Articulating the Event Space

28 May 2013


Notes and References

Peter Lewis

Articulating the Event Space

Careful to acknowledge that it is by no means new to institutions of art, the work of curating must draw from the mass of 'dark' material, akin to a borderless plasma formation of heterogeneous practices, from which emerging networks might re-compose a 'situation' precisely universal as its exception. The origins are arguably aligned in the relationship of Alexander Dorner's 'museum on the move' with the nomadic avant-gardist Kurt Schwitters, whose works were produced on the run. In 'The Institution is dead! Long live the institution!',1 Claire Doherty quotes from Samuel Cauman's Living Museum: Experiences of an Art Historian:2 'Dorner first posited the notion of a "museum on the move" and famously suggested, "the new type of art institute cannot merely be an art museum as it has been until now, but no museum at all. The new type will be more like a power station, a producer of new energy."'

Both tilted the conception of how art might not only survive 'outside', but how it is to be brought into singular existence. Defined by Gregory Sholette as a kind of dark matter, an avant-garde has now no specific site of situation or possibility of negation - since capitalism is somehow the cause of everything, but it is also this elusive phlogiston that is everywhere and nowhere. In a 'worldless' context, radical art runs the risk, as Hal Foster has said, of a 'weird formalism', of discursivity and sociality pursued for its own sake. And as Boris Groys notes, that to perform at the level of the universal where a demand to be artists tends more toward a dystopian reality imposed by the perversity of the Superego injunction to 'enjoy'. We are all artists by demand. Marc James Léger writes: 'What we get with all the talk of horizontalism and participatory democracy proposes only the democratic form of struggle against capitalism. This belief in democratic form tends to repudiate universality and class politics and becomes an ultrapolitics that depoliticizes the conflicts that are generated by the radical right.'3

The Oedipal struggle is to be as an 'unknown known'. To be avant-garde is precisely formalised in thinking rather than acting out the 'real' of fantasy, the disaster. The 'wound' or 'cut' of the Hegelian Spirit is the process to fail in achieving such a destination. The disaster is performed in closing the gap on the exception, as Slavoj Žižek writes, when the Truth-Event is posited as fully realised in the order of Being. The spirit (or universal) is the wound self-inflicted, whose exception - in the cut - forms a truth process. Thus, 'X is created, its space is outlined, only through those repeated failures to achieve it.'4  To love what you will never believe twice is to be subject to an evental truth that is completely unconditioned and without predicate. The event is topologically extimate to the state of the situation. The event occurs at a site in excess of the normal scene of opinion and convention. >Alain Badiou coins the word esplace ('splace') to denote this structuring of reality (a combination of space and place, or the 'space of placement'). The event ruptures 'splace'.5

What if the 'proper' spaces are these very gaps and interstices opened up by the 'pathological' displacements in the social edifice?

Here the idea is torn of a 'relational' space. The outside of an official ideology is the very ideological occupation of the official of the outside, in the logical paradox of an inclusion formed by its exclusion, that cannot for example disassociate the workings of capital from notions of particularism, ethnic or otherwise. The reluctance to reframe avant-garde autonomies within new schema is also a symptom of belated postmodernism. It's a question that Léger cites, also concurring with Badiou - in the space, or 'splace' of an exception, that does not seek to cover all the gaps but to open them - that expresses precisely the impossibility of a system's making inclusion coincide with membership, reducing all its parts to unity. It is not an identification with the community's everyday subsistence and regulation but what transgression and suspension of the law glues together - precisely the identification not with 'community' based work and sociality, but with its prohibitions. As Léger writes in the online journal DUST:

'I'm in no way proposing an aesthetic model, a new "ism" that would compete with something like Nicolas Bourriaud's "relational aesthetics" or Grant Kester's "dialogical aesthetics" or even Claire Bishop's undefined "aesthetics" tout court. My idea can be partly understood using the historical model that I created by combining the work of Peter Bürger with that of Pierre Bourdieu and the suggestion that today we no longer live in a world that is dominated by individual studio production, with work that is autonomous and avant-garde, but in a global petty bourgeois universe in which class analysis has all but disappeared.'

Léger asks how artists are to carry on with the idea that what they do can bring about social change when what it is they do is based mostly on surplus value that is produced elsewhere in the social space. Material is either censored through budget cuts and ideological repression or expropriated by the private sector. 

As Žižek has written:6 'Without its shadowy underside, the public Law's appeals to prohibition cannot clearly define itself as necessary and better for the common good. However, in a culture where the Superego has supplanted the authority of the Symbolic, the power of Symbolic institutions to regulate and enforce certain behaviours comes under question.' However, If the 'Superego' or shadow-underside is indeed embedded in a dominant mode of the economy, a curation model must present itself as dialectical - at a point of exchange between the inside and outside of the dominant ideology that Badiou presents as a point of exchange between official and militant ideology. Tensions (torsions that might split open a fissure in the symbolic order) that over-determine value in the exchange dynamics oscillating between market heteronomy and artistic autonomy.

