Sam Basu Dave Beech Mark Grist Matthew Stock Tom Trevatt
Notes on: Illusion of the Spectator
Sam Basu THE COMMUNITY OF OUTSIDERS A We cannot enter, nor speak here. That is our bond and closeness; we have ignored each other and we have retreated into the landscape. Henceforth the communication that appears between us is geological, crystalline, alien-solar-dust. The challenge is now to decipher and decode the thoughts that are starting to arrive at the outskirts of our systems. We wish to measure the withdrawn and negative landscape that now appears between us. We are brought together without meeting without exchange or agreement. We are brought together by the appalled retreat of what we thought would announce us. What should hail and lift us triumphant through the city has turned its back to us and presented a wall. And around this we silently skirt, like light around a black hole. We have decided to write a report that addresses our very particular situation. The first difficulty is that we have no access to each other, and nothing on which to build. We are not a community of producers; instead we accompany our rejection like a funeral pall. So together, at least, we have a calling. Some of us are artificial, and some of us are perhaps dead and communicate through recordings made many years ago. I have lost interest in whether this makes a difference; we are, never the less, connected in making a report, something we could not do alone. B After both my arms were accidentally removed by the clumsy inattention of a co-worker at the sawmill where I worked, I volunteered to test out prototype prosthetics for a large pharmaceuticals
THE COMMUNITY OF OUTSIDERS
company that was looking to branch out into bio-modification. I was one of their best testers. My sense of being terminated at the elbow was not strongly developed. I found that my consciousness could easily be coaxed into extending down into the prosthetic devices they would attach to me. I easily adapted to the machines and soon found that I could master quite complicated interfaces due to my rather fluid sense of self. Not that I am particularly remarkable for having this skill. Apparently this fluidity is well documented in many people who are good with their hands including a number of world class racing drivers, show jumpers and circus performers. After a year of trying out prosthetic hands that could hold babies, sign checks, play a simple tune on the piano, and even handle a tennis racket, I was offered an altogether more interesting challenge. The pharmaceuticals company wanted to test the extent to which this fluidity of consciousness could be developed. They explained that if the phenomena that amputees experienced where they can feel their lost appendages - phantom limb - could be harnessed in able bodied subjects, a whole new era of human augmentation could be ushered in. I was transferred to a desert facility with a handful of scientists and neurosurgeons. Essentially it would be a question of training; a regime was set up that was very much like martial arts schedules. Sets of basic moves were combined to make a complex physical vocabulary of movements. I found it easier and easier to commit this vocabulary to automatic subconscious functions and not think or even be aware of the alien appendages they attached to me. There was initially very little extra surgery, but as more and more hurdles were crossed the question of deeper and more complete attachment came up. I was way ahead of them. They could see the potential in prosthetic, cyborg technology, but I could feel it.
I was in their machines, and though much was still clunky and basic, I was flowing down the guts of ever more powerful and effective tools. I was not only controlling them, I was being them. I offered to have my legs removed. Soon I was making the acquaintance of a rather disappointing-looking set of pink rubber covered legs that got me to 46mph in fractions of a second. I quickly fractured my hips and so they were replaced with a new alloy infrastructure. To moderate the moral discomfort that some of the scientists had about my zealous enthusiasm for surgery, my removed parts were kept alive in cold storage. Bit by bit, more and more of me ended up on ice in the cryo-store. Perhaps it was gallows humor, but I asked if they would join together my amputated parts. Things started becoming strained after I started to directly interact with the lab computer. The machines that I was hooked up to were very advanced by now, and I was essentially ducted into the whole building. I started fooling around with the lights like a childish poltergeist, which amused them all for a while, but they soon tired of it. When I started rearranging the data library and connecting with the pass-protected computer banks, everyone lost their sense of humor. The initial team of scientists was changed overnight and a second team of serious and un-engaging individuals took over. I stopped having any living parts about a year ago, and a nearly-whole flesh me – minus arms – sits in the recreational bay of the laboratory wasting away the days. It would be relatively easy for me to escape this laboratory down the telecommunication links and WLAN systems, only I kind of feel sorry for the flesh-me. He’s not all I used to be, and now I am so much more. I’ve been watching him through the security camera network. I wonder what he is thinking?
THE COMMUNITY OF OUTSIDERS
There was an explosion in space. We who witnessed its ferocity were thrown in every direction. Some were thrown down or killed immediately, the rest thrown to the stars and the deep endless expanse of unfilled in-between. We can communicate and our talk has identified us. We are a group, but we seldom bring ourselves to break the silence. As we hurtle out with no way of knowing in which direction we face, we hear more and more of us. It is as if the explosion is continuing, drawing voices out of the darkness like a black star expelling light. It is impossible to say how large the community is. It is not clear if it is growing or whether it includes everyone there is. It probably has some kind of limit or edge, but none of the limits is our death. This kind of absenting is invisible.
“How do we communicate?”
Emptiness mingles with the voice of god. It does not mean that god fills the empty expanses; it means that gods voice and vacancy are joined in immoderate emptiness. Not an emptiness of absented being, but one that eats away at interiority. It is an emptiness that reveals our behaviour, shows us that we are mechanised processes; it drives us from outside. We are biological, genetic chance. This empty landscape is the foundation of our community.
“You are emptied, there is no interiority?”
Only in action does the emptiness bind us together. Alone we retreat back into ourselves. Listening for a voice that is bound to the vacancy of the universe.
“When will our communion come?”
We are slowly drifting apart. Our inaction is stripping us of what could save us. Perhaps the time has already passed.
