The question at hand is how one might articulate a philosophy of art, which one takes to mean what can be done, and as a subset of that: what is worth doing?(1) What is art’s purchase on the world (if it has one at all and is not purely decorative (both literally and in the case of its discourses, figuratively))? Che fare?(2)
A dependency of each of these questions is: what can be thought? How can one understand the situation in which we and art find ourselves? How can we think a future? Why is this so difficult?(3) Real abstraction is real. (Fisher, Toscano, Sohn-Rethel) Technology is pharmakon. (Deleuze) It’s 2022 and the patriarchy is still on one. (Federici) 2020 in the streets was on one. (Robinson) Somewhere in all of this is a Promethean impulse. (Brassier)
In this laboratory space of art as a subset of the world, and for our purposes, art may be said to be that around which gather thinkers engaged in predominantly secondary discourses (elaborations of primary theorizations in philosophy and critical theory) on the forces that condition art, artists, and art’s production and circulation as a subset of the conditions of capitalism which condition not only social relations but what can be thought.(4) Art, to mean its objects and events as well as its institutions, can set the conditions for the staging, development, and circulation of these discourses. The exhibition of the work of art produces a public that may contribute in the social space or laboratory or temporary autonomous zone of discourse to the elaboration and development of forms of thought and forms of social being and becoming. While this is only one place where this work is done, it is uniquely open to the amateur. Take away art and lose an entire ecosystem of discourse via publication, symposium, panel, talk, etc. that welcomes new minds, new thinking into world reimagining.(5)
It it is perhaps too obvious to say that art as this lab/arena of evolving critical theory/philosophical discourse/social critique is the other side of the coin of/embedded in and part and parcel of the most unregulated Wild West freak show of a market that exists. Art, that is to say, and its institutions are not neutral. Perhaps this dialectic makes art an optimal arena for investigating and prototyping an unmaking of the world.
If we do not take the world to be given(6) then it is made, by humans,(7) and if we made it, we can unmake it and remake it.(8)
What is a world? For our purposes we can say it is a "configuration of sense”(9) of the way things are. For our purposes, it is analogous to reality/the real which we understand to be socially constituted and, of course, socially constituted as conditioned by and within the confines of capitalism. The studio, as a site for making-thinking, for a convergence of manual and intellectual labor, can be a site for the production of subjectivity(10) which is ground level of experiments in the developments of alternative configurations of sense.
So. What form might a practice take if it thinks about art in this way? One marker might be that reading and writing and exchange of ideas might form a cornerstone of studio work. Another might be that an openness to unconventional experimentation and the construction of alt-logics.(11) It is an autonomous practice yet always in relation to, in alliance with, forming webs of social relations. It issues invitations.(12)
What form might a work take that is appropriate to this project?(13) It might produce temporary but definite instantiations of anonymous/autonomous parts(14) immanent to and as assemblage. It might take the form of an open framework of scale.(15) These objects may be capable of framing or holding open space, of forming or holding a center about which a gathering might happen, of gathering unto themselves gatherings appropriate to the project.(16) These objects might be instantiated within white walls or outside of them.(17) Like developing/evolving concept/discourse, the art work is configured of parts(18) in relation that can be disassembled and reassembled. The connections between these parts is a focus. An echo of the social space of relation, discourse, and direct action that finds the assemblage-made-material in a strong formation for a particular moment. Be like water was the refrain;(19) they are dissolvable, reconfigurable as necessary. Their parts—as strong as they are lightweight(20)—consider their movement through the world in hands that are not that of the art handler but the artist herself. The works situate themselves in ways that are spatially/circumstantially opportunistic.(21)
It insists upon its mutability as well as its temporality, its certain dissolution. It insists upon its definite indefiniteness, its indefinite definiteness. 10000 monuments to the end of the world. 10000 monuments for the day after the end of the world. Remember the future.
In a perversion of the hyper-elastic metaphoric sphere Borges traces from Hermes Trismegistus through Bruno, Pascal, Aquinas, etc.(22) we could imagine a socially constructed figurative space whose center is everywhere but whose circumference is nowhere(23). ; ) A center around which to gather. Resolutely not absolute nor infinite nor eternal,(24) it imagines instead its repeated construction and reconstruction of its form and structure in new configurations.
