Spoiled Ideals of Lost Situations
Some Notes on Political Conceptual Art
Why work with the term conceptual art?
“The original conceptual art is a failed avant-garde. Historians will not be surprised to find, among the ruins of its utopian program, the desire to resist commodification and assimilation to a history of styles” Victor Burgin, 1988
A generally accepted category such as conceptual art is, on closer inspection, revealed to be open-ended and subject to a variety of interpretations that can be utilised in many directions. It is as open-ended as to suggest many other terms for such a heterogeneous practice i.e. idea art, nonanthropormorphic art, teach art, post-aesthetic art, situational art, micro-emotive art and meta-art. It is also a term that allows for a lot of categorical blurring, unlike say cubism or surrealism, a blurring that can and is admitting into it, by means of the current historification/canonisation process, such combative precursors as Situationism, Fluxus and Mail Art. So, turning our attention to conceptual art is a means of working a category into a concept that is subject to competing definitions as well as a means of both entering into the lineage of current art practice and being drawn towards discovering an art practice of the past whose ramifications should be highlighted and re-circulated. An historic interest, then, is one of re-appraisal and re-conjunction. It can be a means of building a bulwark against stylistic repetition and can, with the benefit of hindsight, sift out those practitioners who colluded with conceptualism as a moment in the globalisation of the art market and come to focus upon those often submerged practitioners and groupings that sought to use an artistic practice as a mode of political critique that was not harnessed to recognisable political ideologies. With conceptual art being currently canonised (global shows) and still activated by its contemporary influence there is an opening in the canonisation process to speak counter-canonically i.e. to pick up again the critique of the art institution as a legitimating structure that favours the commodified art object over process and engagement, and by this means raise a ‘creativity of the social field’ as not simply an option for artists but as the condition of creativity for all. This leads to ‘post-media’ laminates but at the same time it simply leads to accepting some proponents of conceptual art as avant-garde artists in search of nascent fields of politicised activity. Did they meet up with the working class as was the brief Dadaist trajectory that perhaps, rightly at the time, obsessed the Situationists? Or is it that a politically engaged conceptual art could be seen to be in search of ‘new social subjects’ many of whom were working class but resistant to being overdetermined by capitalist social relations that fix them as always-ever ‘affectively’ subordinate? Such is the ramification of those debates of the time that sought to discover who the ‘spectators’ of such work were. These are perennial questions, linked to an autotheorising of artists about their social role and efficacy, that place the conceptualists in an avant-garde trajectory: a trajectory that ‘spirals’ and ‘returns’, shows solidarity with precursors and always works by rejecting the a priori identity of the art work in an attempt to broaden the boundaries of what creativity can mean and extend the social context for such a creativity. That such a rejection can lead to a contemporary acceptance of anti-form, collage, duration, life-action, demos, collaborations, sound, magazines etc by the art institution is to see how capitalism, through the auspices of (post)modernism, works to widen the remit of ‘exclusivity’, to ‘overcode’ creative activity as separate activity, but also how it contains the seed of its own critique within it: desires, for one, can be unmanageable; fears also. Research into conceptual art shows, then, that the relation between capitalism and art institutions is not just played out through the object as prized commodity, as the purchase of desire, but is as much a matter of the social control achieved, in part, through such categories as ‘conceptual art’ that determine acceptable content and professionalise the social relations of artistic production. Conceptualism may have challenged ‘art propositions’ but it did not always challenge the way that ‘art’ is inserted into ideological circuits: “No art is to be understood apart from the codes and practices of the society which contains it; art in use is bracketed ineluctably within ideology” (1). The tactic against such use, then, may be one that not just conceptual artists have plumped for: the tactic of maintaining radical specifities and following the unforeseen vectors of a project, be it a strike or one of Adrian Piper’s ‘Catalysis’ pieces; a way of rejecting the seduction of aesthetic style and making content inclusive of its pre-articulation and a challenge to reified meanings. A work, then, with social relations (the conduits of ideology) which is of necessity transversal and meta-categorical and which confronts language, perception and desire and examines how these formerly apolitical ‘experiences’ are efficaciously used to maintain a capitalistic status quo. This, in part, explains the language-bias of politicised conceptual art in that a work becomes not only its own critique but a work in what Art & Language (A&L) have called “second order discourse” i.e. one that is presupposed by taking a critical distance from the institution in which it works which therefrom implies a critical distance from other institutions examined as interlinked and in ideo-historical relationship (the modernist-market being just one). A&L stated in a interview in 1971 that for them “language is a medium for conserving our work in a context of investigation and interrogation” (2). Like Adrian Piper’s 1973 notion of ‘meta art’ as an “activity of making explicit the thought-processes, procedures and presuppositions of making...” (3) such practices attempt to demystify creativity by revealing process and limiting idealisable ambiguity: subjects can become their own social objects critically engaged with their situation. This is not only to actively create a different kind of value from that associated with the art market and the exchange of art objects, but such a critical distance as that of autotheorisation also brings along with it an examination of what it is to be creative and this, in many ways, links up with the ‘guilt of self-expression’ that not only troubles the working class but, in their similarly conscious demarcation from the modernist notions of ‘emotional connoisseurs’, troubles some artists as well. A problematic such as this, already inherent in the working class suspicion of art and artists and constantly promulgated by mainstream media, may mark out much conceptualism as being the work of working class people in that in jettisoning the a priori identity of the art work such exclusive notions as aesthetic quality, style and competence are thrown out along with the traditional reception context. This extension of the means of expression, secured by conceptualism’s lack of reliance upon aesthetic scopism and the formal training entailed, opened up a creative space, not only to those identifying as working class but to those who share in being culturally denied the appropriate sensibility and expertise. This has the result not only of blurring the categorical usefulness of the term ‘conceptualism’, but again of inflecting creativity with a sense of social engagement that investigates the ideological bedrock with which it is entwined. The distance established between such practitioners and the ‘centres’ of the art institution is such that, often denied the moniker ‘artist’, they stand in critical relation to their mode of expression and the art institution: always potentially ‘dematerialised’ as artists they seek to fulfil social rather than aesthetic goals. At root, then, for such conceptualism as that of A&L and Piper, is the practice of bringing to light the misrepresentation of creative activity (its self-mystification) wherein engagement across the field of social relations is blocked by the canonically offered representation of the artist as ‘separate’ which is, afterall, the stultifying static subjectivity of those who, in any sphere of production, alienate themselves in their manufactured object by going-on-going-in: desire is made incapable of becoming its own objective. A&L and Piper, in extending the remit of creativity to be inclusive of that which informs, inspires and inveigles its practice, show how the political conceptualists pick up the momentum of the avant-garde trajectory: a work in social relations has neither need of an object nor need for representation and so this places the accent on the dematerialisation of both the artist and the object, on the diffusion of a creative catalysis that is not mediated by an art institution that Victor Burgin has offered up as an “apprehension matrix” an art no longer apprehended, escaping from our purview and, crucially, that of the art institution. In the former case we engage in ourselves and the social relations we can effectively affect by auto-instituting (4). In the latter, the art institution settles for mediation which increasingly brings it into ever closer-ties with the hyper-real image culture of a individualising media. What then that Arthur Rimbaud became a gun runner... that a member of A&L took up full time union work in Australia... and that a blank labelled black vinyl disc is being played at a gathering in a quarry?
Why work with the term dematerialisation?
