Page 1


André Tehrani Popular Disorder

Page 6: The Lemons Are Real by Natasha Marie Llorens Page 24: Codes, Weeds, Barriers by Anthea Buys André Tehrani (b. 1980 in Tønsberg, Norway) lives and works in Brussels, Belgium and Stockholm, Sweden. Please visit for more info. This publication is a double catalogue for the solo exhibitions Idiot Cards For a Bygone Revolt and Lost Allusions presented at the Norwegian galleries NoPlace (Oslo) and Entrée (Bergen) in October–December 2013.


Below: Come Taste the End (Industrial Painting), 2013, detail. Latex based household paint on reverse side of primed canvas. 75 x 6800 cm.

Opposite page: Come Taste the End (Industrial Painting), 2013, Latex based household paint on reverse side of primed canvas. 75 x 6800 cm.

Patched together with the kind assistance of Sus Soddu and Ellen Utterstrรถm.

Mounted on wall console in spraypainted iron.



Natasha Marie Llorens (b.1983, Marseille) is an independent curator and writer based in New York. Recent curatorial projects include “The Echo of An Address,” a performative lecture in collaboration with Kerry Downey at Columbia University, in New York, and “A study of interruptions,” an exhibition at Ramapo College, in New Jersey. Her academic research is focused on post-minimalist art, human rights discourse, and feminism.

Natasha Marie Llorens



1 gallery_byebyebadman.html

The lemons aren’t part of the picture, they’re real lemons, nailed on because it was photographed on the wall – the photographer didn’t have a rostrum camera. It ties in with the lyrics of ‘Bye Bye Badman’, to do with the Paris student uprisings in May ‘68. Me and Ian saw a documentary on it and liked the clothes: there was a guy chucking stones, with a really nice jacket and desert boots. The students used to suck on lemons to nullify the effects of tear gas. That’s why the tricolor’s there. John Squire, speaking to Select Magazine, November 1997


ction painting and acid. The sliced lemons in question were nailed to a faux-abstract-expressionist canvas, and then were photographed as the cover art for The Stone Roses’ first album in April 1989.1 The Stone Roses were an English rock band from Manchester. Formed in 1983, they were important in what became known as the Madchester scene, active from the late 1980s until the early 1990s. Typical Mancunian bands of the time fused acid house rhythms with a pop sensibility. Lead guitarist John Squire articulated the band’s aesthetic decisions clearly and without apparent irony – the lemons are real because someone didn’t bring the right sort of camera. The band was trying to tie the cover art to the lyrics of one of the album’s songs and, by extension, to the memory of collective determination and solidarity in the face of police assault during the May events in France in 1968. The French flag slapped on the left side of the record cover, like a hiking-trail marker, was not specific enough to signify resistance on its own. The Stone Roses needed lemons. In Bye Bye Badman, Ian Brown sings, Choke me smoke the air / In this citrus sucking sunshine / I don’t care you’re not all there. The fact is that sucking on lemons is more effective as an emblem of resistance than a protest strategy. Breathing air through cloth soaked in vinegar or citric acid neutralizes some of the chemicals in tear gas, but the effect doesn’t last long. The layers of history are, however, slippery with photo emulsion when it comes to May ’68. All The Stone Roses needed from those riots was the look of rejecting authority. They reached for the clothes, the anger, and the symbolism. They left the political subtext and the intricacies of class conflict, along with the reverberating tensions of failed colonialism that haunted those Parisian streets. André Tehrani’s work from 2013, Come Taste the End (Industrial Painting), borrows, in turn, the Stone Roses’ tricolor brushstrokes. Red, white and blue bands march repeatedly along the side of a roll of canvas cloth. Tehrani abstracts further still the Stone Roses’ abstraction of resistance. He means to draw attention to the empty movement of signs from one surface in history to another, but this movement is perhaps not as empty as he, or John Squire, would have us believe. Both are 7

playing with the visual codes of politics, resistance, and refusal. Both draw on the sexy urgency of twenty-somethings lifting the paving stones of Paris to find social equity and freedom from a rigidly structured hierarchical society. At the same time, both want something from this history and it is too easy to say that they only want the clothes, the style of the moment emptied of its anger and desire. There is, quite literally, more to Tehrani’s work than an inventory of the aesthetic echoes of May 1968. Come Taste the End (Industrial Painting) nods towards the Stone Roses, but it is primarily a citation of the Situationist International painter and scientist Giuseppe Pinot-Gallizio. Tehrani’s roll of canvas has the exact measurements of one of Gallizio’s earliest socalled industrial paintings, which were sheets of canvas coated with liquid chemical resins and then splashed with explosive powders, pure pigments and essential oils made from herbs.2 The canvases were left in Gallizio’s basement laboratory near the water boiler, and the combination of chemicals with heat often resulted in unpredictable reactions and abstract visual effects. Gallizio was fascinated by the Surrealist notion of automatic writing and drawing, or the discovery of freedom through a forced suppression of intention and the abandonment of rational language. His project was conceptualized as an extension of this gesture, drawing out ‘primitive’ forms through the intuitive application of natural and chemical materials.3 The assembly line became the choice instrument of manufacturing as Europe bent itself to the task of modernization and Gallizio reproduced it, critically, as an inversion of itself. His assembly line was a combination of mechanical gestures and human improvisation whose aim was to produce chaos, or chemical and visual instability, instead of uniformity and predictability in its products. Gallizio’s political project, if there was one articulated as such, was close to that of the destructive impulse latent in early surrealism, an impulse towards desire and accident that veered away from ideology and propaganda. For this reason, Situationist International leading figure Guy Debord ultimately deemed Gallizio’s project incompatible with that of the SI. According to Debord, the SI was moving toward the street and Gallizio was moving toward the gallery. In June of 1963, at the end of Gallizio’s involvement with the SI, Debord paid a final tribute to the Italian and to his critique of mass-production with a series of works entitled Directives. These were graffiti inspired slogans hand-painted onto white canvas, with one exception. The phrase “Abolition du travail aliéné” (Abolition of alienated labor) was painted in white lettering on a scrap of Gallizio’s colorful industrial painting.4 The Directives was shown at an exhibition at the Exi Gallery in Odense, Denmark, which was scheduled to coincide with an important anti-nuclear demonstration. Debord intended the works to function as he titled them – as directives for SI activists.5 The work also bears a striking visual resemblance to the white lettering over an 8

