“Tumblr is a great way for people who don’t create content to share content thus lending their life some kind of creative import.” This is the somewhat omniscient Jayson Musson’s tweet from a couple of weeks ago. The more I think about it – and I have been thinking about it way too much – the more I realize that he’s probably right. There are a lot of people on Tumblr and I am one of them. And I cannot get enough. But you know what, I don’t care if these people haven’t created the content they’re posting, at least they’re posting content – which, in of itself, is a creative act. And it’s visual, and I personally am constantly learning from it. It’s a visual literacy of the highest import.
My own Tumblr, Installator, is a curated (for lack of a better term) blog of other people’s content. Installator (wrapit-tapeit-walkit-placeit) is essentially a compendium of art in a state of movement – being installed, de-installed, moved, crated, knocked down, hung, lifted, cleaned, screwed together, and on and on. It’s about art as an object, but decidedly not the object that most people understand it to be. Not precious, or in some cases priceless, well-lit aesthetic nuggets that just seems to appear on walls, or pedestals, in fields, on buildings and above couches. These are images of artworks that are not static.
Sometimes I wonder if people who go to museums or galleries think these things just kind of magically appear overnight – like some sort of aesthetic fairy flitting down to delicately place a painting on a wall with their sparkly fairy-dusted level. Well they don’t, and there is a magical coterie of individuals who do make it happen: art handlers/preparators/riggers/etcetera. I am not an art handler, though I have done my fair share of handling art (I’m also married to a former preparator). It is with the utmost respect for these folks that I showcase them in the photos that make up Installator. Other people are impressed too. Of the many comments I do get on one photo or another – a common one is some form or another of: “I want to do this for living!”
Looking for images can be a pain in the ass, but when I find a good one I get really excited. I have a loose set of criteria that I stick to when finding them; ideally it’s a large jpeg; includes an image of a person(s); is of an artwork or artist that I admire; is visually representative of the act of installing or de-installing and has to be stimulating to look at. Funny pictures help, as do process-oriented sets of images. I mostly start with a Google image search including an artist’s name (or sometimes an artwork) and the word “installing”. Another route I take is plundering the Facebook photo albums of museums. I find that European museums do the best job of documenting their behind-the-scenes, but there are a few museums with their own oft-updated Tumblrs, blogs and websites (the Dallas Museum of Art, Contemporary Museum of Art, Houston and the Walker Art Center are tops.)
At this point it seems as though a lot of Museums are catching onto this peeking-behind-the-curtain-thrill. Many of them are sharing much of the work that goes into setting up an exhibition, not only by posting more and more images for the public, but also using it as a form of education about the lives of artworks. This can only be healthy. It humanizes the pricelessness that these objects are assumed to have once they enter the institution. It also showcases the care for these objects from a preservation standpoint. I thought this quote from the Chrysler Museum of Art was interesting, even though the images they did post were some of the most beautiful I’ve come across: “We generally do not discuss anything related to the movement of art. There are lots of reasons for this, ranging from the obvious (security) to the obscure (proper protocols and handling). …. We rarely if ever actually photograph art being moved. This is [a] field where mistakes are not an option, and a great work of art being damaged because somebody tripped over a photographer just can’t happen.”
There is also what I cannot find. I have a mental list of artists whose work I would very much like to see installed. There are also museums that simply aren’t interested in showing how work travels from the bowels of their storage to the walls of their galleries. Outside of Instagram, commercial galleries very rarely show images of their artists work being installed (though Salon94 has a great blog that features this). Along the same lines, it’s often difficult to find images of art fairs being loaded in. Artists who have their own websites also rarely show images of their work from this viewpoint (Sterling Ruby and Martin Eder (?) are a couple of exceptions). Holy Grail images would include almost anything pre-1980, better yet pre-1950. The Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art (watermarks excluded) is by far one of the best resources I’ve found. As far as mediums go, who knew it was so hard to find images of drawings and photographs being installed?
A short wish list, in case anyone was inclined to do some of their own digging and submit: Morris Louis (a good one, though this one is pretty good), Allan McCollum, Eve Hesse, Cady Noland and On Kawara.
