Waste-lands 2012 (catalogue essay)

19 July 2016





Vanishing points.

1.Wastelands: The title of T.S. Eliots poem, The Wasteland sets in place, at the turn of the 20th century, an idea of modernity as a kind of barren, ruined, (un)remarkable arena of latent possibilities. (He begins the poem in two lines defining a kind of metaphorical non-place. Dead time and sudden emergence denote a cyclical, if violent movement of the image, in its chronology: April is the cruellest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land. The title of this exhibition adds a hyphen and plural form to make Waste-lands deriving from the sense of Eliots poem that virtue and terror are the subliminal embrace of violence and beauty, constituting the birth of the Modern. As critique of ideology, Eliots poem written in 1922, shortly after world war appears prophetic. Adapting the title, the hyphen separates and conjoins waste and lands, in one signified as material, the other, ideal, connoted as ideas of both the (human and non-human) cycle of waste how we configure landscape, cut by the horizon of semantic meaning between metaphorical and real space at the threshold of a physiological or psychological response to disaster. The question of mind separated from body (in the virtual key) of alienation and displacement is also announced in the suggestion of the avatar, as the abstract idea embodied as both phenomena and flux, breeding alien lilacs, between the wastelands subjective and objective borders. 

2. Imaginary, symbolic, real: the horizontal, egalitarian plane of immanence and rationality, extensive by the psycho-analytical praxis of (in)dividuation. Virtue, in this endeavour, is nothing without terror, and terror nothing without virtue (Robespierre). 

3. Picnolepsy: ruptures in consciousness; between sloth (acedia), and half sleep, producing lucidity. 

4. The Dead Zone: David Cronenberg, film, 1983, in which the comatose hero played by an angelic Christopher Walken, awakens as a reluctant messiah to brilliant insight and ominous foresight, inevitable martyrdom and, his body wasting away, to final beautification. 

5. Waste: idleness, wasting time, or its apposite state, exhaustion of the wasted body by ascetic self-abnegation, founded in the passion, and sheer exhaustion endured for the Real. Newness (vision) is also necessarily to blind history and event to what stands and collapses before it. What can be shown therefore as real cannot be represented, but as void, the terror of which turns to jouissance (as joy), to stand above and beneath it at the interstice of art and politics, but without leaping from the precipice. 

6. Enjoyment (jouissance): the principle of sublime inadequacy, or the ontological failure to leap, which enlists passivity to the will of revolution, to the pleasure of conformity, ultimately in jouissance of totalitarianism. Here enjoyment signifies something of terror, but also of personal and political catastrophe /castration. The super-ego injunction to enjoy. (See also Anabasis, by St-John Perse, translated by T S Eliot. As expressed in the poem as the gelded words of happiness). Kant argues that beauty is a temporary response of understanding, but the sublime goes beyond the aesthetics into a realm of reason. Whereas Burke argues that the sublime arises from an object that incites terror, Kant says that an object can be terrifying and thus, sublime, without the beholder actually being afraid of it. But there is much more to Kants definition of the sublime. He claims that the sublime in itself is so great than anything compared to it must necessarily be considered small. And, because of that, an aspect of the sublime is the work of our imagination to comprehend something so great; thus, one major aspect of the sublime is the power of mankinds mind to recognize it. Kant transforms the sublime from a terrifying object of nature to something intricately connected to the rational mind. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sublime_(literary)) 

7. Sublime: The problem of representing sublime or terrible events, by Kants Ideas of Reason, makes for a profound difficulty in representation by over-writing or extinguishing the memory of an event, to remember that the act of remembering can itself be a form of forgetting. 

8. Celan: In photographs what is beyond cognition is the unrepresentable of the absolute depth of trauma, as in Paul Celans poems where expressive language and its durations are destroyed, as incomplete witness to mass death / genocide born of ideology. 