'[N]egation is always, in its concrete action - political or artistic - suspended between destruction and subtraction. That the very essence of negation is destruction has been the fundamental idea of the last century. The fundamental idea of the beginning century must be that the very essence of negation is subtraction.' (>Destruction, Negation, Subtraction - on Pier Paolo Pasolini, Alain Badiou Graduate Seminar7)

Badiou's virtue as a radical philosopher, his militant refusal to see the current triumph of capital as anything other than an 'interval' - a time of trial rather than a permanent condition - moves the situation on from the avant-garde of negation as destruction (ultimately death) to re-form negation as subtraction, which opens the space up again from the constricted opposition of 'either/or' as one reducible to the other in death, the ultimate negation of the 'passion for the Real' of an avant-garde work of art. From a less avant-gardist point of view, Isabelle Graw argues in High Price8 for an active form of neutrality, reasoned against any clichéd pre-judgement of capital, to accept the complicit relationships between art and market that permit entertainment value as the third condition mutating the avant-gardist art/life axis. Following David Robbins, this determines an art object (the artist) its success (visibility, sayability, and sellability, celebrity status) at the same time maintaining a paradoxical relationship with spectatorship and ownership, in positing the global expansion of power that the collector presents to the intellectual commodity, art. The split between the clandestine, or shadow economies (the anti-market, artist-run, artist-curator, event-based 'weak' structures) and the official is productive of a symbolic meaning (art sold upon its intellectual value/action) and as social affect regulated by, as Žižek notes, 'the assertive super-ego violence of the obscene social law, in order to fill in the gap of the failing symbolic law'. Žižek and Léger suggest something radically different in an 'authentic' or proper act which demonstrates the falsity of a post-politics of liberal multiculturalism and its other market ideologies, including, importantly, the art model, by what Peter Weibel detects in those processes as 'hidden' - precisely by looking back to Dorner and El Lissitzky as exemplary in their passion for the abstraction of the real as sign. Weibel supports a kind of re-enacting of avant-garde principles. 'This revolution marking the violent passage in a fundamental change from production to distribution of the sign, exchanges the transformation of their formal systems (of representation) for the transformation of the means and materials of representation.'9 What Weibel recommends is a return to these models, but reinscribed in the contemporary, measured by the specific contingency of a situation. Here he elides with the critical positioning of Léger's 'sinthomeopathic' transference as a necessary 'cure', a concept term taken from Lacan's lexicon.10

'The question remains, given the inequalities that persist, as to why the heirs of Institutional Critique would collaborate with institutions at all. One answer would seem to lie with the role of institutions in legitimising culture and the ultimate need of artists for legitimation that drives this bargain.' (>Rebekka Gordon-Nesbitt, False Economies - Time to take stock11)

What happens when we can't see the edges of these legitimising networks, positions and policies? Belief grows stronger when held at a distance, or close up, as the 'hidden' fetish blurred in the guise of scepticism; one may allocate a third place for 'new' resistances in the middle, between destruction and subtraction, to produce the active part of negation of any situation. How from place to place, in Tehran or Moscow or Beijing, an artist-run initiative compromises radical ideas, to import 'democracy', by flagging up its collaborative raison d'étre as a strong ideology, so to export brands of criticality and reflexivity, in the name of self-consciousness of democratic limits. Nothing much is ever added to the High Art gambit of the market, by obtaining critical content to praxis, other than useful when there is a fall in sales, or where the critic's catalogue essay accomplishes a task of propping up valuation quid pro quo, asserting the progressive stance of 'collaborating' with artists will assist them in their self-criticality. (Critics) from the vaunted and cynical position of cultural knowledge production in the academy, may make claims for curating, drawing similarities to art making as an unknown territory still in process of formalisation, authorising it 'off the mark' or 'off limits' but never able-bodied (i.e. embodied and performative, as enabled in Andrea Fraser's critically reflexive personae). Of the descendants of Institutional Critique Fraser writes: 'It is not possible to evaluate the work of ... any of the artists whose work proceeds from theirs without taking into account not only the visible, visual manifestations of their practices, but also their policies; not only of the artistic positions they manifest, but also of the positions they construct for themselves within the network of relations that constitutes the fields of their activities.'12

Curating is as divisive as it is shared, 'supposed-to-know', if representing artists. Different urban contexts and agents share yet divide up the score. Curators and commentators alike find comfort in speculative notions like that of Bourdieu's collective 'global intellectual', whereby local actors undertake their work as part of a global initiative, the danger being the benign restoration of a conservatism that provides an alibi to capitalism.

Bruno Latour and Weibel (as curators) will use an academically sanctioned curatorial authority, as an alibi legitimated by historiography, to present an assemblage/package, from the territorialised space of the museum. They aim to reassemble pragmatism from their research. Conducted over many years the work initiates a productive use of the museum, reconfigured as a 'life-space'. The constellation of practices that invoke 'life', re-presenting archives or documents as part of the theatricality of a museum spectacle, employing rigorous deterritorialisations, might make the move from avant-garde as a resource to being about its limitations.