What’s next? I thought an old fashion artbook might be a good way to harness a lot of what’s happening on the Installator tumblr. There is more to mine here: from the relational aesthetics of it all to the art historical precedents of installing art. However, after looking into it and making a couple of inquiries, I realized that it would never happen. I don’t own these images and I certainly wouldn’t want to deal with the red tape (from artist to gallery to museum) about ownership and rights. Nonetheless, I do worry that with the fleeting nature of screen-scrolling, people aren’t really looking. Good old fashion page-turning sounds nice to me – maybe one of these days. For now, I’ll still be looking for content and posting it for my 137,507 “followers”.
Bio: Britton Bertran ran 40000 from 2005 to 2008. He currently is an Instructor at SAIC in the Arts Administration and Policy department and the Educational Programs Manager at Urban Gateways. An occasional guest-curator, he has organized exhibitions for the Hyde Park Art Center, the Loyola Museum of Art and several galleries. You can find him trying to be less cranky about the art world on twitter @br_tton. Stay tuned for a couple more guest posts where Britton will be waxing poetic on what’s wrong with the Chicago art world circa 2013, while thinking out loud about how to fix it and another post about looking forward to 2014 (and maybe a top 10 list of sorts too.)
“KULTÚRA NAPJAINKBAN, dan perjovschi után szabadon” (via richardlivesus)
“The Acrobatic Sculptures of the Rooftop Garden”. Alexander Calder’s “Man” being installed at SFMOMA
“Monumental wall sculpture by Ellsworth Kelly installed on Dartmouth campus. This major site-specific work, titled Dartmouth Panels, was commissioned by longtime arts patrons Leon Black ‘73 and his wife Debra, who contributed $48 million towards the creation of the center.” (artdaily.org)
“This piece is made of ceramics, a medium which Robert Arneson helped bring to a full-fledged, independent art form. Typically, large-scale works such as this would be made out of bronze or marble. Luckily for our installation crew, this piece is hollow, meaning it only weighs between 500-700 lbs. Heave-ho!” (SFMOMA)
“This incredible sculpture by Turner Prize-winning artist Anthony Gormley, consisting of 40,000 clay figures, has been put on display at an empty Tudor manor house…. It took five days to place the humanoid characters into position across the ground floor of Barrington Court, a National Trust Property near Ilminster in Somerset. The installation ‘Field for the British Isles’, was originally created in 1993 and has been loaned to the property by the Arts Council Collection through its Trust New Art Programme.”
Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Untitled (Placebo), 1991. Installation process. Image courtesy of the Williams College Museum of Art; photo by Roman Iwasiwk (curatedobject.us)
Massive open online courses (MOOCs) are the future of education. I feel as certain of this as I am certain that one day cars will fly and that ironing will become obsolete. There’s a Ted Talk with the co-founder of Coursera Daphne Koller and an episode of Charlie Rose with the CEO of EdEx Anant Agarwal that addresses this new way of teaching and learning. To summarize Agarwal on Charlie Rose, the thing that is fundamentally different about MOOCs versus the way traditional college works is that with traditional college all of the gatekeeping is at the front end. You have to apply. You have to be accepted. You have to have tuition. Sometimes you need to have prerequisites or test into the courses you want. With MOOCs it is different, at least for now. The gatekeeping occurs at the backend. Anyone can register for a course, but not everyone will finish. And for those who do, there is often the option of a certificate. With some courses there is even the option of credit…for a fee. This allows all kinds of learners to participate in a course. For example, some might only be interested in part of the course’s curriculum. That student can participate in just that portion of the lectures, readings, and discussion, and ignore the rest. Of course, they will not receive a certificate, but then again, So what? Others might successfully complete all of the assignments for the entire sequence and receive a certificate. Both students got what they wanted from the course, but they dictated their level of involvement, not the instructor or the institution.
But how does this relate to contemporary art? Glad you asked. In the US, our contemporary art world is deeply shaped by academia. It’s hard to imagine a curator with anything less than a Masters Degree. The same with visual artists. I would love to see some statistics on this, but I would guess that many of today’s working artists are also employed as teachers. Academia and contemporary art are so bound together, that changing one, will clearly change the other. I chose to be optimistic about this. While it is true that the majority of MOOCs are in the sciences, there are some art related courses out there and I expect this will grow over time.