2 Nicola Pezolet, “The Cavern of Antimatter: Giuseppe Pinot-Gallizio and the Technological Imaginary of the Early Situationist International”, Grey Room, Winter 2010, No. 38, 68. 3 Pezolet, “The Cavern of Antimatter”, 69. 4 abolition.gif 5 Pezolet, “The Cavern of Antimatter”, 72. 6 Greil Marcus, Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1989).

abstract ground used by the Stone Roses for their cover art two and half decades later, although Squire does not mention the coincidence in his list of borrowed effects. The painting thus moves across a wide swath of 20th century history – a basement laboratory in Italy, a gallery in Paris, an exhibition-cum-protest in Scandinavia. The painting, in the late 1980s, haunts the image on the Stone Roses’ debut album, reproduced on thousands of record covers and spread throughout the world in record stores, basement clubs and garages. Greil Marcus wrote a very popular book about, among other things, the conceptual links between the SI and musical subcultures in the 1970s and 1980s.6 Marcus argues that punk and the subgenres it fostered inherited the drive to create spaces for autonomous experience, to make space for freedom of expression outside the profit machine. Spaces for anger and desire. He points out that capitalism benefited tremendously from these experiments in autonomy. Rebellious youth culture very quickly became one of its most productive markets. Wellorchestrated provocation was, and is, enormously lucrative. Revolution has, according to Marcus, been transformed into an icon for freedom, an icon that can be used to sell almost anything. Self-indulgence sells, true, whether what is being indulged is mindless anger or mindless desire. But Gallizio’s industrial painting is more complicated than mindlessness, which is why the Stone Roses reached for it (consciously or not) as the background for their first album cover. It is impossible to ignore the way capitalism uses pictures against themselves, but it’s equally impossible to account for the hold both the pictures and narratives that surround them have on the collective imaginations of several preceding generations of artists. Tehrani, in his turn, reduces the symbols of SI, May 1968, and their echoes in the music scene decades later to their own implicit silences. He is looking for the thing, the lemons, and the acid that cuts through the bullshit. There is a cynicism in Tehrani’s distillation, but there is also, I think, the same impulse to parse the evidence until the “real” emerges that John Squire intuitively acted upon and that the like-minded retrophiles of Factory Records tried to capture with their re-purposing of May ’68 aesthetics to sell records. Tehrani’s interest in the SI’s visual detritus is its lilting promise of authentic resistance in the face of a ballooning, impersonal, and corporate hegemony. He is tracing the contours of our wish that refusal will be acknowledged as such. He is attuned to our persistent collective yearning despite capitalism’s absorption of it. Howls and silences The political legacy of the SI is contested, to say the least. As T.J. Clark and Donald Nicholson-Smith sardonically point out, the movement is either maligned as “an art organization that strayed belatedly into ‘art politics,’” or it seen as a pseudopolitical organization whose politics were “‘subjectivist,’ or hyper-Surrealist, propelled by a utopian notion of a new ‘politics 9

Extracts from the series Storyboard (Hurlements en faveur de Sade), 2011.


Powdered charcoal on paper. Complete series consists of 28 drawings. 21 x 29,7 cm.


of everyday life’ that can be reduced to a handful of ’68 graffiti: ‘Take your desires for reality,’ ‘Boredom is always counterrevolutionary,’ etc.” 7 Clark and Nicholson-Smith argue that the SI was always already more subtle in its engagement with Marxism and had more valence as an organization that it is typically given credit for by the current histories. The SI can’t be killed by art because the SI never depended on art to produce the meaning of its experiments. Rather, the SI used art to address underlying political conditions until they needed to evolve to address the conditions differently. What Clark and Nicholson-Smith don’t elaborate in as much detail is the SI’s serious commitment to the condition of representation, the condition of the image itself, as well as to how the image participates in politics. This commitment is one stage in the evolution of an impulse to reach freedom through the manipulation and destruction of the image. To consider it without taking Surrealism or Dada into account is to underestimate the SI’s complex relationship to the aesthetic. Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, in 1912 and 1914, believed that if the artist whole-heartedly embraced the ferocious speed and violent simultaneity of technology, the bankruptcy of the bourgeoisie could be eliminated. Antithetical to the Futurists politically, the international Dada movement was united with them in their refusal to participate in politesse, or coded rituals of power, and their rejection of reason above all else in the wake of World War I and its senseless violence. In 1924, the Surrealist manifesto defined its mission as “pure psychic automatism … Dictation of thought in the absence of all control exercised by reason, outside of all aesthetic and moral preoccupation.” For the historic avant-gardes, freedom was to be found by committing to the deep underlying irrationality latent in war and language. Better to destroy meaning than to participate in complacent structures that had led to the enormous waste of the World War: autonomy lay in spaces of disjuncture. These efforts to produce spaces un-ruled by capitalism’s logic was extended after the second War – first by the Lettrist group founded in the 1940s by Isidore Isou, then by a splinter group founded in the late 1950s by Guy Debord called the Lettrist International, which served as a draft for the more well-known Situationist International. The group was founded on a rejection of Isou’s linguistic experimentation in favor of constructed situations. SI advocated wandering, occupying the city in ways it was not designed to encourage. In a text on critical urban geography from 1955, Debord wrote that the antidote to alienation was to “delineate some provisional terrains of observation, including the observation of certain processes of chance and predictability in the streets.”8 He wanted to apply strategies developed by Dada and Surrealism to the very fabric of the everyday, and through them to develop a capacity for autonomy from the prescribed modes of encounter, vision, and experience. 12

7 T. J. Clark; Donald NicholsonSmith, “Why Art Can’t Kill the Situationist International,” October, Vol. 79, Guy Debord and the Internationale Situationniste. (Winter, 1997), 21. 8 Guy Debord, ”Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography”, 1955. Available online at http://www. 9 Ken Knabb, “Howls for Sade,” Bureau of Public Secrets website. Accessed August 14, 2013.

