Archive for the Relational Aesthetics Category

Print/Out MoMA–Field Report

Posted in Art Exhibits, Relational Aesthetics with tags , , , on May 14, 2012 by immanentterrain2

In the last few decades global and cultural boundaries have been in a process of flux aided by newer technologies accelerating communication to allow widespread access to nearly every corner of the globe. Many would argue this technology of the present was at least in some degree facilitated by the advent of print technologies allowing exchange of ideas across increasingly larger spaces. MoMA’s Print/Out exhibition was intended to provide a glimpse into the genealogy of artistic and societal practices related to print over the last few decades. (Cherix, 14/15) Overall the exhibit varied dramatically in style and quality, though some quieter pieces were remarkable, such as the delicate prints of Xu Bing and Guillermo Kuitica. The exhibit open from February 19 until May 14, 2012 was nearly exclusively comprised of MoMA’s extensive collection of prints and books and featured printed works from major artists, such as Rirkrit Tiravanija and Ai Weiwei.

Thinking back to our class discussion of Bourriaud’s Relational Aesthetics and Claire Bishop’s response in “Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics,” it fits to remember Rirkrit Tiravanija and his installations cooking for patrons. Narrowly defined, his art is based on interaction and exchange among participants. Bourriaud defines relational aesthetics as “a set of artistic practices which take as their theoretical and practical point of departure the whole of human relations and their social context, rather than an independent and private space.” (113) In a sense this could include all artists, but of specific interest to Bourriaud’s treatise were artists who use the gallery setting in creative ways to explore new artistic concepts in the early to mid 90s.

In Untitled 2008–2011: The map of the land of feeling, Tiravanija presents his first endeavor in print–a cartography of events in his life and work over 20 years–exposed through prints of his passport as major narrative device along with other materials and images indicate trajectories of time through manipulating the space of the visual field. (Cherix, 90) His prints engage the viewer to explore the map of his travels, emotions and ideas.

Rirkrit Tiravanija, Map of Land and Feeling, 2008

This project is perhaps at first glance conceptually less provocative than his project cooking for people. However, once one engages with the work, it could be argued that it is more visually interesting, coherent and allows the author more agency over the message. The latter of the list is of course directly opposes the idea behind relational aesthetics—the point of relational art is that meaning is generated by viewers are physically interacting with the work. Tiravanjia’s print arguably engages the viewer’s intellect and imagination in an exploration of the intensive as it imparts ideas of a qualitative journey.  Though it lies within the realm of traditional visual art, the work is still interactive, in a sense, as it allows an exchange between artist and viewer or perhaps even among viewers as they discuss the work.

Through this work, we see systems of signs evocative of linguistic systems but many are not an actual signs of symbols from any system in particular. A viewer recognizes maps of cities superimposed with maze-like structures as well as psychogeographical maps specifically copied directly from those of the Situationists, along with symbolic shapes of cooking pots and pans that would become part of Tiravanija’s work. One is drawn in by the idea of linearity and causality, as the image bending around the corner of two walls seems to unravel in time. One can detect a journey through the permutations of the passport, but is left to the viewer to determine the nature of this journey.

Though perhaps more visually and mentally engaging than the cooking project, it does not necessarily facilitate the types of tensions Claire Bishop calls for in “Antagonism in relational Aesthetics” when she asks “if relational art produces human relations, then the next logical question to ask is what types of relations are being produced, for whom, and why?” (65) Though perhaps he exempt from answering this question, as these prints are not necessarily an example of relational art—bodies physically interacting with each other and the work to derive meaning are not necessarily the intent. These works are also, as previously stated, shown within a traditional art setting. Regardless, it is clear that the Tiravanija print communicates something interesting, a possible mapping of relations through time in space, or exactly what Deleuze would call an intensive cartography as it is a qualitative reckoning of trajectories in space.

One artist’s work in Print/Out that does incorporate interesting flows of tension is that Ai Weiwei and his printed art books. Before Weiwei’s well-known career as an artist and political activist, he was an underground publisher. Upon his arrival in China in the early 90s after years in the United States, he encountered an almost unanimous plea from his artist friends and colleagues for printed information and images of contemporary art of the world—information suppressed by the authoritarian government. (Cherix, 22)

Ai Weiwei, Black Cover Book, 1997

In 1994 Weiwei published three thousand copies  of The Black Cover Book, a catalog of important and now iconic works from twentieth-century including Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol, as well as translations of existing art-historical and critical texts, as well as artists’ submissions and essays.These books made their way throughout China via underground distribution channels. The books and their dissemination underscored the presence of a large underground artists’ network in China. (Cherix, 51)

In the case of Weiwei and his work, Bishop’s question “if relational art produces human relations, then the next logical question to ask is what types of relations are being produced, for whom, and why?” is answered succinctly. His work in these books displayed at MoMA’s Print/Out exhibition disseminated information—visual, technical and conceptual–generating conversations between artists who might be prohibited from interacting one another otherwise while also increasing awareness of world wide artistic practices within that milieu. This departs from the charges narcissism leveled against artists of relational aesthetics as these books served to unite artists in a place where this type of subversive networking was prohibited. It was in fact allowing new types of freedom in artistic practices, at the very least.

B. Paris

Bishop, Claire. “Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics.” October. No. 110, 2004.

Bourriaud, Nicolas. Relational Aesthetics. Dijon: Les presses du réel, 2002.

Cherix, Christophe.  Print/Out. Museum of Modern Art. 2012.

Giverny at The Hole

Posted in Art, Art Exhibits, Relational Aesthetics with tags on April 25, 2012 by immanentterrain2

E.V. Day & Kembra Pfahler

“Giverny” at The Hole

Walking into the opening of this exhibit was a little bewildering. I had seen a couple of photos from the install in progress, and had heard that the concept of the exhibition was to bring Monet’s garden to life, but I still wasn’t really prepared to step directly onto gravel and Astroturf as I passed through the front door.  The air inside was muggy and hazy (I think augmented by humidifiers and smoke machines, although I didn’t see any), turf, gravel, mulch, ferns, flowers and ivy covered every inch of the space, the plant life wrapping around columns and climbing up walls. I hadn’t even gotten half way through the show yet.