THE COMMUNITY OF OUTSIDERS
Dave Beech THE IMPOSSIBLE SPECTATOR Jean-Jacques Lecercle opens up questions about the reader (which we can apply to questions of the spectator) in exactly the same breath that he opens up questions about the author and of interpretation itself. The two individuals and the work are inextricably linked, bound together as elements of a single whole. Rather than thinking of the author or reader either as empirical subjects or as fictions, he traces a circuit of relations in which the reader and author are places that can be occupied temporarily by various individuals. This is drawn from AJ Greimas' semantic theory of narrative in which the characters and events are understood as conforming to a grammar. Within the grammar of narrative, characters are redescribed by Greimas in terms of the actants that they embody. As Terence Hawkes puts it, “the deep structure of the narrative generates and defines its actants at a level beyond that of the story’s surface content”. (Structuralism and Semiotics p.89) Lecercle transposes the grammar of narrative to the social relations of reading and writing, of author and reader in which “the real 'subjects' of the process are not the individual agents, the real and concrete men and women engaged in it, but the relations of production that define and distribute the places". The author, reader, artist, spectator, participant, viewer and so on and so forth are all functions of the work and the circuits through which the work flows. The reader is captured at a place designated by the text this is the subject constructed (or interpellated) by that which they feel to be interpreting. "The interpellated reader, although subjected as much as subjectified, is not powerless. She sends back the force of interpellation". Author and reader are paired actants, so that each (type of) author has its own (type of) reader, and each (type of) reader has its own (type of) author. The multiplicity of authors or artists is
THE IMPOSSIBLE SPECTATOR
not independent of the multiplicity of readers and spectators, they are tied together in pairs. This is a revolutionary idea. Among other things it means that the so-called ‘death of the author’ can only be achieved with an utter transformation of texts or artworks, and the circuits through which these texts flow. The transformation of the reader or spectator, likewise, must occur within the work and within the circuits through which works flow – or else no transformation can take place at all. Thus, all the attention to the viewer or participant these days will come to nought if it remains a separate concern, as an add-on to the work, like holding a picnic in front of unreconstructed artworks in the hope of allowing the viewer to be more convivial. Lecercle goes further than this. The actants of art and literature are not fixed but continually renegotiated. And the relations between them change too. "What we need", he says, "is a model that combines asymmetry in the positions of author and reader, in that the two moments, or acts, of reading and writing are constitutively separated... And symmetry in that both actors, although not at the same time, are symmetrically interpellated in their respective actantial sites". Lecercle argues that we have a ‘pantomime of actants’ in which each fantasizes about the others, and about themselves. The author cannot write without a fantasy of a reader. The writer has a fantasy about the writer too. Similarly, reading involves constructing a fantasy of the writer, and of the reader. "If the reader, qua implied, is a creation pf the author, the author himself is nothing but a fantasy of the reader". What's more, every author is also a reader, who fantasizes about other authors and about the author that they wish to be. Lecercle, I want to argue, provides us with the materials to rethink the spectator in a way that eludes Jacques Ranciere in his
book, ‘The Emancipated Spectator’. This book has quickly become required reading in the artworld, but it is seriously flawed. We can see two flaws straight away. First, the concept of the emancipated spectator is a radical’s defence of privilege; and second, the spectator that he opposes to the emancipated spectator, which he argues has been the default presupposition of all critical and avantgardist art, the concept of the ‘passive and ignorant spectator’, is a false picture of the avantgarde. What’s more, both the emancipated spectator and the passive and ignorant spectator are unsatisfactory ways of thinking about the way that people engage with art. I am going to propose, instead, that we regard the artgoer as neither emancipated nor passive and ignorant but always and necessarily an impossible spectator (in the way that every Utopian, progressive and radical prospect is impossible). The impossible spectator, I will argue, is the only spectator worth thinking about. It is worth noting, in passing, that the emancipated spectator and the passive and ignorant spectator have something in common that is absent from the impossible spectator. Following Lecercle, we can see that both the emancipated spectator and the passive and ignorant spectator are not actants but empirical, actual individuals. Ranciere argues that the avantgarde actually treated the spectator as passive and ignorant, and he argues, at the same time, that the spectator is actually already emancipated. The impossible spectator, as I will argue, is not empirical in this way, but is a place that can be temporarily occupied. Ranciere’s book is basically a polemic against the forces of critique (principally Marxism and avant-gardism). It speaks of emancipation but it is not a contribution to art’s struggle with the forces of commodification, repression and hegemony. This is perhaps a very general statement to make about the book, but it seems to guide almost every detail of his argument.
THE IMPOSSIBLE SPECTATOR
Ranciere’s pivotal assumption is that art is political in its own very specific way, not in the same way as politics itself. He divides art from politics, arguing that ‘[t]he very same thing that makes the aesthetic “political” stands in the way of all strategies for “politicising art”. This difference between art and other fields is held by Ranciere and the majority of philosophers to be sacrosanct. He is dismissive of Brecht, Godard, Eisenstein, Guy Debord and others – targeting their arguments for a critical, dialectical, transformative and shocking art – because this critical tradition of the avantgarde does not regard art and aesthetics to be the solution but the problem. Ranciere’s aesthetic politics and politics of aesthetics begins with the notion that aesthetics is the solution. For the avantgarde, art and aesthetics are necessarily problematic. He calls this the ‘misadventures of critical thought. Ranciere counters the avantgarde politicization of art and the spectator by insisting that the spectator does not need to be emancipated. The spectator, he argues, is already emancipated. This argument is based on Ranciere’s previous work on the relationship between the schoolmaster and the pupil. Ranciere defends the spectator as the cultural figure that matches the pupil subjected by pedagogy (compellingly revealed in his The Ignorant Schoolmaster). Rancière diagnoses the situation of the spectator by noting that, according to the accusers, being a spectator is a bad thing for two reasons. First, viewing is the opposite of knowing: the spectator is held before an appearance in a state of ignorance about the process of production of this appearance and about the reality it conceals. Second, it is the opposite of acting: the spectator remains immobile in her seat, passive. To be a spectator is to be separated from both the capacity to know and the power to act.
