March 31, 2010

A short video regarding HOSPITALITY 2: Gradually This Overview


A short video regarding HOSPITALITY 2.

HOSPITALITY 2: Gradually This Overview
Installation / Performance
April 23 – May 16, 2010

Wednesdays & Thursdays: 12pm - 6pm
Fridays: 12pm - 9pm
Saturdays & Sundays: 12pm - 5pm

Performance: April 28, 7pm
Artist talk: May 2, 3pm
Finissage/performance: May 14, 5pm

At Articule
262 Fairmount O.
Montreal, QC

Feel free to drop by any time or make an appointment at or 514-284-3113


March 25, 2010

Gilles Deleuze Quote


Intuition is neither a feeling, an inspiration nor a disorderly sympathy but a fully developed method.

- Gilles Deleuze, Bergsonism, page 13


March 23, 2010

Wolfgang Tillmans quote


What I’m interest in is happiness with a full awareness of the tragedy of life, the potential tragedy that lurks around every corner and the tragedy that actually is life.

– Wolfgang Tillmans


March 20, 2010

Toast, Coffee, Painting



Bread is put into a toaster. Before it goes into the toaster it is bread, after toast. The bread is gone, of course only transformed, but perhaps now something less fresh, more burnt, stands in its place, at any moment ready to crumble. Of course, from the opposite angle, we could say that unappetizing, stale bread has, quite rapidly, been turned into something delicious. What might have been thrown out, once again, being put to good use.

Might something similar be occurring to or within these works, a transformation at times verging on the accidental. A slice of toast cast in bronze suggests a process of transformation that has been fixed, a monument to daily ritual both banal and resonant, and in many of these works we witness a process of self-questioning – doing, undoing and re-doing – that has also been fixed in time and space.


You are in the studio, it is morning, a coffee in one hand, perhaps a cigarette in the other. You’re wandering around the studio, looking out the window, wondering about various random things, about the next move, absent-mindedly placing the coffee cup down, picking it up again, noticing that the bottom of the cup has left a ring, a stain. The stain is a trace of this aimless moment, repeated over and over again, as if into infinity.

The still rising sun shines sharply through the studio window. Each possible work, hung temporarily to gain some perspective, scattered underfoot and propped up in corners, all detritus from this never-ending conversation (but a conversation with what exactly) can be seen somehow differently in this new morning light. All the intermittent struggles from the days and weeks and months before, of trying to figure out how and why and what to make, might – for at least a few hours – be washed away. It is morning and all you have is the work in front of you, without explanation, saying only what it chooses to say in that exact moment.


Some of these works make use of things leftover or cast aside from the process of painting. Or processes, activities – repetitive, obsessive – that fill the time before or after painting or, temporarily, instead. To make a better meal of the leftovers then the one you had originally cooked.


I wrote: “While still in art school, all artists should take mandatory courses in humility.”

Justin wrote back: “If you teach the humility class, I can be a guest on occasion, showing up with nothing to say, stuttering and crying. If I did it often though, I would probably stop crying and feel comfortable saying nothing, maybe even pretend that nobody was there.”

In this tone there is something that gets to the underlying spirit of these works better than anything I have been able to write. These works do express a kind of humility in the face of their own making. But I believe, at the same time, they are also constantly searching for reasons to push beyond themselves, reasons to take themselves apart one more, one last, time. And new ways to put it all – roughly, tenderly – back together.

(This text is about the work of Justin Stephens whose website can be found here.)


March 17, 2010

A book on logic by Raymond Smullyan


There exists a book on logic by Raymond Smullyan entitled What Is The Title Of This Book? Question: "What is the title of this book?" Answer: What Is The Title Of This Book?


March 14, 2010

On Feral Trade


Coffee from El Salvador, fresh sweets and rice cookers from Iran, grappa from Croatia, Cube-Cola from the U.K., mountain-grown antidepressants from Bulgaria – the list has an almost Borgesian randomness to it, begging the question: what system or situation could possibly bring such a diverse selection of items together. And yet these are in fact the products currently travelling around the world in small quantities as part of “a public experiment trading goods over social networks” that goes by the name Feral Trade.

In an age in which the term ‘Globalization’ brings to mind some of the most intense acts of corporate greed and malfeasance imaginable, the humble scale of global exchange posited by Feral Trade feels almost moving in it’s pursuit of simple human-level exchange. It started in 2003 when British-based Australian artist Kate Rich was looking for good coffee to import to the Cube Bar, part of the Cube Microplex Cinema Co-op in Bristol, and felt dissatisfied with the condescending and righteous tone in which so many of the Fair Trade brands promoted themselves. Instead she decided to directly contact the Sociedad Cooperative de Cafecultores Nonualcos in San Pedro Nonualco El Salvador and brought over 30kg of coffee herself, choosing the word ‘feral’ because it evoked a process ‘that is wilfully wild (as in pigeon) as opposed to romantically or nature-wild (as in wolf),’ a process of taking matters into ones own hands.