Tehrani’s series of drawings from 2011, Storyboard (Hurlements en faveur de Sade), takes Debord’s debut film (as referred to in the title) from 1952 as its point of departure. Four voices alternated speaking their lines, all non-sequiturs, almost idiomatic in their tone and delivery, against an alternating white and blackened screen. Tehrani’s drawings address the pauses, the meaning that Debord withholds from the viewer. The work is a series of blank screens drawn in powdered charcoal, alongside text drawings of the script’s notations on duration and blankness. However, the film’s spoken soundtrack nuances Debord’s refusal to yield an image and so sheds light on the larger project of the SI as well as the relation of image to refusal, representation to politics. Voice 5: Just as the projection was about to begin, Guy-Ernest Debord was supposed to step onto the stage and make a few introductory remarks. Had he done so, he would simply have said: ‘There is no film. Cinema is dead. No more films are possible. If you wish, we can move on to a discussion.’ 9 Debord begins by refusing the image and by disallowing the viewer to sink into the artist’s imagination. When he claims that film is no longer a possibility, he echoes Theodor Adorno’s edict that poetry is no longer possible after Auschwitz. For Adorno, to represent the horror of the war and the concentration camps aesthetically is to manufacture false understanding. The incomprehensible must be allowed to remain incomprehensible, or it will be normalized and we will forget how inhuman the war and its ancillary chambers actually were. Hurlements en faveur de Sade is not entirely about war, but war and the impossibilities of representation it inaugurated are inescapably linked to its refusal of representation. Voice 2: The arts of the future can be nothing less than disruptions of situations. Voice 1: He was well aware that nothing of his exploits would remain in a town that revolves with the Earth, as the Earth revolves within a galaxy that is only an insignificant part of a tiny island endlessly receding from us. Debord proposes to operate on a micro-scale, nothing less than disruption, yet his call to action also acknowledges its own insignificance in the face of history and the Earth. This acknowledgement is, in a sense, Debord’s pre-recorded answer to Greil Marcus. Resistance must be total, it must occur on the level of the body in space and time, it must concern the way people perceive their lives – yet it is also always already obsolete, insignificant, deeply fashionable. Voice 4: Paris was real fun because of the transportation strike. Voice 2: My dear Ivich, unfortunately there are fewer Chinatowns than you think. You are fifteen years old. One of these days people will stop wearing such gaudy colors. 13

Resistance is insignificant for Debord not simply because the earth is small. Resistance is insignificant because it is so tied to pleasure, to fashion, to entertainment. Already, in 1952, the transportation strike was fun and the fifteen-year-old lacks the perspective to see cultural identity for what it is, a misguided decision about color. It is perhaps in his admission of that which is not considered political – clothing, the affective register of a strike, the accidental re-perception of the city through creative misuse – that Debord’s radicalism actually lies, as well as his connection between aesthetics and politics. Voice 2: So close, so gently, I lose myself in the hollow archipelagos of language. I bear down on you, you’re as open as a cry, it’s so easy. A hot stream. A sea of oil. A forest fire. Voice 2: Mademoiselle Reineri of the Europe Quarter, you still have your wonderstruck face and that body, the best of promised lands. Like neon lights, the dialogues repeat their definitive truths. Debord does not spare language either. Pictures are malleable and subject to distortion in service to the Spectacle, but so is discourse. Language that overwhelms the senses, like hot water and fire, like the neon lights of the carnival. He is trying to articulate some deep instability at the core of representation, both visual and linguistic. It is this instability that allows for the movement of signs Tehrani traces, yet Debord will argue that this instability is also a necessary pre-condition for the absorption into spectacle of every meaningful sign. And so, we return to the paradox – signs are radical because they can be made to drift into new, counter-hegemonic meaning, yet they are compromised for precisely the same reason. Voice 2: Like lost children we live our unfinished adventures. By 1961, Debord had given up some of the poetry of his earlier approach and articulated the urgency of the SI’s task in straightforward Marxist terms: “Through its industrial production this society has emptied the gestures of work of all meaning. And no model of human behavior has retained any real relevance in everyday life.” 10 This was a call to collapse earlier experimentations with play and nonsense into the very fabric of life – to take art into the world and through this dissolution to reinvest meaning into activities that capitalism had coopted. Debord argued that art needed to stop being a picture, in other words, and this call would culminate in the central role SI played in the events that ignited riots and protests in Paris in May of 1968. Debord abandons “art” in favor of the streets, but these very streets nevertheless produced some of the most powerful iconography of the era. Atelier Populaire was one of many guerilla-printing operations set up during the protests in art schools throughout Paris. They were very specific about the 14

10 Guy Debord, Perspectives for Conscious Alterations in Everyday Life, available online at http://library. display/89. 11 H. Bourges, The French student revolt: the leaders speak, trans: B.R Brewster (New York: Hill and Wang, Inc., 1968). 12 Email to the author, April 23rd 2013.

role they envisioned for their collective, un-authored work. A statement the Atelier issued during the protests makes their position clear: The posters produced by the Atelier Populaire are weapons in the service of the struggle and are an inseparable part of it. Their rightful place is in the centers of conflict, that is to say, in the streets and on the walls of the factories. To use them for decorative purposes, to display them in bourgeois places of culture or to consider them as objects of aesthetic interest is to impair both their function and their effect. This is why the Atelier Populaire has always refused to put them on sale. Even to keep them as historical evidence of a certain stage in the struggle is a betrayal, for the struggle itself is of such primary importance that the position of an “outside” observer is a fiction, which inevitably plays into the hands of the ruling class. That is why these works should not be taken as the final outcome of an experience, but as an inducement for finding, through contact with the masses, new levels of action, both on the cultural and the political plane.11 In his pair of drawings, Comparative Analysis (Fac 120 ≠ La Lutte Continue), 2013, Tehrani seems to be asking, “What now?” We are well past the struggle and they lost. Their pictures not only became highly valued historical and aesthetic objects for the shrines to bourgeois culture that the Atelier despised. Some of the posters have also been transmuted precisely into emblems of revolt, rather than catalysts for action. They have become place markers for a demand, but they have ceased to demand anything with real urgency. Nothing makes this evolution more clear than Tehrani’s juxtaposition of one of the Atelier’s original designs with Peter Saville’s logo for Factory Records, in which the latter appears as little more than a hollowed-out abstraction of the Atelier’s historical poster proclaiming the struggle of the proletariat. The factory and the raised fist were enormously successful emblems, in other words, capturing the imagination of an entire generation, and not just in the music industry. The same images re-appeared during the anti-globalization protests and anti-war demonstrations in the early-oughts, as well as during the more recent Occupy movements throughout the world. In regards to this cultural recycling of radical signifiers Tehrani asks, “Is it merely a fascination with uncompromising, aggressive rhetoric and countercultural mystique or about a deeper identification with the revolutionary programs of said groups?” 12 No, I don’t think so. What too often falls out of the discussion around the migration of signs is that groups like the Atelier Populaire operated at the threshold, already, of fashion and protest and art. They are drenched in style, and always were. Their style was not superficial; the lemons were real, but they were also symbols already, even in the moment of their invention. 15

Comparative Analysis (Fac 120 ≠ La Lutte Continue), 2013. Powdered charcoal and raw pigment on paper. Each drawing 60 x 40 cm (unframed).