Up a small, fabricated hill, and I arrive at the pond. An actual pond, full of water, and water lilies, with a bridge over it, a turquoise bridge, a replica of the one made famous by Claude Monet’s impressionist musings.  Amidst the canopy of plant life that dominated the space, we found the works that inspired the installation, a series of photographs taken by E.V. Day during her Munn Artist Residency in Giverny, France, at this spot in the actual gardens.

I was very quickly brought to consider our discussions on relational aesthetics, and the notions of relationship, participation and commodity that were touched on by this exhibit. Clearly this is not a practice in avoiding commodification, there are works for sale (or were, the show is sold out) and the installation serves more or less to mystify and generate an added value to the works, and of course hype, hype, hype. Which is fine, I’m not sure why there is such contempt for people who make money doing awesome things.  Yes, it’s a spectacle, and yes it’s sponsored by playboy, and yes some people made a lot of money from it I’m sure, but at least it was interesting, and doesn’t generate it’s worth solely from being “counter” or “anti” contemporary fine art, while at the same time, is exactly that.

What I’m more interested in are the viewers’ relationship with the installation, and the possibility for participation or engagement as such. This was the first, and probably the only, time I’ve walked through a gallery and seen groups of people sitting on the ground, chatting, like they were spending an afternoon in the park. Despite the scene, the press and photographers, the presence of industry big shots and so on, people were chilling, drinking beers, sitting in the grass wearing thousand dollar outfits.  That’s what struck me, that this exhibit is decidedly not geared towards “outsiders,” and was in fact a very well attended event in the traditional sense, yet it brought up the “outsider” tendencies in attendees irrespective of their current status, or whatever we want to call it.  I guess gives some insight into how stale the scene is in some ways, build a garden in a gallery and all of a sudden bourgeois collectors are acting like hippies. It is truly awesome to see how nature and plant life, even manmade and indoors under artificial lighting, can cause even the most composed individual to shed the pomp and circumstance, and relax a bit.

This continued through the duration of the exhibit, I went back a couple weeks later with a friend and found a group of people on their lunch break, eating on the grass in back by the pond.

This really is commercial fine art as an encounter, the material basis, or works included in the show are unlikely to be a defining aspect of a viewer’s engagement with the exhibit as a whole, and the experience of the show is based almost entirely in the relationship established between the installation, and the people there at a given time, yet the focus is not on subverting the existing infrastructure of art politics and commercialization, but simply to build something wild and see what happens.


Impersonal Narcissism and Relational Aesthetics

Posted in Art, Deleuze and Guattari, Relational Aesthetics, Subjectivity with tags on April 23, 2012 by immanentterrain2

Lynda Benglis. Blatt, 1969.

How would our lives be better if human relations were something other than the collusion of ego-identities, if the shared project was not the consolidation of selfhood, but its dissolution?

   – Leo Bersani & Adam Philips in Intimacies

In Gilles Deleuze: An Introduction, Todd May starts by asking the question of “how might one live?”A sub-question of  May’s question could be “how might we relate to each other?” or “what might we love others for?” and these would be valid ones, since our relationalities with each other and with the world we inhabit are important aspects of our being, which could lead to new possibilities. It involves a discussion of subjectification and ethics, since they define how we choose to relate or not to relate, with whom or what. The relational aesthetics artists and their pieces, which Nicolas Bourriaud discusses in Relational Aesthetics, are seeking these new modes of relationality, at least, they are assumed to be experimenting with. However, the dynamics behind subjectification and our habitual modes of relationality among ourselves and with the world might need to be reconsidered if we want to assess the success of these pieces in terms of their ability to create new relational modes.

Deleuze and Guattari discuss how our being gets striated and territorialized through various devices such as the family, the church and the State, leading to a modernist notion of individualism. The modern subject forms a sense of self through these devices available to her/him, and it proceeds by differentiating between the self and the Other. According to the psychoanalytic theory, the individual sees the outer world as a threat to her/his own existence, therefore, something to be mastered. The individual gets a pleasure through the satisfaction of her/his aggression toward this outer world to the extent she/he masters it. This requires a solid formation of a sense of self and an ego, which immediately creates a strong sense of the Other, in the case of the other humans, animals or the world. To give an example, the current schema of masculinity needs a differentiation from the feminine or from ambiguous sexualities – queer identities. To the extent he differentiates himself from a woman, he becomes more Man. The biological differences may not be enough for him; further differentiation becomes necessary, which results in the distinct binary codes of femininity and masculinity in terms of cosmetics, fashion or gestures, to name a few. Moreover, queer subjectivities become a threat to the masculine subject, because they are the embodiment of the other possibilities the male body is capable of, signaling a dismantling of the hard-won, hard-formed masculine identity, a reminder of the fictitiousness of their particular sense of self, causing the formation of homophobia. This rigid formation of a self-identity has two options when it faces an encounter, unless it remains indifferent. It is either “I love you, I am taking you in”, or “I hate you, you are an Other which is a threat to my identity”. The dual extremities of the possible reactions become a habit, a reaffirmed truth as one has more idea about who one is, narrowing down the range of the possibilities that have not yet been. The encounter results with a choice of binarities that lacks the possible transformation of the self in the equation.  Sometimes these relations are regulated through the State’s rules, and the Church’s values or by the family’s customs and traditions. But most of the time, the paradigm according to which the actions of the subjects are judged or valued is that of an ethics which requires a strong formulation of the individual subject, which, then proceeds by identifying the allies and the enemies, the sameness and the difference, a differentiation between the Self and the Other. However, this is in contrast with what Deleuze understands of ethics, an ethics of immanence, which considers the affective nature of an encounter, following a Spinozist approach. An encounter, a relationality would be good for Deleuze if it increases the capacity to affect and to get affected; new relational modes that foster becomings that require a change in the current notions of subjectification and ethics, since their current states do not leave room for becomings.

