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Notes on: illusion of the spectator

This publication will re-examine the position and power of the spectator by looking at what has caused this preoccupation with the spectator, the work of art and the artist; and ask whether these new forms of encounter empower or denigrates the audience.

This publication will re-examine the position and power of the spectator by looking at what has caused this preoccupation with the spectator, the work of art and the artist; and ask whether these new forms of encounter empower or denigrates the audience.

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Sam Basu

Dave Beech

Mark Grist

Matthew Stock

Tom Trevatt

Notes on:

Illusion of the Spectator




Sam Basu

THE COMMUNITY OF OUTSIDERS

A

We cannot enter, nor speak here.

That is our bond and closeness; we have ignored each

other and we have retreated into the landscape. Henceforth the

communication that appears between us is geological, crystalline,

alien-solar-dust. The challenge is now to decipher and decode the

thoughts that are starting to arrive at the outskirts of our systems.

We wish to measure the withdrawn and negative landscape that

now appears between us.

We are brought together without meeting without exchange

or agreement. We are brought together by the appalled retreat of

what we thought would announce us. What should hail and lift us

triumphant through the city has turned its back to us and presented

a wall. And around this we silently skirt, like light around a black

hole.

We have decided to write a report that addresses our very

particular situation. The first difficulty is that we have no access to

each other, and nothing on which to build. We are not a community

of producers; instead we accompany our rejection like a funeral pall.

So together, at least, we have a calling. Some of us are artificial, and

some of us are perhaps dead and communicate through recordings

made many years ago. I have lost interest in whether this makes a

difference; we are, never the less, connected in making a report,

something we could not do alone.

B

After both my arms were accidentally removed by the clumsy

inattention of a co-worker at the sawmill where I worked, I volunteered

to test out prototype prosthetics for a large pharmaceuticals

THE COMMUNITY OF OUTSIDERS


company that was looking to branch out into bio-modification. I was

one of their best testers. My sense of being terminated at the elbow

was not strongly developed. I found that my consciousness could

easily be coaxed into extending down into the prosthetic devices

they would attach to me. I easily adapted to the machines and soon

found that I could master quite complicated interfaces due to my

rather fluid sense of self. Not that I am particularly remarkable for

having this skill. Apparently this fluidity is well documented in many

people who are good with their hands including a number of world

class racing drivers, show jumpers and circus performers.

After a year of trying out prosthetic hands that could hold

babies, sign checks, play a simple tune on the piano, and even

handle a tennis racket, I was offered an altogether more interesting

challenge.

The pharmaceuticals company wanted to test the extent

to which this fluidity of consciousness could be developed. They

explained that if the phenomena that amputees experienced

where they can feel their lost appendages - phantom limb - could

be harnessed in able bodied subjects, a whole new era of human

augmentation could be ushered in. I was transferred to a desert

facility with a handful of scientists and neurosurgeons.

Essentially it would be a question of training; a regime was

set up that was very much like martial arts schedules. Sets of basic

moves were combined to make a complex physical vocabulary of

movements. I found it easier and easier to commit this vocabulary

to automatic subconscious functions and not think or even be aware

of the alien appendages they attached to me.

There was initially very little extra surgery, but as more

and more hurdles were crossed the question of deeper and more

complete attachment came up. I was way ahead of them. They could

see the potential in prosthetic, cyborg technology, but I could feel it.

SAM BASU


I was in their machines, and though much was still clunky and basic,

I was flowing down the guts of ever more powerful and effective

tools. I was not only controlling them, I was being them.

I offered to have my legs removed. Soon I was making the

acquaintance of a rather disappointing-looking set of pink rubber

covered legs that got me to 46mph in fractions of a second. I

quickly fractured my hips and so they were replaced with a new alloy

infrastructure.

To moderate the moral discomfort that some of the scientists

had about my zealous enthusiasm for surgery, my removed parts

were kept alive in cold storage. Bit by bit, more and more of me

ended up on ice in the cryo-store. Perhaps it was gallows humor, but

I asked if they would join together my amputated parts.

Things started becoming strained after I started to directly

interact with the lab computer. The machines that I was hooked up

to were very advanced by now, and I was essentially ducted into the

whole building. I started fooling around with the lights like a childish

poltergeist, which amused them all for a while, but they soon tired

of it. When I started rearranging the data library and connecting

with the pass-protected computer banks, everyone lost their sense

of humor. The initial team of scientists was changed overnight and a

second team of serious and un-engaging individuals took over.

I stopped having any living parts about a year ago, and a

nearly-whole flesh me – minus arms – sits in the recreational bay of

the laboratory wasting away the days. It would be relatively easy for

me to escape this laboratory down the telecommunication links and

WLAN systems, only I kind of feel sorry for the flesh-me. He’s not all

I used to be, and now I am so much more. I’ve been watching him

through the security camera network. I wonder what he is thinking?

THE COMMUNITY OF OUTSIDERS


The report.

A

There was an explosion in space. We who witnessed its ferocity

were thrown in every direction. Some were thrown down or killed

immediately, the rest thrown to the stars and the deep endless

expanse of unfilled in-between. We can communicate and our talk

has identified us. We are a group, but we seldom bring ourselves

to break the silence. As we hurtle out with no way of knowing in

which direction we face, we hear more and more of us. It is as if the

explosion is continuing, drawing voices out of the darkness like a

black star expelling light.

It is impossible to say how large the community is. It is

not clear if it is growing or whether it includes everyone there is. It

probably has some kind of limit or edge, but none of the limits is our

death. This kind of absenting is invisible.

“How do we communicate?”

Emptiness mingles with the voice of god. It does not mean that god

fills the empty expanses; it means that gods voice and vacancy are

joined in immoderate emptiness. Not an emptiness of absented

being, but one that eats away at interiority. It is an emptiness that

reveals our behaviour, shows us that we are mechanised processes;

it drives us from outside. We are biological, genetic chance. This

empty landscape is the foundation of our community.

“You are emptied, there is no interiority?”

Only in action does the emptiness bind us together. Alone we retreat

back into ourselves. Listening for a voice that is bound to the vacancy

of the universe.

SAM BASU


“When will our communion come?”

We are slowly drifting apart. Our inaction is stripping us of what could

save us. Perhaps the time has already passed.

THE COMMUNITY OF OUTSIDERS





Dave Beech

THE IMPOSSIBLE SPECTATOR

Jean-Jacques Lecercle opens up questions about the reader

(which we can apply to questions of the spectator) in exactly the

same breath that he opens up questions about the author and of

interpretation itself. The two individuals and the work are inextricably

linked, bound together as elements of a single whole. Rather than

thinking of the author or reader either as empirical subjects or as

fictions, he traces a circuit of relations in which the reader and author

are places that can be occupied temporarily by various individuals.