Potlatch (Running Joke Running Dry), 2013. Powdered charcoal on MDF. Each panel 100 x 100 cm (unframed).



Here are your fucking balloons In 1956, four years after Debord’s Hurlements en faveur de Sade, Albert Lamorisse released what would become a hugely successful metaphor for post-war French society, a thirty-four minute short film called The Red Balloon. The film tells the story of a young French boy, Pascal, who finds a big, bright red helium balloon one sunny day. Though mute, the balloon appears to be possessed of will, or consciousness. It follows him around, lingering outside the windows to his room, forbidden access by Pascal’s rather severe mother. When it follows him to school and into his classroom, the other students protest against the balloon (without apparent reason other than hostility to difference) and the principle disciplines Pascal for the disruption. At every turn, children and adults respond with hostility and violence to the playfulness and buoyancy of the boy and his red balloon. Bullies eventually destroy it, out of envy perhaps, but also out of discomfort with the quality of simple joy the balloon evokes. After the death of the Red Balloon, a multi-colored swarm of other balloons arrive to rescue Pascal and the film ends with a long shot of the boy flying out over the Parisian skyline, vindicated by a dream. Film critic Brian Gibson, writing for Vue Magazine in 2007, captures the historical tension in the film perfectly: So far, this seems like a post-Occupation France happy to forget the blood and death of Hitler’s war a decade earlier. But soon people’s occasional, playful efforts to grab the floating, carefree balloon become grasping and destructive. In a gorgeous sequence, light streaming down alleys as children’s shoes clack and clatter on the cobblestones, the red globe bouncing between the walls, Pascal is hunted down for his floating pet. The film’s ballooning sense of hope and freedom is deflated by a fierce, squabbling mass. Then, fortunately, Lamorisse’s film floats off, with the breeze of magic-realism, into a feeling of escape and peace, The Red Balloon taking hold of Pascal, lifting him out of this rigid, petty, earthbound life.13 The balloon is precisely antithetical to the raised fist and the factory in the Atelier Populaire’s graphics. The balloon signifies giving in, rising above the terrible and ugly struggles between classes, between ideologies. It signifies pure delight, weightlessness, ahistoricity. Tehrani’s work, Potlatch (Running Joke Running Dry), also tries to picture the moment when the revolutionary submits to balloon logic, although he does not reference the French film directly. The work is a pair of drawings, “HERE ARE YOUR FUCKING BALLOONS” and “HERE ARE YOUR OTHER FUCKING BALLOONS” that rather literally illustrate a 2-minute video made by the musician and author Joe Pernice. The video shows a conversation between two unshaven thirty-something men on their cell-phones. One explains patiently to the other that their working relationship is founded on antagonism, and that this is how working relationships work in the music industry. The other 20

13 Gibson, Brian. Vue Weekly, “What childhood films are these?”, film review, Issue #634:Jingle Bell Rock!, December 11, 2007. Accessed: July 29, 2013. http://www.vueweekly. com/film/story/what_childhood_ films_are_these/ 14 Email to the author, April 23rd 2013.

responds with equal patience and suppressed rage that he is quitting the business to open a balloon delivery service, which he will name, “Here are your fucking balloons.” If the business works, he plans to open a second store, etc. Tehrani’s work presents Pernice’s balloon delivery service as a visualization of potlatch, an economic system used by the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast of Canada and United States. A potlatch ceremony could take any number of forms, but one of the most extreme was the aggressive destruction of goods to prove one’s wealth and power to a rival. Tehrani was interested in the reference, in part, because Potlatch was also the title of the Lettrist International magazine from 1954 to 1957. He writes, “The typographical displacement of the word HERE in the right panel is intended to recall the competitive element in the Potlatch economy, shortly put the point of asserting dominance by giving away an object of greater value than the one(s) received.” 14 The link, for Tehrani, is the aggression involved in meaningless consumption. There is another logic here as well: balloons are entirely useless. To give someone a balloon is a useless gesture. Yet despite its uselessness, giving people balloons is also lucrative in capitalist society. A person can make money delivering balloons, even if they can’t make money making music. Some small part of this value might be their symbolism, exemplified by the Red Balloon, of insouciance in the face of the Spectacle. When rage fails, when revolution fails, we are left with balloons as the anti-emblem. I interpret this pair of drawings by Tehrani as a comment of the state of revolutionary desire today. We are all too aware of how seamlessly capitalism absorbed both May 1968 and the raging energy of punk, Madchester and acid house that was its echo ten and twenty years later. The problem of revolution today is how to do something with the anger and the desire that is not useless, that cannot be reduced to the fantasy of transformation depicted in the Red Balloon. Tehrani doesn’t attempt an answer to this dilemma, but he does persistently point out the ways in which pictures both succeed and fail to represent the radical impulse.


The Letter V in Various Media 1963–1998, 2012. Collage and varnish on paper. Five images mounted in rectangular, square and polygonal frame(s) with passepartout. Rectangular images: 22,7 x 31,7 cm. Square image: 35 x 35 cm. Polygonal image: 34 x 34 x 34 cm.


Opposite page: The Letter V in Various Media 1963–1998, detail, 2012. Collage on paper. 12,5 x 19,5 cm.