By isolating the symptom of an insidious iconoclasm of a compulsion to repeat in avant-garde works (see 'Iconoclash!', curated by Latour and Weibel, ZKM, 2002), the radicality of the radical is reinvested precisely by way of entering the academy and the museum in the spirit of rebellious subjectivation. By refashioning the language of spectatorship, it is able to invent a procedure of using language to organise jouissance, to fracture the structures of signification that allow pleasure. It allows this passage to rethink the ontological category of systemic power - whereby the occupational roles ascribed to communities are split upon the ground of their designated employment, by a disruption in the prescribed distribution. The specificity of the space of art's autonomy allows that disruption to disengage hierarchies of distribution as much as it does to abolish the very category 'art' itself, as a global, intellectual activity, beyond its foreclosure as use-value, and pleasure.13

Without relying on such rhetorical commentaries aimed to attack the objects of curating - the art versus the 'what is supposed to know, but pretends (not to know) itself (curating)', i.e. the curator disguises the discourse it works with, supports an event outside 'curating', as a purer discourse precisely since it is unformatted - to being really about the logic of sustaining the fiction of curatorial professionalism, by expanding the fiction of definition, re-drawing lines between art works and their organisation and what is not to be regarded worthwhile. Exploiting the event's 'inexistence' is therefore to maintain its questionability. There is one proper formalisation of an emergence, to speak from the object, and not to it, to create realpolitik from the myth of an existence (of an avant-garde) literally out of its inexistence. The object will have appeared when it does, or doesn't, at any given time, anywhere, but the occasion is to be highly localised, being part of a whole formation, and yet not included as part. Unity, incompleteness and 'the universal' fight in discursive attention to, and distract attention from, the object. The event emerges thus eternally bruised in the ruins of its embattled networks. Being 'premature', it is unformatted, since always intentionally not fully formed or complete. The series - the essence of event-based practice - is a form of infinite taxonomy. On one side it is an infinite reference document of reproduced materials, on the other the shifting horizon of signified qualities based as individual examples, and elevated through protracted multiplications.

'A fully functioning 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 - a democratic society is one in which relations of conflict are sustained, not erased.' (Claire Bishop, Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics14)

These discussions, based around the above quotation, were held up to scrutiny at E:vent gallery. Over eight years of research and exhibition, the project considered the current state of art and design practice, as limited by the very democratic process it entails as a working through of assemblies, if these are not new compositions, as Bishop pivots arguments for and against 'failure' from a dialectic model of speaking about politics. Her argument enlists codes of disruption, or fracture, to the 'virtue' of the power of art's reproduction in the social formations of an electronic 'flow' of virtual/actual processes. She poses the 'democratic' as an arena, where agonistic discussion might excite a new formal construction outside its prescribed limit. Amid the detritus of idealisms, the invasive new tools of post 'post-critical' media are put to use. The ethic in any re-composition of the body and politics remains unanswered or falls, as must be done, having no choice. One deceives oneself by abstractions that permit or sanction the access to the real, which remains out of reach.

'To raise a political question often means to reveal a state of affairs whose presence was hitherto hidden. But then you risk falling into the same trap of providing social explanations and do exactly the opposite of what is meant here by political flow. You use the same old repertoire of already-gathered social ties to "explain" the new associations. Although you seem to speak about politics you don't speak politically. What you are doing is simply the extension one step further of the same small repertoire of already standardised forces. You might feel the pleasure of providing a "powerful explanation", but that's just the problem: You yourself partake in the expansion of power not the re-composition of its content.' (Bruno Latour, 'From Realpolitik to Dingpolitik  or How to Make Things Public'15)

In its serial project of specific events E:vent questioned 'virtue' vis-à-vis an illusion, 'the people' (that community of illusions) as contingent. What it does is not block composition. It might try to contain or contaminate the multiple practices that issue forth more multiples into a 'worldless' excess or subjectless condition. Like precious objects hidden in a worthless box, the practice cannot present outside its expanding content, if there is no subject, world. We have to learn something of nihilistic subjectivity. Every object is - the outside and its infinite incomplete or inconsistent 'whole' - a kind of astonishment within a wooden banality. A certain grace is lost to culturalisation. So the curator is at the mercy of repeating himself voluntarily, subtracting something new from the repetitions he contemplates. That process of cultural cannibalisation nevertheless produces the fertile ground for an alternative, the passion of an indifference, as idleness might incur in Roland Barthes' exquisite book The Neutral,16 to emerge slowly and dispassionately in the suspension of time, to foreclose on drama in the precipitation of an event. The same goes for repetition, which inevitably cannot repeat other than to emerge differently, productive in boredom, yet almost dull. The dark precursor we seek here is foundational, evinced in Baudelaire, or Manet's urbane awkwardness, as a kind of weak forcing.

'[N]ot, in other words, a passive distancing, a withdrawal, but an approach to and engagement with the material force of the world. Not a "wilfulness" which holds itself apart, unengaged, but a "willingness" which sacrifices itself as self-enforcement.' (From Gilles Deleuze's Nietzsche and Philosophy: an Interpretive Review17)

The atomised re-composition of the internet is a highly contested space for knowledge-based practices. To access knowledge and draw any substantive meaning from the revenant, or remains, of an outside is like a suburban fox pawing through garbage to feed with nothing to extract except the innards of its packaging.

'In our conception of antagonism, on the other hand, we are faced with a "constitutive outside". It is an "outside" which blocks the identity of the "inside" (and is, nonetheless, the prerequisite for its constitution at the same time). With antagonism, denial does not originate from the "inside" of identity itself but, in its most radical form, from outside.' (Ernesto Laclau, 'New Reflections of the Revolution of our Time', quoted by Williams Rasch and Cary Wolfe (eds) in the introduction to Observing Complexity.18)

Dark Precursor

The constituted field of praxis that an event withholds, or withdraws, is anathema to any sense of 'duty' other than the singular performance. Like John Cage, who for Colm Lally has represented a 'dark precursor' to his own practice, Deleuze uses as a metaphor a milieu of latent electrical energies that produce a storm. The dark precursor is Deleuze's response in the negative - that systems emerge by difference alone. After a series of questions about the place of difference in emergent systems, Deleuze writes: 'Thunderbolts explode between different intensities, but they are preceded by an invisible, imperceptible dark precursor, which determines their path in advance but in reverse, as though intagliated.'19 Cage is significant as the 'performance', which is set in the theatres of the real world, is almost invisible, or almost dull. This conflation with 'life' as ordinary cognition is to its merit.