“The suppression of private property is ... the complete emancipation of all human senses and attributes” Karl Marx, 1844
Lippard and Chandler coined it and everyone argued with it but for a lot of people it was a way to get an inkling of what conceptual art could be. If the art object is no longer the support for a creative activity then this can imply the diffusion of an art practice, its resistance to commodification and, by extension, its resistance to the art institution as the privileged and overdetermined site of creative activity; a site that effects a privatization of the human senses. Dematerialisation, then, became the offer of a sensual participation whereby, in expanding the concerns and materials of an art practice, in bringing in notions of ‘investigation’ and ‘research’, in offering a sensualisation of ideas, it made an opening for engagement in which non-specialists could participate and, crucially, through this participation, arrive at a continually shifting objective sense of their subjectivity and desire and how this latter is produced and producing. Once more the social field became the investigatory site for an art practice that did not seek to alienate its desires within a market structure but sought to let them loose within the social. Hans Haacke: “when you work with real stuff you have to think about potential consequences. A lot of things would never enter the decision making process if one worked with symbolic representations” (5). So, it’s not so much a conceptual inheritance being a matter of bringing into being conditions where anything and everything is art (which, as nomination, is one of its latter day, institutionalised functions) but of making daily experience (social relations) the subject of thought and finding means of sharing that experience with a minimum of mediation (the collaborative and group work of the avant-garde trajectory). When everything and anything becomes art (already parodied in the culture by A&L’s late 60s Maps) it does so as a matter of aestheticisation under the auspices of the art institution: open air events and sittings, no matter how interventionist and dematerialised they can be, still operate under the categorical definition of ‘art’, they are still within its remit in the popular consciousness, a means of coming too quickly to terms with its challenge to meaning by appreciating it, disagreeing with it, or just plain rejecting it out of hand as superfluous. So the catalytic communicative power of such works can be lessened by their being mediated by the art institution: a roll call of funders, regional art back-up and curators all add-up not just to providing a legitimating framework but to lessening the fortuitous and traumatic impact of such works as they challenge consensus behaviours or as they provoke desiring flows the trauma, the heightening of attention, can come from de-contexted surprise but also from their being revisted in memory and is best promulgated by a diffuse social practice that no longer seeks the premeditated cover of the art institution. Conceptualism, then, in becoming critical of the art object as merchandise, as coming to autotheoretically see the practice of art as the manufacture of visual representations that circulate by means of a market, came to enable a focus on social relations by drawing on all manner of experiences and not just those deemed to be the perceptive preserve of artists. This acted as a traumatic rupture not just for those artists who came to be conscious of their insertion into economic and ideological circuits, but to the public as well: Carl Andre’s bricks and Mary Kelly’s nappies were defensively pilloried as an affront to the senses rather as a social extension of the senses. A practice of art no longer reliant on traditional materials was then, at best, one in which ideas came to circulate unencumbered by formal and stylistic concerns, but at worse it could mediate itself either through continued reference to the formal rules of modernist art (e.g. Huebler’s measurement pieces) or in the way that, in dealing with ideas rather than objects, it could come to function as the vanguard of a capitalism that was slowly getting to grips with monetizing ideas (as information, kudos etc). In the absence of a shared conceptualist thrust towards work in the social field, dematerialisation thus came to flounder not only in the economic capabilities of information but in a rematerialisation of the artist as the owner of ideas and forms that were eminently shareable. This led Adrian Piper to comment upon the ease with which conceptual artists identified with the role allotted to them, and wherefrom, in not challenging their “mode of self-representation”, they became prone to being mediated as “stylised biographical objects” (6). Possessing a ‘self’ as if it is some element of private property to be promoted is one means by which the social ramifications of the dematerialisation of the art object becomes obfuscated by the promotion of the artist’s person as the meaning of the art. In this way experience becomes personal experience and falls, once more, under the rubric of individuality rather than, by means of a dematerialised practice, it becomes social-experience; a non-specialised experience immersed within the social field and a matter of an ‘individuation’ that makes singularity or a subject’s particularity the very stuff of sociality. In this light the concept of dematerialisation has more mileage than that of conceptualism in that being a means of critiquing the art institution it is still efficacious in opposing the ubiquitous ideology of individualism and positing in its stead the ‘individual as a social being’ and the responsibilities for an art practice that ensue from this. Piper’s ‘meta art’ is precisely aimed at situating the individual in a communicative social context, one which in locating social experience in amidst a social mapping of institutions, influences and authorised knowledges, reveals its own position without the ideological props and mediations of the art institution. Piper speaking of her early 70s ‘Catalysis’ series remarked: “I define the work as the viewers reaction to it: to me the strongest, most complex, and most interesting catalysis is the one that occurs in the undefined and non-pragmatic human confrontation” (7). Piper is here talking about the transformative potential of art, its ‘affectivity’, which in turn enhances perception, not just for its own sake, in the manner of an aesthete, but in order to sensually apprehend social relations, their institutionalised mediation (reification) and the consequent limits placed upon our experiencing becoming taken and acted upon as a social experiencing interlinked and informed by history (a ‘continuity of rupture’ rather than a ‘remaking of the wheel’). Being a work that is “undefined” and “non pragmatic” is tantamount to her saying that it is a work that, in not carrying the presuppositions of the art institution, seeks to get ‘beneath’ the representational function of ideology. In rejecting the a priori identity of the first order discourse (the role of ‘artist’) a political conceptualism along these lines does not seek to answer its own question, nor does it seek to answer a question set by the art institution. As such Piper is potentially speaking more directly to those who have been culturally dominated and denied their expressivity than would a manufactured art object. In this way the potential of dematerialisation leads interestingly to what John Latham has called ‘least event’, what Ian Breakwell has called ‘side events’ and what Adrian Piper drew attention to as ‘catalysis’: the art object can be supplanted by an enquiry into the impulse to change, which, in adopting a ‘microscopic’ approach, is not a flirtation with science, but an exploration of the most blatant and least visible component of a societal glue: desire (it is perhaps in the entrapment or in the flow of desire that the ‘new social subjects’ can be found?). Whether in jest or in all seriousness the A&L response to the term dematerialisation as implying ‘radiant energy’ is either a means by which they were outlining a critique of the artist as a ‘gestalt conductor’ (a fallback to the modernist ideology of individualism they were combating) or a means of getting to the crux of dematerialisation as the propensity, in any creative medium, to be a force for change that could re-draw experience as, after Marx, “suprasensible or social” and not individualised and indifferent (8). However, in drawing away from the art object and its reception-context in the art institution, a context that almost has at its door signs saying ‘artists entrance’ and ‘spectators entrance’, it is not that the object per se is redundant, but the manner and ambience of its siting, its lack of contextualisation and reflexivity, and the way that ambiguity, always useful in other contexts, is purposively left by the artist to operate in the mind of the spectator as the ‘copyrighted’ intention of that artist. Away from such an ownership of the idea and dimly echoing Jorn’s contention that the art object can liberate an energy in the spectator, Steve Kaltenbach has offered that “it is possible to manipulate the object so as to achieve an alteration in the perception of the object or environment; an object may also be manipulated to bring about an alteration of perception itself” (9). In this way the object becomes, as with the fetishist, a site of cathexis around which attention and investment can accrue (almost a counter-ideology?). But for the viewer’s cathexis to be as attentive as to ‘see for itself’, to enter into the object’s lines of flight (lines coming-in and lines coming-out), the object should have desiring ramifications, it should be, after Marx, a ‘human object’ that articulates a facet of sociality: an anonymous intervention; an intimate exchange in which the recipient is seen to have been thought of; an offer of communication that depicts its means of production; the break of a context’s social relations; the continuing flow towards suprasensibility; the use of media with non-art connotations etc. In this way the object can become the locus of desires and passions, that, unable to express themselves across the social field, cathect upon the object, which, in containing this ‘charge’, always threatens to undermine itself as a separate entity and becomes, instead, an expansive site, becomes even a room or the route towards it. In this way we are dealing not only with objects as the ‘partial objects’ and ‘transitional objects’ of psychoanalysis but with an opportunity for the suppression of private property through a sensual appropriation of the object, an appropriation that, in integrating all the senses as ‘social organs’ rather than limiting them to the mediation of ‘possession’, makes the commodity value of the object pale in relation to its functioning as a social object. With dematerialisation, then, the object can return to a diffuse elsewhere and the social field can become cathected as if it were an object (10).
Research Direction (1): Music
“Concept art is first of all an art of which the material is concepts, as the material of e.g. music is sound” Henry Flynt, 1961
If anything conceptualism put pay to the inbred institutional limiting of art to that of visual art. The dematerialization of the art object becoming ‘radiant energy’ is perhaps best served by sound’s qualities in activating desires and passions without having recourse to an objectal or language based reception context. Sound as a catalyst is ensured by its ubiquity and for John Latham it is a means through which the ‘time-base’ can be reordered: through a positing of duration, time as history can be made rather than imposed. So sound, as spatio-temporal extension, as being able to access and propel the micro-event of desire as it spreads and effects others (or as it becomes locked into ideologising representations that overdetermine it) is a kind of ‘material’ extension of the object that not always being visible as emanating from a source-instrument is creative of a conceptual space as its reception context, a space that is at once more immediate and linked to daily experience as well as being a space less reliant on visual supports. Thus the condition of ‘knowledge’ under music can be less reliant upon institutional mediation and more a matter of differing social contexts (groups) in which the experience of social relations become much more ‘visible’. In this light it is perhaps surprising that works with sound do not take on a greater import at the time of conceptualism hay-day. They are there nonetheless: Christine Kozlov’s ‘Information. No Theory’, Burn & Ramsden’s ‘Soft Tape’, John Perreault’s ‘Street Music’, Robert Morris’s taping the removal of tons of material from a gallery, Bruce Nauman’s micing-up of a tree, Michael Asher’s making the rooms of a small gallery into conductors of sound and Robert Barry’s use of nylon monofilament and ‘carrier waves’ (11). Some of these pieces are interesting in that, as with Barry’s burying of the monofilament in the wall of a gallery and issuing visitors with receivers, they simultaneously present a disappeared object and a dematerialised sound, and metaphorically present, perhaps, the question of perception and the possibilities of perceiving something formerly imperceptible (12). This has political import in terms of the perception of social relations and the recognition of desires both as ‘materials’ to be realised and acted upon, and as being the undifferentiatable support of perception: desire as productive material. Burn & Ramsden’s 1966 ‘Soft Tape’, in presenting the ‘viewer’ with a tape recorder containing the muffled sounds of a speech,simultaneously made the object of art into a subject position