Imagined Futures and Free Spirits
20 Positions for an Exhibition
catalogue essay published by Leeds Beckett University, MA Art and Design Show 2017
Under each skin / a ghost
Under each sea / a pavement
A message built of collaged letters demonstrates Marcel Duchamp’s notion of inframince, (Infra thin) a neologism of his that, he stated, could not be defined, only illustrated: ‘When the tobacco smoke smells also of the mouth which exhales it, the two odours marry by the infra thin (sic).’ Marcel Duchamp.
When and how does an image get embodied, sensed, as a picture? When we begin to read or write words, how do pictures take form? From where do they originate? What sound or voice or smell does a picture yield? What ‘infra thin’ membrane pulsates between image, thought, and object? In Mark Fisher’s collected essays ‘Ghosts of My Life’ published in 2014; in cinema, in the slow foreboding movement of the Alien, in Jonathan Glazer’s ‘Under the Skin’ in 2013, these questions of pictures, and of their memory are projected from an uncanny, ‘inhuman’ sensorium, affirming synaesthetic possibilities for rethinking the human in its virtual forms. Marcel Proust defines the parameters of memory as virtual: ‘real but not actual, ideal but not abstract.’ Fisher’s future inhabits Proust’s virtual memory by a process of active forgetting.
For Antonin Artaud, it is theatre, and its double that exposes the unsettled, disembodied figure of a virtual double to a cruel scene of actual bodies, whilst at the same time, potential for a future scenario. A shadow falls between human good intention and failed realisation. In the gap memory awakens a long forgotten Titan god, the clandestine, overlooked brother of Prometheus. Epemethius. Forgetting the human when gifts are distributed among the animals, he is himself forgotten. What cannot be memorialised stands as the exception to myth. The origin of technology is overlooked in afterthought. Myths are contiguous with a human explanation, not what falls in its shadow. Antonin Artaud had another word for such fatality / futility. The ‘Subjectile’ – which carries no meaning. The word alludes to the failure of craft, or ‘techne’ (Gr. τÎχνη), which leaves its fault-lines in the ruin of paper, and skin, to cannibalise the myths of Beauty and Truth. In the process, the subject becomes indistinguishable from its torn parts. Artaud’s drawings present an image of the mind on a plane of immanence, as a surface of disconnected, sutured thoughts, rendered palpable in uncanny familiarity. Here at the site of Artaud’s concept of ruin is a ‘body without organs’. The technical borders that define the human frame of being, collapse the foundation of the world’s meaning, and initiate metaphysical conflict. http://www.rhizomes.net/issue5/poke/glossary.html.
In 1938 Artaud, in Le Théâtre et son double (The Theatre and Its Double) calls for ‘communion between actor and audience in a magic exorcism; gestures, sounds, unusual scenery, and lighting combine to form a language, superior to words, that can be used to subvert thought and logic and to shock the spectator into seeing the baseness of his world.’ What Artaud names as cruelty is an awakening of the forgotten, or unrepresentable in myths of humanity, since these will haunt from the future, after the curtains themselves fall.
Feminist writers such as Julia Kristeva, Lucy Irigary and most recently Catherine Malabou have all exposed these deep fissures in language. The new ‘wounded’ subject might never redeem meaning from the violence of its history. (Catherine Malabou, The New Wounded, From Neurosis to Brain Damage, 2012). Art is the possibility to adjust the cogito, to the absent, unredeemable subject. The ‘infra-thin’, accordingly moves from ‘I think therefore I am’ to ‘I think therefore I am not’, yet this is not to negate, but to affirm the ‘real’ of its absence. The ‘body without organs’ first uttered in Antonin Artaud's radio play To Have Done with the Judgment of God (1947) spoke in terms of freedom from ‘presence’.
When you will have made him a body without organs,â€¨then you will have delivered him from all his automatic reactionsâ€¨and restored him to his true freedom.
Arthur Schopenhauer anticipated the interstice between art and the baseness of life in The World as Will and Representation (Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung)’ published in 1818. A metaphysical presence possesses all matter, all gender, race, genus and species, without exception, as the will ‘in–itself’ and is inaccessible. Will, he conjectures, is a blind force that resists given meaning. Fate is done with, so what is first to be undone but the human. Fisher writes of extinction, in the image of a haunting that arrives from a future that never happened. Something of his inverse logic is in Stanley Kubrick’s film ‘2001’ (1968). Alien ‘monoliths’ appear throughout the movie at unexpected points to shock the narrative into crisis. The innate foreboding of the future may shed its skin in the colourful forms of a sudden appearance, possessing audiences in the vividness of dreams of metamorphosis. Freedom seeks us out precisely where nothing new seems possible, in those very fictions that structure our experience of reality. The future, like the ‘after-life’ narrated in Dante’s epic poem, Commedia (1320) stands at the gates of history, to speak of tragedy returning as farce. She points toward a horizon of possibilities. In casting out the ghost of metaphysical presence, a new politics rises to illuminate reality in all its idiocy. Slavoj Zizek writes
(…) The very gap between it and the overwhelming factual evidence against it, i.e. the active will to disavow the actual state of things. Perhaps therein resides the most elementary metaphysical gesture: in this refusal to accept the real in its idiocy, to disavow it and to search for Another World behind it.’ Slavoj Zizek, With or without Passion- What's Wrong with Fundamentalism? - Part 1 http://www.lacan.com/zizpassion.htm Accessed 21/07/2017
Discourse itself is a process that exposes a radical difference in thinking the virtual and actual aspects of Zizek’s speculation of the liminal threshold between belief and disavowal. Art’s exceptional status in this world, transforms the idiotic as an alien would experience the plane of reality as ‘another world’. Is this not precisely the ‘infra thin’ gap that Duchamp draws between the fictional property of conscious attention projected within the ‘present’, ‘past’ and ‘future’ and the disavowals masked precisely in self-consciousness?
(…) Real to virtual and fictional filtered through literature, theory, religion, and art. (…) Fictions emerge in the middle of anarchy, vacuum, dystopia, where everything is possible and our lives mere networks. Satire meets historical painting meets science fiction, vision, and excess, and before we know it we come face to face with a future that crept in through the back door. (Excerpt from Cameron Soren, "Custom-Produced for Imbeciles of Some Sort: An Interview with John Russell" on Rhizome, April 10, 2015 Accessed 21/07/2017
20 positions for an exhibition