1. A follow up question whose address may exceed the word count of this particular exercise is how might one go about doing that which is worth doing.
2. What to do or what is to be done? We quote Arte Povera artist Mario Merz’s work quoting Lenin in a speech from 1902 which was republished in Italy in 1968 (the year that the Merz sculpture was made). According to Ruth Burgon, Lenin borrowed ‘what is to be done?’ from an 1863 socialist novel by Nikolay Chernyshevsky which Burgon writes, “was written from a position in which art is seen as the means of revealing and better understanding, but not transcending, reality.” Although Merz admitted to reading the pamphlet, he thought of it more in terms of children asking the question when at play, and argued that it was a question he asked of himself as an artist in a time of uncertain future. https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/merz-che-fare-ar00598
3. Some resources for thinking about this include Mark Fisher’s last lectures in Post-Capitalist Desire and the new book In the mind but not from there edited by Gean Moreno.
4. Alberto Toscano’s “The Open Secret of Real Abstraction,” the aforementioned Fisher, and Alfred Sohn-Rethel’s Intellectual and Manual Labor.
5. Pointing here to October, Mute, Afterall, Urbanomic, public programs at ICA, Serpentine, to name a few.
6. As by god, say.
7. Note my longstanding interest in the more idiosyncratic individual efforts at understanding the world and formulating a practical system in response, from Marcilio Ficino, Giordano Bruno to Emma Kunz, Hilma af Klint, Paul Laffoley, etc.
8. This is Ray Brassier when asked to summarize his thoughts on prometheanism. Mechanic Unconscious podcast at around :38 through :42 or so. https://podcasts.apple.com/pl/podcast/ray-brassier-brassier-unbound/id1234384916?i=1000554678745
9. This is Reza Negarastani’s phrase.
10. Mark Fisher on this in Post-Capitalist Desire.
11. see Joan Retallack’s essay, ‘The Experimental Feminine.” https://www.asu.edu/pipercwcenter/how2journal/vol_3_no_1/inconference/retallackexperfem.html
12. Literally, figuratively.
13. Shall it also be noted what is not nor would not find appropriate to its concerns: a pointing finger, an illuminated sign, a polemic, a narration, a testimony, a prop, a representation.
14. What’s a part when everything is one thing. What’s a whole when every thing is an irreducible whatever singularity. Talk about composites, about machines, about assemblages, about networks. The rhizome lives. Underground connections bring spring shoots.
15. If a monument is a semi-permanent marker of power, the word itself derives from roots in calling to mind or re-minding. The monument marks a past to enforce a present and to frame a future. But the Latin moneo, monere is also “to advise or to warn.” The decomposable object of monumental scale, then as threat to monument and its purpose reinforcing the edifices of or the will to the permanence of power. This, instead, a monument for that which is to come, that can be produced collectively, piece by piece. And remade again in re-minding. The re-minding of the world of the real, of that which can be thought. A promise and a threat, I always hear in my head. Also it is a joke with an audience of precisely one.
16. Hold it open. Or forge openings into the space of the virtual. Hold it together. Make the opening. Of parts. Make the connections. Build it up. Hold it together. Keep it open. Flip it. Invert it. Break it down. Build it up again. ALSO: gathering as both literal and figurative.
17. There is work to be done in both spaces. But for our purposes, imagining these assemblages in and for a nomadic, near future.
18. Parts make a whole. Attend to the parts. Every whole is an assemblage of parts. TK Many wholes are not wholes then. Attend to the parts as autonomous.
19. The grainy video of Bruce Lee’s recommendation widely circulated on a handful of Telegram channels in summer of 2020.
20. Industrially produced and hand forged or cut.
21. To be distinguished from the rainbow of site-specificity, site-responsiveness, site awareness, etcetera. It doesn’t *depend for support on anything but will take advantage of available support, suspension, circumstance. For years, a rule of the practice was to be free standing—no walls, no plinths. And pack it in, pack it out.
23. …echos capitalism.
24. The only constant is change. Delta is an appropriate symbol. See also Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower. See also oceanside cliffs.