and the spectator into an auditor. As with Piper’s ‘meta art’ the recorded speech reveals the conditions of its making and the conditions of its presentation as well as, in being muffled and requiring its auditor to move into closer proximity to the object, it activates an interrogation of the space between its makers and its recipients. With ‘Soft Tape’ the sound of speech is made into a blur and an uncertainty is induced not only in terms of its presentation as visual art but in terms of its objectification of language as an ideological carrier (13). The interactivity implied by this piece, its harnessing of recording technology and its presentation of subjective information, is illustrative of a metamorphosis in which the inert object is made to speak and perception becomes reliant upon a more rounded use of all the senses. Such moves as these are part of the avant-garde trajectory that were it not for surrealism’s strange reluctance to embrace music, abstract expressionism’s propping upon jazz as a separate art form, and musique concrete’s persisting with the concept of a ‘sound object’, may have had much more efficacy today as a ‘new’ direction for the art institution. The rash of current shows dealing in music and sound should, therefore, not be seen as a new occurrence of the late 90s, neither should they be seen as simply another heritage of conceptualism as the Fluxus movement was very engaged with creating a musical avant-garde, perhaps rescuing music and sound from the clutches of its disappearance in the Situationist project. If anything it is the very problematic of a ‘musical avant-garde’ that lends these shows an appearance of vigour when in fact they are giving an objectal status to dematerialised sound and thereby recathecting the art institution. Such shows as ‘Sonic Boom’ are more in-keeping with the legacy of stylistic conceptualism (and hence in tempo with the neo-conceptualism of the yba) than they are with the legacy of a musical avant-garde that could be said to be engaged in using sound as an exploration of the social field. Such an exploration, taking its cue from the Cagean inspired Fluxus movement, is one that is, first of all, concerned with institutional critique and critique of the object. Fluxus experiments in sound parodied the notion of the score as a written instruction, parodied the sanctified reception context of the auditorium and questioned the timbre restrictions of conventional instrumentation. In this way Fluxus worked in an area between the art institution and the classical music establishment so as to critique both simultaneously. However, with the rise of electronic technologies and the historification of Fluxus, these strategies have lost their power of disruption: timbre experimentation is de rigueur and the institution has become a space for instant historification rather than practice. Yet it is perhaps from Cage and Fluxus that it is still possible to draw out areas of musical praxis that are contiguous to political conceptualism and work in the social-field. Key here would be a move towards a conceptual music and towards greater participation on behalf of the audience. The degree zero of the former would be Cage’s ‘Silence’, a degree zero that also instaurates some notion of a musical avant-garde and which in positing the absence of sound points to any and all sounds as a material for music. This piece by Cage, a piece that raises duration as the possibility for autotemporalisation, is, when it is elided with such post-war practices as musique-concrete, a contributive factor in the appearence of the environment recording. A intermittent yet provocative practitioner in this area is Luc Ferrari and it is his ‘Presque Rien No.1’ piece (1970) that extends ‘silence’ into a making audible of the social field. Ferrari, recording the sounds of a Yugoslavian fishing village as it awakes to activity one morning, not only offers a potentially infinite duration of time as the subject of listening but he also helps despiritualise our relation to sound by ‘nominating’ the social sounds of the fishing village as music. This environment recording could be said to be taking the dematerialised propensities of sound to a degree normally associated with conceptual art. Not only does it eschew any a priori expectation of what constitutes music, what it is possible to listen to, it could not be said to be an object of music in the way that a symphony or concerto could be called an object: a desciplined spatio-temporal event thar articulate a composer’s command. The score is no longer parodied as it was with Fluxus, it is superseded by a social reality that is no longer a metaphor but which is presented as the wider ‘score’ of social relations (the village awakens to work). Crucially, then, for the theme of dematerialisation, Ferrari as a composer, as an artistic agency, is himself dematerialised. He becomes the auditor of a meta-music that, unlike Cage, is not dependent upon the auditorium for its impact. If Luc Ferrari’s role becomes that of a sound recordist (and perhaps an editor) then that of Alvin Lucier is similarly one that is under metamorphosis. In his ‘I Am Sitting In A Room’ (1969), Lucier, a friend of Sol Lewitt and member of the now defunct Sonic Arts Union, makes a sound-piece that, like Ferrari’s, is much concerned with widening our relation to sound beyond that of the musical object. Beginning with a meta-text, a score, Lucier describes the very process of the piece that is to unfold: “I am recording the sound of my speaking voice and I am going to play it back into the room again and again until the resonant frequencies of the room reinforce themselves...” (14). In this manner, as the recited text of the score dematerialises into electronic vocables, the dimensions of the room themselves become conductors of sound (not dissimilar to the intentions behind Burn & Ramsden’s ‘Soft Tape’?). This not only transforms Lucier’s language into something that looses meaning yet gains a kind of emotive presence, it ‘sounds’ the environment, makes the room into a resonating chamber which makes ‘music’ with the aid of the unmusical acoustics of walls and ceilings. In many ways Lucier, in describing in advance what is going to occur during his piece, gives the listener the sound of a process that takes precedence over the resultant piece as a musical object. The concept of using a tape recorder and the acoustic resonance of an ordinary room are not withheld from the listener but actively shared to the degree that those listeners could make similar experiments themselves (originality is hardly the issue when no two rooms could sound the same?). As with the Fluxus detournement of musical scores into jovial and unpretentious descriptions of (social) actions, Ferrari and Lucier’s lack of notated scores points us in the direction of an open field of sound that can be utilised without any prerequisite competence. For both it is the use of the reproductive technology of the tape recorder that, in freeing up previously required aptitudes, opens up possibilities for a musical experimentation that is as much concerned with an noviciate investigation of the social field than it is with furnishing its potential listeners with a thematic piece of music that has been ‘calculated’ to have certain effects rather than others. With these pieces, then, the offer of participation and improvisation is never far away and although neither Ferrari or Lucier were associated with Fluxus there is still a sense of their raising the problem of the musical avant-garde: the focal point for a musical activity is dispersed away from the institution into an outgrowth of reception contexts made invisible to that institution. Such an invisibility is assured by the way that the environment recordings of Ferrari, or those of the Fluxus-associated Walter Marchetti, are made as the by-product of another activity. They become ‘raw material’ rather than a finished piece. It is through such an embracing of sound as a social material that dematerialisation takes on a force that in many instances leads to a rejection of established forms and to a critique of mediated quality. Instead of creativity being conditioned by the culture in such ways and replicating what is understood as ‘music’ it is freed up to become an exploration of social relations (raw material). This is best seen in improvisation where, with a jettisoning of the a priori identity of the resulting work, there is a chance for music to become ‘meta-music’ (Eddy Prevost) or ‘informal sound’ (Cornelius Cardew) wherein the interactivity of the musicians, their communicative relationship, becomes a means of making any resultant object into nothing greater than the sum of its processual components (AMM). Such an activity not only reveals social relations as a material but relies upon them as a form of meta-instrumentation. In this light the Scratch Orchestra (60s/early 70s) becomes one of the highlights of the dematerialisation process in that some of its members (trained composers like Cardew and Howard Skempton) placed their ‘training’ in abeyance so as to make ‘music’ with others who had varying degrees of expertise. With their being thus no disbarrment to participation the Scratch Orchestra resolved, to a degree, the divide between the performers and the audience. Furthermore, by not restricting their performances to the concert hall, but in wandering abroad giving open air concerts, they did not seek the legitimisation of an institution, but sought to offer others the chance for their own informal engagement, be this in a village hall or during a walk along a river front (other ‘mobile’ bands include Anima Sound). The similarities this has with the Punk outburst of the late 70s should not be overlooked and it is just this shared challenge to ‘qualitative aesthetic judgements’ that should be most noticed about Punk and the Scratch Orchestra. Indeed, it may be that one of political conceptualism’s most overlooked (and hence contemporaneous) moments could be the ‘Kangeroo’ LP that Art & Language made with The Red Crayola. And so, if sound is being currently revered by the art institution it could be that this reverence relates to an already formed reception context to draw upon as well as a notion that sound is somehow non-ideological or divergent from the first order discourse of modernism. This would be to underestimate the extent to which the ‘a-signifying’ qualities of music, the polysemy of sound, can, when overcoded by the art institution, become replacements for the overdrawn ambiguities and individualising objects of the visual arts rather than maintaining their function as spurs to social desires that are free from the representational traps of competence and qualitative uniqueness. The fact that a musical avant-garde remains an area that has not been zoned-off by the manifold workings of the institution allows the institution to present its own ‘avant-garde’ minus the anti-institutional and socially engaged ramifications of the avant-garde trajectory. It also leaves others some scope.
Research Direction (2): Post-Media
“Artists should take the means of revelation into their own hands” Adrian Piper, 1973
Conceptualism’s work across a variety of media is one of its lasting inspirations in that this rejection of any a priori identity for an art work left open a sluicegate through which many more people could enter into a socially creative engagement. With no prescriptions as to what constitutes an art work, with there not necessarily having to be a finished product as such, a product recognisable as an art work, there was perhaps in the mid 70s an ethos wherein previously separated media were all up for grabs (many of them used initially for documentation). However, whereas this can extend the remit of the art institution in terms of mixed-media etc it does, when aligned to media as transmissive and communicative mediums, open up an area whereby the conventional art spectator can be by-passed and new reception contexts can be opened up. Reception contexts that, at best, can proceed without being compromised by middlemen and outreach workers who determine and manage the ‘public interest’. In the 60s, then, the media industries began to increase in importance for capitalism (i.e. Society Of The Spectacle) and as part of the dematerialisation of the object, one trajectory away from the art institution was to utilise this media expansion as a space for interventions and sitings. Such conceptual artists as Ian Wilson and Joseph Kosuth hired advertising space in which to show art works (in the latter’s case thesaurus definitions). Perhaps more subversive than these were those of Dan Graham. His ‘Homes for America’ and ‘Detumescence’ pieces dealt with subject matter that was not, as that of Kosuth’s, too keyed-in to an already directed artistic practice. For Kosuth art removed from aesthetics was still art. For Graham it was a matter of crossing specialised boundaries whilst at the same time tracing the connection between the art institution and the media support that, he suggested, create not only an economic infrastructure in terms of adverts, shop windows and buyers, but also create the nebulous entity known as the ‘art world’ through the way that ‘representations’ of art stand in for a direct experience of art practice as social engagement. In a sense Graham utilises the presentism of the media as a dematerialisation tactic. His pieces become throwaway and submerged within other institutions which, as he explains, cater to just as specialist an audience as the magazines of the art world. Perhaps working in synchronicity with Debord’s dictum that in the society of the spectacle experience moves away into representation, a trio of Argentinian artists (Eduardo Costa, Raul Escari & Roberto Jacoby) wrote, in 