As this ‘public experiment’ slowly (and eccentrically) continues to grow, each transaction is documented in minute detail on the Feral Trade website ( Friends and friends of friends conduct the imports, often in their luggage. The fact that the website personally names each individual involved in these transactions feels somehow contrary to how we normally think of ‘international trade.’ It’s almost as if the label at the supermarket were to list the names of everyone involved bringing the product to the shelf. And yet, if we allow ourselves a certain imaginative leap, it also posits a possible world in which supermarkets might no longer exist, where if you needed something from, let’s say, Bulgaria you could simply call a friend who happened to be going to Bulgaria and she’d bring some back for you. The fact that such imaginative scenarios are conjured up not through fiction but though actual, real world transactions makes them all that much more alluring.

In 1972 Joseph Beuys set up the Organization for Direct Democracy Through Referendum at Documenta 5. The project consisted of an information office at which Beuys sat (for 100 days, the entirety of Documenta) and tried to convince whoever dropped by about the merits and necessity of direct democracy. However, as provocative and groundbreaking as it was at the time, that table (and the discussions that surrounded it) was only a place for the promotion of democracy by referendum. Over the course of the Documenta 5 no actual ‘democracy by referendum’ took place.

If we compare this with Feral Trade we might notice that Kate Rich is conducting a more concrete experiment into what things might look like if one of the main social components in our lives – international trade – was conducted not by governments and corporations but rather though social networks, by the people we knew and knew of. The experiment is of course small but nonetheless can – like all good art – suggest many pathways and possibilities for the future. It is what happens when, instead of accepting a situation the way it is (i.e. the condescending manner in which Fair Trade coffee sometimes presents itself) we consider what other options might be available. In this, it offers up a small but potent lesson in how we might live more wilfully and wildly, and how the options available are never quite as limited as we might first think.

(Another quite good text, Feral Labelling by Femke Snelting, can be found here.)


March 13, 2010

Short excerpt from the interview to be found directly below.


Something I often notice in critical theory is how much easier it is to identify and brilliantly analyze the many problems of the world than it is to propose anything resembling solutions. Analysis of problems seem accurate and convincing (and depressing) while proposed solutions often seem so weak and ineffective in comparison. I often wonder if this is a problem with the world or actually a more schematic problem that has to do with almost mythological aspects of language. How writing something negative and apocalyptic seems so much more compelling than writing something civil or, for example, about having more community meetings. Adam Phillips writes: “the sane person sees life as a novel where the bad guys get all the best lines.”

Therefore, I don’t know if it’s actually possible to wrest any given nation state away from the corporate agenda. It seems that nation states, one by one, fall prey to right wing governments that, in the end, are little more than lapdogs for the agency of global capital. What kind of activism would be required to have different governments? And then also the problem that such a project seems notably unexciting. A lot of really hard work and the results are only civic, difficult to make such endeavours seem romantic or exciting.

[The rest of the interview can be found here.]


March 9, 2010

Real Dirty Ethics: An Interview With Mika Hannula


[An edited version of this interview was first published in C Magazine #93.]

I first encountered the writings of Finish curator, teacher and art critic Mika Hannula in 2001 in a bookstore in the basement of Kulturhuset, Stockholm. The actual reason I discovered his writing was perhaps less than spectacular: the only English book in the theory section was his book Why Do I Like Rock Music? - Theoretical Discourse on Contemporary Visual Art and Culture and very simply the title caught my attention. However, right from the first page I was hooked. One passage, in a piece about Donald Kuspit, has somehow stayed with me:

It seems that the core of the contradictions, and the very core of his negativity is the notion that Kuspit […] really wants to change the world. His cynicism goes sky high as he has increasingly realized that this is not achievable through art, whether it be avant-garde or another type. Thus, art has lost its weight and meaning. But the fact that art is not capable of changing the main structures of western societies, is not, contrary to what Kuspit believes, something negative. The political system of western representative democracies is based on certain rules in which all equal citizens can participate. It is a vulgar appeal against these principles that through art, not through democratic rules, the whole system should or could be altered.

At that time Kuspit-style negativity was a position I perhaps over-related to and seeing it defeated with such a straightforward, civic-minded argument struck me as almost audacious, somehow deeply contrary to the manner politics were most frequently discussed in art and critical theory.

Since then I have devoured everything I could find by Hannula. His writings always circle around the same vivid questions - he is certainly not shy to push his central points and perspective - but nonetheless do so with an energy and lightness I would even describe as contagious. That ethics and the necessity of an open encounter with the other are central to any artistic undertaking, and that this process should be ignited from a situated position that is transparent but never rigid, is a thematic never far from the core of his writings.

The following interview took place via email some time in 2007. An abbreviated version of this interview was originally published in C Magazine.

Jacob Wren: So I thought I would begin with what is perhaps a naïve question. One of the things that interests me most about your writing is the very specific way you deal with questions of ethics. And I was wondering if you think there is any implicit connection between ethics and visual art and if so what might such a connection might be.

Mika Hannula: Yes, the reason why I deal with ethical questions is a rather simple one. It is kind of backbone to anything and everything I have been interested since, well, since being able to articulate somewhat what I want and what I feel important enough to deal and confront with. Thus, I am actually classical educated philosopher of ethics, specialized in Aristotelian ethics of virtue, or more precisely, contemporary readings of and with it.

That said, I can't say I see any specific relationship between ethics and visual arts, besides the basic fact that all ethics is about how we manage to negotiate our ways of being-in-the-world, and therefore, when meaningful, visual art is connected and situated in our daily lives.