Anthea Buys (b. 1984, Johannesburg) is a writer and independent curator based in New York. She is a research associate with the Research Centre for Visual Identities in Art and Design, University of Johannesburg, and has just begun work on her PhD through the Department of Art History at Columbia University. She is also trying to contact the ghost of Joseph Beuys. You’re welcome to email her if you know how to reach him:

Anthea Buys

Codes, Weeds, Barriers



here are no inanimate objects. In the night, city bridges shrug off the day’s heat and groaning gird themselves for tomorrow’s. Paintings grow cataracts. Wooden chairs and tables disappear secretly, even as we work and dine, very slowly, not a splinter at a time. Plastic packets and cigarette butts mutate from inorganic to organic, like waking pupae. With enough time, the landfills eventually become empty, and gulls float to other landfills. Like all living things, objects slowly, slowly stop. They have always started stopping. One night in Brussels, a car mounted the wrong side of a weedy traffic island on Avenue Van Volxem and crumpled a steel barrier. The impact happened so quickly, too fast to see. The driver only heard it and felt the thick shock of contact. “Putain,” he must have said, and after extracting himself from the vehicle and spitting in the phlegm-addled kerb, he must have surveyed all these still things. The car hissed a curse as its spree was halted, and the barrier folded in shame as it stopped being a barrier. Alongside the crumpled barrier was a second like it that survived the crash intact, levered out of the earth by the force. One of its feet was bared to the air for the first time in decades. It was cold and sharp. The two barriers stayed like that for weeks, or even months. Weeds were the first to invade the bit of loam they had exposed in the accident, then came worms, and before long, pepsi cans, piss, used tram tickets, a stray sock from the laundromat on the corner. Now at a diagonal to the street, the barriers made good seats for the young mothers who waited for their laundry, the soapy breath from the dryers making it too sticky indoors. This new ecosystem was not an unlovely change after years of darkness and buttlessness. But it meant that soon there could be a cleanup. The cleanup never happened, and the weeds grew tall. And then André Tehrani arrived at his studio one day with a barrier heaved over his shoulder like a forlorn antelope. Intact, but not pristine, it was the second barrier, the collateral victim of the car crash, because it was the second and not the first that was the real waste. Its rescue would be made complete by quiet, a clean wall against which to lean, the smell of graphite and the muffled sound of cold grey rain elsewhere. That is how the story of the barrier in the studio went for the barrier. One is tempted to reconstruct Tehrani’s story like this: the artist, naturally attuned to the wonder in things, finds an object that no one cares for and sees in it potential. He feels magic in the things desk workers regard as trash, he coddles his discoveries in spite of their filth, careful not to upset their delicate aura. That the word “aura” should find its way from Walter Benjamin’s lamented artwork, the last unique thing in the age of mechanical reproducibility, to the waste of that age and its powers of production, owes much to the early Surrealists. 25

As an antidote to Marcel Duchamp’s prescient notion that art could be “readymade”, like so many items of household clutter to come later in the twentieth century, the early Surrealists imbued selected objects with occult powers. André Breton introduced the term objet trouvé (found object) to the art world’s lexicon, and for him and his colleagues, it referred to a thing found on a walk. The thing needed to “[exert] a unique and inexplicable magnetism”, and the walk was an otherwise aimless search for this thing.1 When one found it one would know. That was it. These fetish objects, once hoarded, were spliced with other objects or images. They enjoyed afterlives as hybrids, decommissioned of any possible use and inducted into an economy in which the destiny of that auratic spark sensed on the streets was fulfilled: they became artworks. But when Tehrani filched his barrier, he was not looking for magic. In fact, almost as if to show that it wasn’t about the barrier, other street accessories migrated into his studio as well: two wooden bollards, also just uprooted, and some vermilion construction netting. He looked at these things for some weeks, and then painted the barrier a flat, hueless grey, wiping out the blemishes from its former life. He sanded the skin off the wooden bollards and sealed their reflective metal ribbons from the outside world with a coat of lacquer. In changing these objects in this way, Tehrani rejected the romantic impulse to preserve something “authentic” of their past, to be true to history, to be “archival”. In short, he rejected the opportunity to reify the detritus of the capitalist city. In this respect, Tehrani behaved perhaps more like a Situationist than a Surrealist. The Situationist International (SI), founded in 1957 by Guy Debord, Michèle Bernstein, Asger Jorn and Giuseppe Pinot-Gallizio (amongst others), shunned not only the making of art objects, but also the acquisitive values that undergird economies of private ownership. The deliberate contrariness of Surrealist practices was an important touchpoint for the Situationists, who saw their efforts as an improved continuation of the revolutionary ideas explored by the Surrealists. Indeed, Debord was open with his esteem for the radicalism of early Surrealism. In the 1957 text Report on the Construction of Situations, Debord writes that in “asserting the sovereignty of desire and surprise and proposing a new way of life,” Surrealism was “much richer in constructive possibilities than is generally realized”. He goes on to attribute the early movement’s “limited scope” to “the lack of material means for fulfilling its aims” (Ibid.).2 It is unclear from the text whether Debord intended to suggest that the movement was financially limited, or whether he uses the term “material” in an implicitly Marxist sense, suggesting rather that the Surrealists’ socio-political context was not equipped to respond to their efforts. In the same text, Debord identifies the Surrealists’ fatal weakness, an over-investment in the potential of the unconscious to unlock revelations about “the ultimate force of life”, some essential 26

1 M. E. Warlick, “The Magic Objects of Surrealism”, in Elmar Schenkel and Stefan Welz, Magical Objects: Things and Beyond (Berlin: Galda + Wilch Verlag, 2007), 9. 2 Guy Debord, “Report on the Construction of Situations and on the International Sitautionist Tendency’s Conditions of Organization and Action,” first published in Potlatch, June 1957. Available online at http://www.cddc. P.1 of 1. 3 Debord, “A User’s Guide to Détournement”, in X “Mode d’emploi du détournement” originally appeared in the Belgian surrealist journal Les Lèvres Nues #8 (Brussels: May 1956). Available online at: http://www. 4 Debord, Society of the Spectacle, § 42 (Italics in the original). 5 Michèle Bernstein, All the Kings Horses (Paris: Semiotext(e), 2008, english edition), 78.