1966, a short ‘Media-Art Manifesto’ that tells of their activity of reporting on staged art events that never happened publically and locating documentation of these in the media. In turning the alienating use of representation against itself as a spur to active experience (i.e. in working with changing cultural conditions rather than hypostatising the current conditions) they by-passed the art institution by making the information relevant only at the point of its reception. In “de-realising” the art object, in diffusing it as an ‘idea’, they sought to ‘realise’ the art object in the imagination of newspaper readers and were thus able to raise the notion of the interrelation of ideology and reality. They worked, to some degree, with the social relation of information, politicising information as dependent upon its framing. Furthermore, by parodying the publicity mechanisms of the art world and in making the “moment of transmission of the work... more privileged than its production” they de-specialised themselves as artists. So, many of the tactics of a situationist-inspired conceptualism (detournement) are involved and extended here, but this piece extends its remit further in that, by siting something ‘fictional’ in the context of a media hidebound to pursue ‘truth’, it not only draws attention to the way that such ‘truth’ is manufactured to function as ideology but, also as the manifesto states, it intends to “thematise the media as media” and in so doing reveal the mechanisms of misrepresentation and generalisation that devalue common social experience by making it undifferentiatable (15). Other forms of media intervention took less explicitly political turns than those of the three Argentineans. There was a utilising of forms aligned with journalism such as the interview and ‘speech situation’ and the detourning of these in the direction of their being nominated as art works (Robert Barry claimed his giving an interview as art). But often such approaches as these still orbited the art world in the form of magazines Studio International held a conceptual exhibition in the pages of its Autumn 1969 issue and a Seth Siegelaub show proclaimed that the contents of the catalogue was the art. Such a use of media perhaps highlights what Burn and Ramsden called ‘stylistic’ conceptualism: “an art which reworks a received propositional content” (16), expands the remit of art for the institution rather than critiquing it and de-specialising the role of the artist. In this way a ‘stylistic’ conceptualism is media-friendly in that it can simultaneously serve as avant-garde and vigorous whilst providing not only art objects but visual images and ruminated ideas for a media that is always looking for different ways to present the same content. Stylistic conceptualism functions as a mediation between the art institution and the various publicity institutions just as it could be said that those artists inheriting the ‘nomination’ aspect of 60s conceptualism act as mediators in the opposite direction: popular culture meets high art without either really wanting to relativize their self-image. However, picking up on a thematising of the “media as media”, we can consider Dan Graham’s performative work of the early 70s when, using the medium of video cameras, he demonstrated how technologies come with both emancipating and authoritarian qualities. In a move not dissimilar to Burn and Ramsden’s ‘Soft Tape’, Graham sought to investigate the role of performer and spectator and, with a use of mirrors, established a situation in which the roles of active performer and passive spectator were combined in the same person. Such performances as ‘Two Consciousness Projection(s)’, in making participants the object of their own actions, not only highlights surveillance and voyeurism but also leads to a heightening of the subject’s awareness of him or herself as both the subject and the object of socio-technological processes. Being party to these sights the audience of these performances are enabled to become aware of the liberating capacities of technology at the same time that they can compare Graham’s use of them to their being used as a means of projecting ‘idealised’ images through the overtly premeditated medium of TV drama etc. However, it is perhaps left to an ‘artist’ who straddled the blurred boundary between conceptualism and Fluxus to articulate a crucial area where the avant-garde activity of the 60s meets up with what Felix Guattari called ‘post-media operators’. Henry Flynt raised a crucial point about the way that idealised representations become readymade stand-ins for the exploration of desire as the exploration of the social relations we are immersed in: “the categories of thought which are obligatory in the official intellectual world and the media are categories in which my outlook cannot be conceived” (17). Not being able to conceive an outlook, not being able to be autonomous, to desire, is, Flynt suggests, a result of a categorising knowledge that keeps ‘disciplines’ separate and maintains knowledge as a ‘specialisation’ divorced from sensuousness. Here, both the media and the art institution share in such an epistemological restriction and the inference between the two, drawn by Dan Graham’s magazine insertions, becomes explicit: to “conceive an outlook” requires a negotiation of that which is too readily offered as a readymade outlook. That the media is an increasingly insipid means of circulating representations that encourage generalising and undifferentiated thought and which nurture decoys for desire, has the result of becoming a “barrier”, Flynt suggests, to “intellectual modality”. This is not something so pavlovian as ‘brainwashing’, but it is more a hint at the voluntary adoption of a ‘self image’ that encourages ‘individualisation’ rather than ‘individuation’. The huge array of mediated representations offered by the art institution and, increasingly now, the media, have, Flynt suggests, in their encouragement of generalising and undifferentiated thought, the propensity to induce an indifference which should be resisted, and Flynt’s use of the ‘first person’, a conceptual practice in itself, becomes, in the insistent solitariness of its demands, a metaphor for the catalytic efficacy of even the smallest of differentiating protests and for the potential use of ‘micro-media’. Such indifference is overcome by social engagement and, with technological advancements providing the means of production, the question of ‘quality’, resisted by many political conceptualists, is superseded by the conditions being in place for creativity to become more than the specialised domain of artists and to take as its area of practice more than the history of art: desire in the social field. This was the direction taken by Brazilian artist Cildo Meireles when, in the 1970s, he carried out projects whereby he inscribed enigmatic and subversive messages onto Coca-Cola bottles, banknotes and subway tokens, and then re-circulated these into social use. This use of ‘micro-media’, a subversion of the very proliferation of commodity goods and consumer junk, addresses the public in general rather than the specialised art audience yet, more importantly, it addresses this public at the microscopic level at which desire operates and in a manner that is sensitive to the modalities of desire as that which can be “sparked off”. In recollecting this activity Meireles speaks from much the same premises as Felix Guattari’s post-media operators: “Really the ‘insertions into ideological circuits’ arose out of the need to create a system for the circulation and exchange of information that did not depend on any centralised control. A language. A system essentially opposed to that of press, radio and television, typical examples of media that actually reach an enormous audience, but in their circulation system there is always a certain amount of control and a certain channelling of the insertion” (18).
Dematerialisation of the artist?
“The existence of ‘self’ is what keeps everybody from confronting their fears about the ground they happen to be standing on” Robert Smithson, 1968
The avant-garde trajectory is one, when its accent is placed on the positive utopianism of a revolutionary teleology, wherein creative activity seeks a context in social experience and becomes conscious of itself as a social activity. That such a consciousness is not taken as given is a result of the ideological mystifications of capitalism whereby the concept of ‘individual’ (instituted as a social relation by such terms as ‘private property’ and ‘privacy’) blocks the awareness of an inter-relatedness that creates us as subjects through the precipitative identifications that result from our perceiving (desiring). The implied ‘psychical conflict’ of the latter state is offset by the offer of a ‘self-image’ that, in seemingly fulfilling our ‘desires’, creates a stable sense of identity, an identity premised upon the separation of ourselves from the social field. In many ways the struggle around such issues as these are being played out more and more through the personification of the artist. Not only is it the artist who is permitted the ‘psychical conflict’ of a ‘tortured’ life grappling with expression, but it is also the artist, who as a whole ‘self-image’, represents a mode of capitalistic functioning: creativity fulfils itself as the production of objects or the ownership of concepts. In propagating such a myth of the artist, capitalism, through the institutions of the art world, succeeds in fixing the ideology of individualism in that the ‘conflict’ stage, the process-base of creativity, the flow of precursors as precipitates of the artist’s work, are all seen as superfluous to the finished object or presentation which reflects back to the viewer an image of the artist as a separate creator. Not consciously conjoined to the social field, the artist comes not to embody creativity but to act, through the agency of the myth, as a hindrance to the creativity of others: ‘psychical conflict’ is seen as fatal and creativity is seen as the outcome of a specialisation. In some ways the myth of the artist runs parallel to a dematerialisation of the artist as a transcendent being, but this very myth is one which many of the heterogeneous proponents of political conceptualism have both challenged and used. In order to avoid such a reinforcement of individualism, itself institutionally disseminated, many conceptual artists turned their attention to the spectator and his or her relationship to a work of art. Sensitive to theories of the ‘death of the author’, the barrier of separation was hoped to be breached by the use of more widely diffusable forms (text, photographs, film and video, sound etc), through an in-built lack of resolution an open-endedness that plays with varying degrees of affective ambiguity and through a renewed accent placed upon process and the social vectors that transverse it. The art object was thus intermittently replaced by a focus upon social experience, documentation, ideological investigation and the body but, without going into detail about installation and performance art etc, what seemed to continue to cloy to the conceptual artist was their adaptation to the myth of the artist through their very identification with a role, that, with the increasing acculturation of capitalism, has tended to become ‘populist’ in a manner, not of disseminating affect through the social field as motors of desire, but in becoming professional adjuncts to the administration of culture and the business of dealing (the APG’s attempt to sell a ‘situation’ to the government is a problematic indication of the former whereas there are too many examples of the latter). Conceptualism, then, may have allowed for the previously submerged nuance between the myth and the role to come to the fore, it may have given rise to a ‘detachment’ that is conscious of its activity as operating in the social field, but in many ways it has done this by repressing questions about the capitalistic production of individuality. A repression necessitated by addressing a limited social field that is comprised of their fellow artists: an ‘art world’ where ‘psychical conflict’, the travails of individuation and deconditioning, the actual inscription of process, are played down in a mediated representation of the artist as celebrity in which a dispassionate cynicism segues into that normally associated with advertising and journalism. That said, the more radical proponents of conceptualism, whose contributions are perhaps still in a contemporaneous limbo, sought to address the function of the role of the artist as well as the myth. In these cases, artists, in line perhaps with the avant-garde trajectory, sought to engage in an autotheorisation in which the ideology of art and individualism was placed in wider social field (against a backdrop of political commitment and institutional critique). Adrian Piper, in a move straddling conceptualism and performance, made these vectors pass through her when she offered that her street interventions were a case of her becoming the object of the work as well as its subject: “This process/product is in a sense internalised in me, since I exist simultaneously as the artist and the work. This is not to be confused with life as art or my personality and tastes as art. The artifice of the work temporarily replaces or supersedes those characteristics which define me as a private individual” (19). The myth of the artist was non-theatrically staged by Piper as an ideological representation she was both presenting and shaking-off, and by intervening in the street she, like Meireles, chooses anonymity as the surest way to avoid institutional mediation and thus, in an improvisatory manner that retains the “immediacy of conception”, she disregards the ‘apprehension matrix’ of the art institution and becomes a subject in-formation rather than an artist. Just as this coincides with John Latham and the APG’s move towards dematerialising the artist as an ‘incidental person’, there is, with other political conceptualists, a marked move towards their no longer being reliant upon their own specialisation as visual artists etc. They ‘aimed to be amateurs’, to unlearn, to individuate. They embraced forms for which they were not trained and their practice became more ‘transversal’ by drawing upon the forms and methods of other disciplines (analytical philosophy, mathematics, logic, anthropology, psychoanalysis). However, such academic cross-fertilization, whilst pointing towards possibilities and keeping such areas open, did not always lead to a demystification of artistic specialisation but to its reinforcement. This can perhaps be illustrated by such political conceptualists as A&L. As a group they may have publically ‘transcended’ the problem of subjectivity, but, even in light of their being, at the time, most thorough-going in their critique of the myth of the ‘expressive’ artist and of the conditions of capitalistic modernism as an institutional system offering roles, there is still a sense that, however much their breach of the division of labour between artist and critic instaurates a radicalisation of art history, they were still speaking from within the bounds of that specialisation. Mary Kelly, looking back retrospectively at conceptualism, revealingly refers to such moves as those of A&L as a push “to change the distribution of interpretative power in the art world”. Whilst this encouraged the introduction of other discourses and methods of engagement into the art world it only led to a partial dematerialisation of the artist and perhaps sharpened artists’ specialisation in that the absence of an examination of the “relation between the psychic and the social” (20) meant that “interpretative power” was taken for granted rather than being seen as outcome of flows of desire across the social field a matter concerning the politics of knowledge and the production of subjectivity. Elsewhere, in assessing the impact of feminism on 70s art practice, Mary Kelly suggested that one of the shifts that occurred was one of “translating institutional critique into the question of authority” (21). This then would not only refer to the social field as an expanse of institutions but to knowledge and its use and from there, perhaps in line with a fledgling search for means of expression from those disbarred from creative activity, to an examination of the impulse towards creativity and social engagement and how this can be weakened by the proscriptions of specialisation (that can be covertly communicated in the ‘unconscious of the text’). Authority is often vested in materials (i.e. language) and knowledge can become the means through which authority speaks to silence others if it does not take into account from where it speaks and how this position is interpreted by others. It is in this sense, then, that the artist can dematerialise, can deracinate, can start from a position of ignorance that can experientially negotiate the pitfalls of authority and knowledge and build up from an unlocatable and dispersed position: autonomous self-institution rather than a critical-conformity to both the art institution and its production of subjectivity. With this we’re probably back at desire and not only with desire as the material productivity of desire, the baseline of any creative activity as a ‘micro-emotive’ transmission of energies, but with desire as that which, being irresolvable and hence the source of much ‘psychical conflict,’ is prone to accepting what is furnished to it as desire (i.e. the fixation upon roles and ideological representations). These are the negotiations that are necessary for dematerialisation, the rhythms it is essential to traverse in order to breach not only the myth and role of the artist but the ideological function of ‘individuality’ and the authority of an unreflexive knowledge. In this way, the material of desire, as expressed in social relations just as much as in the ‘enigmatic signifiers’ of the art work, becomes not so much a means of linkage between artist and the spectator as that which is already in the social-field in the first place. It could be said that conceptualism, in offering “an irreducible heterogeneity of the means of expression” (22), has already reiterated the possibilities for the dematerialisation of the artist in that the social field, as a producible space, is the only ‘canvas’ there can be and the ‘situation’ its multi-dimensional ‘gallery’. Such a move already implies vast potential for a reappropriation of the means of expression on behalf of the unspecialised and despecialising; a move that was explicit in Latin American conceptualism (23) and one which was incubating within the A&L project. In discussion with Mary Kelly, Terry Smith of A&L, informs us that much of their activity in the early 70s turned increasingly towards discussions and conversations that led them to what they called idiolect: “pursuing the implications of the idea that each person had their own particular way of speaking” (24). From this A&L turned to “ideolect” and thus, Smith informs us, to the capitalistic formation of ‘individuality’. The loose and informal approach of conversation (perhaps institutionalised as art by the ‘speech artist’ Ian Wilson?) subsists within A&L as a counter-institution that is not unique but part of a wider fabric of political discussion groups that were prevalent in the 70s and resulted in the publication of a variety of journals. Whereas many such groups end up in wrangles and excommunications what is important about such a move is not so much the product at the end but that the very informality, its vicinity to improvisation, potentially allows for a means of expression to be generated as one which, in not being perfectible, is not prone to a ‘textual’ coherence, but can admit of mistakes and meconnaissance. The implications of such a practice for the dematerialisation of the artist are manifold: the potential inclusivity of speech admits of no prior specialisation other than an engagement with the issues or a willingness to participate in a group’s vectors; the impromptu nature of speech can reveal the extent of conditioning, the depth of its hold and the collective effort that is required to overcome it; a relation to language as that which can ‘speak us’ and ‘form us’ as ‘individuals’ can be prioritised as an ideological mechanism to which all are prone; knowledge becomes ‘visible’ as the function of socio-cultural relations, but when it is in-forming and not disinvested, it, like authority, rests with each as a responsibility. As obvious and idealistic as it may seem this potentiality of ‘speech’ as an inclusive means of expression is a way that social engagement begins to build back up again after a reworking-through of the dematerialisation of the art object and the dematerialisation of artists (authority can always be countered by history?). What is crucial, however, is that such a ‘revolutionary teleology’ is not the preserve of avant-garde artists or vanguard politicos, but is the open-field of social interactivity that affects each of us. The desires that circulate in the imbrication of the social and the psyche lead us all to dematerialisation in that we struggle with the enforced conditions of our sociality (being a role) and attempt to rematerialise in and through an interactivity consciously apprehended as social (becoming incidental persons). Individualism, as propagated by capitalism through social separation and disciplinary boundaries, becomes a bar to this in that it encourages an over-investment in the ‘delusory unified ego’ (specialist role) and in the internalisation of authority (art institution) (25). Under such a regime the ‘affectivity’ of both artists and spectators, a capacity to be traumatised by their own meconnaissance, becomes lessened to the degree that the artist becomes a product that is consumed and the means of expression, as a differentiating ‘idiolect’, aspires to become an ‘ideolect’ that, in communicating a surefire knowledge, disregards the practice of autonomous engagement and falls under the thrall of voluntary servitude.
Research Direction (3): Conceptual Art and the Working Class
“...a community no matter how small is unavoidably and importantly, a political instrument” Ian Burn, 1975
If we perhaps turn to a use of the early 80s A&L concept of ‘first order discourse’ we can, when we come to examine the political conceptualists relationship to the working class, see that, whilst they may have established a critical distance from the first order discourse of capitalistic modernism, they could perhaps, in searching after the participation of the working class, be said to be exchanging one first order discourse for another: the first order discourse of the working class movement and its history. This, to some extent, was similar to the Situationist trajectory with its exclusion of artists and its growing fetishisation of forms of working class organisation that were embedded in an historical context (councilism etc). However, the lasting influence of the Situationists can be found not simply in their promotion of ‘forms’ such as detournement and derive, but in the way they enter into a critical relation with the history of the workers movement and, almost despite themselves, resurrect the old forms of ‘councilism’ at the same time as they come to sketch-in a new social subject that is in relation not to manufacturing production but to the reproductive function of consumption. In many ways the error we can attribute to the Situationists, a divisive error that is made visible with hindsight, is that of the1962 exclusion of the artists and, to some extent, the abandonment of a culturally embracing critique of first order discourses in general. In many respects the SI’s exclusion of artists points to the very psychic-rootedness of separate disciplines in that art is read through the ideological prism of its much promoted myth. Thus, not only is a much vaunted ‘totality’ the subject of a disciplinary fragmentation, the very notion of creativity is specialised in-turn as the social creativity of revolutionaries who, more often than not, are in search of a combative working class (the
s of totality?). From here notions of historical consciousness come into play and with them comes an authoritarianism, an interpretative exclusivity and a vanguardism, that becomes increasingly blind to the actual manifestations of class activity in light of an ideal retroprojection of the working classes historical presence in 1848, 1871, 1917, 1919 etc. The Situationists may not have been as instrumentalist as all this, but, in denouncing the cultural sphere as a dead-end of careerist art and mediated spectacle, in giving up “demanding power in the sphere of culture”, they, in effect, left the segregated claims of modernist art unchallenged and downgraded the possibilities for a long term seepage to accrue over time and in manifold directions. Asger Jorn’s notion of art as a ‘living culture’ with a propensity to release ‘latent energies’ and desires into the social field was overlooked in favour of a more and more specialised and finite approach that came to take on the misnomer of ‘totality’ through the invocation of the holy ghost that is the proletariat and its historical mission. However, the Situationists, perhaps most pronouncedly through the voice of Raoul Vaneigem, did begin to speak of ‘desire’ when they spoke of cultural banality as the immiseration of desire; an immiseration of imagination conjoining with the economic immiseration of wage-labour and socially enforced poverty. In not having the conceptual framework of the later developments of capitalism as a means of seeing the significance of their uttering the word ‘desire’ they were perhaps hindered from witnessing how desire becomes more and more visible as a ‘productive material’ though which capitalism ensures production and reproduction of its social relations (ideology). As with Terry Smith’s retrospective offering of ‘idiolect’ as a direction for A&L, so too the Situationists sketched-in some lines of enquiry that they did not get around to pursuing. Specifically here we can mention the project for a ‘Situationist psychology’ and the thinly scattered references to psychoanalysis and we can note further, as an unconscious of their text, that such as Freud and psychoanalysis, aren’t given the short shrift and lambast that the Situationists reserved for other disciplines. Key here is the intuition, the prescient suspicion, that the proletariat is not going to rise again, that the proletariat will be dispersed and recomposed, and crucially, that the massification of the working class in production centres will no longer come to serve as the precondition for social revolution. In some ways, then, political conceptualism sought to cathect upon a proletarian muse and if we consult a document written by Michael Corris entitled ‘Inside A New York Art Gang’ we can see here, in a quite candid auto-critique of the loose affiliation that was Art & Language New York (grouped around the A&L Journal and later The Fox magazine), an expression of just such a projection: “We were generally contemptuous of the ‘revisionist’ stance of ‘cultural workers’ pressing for a ‘cultural’ revolution in advance of a political revolution. In short, many of us promoted a startlingly romantic workerism...” (26). Here we see a division between ‘culture’ and ‘politics’ that, in replaying those of the Situationists fifteen years earlier, seems to have similarly