9. Archive: To archive is at the same time to petrify and nullify experience, as material for standing reserve or use. 

10. Dystopian: Scenes of libraries and narratives of the subversion of information, the stuff of Hollywoods dream machine, entertain (satisfy), as therapy, to dramatise the individuals sense of failure; to re-align self-contempt in a resolution narrative, the sublime causality of mass social ideology. Kants analytic of the sublime isolates two moments to its experience, as Zizek observes. In the first moment, he writes of the size or force of an object that painfully impresses upon the subject the limitation of its perceptual capabilities. In a second moment, however, a representation arises where we would least expect it, which takes as its object the subjects own failure to perceptually take the object in. This representation resignifies the subjects perceptual failure as indirect testimony about the inadequacy of human perception as such to attain to what Kant calls Ideas of Reason (in Kants system, God, the Universe as a Whole, Freedom, the Good). Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy  http://www.iep.utm.edu/zizek/ 

11. Virtue: concerning virtue aesthetics and the political horizon of contemporary art and design practices. How to curate and install works, which present the conceit of art-as-documentation as new virtue? 

12. The Collection: The pathological dimension of museum collections, which might be reterritorialised by re-reading historical gaps and revisions. 

13. Documentation: art as documentation re-purposing the tools of biopolitics. The object, installation, model or diagram composed as intersecting representations, suggesting fictional, micro-archives as constitutive of life-spaces. Boris Broys writes: Rather, modernity enacts a complex play of removing from sites and placing in (new) sites, of deterritorialisation and reterritorialisation, of removing aura and restoring aura. The practices of art documentation and of installation in particular reveal another path for biopolitics: rather than fighting off modernity, they develop strategies of resisting and inscription based on situation and context, which make it possible to transform the artificial into something living and the repetitive into something unrepeatable. (From Art in the Age of Biopolitics: From Artwork to Art Documentation by Boris Groys) 

14. The Chthonic Animism: Bruno Latour writes We have never been modern. The archaic, chthonic Thing returns from disappearance to haunt the reason that never repelled its primal thought Animism.

15. Sigmund Freud: Freuds death drive as the pleasure principle in transcendence; the formation, in Freudian terms, of the split, sadistic post-oedipal subject. Modernity never happened, but the future is premised upon the skewed logic of life processes left unresolved.  

16. Sci-fi utopias, roadside picnics, quasi-objects: Drawing from science-fiction scenarios (e.g.technology motifs which often appear in the films of David Cronenberg, also for example, in Philip K Dick novels, in the animism in Japanese anime genre, drawn by Studio Ghibli, or Satoshi Kons 2006 Paprika that later influenced the layered dream spaces of Christopher Nolans film Inception, 2010, generating the image where time and space are en-framed in loops of cause and effect, as James Camerons film Terminator 1984, set in the present, (now past), is simultaneously imaged in 2029. Hand drawn and computer animations are intensively more real of supermodern or superhybrid life, than in Baudelaires dull eye of painters of modern life, because they correspond more clearly today to our sense of a pervasive and perverse Uncanny. Located in our sense of fiction as the very constitutive structure of reality, these quasi-objects, or quasi-subjects disturb the spatial integrity that no longer separates beings from others, subjects from objects, animals from humans, figures from fields, to collapse all organic difference as the pure technological (pre-oedipal) effects of machinic doubles, at the level of its disturbed surface. 

17. As if: Life lived by proxy- nothing is real but the non-place. The synaptic, nervous system between the software metaphor (brain) and hardware fetish (machine), networked (by its avatars) to produce spectacular scenes of the image in myriad simulations. The avatar attributes the subject / object to a network of relations and by so doing undermines its autonomy. 

18. The Spectator: Sculpting spectatorship. Life itself is a waste-land susceptible to haunting of the familiar set in its uncanny place. Paul Virilio sites this folded and multiplicitous space, which might invoke another space as if present, in neural pro-activity. 

19. Synchronicity: The brain is itself sculpted by neurological formation of illusions that excite a-causal perception (see Warren Neidich, Neuro-aesthetics) e.g. we are able to look back at the end of the world. Hence the avatar, the embodiment of an eternal idea, which moves through networks of space and time, is able to supplant and surpass cause and effect. 