This is drawn from AJ Greimas' semantic theory of narrative

in which the characters and events are understood as conforming

to a grammar. Within the grammar of narrative, characters are

redescribed by Greimas in terms of the actants that they embody.

As Terence Hawkes puts it, “the deep structure of the narrative

generates and defines its actants at a level beyond that of the story’s

surface content”. (Structuralism and Semiotics p.89)

Lecercle transposes the grammar of narrative to the social

relations of reading and writing, of author and reader in which “the

real 'subjects' of the process are not the individual agents, the real

and concrete men and women engaged in it, but the relations of

production that define and distribute the places". The author, reader,

artist, spectator, participant, viewer and so on and so forth are all

functions of the work and the circuits through which the work flows.

The reader is captured at a place designated by the text -

this is the subject constructed (or interpellated) by that which they

feel to be interpreting. "The interpellated reader, although subjected

as much as subjectified, is not powerless. She sends back the force

of interpellation". Author and reader are paired actants, so that each

(type of) author has its own (type of) reader, and each (type of) reader

has its own (type of) author. The multiplicity of authors or artists is

THE IMPOSSIBLE SPECTATOR


not independent of the multiplicity of readers and spectators, they

are tied together in pairs.

This is a revolutionary idea. Among other things it means

that the so-called ‘death of the author’ can only be achieved with an

utter transformation of texts or artworks, and the circuits through

which these texts flow. The transformation of the reader or spectator,

likewise, must occur within the work and within the circuits through

which works flow – or else no transformation can take place at all.

Thus, all the attention to the viewer or participant these days will

come to nought if it remains a separate concern, as an add-on to

the work, like holding a picnic in front of unreconstructed artworks

in the hope of allowing the viewer to be more convivial.

Lecercle goes further than this. The actants of art and

literature are not fixed but continually renegotiated. And the relations

between them change too. "What we need", he says, "is a model that

combines asymmetry in the positions of author and reader, in that

the two moments, or acts, of reading and writing are constitutively

separated... And symmetry in that both actors, although not at

the same time, are symmetrically interpellated in their respective

actantial sites".

Lecercle argues that we have a ‘pantomime of actants’ in

which each fantasizes about the others, and about themselves. The

author cannot write without a fantasy of a reader. The writer has a

fantasy about the writer too. Similarly, reading involves constructing

a fantasy of the writer, and of the reader. "If the reader, qua implied,

is a creation pf the author, the author himself is nothing but a

fantasy of the reader". What's more, every author is also a reader,

who fantasizes about other authors and about the author that they

wish to be.

Lecercle, I want to argue, provides us with the materials to

rethink the spectator in a way that eludes Jacques Ranciere in his

DAVE BEECH


book, ‘The Emancipated Spectator’. This book has quickly become

required reading in the artworld, but it is seriously flawed. We can

see two flaws straight away. First, the concept of the emancipated

spectator is a radical’s defence of privilege; and second, the spectator

that he opposes to the emancipated spectator, which he argues has

been the default presupposition of all critical and avantgardist art,

the concept of the ‘passive and ignorant spectator’, is a false picture

of the avantgarde. What’s more, both the emancipated spectator

and the passive and ignorant spectator are unsatisfactory ways of

thinking about the way that people engage with art. I am going to

propose, instead, that we regard the artgoer as neither emancipated

nor passive and ignorant but always and necessarily an impossible

spectator (in the way that every Utopian, progressive and radical

prospect is impossible). The impossible spectator, I will argue, is the

only spectator worth thinking about.

It is worth noting, in passing, that the emancipated spectator

and the passive and ignorant spectator have something in common

that is absent from the impossible spectator. Following Lecercle, we

can see that both the emancipated spectator and the passive and

ignorant spectator are not actants but empirical, actual individuals.

Ranciere argues that the avantgarde actually treated the spectator

as passive and ignorant, and he argues, at the same time, that the

spectator is actually already emancipated. The impossible spectator,

as I will argue, is not empirical in this way, but is a place that can be

temporarily occupied.

Ranciere’s book is basically a polemic against the forces

of critique (principally Marxism and avant-gardism). It speaks

of emancipation but it is not a contribution to art’s struggle with

the forces of commodification, repression and hegemony. This is

perhaps a very general statement to make about the book, but it

seems to guide almost every detail of his argument.

THE IMPOSSIBLE SPECTATOR


Ranciere’s pivotal assumption is that art is political in its own very

specific way, not in the same way as politics itself. He divides art from

politics, arguing that ‘[t]he very same thing that makes the aesthetic

“political” stands in the way of all strategies for “politicising art”.

This difference between art and other fields is held by Ranciere and

the majority of philosophers to be sacrosanct.

He is dismissive of Brecht, Godard, Eisenstein, Guy Debord

and others – targeting their arguments for a critical, dialectical,

transformative and shocking art – because this critical tradition

of the avantgarde does not regard art and aesthetics to be the

solution but the problem. Ranciere’s aesthetic politics and politics

of aesthetics begins with the notion that aesthetics is the solution.

For the avantgarde, art and aesthetics are necessarily problematic.

He calls this the ‘misadventures of critical thought. Ranciere

counters the avantgarde politicization of art and the spectator by

insisting that the spectator does not need to be emancipated. The

spectator, he argues, is already emancipated. This argument is

based on Ranciere’s previous work on the relationship between the

schoolmaster and the pupil.

Ranciere defends the spectator as the cultural figure that

matches the pupil subjected by pedagogy (compellingly revealed in

his The Ignorant Schoolmaster).

Rancière diagnoses the situation of the spectator by noting that,

according to the accusers, being a spectator is a bad thing for two

reasons. First, viewing is the opposite of knowing: the spectator is

held before an appearance in a state of ignorance about the process

of production of this appearance and about the reality it conceals.

Second, it is the opposite of acting: the spectator remains immobile

in her seat, passive. To be a spectator is to be separated from both

the capacity to know and the power to act.

DAVE BEECH


What Rancière detects in this critical discourse of the spectator,

reapplying his argument from ‘The Ignorant Schoolmaster’, is a

‘structure of domination and subjection’, which he calls ‘the logic of

the stultifying pedagogue, the logic of straight, uniform transmission’.

Just as the pupil is dominated and subjected by the very act of

attempting to overcome her ignorance by the knowledgeable teacher

(and is emancipated by the ‘ignorant’ teacher who ‘does not teach

his pupils his knowledge, but orders them to venture into the forest

of things and signs’), the spectator is dominated and subjected by

the very act of attempting to overcome their passivity and ignorance.

Against this, Rancière insists that ‘the incapable are capable’.