The modern subjects have a problematic relationship with each other when they live in a civilized society. The reaffirmed sense of self, which proceeds by differentiating between the self and the Other, thus, seeing the other as something to be mastered, faces a major contradiction when s/he lives in a civilized society, which operate within the ethics of “Love thy neighbor”.  In their collaborative book, Intimacies (2008), in which they discuss the possibilities of new ways of relationality, Leo Bersani and Adam Philips argue, “Nothing is more absurd, Freud asserts in Civilization and Its Discontents, that what is perhaps the most cherished biblical commandment: ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.’ This commandment, revered as one of the ideal demand of civilized society, is really justified by the fact that nothing else runs so strongly counter to the original nature of man which Freud claims dictates not that we love our neighbors, but rather that we exploit them, rob them, rape them, murder them”. (Bersani, Philips 60) It is easy to love your neighbors in Rirkrit Tiravanija’s dinners, but that does not mean we have experimented with our ways of relating; as Bishop shows, the antagonism is not sustained but erased, and “without antagonism there is only the imposed consensus of authoritarian order – a total suppression of debate and discussion which is inimical to democracy”. (Bishop 2004 66) Without the friction created by antagonism, it is hardly a new mode of relationality, but something that falls back into our comfortable and habitual ways of relating to each other.

To find other modes of relationality, loss of the modern sense of self or a “shattering of ego” might be necessary, leading to becomings and new subjectivities. It is possible to draw a parallelism between deterritorializations of this kind and “impersonal narcissism”, a notion Leo Bersani offers. In Intimacies, Bersani elaborates on how a loss of self, through a shattering of the ego, opens new territories for an intimacy of a different nature; a new way of relating to others. For him, intimacy is in trouble if it is not rethought as a mode of being with, rather than a mode of knowing about. He considers the love between the mother and the baby of this kind of intimacy. It is narcissistic, because it assumes a self-love, which is also the case for the current relationalities that sees the Other as a threat. However it doesn’t proceed by differentiating between the self-love and the hate for others. It is “impersonal”, because it proceeds by seeing the self in the Other, seeing the other not as a threat to oneself, but as a new channel through which the self can transgress itself, forming new subjectivities or singularities. In every relationship, what the individual looks for is not a reaffirmation of her/his sense of self, but new formations each and every time.

It is the modes of relationality among subjects the artists who are engaged with relational aesthetics are experimenting with or at least they are assumed to be. Claire Bishop, in her “Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics” article, argues that it is naïve for artists to think they succeed in fostering new relationalities among the viewers, by bringing them together. Some of the artists she discusses are Rirkrit Tiravanija and Liam Gillick, who are often promoted by the curator and art critic Nicolas Bourriaud. When read together with her other article “Social Turn and its Discontents”, it can be said that she identifies three problematic notions about these artists’ pieces. First, she criticizes the pieces which are based on an artistic renunciation and an embracing of “a Christian good soul”, particularly when she talks about Oda Projesi’s –a Turkish art collective- workshops, which the artists organized in order to bring art to people who live in their neighborhood by providing them with art supplies and space and by facilitating the production of art for them. (Bishop 2006 5) This can also be argued for Rirkrit Tiravanija’s dinner gatherings. In these cases, the pieces lack the artists’ arguments, by relying too heavily on the participants’ contributions. Moreover, Bishop argues, there are two other problems with these art pieces, the first stems from a misreading of post-structuralist theory. She claims these artists misinterpreted the openness of a work of art, “a work that is open-ended, interactive, and resistant to closure, often appearing to be work-in-progress rather than a completed object”, therefore, “rather than the interpretation of a work of art being open to continual reassessment, the work of art itself is argued to be in perpetual flux” (Bishop 2004 52) The third problem rises from the appropriation of these experience-based happenings by capitalism as an experience economy.

In the case of Santiago Sierra’s works, which are also discussed by Bishop, we have an encounter that results in a different kind of reaction, however, not one that favors a becoming of the viewers, but a reaffirmation; “This is not me!” When the viewers of Sierra’s works face the paid prostitutes or the street vendors of Venice, what they see is the Other on display, not necessarily a relationship between the viewers and Sierra’s paid workers, even though it generates an unease or discomfort; a becoming, a formation of a new mode of relationality remains missing. It is the encounter or the collusion of two different classes or groups, but not necessarily a new mode of relationality among them.

This brings us to the question of what would be a relational aesthetics piece that would foster a becoming that would result from a partial loss of the sense of the modern self or a reconfiguration of subjectivity, leading to impersonal narcissism through some sort of sustained antagonism, perhaps in the areas which Guattari identifies, for inventing new relations “to the body, to fantasy, to time passing, to the mysteries of life and death”. (Guattari cited in Bourriaud 92) A piece that would make us interrogate things that we take for granted, on the borders where everyone has something to negotiate through, “an intimacy that explores the regions of impersonal co-existence where loss of self expands the capacity to love,” to cite from Judith Butler’s review of the book Intimacies.

 Piril Gunduz


Bersani, Leo and Philips, Adam. Intimacies. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2008.

Bishop, Claire. “Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics.” October, 2004: 51-79.

Bishop, Claire. “The Social Turn: Collaboration and its Discontents.” Artforum, February, 2006.

Bourriaud, Nicolas. Relational Aesthetics. Paris: Les Presses du Reel, 2002.