The admission of a banal or dull experience within the erotic, militarised space of 'life' that the contemporary world mirrors in its narrative of redemption, permits E:vent to view its own dutiful obsolescence as an active form of a 'sublime' neutralised inexistence. Its virtue is to structure the public as yet another fiction. Projecting the 'good consumer' out of her visibility within the illusion of 'community' ameliorates antagonism towards Jacques Rancière's 'ignorant schoolmaster', or 'passive spectator'. Is the 'good consumer' a poignant extension to the meaningless question of inclusion of the spectator within the institution, 'good' being tautologically better than 'bad'? Lacan would place the consumer perhaps in an extimité rather than intimate relationship, being both inside yet missing from production. Maybe all consumption is to be radicalised, extimate, as 'sinthome', appropriated in raising eros or desire. Events may turn one's attention away from eros to agape, in the desiring machine, to adjust 'resolution' to image flows and connectivity (saturating history, economy, science, politics and love) into a void or neutrality around which all life may circulate. According to Dana Arnold and Margaret Iversen in their book Art and Thought,20 'the extimité is not the opposite of intimate. It is the Lacanian terms (in psychology) generated to explain those psychic phenomena that defy the inside/outside, self/other boundary and are thus both exterior and intimate at the same time. Extimité is connected with Lacan's theory of object a which is a trace in the psyche of that from which the subject has been cut away, like a negative shadow. It is thus the other side of the subject, foreign and removed yet encapsulated within the psyche's most fundamental recesses.'

This is not to correct the institution, like a negative shadow, rather to constitute another domain of contestation of its value, something that structures the artist as part of a 'non-group' economy - foreign, outside, yet constituted into, part of evental fictions of the subject, yet not part of a unity. What is the virtue of the Event, if not subjectless, having all but finally disappeared, as the trace after modernism, in an age of prolific, postmodern, digital - 'machinic' - assemblages and their colder post-human representations? Where does the contemporary artist, designer or curator locate her practice as post-evental in the given lack of a human subject? The horizon of virtue suggests multiple viewpoints whose intersecting lines coincide precisely at a vanishing point upon a vanishing horizon, intersecting the Modern diagonally, as El Lissitzky's diagrammatic vectors, to converge at a point of disappearance. What appears to be projected at the temporal horizon of modernist virtue is briefly held from the sublime moment of its own disappearance (like the Green Ray witnessed rarely at sunset) in the virtual machinic ghosting of a past void. The transcendental nihil. The Event is projected as the nodal point, from where the landscape which it transforms appears as if always to have been never there, after all. At this point something implosive exists, but in a singular moment, or instantiation (not existing) as between two deaths (the impossible space issuing fragments of the real, upon the treacherous path between proximity and distance) to the fidelity of an inexistence. As if, imagined as cinematic space, the event subtracts life from the screen image as 'the explosion of love for reality' that Pasolini speaks of from within art's intensities, to its plane of immanence. The world not held at a distance, but made real repeatedly by the intensity of its image.

Installation - Life-Space

The technology of the copy or the clone allows us to reconceptualise, alter, and 'unform' works from collections even if these are perishable, or inexistent (as, for example, conceptual instructions or immaterial ideas, non-objects) - since they are nevertheless all principle objects of desire. Works are no longer necessarily original autonomous objects but a resource of installed documentations, projections, copies, that pose virtual qualities to actualities. This is art as documentation, or objects per se as tools, organisms, things. An assembly, speech or breath itself, being resource and dialogue. Yet if we think of only speaking about something, we miss the reality of composing its material.

The virtue of installation and of the continuing significance of the museum and gallery as an open territory of exchanges is therefore to be interpolated through such assembled dialogue, being composed of two (or more) incomplete objects, speech (assemblies), materials (types of quasi-objects), beholding to Alasdair Macintyre's redefined tasks of virtue, examined in his book After Virtue (1982), which considers reformalisation - here it is a topology of the lost aura, and in this case of an interregnum, where the space for thinking freedom from authority is instantiated in the life-space of the gallery via its clones, or copies as evidences. In Michael Dean's project at E:vent, for example, 'the work creates an axis, or dialectic of position across two planes of evidence: the artist in response to a taxonomy of indexical/residual patterns, and the audience in response to the artist's redelivery of this through text. Operating in isolation from each other artist and audience coordinate a landscape of reproduced experience.' This reproduction process is a key to how the event transposes language in subjects colliding with objects to make, as Lacan proposes, 'a hole in knowledge', incomplete space, continual crisis. The decision of any relation is held between the law and desire. It is the difficulty - 'the part that has no part' - to conform to the order, if only appearing as antagonism. I.e. an event would still be something that is left over that could not be explained, a thing remaining.

The will to produce categories (Cage may have dissolved the line between 'Art' and 'Life' only to re-form in the unity of avant-gardism) betrays in this sense of merely filling the vacancy of one master insidiously with another. In the figure of the vitrine, the last veil of protection from what is monstrous, the real - 'the beautiful soul' of the glass vitrine, in an attitude or mood (animism), alive in the aura of an object, held apart in the transparency of the curator's belief. The impossibility of proving an ultimate ground, it passes unnoticed, or in transparent relation. This is not something we come across and directly behold as fact. It is both vital and deadly, framed in the mood, being both inside 'it', and containing 'it'; yet not there, and hence eminently problematic.