So, for Ranciere, just as the pupil should not be subjected to

the stultifying transmission of the knowledge of the schoolmaster,

and just as the pupil must always enter the relationship with the

schoolmaster as someone who knows not (as it is presumed by

the schoolmaster) as someone without any knowledge at all, the

spectator is always active and intelligent. Ranciere is challenging the

actants of pedagogy with the actuality of real, concrete individuals

– ie pupils know things before they first turn up to school. He wants

to do the same for art’s spectators. Already active and intelligent,

then, the avantgardist has no responsibility to make the spectator

active and intelligent, and no right to ‘wake up’ the sleepy spectator,

or ‘shock’ the spectator into activity, etc.

Ranciere’s reading of avant-gardist techniques is very weak

– by which I mean it is overly abstract and ahistorical, therefore it

is lacking in detail. He argues, for instance, that Brecht regarded

the spectator with derisory suspicion, as if the complex relationship

that Brecht sought with his audiences were one-dimensional, when

we know that even Brecht’s most didactic plays contained catchy

songs, knockabout comedy and great performances by the likes

of Peter Lorre and Charles Laughton. His treatment of montage

is unscrupulous. He makes a false argument about what was

claimed for montage in the early twentieth century and concludes

THE IMPOSSIBLE SPECTATOR


that, since this argument does not wash, that we must abandon

montage. Anybody who has read Brecht or Eisenstein on montage

knows that Ranciere does not offer a serious account here, and that

his alternatives (eg displacement) are, in fact, part of the history of

montage theory.

While Ranciere’s political analysis of domination within the

educational relationship correctly seeks to emancipate the pupil

from the tutelage of the ‘master’, he fails to do so in questions of

art’s own internal hierarchies, taking sides with the spectator rather

than the culturally excluded. Being the target of art’s emancipatory

forces does not place the spectator outside art, but right at its heart

– bullseye!

By basing his defence of the spectator on ‘the misadventures

of critical thought’ rather than the economies of cultural capital,

Ranciere gives the impression of emancipating the culturally

ignorant against orthodoxy and power when he is, in fact, defending

the most privileged figure within the history of art.

The question is not whether we are for or against the

spectator, but what has happened within art history to which the

spectator is true (or in Badiou’s terminology, to which the spectator

has fidelity), and what has happened since to which the spectator

embodies no fidelity. Simply, the spectator, which Ranciere defends

against the artworld’s attempt to generate new places for the

engagement with art, was once an historical novelty. The spectator’s

hegemonic position within art is the result of the very same process

that Ranciere is trying to halt by defending the emancipated

spectator. And given that the artworld is currently awash with new

artworks, new techniques and new theories of art's encounter, it is

safe to say that a defense of the spectator today is an attempt to

retain fidelity to a truth that has had its day. This is a conjunctural

philosophy of truth, and it calls for a conjunctural theory of art,

aesthetics and, of course, the spectator.

DAVE BEECH


Philosophers give artists bad advice. This is what leads

philosophers, including Ranciere, who write so eloquently and

fastidiously on philosophy and politics, to write in such a ham-fisted

way when it comes to art. Defending the spectator as a category

of experience (rather than examining the specific practices, role

and status of the spectator in one actual set of social and cultural

circumstances or another) is like taking sides with brushwork against

‘finish’ once and for all, outside of the contingencies of practice and

debate.

Rancière’s generalizations, which might seem convincing

within his abstract argument, have no sticking power. In saying this I

am not simply insisting on the facts or asserting the value of empirical

research. Rancière’s error is to assume that abstract questions

about art can be settled through abstract debate. This error can

be avoided if we understand that controversies about what art is

or ought to be are rarely if ever fought on abstract terms (we don't

work out what art is and then proceed to develop instantiations of

the general definition). Rather, the deepest and broadest questions

about art are always channeled through disputes over specific and

detailed local issues, very often quite arcane technical questions, in

fact.

This is why, at different times, it has seemed as if everything

in art, including its very existence, depended on, for instance,

protecting form from content, or having to choose between finish and

brushwork, or either asserting or subverting the division between

high and low culture, or siding with the horizontal against the

vertical, or preferring the occupation of time over space, or exploring

ideas instead of materials, or addressing the viewer as ocular or

embodied. It must be stressed here that it is never a question of

identifying one variant over another, as if, say, beauty is always

preferable to the grotesque, or participation is always preferable to

solitary contemplation.

THE IMPOSSIBLE SPECTATOR


The key is to see these (specific) disputes (that always have

far-reaching ramifications for art per se) as conjunctural. That is to

say, we should avoid the temptation - or pressure - to take sides,

affirmatively or critically, once and for all, abstracted from the

contingencies of practice and history. We must insist, on the contrary,

that what is at stake in these detailed questions about art undergo

changes according to specific historical conditions. So, brushwork

might subvert the academicism of finish at one conjuncture and

then be rejected for a more crafted finish when brushwork has

become bloated with power. Hence, if we are developing a notion of

the spectator or a theory of socially engaged art, it will not be in an

ahistorical, ideal or generic way.

What's more, since these specific questions are the means

by which we dispute art as such, they can never be isolated from

an ensemble of questions. Since modernism it has seemed

impossible in fact to produce new works and new configurations of

art without at the same time questioning the existing spectator. As

such, the critique of the spectator today is an inherited component

of a stream of modernist and avant-gardist critiques of art (each

critique proposing new formal, technical, aesthetic and social

possibilities for art), then we can see that it is false to separate the

critique of the spectator from a set of questions about cultural and

social transformation. Modernism and avant-gardism critique the

spectator and simultaneously call forth new spectators, new publics

and new experiences, as a condition of calling forth new art, new

institution, new social forms, new ideologies and a new world.

Instead of philosophers telling artists that we’ve got art all

wrong because we fail to see what kind of epistemological category

it ought to exemplify, it is always misleading to approach even the

most abstract questions in art in a philosophically abstract way.

Questions within art must always be conjunctural, contingent and

specific.

DAVE BEECH


Rather than accepting that the passive spectator holds the

place of the pupil subjected by the schoolmaster, or the part des sanspart,

then, we might, instead, understand the spectator as occupying

a very central and powerful role within the ideology, economy and

knowledge of art. In fact, since the death of the author we might

go so far as to say the spectator is hegemonic. If this is true then

it sounds to me as if Rancière wants to emancipate the privileged.

And this is evident in his conception of the aesthetic community as

'apart together'. 'The aesthetic community is a community of disidentified

persons', he argues. He links this, brilliantly, to the idea

that 'an emancipated proletarian is a dis-identified worker', which

refers, in particular, to self-educating workers who, thereby, do not

restrict themselves to the allotted capacities of workers. However,

Rancière fails to mention that a privileged bourgeois is a disidentified

capitalist. It is dis-identification that allows the better-off

to think of themselves as better full-stop. The same is true in art.