What Rancière detects in this critical discourse of the spectator, reapplying his argument from ‘The Ignorant Schoolmaster’, is a ‘structure of domination and subjection’, which he calls ‘the logic of the stultifying pedagogue, the logic of straight, uniform transmission’. Just as the pupil is dominated and subjected by the very act of attempting to overcome her ignorance by the knowledgeable teacher (and is emancipated by the ‘ignorant’ teacher who ‘does not teach his pupils his knowledge, but orders them to venture into the forest of things and signs’), the spectator is dominated and subjected by the very act of attempting to overcome their passivity and ignorance. Against this, Rancière insists that ‘the incapable are capable’. So, for Ranciere, just as the pupil should not be subjected to the stultifying transmission of the knowledge of the schoolmaster, and just as the pupil must always enter the relationship with the schoolmaster as someone who knows not (as it is presumed by the schoolmaster) as someone without any knowledge at all, the spectator is always active and intelligent. Ranciere is challenging the actants of pedagogy with the actuality of real, concrete individuals – ie pupils know things before they first turn up to school. He wants to do the same for art’s spectators. Already active and intelligent, then, the avantgardist has no responsibility to make the spectator active and intelligent, and no right to ‘wake up’ the sleepy spectator, or ‘shock’ the spectator into activity, etc. Ranciere’s reading of avant-gardist techniques is very weak – by which I mean it is overly abstract and ahistorical, therefore it is lacking in detail. He argues, for instance, that Brecht regarded the spectator with derisory suspicion, as if the complex relationship that Brecht sought with his audiences were one-dimensional, when we know that even Brecht’s most didactic plays contained catchy songs, knockabout comedy and great performances by the likes of Peter Lorre and Charles Laughton. His treatment of montage is unscrupulous. He makes a false argument about what was claimed for montage in the early twentieth century and concludes
THE IMPOSSIBLE SPECTATOR
that, since this argument does not wash, that we must abandon montage. Anybody who has read Brecht or Eisenstein on montage knows that Ranciere does not offer a serious account here, and that his alternatives (eg displacement) are, in fact, part of the history of montage theory. While Ranciere’s political analysis of domination within the educational relationship correctly seeks to emancipate the pupil from the tutelage of the ‘master’, he fails to do so in questions of art’s own internal hierarchies, taking sides with the spectator rather than the culturally excluded. Being the target of art’s emancipatory forces does not place the spectator outside art, but right at its heart – bullseye! By basing his defence of the spectator on ‘the misadventures of critical thought’ rather than the economies of cultural capital, Ranciere gives the impression of emancipating the culturally ignorant against orthodoxy and power when he is, in fact, defending the most privileged figure within the history of art. The question is not whether we are for or against the spectator, but what has happened within art history to which the spectator is true (or in Badiou’s terminology, to which the spectator has fidelity), and what has happened since to which the spectator embodies no fidelity. Simply, the spectator, which Ranciere defends against the artworld’s attempt to generate new places for the engagement with art, was once an historical novelty. The spectator’s hegemonic position within art is the result of the very same process that Ranciere is trying to halt by defending the emancipated spectator. And given that the artworld is currently awash with new artworks, new techniques and new theories of art's encounter, it is safe to say that a defense of the spectator today is an attempt to retain fidelity to a truth that has had its day. This is a conjunctural philosophy of truth, and it calls for a conjunctural theory of art, aesthetics and, of course, the spectator.
Philosophers give artists bad advice. This is what leads philosophers, including Ranciere, who write so eloquently and fastidiously on philosophy and politics, to write in such a ham-fisted way when it comes to art. Defending the spectator as a category of experience (rather than examining the specific practices, role and status of the spectator in one actual set of social and cultural circumstances or another) is like taking sides with brushwork against ‘finish’ once and for all, outside of the contingencies of practice and debate. Rancière’s generalizations, which might seem convincing within his abstract argument, have no sticking power. In saying this I am not simply insisting on the facts or asserting the value of empirical research. Rancière’s error is to assume that abstract questions about art can be settled through abstract debate. This error can be avoided if we understand that controversies about what art is or ought to be are rarely if ever fought on abstract terms (we don't work out what art is and then proceed to develop instantiations of the general definition). Rather, the deepest and broadest questions about art are always channeled through disputes over specific and detailed local issues, very often quite arcane technical questions, in fact. This is why, at different times, it has seemed as if everything in art, including its very existence, depended on, for instance, protecting form from content, or having to choose between finish and brushwork, or either asserting or subverting the division between high and low culture, or siding with the horizontal against the vertical, or preferring the occupation of time over space, or exploring ideas instead of materials, or addressing the viewer as ocular or embodied. It must be stressed here that it is never a question of identifying one variant over another, as if, say, beauty is always preferable to the grotesque, or participation is always preferable to solitary contemplation.
THE IMPOSSIBLE SPECTATOR
The key is to see these (specific) disputes (that always have far-reaching ramifications for art per se) as conjunctural. That is to say, we should avoid the temptation - or pressure - to take sides, affirmatively or critically, once and for all, abstracted from the contingencies of practice and history. We must insist, on the contrary, that what is at stake in these detailed questions about art undergo changes according to specific historical conditions. So, brushwork might subvert the academicism of finish at one conjuncture and then be rejected for a more crafted finish when brushwork has become bloated with power. Hence, if we are developing a notion of the spectator or a theory of socially engaged art, it will not be in an ahistorical, ideal or generic way. What's more, since these specific questions are the means by which we dispute art as such, they can never be isolated from an ensemble of questions. Since modernism it has seemed impossible in fact to produce new works and new configurations of art without at the same time questioning the existing spectator. As such, the critique of the spectator today is an inherited component of a stream of modernist and avant-gardist critiques of art (each critique proposing new formal, technical, aesthetic and social possibilities for art), then we can see that it is false to separate the critique of the spectator from a set of questions about cultural and social transformation. Modernism and avant-gardism critique the spectator and simultaneously call forth new spectators, new publics and new experiences, as a condition of calling forth new art, new institution, new social forms, new ideologies and a new world. Instead of philosophers telling artists that weâ€™ve got art all wrong because we fail to see what kind of epistemological category it ought to exemplify, it is always misleading to approach even the most abstract questions in art in a philosophically abstract way. Questions within art must always be conjunctural, contingent and specific.