May, Todd. Gilles Deleuze: An Introduction. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

Democracy, Affect, and “Enter-activity” in Zoe Strauss

Posted in Art, Art and Philosophy, Art Exhibits, Bergson, Body and Affect, Deleuze, Immanence, Process Ontology, Relational Aesthetics, Subjectivity with tags on April 3, 2012 by immanentterrain2

The first of these ideas is the concept of antagonism. Laclau and Mouffe argue that a fully functioning democratic society is not one in which all antagonisms have disappeared, but one in which new political frontiers are constantly being drawn and brought into debate — in other words, a democratic society is one in which relations of conflict are sustained, not erased. Without antagonism there is only the imposed consensus of authoritarian order—a total suppression of debate and discussion, which is inimical to democracy.

Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics – Claire Bishop

It is always a truly peculiar situation. The tension residing in the interstices between the one and the other. The stark juxtaposition between percept and affect. The grinding in between.  The antagonism we reference above is resultant of one being thrown amongst the detritus of society. Those forgotten. That’s how it begins.  A violence that confronts the somnambulist as they are awakened from their complacent, passive, acceptance of the world about. The attempt to striate the miasma, to diffuse the smell, to relegate and delineate roles and responsibility, has created a zone of possibility where finally . . . finally, the representative becomes expressive. This I believe was the goal and intent of a Ms. Zoe Strauss. An utterance that could finally be discerned from the constructed milieu of an art world, of a home, of a people. One that resounded “don’t forget us”.

Zoe Strauss’ exhibit, located throughout the city of Philadelphia as billboards with her work strategically positioned in neighborhoods and business districts as well as in the Philadelphia Art Museum, is a materialization of these utterances and the memories of those left along the margins of our society. The identity of these individuals, as just that, individuals, via this display, has created a psycho-geography of sorts out of the cityscape as their stories inscribe their-story (as opposed to his-story) along billboards that dot the sky. The contrast of these images can be jarring as you pass the hopes and dreams of these individuals and the falling out of those same dreams against the progressive utopic skyline of a area betting everything on becoming “America’s next great city”. Zoe is calling for a reading of the lives of the individuals she documents – people she has lived with and befriended – to disturb those walking by. To wake them up. Calling attention to the artistry of these people and the environment that many blindly walk through as these people, trembling and hungry, stand to make up the foundation of our society. Kafka’s melancholic style, resultant of the hyper industrialization of the times he lived in makes plenty of commentary on these facts. His Hunger Artist is evocative of his resentment of the times. “When . . . some leisurely passer-by stopped . . . and spoke of cheating, that was in its way the stupidest lie ever invented by indifference and inborn malice, since it was not the hunger artist who was cheating, he was working honestly, but the world was cheating him of his reward”[1]. Zoe attempts to show the failings of this society in a very human way. To show that society has cheated that which it was meant to protect and afford the right to live. For isn’t the mainstay of our culture supposed to be the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness. Most importantly to life?

The role of identity within these images – the expressive gestures finally enunciated by those who were subjected to alterity in our society – begs to action not only from the reader of these works but from the subjects documented themselves. In a process of individuation, their identity moves from that of negation to a bellowing affirmation of self. As me because I am me. In truth it was hard to hear these voices at first. The space was filled not with shock and awe but with what Gilles Deleuze would state from his analysis of the works of Francis Bacon, a scream where the source was nowhere to be found. The residue of an attempt to codify and define, to striate the subjects and the subject matter within these pieces. A violent disorientation was the end goal. Screams to the tune of “that’s disgusting” . . . “do people live this way” . . . “this is so random” were ever apparent as they were said by the reader’s of the exhibit.  It was angering, however, this violent disorientation was required of myself as well. Amidst the sounds of laughter, disgust, awe, “don’t go in there . . . don’t look”, was a beautifully tragic project. Tragic in the Greek sense of the hero falling at the expense of what they love or those closest. This story however was re-invented. Zoe’s attempt to give voice to these situations were not about heroicizing problems or vilifying the people’s stories displayed by her works but to vivify their memory. To add a thickness and intensity that contributed to the materialization of their memory. Not as an epithet or effigy but to in-liven their faces.

The soundscape that accompanied the experience of these works added to the working assemblage of constructing their meaning.  The juxtaposition of the well off, high middle class and the open display of the lower rungs of society and the resultant reactions were a jarring reminder of the socio-political landscape that we occupy in our contemporary urban landscape.  “Images without sound are powerless to express horror”. [2] The exegesis of this horror is essential to begin a process of constituting the subject and the individual within this environment of the exhibition space. Allowing for an affective re-constitution that transforms both agents within this assemblage of meaning. There is a rebellious duty to disturb that is evident in each piece by Strauss. Art is meant to disturb and disrupt the status quo. In other words to question.

Zoe Strauss (source:

Identity really becomes material as one traverses the landscape of the exhibit. The promise of photography as a medium is its ability to record difference and time. Difference becomes innate and identity is not constituted through a negation of an other. It becomes a process.  The idea of the subject becoming an individual breaks with a historical trajectory that has tried to demarcate the boundaries of humanity and those included within its purview. The other and their existence, their minor status within the social, have been shown to be a conscious construct of those (regardless of number) who have ascertained power in relation to those subjected to it. “One ever feels his twoness . . . two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”[3] One ever feels their status and the status that has been imposed on them. DuBois would go further to say that “[i]t is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.” The work of Zoe Strauss is an attempt to reconfigure the image of those with this double consciousness. Those that are subjected to the discursive laws of society and made to feel a “twoness” as the result of the unity of the multiple forces that constitute their identity being torn between two ends or points in the landscape that make up or social-hierarchical structure. To render the invisible not merely as a form of representation but to begin the process of expressing the identity of those within the photographs at that particular instance in history.