I can turn the question around a bit, and perhaps you can even get a proper answer. I think one of the main openings with the relationship of ethical questioning in connection to visual arts is that, at least in those areas that I am active at, visual arts proves to be a field in which there is still room for activities that do not have an instant price-tag attached to them, and activities that don’t need to produce a product. In other words, the reason I am active in the field of visual art is precisely because of this: there are ways and means to shape and shake out alternative ways of thinking through who we are, where we are and how we are where we are.

JW: Your specific approach to ethics has many aspects I find counter-intuitive: focusing on how we can be open to an encounter with another person or group and how this openness is only meaningful if it is strongly situated in one’s own history and point of view. You also often focus on the need to take a stand, and the fact that taking a stand is not in contradiction with an ability to meet with the world in an open manner. This way of thinking about ethics seems quite different to me from the more traditional ethical position which concerned with ‘doing the right thing.’ Would you agree with this (obviously simplified) characterization of you work? In the end is the purpose of such openness mainly for ‘the right thing’ to emerge or would you say such situated openness is also a kind of ethical end in itself?

MH: Your short description is fine, and thanks for that, and thanks for also pointing out a clear difference between an approach within ethics of trying to figure out the "right thing" and a version of situated ethics that I, for example, try to argue for.

The difference from my, or our side, as in critical hermeneutics a la Vattimo and others, is not that there is no truth or no “right thing”. The point I try to make is that chasing this “right thing” is not helpful, and can be very dangerously counter-productive in sites and situations within which the protagonists do not share the same common ground or positions.

Or, if you allow me trace some steps sideways, instead of an illusion of an extensive common ground (or our ability to achieve it a la Habermas), this type of thinking starts from the presupposition that in any site or situation, there are always and continuously present conflictual views of the same event and reality. Thus, if and when reality is not one, and can't be forced into a box of one without harsh structural violence, we exist in sites and situations where there are competing, plural versions of realities. Versions that collide and crash, but also caress and kiss.

And yes, in this kind of a situation, who has got it right is not really helpful at all. Instead, it is about how to deal with differences, and differences that stand out and are respected and cherished, and not differences that are forced to be ironed out. It is about how to deal with uncertainties and complexities both within yourself and your surroundings. It is a never-ending process. It is, at its best, about how to move towards elaborated ways of relating to one another - and to do it so that it comes as close as possible to the idea of both a loving conflict and a reasonable disagreement.

And yes, not to forget. All this is not about a cynical or relativist position. Instead, a loving conflict and reasonable disagreement is only even potentially possible to get closer to if each participant speaks from a committed and situated point of view - that is, situated self not as a ready-made model but a commitment to a view which comes from somewhere but which is constantly re-made during the processes it goes through.

But, a question to you. Why is the idea of ethics as a process of trying to respect and cherish differences, as in the process of difference speaking to difference, counter-intuitive to you?

JW: Perhaps counter-intuitive is the wrong word. I was only thinking that in an encounter of ‘difference speaking to difference’ there is no guarantee the results will be ethical, there is always the possibility it could turn bad, that misunderstandings will outweigh communication, that potential difficulties will dominate the experience. And thinking of such a highly contingent space as the true sight for ethics is not the first thing that comes to mind when I hear the word. The first thing that comes to mind, probably only a cliché, is a kind of step by step analysis of what to do in certain situations which might prove ethically difficult or are ethical conundrums.

MH: See, you need to up-date your version of ethics - but do not try to do from the internet.

Seriously speaking, the chance, or often actually the necessity, of a failure in ethical confrontation and ethics of meetings is very much the core of the point I am struggling to make. However, as always, it is not a struggle or conflict without a past, presence and a future. And it is not a site without certain clear presuppositions - and the one that must be noted is that for any kind of ethical confrontation to be meaningful, it must be so orchestrated that each participant agrees to follow and respect the rule of non-violence.

Here, again, we get to "real" dirty ethics. Because here the question is: what is violence?

Not only talking about hitting someone with a stick (remember the movie Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence with David Bowie as a British soldier?), but about other nuances of violence: structural and hidden ones.

And yes, this brings up the point of the inherently powerful and potential possibility of dealing with these confrontations with the means and within the field of contemporary art. A field within which I believe we must have ability and courage to get closer and to confront views and positions that we do not agree with, and which we fail to see as interesting.

Thus, the task for contemporary visual art is to question and to eventualize. To put the finger where it hurts. Not by shouting, but by luring those who are next to each other, but currently do everything not to notice each other, to confront and discuss.

What am I talking about? I am talking about differences. Differences in political views, differences in takes on human rights, differences in taste, in quality of what we do when we do what we do, I am talking about tolerance and civil courage. I am talking about love hate fear and hope.

JW: Maybe this would be a good time to ask you about the ‘Rape Park’ project.

MH: Rape Park, yes. Obviously, the starting point is the concept of a rape park, which assumingly exists in any city of a certain size. It is a park through which the inhabitants of the city “know” that you are not supposed to go through – a park in which a lot of violence and unfortunately also rapes are concentrated.

