Artists/directors range from Willem de Ridder and Wim T. Schippers to Sean Snyder, from General Idea to Harun Farocki, from Gregg Bordowitz to Alexander Kluge, from Christoph Schlingensief to Eva Meyer & Eran Schaerf.

A Guy Called Debord

Issue no. 52 of Grey Room (Summer 2013) is a special issue on Guy Debord's cinema. My text "Guy Debord and The Cultural Revolution" (pp. 108-127) looks at Debord's films as well as other aspects of his practice in the context of fundamental transformations of the cultural sphere in and since the 1960s and 1970s. In order to shift the terms of the debate away from an exclusive focus on cinema I use the notion of cultural revolution, which the Situationists employed in the late 1950s, and which has had a glittering career in other circles. I will investigate this (and argue for the term's relevance) more fully in an essay on which I'm currently working.

Fillip no. 18: Always Working

Fillip no. 18 is out now, and this issue contains a section on art and labour edited by Gabrielle Moser, "Always Working." This section contains my essay "The Making of Labour: The Movie" (a short draft of a longer text to come). 

My text is complemented by a contribution from Natascha Sadr Haghighian. Gabrielle asked me the name of an artist I'd like to share the "Always Working" section with, and Natascha came to mind; her projects are among the most incisive artistic articulations of the antoinomies of contemporary labour, from Solo Show to I Can't Work Like This.

The aim was to have an autonomous contribution that did not run any risk of being taken for an illustration. I do not discuss Natascha's work in this particular text, which focuses on a number of recent film and video projects by artists/filmmakers including Harun Farocki, Hito Steyerl, Zachary Formwalt and the greatly missed Allan Sekula.

Order from Fillip or (in Europe) from Motto.

Time Is the Place

Starting in Germany, History in Motion: Time in the Age of the Moving Image is now available for instance from amazon.de, but also from real bookstores that aren't data-guzzling kraken, such as pro qm

The rest of the world is to follow very soon.

History in Motion contains 312 action-packed pages, with 82 illustrations in glorious black and white. Very reasonably priced at € 19, so you won't have to sell an organ to buy a copy.


Texte zur Kunst no. 90: Research Objectives

From the editorial of issue no. 90 of Texte zur Kunst (June 2013):

"Using the phrase 'How we aim to work', the June issue of Texte zur Kunst brings together contributions by authors who have been associated with the magazine for a long time and who have shaped its debates along the way. Instead of specifying a thematic focus, we left it to the contributors to decide which questions relating to their current research interests they wanted to address. The selected texts are mostly extracts from long-term research projects and therefore function as 'work samples'. They expand on topics for which, faced with the deadlines always bearing down on them, the authors usually don’t find time. Thus, this issue contains drafts of texts – “goodies from the study”, if you like – that would otherwise remain in the drawer and that for now avoid the logic of direct exploitation. We invited the authors to develop these texts without requiring that they align, as is so often the case, with a designated theme.

"It is precisely the conditions out of which they developed and the different formats of these contributions – from collaborative authorship; to narrative, literary essays; all the way to monographic and performative, artistic treatises – that stand for a different approach to the fields of university research, project-oriented collaborations, artistic dealings, and the thematic 'private passions' of our authors. Such an approach would run counter to the often sobering coercion of activity and effectiveness that characterizes working conditions today. The authors’ willingness to share “work samples” from their ongoing projects can also be understood as a reaction against the pressure of having to be flexible and active in various ways in both one’s professional and private life – in order to expand one’s network through a quick succession of projects and to ensure the existence of future projects. Especially in the field of immaterial labor, the 'projective city' diagnosed by Luc Boltanski and Ève Chiapello in 1999 is more effective than ever." 

From my contribution, an essay titled "Research Objectives," in which I discuss my research plans for the post-History in Motion future:  

"The art world is often marked by an odd just-in-time economy: Could you give a talk next Saturday? Could you fly over in ten days to provide a theoretical framework for our workshop? Could you write an essay for this artist’s retrospective, ready by the end of April? Such requests are obviously problematic when the day job is teaching, holding seminars, discussing theses, grading papers. However, as deliriously random as some of these requests can be, there is no denying the gratification of encountering some form of demand. By contrast, the neoliberal turn of academic funding in Europe takes the seemingly paradoxical form of neo-Stalinist five-year plans where scholars have to compete by submitting large, collective research proposals that have to fit a particular ideological agenda. In Holland, where essentially all research in the humanities has to be squeezed into the categories of 'creative industries' or 'e-humanities,' this development takes on traits of auto-parody. 