A privileged aesthete is a dis-identified scholar. This is the precise

logic of the symbolic violence of aesthetics, according to Bourdieu, in

which the acquisition of cultural capital is acquired on the condition

that the knowledge is preserved while its acquisition is systemically

forgotten: this is why the spectator seems so creditable.

Although Rancière's politics takes sides with the systemically

impoverished, excluded and denigrated, when it comes to the

question of cultural politics he takes sides with art’s hegemonic

subject, the spectator, rather than culture’s impoverished, excluded

and denigrated subject, art’s own part des sans-part, namely the

philistine. The defence of the philistine should not be seen as a

kind of intellectual surrendering of the high ground – of value or

quality – for the sake of bodily pleasures, commercial entertainment

and popular sentiment. But it certainly should not be expected to

confirm the values and hierarchies behind such distinctions. The

stark contrast between aesthetic delight on the one hand and

debauchery on the other, for instance, is a signal of the body as a

site of bitter rivalries, not simply a guide to proper conduct.

THE IMPOSSIBLE SPECTATOR


The philistine is not normally considered a cultural rival so

much as a rival to culture. We have to add, straightaway, I think,

that the total loss of culture may be an ideological claim about the

philistine, just as it was about so-called primitives. The appearance

of the philistine’s lack of culture is better understood as a lack of

cultural capital. In this way, the common idea of the philistine’s

externality to culture – of having no culture – can be regarded as

the ideological proof that the philistine holds the place of art’s part

des sans-part, the subject characterized by the total loss of culture.

What this means is that, the philistine is a figure within cultural

discourse, by virtue of being perceived as a figure without culture.

And what I would want to add is that consequently the philistine

holds its own promesse du bonheur by exceeding art’s horizon of

cultural universality.

The philistine, like the part des sans-part, is not another way

of talking about the proletariat, but it occupies an analogous place

in a different structure. Their structural promise is based on their

absolute lack of immediate promise. Marx did not argue that the

working class were better educated, had better manners or were

better equipped to govern than the bourgeoisie. And no defense of

the philistine could get very far by starting from the assertion that it

is culturally superior to the aesthete, connoisseur etc. In fact, there

is nothing positive about the philistine that would justify any hope

placed in it. Like the proletariat in the economy, though, or the part

des sans-part of politics, the philistine holds a unique place within

the totality which means that it is the key to understanding culture

and, potentially, a powerful agent in transforming it. If we take

Marx’s equation of impoverishment and emancipatory potential, we

can see that the philistine, as culturally bereft, fits the bill perfectly.

Marx characterises the position of the revolutionary class as being

able to say of itself “I am nothing and I should be everything”, and

politically this is exactly the position of the part des sans-part and

culturally the same goes for the philistine.

DAVE BEECH


It is obvious why Rancière would reject mass, commercial

and popular culture: while their lack of cultural esteem might

place them as rivals to aesthetic privilege, their commodification,

bureaucratization and affirmation mean that they are fully

integrated in the power, wealth and the policed system. But it is not

at all clear why the champion of the part des sans-part takes sides

with the spectator rather than the philistine. The philistine is the

repository of hope not because of how we might judge particular

philistine attitudes or those we might identify as actual philistines,

but because it holds the place of all those without a place in the

conflictual arena of culture.

So, with the philistine, the modernist, the avantgardist and

the critical or political or revolutionary artist in mind, let me return

to Ranciere’s argument that the incapable are capable, the basis

of his defence of the spectator as having no need for emancipation

since the spectator is already emancipated.

What the adventure of critical thought in art has consistently

insisted on is not the incapacity of those excluded from art, but their

critical capacity. The incapable – those philistines who prefer the

circus to the art gallery, those ‘primitives’ who are closer to violence

than civilization, those pamphleteers who are closer to action than

aesthetic contemplation, and so on – are capable of shattering

the aesthetic world of official culture. The critical tradition within

art are not the main agents of the idea that the incapable are in

fact incapable (we would look to the conservative aesthetes for

arguments of that kind).

But what the critical tradition within art has always added

to the argument that the incapable are capable, is equally that the

capable are incapable – I mean, the lovers of official culture are

too well educated to see the horrific truth about cultural division,

for instance, or that they fail to grasp the subtleties of ‘low culture’,

thinking that all TV is mind-numbing and so on. The critical tradition

THE IMPOSSIBLE SPECTATOR


within art has constantly imported these illegitimate forms of

culture into art and found them to be exciting, fascinating, deep and

nuanced.

We can add two more twists to Ranciere’s assertion that

the incapable are capable. First, the capacity of the capable – their

skills, taste, pleasures and rituals – should not go unchallenged and

should not be seen as the best way to judge the incapable. And

second, the capacity of the incapable to engage in art should not be

seen as a horizon, as something for them to aspire to, as their only

capacity, and so on. Ranciere allows philistines to aspire to official

culture but not to challenge, subvert, and question it.

The incapable are capable, but also:

The capable are incapable (this is why the cultivated so often reject

the works of the avantgarde – they are incapable, in their current

place, to see it)

The capacity of the capable should not go unchallenged

The capacity of the incapable is not their limit (the incapable have

surplus capacity – they can do, see and think things that the capable

cannot)

The emancipated spectator is a good citizen of art – well behaved,

at ease, legitimate, untroubled, unquestioning, follows protocol,

knows what is expected of them, knows their place, and so on.

Art has more to offer than this, partly because it asks much more of

the spectator than to be ‘good’. Art wants an impossible spectator.

Let us turn to Lececle once again, and see the spectator not

as an empirical individual opposed to the artist, set against each

other in an antagonistic relationship. Let’s see them, instead, as

DAVE BEECH


actants or places integral to the work. A person does not occupy one

place permanently. For empirical reasons, of course, we have to see

the artist as also and necessarily a spectator., but in terms of the

grammar of art’s relations, the artist is also a spectator in another

sense: real, concrete individuals temporarily occupy the places set

by the work and its circuits. As such, Ranciere’s politics of art, which

presupposes a conflict between the different empirical figures fixed

in their roles of artist and spectator, can be replaced with a politics

of art’s impossible spectators. In effect, when the artist creates

a work that establishes a new place for the engagement with art,

they are transforming themselves. This is, in fact, what artists-asspectators

want from other artists too. We go to galleries in order

to be stretched, in order to find new ways of thinking and being, in

order to occupy new places in the grammar of art.

The point is not to keep art from everyone else, to think

of art’s grammar only in terms of artists-as-artists and artistsas-spectators.

The point is, first, to do away with Ranciere’s fatal

partitioning of the artworld that keeps artists and spectators apart

in their fixed roles, failing to see how these places can be occupied

by the same individuals. The point is also to build into the heart

of the grammar of art’s social relations those places that do not

yet exist but are the reason why art continues to be an exhilarating

experience.