For us, it is a project that we have now started to focus on at the Academy of

Fine Arts, Helsinki. Us as in me, a professor for Art in Public Space, and Veronica Wiman, a curator from Stockholm with a strong feminist background. The park in question is a strange one. It is in the very middle of Helsinki, just behind the main railway station. It is not a big park, and most of its corners are rather ok lit - also in the night time. However, it is the Rape Park in Helsinki, a site where disgusting crimes have happened – and their numbers are a bit increasing.

The idea is very simple. We will highlight this particular site. It is we as with a group of 10 MA level students from the Academy. We want to use the benefits that we have as people working through the arts. The kind of diplomatic status you gain to get access to information not often open for “normal” citizens, and the expectation and often a fact that we are rather harmless.

Thus, the idea is to think through what this site is. Obviously, a whole load of issues are tangled together. We will think through the role and possibility of visual arts in public space, we will address the growing feeling of fear even in Helsinki (private guards and a whole lot of surveillance cameras), and we will look into how this site has been used for demonstrations, and also how the police relate to it.

The task is, at its core, three fold. Use this opportunity to seriously question the idea of bringing any kind of art into a public space such as this park. It is to think through the whole set-up of what it means once we leave the white cube. We actually have only one pre-set limitation. There will be no exhibition at the end. There will be something at the end of next May, but what that is, is still completely open.

Secondly, it is to generate a platform for not only us, but for professionals dealing with the park (from health care to urban planners to police), to bring them together. It is not about bridging gaps, but making these different situations and the people working in them aware of the different co-existing realities and approaches in it. Thirdly, the idea is to raise the question: to whom does the city space belong? This is highly relevant in Helsinki where the city government has since 10 years followed a full-blown fascist ideology of non-tolerance to graffiti and posters. And yes, surprise surprise, it is a city that is as clean of them as it gets. But yes, at the same time commercial messages have launched their reach even further into the public sphere. The question is how to generate space in the public real that is not about profit making, but about something else.

So far, we have just started. We have invited a policeman to discuss this, a priest working at the area, a lawyer for attacked women, and a feminist activist. I believe there are a lot of possibilities in this project. The positive side is that in a social democratic Hell like Helsinki, it is possible to reach out and touch almost anybody in the society. Thus, you have a connection. The problem is how to get each person committed, and how to make this project run, not for a year, but for 5 years.

And just to add a short comment. We are by no means the pioneers of this. A lot of great work in this field has been done in Europe at the Environmental Art department at the Glasgow School of Art, an Academy that we often collaborate with.

JW: Last time we spoke in person you said something that really struck me: that what we needed was not less, but more Nation States. I wondered if you could say a bit about this idea.

MH: Yes, this is my claim. We need more of Nation State Cultural Policy. A provocative statement, which is productive because its leads to so many different paths – some of them which I want to address, and some of them not.

The paths I want to pursue with it are at least three interwoven ones. I do want to question the neo-liberal dogma that less state is always and anywhere better. I want to argue, instead of this all-encompassing ideology of privatization, that many parts of our daily lives are much too important to leave only for the market forces to decide and run. In other words, there must be spaces and time in our realities within which we can live and reflect without being forced into products with price tags and last sale dates.

The other implication is to think through the problems of state cultural policies, for example, in Finland. Needless to say, there is much to wish for in how the state conducts its policy. However, the point that it is now done rather conservatively and without enough focus on quality, just quantity, does not mean it cannot be done better. And better as in more courage for experiments and risks, for challenges and collisions of opinions, more of generating platforms for those loving and caring conflicts.

The third element is a more abstract discourse that annoys me from most of my friends and colleagues. With our age of globalized this and that, there seems to be a naive belief that nation-states have no role or no weight anymore. True and blue, its reigns have lessened, and a great deal of what matters to us (economy, for example, or ecological problems) is out of its reach as a single entity within closed borders. But then again, so many basic things in our daily lives are still controlled and constructed within a given particular place and site, a particular singularity of a situation. To put it simply: all “good” things about globalization are not bound to a fixed physical locality, whereas all “bad” things, such as unemployment, ecological catastrophe, alienation, etc are not issues that travel and cannot be moved to a better and cheaper place.

And yes, unless we - any society - is able to take a serious look at how it wants to take care of those who are less well off, and to generate potentialities of second and third chances, I think we are in the long run in deep trouble. This is not a sign of Mother Theresa symptom, just an argument based on plain self-interest and self-defense.

And yes, a counter question. Looking from your site and background, does what I just said make me sound like another bleeding liberal with no sense of reality?

JW: Something I often notice in critical theory is how much easier it is to identify and brilliantly analyze the many problems of the world than it is to propose anything resembling solutions. Analysis of problems seem accurate and convincing (and depressing) while proposed solutions often seem so weak and ineffective in comparison. I often wonder if this is a problem with the world or actually a more schematic problem that has to do with almost mythological aspects of language. How writing something negative and apocalyptic seems so much more compelling than writing something civil or, for example, about having more community meetings. Adam Phillips writes: “the sane person sees life as a novel where the bad guys get all the best lines.”

Therefore, I don’t know if it’s actually possible to wrest any given nation state away from the corporate agenda. It seems that nation states, one by one, fall prey to right wing governments that, in the end, are little more than lapdogs for the agency of global capital. What kind of activism would be required to have different governments? And then also the problem that such a project seems notably unexciting. A lot of really hard work and the results are only civic, difficult to make such endeavours seem romantic or exciting.