'Beautiful Soul Syndrome' wants to induce in us the correct aesthetic appreciation of the world. But this aesthetic attitude can never truly become an ethical one. I'm with Kierkegaard on this, Kierkegaard who brilliantly and terrifyingly showed how insidious "Beautiful Soul Syndrome" can be in his narrative of the seducer in Either/Or.21 In effect, aestheticisation is synonymous with evil because it always holds the world at a distance from which to size it up, evaluate, assess.' (From Beautiful Soul Syndrome, Timothy Morton.22)

An example. Jimmie Durham's 'A Stone from Metternich's House in Bohemia' (1996) photograph of an event, taken at Wittgenstein House Vienna, goes beyond the technological and architectural idea of the stone (being thrown, caught in mid flight before smashing the glass vitrine), since it is impossible to see the material 'stone' itself as an object without its semiological, linguistic, ideological, cultural entrapment in language. As our thinking is to be thoroughly instrumentalised in the Stone Age, Durham indicates, a space of fracture and possibility is opened only in breaking down these words for stones, metaphors for events that literally may shatter the idea of the object, to better reproduce what he calls world-centredness, or thingness, thrown from the moment. Where is the subject to be relocated, if not somewhere, anywhere, in throwness? Durham touches forcibly on the dislocation of the nomadic from a sense of gravity, not as equal and opposite reaction, but as figure of the world held apart from its 'thingness'.23

Boris Groys writes of art's bio-political space in Art Power:24 'If life is only documented by narrative and cannot be shown, then how can such documentation be shown in an art-space without perverting its nature? The installation, however, is an art form in which not only the images, texts, or other elements of which it is composed but also the space itself plays a decisive role. This space is not abstract or neutral, but is itself an art work and at the same time a life-space.' Does Groys suggest that we are forced between the official and militant, to produce neither?

'What is a true militant art, and what are the differences between them and also what are the common points between them? We can say that the situation today is in my opinion very different. When we have to expose today the position of the possibility of a militant art, we cannot immediately expose our thinking in the parameters of the distinction between official art and a true militant art. Why? First, there is today no common strong ideology. There is no global vision of another possibility for the world as such, for the historical world as such.'25


There is no direct access to the Institution - He is always-already imbued with ideological notions ... Father, Saint and murderous whore.

The project 'Nought to Sixty, 60 projects, 6 months' was held at the Institute of Contemporary Art, London, in 2008, with requisite catalogue and accompanying published material, presenting a specular surface of images and texts to enable a dialectic process with the reader as spectator. The new material encounters and negotiates with the ICA's own historical space and remit, from the organised events of the International Group onwards. Hence the strong relation to time and visibility, to the speed of 'events' missed, if now fallen out of focus, or lacking historiographic detail. These arguably exchange the debased currency of representations of those selected organisations and individuals that compose a scene in retrospect, 'objects' stained with enjoyment and subject to evental decay, as befall all scenes. We can't have democracy without deficiency and erasure. The relationship is in fact triangular: art, life and entertainment. Attempts by artists to be entertaining have generally failed, and that's entertaining, failure, to the masses. There's nothing the public enjoys more. Yet to whom are these events really addressed, if anybody at all, if the notion of the audience becomes systemically problematic? Even if seemingly enduring, these events are obsolete. In their questionable demands foisted upon the spectator vis-à-vis her existence, her self-design, her right to choice and opinion, we are included, only by acknowledgement of an admission of inaccuracy. The object, the Gegenstand, may remain outside knowledge, outside the diagram or mapping, or choice. Include me, says Lacan, out!

E:vent poses its own questions about disappearance - of process hidden under product, in the circulation of spectral entities. Signifiers without signifieds - the virtuality of the pure affect extracted from its embeddedness in a body, like the smile in Alice in Wonderland that persists alone, even when the Cheshire cat's body is no longer present: 'All right,' said the Cat; and this time it vanished quite slowly, beginning with the end of the tail, and ending with the grin, which remained some time after the rest of it had gone. 'Well! I've often seen a cat without a grin,' thought Alice, ' but a grin without a cat! It's the most curious thing I ever saw in my life!' Setting out a programme or sequence to determine the ontology, it asks what is an organisation's actual material, from these variant multiple perspectives, non-identical in their approaches and attitudes, if, without commodity's substance, deemed immaterial. The intervention of a map or diagram becomes part of the investigation of milieus, in showing that no system is ever complete, no map covers all ground, the ground itself being murky, where the map gets confused with the ground. The ground itself is chaotic, unformed. Social, biological or any epistemic interpretation cannot fully mediate and represent it - other than as a non-group of mutating abstractions rather than an embodiment. This position is more striking as a figure if we regard the event's spectrality - to rest in a halfway house awaiting some kind of release for its sins, from its groundless unease.