Rather than accepting that the passive spectator holds the place of the pupil subjected by the schoolmaster, or the part des sanspart, then, we might, instead, understand the spectator as occupying a very central and powerful role within the ideology, economy and knowledge of art. In fact, since the death of the author we might go so far as to say the spectator is hegemonic. If this is true then it sounds to me as if Rancière wants to emancipate the privileged. And this is evident in his conception of the aesthetic community as 'apart together'. 'The aesthetic community is a community of disidentified persons', he argues. He links this, brilliantly, to the idea that 'an emancipated proletarian is a dis-identified worker', which refers, in particular, to self-educating workers who, thereby, do not restrict themselves to the allotted capacities of workers. However, Rancière fails to mention that a privileged bourgeois is a disidentified capitalist. It is dis-identification that allows the better-off to think of themselves as better full-stop. The same is true in art. A privileged aesthete is a dis-identified scholar. This is the precise logic of the symbolic violence of aesthetics, according to Bourdieu, in which the acquisition of cultural capital is acquired on the condition that the knowledge is preserved while its acquisition is systemically forgotten: this is why the spectator seems so creditable. Although Rancière's politics takes sides with the systemically impoverished, excluded and denigrated, when it comes to the question of cultural politics he takes sides with art’s hegemonic subject, the spectator, rather than culture’s impoverished, excluded and denigrated subject, art’s own part des sans-part, namely the philistine. The defence of the philistine should not be seen as a kind of intellectual surrendering of the high ground – of value or quality – for the sake of bodily pleasures, commercial entertainment and popular sentiment. But it certainly should not be expected to confirm the values and hierarchies behind such distinctions. The stark contrast between aesthetic delight on the one hand and debauchery on the other, for instance, is a signal of the body as a site of bitter rivalries, not simply a guide to proper conduct.
THE IMPOSSIBLE SPECTATOR
The philistine is not normally considered a cultural rival so much as a rival to culture. We have to add, straightaway, I think, that the total loss of culture may be an ideological claim about the philistine, just as it was about so-called primitives. The appearance of the philistine’s lack of culture is better understood as a lack of cultural capital. In this way, the common idea of the philistine’s externality to culture – of having no culture – can be regarded as the ideological proof that the philistine holds the place of art’s part des sans-part, the subject characterized by the total loss of culture. What this means is that, the philistine is a figure within cultural discourse, by virtue of being perceived as a figure without culture. And what I would want to add is that consequently the philistine holds its own promesse du bonheur by exceeding art’s horizon of cultural universality. The philistine, like the part des sans-part, is not another way of talking about the proletariat, but it occupies an analogous place in a different structure. Their structural promise is based on their absolute lack of immediate promise. Marx did not argue that the working class were better educated, had better manners or were better equipped to govern than the bourgeoisie. And no defense of the philistine could get very far by starting from the assertion that it is culturally superior to the aesthete, connoisseur etc. In fact, there is nothing positive about the philistine that would justify any hope placed in it. Like the proletariat in the economy, though, or the part des sans-part of politics, the philistine holds a unique place within the totality which means that it is the key to understanding culture and, potentially, a powerful agent in transforming it. If we take Marx’s equation of impoverishment and emancipatory potential, we can see that the philistine, as culturally bereft, fits the bill perfectly. Marx characterises the position of the revolutionary class as being able to say of itself “I am nothing and I should be everything”, and politically this is exactly the position of the part des sans-part and culturally the same goes for the philistine.
It is obvious why Rancière would reject mass, commercial and popular culture: while their lack of cultural esteem might place them as rivals to aesthetic privilege, their commodification, bureaucratization and affirmation mean that they are fully integrated in the power, wealth and the policed system. But it is not at all clear why the champion of the part des sans-part takes sides with the spectator rather than the philistine. The philistine is the repository of hope not because of how we might judge particular philistine attitudes or those we might identify as actual philistines, but because it holds the place of all those without a place in the conflictual arena of culture. So, with the philistine, the modernist, the avantgardist and the critical or political or revolutionary artist in mind, let me return to Ranciere’s argument that the incapable are capable, the basis of his defence of the spectator as having no need for emancipation since the spectator is already emancipated. What the adventure of critical thought in art has consistently insisted on is not the incapacity of those excluded from art, but their critical capacity. The incapable – those philistines who prefer the circus to the art gallery, those ‘primitives’ who are closer to violence than civilization, those pamphleteers who are closer to action than aesthetic contemplation, and so on – are capable of shattering the aesthetic world of official culture. The critical tradition within art are not the main agents of the idea that the incapable are in fact incapable (we would look to the conservative aesthetes for arguments of that kind). But what the critical tradition within art has always added to the argument that the incapable are capable, is equally that the capable are incapable – I mean, the lovers of official culture are too well educated to see the horrific truth about cultural division, for instance, or that they fail to grasp the subtleties of ‘low culture’, thinking that all TV is mind-numbing and so on. The critical tradition
THE IMPOSSIBLE SPECTATOR