I do think in this respect Scandinavia is an interesting case. It’s one of the few places in the world that has a reputation of having governments that represent a fairly effective vision of social democracy. In Stockholm I read a t-shirt, I suspect it was an artist project, that read ‘Sweden frightens me, everything is so well organized and it actually works.’ My first thought on reading your last answer wasn’t that it was ‘bleeding liberal’ but that it was somehow particularly Scandinavian. There is a story circulating, I don’t know if it is true, that Iceland plans to have switched all cars over to hydrogen by the year 2007. This would be an example of the nation state taking positive action and I find it unimaginable that something similar might happen in Canada. Would you agree there is something inherently Scandinavian in your position. If so how would you characterize it?

MH: Yes, of course it is as Scandinavian or Nordic as possible. Quoting a classical Björk song: "Organizing freedom, how Scandinavian of me."

I come from a certain background, and speak from a certain position. However, none of these are solid as rock – they are contested and constructed. And they are demanding in all possible ways.

First of all, I am not saying that the Scandinavian model is the dream come true. I am not selling it. On the contrary, I am more interested in showing the hypocrisy behind it. As in the case of Iceland, don't know about their hydro-schemes, but I do know they just started hunting down whales, and that they have huge plans of building dams for electricity in the north – on such a scale that it would damage the whole eco-system there, and the reason is to provide dead cheap electricity to French aluminium factories.

In case of Finland, it does not look that much better. Greenpeace has been criticizing, for good reasons, Finnish companies cutting down these Ur-Wald forests in the north. And yes, in Finland, domestic violence is a huge problem. Up to every fourth woman has experienced either violence, or a threat of violence, in their relationships.

But sure, there is hope. Hope that comes out of the situation in which there is still enough of a common base (not necessary values) of being so close in terms of income and social status. In other words: it is really impossible to try to be a huge rock star in these places. Volumes just don’t match.

Where does this leave us? It is our task to stay put with the boring and tacky local problems, instead of jumping on the next helicopter. There are never any solutions, just processes of taking part in managing the mess. But I can guarantee that if you think things look bad now in Finland or in Canada, there are always ways of making it an even bigger mess.

Thus, it is about underlining the fact that not everything must be funny, sexy and sellable.

But why have you lost your hope in local activities and commitment?

JW: Well, I don’t know if I ever had any hope in local activities or commitment, but this might only be a personal shortcoming. I’ve never had an experience where people have tried to achieve something on a local level and met with any success or even felt they had any real ground beneath there feet upon which to stage a battle. I continuously have the feeling that all real decisions are actually being made elsewhere. Perhaps this has a lot to do with the fact that Canada is so close, and so economically dominated, by the United States.

I had the experience in the mid-nineties of a local right wing government in the province of Ontario led by Mike Harris sweeping in and more or less killing everything that had been happening in the early nineties. People protested like crazy and Harris said let them protest till the grass is completely worn away in front of the parliament buildings. Now the exact same thing is happening here on federal level.

And then, I travel a lot, and everywhere I go they’re now getting these local, right wing governments who are cutting everything. It feels to me like these governments aren’t springing up locally, that decisions are being made elsewhere that help these parties win. At the very least the political techniques which allow these parties to win are circulating like mad.

At the same time, I find your position convincing. And I think it’s important not to let the dominance of global capital ossify into paranoia. Global capital is not omnipotent. There are always fissures, cracks into which local initiative can break through and have an effect.

I also thought about bringing the discussion back around to art. Because practically all artists begin their formation in a local context, develop their position in and around other local artists who all influence each other and of course also compete with each other to a certain degree. When you find an artist you like it is almost certain that when they started out their were other interesting artists around who also had a lot to do with the art you are now looking at. However, when you have success as an artist today you are basically pulled out of the local context. You travel a lot. Perhaps you move to New York or Berlin. A significant portion of your contacts and your career, and therefore also your attention, lies outside of your former local context. For artists the local context might start to seem like little more than a place where it’s good to start out.

It might perhaps sound naïve, but it makes me wonder if there’s something artists can do in terms of re-thinking the relationship between the local and global.

MH: Yes, certainly. On a grand scale, but also very much based on ones experiences. I think the current situation demands that each of us speak and act from a position. But this position – or locality – is not only a physical element. The core argument in my and Tere Vaden's book Rock the Boat is the point of seeing a locality as an active participation into a discourse. Thus, it’s not only about where we wake up or all sleep, but about who we want to talk with, argue with, and share things with.

This highlights the necessity to activate and shape many, not just one context or site. This, on the other hand, does not mean that we should engage in every possible theme, but it does mean that each of us has to find the adequate focus for us – and that is personally, and thus, politically.

We all have the need to belong to something. And this belonging can be satisfied partly by taking part in discussions and activities that we burn for. There is never one collective, but many overlapping ones. The search is to find those people who you want to share your work and thoughts with – and then keep on keeping on with it.

This is a topic I have been talking a lot about with many colleagues and artist friends here and there and everywhere – artists like Roddy Buchanan in Glasgow, curators like Ina Blom in Oslo, and just to throw one more name into the soup, the curator Vasif Kortun from Istanbul.