wracked ALNY. This lead, at best, to a dematerialisation of the artist into political activist and, at worse, to an ethos of exclusions, mythical coherence and machinic Maoism that seemed to afflict many politically aware cultural workers of the early 70s (c.f. Cornelius Cardew of Scratch Orchestra/AMM etc). Such a pursuit of a politically active working class not only diminishes the ‘cultural’ expectations of that class but places pressure on those politically aware to live-up to the almost hysteric identification that has been placed in them. This is always sensed by working class people as unreal and off-putting and Corris gives us a view on this when he includes in his article a New York Times review of The Fox group’s arranging of open meetings with ‘the workers’ during the 1976 Venice Biennale. Quoting the Biennale’s organiser, Carlo di Meana, the report states: “They were completely sincere... but to such highly politicised people as Italians you can’t be candid in that way. The Italians just didn’t trust them, they were so naive” (27). Leaving aside the insurrectionary upheavals of 70s Italy and the vested interest of a reporter in demeaning The Fox group’s sincere communciative intentions, there is still a didactic element involved with such an approach to the ‘workers’ that is tantamount to bringing a first order discourse to them; an intent to make the ‘workers’ conscious of their position. What such a move infers is that those with the correct consciousness (SI, ALNY) have surmounted the contradictions of their social practice and are somehow looking for others who they believe have done so as well: the proletariat. So, in many ways there is a double ruse at work: not only are those with the correct consciousness certain of themselves, they are looking towards the working class as a confirmation of this certainty; a working class that is viewed ideologically rather than as a bundle of contradictions. Ironically enough one of the ALNY members who was purged along with Joseph Kosuth was Sarah Charlesworth. The latter was responsible for an essay entitled ‘A Declaration Of Dependence’ that clearly raised such issues as these and which was published in the opening pages of the first issue of The Fox. This piece clearly argues for a understanding of art as a social practice that can make a “contribution to a larger context of social meaning”. Charlesworth, albeit without the revolutionary rhetoric, does not recommend an abandonment of ‘art’ but, following the more radical elements of conceptualism, its diffusion throughout the culture. A diffusion critical of art institutions and their imbrication with capitalist circuits and one which attempts “to understand and evaluate our own (art) practice in relation to social practice in general.” (28). It is not just her reticence on calling down the holy ghost of the proletariat that makes this article interesting, but its refusal to theorise-out contradictions separate from praxis and therefrom come to occupy a position of knowledge (consciousness) that can become ideological, didactic and dependent. It may have been that her position, hinted to be one of a “radical academic”, was not one divorced enough from the institution for the rump of ALNY’s liking, but it was one that in many senses is parallel to that of Mary Kelly and the then burgeoning feminist critique of the failures of the 60s. Crucial here is the way that Charlesworth’s article offers strategies by which the appeal to a mythic working class is by-passed: “we are at once the products and the producers of the culture in which we participate” (29). With this there is no misrepresentative establishment of a privileged sphere of social contestation, no preferable social subject, no surmounting of contradictions, but an awareness of the continuity of social engagement and the problem of individuation and deconditioning as it effects all people subjected to the capitalist system. This is not to dematerialise the working class but to spare the working class from becoming either the ideal repositories of a bourgeois faith or a mode of self-sufficiency for working class people themselves (i.e. the latter can cathect the former’s myth!). Similarly, it enables a perception of how the working class and classes in general are being re-composed. In this light Ian Burn, another affiliate of ALNY, in responding to criticism offered from ALUK over Burn’s publishing an article on the art market in Artforum, offered that A&L were over reliant on “class conflict” and that the situation in the USA was one without “highly stratified social classes” and that “Marx’s class theory clings to a binary class model.. which may be fine in a monolithic social structure, such as perhaps still exists in England, but here it’s more complex and highly confused”. Burn goes on to offer that the “New York environment, with its unilateral media network, sustains culturally doctrinaire points of reference” (30) and with this intuits the ways in which the working class has been recomposed through the increasing effects of cultural circulation and cultural imposition through the medium of the media. Without going in too deeply this is a case of capitalism offering mutilple points of reference (representation) which overcode the reference of class which, when taken together with the demise of manufacturing and the myth of the proletariat as solely a political and economic force, leaves a lag in which the working class appears to have disappeared but in which it is possible that members of that class have recomposed themselves as cultural agents; a role previously denied them by management and revolutionaries alike. This may be misplaced conjecture but it does lead to one of the contradictions that conceptualism poses in that during the 70s many of the ‘artists’ dealing with political issues could be said to be ‘working class’ and not simply a politically correct bourgeois or bourgoisified target. Charles Harrison: “...in its English form at least, conceptual art was a class activity, intended to destroy the already-aesthetised objects of thought, on the grounds that the linguistic rituals of their appreciation served mindlessly to consolidate social power” (31). In many ways work as labour rather than work as art-work became a factor that is discernible in 70s conceptualism. Again, at times, this choice of subject matter, itself a means of exploring the social field in terms of what Mary Kelly has described as “interrogating the conditions of social existence” (32), is propelled by Feminisms impact upon the culture: Mary Kelly, Kay Fido Hunt and Margaret Harrison did a project around the Metal Box factory; Mary Kelly’s own ‘Post Partum Document’ examines the labour and the cultural construction of motherhood; Mierle Laderman Ukeles cleaned out museums as part of what she called ‘maintenance art’. Such a list, when taken together with such works as those of Conrad Atkinson, Ian Breakwell and the ‘incidental persons’ of the APG, and when drawn out to include the ‘durational’ pieces associated with the performances of Stuart Brisley, could go on and on. It is also possible to witness working class cultural forms as making an entrance into conceptual art: Gustav Metzger’s ‘Art Strike’ and Lee Lozano’s ‘General Strike’ piece both draw upon forms of working class protest and import these into the art institution in a bid for politicisation; A&L draw sustenance from a resolute autodidacticism associated with working class self-education and political learning circles that have been part of the working class movement since its inception in the early nineteenth century. Indeed, in utilising these and other forms such as ‘re-appropriation’ (Alan Sekula stole meat from supermarkets) and ‘free distribution’ (Lee Lozano is reported to have given money away in the late 60s and Hungarian artist Mikos Erdely left tubs of unguarded money in the streets of a 1956 Budapest) the politicised conceptualists not only carried out a critique of first order discourses in general but, in working with ‘micro-media’ and within small scale but potentially diffusing situations, they effected a dematerialisation of the artist into an anonymous and catalytic spur. In another direction Ian Burn of ALNY, in his article on the art market, sought to demonstrate how artists as cultural workers are subject to the machinations of the market in ways that both differentiate and unite them with the working class. Describing himself as a “unit in a labour force”, Burn spoke of the ‘managerial’ pressures to create as those emanating from the institutional requirement for ‘innovation’, and referred to such demands as functioning as an economic support in terms of “product differentiation”. Using Marxist notions of alienation, Burn described how the work of artists, their activity, separated from them in the market in much the same way as that of a labourer, is set to work as surplus value that in turn makes capital accumulation possible. Whilst the differences between the two are not fully drawn one ramification of such an alienation of the product of an artist’s labour is that, Burn suggests, it “impairs our ability to create” (33). Through Burn’s analysis the artist comes to occupy a similar ground to that of the working classes in that the latter are similarly denied this ‘luxury’ of creativity: the artist succumbs to the pressures of a disproportionate individuality whilst the working classes are denied an exploration of their own. Such an imbalance, the source of both mutual suspicion and overinvestment, is one of the key areas that a dematerialised practice can address in that by seeking to establish a degree zero of creativity the demands of the first order discourse of modernism, the qualitative competencies of form and style, can be jettisoned in favour of a renewable and more inclusive cultural work in the social field. When in 1982 A&L, perhaps with punk in mind, offered that “the meanings of the dominated will have to be sought in their characterisation as a (speciously or temporarily) second order discourse and further that the meanings of the dominated may actually be sought in part in a second order discourse already in production” (34), we can grasp their assertion in relation to the problem of the means of expression and how such practices as insertions, micro-media, anonymous interventions and deracination can work-with and build-upon the social materials that are already in the social field. A second order discourse, then, in moving away from the purview of the art institution and negotiating the pitfalls of ‘speciousness’, can multiply the points of entry/exit into a practice. Like Piper’s ‘meta art’ it would seek to demystify the conditions of creative production at the same time that it reveals the ideological circuits of which it is a part, circuits that, in substituting individualism for social relations and lack for desire, maintain the obfuscations useful for a social segregation of which institutional art is only one expression.
Research Direction (4): Conceptual Art and ‘Internationalism’
“In the normal circumstances, the artist cannot live by his skills. He has one or more jobs unrelated to his art. He sells to a national elite or to tourists” Luis Camnitzer, 1969
Throughout these notes there has been a mixing of artists irrespective of the normative means of classifying them (nationality, race, gender etc). Whilst this may not conform to the belaboured practice of art history it means that perhaps, as notes becoming their own form, they can avoid hypostatizing context as the continual repetition of the ‘accepted facts of history’ and reveal history as a process of making rather than regurgitation. In this way they can perhaps reveal something of the simultaneity of experiment and ethos that was shared by many conceptual practitioners irrespective of the normative boundaries that, in the long run, make of difference a category of uniqueness. As more historical information becomes available it thus becomes increasingly difficult to hold onto the term ‘conceptualism’ as a viable means of expressing heterogeneous difference and to associate such art exclusively with what are called the ‘metropolitan centres’ of the Western world. The currently touring ‘Global Conceptualism’ show sends out as its advance salvo a catalogue which includes thumbnail historical sketches of conceptual work carried out in Latin America, the Soviet Union, Africa and the Far East since the 50s. What is driven home by this show is the actual extent of an idiosyncratic, locally responsive and politically committed art that not only reveals the conceptual tag as a means of overcoding the political intent of much of the art, but profiles the neo-conceptual art of the ‘centre’ as that which has become bogged down in a mutually supportive relation to the art institution. In this light it is interesting to see how Joseph Kosuth’s text, ‘Art After Philosophy’, has functioned as the canonical manifesto of the ‘centre’. Its urging art to take up the role of philosophy may have some interesting tangents but the lasting echo of Kosuth’s essay is to overly define the domain of art and most particularly to stake a claim of ownership over the term conceptual art. The second part of Kosuth’s essay consists of his acting as the arbiter of conceptual art by describing the work of various contemporary Western Artists and judging them in terms of how they coalesce with his definition of conceptual art. By claiming tautologically that “art is the definition of art” Kosuth retifies the very self-referentiality of art sanctioned by capitalistic modernism. This internationally distributed text helps establish the canon of the ‘centre’ by bolstering the first order discourse of modernism and strengthening the artists ties to the art institution (Kosuth’s