within art has constantly imported these illegitimate forms of culture into art and found them to be exciting, fascinating, deep and nuanced. We can add two more twists to Ranciere’s assertion that the incapable are capable. First, the capacity of the capable – their skills, taste, pleasures and rituals – should not go unchallenged and should not be seen as the best way to judge the incapable. And second, the capacity of the incapable to engage in art should not be seen as a horizon, as something for them to aspire to, as their only capacity, and so on. Ranciere allows philistines to aspire to official culture but not to challenge, subvert, and question it. The incapable are capable, but also: The capable are incapable (this is why the cultivated so often reject the works of the avantgarde – they are incapable, in their current place, to see it) The capacity of the capable should not go unchallenged The capacity of the incapable is not their limit (the incapable have surplus capacity – they can do, see and think things that the capable cannot) The emancipated spectator is a good citizen of art – well behaved, at ease, legitimate, untroubled, unquestioning, follows protocol, knows what is expected of them, knows their place, and so on. Art has more to offer than this, partly because it asks much more of the spectator than to be ‘good’. Art wants an impossible spectator. Let us turn to Lececle once again, and see the spectator not as an empirical individual opposed to the artist, set against each other in an antagonistic relationship. Let’s see them, instead, as
actants or places integral to the work. A person does not occupy one place permanently. For empirical reasons, of course, we have to see the artist as also and necessarily a spectator., but in terms of the grammar of art’s relations, the artist is also a spectator in another sense: real, concrete individuals temporarily occupy the places set by the work and its circuits. As such, Ranciere’s politics of art, which presupposes a conflict between the different empirical figures fixed in their roles of artist and spectator, can be replaced with a politics of art’s impossible spectators. In effect, when the artist creates a work that establishes a new place for the engagement with art, they are transforming themselves. This is, in fact, what artists-asspectators want from other artists too. We go to galleries in order to be stretched, in order to find new ways of thinking and being, in order to occupy new places in the grammar of art. The point is not to keep art from everyone else, to think of art’s grammar only in terms of artists-as-artists and artistsas-spectators. The point is, first, to do away with Ranciere’s fatal partitioning of the artworld that keeps artists and spectators apart in their fixed roles, failing to see how these places can be occupied by the same individuals. The point is also to build into the heart of the grammar of art’s social relations those places that do not yet exist but are the reason why art continues to be an exhilarating experience. The spectator should not come to rest in the encounter with art, but should be sent off, transported, transposed and transformed by art. Art, in this way, always hopes for and tries to produce a new spectator, a spectator that was previously impossible. The spectator is not meant to be capable – at least not straight away – but needs to engage in a kind of creative labour which is as much about transforming oneself as it is about knowing the work. The labour of engaging with art is a labour of transformation from the possible to
THE IMPOSSIBLE SPECTATOR
the impossible, not in terms of knowledge but in terms of subjectivity – a becoming. Art allows us to become something unpredictable, something unacceptable, perhaps, or something strange. The impossible spectator is constantly changing because they must continue to outstrip their own capacity. Their capacity runs out quickly. They are not capable once and for all but are continually stretched by the experience of art – not, I might stress, by the shocking artwork or artist, but by the process of engaging with art). Capacity is dead, here. Capacity is facile; incapacity is joy. So, the avantgarde, instead of emancipating the spectator from ‘passivity and ignorance’, can best be seen as establishing places for impossible spectators – to address the spectator to come, and therefore to see art’s spectators as capable above all else, to become something impossible. Like avantgarde montage, the subject of art is impossible in another sense. The elements of montage do not get resolved into a coherent whole. Edges remain. Conflicting spaces are not resolved into one, contradictions are maintained. There is no single point from which to survey the elements of montage. No unity within the montage means no unity is possible for the spectator – they have to remain mobile in their engagement, shifting from this element to that element, from this relationship to that relationship, without settling. The result is an impossible subject. A ‘subjectless subject’ in a sense that Adorno neglected in coining that phrase. Finally, the impossible spectator is mobile subject that holds another promise. Following Walter Benjamin’s argument in ‘Author as Producer’, that the distinction between those who write and those who read can and ought to be abandoned, the impossible mobile spectator is someone who is not restricted to being a spectator, as if this were their fate. The impossible mobile spectator is a temporary spectator, an actant, always ready to take on a different role –
participant, author, collaborator, etc. Without this kind of mobility, there is no emancipation. The various possible roles available to us are performed by the spectator in a way that refutes the possible (the actual) and points beyond their own personal transformation â€“ the impossible spectator promises us an impossible world.
THE IMPOSSIBLE SPECTATOR
Mark Grist OUT OF THE PICTURE
Since we broke up The photo booth In the shop Down your road Hates me. The pictures That it takes of me Come out Ghostly. In them I am grossly Anaemic, Under-saturated, Unhygienic, Green eyed, Lopsided And unusually pasty.
OUT OF THE PICTURE
Since we broke up The photo booth In the shop Down your road Is no longer my friend My hair appears To be dressed For revenge And no matter What I spend It refuses to capture My smile again. Instead it exposes Hard knots Deep spots, Bitten with stubble Where once There were wrinkles Now there are double And the seat Lacks old comfort As if created For a couple.
And as I stand watching, Waiting For another picture That it’s taken The guttural jeers Of the machine Develop in my ears Confirming my fears That the world Is turning Against me lately.
OUT OF THE PICTURE
And since we broke up The photo booth In the shop Down your road Seems to Hate me.