This summer I took my first MOOC, from Coursera. The course was entitled Art and Inquiry: Museum Teaching Strategies for Your Classroom, offered by The Museum of Modern Art, taught by Lisa Mazzola. The course focused on using the inquiry method with object-based learning, specifically within a museum environment. This course was an amazing experience for me. First of all, I got to take a course from MoMA. I never thought I would have this opportunity, but the beauty of an online course is that location isn’t an issue. This had the consequence of the course being very international. 60 percent of Coursera’s students are from outside the United States. In this course, we were required to participate in the discussion forums. Our final project was to write a lesson plan within our discipline using the inquiry method and a work of contemporary. Clearly, it was instructive to troll The Art Institute of Chicago for just the right artwork and write my own lesson plan, but what might have been more instructive was peer grading my classmates’ assignments. There were 32,000 students in the course. I graded a student from Spain and two from Columbia. It was interesting to see the curriculum requirements of other countries.
I am currently taking a class called Exploring Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas. It’s very challenging, maybe too challenging for me. But I’m having a good time and I’m learning more than I ever could on my own. The course is taught through The Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, by professor Jonathan Biss. This course demonstrates the beauty of gatekeeping at the end of the educational experience instead of at the beginning. If the course proves too difficult, I can always select the “no assignments” option, continue with the video lectures and the class discussion, but at the end I will not receive my certificate. Like I said earlier, So what? People should be able to attempt things that are difficult or out of their realm of experience without penalty. These MOOCs are showing the possibilities of our educational future. The courses are fun. I’m learning a lot, and I get to “meet” people from all over the world, artists, musicians, even other people who teach English at an art school. MOOCs have the potential to make the study of any of the arts, more global and, most importantly, accessible to anyone with a smartphone. Maybe that’s good, maybe not, but it’s the future.
An opening like no other took place on the last day of July at the freshly minted $250 million dollar Fashion Outlets of Chicago in Rosemont. Featuring 11 artists curated by miami based Primary Projects, the Fashion Outlet and newly formed collective, The Arts Initiative, did it up luxury outlet mall style at the preview of the various murals and installations throughout the mall. With work by Jen Stark, Jim Drain, Cody Hudson, Daniel Arsham and Bhakti Baxter, the art contained within might make this the edgiest mall ever.
Sam Vinz, Claire Warner and Aron Gent under the Friend’s With You inflatables installation at the Chicago Fashion Outlet.
A collision of Chicago’s and Miami’s most noteworthy in the arts, attendees danced the night away under the deft entertainment of DJ Sinatra and many many top shelf bars.
Friend’s With You’s Sam Borkson and fellow artist, Jim Drain, lovingly embrace at the reception.
Curious what was in the gift bag? A hat from Roxy, an iPhone 5 case from Coach (too bad I’m still only on that 4), a “The Arts Initiative” water bottle, a leather cuff from Ports, a security neck pouch from Samsonite, a “Fashion Outlets” pen and even a scarf from The Limited. Totally killer.
Drain’s completed mural.
Definitely recommend (even sans the gift bag).
Reading is Fundamental
Wait, I thought it was 2013!? If you like your iPhone and the internet, you would probably enjoy this sweet little read from the Summer 2013 issues of Artforum, 2011: Michael Sanchez on Art and Transmission. This recommendation comes from a bar, but is better than that makes it seem.
Trends Totally Trending: Not often is a gossip column the subject of gossip, but What’s the T? was recently featured in Art Info’s “In the Air: Art News and Gossip” spot for EXPO CHICAGO’s partners and special exhibitions. That’s right! WTT? is going IRL. We hope you’re as excited for The Expo Register as we are. Stay tuned y’all.
Total badass gets her due: Who knew that Ileana Sonnabend was so completely rad? She asked for a Matisse instead of a wedding ring. I mean, really. Thankfully, this piece by Kelly Crow for the Wall Street Journal sheds light on the major gallerist and collectors fascinating past. Sonnabend fans will be pleased to know that the MoMA just released plans for “Ileana Sonnabend: Ambassador for the New,” an exhibition which will feature some of Sonnabend’s most noteable discoveries and longtime friends.