"The bureaucratic longue durée of the academic market is counterbalanced by ultra-fast personal projects. Philosopher Graham Harman recounts writing his book The Quadruple Object (2011) in six weeks – and live-blogging about it, thus pressuring himself to finish on time. The final draft took 86 hours and 34 minutes to complete. Graham lauds the liberating effect imposed by circumstances: 'Simply by identifying all the operating constraints on a given project, one’s room for free decision is narrowed and focused to a manageable range, and the specters of nothingness and infinity soon dissipate in the rising sun. When that happens, it becomes possible to summarize your life’s work in a mere six weeks of writing.' Regardless of whether this is truly a model even within Harman’s field, it is hard to see how such a “summarizing” approach could be applied to most disciplines in the humanities, such as art history. In that case, a sweeping synthesis or programmatic statement could certainly be whipped up in a limited amount of time (after a life’s work of de facto preparation), but the very existence of the discipline depends on painstaking and often lengthy historical research. 

"The question thus becomes one of projecting and propelling one’s project(s) outside of the academic Planwirtschaft There clearly is an urgent need to create 'precarious forms of autonomy within the institution,' as Gerald Raunig puts it. This also necessitates moves outside the university: research in the interstices, in the space where academic and cultural markets intersect and sometimes clash. This means that one operates in an expanded and diffuse edu-factory that thrives on instability and self-exploitation. However, the situation faced by scholars who opt for the more standard approach and have a go at the small amount of big money available for the humanities is ultimately not much less precarious. The crucial petite différence is that the focus on a few large funding bodies tends to create a horizon of thought that is rarely called into question; the very scarcity of options acts as a perverse disincentive for scholars to problematize their own research objects and their mode of production; to think and act in terms of different intellectual, affective, social, economic constellations."  


Image: Paul Chan, scene from the Badlands office (2011).

New Left Review: Performance After Television

Issue no. 80 of New Left Review (March/April 2013) contains my article "Performance Art After Television," which is part of chapter 3 of History in Motion. In general, that book would hardly have come into being without NLR's receptiveness and support, even when faced with half-baked work-in-progress. The "art" bit was added to my original title "Performance After Television" so as to give a slightly clearer sense of the subject; after all, this is not an art journal. The essay shares the pages of this issue with, for instance, contributions on the Arab uprisings and the Nobel Prize for Literature—not to mention the Decline of the West.

The article is online here, but it's behind a paywall.

Image: Eran Schaerf's 2002 installation version of his Listener's Voice Project.


Getting there

This isn't the final cover; the subtitle has changed in the meantime. We're in the proofing stage right now. Getting there one comma at a time. Design by Surface.

Texte zur Kunst 89: Mike and Oskar

Issue no. 89 of Texte zur Kunst (March 2013) is largely dedicated to Mike Kelley. It also contains my review of the Oskar Fischinger retrospective at the EYE in Amsterdam, "Moving in Circles." 

I argue that whereas the exhibition desperately wants to demonstrate that Fischinger was a major artist, a more fruitful approach would be to accept and explore his minor status. As Branden Joseph puts it, “If ‘minor’ artists retain a place within major history […] it is on account of their relation to or proximity to the movements and categories engendered by major history and by the unceasing pressure that they exact on them. […] Appearing on the fringes of major movements or styles, their relation to them is one of deterritorialization, opening these categories up to heterological connections and interactions.” Such an exploration of Fischinger's work would have resulted in a completely different, and potentially much richer, exhibition.

Lidwien van de Ven

The event that echoes throughout Lidwien van de Ven's new book is the 2002 murder of Pim Fortuyn, the Dutch right-wing populist. As Fortuyn's intellectual heirs, Geert Wilders and Thilo Sarrazin have a spectral presence in this publication, produced by Witte de With (and edited with great acumen and patience by Amira Gad) in the context of a series of artists'  books focussing on the institution's local context.

Under the perhaps deliberately anodyne title Rotterdam: Sensitive Times, the photo sequence that runs through the book combines images of manifestations in the immediate aftermath of Fortuyn's death with numerous other events, across Europe and elsewhere, including a number of extreme-right and Muslim demonstrations. I focus on such manufactured or staged events in my short and condensed text in the book, "Lidwien van de Ven: Photo Opportunities."


Third Text: Mutations

Issue no. 120 of Third Text, edited by T.J. Demos, is dedicated to the politics of ecology. It comes with an open-access online supplement that includes an article that is based on parts of chapter six of my upcoming book, History in Motion. Titled "Mutations and Misunderstandings," this essay can be found here

MA Programme Visual Arts, Media and Architecture

The international deadline for applying for VU University's two-year research master's programme VAMA (Visual Arts, Media and Architecture) is April 1, or March 1 if you are also applying for a VU scholarship.