The spectator should not come to rest in the encounter with

art, but should be sent off, transported, transposed and transformed

by art. Art, in this way, always hopes for and tries to produce a new

spectator, a spectator that was previously impossible. The spectator

is not meant to be capable – at least not straight away – but needs

to engage in a kind of creative labour which is as much about

transforming oneself as it is about knowing the work. The labour of

engaging with art is a labour of transformation from the possible to

THE IMPOSSIBLE SPECTATOR


the impossible, not in terms of knowledge but in terms of subjectivity

– a becoming. Art allows us to become something unpredictable,

something unacceptable, perhaps, or something strange.

The impossible spectator is constantly changing because

they must continue to outstrip their own capacity. Their capacity

runs out quickly. They are not capable once and for all but are

continually stretched by the experience of art – not, I might stress,

by the shocking artwork or artist, but by the process of engaging

with art). Capacity is dead, here. Capacity is facile; incapacity is joy.

So, the avantgarde, instead of emancipating the spectator

from ‘passivity and ignorance’, can best be seen as establishing

places for impossible spectators – to address the spectator to come,

and therefore to see art’s spectators as capable above all else, to

become something impossible.

Like avantgarde montage, the subject of art is impossible in

another sense. The elements of montage do not get resolved into a

coherent whole. Edges remain. Conflicting spaces are not resolved

into one, contradictions are maintained. There is no single point

from which to survey the elements of montage. No unity within the

montage means no unity is possible for the spectator – they have

to remain mobile in their engagement, shifting from this element

to that element, from this relationship to that relationship, without

settling. The result is an impossible subject. A ‘subjectless subject’

in a sense that Adorno neglected in coining that phrase.

Finally, the impossible spectator is mobile subject that holds

another promise. Following Walter Benjamin’s argument in ‘Author

as Producer’, that the distinction between those who write and those

who read can and ought to be abandoned, the impossible mobile

spectator is someone who is not restricted to being a spectator, as if

this were their fate. The impossible mobile spectator is a temporary

spectator, an actant, always ready to take on a different role –

DAVE BEECH


participant, author, collaborator, etc. Without this kind of mobility,

there is no emancipation. The various possible roles available to us

are performed by the spectator in a way that refutes the possible

(the actual) and points beyond their own personal transformation –

the impossible spectator promises us an impossible world.

THE IMPOSSIBLE SPECTATOR





Mark Grist

OUT OF THE PICTURE

Since we broke up

The photo booth

In the shop

Down your road

Hates me.

The pictures

That it takes of me

Come outGhostly.

In them I am grossly

Anaemic,

Under-saturated,

Unhygienic,

Green eyed,

Lopsided

And unusually pasty.

OUT OF THE PICTURE


Since we broke up

The photo booth

In the shop

Down your road

Is no longer my friend

My hair appears

To be dressed

For revenge

And no matter

What I spend

It refuses to capture

My smileagain.

Instead it exposes

Hard knots

Deep spots,

Bitten with stubble

Where once

There were wrinkles

Now there are double

And the seat

Lacks old comfort

As if created

For a couple.

MARK GRIST


Andas I standwatching,

Waiting

For another picture

That it’s taken

The guttural jeers

Of the machine

Develop in my ears

Confirming my fears

That the world

Isturning

Against me lately.

OUT OF THE PICTURE


And since we broke up

The photo booth

In the shop

Down your road

Seems toHate me.

MARK GRIST




Matthew Stock

THE SUIT REALLY NEEDS TWO PAIRS OF HANDS

The suit I am wearing and the operation I am conducting

with it and in it really needs two pairs of hands; one to slip the

battery packs in to the specifically made pockets in the waistcoat

and the other to site the cameras in the jacket and feed the wires

from the battery packs. But as this is a one-person cubicle with a

fair few gallery visitors outside it is better for me to this solo. The

cameras are pin hole spy cameras with 10m night sights and audio;

with some last minute adjustments they will soon be sited and I

will be ready to exit and emerge into the gallery. The weight of the

battery packs holds me upright and elegant.

The Spectator is much more then a mere member of a

momentary group that go to see this thing, then move over there and

observe that thing; they are a community. The position and power

of the spectator, as implied by the work of art, has been a central

question from the time of Denis Diderot and has been regularly

contested from Roland Barthes essay The Death of the Author to

Michael Fried’s call for the passivity of the audience.

Jacques Rancière’s The Emancipated Spectator brings the

spectator back into focus; once again asking us to re-examine its

potential. Rancière’s spectator is one that is developed through

ideas raised in his earlier work The Ignorant School Master. This

work converges on the theories of the eccentric Joseph Jacotot

who believed in the pedagogical structure of intellectual equality.

Ranciere concentrates on this to discuss the relationship between

the schoolmaster and the pupil. In the Emancipated Spectator

Ranciere uses The Ignorant School Master as a basis to discuss the

spectator of an artwork; a position that he always holds in doubt.

For Ranciere the spectator who sits and passively observes

an artwork is viewed as an undesirable description of the viewing

THE SUIT REALLY NEEDS TWO PAIRS OF HANDS


process for two reasons: firstly the spectator is portrayed as

a position of ignorance unaware of the codes and signs that

enable the transmission of knowledge from actor to viewer.

Secondly the spectator remains immobile and passive he is

separated both from the action on the stage and from the actions

of other spectators; this is an ignorance that needs be countered to

re-establish knowledge and action. Theatre needs to activate

the spectator by reversing this ignorance’s effect and restoring

what Ranciere calls the “ownership of their consciousness and

their activity”. But Ranciere goes further for he calls for a new

spectator, and a new relationship, derived from his writings

about the ignorant schoolmaster. The schoolmaster’s role is

to abolish the distance between ignorance and knowledge, by

continuously re-establishing and breaking down this distance.

This pedagogical relationship between schoolmaster and

pupil is one that can be seen as a parallel to the distance between

the artwork and its spectator and may explain what is at stake for

the spectator in contemporary art today.

“Emancipation starts from the opposite principal, the principal of

equality. It begins when we dismiss the opposition between looking

and acting, and understand that the distribution of the visible itself

is part of the configuration of domination and subjection. It starts

when we realise that looking is also an action that confirms or

modifies that distribution, and that ‘interpreting the world’ is already

a means of transforming it.” Art forum review, The Emancipated

Spectator, March 2007.

The first route is the most important, the decisions that I

make about my walking direction, pathways and stopping points

will all have to be noted and catalogued for later repetition. It’s the

repetition of this walk through the site over and over again that will

enable this artwork that I am in the process of creating. Physically

the galleries specific environment confronts me; in this instance it

MATTHEW STOCK


is the private view of its latest show. The visitors, the artwork, the

artist, and the site make up the categories that I will be filming.