quality that would burnish away superficial distinctions between high and low class, and fine and course taste. It is not that Debord questioned the existence of this “ultimate force”, but rather its provenance. For him, revelation would come through the critical interpretation of material reality, and this would be effected via an interface of the psyche, the sentient body and space. This was the foundational premise of the dérive and psychogeography. The extent to which the Situationists’ worked with found materials was guided by the related concept of détournement, which entailed the juxtaposition of discordant elements in a single work, often to propagandistic ends. Debord advocated détournement as the most effective of activist tools, “a powerful cultural weapon in the service of a real class struggle.” 3 Not only would the provocative manipulation of recognizable source material clash “head-on with all social and legal conventions,” but it would serve a pedagogical end too (ibid.). Détourned popular images and text could act as “a real means of proletarian artistic education, the first step toward a literary communism” (Ibid., Italics in the original). Because of the dissemination of images and text in the media, and because of the central role of periodicals in the presentation of the group’s activities, détourned works were often graphic or textual appropriations, rather than three-dimensional pieces. Although consumable images, détourned works were sanctioned as reproducible, non-exclusive material, so that they were never at risk of becoming commodities. In this way, in the early years at least, the Situationists managed to maintain an occulocentric programme without succumbing to the pressures of “the spectacle”, a state of affairs in which “the commodity has succeeded in totally colonizing social life”.4 Over time, however, the concept of détournement was absorbed into the discourse of urban action and activism as well. And by the late 1960s, an increasingly militant Debord all but vanquished images from Situationist output, and expunged many SI adherents whose attachment to the visual exceeded their taste for propaganda. Notwithstanding their intolerant rhetoric, the Situationists enjoyed certain luxuries that could only have existed in a capitalist Europe: all-day café society in Paris, and hedonistic beach holidays of indeterminate duration, such as the one described in Bernstein’s novella All the King’s Horses. In this getaway from nothing in particular, the protagonists Gilles and Geneviève – stand-ins for Debord and Bernstein respectively – laze, drink, sunbathe and invent games with each other and their additional lovers, until Gilles is called away to Holland to work on an exhibition. He announces that instead of showing works, he plans to stage “A real scandal .... in a museum,” which he will pass off as an accidental occurrence.5 Gilles will make a “situation” without calling it one, paradoxically sabotaging the conventions of the art establishment, while participating in them. 27

The languid, impetuous lifestyles enjoyed by Debord and Bernstein, and whomever fell into their favour, was grafted into the SI’s carefully maintained image as an avant-garde movement. The ostensibly revolutionary aims of practices such as the dérive – a term for aimless wandering in search of ambiences, rather than objects – and their agitating force in the Parisian riots of May 1968 were tempered by constant unproductivity and sybaritism that flouted the increasingly Fordist values of Western European urbanites. This is where Tehrani and the ghosts of the Situationists part ways, and indeed several works featured in the exhibition are concerned precisely with establishing the distance between them, conceptually and ideologically. While frequently referring to Situationist works and historical anecdotes, he maintains a cautious, critical detachment from the romantic sensibility that infused the SI’s interests in revolutionary culture. The ideological mistrust built into Tehrani’s work often manifests as an interpretive opacity, built up in this exhibition through layers of allusions to the Situationists and groups that have subsequently revived elements of their discourse. The modified barriers and bollards introduced above are the constituents of the work Built by an idiot full of sound and fury signifying nothing, the title of which is a double allusion to one of Macbeth’s soliloquies in the eponymous play,6 and to Debord’s disparaging description of GeorgesEugène Hussmann’s planning interventions in Paris in the eighteenth century. The original connection of these materials to the regulation of traffic reminds us of the Situationists’ great nemesis, the automobile, and the several texts published by the SI on the destructive effects of automobile traffic in cities. In Debord’s Situationist Theses on Traffic, published in Internationale Situationniste in November 1959, he presents nine succinct points on the implication of automobiles in a great American capitalist programme of world domination. These are the first and the last: A MISTAKE MADE by all the city planners is to consider the private automobile (and its by-products, such as the motorcycle) as essentially a means of transportation. In reality, it is the most notable material symbol of the notion of happiness that developed capitalism tends to spread throughout the society. The automobile is at the center of this general propaganda, both as supreme good of an alienated life and as essential product of the capitalist market.... REVOLUTIONARY URBANISTS will not limit their concern to the circulation of things, or to the circulation of human beings trapped in a world of things. They will try to break these topological chains, paving the way with their experiments for a human journey through authentic life.7 28

6 Act V, Sc. V, ll. 25-27. 7 Available online at http://www., p. 1 of 1.

Beyond Tehrani’s collection of traffic regulators, and contrary to the populist citations typical of the Situationists, the references embedded in the installation test the breadth of the viewer’s cultural knowledge. The multicoloured geometric patterns of adhesive vinyl affixed to one of the barriers make use of the colour alphabet code designed by Peter Saville for the cover artwork of the 1984 album From the Hip, by the British post-punk band Section 25. From the Hip was released by Factory Records, an independent label which had also signed Joy Division and New Order in the in the early 1980s. As Tehrani notes in a short expository text for the drawing diptych Comparative Analysis (Fac 120 ≠ La Lutte Continue), Factory’s founder Tony Wilson was an “SI sympathiser”, and notably the label sponsored the production of the exhibition catalogue for the SI’s 1989 exhibition at the London ICA. Saville was a permanent member of the creative team of Factory Records, and designed the label’s iconic logo, an image that appears in Comparative Analysis (Fac 120 ≠ La Lutte Continue) alongside a reproduction of a socialist-themed poster distributed by the students of the Ecole des Beuax Arts’ Atelier Populaire during the May 1968 riots in Paris. Because Saville’s work and reputation are inseparable from the subculture that emerged around Factory Records, Tehrani’s inclusion of From the Hip, and of Saville’s coded alphabet invokes post-punk Britain, an era in which guitar destruction was committed in freshly pressed shirts and brothel creepers. Today, there are pouting 20-year-olds (not many, but some) who mourn the passing of Ian Curtis, and Jersey Shore girls who wear Joy Division t-shirts they found at H&M. It is possible that no other musical subculture has endured such a tortuous and purely aesthetic revival. More importantly though, the Factory Records connection in Built by an Idiot…represents the revival of a revival. If the activities of Factory Records paid homage to the Situationists, implicitly and, sometimes, explicitly, Tehrani’s citation pays homage to this homage – rather than merely to its contents –, to the fact of cultural revival and its complex social and psychological contours. The structural echo of revival justifies the contents of this installation; just as for so many other artists working with found objects the conventions of archival presentation justify theirs. It is precisely on the grounds of a certain deliberate circularity, and even a subdued formalist sensibility, that one is able to differentiate Tehrani’s work from the tiresomely frequent presentations of nostalgic historiography that are passed off in museums and galleries as contemporary investments in archival practice. The latter are possibly no less formal than Tehrani’s highly literate frame, but they are too often guileless, illiterate by comparison, and, like uncouth neighbours, leave open too many windows. The seamlessness of Built by an completed by the coded inscription on the backside of the metal barrier. 29


Built by an idiot full of sound and fury signifying nothing, 2013.