Zoe, with an allusion to Bergson and his notions of concrete and abstract time, tries to render the forces within our social terrain visible and remove the confusion that Bergson would constantly refer to in his ideas on time, matter, and memory.  Strauss wants the viewers of these pieces to be realized and to know that they are existent because they truly are. The viewers experiences juxtaposed with those in the photographs renders this distinction more real.  For the viewer, they become a part of this coming into existence as they travel through the spatial enunciation of this identity recorded in a visually material literature. A material language that is read through their active participation in the construction of these spaces meaning and recording in history. To turn this image on its head and give voice to those who in society were told that their voice could only be validated through certain schema or blocks in the social terrain of human experience.

In the case of antagonism, argue Laclau and Mouffe, ‘we are confronted with a different situation: the presence of the ‘Other’ prevents me from being totally myself. The relation arises not from full totalities, but from the impossibility of their constitution.’ 40 In other words, the presence of what is not me renders my identity precarious and vulnerable, and the threat that the other represents transforms my own sense of self into something questionable. When played out on a social level, antagonism can be viewed as the limits of society’s ability to fully constitute itself. Whatever is at the boundary of the social (and of identity), seeking to define it also destroys its ambition to constitute a full presence: ‘As conditions of possibility for the existence of a pluralist democracy, conflicts and antagonisms constitute at the same time the condition of impossibility of its final achievement.’[4] We must push to the edges of those boundaries and burst through. To invent through the openings that have been created via the intense accumulation of otherness on the fringes of society. “Antagonism is discursively constituted”[5] and was made evident through the conversation surrounding each piece within the art gallery and the pieces throughout the city as well.

The process of individuation and democracy must be exhausted as these terms – democracy, interactivity, agency, etc. – are blindly wielded in not only the art world but also the world theater at large. How is a sense of agency, empowerment, or democracy within these theaters even possible based on certain superficial or superimposed ideals glazed over agents and bodies in society? Identity must be valid within one’s self. If unity is multiplicity, as discussed by Nietzsche or even Spinoza, we cannot solely rely on a constituted subject as the result of a derogatory machine that works, subjugates and “reposes on a double identity: of the thinking subject, and of the concepts it creates and to which it lends its own presumed attributes of sameness and constancy . . . In thought its end is truth, in action justice. The weapons it wields in their pursuit are limitive distribution (the determination of the exclusive set of properties possessed by each term in contradistinction to the others: logos, law) and hierarchical ranking (the measurement of the degree of perfection of a term’s self-resemblance in relation to a supreme standard, man, god, or gold: value, morality). The modus operandi is negation: x = x = not y. Identity, resemblance, truth, justice, and negation . . . The end product would be ‘a fully legitimated subject of knowledge and society’ . . . endlessly reproduced and disseminated at every level of the social fabric.” [6] An X = X not because X is not equal to Y but because X is X. This demarcates an indiscernible zone of autonomy within the social landscape that allows for identity to stand in and of itself. A zone that is relationally and affectively interconnected with its milieu. Zoe herself is emblematic of this concept as she still lives within the environments and personally interacts with all of those in her work. The question now becomes how, in these “indiscernible” zones of autonomy, do we truly identify the subject and give it voice? How do we release it from the territorialzed confines of society at large? How do we allow for it’s becoming?

The subject, identity, and/or the individual is realized through a spatial/relational orientation with its milieu. This is an affective relationship. One that allows for all parties involved to enact change on each other. Without this relationship constituted in this way, nothing can occur within the modernist or postmodernist ideal as we have defined it (if we can truly say that it is something that can be defined). Interactivity occurs within the encounter and experience derived of actively perceiving these images that afford us the opportunity to think outside given frameworks. There is no cause and effect type of relationship here as these perceptions and the subsequent meaning – created, not derived – from them occur in the instantaneous moments which we perceive as we “enter-act” (as opposed to merely interact) with pieces. They are created in praesenti. As Hume would note, cause and effect is inferred – it is not given. It is a construction that humanity uses to make the world sensible or intelligible and occurs a posteriori. Hindsight is always 20/20. Thus is logic and causality. Our knowledge and meaning emerges in that miraculous duration of attentive tinkering we call perception. “ . . . The emergence of both individual and milieu – following a course [devenir] in which preliminary tensions are resolved but also preserved . . . the conservation of being through becoming”[7]. Any democratic notions inherent within these works are upheld through this tension. This tension is the creative force, in the in-between (mediation or medius in its pure etymological sense), that materializes the memories and stories told through the interaction one enters into with the photography in the exhibit and billboards displayed throughout the city.

Memory and perception are the apparatus by which we construct a narrative through perceiving these works. Along with Bergson (In his Matter and Memory), the inventive capacity of our cognition, our action in thinking, lies within our ability to forget – our short term memory – which in turn forces us to invent. Henri Bergson defines memory itself as an image that intervenes in active perceptions as we experience the world. Memories become the residual of our affective experience of the world about. These memories are “materially” perceived. By attaching memory and consciousness to a physical process of perception, I believe Bergson allows for the materialization of not only matter but identity itself to be rendered comprehensible even in art. “Matter can be impressed with a form, and the source of ontogenesis can be derived from this matter – form relation. Indeed, if haecceities were not somehow inherent within the atom, or matter, or indeed form, it would be impossible to find a principle of individuation in any . . . realities. To seek the principle of individuation in something that preexists this same individuation is tantamount to reducing individuation to nothing more than ontogenesis. The principle of individuation here is the source of haecceity”[8]. This formation of matter is the beginning of our material perception of our milieu and the beginning of how we can enter into interactivity with the world and in this case this exhibit. Our memory (in the long-term) can no longer be perceived as a latent vegetative contemplation or “image”. “In truth, it no longer represents our past to us, it acts it; and if it still deserves the name of memory, it is not because it conserves bygone images, but because it prolongs their useful effect into the present moment”.[9] This expressive transformation of memory as images and its becoming active in the present is exactly what Zoe’s aim becomes as she spatially gives voice to those within her photographs throughout the city and the art gallery. Our perception of these elements, interwoven into the social fabric of the urban landscape, and the socio-political and economic landscape of the art gallery, allow for a prolonging, and vivification of our experiences long gone but brought to the for.

