Design and Transparency

The publication It's Not a Garden Table: Art and Design in the Expanded Field is an initiative of the Migros Museum and the Institute for Critical Theory in Zurich. I contributed the essay "Beyond Sign Design," which develops aspects of an article that Tom Holert commissioned a couple of years ago for Texte zur Kunst's design issue. In conjunction with a number of theoretical approaches to design, objecthood, networks and systems, "Beyond Sign Design" analyses artistic practices ranging from Frank Stella and John Armleder to Hans Haacke and Allan Sekula, and to Natascha Sadr Haghighian and Sean Snyder. As the title suggests, the aim to go beyond an analysis of design in narrowly semiotic terms.

A related text is "Secrets of the See-Through Factory: Interventions in Opaque Transparency" in the new issue of Open, no. 22 (the next-to-last issue of Open in its current form). Like the design essay, this text examines a number of art projects for their insight in and contribution to a different aesthetic/economic praxis of material things. In response to WikiLeaks, "Open 22 examines transparency as an ideology, the ideal of the free flow of information versus the fight over access to information and the intrinsic connection between publicity and secrecy." In my text, I focus on the structure of the modern work of art as a means of gaining insight into the dialectics of opacity and transparency. Works by Haacke (again), Snyder (again) as well Zachary Formwalt and Agency/Kobe Matthys are discussed in this text—plus Volkswagen's "transparent factory" and Gulf Labor's Guggenheim Boycott.
Both assignments allowed me to continue my work still rather embryonic project on objecthood and thingness, which I hope to intensify once the History in Motion book is out of the way. With the intellectual and artistic suicide of the Netherlands in full swing, it will be a bumpy ride.

Autonomy Symposium

On 7, 8 and 9 October the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven hosted the Autonomy Symposium, which was organized in the context of The Autonomy Project, in which I'm involved. The symposium boasted appearances by Franco Berardi, Thomas Hirschhorn, Peter Osborne, Jacques Rancière and Hito Steyerl, among others. The symposium was something of a joint venture between the Autonomy Project and Nikos Papastergiadis, who had proposed a Rancière symposium to the Van Abbe.

For once, a symposium was worthy of the name, as discussions on the ins and outs of aesthetic and/or political autonomy took on a great sense of urgency in the current state of not just this nation. Plenary lectures alternated with smaller workshops and masterclasses in the museum library and various other spaces, though the technocratic term "masterclass" (beloved by funding bodies) seems a complete misnomer for what actually transpired, as the "audience" increasingly emancipated itself and the "masters" took on the role of ignorant schoolmaster. It will no doubt have various and repercussions af in the participants' various practices. A number of publications are being planned; in the meantime, you can find archived videos at

The symposium sold out in no time and we could easily have filled a larger lecture theatre than the Van Abbe's, but the relatively intimate scale was an important factor in the success. It is disconcerting to hear that the Van Abbe is now being attacked by the social democrats (!) in Eindhoven for not following the populist blockbuster approach that has become the sole norm in the dismal Dutch museum landscape. The Autonomy Symposium, which fostered such a sense of agency in those who took part, is just one example of the Van Abbe's attempt to create forms of publicness and collaboration that go beyond an economistic and deeply contemptuous approach to audiences. If I have been critical of some of the Van Abbe's projects, it is because they deserve to be taken seriouslyand the same cannot be said of most other museums in this neck of the woods. Get ready to defend the Van Abbe!

Postscript, 18 October: In a kind of practical extension of the Autonomy Project, a lot of letters explaining and defending the value of Charles Esche's programme at the Van Abbemuseum were written in the last few days. The direct or indirect addressee of these epistles was PvdA spokesperson Arnold Raaijmakers. Rather than supporting an institution that offers one of the most convincing counter-models to a post-public sphere dominated by the destructive "creative industries" approach, this pallbearer of Holland's long Dutch social-democratic tradition obviously thinks it more strategic to mimic the populist-neoliberal logic of Halbe Zijlstra and Geert Wilders, proposing drastic budget cuts and effectively demanding that the museum become another generic machine for churning out provincial and culturally meaningless polder blockbusters. Some sent their letters and statements to the museum or to Raaijmakers directly; others to the Eindhovens Dagblad, the local rag. A selection of the latter (some in Dutch, many in English) is here. At today's debate in the culture committee of Eindhoven's city council only the PvdA and the SP supported Raaijmaker's slash-and-burn plan, yet there seems to be broad support for a less radical, watered-down version from 2013 on.

Photo by Emilio Moreno.