Time to Slip at Gallery 400
Get back to the future at film screening
We heard a rumomr that the upcoming TIMESLIP film screening is not to be missed. Featuring 11 films by 10 makers, the screening is curated by Jesse Malmed and includes work by Jillian Mayer and Lucas Leyva, J.J. Murphy and Hollis Frampton.
From the horses mouth: This is going to be great. Time travel in the expanded field. Time-based media in the multiverse. Dream baby, trypp central, 2 Live Crew (seri), ducks, Adam and Eve, Judy Garland, hella headies, the first computer film, time tunnels, and on. And, like your mind, this is FREE. Surprises guaranteed.
A Miami Techno Transplant’s take on the Demdike Stare Concert last Saturday
I’m here reporting from the Empty Bottle, celebrating my Chicago life’s one week anniversary the way I prefer to spend all mildly festive occasions, by melting my brain with whiskey and dark techno. Tonight I’m all excited because I get to see one of my favorite bands live for the first time: DEMDIKE STARE. The duo is well known for merging occult, black magic vibes with droning electronics and sparse, off kilter beats. Demdike Stare have evolved their sound throughout the years from super dark horror movie vibes to dark worldly ragas and, finally, their latest releases reflect maturation of all these sounds with a bit of straight forward dark techno tastefully sprinkled in.
Needless to say, I’m fucking pumped.
I arrive at the venue “Miami time” which turns out to be just when shit starts everywhere. My circadian rhythm must be super on point today and I show up just as the first act, Stave, is going on. The set is some heavy industrial tech vibes. I am feeling it. A cigarette. Duane Pitre is up next delivering on some soothing melodious drone incorporating guitar loops and electronics. Lots of people are talking and not really listening but the vibe is right and everyone’s sonic palette is cleansed.
I’m in the ally evening out my buzz and the walls start to pulse. Demdike-fucking-Stare. I run inside. They spend the beginning of the set evolving drones, feeling out the crowd, reacting. What does the spirit of the crowd say? Probably something like, “TECHNO!” The bass kicks into 4/4 and as the crescendo of the track “Dysology” hits everyone knows its getting serious. The visuals that accompany their live set become more frantic. The main themes of the video include babes and esoteric rituals, everyone approves. Just as my mind is about to transform into pure jelly, the set ends abruptly, like all good things in life. And everyone goes home to dream about robots and witches. The End.
The view inside of Praire Production.
Medium Cool and Partly Cloudy.
Despite cloudy weather, New Art Fair Shines.
Shame on you if you didn’t make it out to Sunday’s Medium Cool Art Book Fair, we know you heard about it. Rising like a pheonix, the fair was organized by Ria Roberts and brought out the most delicious coffee-table eye-candy ever seen in the West Loop.
These button’s were seriously trending.
Limited edition poster by Carson Fisk-Vittori
Fashionistas, Chelsea Clup and Ben Foch modeling the necklaces by Vincent Uribe and Noël Morical they picked up at LVL3′s booth.
Medium Cool Continued.
Trendsetter, Hamza Walker, models sunglasses (obviously) by Josh Reames from the LVL3 booth.
Issue Press‘s booth featuring a “Book Box” vending machine, manned by George Wietor.
Sofia Leiby‘s SCRAP HEAP booth featured scraps and ephemera from Chicago artists’ studios.
Header image features a detail of work by Justin Schmitz on display at Medium Cool.
When the Tate Britain in London underwent physical renovation, certain parts, essential key points of the museum were closed; places where people would normally walk became unavailable. Messing with the way the museum normally functioned and making people in the building behave differently than they would otherwise, the renovation generated a side effect; people couldn’t move through space the way they were used to and meant to. In the language of architects this is called a “script”- a list of cues we, humans, take when we walk through a building. So when Curator Marianne Mulvey contacted Pratt-trained performance architect Alex Schweder with regards to this temporarily diminished “script,” it wasn’t for a casual renovation job but to devise a new kind of script, a different pattern of action.