Lacquer on restored wooden bollards, plastic construction netting, LP record, spraypainted traffic barrier, adhesive vinyl and wooden shelf. Variable dimensions.


The viewer who takes the time to decode the message, will find with only muted satisfaction that it repeats the title of the work. It says nothing important enough to conceal. It does not reward patience or intelligence. Moreover, it breaks the pattern of proliferate external references with an internal one. In a sense, the work asserts its own conclusion upfront, like a circular argument, or a Situationist polemic. More importantly, the circularity of Built by an Idiot...seals the work hermetically and formally, like the flat industrial coatings of grey paint on the metal barrier insulates it from the elements. It is impermeable, not only because viewers will almost always require Tehrani’s expository intervention to reveal all the allusions built into the work, but also because it does not seek extra content outside of that which it already comprises. Just as a circle is drawn with the intention to join two ends of a line, the beginning and the end of this work meet. In a different work, the figure of the circle is replaced by a triangle – an impossible triangle, whose ends meet, although they shouldn’t. A representation of a shape impossible in three dimensions, the collaged Penrose Triangle in The Letter V in Various Media 1963–1998 is one of five framed elements in the work. A short fictional story presented in three panels, and a minimal collage that foregrounds a photograph from the May 1968 riots, make up the other four panels. Both the title of this work, and the text fragments used to construct the story, are drawn from Thomas Pynchon’s 1963 novel V, a convoluted narrative constellation that connects the aimless activities of a group of young pseudo-intellectuals known as the Whole Sick Crew with pre-war espionage, colonial massacres, the sewer fauna of New York City, and a mysterious place called Vhiessu. The existence of Vhiessu is in question throughout the novel, as is the possibility that the letter V stands in for a full word. In this respect, in both Pynchon’s novel and Tehrani’s work the mercurial letter draws us into an act of decoding that might lead nowhere, just as the coded panels in Built by an Idiot... produce a tautology. The story presented in the three text panels of the installation is composed from détourned text fragments from several copies of V, many of which lie in Tehrani’s studio like a herd of defective livestock. Some have had only a few fragments excised from the 547 pages, but they are just as compromised as novels as if a more dramatic defacement had taken place. Tehrani’s excision has the protagonist of Pynchon’s novel, Benny Profane, in the midst of vague journey through a city – perhaps a dérive – in which he encounters “Guy”, “Michèle” and “Constant”, a reference to the SI members Debord, Bernstein and Constant Nieuwenhuys. Profane, who in Pynchon’s novel “yo-yos” through life, wandering back and forth achieving nothing, feels some existential pangs in connection with his fruitless life, but with the Situationists he is in fine company. It is not obvious, however, that the Situationists would find their new literary habitat as agreeable. Despite having encouraged Bernstein to 32

8 Debord, “A User’s Guide to Détournement”, 1958, available online at detourn.htm#1. p. 1 of 1.

write All the Kings Horses as a détournement of Pierre Choderlos de Laclos’ eighteenth century novel Dangerous Liaisons, Debord maintained that “there is not much future in the détournement of complete novels.” 8 Although Tehrani’s artificial history of Profane and the Situationists is coded as fiction, by virtue of its use of the literary conventions of the short story, its unreliable depiction of the past tarnishes other references incorporated into the work which would otherwise be presumed historically sound. The most notable of these is Christopher Gray’s history of the SI, Leaving the Twentieth Century: The Incomplete Work of the Situationist International, the allusion to which is hidden in the smoked blues of the Penrose Triangle. On the cover of the 1998 edition of Gray’s book there is a pocked glacier and on a narrow bridge between two chasms, an ice climber treads precariously towards the book’s title. Collaged shades of the glacier build up the illusory three-dimensional form of the triangle, but its surfaces are unpeopled and free of typographical elements. Again, without Tehrani’s expository help, associating these blues with their source would be nearly impossible. The triangle thus presents two unsolvable puzzles, its own form and that of the work’s anchor in cultural history. The final panel in the installation draws, like Built by an Idiot…, on twentieth century musical history. The photograph, attributed to photographer Georges Melet depicts a pile of debris in an abandoned Parisian street after riot activity in May 1968. However the image is better known for its publication on the cover of Vangelis Papathanassiou’s 1972 album Fais que ton rêve soit plus long que la nuit, a musique-concréte collage of found sound elements from the May 1968 uprising. Knowing about a scream is one thing, hearing it is another. In The Letter V in Various Media 1963–1998 the violence of this uprising is muffled by layers of culture. Tehrani mediates Vangelis’ mediation. The seriousness of a real revolution, even one stoked by aesthetes and intellectuals, is tempered by trivialities: Profane’s sartorialism, the “pedestrian philosophizing” of the left bank comrades in Tehrani’s détourned story. Tehrani presents to us the protagonists of revolutionary culture with what feels like a mixture of sympathy and disgust. They are idiots, but at one point or another we have probably been them. Pynchon’s Whole Sick Crew exemplifies this cast of characters, kindly souls, thinkers, hedonists, and, most importantly, yo-yo’ers. Their circuitous narrative never brings them close to a legitimate revolutionary cause, but their mutual enlightenment seems to them cause enough. At one point near the middle of the novel one of the peripheral associates of the Crew, Dudley Eigenvalue the “soul dentist”, senses the baselessness of the Crew’s art and thought. He becomes deeply anxious that his own contribution to their “cause” – reduced – rate dental care and sound counsel – is a waste of time. His epiphany reads as follows: 33