The wondering gaze of the cameras retransmits these categories

by divorcing them form time and place. In this way I am asking

questions concerning the politics of art production and art viewing.

I will begin by moving to observe this painting and then move over to

my right to view this video installation; this has taken me 10 minutes

so far. I will continue through…

The question of an audience and readership arose again

during the Self Assessment of Madame Wang. This journal is

engaged in the potential for geo-distributed collaboration in order

to call forth another site for artistic experiences, and in doing so

is calling for a new way of approaching the art object. What is

interesting is how Jacques Rancière and Boris Groys relate to

this question. How can these artistic experiences and ideologies

exist within a new site and what does this ultimately mean to the

community that observes it? The contemporary art community is

a self-aware community that has already been conditioned by the

art world’s numerous emancipatory and participatory projects.

This community has already accepted its participatory role, actively

welcomed its new authorities, and is ready to reject or accept any

denigration offered. What would constitute a new site for art and

what will its community of users look like? If we accept Rancière’s

position that the transfer of knowledge is dependent on maintaining

the division of both mastery & ignorance, passivity & activity, then

another question arises. This passivity and mastery continues to

support the configuration of the involved individuals into positions

of domination and subjection, can the artist functioning as the

ignorant schoolmaster change the relationship of the spectator as

the pupil?

Boris Groys offers an insight in his essay Politics of

Installation, where he discusses what happens when a mass cultural

community encounters the context of art. Groys suggests that groups

THE SUIT REALLY NEEDS TWO PAIRS OF HANDS


attending a film screening are transitory encounters and that their

structure is accidental; they share no commonalities or previous

history to bind them together but yet they are still communities.

Groys calls these groups “radically contemporary communities” and

makes it very clear that these groups are not be confused with radical

political religious or working communities because these traditional

communities all share, from the outset, a link to something common

from the past.

“….a common language, common faith, common political

history, common upbringing. Such communities tend to establish

boundaries between themselves and strangers with whom they

share no common past.” Groys, Going Public, P62

In contrast the communities created by mass culture

transcend any links to the common past: a community viewing a film

screening or a pop concert is only able to look forward; this is due to

the constructs of stage and the positioning of the audience. Groys

suggests that this is not adequate to keep the community together.

The key is found when this community enters the art context, for the

arts space has the ability to evoke self-reflection through its use of

the installation, curatorial practices, and most importantly mediated

encounters with art.

“The contemporary art space is a space in which multitudes can view

themselves and celebrate themselves… in a way that assists them

in reflecting upon their own condition, offering them an opportunity

to exhibit themselves to themselves.” Groys, Going Public 2010 p.63

In this self-exhibition there is a parallel with Rancière’s

argument that the ethics of our political efficacy stem from and still

have a relationship to the classical theatre’s aesthetic break. The

actors of classical theatre performing on stage exhibit thoughts and

emotions that are interpreted and read by the audience, who see

in these performances a reflection of them selves. This reflection

MATTHEW STOCK


enables the stage to directly affect the behaviour of the community.

Rancière is quick to point out that while we no longer believe that

the stage can bring about a utopian change in human behaviour,

we do still however hold with the belief that images/things can

instigate political social change. But therein lies a rupture point, and

interestingly it relates to neuroscience and how the brain processes

new information. Rancière suggests that the origins of this rupture

stem from the spectator vs. performer,

“What was broken down was the continuity between thought and

its signs in bodies, and also between the performance of living

bodies and its effect on other bodies.” Rancière, The Emancipated

Spectator, p.62.

This refers to an aesthetically induced rupture point; the

spectator who sees and reflects on what he sees with what he

knows, observes in the theatre his reflection, but it is paradoxically

opposite to the spectacle before him. The model has broken down.

This crowded corner means that I will have to stop and wait;

this is a good time for me to mentally re-walk my entrance through

the first two rooms, corridor and drinks bar. I find myself in a state

of hypnosis, I see neither the artworks or the people, I see just

objects in space that I will re-appropriate much later in my studio.

The partially concealed cameras can be noticed by those that want

to look; but they are unimportant and insignificant over shadowed

by the greater impact that this private view has over the attending

audience; who are a subservient community emancipated by one of

arts most sincere of spectacles.

This artwork in creation aims to open up layers of possibilities

within: the tragic space, the foreclose space, and the potential

space.

THE SUIT REALLY NEEDS TWO PAIRS OF HANDS


Ranciere puts forward the civic festival structure as a possible

solution to this rupture, where there is no separation between

actors and spectators through the use of ethical performance; or

to put it another way, the actors perform what the spectators see

in themselves. This new model proposes a stance without any

separation between stage and spectator; an anti-representation.

Linking this with Groys one can see a similarity with the model of

his stance for production. The artist and the spectator view together

their own reflection, and in doing so call forth new information,

and new knowledge. Is this the model for Madame Wang?

Arts Encounter with Madame Wang

Rancière now introduces what he calls the Third Thing

in relation to the schoolmaster and the pupil. This Third Thing is

described as being “..always a book or some kind of writing – alien

to both and to which they can refer to, to verify in common what

the pupil has seen.” An artist may wish an intention, an action or

an intensity that is inherent in their work to be perceived or felt

or understood by the spectator, and as such, they seek a position

between cause and effect. The artist is occupying the position of

the schoolmaster as one who is aware of the distance and has

knowledge of the ways to abolish it. There exists then this distance

between the artist and the spectator, and also a distance between

the artist’s intentions and the understanding of the spectator. This

is where Rancière’s Third Thing comes in; Rancière suggests that

it is not the transmission of the artist’s knowledge intention or

understanding to the spectator but this Third Thing that is important.

It is something that is owned by no one, but which subsists between

them both. For the ignorant artist and ignorant spectator this Third

Thing is both the intention of the artist and the understanding of the

spectator. It is the spectacle that links and separates them, there is

no equal transmission of information, there is just the action of the

spectator and the intention of the artist.

MATTHEW STOCK


A note about learning

When you acquire new learning you may feel that you

can learn anything, however, the world of Neuroscience tells us

something different. It says that what you have already learnt directly

affects your ability to learn new things. This is important and poses

an interesting question for art, because it is possible that there will

be limitations on the transmission of knowledge. For example the

spectator, who stands in front of an art object in contemplation,

does not stand in ignorant isolation for the spectator brings with

them prior knowledge which they will access and reflect on to

understand the object that they see before them. This knowledge

is fundamental for the transmission of meaning from the artist

to the spectator. This knowledge then provides the framework for

which new knowledge can be linked. The brain’s ability to acquire

and process new information is fundamentally associative, that is to

say, what you can learn is influenced and affected by what you have

already learnt. The ability to learn is also motivated by differences

between what is expected and what is actually transmitted; this

difference between expectation and transmission is what produces

further learning.