It is half past six post GMT in the Duveen Galleries’ large corridor of the Tate Britain. Surprisingly, the gallery is empty: no Rodin, no antiques but the slow swarming of a young and emphatic crowd. The event is called “PRACTISE ARCHITECTURE: rehearse here, perform everywhere” a work by Alex Schweder and Lamis Bayar.
A quick glimpse at the old barrel-vaulted limestone gallery to discover, stuck to the wall, in white imprints, short, quick imperative sentences inviting to “Touch this wall” or to “Look only at this wall and turn left” or simply “Exercise free will”. And so it went: people interacted with the architecture yet following a different script than what the original would have been. Success. But Schweder’s work goes further.
“Performance: Life bodies working towards an aesthetic end.”
“Architecture: The construction and dissolution of boundaries between people in space.” - Schweder -
“Subjects perform themselves differently and in different context depending whether you are a man or a woman. In the way we perform gender we simply take the decision of the room we choose to walk into: is it the one labelled male or is the one labelled female?” This concept borrowed from Judith Butler’s theory of performativity – or the way in which we perform being human beings – is at the core of Alex Schweder’s work.
“Through the history of performance,” he explains, “architects discovered strategies for performing the city in ways that would render it political, within very small interactions and in insertions that were neither costly nor labour intensive to do but with great impact on the populace.”
Using that same history, it is in 2007 that Pedro Gadanho, curator at the MoMa and Alex Schweder will develop a different approach that will refresh the subject of Performance Architecture. But while Gadahno’s focus will develop in urbanism opening a more political, almost activist practice, Schweder, having added Princeton University and a Fellowship at the American Academy in Rome to his portfolio, will choose quite a different path.
Snowballing Doorway, Vinyl and Fan Blown Air13’-9” x 15’-0” x 10’-0”, 2008
Interested in the religious embodiment of Gothic cathedrals and the symbol of perfection that the Truvian body represents, Schweder will devise his own theory: relation between bodies and buildings in the way buildings act as mirrors for our bodies when we think of our bodies through buildings.
“In history, the first performances focused on actions that occurred in everyday spaces: you have the audience here and the performer there: the audience watches the performer. With performance art it is often the audience doing the performing themselves. Now, taking this kind of thinking and applying it to architecture; actions and live bodies; situations in every day spaces; if you overlay these two things: the attitude of performance art with architecture, you start to become playful with behavior, with the action, with the program of the building. Thinking of the building having a program – what actions occur within the building – in my work, rather than program I think of performance. It’s the action of a building with more permission, with more invention by those who use it. You can think of it as either a Jazz musical score as opposed to a classical score which is intended to be followed quite closely, there’s not a lot of interpretation, or a John Cage score which is even more open ended. Performance architecture is about aestheticizing the action that occurs within the building and using the building as a script for doing so. There is a whole history of architecture involving the body as an example giving a kind of history of how idealized bodies have come to inform the way we design building, building as effigies of those bodies that we would like to have; and then we occupy these bodies that we would like to have.”
Trying to find ways of insufflating life into architecture, Schweder hatches with the concept of a “time based body”. Having worked seven years as a mold and leak expert in Seattle for lawsuits as a way of supporting himself, he comes to the point that buildings are alive, uprating much more similarities to our flesh than we want them to; that “if a building is time based we will see our bodies in it, if we can notice time passing we can see the body of that building and a building – like our imperfect bodies – rots.”
This Apple Tastes Like Our Living Room Used to Smell, Dimensions Vary, 2007
In This Apple Tastes Like Our Living Room Used to Smell, 2007, Schweder creates a small bioplastic model of a house. Filled with grass seeds, as time passes, we see the house degrading, decaying, as nature takes over the model. The building is performing itself as a building that changes overtime quickly enough for you to notice its change. Then it’s the epiphany.
A Sac of Rooms Three Times a Day, Vinyl & Fan Blown Air, 21′-0″ x 9′-0″ x 28′-0″, 2007
Schweder comes with inflatables, such as A Sac of Rooms Three Times a Day, 2007 where a big inflatable vinyl reproduction of the four rooms of an 800 square foot house is stuffed into a 500 square foot bungalow and blown up by fans or in A Sack of Rooms all Day Long, 2009 the work, he explains, “is something too big inside something too small, causing the work to continually fluctuate between something recognizable and a jumble of lines. By using inflatables, you would have the same relationship to this structure as you would to a performance: you watch it change overtime. Which in that sense it is very much like a traditional performance.”