If they were all bums but still providing society with valuable art and thought, why that would be fine.... But they produced nothing but talk, and at that not very good talk. A few like Slab actually did what they professed; turned out a tangible product. But again, what? Cheese Danishes. OR this technique for the sake of technique – Catatonic Expressionism. Or parodies on what someone else had already done. So much for art. What of Thought? The Crew had developed a kind of shorthand whereby they could set forth any visions that might come their way. Conversations at the Spoon had become little more than proper nouns, literary allusions, critical or philosophical terms linked in certain ways. Depending on how you arranged the building blocks at your disposal, you were smart or stupid. Depending on how others reacted they were In or Out. The number of blocks, however, was finite.9 Eigenvalue distracts himself from these dark reflections by going to look at the various sets of dentures in his consulting room, because “teeth and metal endure”.10 In museums, objects mean more than texts, which mean more than memories. Those objects that make it into display cases are often the least important things, or they are replicas of real things too precious to let out of the very dark, very secret storerooms. Texts and facsimiles of texts are just words, which describe objects that can’t be got. Memories alone might as well be fantasies. Tehrani’s exhibitions place us in the midst of a historiographic nightmare whose ugly subconscious is this hierarchy. Objects and texts reify themselves, and anecdotes tie together the most distant nebulae. Activists become increasingly inert as the momentum of their causes dissipate with the decades. History responds by making its contents inert in the way that certain gases are: self-sufficient, sexless. This process of cessation is perhaps best metaphorised in the work Alternate Routes, a set of four drawings, the largest of which is made using sifted graphite dust rather than traditional gestural techniques. This drawing depicts a number of simplified diagrams of a Galton board (more commonly known as a bean machine), which is an analogue computational device invented by Sir Frances Galton in the 19th century to demonstrate normal distribution of random variables introduced into a controlled system. In a vertical hermetic container, horizontal pins divide the available space into diagonal pockets and paths. Below the pins is a catchment area, divided into columns each equal in width. Several balls are funneled into the top of the board, and gravity and a series of collisions with the pins draw them downwards along different paths. Galton observed that despite the random nature of the balls’ journeys, most of them landed in the central columns, producing an overall distribution resembling a bell-shaped curve. 34

9 Thomas Pynchon, V (Harper Perennial: New York, 2005 [first edition 1963]), 324. 10 Ibid. 325.

In the 1958 text The Situationists and Automation Asger Jorn used the Galton board as an illustration of “the artistic problems of the dérive”. Invisible forces impel people along unpredictable paths. Peculiarly, although free to move in any direction, the majority pick the same few paths. Although Jorn does not elaborate the example, it is clear from the rest of the text that he is interested in the possibility of automation at a sociological level, or at least of expanding the the concept of automation to sociological models. More revealingly in this context, the Galton board demonstrates the controlling effects of the constant, in the machine’s case the distribution of pins and gravity. In the case of the dérive the urban constant is the existence of planned cities, designed to encourage certain patterns of movement and conduct. What is at stake in Jorn’s Galton board illustration is motion, and Alternate Routes is thus a representation of a representation of motion. Paradoxically, at the same time the composition of the work, particularly of the large graphite dust drawing, depends on the stagnation of matter. Before graphite dust is fixed to a surface, it is so mobile it is nearly impossible to control. It covers everything in a fine, grey, glossy film, as if it were itself a gas at some point. But as Tehrani sifts the dust over a stencil of the Galton board image, an action that counts on its motility, it is forced to stop suddenly on the surface of the paper. Before it has a chance to escape it is fixed there with a substance invented for just this sort of thing. The fixative keeps artworks from being sloughed from their supports like dry skin from the body. The dust stops, the work is there. Back on Avenue Van Volxem people are still walking to work or the laundry and back, like yo-yos in the hands of a beginner. Eventually, a machine came and clawed out the weeds that had by then grown into a savanna, and hurled them aside under a heap of dry sand and concrete. They hung onto whatever weed life bestows, but cigarette butts and a want of any decent sort of moisture ended them. Soon though new, stronger, more uniform barriers came and filled those hungry mouths that the machine had gouged in the earth. Shiny and erect, they were drawn on, scratched, pissed at by man and beast, kicked, and decked with Pepsi cans as quickly as they had replaced their forebears. But they have stood against the traffic, and the pedestrians are safe.


Alternate Routes, 2013 Powdered graphite, coloured pencil and acetone transfer on paper.


Large image 140 cm x 140 cm (unframed) Small images 12,7 cm x 19,8 cm (each, unframed) Display unit built with the kind assistance of Patrik Svensson and Hangmen AB.

Alternate Routes, detail, 2013 Powdered graphite, coloured pencil and acetone transfer on paper 12,7 cm x 19,8 cm (each, unframed).


None of the images (of artworks) or texts included in the publication is subject to any kind of copyright and can be redistributed, cited or misused in any way the reader sees fit. The publication is partially financed with funds from the free speech organization Fritt Ord and the exhibitions presented in the catalogue are produced with support from Billedkunstnernes Vederlagsfond and Arts Council Norway. Without whom: Jan Freuchen, Natasha Llorens, Anthea Buys, Peder Bernhardt, Johanna Wulff, Lord Jim Publishing, Paula Urbano, Johanne Nordby Wernø, Inger-Mette & Geir Bergvoll, Kaveh Tehrani, Sinikka Olsen, Nicholay Johansen Tehrani, Lars Horntveth, Clare Butcher, Devrim Bayar, Willem Oorebeek, Simon Thompson, Tone Wolff Kalstad, Anders Tjore, Hanna Nilsson, Petter Odevall, Anna Lundh, Camilla Øgreid Tehrani, Randi Grov Berger, Dillan Marsh, Katarina Sjögren, Ragnhild & Arne-Kjell Johansen, Cameron MacLeod, Jens Evaldsson, Marika Troili, Åsmund Wivestad Engesland, Sus Soddu, Ellen Utterström, Åse & Bergevall Ramar, Patrik Svensson & Hangmen, Svenska Ugnslackering, Kristian Skylstad, Stian Gabrielsen, Karen Nikgol, Petter Buhagen, Magnhild Øen Nordahl, Mikhael Subotzky, Tegnerforbundet, Dag Erik Elgin & Hege Nyborg, Rui Tenreiro & Sara Söderholm, Jon Eirik Kopperud & Saman Kamyab, Office for Contemporary Art Norway, all the residents and staff at WIELS Contemporary Art Centre, Brussels. Photos: Johanna Wulff Design: Peder Bernhardt, Oslo Print: Nilz & Otto, Oslo

Lord Jim Publishing, 2013 ISBN 978-82-997318-4-3 38


Popular Disorder  

by André Tehrani/ Texts by Natasha Marie Llorens and Anthea Buys/ Graphic design by Peder Bernhardt, Oslo/ Lord Jim Publishing/ 2013

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you