But here is a question to you: To which discourses do you belong to? What are the themes and issues you want to participate and do participate in?

JW: I was thinking the other day about this interview and about how I have in many ways been trying to keep it focused on you. And, I suppose one of the reasons I have become so interested in your work is because so many of your concerns are similar to mine: I’m interested in ethics, in how ethics can sometimes be a positive force and sometimes serve as a kind of cover for something more sinister; I’m interested in how the left might re-invent itself, what philosophical or theoretical positions might underlie such a re-invention; I am interested in art, in what the ideal of art might still mean as it struggles to keep up with a contemporary world that will always be ridiculously ahead of it, and what it might mean to think of art in relation to politics and vice versa (I particularly like the Hannah Arendt quote: “The conflict between art and politics… cannot and must not be solved.”); I am interested in the intimacy that can be generated between a viewer and a work of art and how powerful that experience is and what that power might mean or how it might be re-thought. And, much like you, I have come to the conclusion that it is important to take a stand, while at the same time being open to the possibility that in one’s encounter with others one’s ideas can continue to grow and change.

It is true that I pursue most of these interests in relative isolation. Perhaps this is one of the reasons I approached you. I often work in theatre, but on the very edge of the theatre, where it begins to bleed into performance art or the more contemporary concerns of visual art. In many ways I try to use this marginalized theatre work (by which I mean marginalized within the art form of theatre) as a collaborative laboratory to explore many of these questions. At the same time, I don’t really know anyone working in theatre who shares my interests or concerns so I also try to search elsewhere. I often joke that the problem with my theatre work is that people who like theatre simply don’t like what I do, I suppose because they see it as a kind of anti-theatre, and the people who might really like my work believe (correctly) that they don’t like theatre and therefore will never come. This is of course a painful but also extremely interesting situation. Therefore, I am also interested in the fact that my position is not entirely consequent and trying to think about what kind of room there might be for paradoxes, and even bad faith, in art and political thinking.

MH: See, I managed to squeeze a truly hopeful comment from you. And yes, there is a lot of stuff that I find interesting in your approach – not the least your stoic participation within a field that you don’t really feel comfortable – or in which you don't have loads of friends within. A position that most of us – me included – would find too isolated and annoying. And yes, Hannah Arendt, one of the thinkers that most commentators fail to read productively because they look for some systematic analyses of her themes, which she, obviously, does not provide. Instead, we get a fantastic case of a human being stuck by/with loads of controversies she tries to deal with – relationships to Heidegger, to Zionism, to democratic politics and so on. There is a quote from her I can’t remember fully but it goes about like this. She said it when receiving at the end of the 60's some prize, and what she said, while giving her acceptance speech, is that it is great to receive such recognition, but quite often she would rather feel, instead of being recognized, a feeling of being welcomed. A point that very well reminds me of the Israeli artist Yael Bartana, currently living in Amsterdam, who did a brilliant work at the Istanbul Biennial in 2005 – very much about her relationship to the state of Israel and its current politics.

But let me insist on your belonging to something. Ok, not many friends with similar ambitions in the field of theatre. What about this magazine you write for? Or some other critics?

JW: Yes, of course I belong to many things and many communities. I didn’t mean to suggest that I don’t. For example there are many others working in theatre who share my interest and dedication to what now sometimes seems like an almost paradoxical connection between theatre and the contemporary world. And, though often we don’t share so many thematic concerns, we all share the intense feeling of alienation that comes from working in an art form that, in some general sense, would simply prefer we disappear. It might seem that all we share is a negative condition but in fact this particular condition has many positive and fascinating aspects. And, though I am extremely critical of the art world, I share many concerns that are prevalent in contemporary art and am trying, with great difficulty, to build bridges between my practice and many of the discourses that currently surround art, yours included. And I am a great fan of music. And I firmly align myself with the left.

But all of this in fact leads me somewhere quite different. Because as an artist I somehow consider it part of my job to break away from the pack, to search for something original, for something that no one else is doing or even thinking about. Is this an old fashioned way of thinking about art? Too individualistic or avant garde? Because somewhere I suspect that all of the art works that have moved me most fiercely were made by artists or groups that broke away from those around them and in some way re-invented their form. And along with this comes a certain understandable degree of alienation. What do you think of a conception of art that accepts, for the artist, a certain degree of originality and therefore isolation?

MH: Yes, sure, there is something to it, but what?

Brings to mind two things. The old saying: Everything new comes from something old. Meaning, for me, in this context that we need to be aware where we come from, where we are and where we might want to move towards – and this in connection to whatever we do, whatever themes we address. Thus, not hunting for that authentic moment, or that original position, which I believe you did not mean anyhow, but I think it’s really important to distance ourselves from any of that essentialistic thinking or wishing and whining.

Second anecdote, which links us back to the axis of evil of foot-loose global capitalism and spineless local politicians. Just got a re-issue of the classic Curtis Mayfield vinyl, dating, I guess from 1972-73, or so. Called simply Curtis, including such heartbreakers as Miss Black America, Move on Up and others. Got it in a DJ-store in Helsinki called Lifesaver. It is a re-issue of the original. And it cost 10 euros. Do any royalties filter back to Curtis? No idea who owns the rights for Curtom records nowadays, the label where he did his best stuff. But what I do know is that if I need a helping hand in lifting the spirits, this is where I look. This is my context. This is my discourse.