A Sac of Rooms All Day Long Clear vinyl and fan blown air, 11’-0” x 21’-0” x 30’-0”, 2009
Although questioning dynamics, it would be too easy to brand Schweder’s rationale of dualistic. Understanding architecture as a kind of cue for actions, as something similar to Georges Brecht’s Chair Event, 1960, Schweder’s work is about the ways buildings construct relationship between people. Our Weight Around Us, 2009, an inflatable double settee sofa has only been blown with enough air for only a one settee sofa making it very difficult to sit on it. Furthermore in Counterweight Roommate 2011, we see Schweder attached to Ward Shelley, the absence of vertical circulation system implies that both have to use the weight of the other person to move. “Relationship and variables,” he explains, “coordination and synchronicity.”
Counterweight Roommate Various construction materials, household appliances, 2 people of the same weight 2’-0” x 32’-0” x 6’-0”, 5 Days, 2011
Now look for Schweder and you might find him here in England accomplishing PhD studies at Cambridge, something he started in 2012. Or maybe you would find him at the Opus Gallery in Chelsea, Manhattan for his most accomplished project on until March the 1st. A scheme of work he started in 2009 in Its Form Will Follow Your Performance borne from the relation of subjects to objects and how do spaces and buildings start to make us think about ourselves, Schweder “renovates people’s homes” by changing the way they behave in them. Contacted via an ad on Craiglist or by simple word of mouth, they meet and discuss. Then our performance architect goes to their home and enacts the first performance, writing notes, instructions, that relate to how to perform what the situation is and what it will trigger. The photograph is then hung in their house for tenants to re-enact: in Schweder’s words, the client is thus the author of the work’s final outcome.
In a kind of architectural psychoanalysis session, people give insight on the way they feel about their space and their frustrations – no physical work here, but only written instructions designed to change the way people perform their house. Quite a convenient opportunity that Schweder is currently finishing a PhD. “People are more likely to come to a doctor,” he says.
Its Form Will Follow Your Performace A5 paper with custom letterhead, Alex Schweder La, occasional passers by, about 1 hour, 2009.
I met João Florêncio over the summer by accident. I was a tourist at a SEPFEP, a philosophy conference in York. My boyfriend was presenting a paper and I happened to tag along — using up some free miles that must have accumulated with my parents’ help. While there, I wasn’t planning to visit any panels but nevertheless, I did. It was great. I had one of those brain infusions that sits with you for months and years, as your consciousness tries to digest what it has consumed. In particular, I got a crash course on feminism and learned more about Object Oriented Ontology — the subject of João’s presentation. He gave a paper about performance and how it might be considered as an object, a thing possessing its own autonomous being, a being not contingent on humanity. I wanted to ask him more questions on the subject and this seemed like a good opportunity. João is a Portuguese scholar currently based in London and researching on Contemporary European Philosophy and Performance Art. He is also an associated researcher of ‘Performance Matters.’
Caroline Picard: How do you think about performance?
João Florêncio: What first drove me to think about performance was my interest in what is generally known as ‘Performance Art’ (or its more British term ‘Live Art’). Despite having been both trained as a classical musician from an young age in a junior conservatoire and received my first degree in musicology, it was not until I discovered performance art that I started thinking about what it means to perform.
Anyhow, after a change of academic focus during my MA, I found myself enrolling on the PhD programme in Visual Cultures at Goldsmiths, University of London, in order to carry out what would turn out to be a research project on a new ontology of performance. The reasons for that are varied but they can be summed up by an increased awareness on my part that ‘performance’ is a term that is increasingly used to describe the behaviour of various beings, from humans to computer networks, from national economies and stock markets to higher education institutions. Nevertheless, and despite some exceptions (here I’m thinking of theorist Jon McKenzie), Performance Studies, the academic field within which I’m working, hasn’t spent enough time trying to theorise those occasions of nonhuman performance; it suffers, in my view, from a certain humanist or anthropocentric malaise for reasons that I can point out, if you want.