own career is an obvious example). More than this it is the adoption of ‘Art After Philosophy’ by the art institution (its mass circulation) that reveals how the ‘canon’ and the notion of the ‘centre’ are formed as authoritative: the social relations of the art institution, as a mode of professional discourse, refutes the challenge of the avant-garde trajectory by installing a neo avant-garde as that which ‘reformistically’ rearranges the proposition of art, expands viable materials or ‘subject matter’, without questioning those propositions or respecting and developing the political ramifications of the subject matter. Kosuth’s text gives the administrators a handle on ‘conceptualism’, a handle that rematerialises the object and severs discourse from the social field. Like much of his work it blocks desire (the will to express) with the monumentality of received discourses (thesaurus definitions etc). So, if ‘Art After Philosophy’ acts as a defining moment of conceptualism and if its dissemination elevates it to canonical status it should be seen as an ongoing institutional act of global imperialism that operates as a generalising blockage that afflicts all. Its remit can suppress the ‘dominated’ practitioners of the ‘centre’ nations just as much as those of the ‘developing’ nations. The insidiousness of such operations, whereby uncritical acceptance (perhaps befuddlement) allows ‘knowledge’ to becomes reified as authority, ends up replicating itself in the very practice of those who would seek to redress the balance. In her essay on Latin American art for the ‘Global Conceptualism’ catalogue, Mari Carmen Ramirez seems, in the interstices of her writing, to be falling foul of the ideological notion of the ‘centre’ and the ‘periphery’ in that the ‘centre’ is taken as an homogeneity and the ‘periphery’ as heterogeneous. Such a simple reversal where the feeling of having been dominated turns into an obsession with the dominator can serve to reify the power of the ‘centre’. Such a move is played-out by her adoption of canon-forming critical devices whereby she claims precedence and antecedence for some Latin American artists over those of the ‘centre’ and, furthermore, in a generalising move, talks of ‘our’ artists with a sense of writerly proprietary that, spreading over a continent, not only serves the canon’s need for nationalistic props but generalises, overcodes, the professed heterogeneity of the artists she sets out to examine. This is tantamount to staking a claim for institutional representation on behalf of artists who never had these intentions in the first place. However, what marks her essay is not only its refutation of the term ‘conceptualism’ but the way that it brings to light information about cultural practices that did not seek to be viewed as ‘art’ but as a form of engagement that operated directly in the social field. Roberto Jacoby: “What is art, then, if only a way of thinking. Social phenomenon are also works of art and they concern everyone” (35). For people such as Meireles, Grippo, Jacoby, Oiticica and the Tucuman Arde group what is immediately apparent is their dissociating themselves from the ‘centre’ of their own neo avant-garde institutions and immersing themselves in an heterogeneous political practice. If the Situationists became hung-up on an imposed and reified category of art, then these artists, perhaps already ‘of the people’, did not feel the need to critique the art institution but institutions in general and they did so in ways that operated at various speeds. From the Tucuman Arde group, who fell in behind sacked tin miners and established their own counter-media to correct the media manipulations that surrounded the conflict, to Miereles ‘insertions’, what was sought, through a dematerialisation of art practice, was a means of “fermenting” social and political changes. If the Situationists, in pursuit of the holy ghost of the working class and its revolutionary mission, were perhaps hoodwinked by a concept of class-consciousness that proved elusive to others than themselves, then the artists whom Ramirez draws us towards were at all levels concerned with how consciousness and expression are elicited without that participation necessarily being a written theoretical demonstration of revolutionary commitment. Helio Oiticica, describing his practice as an ‘anti art’ that aimed to bring about “dynamic participation”, puts this in disarmingly simple words: “The metaphysical, intellectualist and aesthetic positions thus become invalidated there is no proposal to ‘elevate the spectator to a level of creation’...or to impose upon him an ‘idea’ or ‘aesthetic model’...but to give him a simple opportunity to participate, so that he ‘finds’ something he may want to realise” (36). Such an offer is far from simple in that it requires the repositioning of the artist in the direction not of a finished and completed art object but in the direction of an examination of the means of expression. The despecialisation entailed in this seems to be addressing an idea of consciousness as that which is always forming rather than, as is perhaps the case with the Situationists, addressing a consciousness that has already formed. The takers for the latter, with all its connotations of a pre-arranged object as revolution determining the consciousness in advance, is more likely to be less than those who could respond to Oiticica who, in recognising the barriers to confidence as aesthetic and intellectual, is more concerned with removing barriers to participation than in establishing them. Returning to Kosuth we can offer that, in his drawing upon analytical philosophy and in his hoping for artists to become philosophers, he emplaces specialist barriers to participation by creating a representation of the conceptual artist as an intellectual rather than someone who is being drawn into finding “something he may want to realise” and in so doing entering into process as a social engagement. And so, when Victor Grippo makes bread in public to give away for free or when Leon Ferrari makes written paintings with his own handwriting it is not just a matter of making ‘art’ more accessible and folksy but of a rejection of the a priori identity of art that, as it crosses the social field becomes more and more distant from the art institution until it materialises cultural relationships and social relations that can be enacted upon as a social object: “the senses become theoreticians in their immediate praxis” (37). As idealistic and utopian as this sounds it is only to draw out the ramifications of what many Latin American and other international artists were engaged with. As Ramirez points out, the political conditions under which many of these artists worked in and with were, at turns censorious and repressive, and in many ways this led to a practice wherein the political intent of the work was often its most subtle and unspoken element. Similarly, that the regimes were more blatantly authoritarian than the democracies of the ‘centre’ nations, led to a direct political and ideological connection being made between governments and their art institutions. Conceptual artists in Eastern Europe and China had no recourse to such institutions and without the ‘benefits’ of art markets undergoing constant product differentiation they were not side-tracked by a relation to the art institution, its history and assured audiences, but more able to explore a degree zero cultural practice that, drawing on all manner of materials, micro-media and situations, could jettison such canonical mores as originality, form and quality: “The old propositions of ‘making new art’ is no longer formulated... the correct formulation would be to ask: what propositions, promotions and measures must one draw upon to create a wide ranging condition of popular participation” (38). This did not translate into some reactivation of social realism but became equatable to a work with social relations and the modes of ideological circulation, wherein, as Cildo Meireles states, “we were no longer working with metaphors (representations) of situations; we were working with the real situation itself ” (39). What is noticeable here is not only the use of the term ‘we’ rather than ‘I’, but also the pluralisation of the term ‘situation’. The Situationists, perhaps caught up in a not dissimilar mode of authorial control as that of Kosuth, often gave the impression that there are particular and definable ways of creating a situation and this, like Kosuth’s self-arrogating definition of art, can erect a barrier that blocks-off the confidence that is essential for experimentation, process and participation. The confidence factor is of prime importance for a dematerialised practice and when the Japanese Bikyoto Group spoke of the struggle to “win and acquire our own expression” it is more than possible to establish a rhythm between the practices of all those groups who are in critical relation to their respective ‘centres’. Whether the discourse of those centres is bourgeois, patriarchal, colonial, conceptual or an amalgam of them all, the important factor, that comes to light as there is a working-through of say, feminist or black art discourses, is that winning the means of expression is a crucial presupposition of any concerted challenge to capitalistic power. In this light the watchword of Helio Oiticica, “On Adversity We Thrive”, becomes not some glorification of proletarian authenticity, but a very real measure of the way that expression is won by those not privileged enough to have access to the cultural tools through which to engage in process. This, however, is the very strength of much of this work, in that in not conforming to the requirements of the canon it can make ‘work’ with what comes to hand: social relations and desires. So, as more historical and international work comes to visibly reside at the interstices of institutions it becomes possible to draw points of contact between art practices that were separated from one another by the operation of such institutional discourses as art history. With this in mind not only does ‘conceptualism’ blur as a category, but those distinct discourses are revealed as homogenous blockages to the appearance of desires that, when left to flow and deterritorialise, form heterogeneous subjects and not individuals.
Research Direction (5): Desire and the ‘new social subjects’
“Apparently the revolution could break out only because of a vast combination of contradictory demands. If the existing psychic forces had identified one another from the start, their unaminous mobilisation would never have come about” Pierre Klossowski, 1939
One of the lasting remnants of conceptualism is its concerted attack upon the modernist notion of the artist. Mary Kelly offered that this distrust of the myth of the artist was what marked out the 60s avant-garde: “In the sixties.. the avant-garde expelled gesture, denied expression, contested the notion of essential creativity” (40). In a similar vein a large part of A&L’s discourse was aimed at criticising “our emotivist aesthetic culture” (41). Whilst this has undoubted relevance in relation to the ideology of the art institution it can, from a different perspective, be seen as relating to a notion of the individual as that which is in possession of its own ‘self’. In this case, the artist as the personification of freedom. If on the other hand we remove the element of privilege associated with the ‘myth’, if the artist becomes dematerialised through work in the social field, then it seems that passion and expressionism take on a different function as catalysts and are themselves similarly transformed. Though the conceptualists and those armed with a political critique of art are united in their polemical thrust to remove such an individualised emotivism from creativity, to rid the culture of the ‘masterpieces’ that that culture must needsbe create as reflections of itself, it is perhaps the case that both are still responding to the myth of art as it is ideologically circulated by capitalistic society rather than to the artist’s propensity to dematerialise and ‘encounter the real’ through trauma and autotheorisation. This, to some degree, highlights how the problem of individualism is repressed in both spheres rather than played out as a practice: desire and passion are adjudged to be characteristic of individualism rather than as their being seen as dynamic means through which subjectivity is formed and ruptured in the social field. In this light, then, the social subjects to which the political conceptualists addressed their work could be said to be made up of those who can no longer find anything of interest in the outmoded forms of modernism. Interest in this sense could relate to cathexis; there is a need to invest in such a way that desires become materialisable as ‘radiant energy’, as catalysts. The place where this is most possible is the social field and, as Adrian Piper’s work attests, it is a space that has none of the encumbrances, the modernist-filters, of the art world as it is instituted. Such an outmoded expressivity, when mediated by the art world, takes on an already emplaced ideological hue (individualistic freedom etc) that relegates its creativity to repeating history rather than making history (such a vicious circle as this is the fate that has befallen the neo-conceptualism of the yba). The art world’s isolation from the social field (as absurd as such a sentence may sound) is an indication that those practitioners, administrators and funders who make up the institution, are more concerned with a form of narcissistic cathexis whereby the institution itself becomes the audience. This is what political conceptualism wanted to move away from and its legacy seems to resound more clearly in the