Zoe Strauss Billoard Project Map
(source: Philadelphia Museum of Art)

The first records, in the form of memory-images, all the events of our daily life as they occur in time; it neglects no detail; it leaves to each fact, to each gesture, its place and date. Regardless of utility or of practical application, it stores up the past by the mere necessity of its own nature. By this memory is made possible the intelligent, or rather intellectual, recognition of a perception already experienced; in it we take refuge every time that, in the search for a particular image, we remount the slope of our past. But every perception is prolonged into a nascent action; and while the images are taking their place and order in this memory, the movements which continue them modify the organism, and create in the body new dispositions towards action.

Matter and Memory – Henri Bergson

These new dispositions allow for a transformative change that in a present, immanent, world of relationality we gain agency in our autonomy as a becoming individual. Agency can no longer be relegated to something that is bequeathed to subjects which in turn subjectifies and indebts them once more to the one who gave this all-too-wonderful gift. These changes can be read as we, as well as our milieu, come into existence in a symbiosis of in-volution. These changes can be read across many different mediums.

This is the primary reason why, in this essay, we have referred to the viewers of these works as readers. This in-volution calls for a new form of literacy in how we interact and navigate an environment such as the one we have been describing in gallery space housing Zoe’s exhibit. A form of literacy that in many ways has been devalued as it cannot be controlled or has been subjugated to other forms of knowledge construction so that it can be. For are not words microcosms of difference that are physically and psychically read due to their innate and minute differences in their constitution and how they’re juxtaposed against open space? Are they not read by the scanning of even the most infinitesimal differences in the assemblage of their visual components? Do we not hold them in contrast to the plane from which they emerge (their environment/milieu)? Essentially, a poetic (and by poetic we mean in the greek sense of creation) attempt to striate, territorialize, and demarcate areas of space to construct systematic meanings from a smooth, indiscernible plane? This action in and of itself, and the illocution or statements that elicit performative acts is exactly what constitutes a language (especially when it comes to art and materially based linguistic systems), otherwise, what is the point? “[T]he performative itself is explained by the illocutionary . . . and the illocutionary is in turn explained by collective assemblages of enunciation”[10].

It is in these assemblages that we are truly interested in order to ascertain a new image of what it means to read these newly re-constituted spaces. What begins to define these territories are these becomings of expression, the enunciated utterances mediated through the words represented by the works placed throughout the city and the gallery space. “ . . . [T]his moment: the becoming-expressive . . . the emergence of expressive proper qualities, the formation of matters of expression that develop into motifs and counterpoints . . . [is] the essential thing. . . [T]he disjunction noticeable between the code and the territory”[11]. The coding of these territorialized spaces are due expressively to this “disjunction”, juxstaposition, or difference in contrast to the milieu these objects are embedded in. In other words, a psycho-geographical rendering of urban space that we consciously perceive and begin to read. And finally beginning to construct knowledge and meaning based on their collective force in expressing their identity. These codes are not predetermined, a priori, determinations of meaning but are derivative of experience and experimentation (as Hume would lay out on his artifice of thought). Through Zoe’s works, it becomes apparent that we enter into these assemblages of meaning not by choice or rationale, but by a necessity to make sense of it all. An affective, symbiotic, relationship that interconnects bodies, modalities, or these indiscernible zones of being to one another. As stated before, if left to logic and ratiocinicity, there would be no room for readers to perceive the variance or chromaticism innate within these pieces. We would be confined to the same functive, normalizing lingual games that we continually impose on environments to derive sense from them after the fact. Meaning can no longer unfold and we are taken out of the immanent and immediate environment in which we conceptualize and communicate the beauty in the world. We must be inventive and through our collective assemblages of meaning and affective (instead of effective) interaction with each other we can communicate this ontogenetic, engendering knowledge. For a new image of language, “[t]he organization of qualified marks into motifs and counterpoints necessarily entails a taking on of consistency, or a capture of the marks of another quality, a mutual branching of . . . colors-gestures . . . Consistency necessarily occurs between heterogeneities, not because it is the birth of a differentiation, but because heterogeneities that were formerly content to coexist or succeed one another become bound up with one another through the ‘consolidation’ of their coexistence and succession”[12]. This consolidation of expression begins to constitute our new image of language, the word itself, and move toward the valorization of lingual systems that are not primarily representative.

This capacity is found in art and is exemplified by the work of Zoe Strauss in her 10 years exhibit and billboard project. Zoe’s work, “produces an active solidarity in spite of skepticism; and if the writer is in the margins or completely outside his or her fragile community, this situation allows the writer all the more the possibility to express another possible community and to forge the means for another consciousness and another sensibility”[13]. An act of solidarity bellowing out from the margins of society and captured in Zoe’s photography.

Victor Peterson 


Zoe Strauss: 10 Years Exhibit – Philadelphia Museum of Art

Zoe Strauss Billboard Project in Philadelphia

[1] Kafka, Franz. A Hunger Artist. CreateSpace , 2010. Print.

[2] Toussaint, Jean-Philipe. The Bathroom. Dalkey Archive Press, 1985. Print.

[3] DuBois, W.E.B. The Souls Of Black Folk. Penguin Classics, 1996. Print.

[4] Bishop, Claire. “Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics.” October Magazine, Ltd. and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (2004): 51-79. Print.

[5] Laclau, Ernesto, and Chantal Mouffe. Hegemony And Socialist Strategy, Towards A Radical Democratic Politics. Verso Books, 2001. (P. 168)

[6] Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus, Capitalism And Schizophrenia. Univ Of Minnesota Press, 1987. Print.