Matthew Stock THE SUIT REALLY NEEDS TWO PAIRS OF HANDS
The suit I am wearing and the operation I am conducting with it and in it really needs two pairs of hands; one to slip the battery packs in to the specifically made pockets in the waistcoat and the other to site the cameras in the jacket and feed the wires from the battery packs. But as this is a one-person cubicle with a fair few gallery visitors outside it is better for me to this solo. The cameras are pin hole spy cameras with 10m night sights and audio; with some last minute adjustments they will soon be sited and I will be ready to exit and emerge into the gallery. The weight of the battery packs holds me upright and elegant. The Spectator is much more then a mere member of a momentary group that go to see this thing, then move over there and observe that thing; they are a community. The position and power of the spectator, as implied by the work of art, has been a central question from the time of Denis Diderot and has been regularly contested from Roland Barthes essay The Death of the Author to Michael Fried’s call for the passivity of the audience. Jacques Rancière’s The Emancipated Spectator brings the spectator back into focus; once again asking us to re-examine its potential. Rancière’s spectator is one that is developed through ideas raised in his earlier work The Ignorant School Master. This work converges on the theories of the eccentric Joseph Jacotot who believed in the pedagogical structure of intellectual equality. Ranciere concentrates on this to discuss the relationship between the schoolmaster and the pupil. In the Emancipated Spectator Ranciere uses The Ignorant School Master as a basis to discuss the spectator of an artwork; a position that he always holds in doubt. For Ranciere the spectator who sits and passively observes an artwork is viewed as an undesirable description of the viewing
THE SUIT REALLY NEEDS TWO PAIRS OF HANDS
process for two reasons: firstly the spectator is portrayed as a position of ignorance unaware of the codes and signs that enable the transmission of knowledge from actor to viewer. Secondly the spectator remains immobile and passive he is separated both from the action on the stage and from the actions of other spectators; this is an ignorance that needs be countered to re-establish knowledge and action. Theatre needs to activate the spectator by reversing this ignorance’s effect and restoring what Ranciere calls the “ownership of their consciousness and their activity”. But Ranciere goes further for he calls for a new spectator, and a new relationship, derived from his writings about the ignorant schoolmaster. The schoolmaster’s role is to abolish the distance between ignorance and knowledge, by continuously re-establishing and breaking down this distance. This pedagogical relationship between schoolmaster and pupil is one that can be seen as a parallel to the distance between the artwork and its spectator and may explain what is at stake for the spectator in contemporary art today. “Emancipation starts from the opposite principal, the principal of equality. It begins when we dismiss the opposition between looking and acting, and understand that the distribution of the visible itself is part of the configuration of domination and subjection. It starts when we realise that looking is also an action that confirms or modifies that distribution, and that ‘interpreting the world’ is already a means of transforming it.” Art forum review, The Emancipated Spectator, March 2007. The first route is the most important, the decisions that I make about my walking direction, pathways and stopping points will all have to be noted and catalogued for later repetition. It’s the repetition of this walk through the site over and over again that will enable this artwork that I am in the process of creating. Physically the galleries specific environment confronts me; in this instance it
is the private view of its latest show. The visitors, the artwork, the artist, and the site make up the categories that I will be filming. The wondering gaze of the cameras retransmits these categories by divorcing them form time and place. In this way I am asking questions concerning the politics of art production and art viewing. I will begin by moving to observe this painting and then move over to my right to view this video installation; this has taken me 10 minutes so far. I will continue through… The question of an audience and readership arose again during the Self Assessment of Madame Wang. This journal is engaged in the potential for geo-distributed collaboration in order to call forth another site for artistic experiences, and in doing so is calling for a new way of approaching the art object. What is interesting is how Jacques Rancière and Boris Groys relate to this question. How can these artistic experiences and ideologies exist within a new site and what does this ultimately mean to the community that observes it? The contemporary art community is a self-aware community that has already been conditioned by the art world’s numerous emancipatory and participatory projects. This community has already accepted its participatory role, actively welcomed its new authorities, and is ready to reject or accept any denigration offered. What would constitute a new site for art and what will its community of users look like? If we accept Rancière’s position that the transfer of knowledge is dependent on maintaining the division of both mastery & ignorance, passivity & activity, then another question arises. This passivity and mastery continues to support the configuration of the involved individuals into positions of domination and subjection, can the artist functioning as the ignorant schoolmaster change the relationship of the spectator as the pupil? Boris Groys offers an insight in his essay Politics of Installation, where he discusses what happens when a mass cultural community encounters the context of art. Groys suggests that groups
THE SUIT REALLY NEEDS TWO PAIRS OF HANDS
attending a film screening are transitory encounters and that their structure is accidental; they share no commonalities or previous history to bind them together but yet they are still communities. Groys calls these groups “radically contemporary communities” and makes it very clear that these groups are not be confused with radical political religious or working communities because these traditional communities all share, from the outset, a link to something common from the past. “….a common language, common faith, common political history, common upbringing. Such communities tend to establish boundaries between themselves and strangers with whom they share no common past.” Groys, Going Public, P62 In contrast the communities created by mass culture transcend any links to the common past: a community viewing a film screening or a pop concert is only able to look forward; this is due to the constructs of stage and the positioning of the audience. Groys suggests that this is not adequate to keep the community together. The key is found when this community enters the art context, for the arts space has the ability to evoke self-reflection through its use of the installation, curatorial practices, and most importantly mediated encounters with art. “The contemporary art space is a space in which multitudes can view themselves and celebrate themselves… in a way that assists them in reflecting upon their own condition, offering them an opportunity to exhibit themselves to themselves.” Groys, Going Public 2010 p.63 In this self-exhibition there is a parallel with Rancière’s argument that the ethics of our political efficacy stem from and still have a relationship to the classical theatre’s aesthetic break. The actors of classical theatre performing on stage exhibit thoughts and emotions that are interpreted and read by the audience, who see in these performances a reflection of them selves. This reflection
enables the stage to directly affect the behaviour of the community. Rancière is quick to point out that while we no longer believe that the stage can bring about a utopian change in human behaviour, we do still however hold with the belief that images/things can instigate political social change. But therein lies a rupture point, and interestingly it relates to neuroscience and how the brain processes new information. Rancière suggests that the origins of this rupture stem from the spectator vs. performer, “What was broken down was the continuity between thought and its signs in bodies, and also between the performance of living bodies and its effect on other bodies.” Rancière, The Emancipated Spectator, p.62. This refers to an aesthetically induced rupture point; the spectator who sees and reflects on what he sees with what he knows, observes in the theatre his reflection, but it is paradoxically opposite to the spectacle before him. The model has broken down.