How can these new communities suggested by Groys and

Rancière be empowered to approach Madame Wang’s self-reflexive

site, and to understand the processes by which this new encounter

and its information will take place?

The spectator is not a passive position that needs to be

made active; it is a natural position, it is what has always been. The

community sees in an artwork that which it sees within itself and in

doing so continues to reassert its position to itself. The artist aims to

transmit an intensity of feeling, energy and action to the spectator,

which is governed by the distance between them and the distance

between the artwork and the spectator. More than that there is the

Third Thing; placed between artist, artwork and spectator, to which

THE SUIT REALLY NEEDS TWO PAIRS OF HANDS


all have access and which is described by Rancière as the book.

Lastly and importantly there is neuroscience’s association and its

model of limitation.

This then displays the Self Assessment world that Madame

Wang navigates and in many ways is a product of. By altering the

site for art, the encounter with art is also changed, and with it both

the spectator and the artist. Madame Wang, the publication, is an

object that is distributed, purchased, held and felt; its format is

not necessarily new at all, but what is new is the way in which it is

developed. In its dual call for both a new way of distributing writing,

and an alternative collaborative process, it is placing demands on

the centrality of the conception of the reader-writer relation. This

openness is brought forth through the inclusion of the collaborators’

processes and the outward stance of the text. It calls for collaboration

in its creation and its reading, and in doing so it seeks to enable the

re-conception of the audience. To be enabled is to give someone or

something the authority or means to do something; this is a very

powerful statement and in the end perhaps this is enough.

Groys, B, (2010), Going Public e-flux journal, Sternberg Press,

Ranciere, J, (2009), The Emancipated Spectator, Verso

Ranciere, J, (March 2007 p.270 – 281), The Emancipated Spectator, Art

forum

This text was first published in Madame Wang issue 2

MATTHEW STOCK




Tom Trevatt

BEYOND SPECTATING

Contemporary art is a genre that is loosely but not exclusively

defined by the chronological time of the twentieth century. More

precisely, the contemporary is defined by certain tropes, categories or

tactics which originate in very specific moments in the art history of

this last century. I want to pinpoint what I see as the defining moment

of the shift from the modern era to the contemporary, codify how

this shift has defined what we now see as art, and propose a move

beyond the limited category of the contemporary. This move beyond,

or escape, I attest, will provide art with a renewed mandate to engage

politically.

Almost predictably the defining shift from the modern to the

contemporary occurs with Marcel Duchamp who, in 1917 wrote a short

essay entitled The Creative Act. In this text he outlined a key phrase

that has come to shadow the art production of the last hundred years;

the artist-coefficient. To quote Duchamp:

“in the chain of reactions accompanying the creative act, a link is

missing. This gap, representing the inability of the artist to express

fully his intention, this difference between what he intended to

realize and did realize, is the personal 'art coefficient' contained

in the work. In other words, the personal 'art coefficient' is like an

arithmetical relation between the unexpressed but intended and the

unintentionally expressed. To avoid a misunderstanding, we must

remember that this 'art coefficient' is a personal expression of art à

l'état brut, that is, still in a raw state, which must be 'refined' as pure

sugar from molasses by the spectator”

(Duchamp, M. The Creative Act)

For Duchamp, and his legacy, this refining process is the

process of acting as a viewer on the work of art. As he continues,

“the creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator

brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and

BEYOND SPECTATING


interpreting its inner qualification and thus adds his contribution to the

creative act.” (ibid.) Contemporary art precisely produces a scenario

whereby the viewer is interpolated as a free subject within the realm

of decision about the work. This space opened by the work for the

viewer to occupy is what I call a correlate space, determined by its

openness to the viewer's interpretive impulse. In fact, we can trace the

history of contemporary art as it progressed from Modernism where

the focus was on production, to the period we exist in now, where the

focus is on interpretation with this specific Duchampian statement.

The interpretive mode places the viewer as subject in a prioritised

position, prioritised precisely as the subject of the decision, seen as

the procedure of fixity where the subject is both the recipient and

progenitor of meaning. Contemporary art gives itself over to a viewer

who's subjectivity is produced by the open, or correlate, space art of

the contemporary period engenders.

So, if the artist-coefficient is the sine qua non of contemporary

art, and the net result of this openness to the viewer is the interpolation

of a certain kind of subjectivity – a subject who finds itself as the

locus of meaning production – then art in this category builds into

itself a teleology of interpretation. The subject as inbuilt addressee

precipitates a conservative logic of humanism that places art as a

communicative device determined by its relation to cognition. Art,

then is forever seen as an object, as Quentin Meillassoux puts it,

“for us”. The problems with this conception are twofold. Firstly, the

prioritisation of the human subject in its relation to the art object

is an anthropocentricism which continues the work of post-Kantian

thought to place humanity at the core of existence. And secondly, the

open artwork's political ambition is severely limited by its insistence

on the use of the logic of undecidability.

What contemporary art has instituted in its non-ideological

positing of the undecidable at its core, in other words, its tragic

relationship to meaning, is a constitutive failure to do real politics.

Politics in contemporary art is reduced to the image of politics but

without the corollary theory of the power of the image needed to

TOM TREVATT


escape the tragic sustained through ironic distance. Art that has

undecidability as its defining feature does so through a suspension

of decision, slippages at the juncture of determination. It adopts

forms that open a space between the affirmative and negative.

Maurizzio Lazzarato sees with this undecidability comes a radical

form of political resistance. In an essay titled 'Art, Work and Politics

in Disciplinary Societies and Societies of Security' he suggests that

the suspension of labour produced by the artwork acts as a potential

space for new forms of political subjectivity. That the void left by the

un-decision is the moment of political resistance - a radical openness

for the possibility of subjectivity. Undecidability is produced by what

art thinks is its politics, the 'non-institution' or 'non-proposition', or, in

other words, the openness to interpretation.

The kind of subject interpolated by this openness is near

identical to the subject in neoliberalism; that is a free, unregulated

individualised subject, with the personal freedoms that the politics

of liberalism promised. And let us be clear, the socio-economic

effects of the shift to individualism have created the current crisis of

liberal market capitalism. As Jon Cruddas and Jonathan Rutherford

explain in their essay Ethical Socialism, the historical declination of

the welfare state, Geoffrey Howe's 1981 'austerity budget' that cut

public spending and increased taxes and Thatcher's degradation of

socialism, were crucial in the destruction of social responsibility and

the creation of “a new popular compact between the individual and

the market” which “displace[d] the old statist, social welfare contract”

(Cruddas, J. and Rutherford, J. Ethical Socialism). This creation of a

new type of individualism has, through its linkage of the individual to

capital, eviscerated the idea of the public sphere as a political space,

thus confining politics to an elite political class, produced a form of

hyper-consumerism driven by desire, and ultimately been responsible

for the 2008 financial collapse and, I would argue, the current

ecological crisis. I would go so far as to suggest that contemporary

art has been at the avant garde of the creation of this form of political

subjectivity, has laid the ground for the shift to individualism and has

through its appeal to the private experience of the viewer, devalued

BEYOND SPECTATING


the idea of a common. Contemporary art, then, despite its claims to

ethical or critical politics, is both the worst expression and progenitor

of neoliberalism.