[7] Simmondon, Gilbert. The Birth of the Individual. J. Crary and S. Kwinter. Zone Books, 1992. Print.

[8] Simmondon p. 298. A Haecceity encompasses the discreet qualities, innate to a body or entity. Difference is at the root of all identity.

[9] Bergson, Henri. Matter and Memory. Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, Inc. , 2004. Print.

[10] Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus, Capitalism And Schizophrenia. Univ Of Minnesota Press, 1987. Print. (p. 78).

[11] Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, p 322.

[12] Deleuze and Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus, p. 330.

[13] Deleuze, Gilles, and Felix Guatarri. “Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature.” Theory and History of Literature. Volume 30. (1986) Print.

Field Report, Performance Announcement: ISSUE Project Room

Posted in Art Exhibits, Deleuze, Deleuze and Guattari, Relational Aesthetics with tags on May 17, 2011 by immanentterrain2

Again, though much time has passed since announcing and attending the performance of Nate Wooley at ISSUE Project Room, I wanted to follow up. You can read my impressions and expectations before the show here:

After writing that, and since attendeding the show, it was intriguing to learn that my impressions of Wooley’s aims may not have been as far off as I had imagined. That is, I found out that Wooley is a performing member of Attack/Adorn/Decay, a musical group that, according to Wooley’s website “is a project utilizing different musicians in each incarnation. The music is written utilizing the individual player’s breathing rate as an organic tempo for the piece and Gilles Deleuze/Henri Bergson’s writings on perception to create the formal structures of the pieces. Each piece, all composed by Wooley, are played live only 2 or 3 times, recorded, then discarded as the members of the group change and the next piece begins.”

In fact, given that description, it is not surprising that I was drawn to Wooley’s work as potentially emblematic and incorporating of Deleuze’s philosophy, but also not surprising that he seems to have taken those inspirations to the next level on Seven Storey Mountain, as performed at ISSUE. As a performer and composer of sound, Wooley is aware of Deleuze and so we view see his collaboration and listen to the results in that context. In fact, in hearing Seven Storey Mountain, I realized that I had misspoke on the blog before. The fact was that the prior performances had each featured a duo in addition to himself, that affected one another to perform anew. As each of the duo’s were accustomed, Seven Storey Mountain saw Wooley push the interractions and assemblage larger and to a more grand scale.

In fact the performance lived up to it own aspirations, producing a sound that was subtle, searching, raw, and powerful at the serene moments and crescendos of its layering. At the same time though, Wooley admitted that the performance involved much risk. While the performance was patently new, for me, it never seemed to unite itself as parts of a whole concerted sound. The assemblage did not seem to all hit the same mark and find one another. The discord for me seemed to be in Deleuze’s influence as it paired with the ‘Seven Storey Mountain’, transcendental theme. It was not for lack of affective or deterritorialized sounds, but I do have some question as to what it means to get to that place–and if transcendance belongs alongside assemblage. Regardless, it may very well be that I have expectations and have become accustomed to a particular kind of melodic sound, which is not what was presented there. What I did find was enjoyable and broached ecstatic in many ways. The sound burgeoned outward and transformed itself in unexpected directions.

This is a performance that one cannot see based upon my report, but I would like to offer another that seems to follow a similar Deleuze influence. That is, ELLEN FULLMAN at ISSUE Project Room this SUNDAY, MAY 22:

At both the 3PM and 7PM shows, Fullman will transform a space and deterritorialize an instrument. ISSUE writes:
“Ellen Fullman, composer, instrument builder, and performer, will perform on her life-long work the Long String Instrument, where multiple strings are held tight across an entire room. Originally developed in the early 1980s in her Brooklyn studio, Fullman brushes rosin-coated fingers across dozens of metallic strings, producing a chorus of minimal organ-like overtones which has been compared to standing inside an enormous grand piano. Installed for a special event at ISSUE’s future home, 110 Livingston in Downtown Brooklyn, the reverberant and visually stunning jewel-box theater at will amplify this transcendent two-set event.”

The performance represents a truly new performative style that denatures the instrument, the sound, the space, and the audience experience with all of it. I hope to see some of you there.

-Colin Nusbaum

Field Report: Vivienne Westwood, 1980-89

Posted in Art Exhibits, Deleuze, Relational Aesthetics with tags , , on May 16, 2011 by immanentterrain2

In April I visited an exhibition at The Museum at F.I.T. – a retrospective on Vivienne Westwood’s work throughout the 1980s. The exhibition traced her start with then partner Malcolm McLaren to her later solo endeavors. While Westwood’s name is now synonymous with high fashion and while most are familiar with her background in the London punk scene in of the 1970s and 1980s, I thought it would be interesting to consider her designs as art within the context of this course.

Westwood’s early work was reactionary to a dominant culture.  Not only did rips, safety pins and antiestablishment graphics characterize her clothing, but she also provided the London punk subculture with guidelines on how to dress through the clothing she sold at her boutique, Let it Rock. She drew inspiration from a multitude of different sources.  Eighteenth-century men’s undergarments inspired one of her earlier collections, Pirates. She famously pioneered the trend of wearing underwear as outerwear for both men and women and designed unisex collections. Blurring gender norms and social conventions by revisiting mythologies of pirates, Westwood re-territorializes both high and low culture into a new medium of expression.

As a form that Nicholas Bourriaud might deem more participatory than visual arts or cinema (even though both require an active and prolonged engagement with the material at hand), fashion is wearable art. This requires more of a physical, interactive engagement with the material than simply observing. I perceive this process as multi-tiered.  While a piece of clothing is conceived and created by the designer, it takes on a new life, historical and cultural context when worn by the consumer. The consumer, connecting in one sense or another to an article of clothing (what I would consider, for the most part, as an individual’s affective response) buys and wears the piece. This piece now no longer stands alone.  It takes on new life and meaning as it fuses with the related visual symbols of its proprietor (shoes, accessories, hygiene, etc.) and the individual’s personal politics and demeanor. All these factors contribute to the various ways the same piece can be perceived differently in the context of social interaction. An article of clothing will then rarely appear in the same way more than once.