Further scrutiny of embodied collectives, and their distribution as disembodied multiplicities, demands a highly localised 'realist' engagement. The question for E:vent is whether the deconstructions and language orientations of earlier performative models that promoted the avant-garde claim of multitude are now redundant (split between their incarnate performance and didactic ideal). Is there something associated, left over, or something dissociated, or left out? We take into account the disembodiment implied by spectatorship in the social production of relations. As Latour puts it, 'An entity gains in reality if it is associated with many others that are viewed as collaborating with it. It loses in reality if, on the contrary, it has to shed associates or collaborators (humans and nonhumans).'26

For Deleuze, the heterogeneous network of human and non-human associations that constitutes the relative existence of an entity is just what he calls a multiplicity, what Latour calls historical ontology, the double articulation and movement that is inseparable from the reality of entities. It is, as Latour says, precisely because things are beyond relations that they have relations. If metaphysics works, then use it.

Badiou names the evental site 'splace' as a kind of illegitimate, inexistent phantom zone, the stake of an ontological difference. The pragmatism (pragmata) of Dorner (for example, his initial reticence in the face of the 'ugliness' of the Merzbau) led to supporting Schwitters' 'outside' the museum and so by sheer necessity inventing a new space and cognition, by moulding the social edifice. Independent work by artists like Schwitters, who differentiated themselves from the museum's moral and symbolic order via an empirical, spatio-temporal reordering of material; particularised, small scale, subjective moments make things existent by an insertion of subjectivity to transform the object. The chaosmosis, a term coined in Felix Guattari's last book, Chaosmosis,27 where he returned to this question of an object-orientation of subjectivity - 'How to produce it, collect it, enrich it, reinvent it permanently in order to make it compatible with mutant Universes of value?' - makes sense here in the evolution of thinking and enacting the space as Thing, or Merz, to use Schwitters' name for the subjectivising process.

Artists and curators who work in discrete ways may not be interested in these intense accelerations, naming events - being a part of an unfolding narrative centred or resolved on their own isolated convergence with objects. E:vent's project may have a claim to mapping out and determining the currency of attitudes, wary of falling into the usual dogmatic hubris of the obscuring of motivation, against a 'decision-to-restore' coherence with appeals to history. Hermeneutic suspicion festers in the techno-cryptic blather behind what passes as profound discourse, to transgress, by incoherence, or in advancing (dark) precursory mediators and avatars, as curatorial mediators. If casting nets traces a destiny, it is to misconstrue the truth of things. No longer perceivable from the 'original' 1900 revolutionary spirit, the game is played out in postmodernism in anamorphic distortion. The inaccessible thing 'yet to come', the 'come-back' of an avant-garde, both take a part in the half-life of idealisms set in neither a past nor a projected future. It makes metaphysical stuff of the event past into something spectral, always out of reach. We ask, what is it? In the strictest sense, it could be the striving for equality, a horizontal demography, whose equidistance is not haunted by ideological fetish that the collective libido projects as its 'real' desire for unity, but only at the moment it falters and retreats wounded.

What this position pretends to have overlooked is how this desire for 'objective' meaning is already subjectively mediated. Why intensify, overproduce, massify, et cetera (it gives infinite magnitude to a drive without contours) when the task is better set to the sedimentation, grappling with real objects, the nuts and bolts, the assemblages, mountains, mountains of junk - if the curatorial programme is to be said to be nested historically in the expanded fields of sculpture, as it twists upon post-conceptual practice, the object extends to the networks of communication? The question of nature and culture is no longer to be romantically reduced one or the other in the awe of the contemporary.

But artists are not in the business of explaining anything actual, nor ever were, being more immersed in an incomplete process of a 'virtual' or fantastic formation that structures fantasy. From their imagined apologists/interpreters point of view, it is at a cost. According to Žižek, 'Fantasy fills the gap between the abstract intention to do something and its actualization: it is the stuff of which debilitating hesitations - dread, imagining what might happen if I do it, what might happen if I don't do it - are made, and the act itself dispels the mist of these hesitations which haunt us in interspace.'28 He writes, 'In the revolutionary explosion as an Event, another Utopian dimension shines through, the dimension of universal emancipation which, precisely, is the excess betrayed by the market reality which takes over "the day after" - as such, this excess is not simply abolished, dismissed as irrelevant, but, as it were, transposed into the virtual state, continuing to haunt the emancipatory imaginary as a dream waiting to be realised.'29

The after-event is structured by the spectral entities of the virtual, as a dream waiting to be realised. However, no account is ever to be completed, and as Latour argues, there can be only relative existences, and surveys are misleading, if bracketing off their subjects' pre-existences. How can we account for the emergence of event-bases' organisations such as E:vent, beyond looking at the historical reasons (such as characterised literally in the shift from white cube gallery to performance or event space, and back to product again)? And how can this movement in retrograde looking back be justifiably returned to the container gallery as 'beautiful soul' again - other than by compromising the work at hand? The articulated space of the event must already be present as an incomplete relation of pre-destinations from the beginning of an idea of presentation.

A typical work from the 1970s by Vito Acconci which 'diagrams' political space into real space is also performing, or 'voicing' and encouraging future responses, by suspending belief and disbelief together as contradiction within the time base of its actions, as a script. This act is a historical marker for the kind of work generally undertaken in the present that uses scripts or scores (I am taking for granted that curators and artists have always done this as transformative to new works) in terms of actualising politics and art as a spatial organisation.