This crowded corner means that I will have to stop and wait; this is a good time for me to mentally re-walk my entrance through the first two rooms, corridor and drinks bar. I find myself in a state of hypnosis, I see neither the artworks or the people, I see just objects in space that I will re-appropriate much later in my studio. The partially concealed cameras can be noticed by those that want to look; but they are unimportant and insignificant over shadowed by the greater impact that this private view has over the attending audience; who are a subservient community emancipated by one of arts most sincere of spectacles. This artwork in creation aims to open up layers of possibilities within: the tragic space, the foreclose space, and the potential space.
THE SUIT REALLY NEEDS TWO PAIRS OF HANDS
Ranciere puts forward the civic festival structure as a possible solution to this rupture, where there is no separation between actors and spectators through the use of ethical performance; or to put it another way, the actors perform what the spectators see in themselves. This new model proposes a stance without any separation between stage and spectator; an anti-representation. Linking this with Groys one can see a similarity with the model of his stance for production. The artist and the spectator view together their own reflection, and in doing so call forth new information, and new knowledge. Is this the model for Madame Wang? Arts Encounter with Madame Wang Rancière now introduces what he calls the Third Thing in relation to the schoolmaster and the pupil. This Third Thing is described as being “..always a book or some kind of writing – alien to both and to which they can refer to, to verify in common what the pupil has seen.” An artist may wish an intention, an action or an intensity that is inherent in their work to be perceived or felt or understood by the spectator, and as such, they seek a position between cause and effect. The artist is occupying the position of the schoolmaster as one who is aware of the distance and has knowledge of the ways to abolish it. There exists then this distance between the artist and the spectator, and also a distance between the artist’s intentions and the understanding of the spectator. This is where Rancière’s Third Thing comes in; Rancière suggests that it is not the transmission of the artist’s knowledge intention or understanding to the spectator but this Third Thing that is important. It is something that is owned by no one, but which subsists between them both. For the ignorant artist and ignorant spectator this Third Thing is both the intention of the artist and the understanding of the spectator. It is the spectacle that links and separates them, there is no equal transmission of information, there is just the action of the spectator and the intention of the artist.
A note about learning When you acquire new learning you may feel that you can learn anything, however, the world of Neuroscience tells us something different. It says that what you have already learnt directly affects your ability to learn new things. This is important and poses an interesting question for art, because it is possible that there will be limitations on the transmission of knowledge. For example the spectator, who stands in front of an art object in contemplation, does not stand in ignorant isolation for the spectator brings with them prior knowledge which they will access and reflect on to understand the object that they see before them. This knowledge is fundamental for the transmission of meaning from the artist to the spectator. This knowledge then provides the framework for which new knowledge can be linked. The brain’s ability to acquire and process new information is fundamentally associative, that is to say, what you can learn is influenced and affected by what you have already learnt. The ability to learn is also motivated by differences between what is expected and what is actually transmitted; this difference between expectation and transmission is what produces further learning. How can these new communities suggested by Groys and Rancière be empowered to approach Madame Wang’s self-reflexive site, and to understand the processes by which this new encounter and its information will take place? The spectator is not a passive position that needs to be made active; it is a natural position, it is what has always been. The community sees in an artwork that which it sees within itself and in doing so continues to reassert its position to itself. The artist aims to transmit an intensity of feeling, energy and action to the spectator, which is governed by the distance between them and the distance between the artwork and the spectator. More than that there is the Third Thing; placed between artist, artwork and spectator, to which
THE SUIT REALLY NEEDS TWO PAIRS OF HANDS
all have access and which is described by Rancière as the book. Lastly and importantly there is neuroscience’s association and its model of limitation. This then displays the Self Assessment world that Madame Wang navigates and in many ways is a product of. By altering the site for art, the encounter with art is also changed, and with it both the spectator and the artist. Madame Wang, the publication, is an object that is distributed, purchased, held and felt; its format is not necessarily new at all, but what is new is the way in which it is developed. In its dual call for both a new way of distributing writing, and an alternative collaborative process, it is placing demands on the centrality of the conception of the reader-writer relation. This openness is brought forth through the inclusion of the collaborators’ processes and the outward stance of the text. It calls for collaboration in its creation and its reading, and in doing so it seeks to enable the re-conception of the audience. To be enabled is to give someone or something the authority or means to do something; this is a very powerful statement and in the end perhaps this is enough.