What I find interesting about fashion is how the corporeal becomes inherent in the work itself; the body becomes a literal component of the artwork.  Moreover, it’s interesting to examine how the energy we project influence the ways others perceive fashion on our bodies.  Through clothing we are constantly de-territorializing and re-territorializing these works of art and the artist’s intention (lest that be the artist’s intention).  The active participation necessary in consuming fashion echoes similar ideas to those Bourriaud put forth in his study of how art is produced and consumed within the movement of relational aesthetics.

The piece I felt the strongest connection to in the exhibit was her Rocking Horse Boot. The design of the boot is such that it causes the individual wearing it to rock back and forth while walking. These boots both add and remove certain physical limitations, challenging the natural movement of the body. They disrupt of the mechanics of human movement creating new affections. The form of these boots influences the mobility and spatial capacity of the individual wearing them, opening up the potential for new interactions.

Of course, the irony is not lost on me that Westwood was selling anti-establishment clothing from her boutique. This conflation of art as commodity is one Claire Bishop also problematizes and refers to Althusser’s Ideological State Apparatuses to qualify how relational aesthetics still function nicely within a larger capitalist framework and can still perpetuate the commodification of art. The same can be said for Westwood’s work. Although her early work was political, it was commodity nonetheless. The lack of self-awareness Bishop accuses of Bourriaud is, to a certain extent, applicable to Westwood. Of course, the argument can be made that there is indeed no escaping this structure so it is a matter of what can be done within its limits, but this is an interesting point Bishop draws attention to nonetheless.

While I agree with Bishop that Bourriaud’s arguments for relational aesthetics are inherently flawed, I enjoy the emphasis he places on interactivity and the benefit of disassembling the gallery space. He draws attention to the ways art is produced and consumed and how a reformation of this structure can enable a new sphere of thought processes. Fashion can be a part of both an individual and collective process of ontology. That a work of art is then re-appropriated by the consumer, and consequently creates a ripple of perceptions and affections for those who encounter it (perhaps inspiring them) is fascinating. This show, although set in the conventional, enclosed and regulated environment of the gallery led me to consider the power of fashion as art, as part of a process becoming, in a way I hadn’t.

– Aïcha

Sleep No More

Posted in Deleuze, Relational Aesthetics, Theater and Performance with tags , , , on April 15, 2011 by immanentterrain2

“For Hitchcock, the spectator must also be inscribed in the fabric of relations. Hence, the director’s version of suspense which is based on the coefficient to involve, to implicate” (Ishii-Gonzalez 135).

Last week I entered an abandoned hotel wearing a white pointed mask surrounded by other bodies in the same face-erasing masks. I explored a taxidermist’s office, wandered through a hedge maze, read through cryptic typed letters, chased a wailing Lady Macbeth through her bedroom and witnessed a cold Mrs. Danvers plotting poisonous tricks. Each move I made through the space changed my unfolding experience, as well as the unfurling shape of the performance I was taking part in. Through it all, I thought of Deleuze’s time-image and his reading of Alfred Hitchcock’s work.

Sleep No More is an immersive theater performance in a huge space in Chelsea. Based   loosely on Macbeth and Hitchcock’s Rebecca, there are multiple floors filled with over 100 rooms and environments that spectators in masks are encouraged to explore independently, indoor and outdoor, tiny and cavernous. Each room is full, replete with objects that are there to be touched, explored, opened, and moved around by spectators. The actors perform scenes on loops that overlap and intersect differently, even as they repeat.

You might find yourself in a room where a man in a lab coat silently cuts words from a book with a blade and hangs them from the ceiling. Suddenly, a man runs by and you run with him down three flights of stairs into another scene, watch a murder or a seduction. The assembled disconnected spaces, empty and full, are in the realm of Deleuze’s time-image. Minute objects and moments take on meanings that don’t lead to. The structure of the performance–though structured–makes it impossible to see the “whole thing,” and while there is surely a story, it is not one that can be followed, and or be performed the same way. The spectators are as ghostly presences to the actors, who react to their presence and their effects on the objects surrounding but not to them as human individuals. Or they might lead you into a hidden room for an individual interaction, as happened to a friend of mine.

There are moments of tension, excitement, action, boredom, banality, solitude. The in-between moments of emptiness and boredom become huge. I found myself alone in an old hospital wing, waiting for  “something to happen,” and then realizing, I was what was happening in the space. I spent what felt like hours touching strange medical implements, or writing with a quill–moving the objects in the space, altering it. When trying to get to a different part, I kept ending up in the same places, with the anxiety that I was missing “it” and then what could have been minutes or days later, found myself in a strange new land through doors I don’t remember walking through. David Lynchland, perception and exteriors riding a mobius strip.

There are no spoken words, either from actors or participants, and this, combined with the fragmentary, ever-changing experience of the performance subverts traditional theater by subordinating plot and meaning to situation and presence. Here, the suspense is less about what is going to happen in the sense of a building of successive actions that narrow the field of possibilities until one finally guesses the only possible outcome. Each moment is virtual, each scene is fragmentary, and enters into a network of relations with what came before and after, also changed by the fleeting now.

The always missing creates a heightened awareness of what is, and what is unknowable. Plot dissolves into situation. Time changes, the space becomes a shot in depth. Spectators attune their own movements to a gliding one, others try and interrupt the actions of the actors, or simply sit alone without moving, all changing the perpetual performance and those to come.

This is not to fit this performance tidily into a theoretical box, or impose a reading onto the experience. It is not radically political or community-building, and does not purport to be. I felt the presence of cinema’s time-image in this performance, another level of my own experience of this shifting one.