And yes, of course it is a sentimental season, very much so. Opening the fold-out album cover, I find a huge picture inside of Curtis having, assumedly, his daughter, around 3 - 4 years old, sitting on his shoulders, holding her hands around his chin. And what does this make me feel? Not quite real, but it makes me feel alive. Connected, and inspired.

But back to your question. Certainly, any creative act or person taking part in the processes of production of knowledge must be partly in the opposition, and in the margins. But I will not call it isolation. Why? Well, simply because I firmly believe that for us to do what we want to do in a meaningful and enjoyable way, we need a context, we need at least a discursive community. We need people to argue with, intellectual walls to bounce against. We need someone to talk and walk with. And no, that can't be done in isolation.

Linking back to the arts, and linking to the sentimental season, when was the last time you felt “alive” at an exhibition or a theatre piece?

JW: I was really moved by the Bas Jan Ader retrospective I saw in Rotterdam. The kind of consistency of his entire project, the mix of conceptualism with so much humour and sadness felt very consequent and human to me. Another was the show by Canadian art group B.G.L. at Mercer Union two years ago, the way they completely transformed the space had such a deep and visceral effect, the experience of not knowing how to navigate through the gallery and having to figure it out little by little.

However, it’s true that my most intense experiences with culture are with music and literature. Reading and re-reading Readers Block by David Markson, Hopeful Monsters by Nicholas Mosley or The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll by Alvaro Mutis, these books (and many others) never fail to make me feel a little bit more alive. And with music, there’s so much that has played such an overwhelming role in my life. I’ve been listening to this song over and over again: Go To Hell, Miss Rydell by Pelle Carlberg. It’s a song about phoning up a critic whose given you a bad review, a subject I relate to for obvious reasons. It’s so simple and on point. Popular music, which is so deeply intertwined with capitalism, manages to attack the essential places with so much energy and panache. Even the way Al Green hits certain notes, the way his voice bends around them, seems so much more profound than so much of what passes for contemporary art. But I’m not sure if Adorno would agree.

I often have the experience of meeting other music fans, and we start talking about records and suddenly three or four hours have gone by and all we’ve done is name records and talk about them and what we know about them and how we feel about them. These are truly some of the most excited conversations I am capable of having. And it’s strange how so much excitement can be packed into such a simple, or even simplistic, activity.

But it’s absolutely true what you say: "we need a context, we need at least a discursive community. We need people to argue with, intellectual walls to bounce against. We need someone to talk and walk with. And no, that can't be done in isolation." However, it seems to me not so easy to find, and therefore very much an ongoing process.

MH: Yes, very true. As in any site, a context in which you are active, needs to be activated on and on and on. The moment you take it for granted, it’s gone. It is very much about becoming a place, and generating situations in which we can do what we want to do - and to do it on long-term commitment, not a 3 hour project, but looking for those next great 53 years +.

But, just to conclude, and referring back to your answer about situations when you felt “alive”, I can very easily relate to them, even if I haven't myself seen or experienced them. I was not there, but I have been very close to them, next to them. Your examples, for me, show how there are, indeed, good things happening the community – and that community being a really loose abstract frame within which acts of contemporary art and culture happen.

In other words, these are the moments that we have, and they are the only ones. Because when in doubt, always reserve enough energy and time and go back to the basics, go back to the substance, back to the individual works of art and yes, talk with them, be with them, stay with them and take always something with you just in order to be able to give it away again and again.


Mark von Schlegell on Science Fiction and Criticism


It helps science fiction to have a tinge of the journalistic about it. An argumentative spirit of common-sense debate and politics should be in SF if I'm going to like it. A critical voice can be welcome. Poe (the creator) first published SF, in fact, in newspapers as hoax journalism, and he was a savagely intense critic. I came of age as a writer just before the blog and when I came to L.A. there were a number of small-budget, good, lively local magazines that had real local and international effect, particularly in contemporary art. As a critic, I could offend people and do favors, tributes, write about almost anything I wanted to in the guise of anything else and be expected to argue about it in the bar at night with other writers. I even published my own newspaper. Having been that sort of critic taught me a lot about worlds. Nevertheless it didn't lead anywhere professionally. In fact, editors grew increasingly conservative, friends died, ideas were stolen, reused, disrespected, all sorts of depressing things occurred, and the magazines all folded. I discovered how rare an opportunity I had enjoyed only later.

These days I look at it like this. For me, the only way to get at the truth is to admit I'm lying from the beginning. So if you ask me for criticism, expect a story. Science fiction helps my criticism. I often mix it in directly now. I found it adds humor, imagination, makes what is often a terrible chore done for money suddenly fun to do. Of course, this means my criticism is pretty "out there," and appears in publications of the sort rarely available to U.S. readers. But wherever they're interested in cultural criticism by trees, collaborations by time-traveling Stalinist collectives battling time-traveling fascists, fake diaries of schizophrenic eighteenth-century botanists, I'm the go-to guy.