The question I faced then was how to think of nonhuman performance, how to try to write a new general theory of performance that is able to account for occasions of both human and nonhuman performativity, when Performance Studies doesn’t seem to be offering me any kind of useful theoretical tools to do so? After a couple of years of research, I think I have finally found the medicine I was looking for, and I found it in a cocktail of Information Theory, Cybernetics, Actor-Network-Theory and the fairly recent branch of Continental Philosophy known as Object-Oriented Ontology. These bodies of work, along with a few dashes of Quantum Theory and Philosophy of Mind (for good measure), have helped me take Performance Studies to a place where it had hitherto dared not to go and find a new vibrancy in the world of objects.
Thus, and to finally kind of answer your question, I currently see performance in a very simple (yet useful) way: performance is nothing other than the process through which an object is translated into a version of itself able to be experienced by another object. By translatable object I don’t only mean a musical score, a theatre play, an idea, or even a person; rather, an object (like Graham Harman demonstrates) is anything that has an autonomous existence: from a person to a rock, from a shot of electricity fired by a neuron to a bankrupt financial institution, from a debt-ridden national economy to a melting iceberg. Performance is, in my view, that which allows for an object to manifest itself in the experience of another object by performing a double of itself. So yes, a performance is always performance and object at once. Because all objects that are given to us (or to any other objects) in experience are performances of other objects. Think about it as the whole world being a stage (isn’t that what ‘they’ say?). If the whole world is a stage, then everything in it is playing some role at some point and the only thing we (and everything else) have access to are the characters, the roles played and not the real actors playing them. Suddenly the whole world is full of life, packed with mysteries and hidden places I’d like to visit. What about you?
CP: Of course! That sounds amazing — in so far as suddenly the objects one encounters (including oneself, I assume) possess something autonomous and dynamic. One thing that makes me curious, though, is the kind of priviledge that we have traditionally built into art objects. We want to distinguish them from everyday objects, like rocks for instance. But the way you talk about performance makes me imagine little to no distinction between a Marina Abramović piece and an everyday encounter with a light post. Does art need to maintain its hierarchical plinth to be art?
JF: I’d say there are at least two different kinds of performance: the performance that brings forth an object’s double onto another object’s experience (the kind of performance I mentioned earlier) and then there is a particular second kind of performance, a performance that starts by being like the first one but that then becomes something else. It begins by translating an object into the phenomenological realm of experience but then, for reasons that, in my view, have to do with a change on the way objects engage with each other as audiences, it goes beyond the experience of the given sensual object to suddenly denounce the presence of the real object hidden behind it (even if it never really makes it known). I see it like the Brechtian Verfremdungseffekt, the defamiliarisation effect through which audiences realise the play they’re watching isn’t reality itself: they become aware of the fiction of theatre; the presence of the actor behind the character is denounced. If the first kind of performance gives us the experience of what graham Harman has called ‘time’ (by allowing us to perceive sensual objects and changes in their sensual qualities), then this second kind of performance gives us ‘space’, the sudden realisation that the real is much deeper than we had hitherto known. It is also this second kind of performance that is usually associated with the art object. However, in my view, it has nothing to do with the nature of the object being experienced but with the nature of the experience itself. If we are to truly support a flat and democratic object-oriented ontology, then we cannot divide the world into ‘normal objects ‘and ‘art objects.’ Art objects don’t exist ontologically. What exists is a particular kind of relation between objects, the aesthetic relation. The aesthetic relation can in principle exist between any two objects. If we think about it, that has already been the case since the first avant-garde. just think of Duchamp’s ready-mades: they are objects like all others; the only thing that changed was that they were placed in a context that triggered an aesthetic engagement on the part of the audience, that context being the so-called ‘art exhibition’. However we do not need art galleries to tell us when to engage with other objects aesthetically: I can be enchanted by anything around me as long as I allow it to myself. It’s almost like my teenage LSD tree-hugging trips. Didn’t ‘they’ say something about opening the doors of perception? Perhaps we are the new hippies but without their terrible sense of fashion. Anyway, I digress here. Let’s just say that in a world made of equal objects and ridden of anthropocentrism, there is no privileged ontological space for ‘art objects.’ Because if we allow the art object to be in any way privileged, then we are a step closer to getting back to anthropocentrism because if art is special, then so must be its creator (the human genius). There is no art; there is only aesthetic experience. And, yes, sometimes the light post is also present; presence is not a quality that only Marina Abramovic has.
