Art in 12 Parts (text)

5 January 2016



Reality never sums itself up Ray Bradbury


Ravi Shankars use of rhythmic novelties, among them the use of unconventional rhythmic cycles adapted from Carnatic music for the sitar, influenced Philip Glass Music in Twelve Parts, composed over a period from 1971-1974. Shankar interpreted and transformed these rhythm practices usually sung, from older Hindu traditions. The opportunity for Glass arose in studying these mathematical relations and instrumental innovations presented through Shankars articulate improvisations in their capacity to evoke space and time out of changing notational systems and sonic texture through repetition. Glass achievement was to write and theorise a new music by according subjective cognition (how it is heard) into the strict yet fluid formalisations inherent in the composition itself. Aware of a beautiful illusion performed in each almost imperceptible shift in rhythm, Glass decoded the phenomenon of hearing what is not there; and enjoyed the aural affect of an intention to the non-alignment of its patterns. Minimalism a term appropriated from art, had been transferred to describe a musical equivalent. No two hearings can be the same, even if the performers appear to be playing from the same minimal composition. There are no transcripts of Music in Twelve Parts written out as completed scores, only guidelines for performers, and a simple structure to each part.


To move from music back again to curating art and design is to subtract an ambiguous dimension from minimalist works to how cultural parameters are over-determined.  Take some causes away and you still get the effect. Meaning cannot be held twice but as a progression of infinite differentiations or in the broken symmetry of a process of progressive unfolding of multiplicities, as Gilles Deleuze writes in Difference and Repetition (1969) concerning objects. Glass music constitutes an incompatibility with the inclination to repeat. It might be said to interrogate the banality of repetition, or equally in its sublime form, by embracing the extreme of the repetitive, (4 hours) as reproducing the ordinary, dull eye of progress. The machine is celebrated, in Charles Baudelaires 19th Century prophetic vision of modern life as part of the City, fragmented and collaged. Glass formal abstraction draws out an insistence to a primary sensation. In its pure reduction, pleasure is to be taken in marking an affinity with repetitive acts perforce of mass industrialisation in the 20th Century. In this sense Music in Twelve Parts possesses a tragic sense in its musical subsistence. We are mortal, precisely in desiring the infinite always to come, unable to exit the factory that extends to infinity.


Taking the task at hand to consider how art is intersected by the question of technology, ecology and in the third industrial revolution that enters the frame of the body as biopolitical material (as a site of resistance), the show presents itself as a democracy of trajectories, both human and machinic, in that it anticipates the immediacy of the tragic sense belied in the urgency of its subject, Democracy. The space of its modern form is defined as precisely that expressed by the repeated failures to achieve it. The joke remains the best access to the real of the duty to democratisation. Its not so funny, but the laughter, or more so the lack of it, is.


Twelve parts, or more precisely, eleven plus one. The show is a show of parts, with each part counting-as-one moving through the act of spectatorship. The twelve provide the conduit of circulation, to map a cartography or schema of navigation. Each of eleven presents an object (an installation) composing, like Glass rhythmic structures, a set of relations, inciting movement between image and image, object and space, and so on. Installation is deployed across the architectural site of its exhibition. The display, whose design purpose is to retain a utopian drive, commutes function to material objects, by the beauty of spatial intervals. The twelfth, the extimate part, that has no part is to keep this process of spatialisation always open and void. The twelfth is included, but as a space, outside the eleven others.


This text is a response to certain observations to the parts where the fragility of the partial is deemed to be always of greater intensity than any attempted grasping of the whole. The small object a, rather than the monumental hyperobject. Any making of an exhibition is hence a negotiation within the group, in the micro-arrangements to choreograph its dispersed fragments (what Timothy Mortons object-oriented philosophy identifies as merely the localised effects, or footprints, of  hyperobjects) without losing the ground of ones desire. Objects are only able to perceive the imprint, or footprint, of a hyperobject upon other objects, revealed as information. These leftover parts cannot interpret or be interpreted, being outside language. This reminds of the fictional encounter with extra-terrestrial Visitors in Roadside Picnic, written by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky in 1971. In this analogy, the nervous animals are the humans who venture forth after the Visitors have left, discovering items and anomalies which are ordinary to those who discarded them, but incomprehensible or deadly to those who find them.


The show is such an object made up of chance encounters. Its assemblage of atomised parts, as much as this discussion, is speculative, fragment or leftover part of a constellation of material whose specularity reflects in the glint of the much larger forces upon it.  The hybrid produced by human-inanimate means (of technical and biological apparatuses) does not conflict nature, with culture, by discriminating sensual or human from inhuman objects and their collection together, but by literally playing amid the ruins of their representations. Objects, matter, or their remainders are scattered and seemingly incommensurable, yet constitute present day reality in the spiralling circulation of spam and the misery inculcated of persistently dumbed down slogans and delusional, gushing sentimentality. Fragments of these wretched images are ready-at-hand. It is no less true that we all feel the urgency of the task at hand.


Charles Harrisons introduction to When Attitudes become Form (1969) published in the catalogue for the ICA exhibition in London, curated by Harald Szeemann, anticipates a plane of immanence configured in those revolutionary works that made the stuff of transcendental ideas from real materials. The curator worked on the same plane as the artists to process subjectivity or attitude as a precise set of spatial approaches to form and to how the exhibition was reconfigured. In their inclusion of the worlds dimensions, Minimalism was pronounced lacking. Selected from the show at Kunsthalle, Bern, the same year, (1969), objects distinguished by their proximity or nearness to the real world of things are today tragically reduced by what the philosopher Alain Badiou terms a state of  worldlessness. The exhibition Art in Twelve Parts is a continuum, or project, that takes Szeemanns model in providing the necessary argumentation of an as yet inexistent lifespace to incite a world dimension.  All we can do is ask a question, not expect an answer to be hiding behind the question. Reality is not out there and nothing is total.   


Peter Lewis