See the announcement here.


Image: Bik Van der Pol, Accumulate, Collect, Show (2011).

Open update

Recently it was announced that Open, the journal on art and the public domain that has been axed in its old form due to the Dutch culture wars funding cuts, will continue as an online platform in collaboration with Stroom in The Hague. In a situation in which the chairman of the Dutch section of AICA (the international art critics' association) prides himself on not knowing the meaning of the word discursive, this is very good news. At least one crucial context in which critical thought is not ostracized will continue to exist, however fragile and underfunded. While much of the content from Open issues published between 2004 and 2010 is online in PDF form, editor Jorinde Seijdel and web designer Niels Schrader are working on a searchable online database—a "living archive" that will the basis of a site that is to include new online editions.

Image: a selection of key texts from Open was recently published by nai010 publishers. 

Contemporary Art: 1989 to the Present

Contemporary Art: 1989 to the Present is a collection of essays edited by Alexander Dumbadze and Suzanne Hudson. Designed as a multifaceted introduction to the field, the book contains contributions by the likes of Ina Blom, Sabeth Buchmann, T.J. Demos, Liam Gillick and Maria Lind, Carrie Lambert-Beatty, Julian Stallabrass and Jan Verwoert. The section titled "The Rise of Fundamentalism" contains my article "Monotheism à la Mode." It recapitulates and develops some strands from Idols of the Market.

While it looks like an excellent job editorially, it must be said that the pricing by Wiley-Blackwell is rather obscene. That's the academic textbook market for you: capitalism at its most Stalinist. 

Speculative Realities/The Object of Art History

V2 in Rotterdam has just published an ebook reader as part of their project Speculative Realities. For this publication, Rachel O'Reilly conducted a brief email interview with me, titled "The Object of Art History." The interview refers to some texts that are early sketches for a book project I will hopefully be able to do some work on the the near future (tentatively titled The Art of Obstruction, formerly known as Art and Thingness). The ebook can be downloaded in various formats here.

History in Motion

The holidays were taken up largely by the effort to get my book History in Motion ready to go into the design phase. History in Motion, which is to be published by Sternberg this spring, is an investigation into the temporalization of history in a media-saturated society, in which "historical events" penetrate daily life in real time. Specifically, I analyse ways in which time-based art (film, video, performance) continuously re-models and modulates the representation and the production of history within this temporal economy. The first chapter of this book analyzes the migration of moving images (film, video) to the exhibition space in the context of various notions of the “liberation of time,” whereas chapter two discusses its dark reverse: the manipulation of the dialectic of shock and suspense in film, TV, and the Internet. The third chapter continues the analysis of television with a focus on the medium’s role in establishing a regime of “general performance,” and chapter four in turn develops this by tracing the growing importance of play in work since the 1960s. Chapter five takes up the notion of performance again in relation to that of the event, as well as that of the act, to discuss possibilities for aesthetic action. Finally, chapter six considers the ongoing event that is the new “unnatural history” in an age of global warming and genetic engineering. 

The notions used—such as suspense or the event—are exploited for their potential to problematize disciplinary boundaries and entrenched methodologies. I do not propose an abstract negation of my own discipline, art history, but this is an art history that has undergone transformation through confrontations with philosophy, cultural theory, and film and media studies—a dialogue that in turn constitutes interventions in these disciplinary formations. Artists (or, in more general terms, cultural practitioners) discussed range from Harun Farocki to Eran Schaerf, from Guy Debord to Louise Lawler, from Robert Jasper Grootveld to Hito Steyerl, from Hitchcock to Wendelien van Oldenborgh.

One of the most fun parts of making such a book is making a montage of images that illustrates but also complements and sometimes even heckles one's text. There can be motifs running through image sequence that are hardly addressed in the text, and at times there are odd little resonances that can take on the qualities of a private joke. In the coming weeks we'll see just how many illustrations we can include in the book. I'm not even sure yet if both images I post here (a photo of Neuschwanstein from Guy Debord's In girum imus nocte et consumimur igni and George Maciunas's version of George Brecht's No Smoking event score) will make the cut. Even if they do, they will they will certainly not sit side by side. Still, since somebody pointed out that one could just as well read the the text of the Brecht/Maciunas piece as "NO EMO KING" it is hard for me not to think of these two disparate images in conjunction with each other.