CP: That’s what I was going to ask, actually…are there certain objects that are not vehicles of aesthetic experience?
JF: I’m not sure if I understood your question but I think all objects are capable of some kind of aesthetic experience even if perhaps we won’t ever be able to fully know how that operates. We can only speculate that, if an object can never really access another object but only relate to its sensual double, then we can call that a basic form of aesthesis, understood in its original Greek meaning of ‘perception.’ Hence, I believe that Graham Harman called aesthetics the first philosophy because the nature of all relationality between all objects is aesthetic. In what regards Abramovic’s reenactments of her own works, I’m not sure if each reenactment of the work counts as a new real object or, rather — and this is what I’m inclined to believe — as a new sensual version of a same object. We can understand reenactment very simply as a new performance (or a new translation) of the same real object, very much like every time the Chicago Symphony Orchestra plays Shubert’s Symphony No. 9, we are not listening to a new symphony but to a new ‘reading’ of it, a new interpretation, in this case Ricardo Muti’s translation of the original object. What different translations give us is a different point of view of an object without ever giving us the totality of that object (as the object will always withdraw or be protected from our full access via some sort of firewall). So, yes, Abramovic’s reenactments can give us different aspects of the original, to use your words. And those can be aspects that not even Abramovic herself is aware of as the original work as real object that it is, withdraws even from Abramovic’s full access.
CP: How you describe objects’ exchange with one another as audiences…what does that mean? Or, maybe more to the point: how does that work? Do objects have congnisance of one another?
JF: The answer to your second question comes from this previous answer: When I say objects operate as audiences when relating to sensual versions of another object, I mean that objects witness performance or translation, the reenactment of each other. This is not the same as saying that all objects are sentient and conscious of each other (humans and animals might be but I’m not sure about rocks and tree trunks). They are, however, changed by entering into relation with sensual objects just as audiences are changed when witnessing a performance. (I must note here that the relationship between performance and transformation of audiences and performers has been one of the core ideas surrounding Performance Studies since its inception as a field of academic enquiry). We can easily see that being the case: a tree enters into relation with an axe and, like an audience, it is transformed by it – gets cut, gets the shape of the axe’s blade imprinted in its own trunk – without ever having full access to the axe – it doesn’t know anything about the texture of the axe’s handle, its temperature, or its colour, for instance. Or a rock is shaped by the ocean’s waves, gets transformed, but still is not able to access the size of the ocean, the flora and fauna living in it, its saltiness, its reflection of the sunlight, or even the size of the oil spill covering it a few miles away in the Golf of Mexico. In that same way some of us sat in front of Marina Abramovic at MoMA and were transformed by it – some cried, some smiled, some felt reassurance – but nobody was able to fully access Abramovic’s ‘substance’ or, if you want, the totality of her being – her feelings, the sensations on her skin, her own sense of space, our image formed in her retina and being fired at the speed of light all the way up to her visual cortex, etc. As I see it, all relations in the world involve something or someone performing and something or something witnessing the performance, an audience.
CP: In closing, I am almost inclined to ask a sort of sentimental question; how has your day-to-day perception of the world shifted with the incorporation of this philosophy? I can’t help feeling like it might change the undercurrent of your most banal experiences…
JF: I like your last question. There’s nothing wrong with being sentimental. I’m Mediterranean, after all. I think the way I look at things has changed after having read all this object-oriented philosophers and after having been working for a while on the intersection of performance studies and object-oriented philosophy. I think I started looking at things in a different way… I think perhaps to try to ‘catch them’, to try to have a glimpse of what they’ve been hiding. It’s actually hilarious when I find myself sneakingly looking at things like if they came from another planet. It can be a sign of madness but I like to think it is a sign of a rediscovered fascination with everything around me, with the enchanting side of everyday objects. It makes the world suddenly full of stuff waiting to be rediscovered and experienced in different manners. Like every stone hides a treasure or something like that. Call me a romantic, it’s OK.