20. Récit: The copy, read as its own disappearance: For the matter of the siren song is a promise to Odysseus of mantic truths; with a false promise that he will live to tell them, they sing Jane Ellen Harrison writes of its narration,  made of events, details, gestures and nothing else, as such are particularities, worthless moments, dust of words; but then, too, surpassing these details, but being no more than these details as they are taken together, a kind of emptiness appears, a lacunar immensity or infinite distance, such that the subject of the story is the lack of its story; it tries to realise in it this lack that always infinitely surpasses it (Maurice Blanchot), the lack of story that is the story of waste-lands. 

21. Mise-en-abyme, fictional encyclopaedias: The illustration presents an absence from its story, as a lucunar immensity within a mis-en-abyme, the shifting but sacred frontier between two worlds, the world in which one draws, drawing the world from which one is drawn. A French term derived from the heraldic device of inserting a small shield within a larger shield bearing the same device, and related to composition en abyme, a play-within-a-play, as so brilliantly in Shakespeares Hamlet where the play within the play alludes to and explicates the plot of the larger play within which it is staged. 

22. Virtue Horizon Utopia: The last vehicle (Paul Virilios terming of the virtual space as a singular, passive point of passage, superimposing departure and arrival in the instantaneous form of an electronic tourism), the curation of Waste-lands is composed solely of vanishing points in one intense movement of vision. We have named an interstice between body and subject, the virtue horizon, the supermodern body needing both subject and horizon. 

23. Merz: In curation (such as Virtue Horizon held at Leeds Art Gallery March 2012, or Merz at Littoral Arts Trust) an event is held to its correspondence to evoke spaces elsewhere, conceived as any-space whatever; reaching into the colour space of colourism, which absorbs situations and characters (as participants and spectators alike) as an assemblage. The philosopher Gilles Deleuze asserts that the space in the image can not only be a determined one, but possibly any-space-whatever (espace quelconque), a rich space grasped as pure locus of the possible Deleuzes any-space-whatever then reaches into the colour-space of colourism in which colours are seen to absorb characters and situations (and thus the spectator)- colour is the effect. From http://www.filmosophy.org/deleuze.html  

24. The Bio-political: Waste-lands are collaged geographies made from scraps of memory of the real, fragments left behind of an apperception. Waste produced of the bureaucratic language of diagrams, documents, and drawings disturbs and expands the striated order of libraries. 

25. Supermodernity: Marc Augé gives an account of the non-places characteristic of the social configuration supermodernity, such as airport waiting lounges and the interiors of jumbo jets. For Augé (in Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity, 1995) the driver cruising through France on the main autoroutes experiences a means of perception, highly characteristic of the de-natured, de-historicised, geometricised, abstract condition he identifies as supermodernity. 

26. Robespierre: An affirmation of virtue and terror of thought. Terror is nothing other than justice, prompt, severe, inflexible; it is therefore an emanation of virtue; it is not so much a special principle as it is a consequence of the general principle of democracy applied to our countrys most urgent needs. 

27. Migrations: Vilém Flusser, whose interest in the multiplicities of the technical image, photography, migration, philosophy, media, literature, communication and artistic production informed the variability at work in the group curatorial projects. 

28. Kurt Schwitters: Virtue Horizon held in March 2012 at Leeds Art Gallerys Henry Moore Lecture theatre, invited screen works from artists Leo Fitzmaurice, (Northern Art Prize winner) Doug Fishbone (Samsung Prize winner), with performance from Makiko Nagaya, and in collaboration with curator Rosie Cooper, to work directly with the project. At the Kurt Schwitters Merz Barn, in July, the group collaborated with Littoral Arts Trust in Elterwater, Cumbria, to make specific works in response to Schwitters Merzbauen and his nomadism. Other pilgrimages were undertaken: on the Camino de Santiago, walking the road of Saint James; to bear witness to the mass migration of the walrus from the Alaskan ice floes to dry land; to the sub-cultural wastelands of New York. 

29. Waste-lands: the title of the third project representing the culmination of 45 week project-based activity, with publication and final exhibition held in the extensive studio spaces of Leeds Metropolitan Universitys Building B, at Broadcasting House, 2011-2012. The works have been made in situ, the result of intensive dialogical interrogations of what constitutes practice.