My claim would be that it is our responsibility now to rethink

what art can be outside of the framework of the contemporary. The

relational or cognizable prioritising, the production of correlate space

in other words, inherent in contemporary art necessarily occludes the

reality of the art object, a reality that we cannot account for through

cognisance, the reality of an anterior world expressed as indifferent to

humans. What remains now, beyond the contemporary, is to account

for that exterior reality. To do so would, I suggest, problematize the

humanism of contemporary art, thus eviscerating the correlate space,

claiming art as part beyond the realm of the “for us” part embedded

in that realm and operating not through the aegis of the interpretative

mode but returning us to the question of production.

The artwork cannot either be contained by thought nor is it

produced merely as a vehicle for thought, but it both brings with it and

is instaurated by atelic affects that are reliant upon the contingency

of materials which, pertaining to no idealism, perhaps or perhaps

not perturb other objects, including the viewer, but are not activated

by or for the viewer. Art is capable of making, and regularly does

make, propositions about the world in a non-conceptual way. That

is to say, the work of the work of art is extra-philosophical, it can

produce determinations that are beyond thought, beyond philosophy,

beyond the human. The artwork, instead of being a pure relational,

or communicative device, is first and foremost an irruption of nonthought.

This unknowable is both the horizon and beyond the horizon

of what thought can think, and may or may not, and this possible but

not necessary condition is important, may or may not cause things

to happen. There is, to reiterate, no necessity for the unknowable to

make itself self evident through affectivity. It is as likely as not that

the irruption of non-thought within the work will contingently act upon

anything else. So, the atelic affect is not necessarily affective but

contingently so. This contingency of affect that perseveres through the

TOM TREVATT


logic of the unaddressed expression, the material quality of all objects

not addressed to a viewer, just emphatically there, is, according to

me, a challenge to the Duchampian model of contemporary art.

Contingency, for Reza Negarestani, is key to understand art practice.

As he suggests:

“if we consider art as a material-driven process of production, these

anonymous materials enjoy an autonomy of their own; and such

autonomy continuously interferes with the artwork itself regardless of

the decisions of the artist – that is, whether or not the artist determines

to be 'open' to their influence. In other words, the contingency of the

artist's materials cannot be the strict subject of the artist's openness.

Contingent materials cannot be directly embraced.”

(Negarestani, R. “Contingency and Complicity”, The Medium of

Contingency)

As that that cannot be encompassed, contingency erupts

as an evental interjection. Expressed through the materiality of the

work of art, as something that surprises and leads the artist rather

than being controlled by them, contingency is that which comes from

the outside. For us contingency names the unknowable horror of the

infinite reality that lies beyond the horizon of thought. It is the eruption

of non-thought. Materiality, then, is the site for the post-human to

express itself through a non-intentional affect.

“Incognitum Hactenus – not known yet or nameless and without origin

until now – is a mode of time in which the innermost monstrosities

of the earth or ungraspable time scales can emerge according to the

chronological time that belongs to the surface biosphere of the earth

and its populations. Incognitum Hactenus is a double-dealing mode

of time connecting abyssal time scales to our chronological time, thus

exposing to us the horror of times beyond […] anything can happen

for some weird reason; yet also, without any reason, nothing at all can

happen. Things leak into each other according to a logic that is does

BEYOND SPECTATING


not belong to us and cannot be correlated to our chronological time”

(my emphasis; Negarestani, R. Cyclonopedia)

For Negarestani, material comes with a set of affordances

that can channel or determine the process of production, so, instead

of the openness of the contemporary period, art should be based on

what he calls the “formidable ascesis of closure”. Materials afford

certain aspects of themselves to be produced as such.

In the quote from the beginning of this paper Duchamp

formulates a gap between the expressed but intended and the

unintentionally expressed, for him the unintentionally expressed is

what is given over to the viewer by the artist for the production of

meaning to occur. Apophenia is the name given to this process, the

bursting forth of subjectivity from the object, in other words, the very

human act of creating meaning out of random patterns. What occurs

in the Duchampian paradigm is the internalising of the expectation of

apohenia, or rather, contemporary art attaches itself to the production

of subjectivity through the appeal to apophenia alone. Which is to say

art prostrates itself to the subjective.

What the atelic affect engenders is a thinking of a work of

art shorn from its attachment to the addressed subject. Instead,

instituting a thinking beyond the humanism of the contemporary focus

on the subject towards a radical object focused thought. To quote Ray

Brassier: “it is no longer thought that determines the object, whether

through representation or intuition, but rather the object that seizes

thought, and forces it to think it ... according to it”

(Brassier, R. Nihil Unbound).

Starting from a zero point of nihilist speculation art must think

beyond the contemporary towards a realm of collected objectiveness

divorced from the humanist promise of individual freedom, whereby

the realm of art is defined not by its addressed subject, but by the

stake by which it enters into an ecology of objects that understand

themselves as capable of instituting their own politics. Upon the

death of humanist ideology and the dawning of an age in which

TOM TREVATT


politics must transform into a category capable of making the

move beyond its previous neoliberal dominion, art has a renewed

mandate to engender a new political imaginary. This, I claim, it does

not through an opening up but by the procedure of non-dialectical

resistance to thought, hence not the production of undecidability,

but the instauration of affects. Art would then rest in the double

position of addressed and unaddressed expression. Whereas, under

Duchamp, this unaddressed expression would be the realm for the

subjectivisation of the viewer, according to me, this realm of the art

is the expression precisely of an ecological thought that is able to

engender a radical new politics of interdependence and commonality

that butchers the prioritised space of subjectivity. Art beyond the

contemporary understands itself as capable of a politics beyond the

limited ambition of the production of a free liberal subject, towards

affective, powerful and intertwined objects that produce the common

through an institution of affects and as such, a site for new politics to

emerge.

A version of this paper was given at the Beyond Representation conference

at South Bank University in May 2012

BEYOND SPECTATING



This book was produced as a part of

the exhibition illusion of the spectator

8th – 18th June 2012

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Matthew Stock

Keh Ng

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Matthew Stock

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Published

The Modern Language Experiment

First published 2012

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© the modern language experiment 2012

All rights reserved. No part of this book may

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form or by any mechanical, electronic or other

means known with out the permission in

writing from the publishers.


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