- Mark von Schlegell

Taken from Petting the Singularity: An Interview with Mark von Schlegell which can be found here


March 7, 2010

Jacques Roubaud on haiku


Whatever the case may have been, he told me something about haiku that exerted a decisive influence on my Project, and on the dream of my novel:

- that a haiku was always (something I knew) open, implicitly extendable into a long linked poem, a renku, but that perhaps, even more so than at the start of a renga, a hokku, it was virtually infinite in the direction of the future; that is to say:

- that each haiku was the beginning of an infinite poem, in both senses of the word: a fresh start extending all preceding haiku,

- but above all, potentially and in imagination infinite as to its actual composition;

- that renku imitated this, through the conditions of change imposed by its traditional rules, just as in the potentially infinite realm of time (infinite for all practical purposes), the seasons, flowers, rainfalls, and phases of the moon change into infinity;

- that the voices of poets who share in the composition of the strophe-links of a renku are like the generations;

- And that's why (but at this point enters in my own interpretation) at least three people are necessary to have a renku, for the deepest resemblances among human beings are not always with their parents but often at times with grandparents, or farther back still;

- five is the maximum, for voice-transmissible memory never extends over more than five generations;

- the end of a haiku, a renku in short, is merely a halt in the perpetual form, a kind of death.

- Jacques Roubaud, The Great Fire of London


March 3, 2010

Hospitality goes beyond invitation...


Hospitality goes beyond invitation. With invitation we expect a guest to arrive without surprise. Hospitality requires absolute surprise. We are unprepared or prepared to be unprepared, for the unexpected arrival of any Other. Hospitality is the receiving or welcoming which has no power, protocol or law. It is an opening without the horizon of expectation where peace can be found beyond the confines of conflict.

- Marko Zlomislic

Taken from the article Conflict, Tolerance and Hospitality which can be found here.


March 1, 2010

Selected blogs written by contributors to The Resistable Demise of Michael Jackson


Marcello Carlin - The Church of Me

Robin Carmody - Sea Songs

Joshua Clover - jane dark's sugarhigh

Mark Fisher - k-punk

Dominic Fox - Poetix

Owen Hatherley - Sit Down Man, You're A Bloody Tragedy

Charles Holland - Fantastic Journal

Reid Kane - Planomenology

Steven Shaviro - The Pinocchio Theory

Alex Williams - Splintering Bone Ashes

Evan Calder Williams - Socialism and/or Barbarism


That which is absent from reality is that which is truly important


[Some lines copied out from the novel The Absent City by Ricardo Piglia:]

As soon as she walked through the bars she decided she would tell the truth. She was a madwoman who believed she was a policewoman who was forced to be hospitalized in a psychiatric clinic; and she was a policewoman trained to pretend that she was in a machine exhibited in a room in a Museum.

It was like an emotion, and yet it had a cold quality, so perhaps it was not an emotion at all.

There is only one known case in the history of the island of a man who knew two languages at the same time. His name was Bob Mulligan, and he claimed that he dreamt incomprehensible words whose meanings were transparent to him.

On the island, being fast is a category of truth.

“Look,” he said, “politicians believe scientists and scientists believe novelists. Scientists are big readers of novels, the last representatives of a nineteenth-century public, the only ones who really consider the uncertainty of reality and the form of a story. Physicists, Macedonio would say, added the quarks to the basic particle of the universe, in homage to Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. The only friend Einstein had at Princeton, his only confidant, was the novelist Herman Broch, whose books, especially The Death of Vigil, he could quote from memory. The rest of the world spends its time believing superstitions on television. The criteria of reality” the Russian said, “ has crystallized and become concentrated, and that is why they want to deactivate the machine.”

That is how the State thinks, and why the police mainly torture the poor, only the poor or the workers or the dispossessed, who you can see are darker-skinned or mesitzos, they are tortured by the police or by the military. Only in very exceptional cases have they tortured people belonging to other social classes, and these cases have always become major scandals, like when Bravo, the student, was tortured by Amoresano and Lombilla in the time of General Perón. Because when they decide to torture people of slightly higher social standing, it always leads to scandal, and in the last few years, in which the Army has acted with a homicidal and paranoid rancor, and men, women, and children belonging to distinguished spheres of society have been tortured and brutalized, everything has been denounced and become known. And even if, of course, the largest number of those killed were workers and peasants, they have also executed priests, landowners, industrialists, students, and at the end they had to retreat before international pressure, which accepts as a given that the humble from the fields, the wretched and feverish from the ghettos and the poorest neighborhoods of the city will be massacred and tortured, but reacts when intellectuals and politicians and the children of well-to-do families are treated this way. Because, in general, the latter already collaborate of their own accord and serve as an example and adapt their lives to the criteria of reality established by the State, without there being any need to torture them. The others would do the same, but they cannot because they have been leveled and cornered, and even if they wanted to and took great pains to that end, they can no longer act like model citizens.

In a way, a formula like the title "The Absent City" is the most Macedonian aspect of the novel. What I mean is that it alludes, even if it is not immediately obvious, to one of Macedonio's fundamental ideas: that which is absent from reality is that which is truly important. This idea expresses his nonpragmatic ethics, which I believe are very appropriate for our time.


Most blues are subtitled either no sense of wonder or no sense of scale


Gastr del Sol lyric:

Most blues are subtitled either no sense of wonder or no sense of scale

From this song.