Suspended from ladders, suspending spoken language, where exclusion from representation constitutes the rule of speaking freely in choice, in the refusal of speech. Muteness takes on a 'meaning' in an art world where aesthetic discourse is regulated through the narratocracy of artists' representatives, 'by' galleries, 'in' exhibitions, and so forth. Against their architectures of display, Acconci had mobilised technology (speaker systems, architectural structures) to enact space as event, inscripted in power asymmetries. ('Tonight we escape from New York' 1977, Installation, Rope ladder with metal rungs, wood and audio tape, in Vito Acconci by Kate Linker.30) The diagrammatic score itself is a concrete poem, which designates structure/event in a time-space 'above and below', exposing the disembodied voice of transcendent power: 'Higher: You made it: You're a nigger: Higher - Higher - Down: We made you: You're a cunt: Down - Down/you're a nigger: Down - Down...' Linker writes that through the act of 'naming' and delineating classes, language provides a means 'to talk down to that class, talking that class into place', relegating the other to its (im)proper position.

The ultimate horror is not being observed all the time, not being 'spectated' by the Big Other, i.e. the fear of smashing the mirror. There is, let's imagine it's true, as Lacan says, no Big Other.

Where we have a discussion on the pitfalls of relational aesthetics as a discursive practice, it might be better to consider the point of contact by the spectator's non-relational part in making, implied almost automatically in any act of participating. In this way the freedom (permitting the event) to no longer have a suspicion about whether there is something happening, or not, is erased. It is pragmatic to consider forging new tools from non-discursive practice, whether it glues together or makes these new assemblages fall apart; tools excavate the object and reinvent the subject from a trajectory of histories and theories, from past endeavour and assemblage. I.e. the spectator's creativity (witness to collectives, non-authored approaches, have appeared and disappeared in the general movement of styles, and her perceptibility, acknowledging the infinite fragments of human individuals at work: the invisible artisan, worker, et cetera, the proletariat subject, the machinic or cybernetic non-human entity, the 'general intellect', has the form, as Franco Beradi speaks, of an erotic body, which is made mysterious, or denied and forgotten. All shards of a social body). All these are actors who are working with the equipments of perhaps - a speculative approach - what is labelled as a kind of cognitive 'neuro-aesthetic' spectatorship. Is an activism without physical participation belied in the passivity of the spectated/spectator? As Jeremy Spencer says:31 'As the spectator, she possesses the capacity to translate and interpret, to make new associations and disassociations from the spectacle she views. Thus, for Jacques Rancière, emancipation does not arise from the critique of consumer society, an approach which he suggests is paternalistic and elitist. Rather, it blurs the boundaries between looking and doing, the roles of specialist and amateur, student and teacher, and the means for the proletarian, seizing hold of aesthetic experiences and the pleasure of spectating.' (I would add that the spectator/spectacle is a quasi-object, a hybrid that makes a new kind of body. We are the spectacle-object, the 'hyper-object' that glues us as the event.)

Accentuating the 'we' in the term 'spectator', which, as Charles Péguy so eloquently said, is important, this process is entirely reversible; 'if we stop interpreting, if we stop rehearsing, if we stop reproducing, the very existence of the original is at stake. It might stop having abundant copies and slowly disappear.' (See the commentaries of Péguy in Deleuze, Difference and Repetition.32)

Belief in the denunciation surrenders disbelief in the process. How does the institution that is to be new, set itself both inside and apart without subsuming all its research into an overview, or interpretative fallacy? The question also is set to the verifiability of a reflexive approach to curating (I am aware of the limits in what I am bracketing as apart, or as different but all the same) troubled by the process of accepting and denouncing, selecting and believing in one's own circuitous logic. It is, at worst, to be critical of criticism, sceptical of scepticism, yet always falling down on reflexive 'purity' (I am 'outside' the dilemma of relativism, and paradox, or even worse, since I know I am also circumscribed inside these, I am conscious, as the inescapable conditions of practice, of the correlationism of my thought). The space envisioned beyond ideology is the ideological space par excellence. The infinite regress, since nothing touches. The emergence of non-human entities into the very space that seemed to be free of them does not release discourse from this bonded circularity, since consciousness is the substance of its objects.

The series at E:vent examined these complicit arrangements, as many vanishing points in its survey of practices pointed to the indetermination of any overview. The electronic/local horizon is constantly shifting, as a field of decisions, not 'what to do' and how to 'do it', but to whether all localised events are situated from 'any-space-whatever' rendered empty and disconnected.33 According to Deleuze, such dissociated space comes closer to the unknown and ambiguous character of reality, and so conveys the sense of pure duration itself emptied and disconnected. The importance then of the undertaking, of localising an empirical ground as a kind of empty space, and 'dead time' (another cinematic term of letting the film roll on unawares) might produce effects, or reverse causes from effects, if the project is to recognise the 'worldless', the any-space-whatever. In retreat from the scene, any undertaking left standing collapses there. But the material remains as a kind of leftover of its failed attempts, to make history, and whose vectors point to a future unknown state, like one of Antonin Artaud's 'ruined' drawings. What is remaindered and unspeakable - the trans-moment - is that singular moment all representations are betrayed. The betrayal Artaud writes about as 'subjectile' in the ruined space of a drawing, is at the same time the courage and justice of its undertaking, akin to Antigone's standing 'between two deaths'. There is left no ground to stand upon.