performance and feminist art of the 70s (at least until this too became a matter of talking only to the institution). The issue, it seems, is that for desire to materialise as a ‘radiant energy’ capable of effecting an affective and therefrom social change, an art practice must run the risk of meeting an unpredictable response and give itself over to the often more contradictory contingencies of the social field that is itself a space of desire and neurosis. Indeed the latter, as negative desire, is what such work in the social field would primarily encounter: not only an inability to materialise desire as a force for change and intensification, but a reluctance to admit that desire is at work in the first place (even in the negative imprint of urbanism). This latter points to the much theorised reluctance of the workers movement to embrace the findings of a fledgling ‘libidinal economy’ (D&G, Lyotard, Bataille, Klossowski) and accounts for the misalignment of such as A&L with a workers movement that had perhaps peaked as the sole agent of revolutionary change in the Western nations (c.f. Henri Lefebvre). In many ways the working class reappear, with conceptualism, as the driving force behind rejecting the a priori of the art work (modernism). Denied creativity (which amounts to their being denied the taking of their desire for materiality) the working classes, perhaps at the forefront of a crisis of the subject in that their attributed ‘class consciousness’ was already becoming problematic, are the ones who, it could be said, more urgently embraced the offer of new forms and an uninstitutionalised creativity (improvised jazz, punk, techno) as a way of getting a hold on the means of expression. However, this creative-engagement, the embarking upon processes hitherto unsanctioned or deemed ‘unartistic’, is not the sole preserve of the working classes but is a measure of a microscopic approach to culture wherein nuances and slipstreams become the impetus to a judgement-free collective engagement (the efficacy of cultural history?). Desire becomes free to rove when it is a matter of eluding traditionalism. And so, A&L’s collaboration with the post-punk band Red Crayola and Adrian Piper’s ‘Funk Lessons’ not only figure as precursors to neo-conceptualism’s flirtation with popular culture, but in referencing the creativity of the social field, in traversing the line between ‘high’ and ‘low’, settling on it, they offer a point of connection with social desires that are already circulating (a second order discourse?). In such a circulation of desire, then, it would be impossible to suggest that the conduits are the exclusive preserve of working class subjects. Desire does not know class but class knows desire: repressed articulation has an intensifying urgency (punk) which brings a much needed confidence. Uncathected desire either roves freely in the social field or implodes under the duress of habit. But, most importantly, desire works at the microscopic level of contingency and fortuitousness that explodes the efficacy of such generalisations as those of class, race and gender. These latter become means of short-circuiting desire by having it implode in a remembrance of (counter) tradition: obedience to the super-ego of the art institution and to the super-ego of revolutionary doctrine. And so, is it possible to speak of the ‘affective classes’? Walter Benjamin thought so and it is maybe such ‘affectivity’ that the political conceptualists, despite their wariness of such a factor, were seeking-after in their shortlived rejection of the art institution. The point to keep in mind is that such an ‘affectivity’ has different ramifications in differing contexts. In a less aesthetically controlled environment, one not kow-towing to stipulated histrionics, the contingencies of ‘emotiveness’ can become improvisatory and a means of materialising desire as a will to change. To get to those who have had their articulation repressed is a matter of getting to the ‘affective classes’ (a class which really is a spectre!) and just as such a ‘class’ maybe made up of working class people it is just as much the case that they may also be people who are unlearning their ‘privileges’ in a different but connected way. Yet again the key seems to lie in the relation of consciousness to a ‘self’. If we take a cue from one of Benjamin’s contemporaries, the aristocratic Klossowski, we can get an inkling of a direction: “Once the body is recognised as the product of the impulses... its cohesion with the self becomes fortuitous” (42). Klossowski’s reading of Nietzsche has it that our relationship to our body provides the main prop to the ideology of individuality in that having one body we make the misplaced assertion that we have one self. Yet if the body is itself an amalgam of impulses (often unpredictable and operating at different speeds) it is only by chance (or ideological design) that we relate to consciousness as indistinguishable from a sense of ourselves as a unitary self. This monadism is, Klossowski argues, undercut by the ways in which a controlled culture, an economically profitable one, does all it can to “exterminate any impulse that might induce human nature to increase its emotive capacity” (43). Whether or not we call it ‘art’, it seems to me that creative engagement is a matter of increasing this ‘emotive capacity’ and that it is just such an increase (or, more aptly, complexification) of emotional response that gives rise to a consciousness that is comprised of other ‘selves’ (or, more aptly, modes of experiencing emotions, impulses and desires which are themselves prompted by the social-field). Such an intensive and contradictory self, a self multiplied by bringing impulses into expression, by making desires materialised, obviously puts pay to the ‘unified psyche’ and ‘coherent ego’ that is demanded both of ‘class consciousness’ and ‘artistic competence’. The body becomes the “locus of impulses”, consciousness becomes that which is formed by ‘affectivity’ and this is, for Klossowski, productive of differences within that formerly monodimensional ‘self’. The issue of language, of prime importance to Klossowski’s reading of Nietzsche (hence his endeavour to delineate a ‘semiotic of the impulses’), would be too difficult to trace here, but the matter of bringing impulses to expression is said by Klossowski to be a matter of intensity taking itself “as an object” (44). A self may take the body as its object, but several selves, the experience of intensive subjectivity, takes the intensities themselves as its object because, not being static, they must needsbe be brought to some form of expression. Here then could lie Piper’s ‘meta art’. Her taking herself as an object (but not as a unique object) becomes a metaphor for that process of creative engagement that seeks to complexify its relation to the social field and the impulses, desires and emotions that always arise from there. Such a dematerilisation of both the artist and the art object, whereby such ‘self’ objectivity is made conscious of itself as socially situated, not only makes ‘emotivity’ that which is tranmissable as a social material (desire), it reveals creativity, and expression of the impulses, as no longer able to be satisfied with the narcissistic gaze alloted it by the art institution. The resultant subject, no longer an artist but a precipitate of perceptual identifications with social relationships, relationships can come into direct conflict with capitalism in many ways: there is the issue of roles and specialisations that limit desire to the confines of individualistic freedom; there is the conflict of autotemporalising versus the relation to work-time; there is the refusal of ‘reality’ in favour of producing a real that allows for the imaginative construction of social spaces; there is the clamour for modes of ‘affection’ rather than products etc. In this way the issue of consciousness as a means of uniting the revolutionary agencies is no longer a matter solely for class but, after Klossowski and Benjamin, a matter of affinities: shared affect and impulsive expressions the affective classes remaking the social field.
Draft 1. March. Amended June 2000
Title from Robert Smithson: Cultural Confinement. See Conceptual Art: A Critical Anthology, ed A. Alberro & B.Stimson, MIT,1999, p282. Most of the sub-heading quotes are drawn from this anthology of texts that makes available a compendium of documents that are useful for a political reappraisal of conceptual art and by extension a potential radicalisation of a currently quietistic art practice. It is as an accompaniment to a reading of this anthology that the present notes were written.
1. Victor Burgin: Yes Difference Again... See Conceptual Art, ibid, p429.
2. Art & Language interviewed by Catherine Millet. See ibid, p264.
3. Adrian Piper: In Support Of Meta Art. See ibid, p298.
4. Self-insitution in this instance can be seen as a means of disengaging from the first order discourses propagated by the art institution. It is group activity that also acknowledges the subject as a grouping in itself. Interestingly, the Japanese Bikyoto Group of the 70s, in campaigning against the art institution and in going on strike during 1974, raised the notion of ‘internal institution’: “the museum emerges wherever one conducts an act of art making”. See Reiko Tomii: Concerning The Institution Of Art Conceptualism in Japan in Global Conceptualism: Points Of Origin1950s-1980s, Queens Museum Of Art, 1999.
5. Hans Haacke in Jeanne Siegel: An Interview with Hans Haacke. See Conceptual Art, ibid, p244.
6. Adrian Piper, ibid, p300.
7. See Lucy Lippard: Six Years, Studio Vista, 1973, p235.
8. Karl Marx quoted by Victor Molina in Ideology, Hutchinson, 1978, p238.
9. Steve Kaltenbach quoted by Piero Gilardi: Politics Of The Avant-Garde in Conceptual Art, ibid, p132. Adrian Piper is on record describing her early conceptualist practice as a way she could “explore objects that can refer both to concepts and ideas beyond themselves and their standard function... objects that... situate those very objects in new conceptual and spatio-temporal matrices”. See ibid, p424.
10. See Karl Marx: Early Writings, Pelican, 1975, p345-359. Is it somewhere along these lines that a dematerialised practice of ‘art’ that extends to the dematerialisation of the ‘artist’ can be said to be in conjunction with a communist project outlined by Marx as being “the positive suppression of private property as human self-estrangement... the complete restoration of man to himself as social”? For Henri Lefebvre such a ‘restoration’ would entail the production of space; a recognition that space is not ‘given’ but is socially produced. See his Production Of Space, Blackwell, 1999.
11. See Lippard, ibid, throughout.
12. Work in the direction of amplifying the imperceptible can be heard on John Cage’s Cartridge Music and has been presented in the late 90s by Restgeraeusch, Terre Thaemelitz and others on the Mille Plateaux record label as well as outfits like Farmer’s Manual on Mego. In the context of improvisation see the work Michael Prime, Adam Bohman, Brown Sierra and Keith Rowe’s work with AMM.
13. For a brief description/discussion of ‘Soft Tape’ see Terry Smith: Peripheries In Motion Conceptualism and Conceptual Art in Australia and New Zealand in Global Conceptualism, ibid, p91-92.
14. Alvin Lucier in CD Booklet to ‘I Am Sitting In A Room’, Lovely Music (LCD1013), 1990. For Luc Ferrari see ‘Presque Rien’ INAGRM (INA C 2008), 1995. For a contemporary use of field recordings see the work of Ultra-Red on Mille Plateaux/Comatonse, Chris Watson’s releases on Touch and Walter Marchetti’s Antibarbarus on Alga Marghen (plana-M 3NMN.016)
15. For the Media Art Manifesto see Conceptual Art: A Critical Anthology, ibid, p3.
16. John Roberts: Impossible Document, Camerawords, 1997, p16.
17. Henry Flynt: A Summary Of My Results. See Fluxshoe, 1972, p33.
18. Cildo Meireles: Statements. See Conceptual Art, ibid, p410.
19. See Lucy Lippard, ibid, p 235.
20. Mary Kelly and Terry Smith: A Conversation. See Conceptual Art, ibid, p458.
21. Mary Kelly: Imaging Desire, MIT, 1995, pxxiii.
22. Mary Kelly, ibid.
23. See Mari Carmen Ramirez in Global Conceptualism, ibid.
24. See Mary Kelly and Terry Smith, ibid.
25. See Eugene Holland: Deleuze & Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus, Routledge 1999, p52.
26. Michael Corris: Inside A New York Art Gang. See Conceptual Art, ibid, p480.
28. Sarah Charlesworth: A Declaration Of Dependence. ibid, p317.
29. ibid, p308.
30. Ian Burn quoted by Michael Corris, ibid, p472.
31. Charles Harrison quoted by A. Alberro, ibid, plii note 36.
32. Mary Kelly and Terry Smith, ibid, p451.
33. Ian Burn: The Art Market. See Conceptualism, ibid p323.
34. See Art-Language Vol 5 No.1, p30. Punk could be seen to be a second order discourse in relation to the first order discourse of rock. The immediately recognisable problem with this is the relation between second order discourse and secondary production (ie media). A second order discourse may be a means by which we can win the means of expression but how is this sustained in a direction away from seeking the legitimation of the media and towards a work in the social field? By means of grouping and self-institution would be the first tentative answer?
35. Roberto Jacoby quoted by Mari Carmen Ramirez in Global Conceptualism, ibid, p53.
36. Helio Oiticica: Position and Programme. See Conceptual Art, ibid, p8-9.
37. Karl Marx, ibid, p352.
38. Helio Oiticica: General Statement Of New Objectivity. See Conceptual Art, ibid, p42.
39. Cildo Meireles, ibid.
40. Mary Kelly: Imaging Desire, ibid, p85.
41. Art & Language: Ikon Gallery, 1983, p50.
42. Pierre Klossowski: Nietzsche and the Vicious Circle, Athlone 1997, p33.
43. ibid, p157.
44. ibid, p60.