Publications such as Artist-run Spaces34 focus as one of many examples on Martha Wilson's Franklin Furnace as a non-profit organisation in the mid 1970s initiating media-based practices, providing an alternative certainly at that time as non-idealist but 'living' forms, able to connect the inconsistencies in the world, with artists' participation in events, asking again directly 'what do you or I want?'. Less than nothing perhaps, just pure drive, pleasure. There is a sense here of rehabilitating the negative as an ethical space. How an event is its own precursor in a progression towards its own redundancy, its 'spirit'. Or proposing the speculative, 'as if' the real condition: 'everything is already decided, we just don't know how to pay the imaginary debt of a work of art, as well as we did in the unrestricted days of enjoyment of our fantasy about art' ... it is 'here and elsewhere' as if we are totally resigned to guilt, no longer angry, free to invent what we did in the past to do in the future, to fail to fail, in order to constitute the thing as a new event, to salute the pure contingencies that arrive at self-manifestation, to restructure all the past events that got us here ... all of our lives (suddenly) seen as predestination - it becomes clear, disappointingly, that it was never strategic, the new event violates, will have violated the field of actions in a future anterior tense, as purely contingent. As if in déjà vu, the subject is its own recurrence. It will have to have already happened. It is not known how to do this or to be knowable, how to touch the other, but it is a violation held up to the symbolic. And the negative protest of the event as a so-called liberation from what appears to firm up continued belief, and the will to change things or stand on denouncing the denunciations of all belief, is to not have any alternative but to do so, there is no alternative - everything being always co-opted - better to do nothing in this case as we admit, we don't have the language before the event - the rite of passage - to act, only to think it, neither as a fact of occurring nor as held in belief. This itself is a type of action still to be thought.

A 'factish', for Latour, is a type of action that does 'not fall into the comminatory choice between fact and belief'.35 Rather, a factish entails events; or, as Latour puts it personally, 'I never act; I am always slightly surprised by what I do. That which acts through me is also surprised by what I do, by the chance to mutate, to change, and to bifurcate36 ... one should always be aware of factishes ... [because] their consequences are unforeseen, the moral order fragile, the social one unstable.'37


1 Claire Doherty, The institution is dead! Long live the institution! Contemporary Art and New Institutionalism.

2 Samuel >Cauman (1958) Living Museum: Experiences of an Art Historian-Alexander Dorner, New York University Press.

3 Marc James Léger, Blog of Public Secrets.

4 Slavoj Žižek (2006) The Universal Exception, Bloomsbury Academic.


6 International Journal of Žižek Studies, Žižek and Cinema - Vol 1.3. Hurt-Agony-Pain-Love It!: The Duty of Dissatisfaction in the Profiler Film. Jason Landrum, Southeastern Louisiana University.

7 Art Center College of Design, Pasadena, 6 February 2007.

8 Isabelle Graw (2011) High Price, Sternberg Press.

9 Peter Lewis, Merz catalogue, Magazin 4.

10 See Le sinthome (Seminar, 1975-76). Sinthome designates a signifying formulation beyond analysis. The aim of the cure is to identify with the sinthome, as the knotting together of the Real, Symbolic and Imaginary, constantly under threat to become undone, which functions beyond meaning in the destructive refashioning of a subjective jouissance.


12 Andrea Fraser, 'What's intangible, transitory, immediate, participatory and rendered in the public sphere? Part II: A Critique of Artistic Autonomy'.;

13 'What is Iconoclash? or Is there a world beyond the image wars?' (2001) in Iconoclash, Beyond the Image-Wars in Science, Religion and Art, edited by Peter Weibel and Bruno Latour (2002), ZKM and MIT Press, pp. 14-37.

14 Claire Bishop (2004) Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics, MIT Press.

15 Bruno Latour (2005) 'From Realpolitik to Dingpolitik or How to Make Things Public'.

16 Roland Barthes (2008) The Neutral: Lecture Course at the College de France (1977-1978), Columbia University Press.

17 From Gilles Deleuze's Nietzsche and Philosophy: an Interpretive Review.


19 Gilles Deleuze (1995) Difference and Repetition, Colombia University Press, p. 119.

20 Dana Arnold and Margaret Iversen (2003) Art and Thought, Wiley-Blackwell.

21 Søren Kierkegaard, Either/Or: A Fragment of Life, translation and introduction by Alastair Hannay (1992), Penguin, pp. 243-376.

22 Timothy Morton, 'Beautiful Soul Syndrome', University of California, Davis.

23 In Afterall, A Journal for Art, Context and Enquiry, issue 2012 summer.

24 Boris Groys (2008) Art Power, MIT Press.


26 See Bruno Latour's 'Empirical Metaphysics' conference at

27 Felix Guattari (1992) Chaosmosis: An Ethico-Aesthetic Paradigm, Indiana University Press.

28 Slavoj Žižek (2008) For They Know Not What They Do: Enjoyment as a Political Factor, Verso.

29 Slavoj Žižek (2003) Organs without Bodies, Gilles Deleuze 5. Quasi-Cause.

30 Kate Linker (1994) Vito Acconci, Rizzoli, p. 88.

31 Jeremy Spencer,

32 Gilles Deleuze (2005) Difference and Repetition, translated by Paul Patton, Continuum International Publishing.

33 Gilles Deleuze (1989) Cinema 2: The Time Image, University of Minnesota Press, p. 5.

34 Gabrielle Detterer and Maurizio Nannucci (eds) (2012), Artist-run Spaces, JRP/Ringier.

35 Bruno Latour (1999) Pandora's Hope: An Essay on the Reality of Science Studies, Harvard University Press.

36 Ibid, p. 281.

37 Ibid, p. 288.

All web links accessed 23 April 2013 unless otherwise stated


Peter Lewis