Groys, B, (2010), Going Public e-flux journal, Sternberg Press, Ranciere, J, (2009), The Emancipated Spectator, Verso Ranciere, J, (March 2007 p.270 – 281), The Emancipated Spectator, Art forum This text was first published in Madame Wang issue 2
Tom Trevatt BEYOND SPECTATING Contemporary art is a genre that is loosely but not exclusively defined by the chronological time of the twentieth century. More precisely, the contemporary is defined by certain tropes, categories or tactics which originate in very specific moments in the art history of this last century. I want to pinpoint what I see as the defining moment of the shift from the modern era to the contemporary, codify how this shift has defined what we now see as art, and propose a move beyond the limited category of the contemporary. This move beyond, or escape, I attest, will provide art with a renewed mandate to engage politically. Almost predictably the defining shift from the modern to the contemporary occurs with Marcel Duchamp who, in 1917 wrote a short essay entitled The Creative Act. In this text he outlined a key phrase that has come to shadow the art production of the last hundred years; the artist-coefficient. To quote Duchamp: “in the chain of reactions accompanying the creative act, a link is missing. This gap, representing the inability of the artist to express fully his intention, this difference between what he intended to realize and did realize, is the personal 'art coefficient' contained in the work. In other words, the personal 'art coefficient' is like an arithmetical relation between the unexpressed but intended and the unintentionally expressed. To avoid a misunderstanding, we must remember that this 'art coefficient' is a personal expression of art à l'état brut, that is, still in a raw state, which must be 'refined' as pure sugar from molasses by the spectator” (Duchamp, M. The Creative Act) For Duchamp, and his legacy, this refining process is the process of acting as a viewer on the work of art. As he continues, “the creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and
interpreting its inner qualification and thus adds his contribution to the creative act.” (ibid.) Contemporary art precisely produces a scenario whereby the viewer is interpolated as a free subject within the realm of decision about the work. This space opened by the work for the viewer to occupy is what I call a correlate space, determined by its openness to the viewer's interpretive impulse. In fact, we can trace the history of contemporary art as it progressed from Modernism where the focus was on production, to the period we exist in now, where the focus is on interpretation with this specific Duchampian statement. The interpretive mode places the viewer as subject in a prioritised position, prioritised precisely as the subject of the decision, seen as the procedure of fixity where the subject is both the recipient and progenitor of meaning. Contemporary art gives itself over to a viewer who's subjectivity is produced by the open, or correlate, space art of the contemporary period engenders. So, if the artist-coefficient is the sine qua non of contemporary art, and the net result of this openness to the viewer is the interpolation of a certain kind of subjectivity – a subject who finds itself as the locus of meaning production – then art in this category builds into itself a teleology of interpretation. The subject as inbuilt addressee precipitates a conservative logic of humanism that places art as a communicative device determined by its relation to cognition. Art, then is forever seen as an object, as Quentin Meillassoux puts it, “for us”. The problems with this conception are twofold. Firstly, the prioritisation of the human subject in its relation to the art object is an anthropocentricism which continues the work of post-Kantian thought to place humanity at the core of existence. And secondly, the open artwork's political ambition is severely limited by its insistence on the use of the logic of undecidability. What contemporary art has instituted in its non-ideological positing of the undecidable at its core, in other words, its tragic relationship to meaning, is a constitutive failure to do real politics. Politics in contemporary art is reduced to the image of politics but without the corollary theory of the power of the image needed to
escape the tragic sustained through ironic distance. Art that has undecidability as its defining feature does so through a suspension of decision, slippages at the juncture of determination. It adopts forms that open a space between the affirmative and negative. Maurizzio Lazzarato sees with this undecidability comes a radical form of political resistance. In an essay titled 'Art, Work and Politics in Disciplinary Societies and Societies of Security' he suggests that the suspension of labour produced by the artwork acts as a potential space for new forms of political subjectivity. That the void left by the un-decision is the moment of political resistance - a radical openness for the possibility of subjectivity. Undecidability is produced by what art thinks is its politics, the 'non-institution' or 'non-proposition', or, in other words, the openness to interpretation. The kind of subject interpolated by this openness is near identical to the subject in neoliberalism; that is a free, unregulated individualised subject, with the personal freedoms that the politics of liberalism promised. And let us be clear, the socio-economic effects of the shift to individualism have created the current crisis of liberal market capitalism. As Jon Cruddas and Jonathan Rutherford explain in their essay Ethical Socialism, the historical declination of the welfare state, Geoffrey Howe's 1981 'austerity budget' that cut public spending and increased taxes and Thatcher's degradation of socialism, were crucial in the destruction of social responsibility and the creation of “a new popular compact between the individual and the market” which “displace[d] the old statist, social welfare contract” (Cruddas, J. and Rutherford, J. Ethical Socialism). This creation of a new type of individualism has, through its linkage of the individual to capital, eviscerated the idea of the public sphere as a political space, thus confining politics to an elite political class, produced a form of hyper-consumerism driven by desire, and ultimately been responsible for the 2008 financial collapse and, I would argue, the current ecological crisis. I would go so far as to suggest that contemporary art has been at the avant garde of the creation of this form of political subjectivity, has laid the ground for the shift to individualism and has through its appeal to the private experience of the viewer, devalued
the idea of a common. Contemporary art, then, despite its claims to ethical or critical politics, is both the worst expression and progenitor of neoliberalism. My claim would be that it is our responsibility now to rethink what art can be outside of the framework of the contemporary. The relational or cognizable prioritising, the production of correlate space in other words, inherent in contemporary art necessarily occludes the reality of the art object, a reality that we cannot account for through cognisance, the reality of an anterior world expressed as indifferent to humans. What remains now, beyond the contemporary, is to account for that exterior reality. To do so would, I suggest, problematize the humanism of contemporary art, thus eviscerating the correlate space, claiming art as part beyond the realm of the â€œfor usâ€? part embedded in that realm and operating not through the aegis of the interpretative mode but returning us to the question of production. The artwork cannot either be contained by thought nor is it produced merely as a vehicle for thought, but it both brings with it and is instaurated by atelic affects that are reliant upon the contingency of materials which, pertaining to no idealism, perhaps or perhaps not perturb other objects, including the viewer, but are not activated by or for the viewer. Art is capable of making, and regularly does make, propositions about the world in a non-conceptual way. That is to say, the work of the work of art is extra-philosophical, it can produce determinations that are beyond thought, beyond philosophy, beyond the human. The artwork, instead of being a pure relational, or communicative device, is first and foremost an irruption of nonthought. This unknowable is both the horizon and beyond the horizon of what thought can think, and may or may not, and this possible but not necessary condition is important, may or may not cause things to happen. There is, to reiterate, no necessity for the unknowable to make itself self evident through affectivity. It is as likely as not that the irruption of non-thought within the work will contingently act upon anything else. So, the atelic affect is not necessarily affective but contingently so. This contingency of affect that perseveres through the
logic of the unaddressed expression, the material quality of all objects not addressed to a viewer, just emphatically there, is, according to me, a challenge to the Duchampian model of contemporary art. Contingency, for Reza Negarestani, is key to understand art practice. As he suggests:
“if we consider art as a material-driven process of production, these anonymous materials enjoy an autonomy of their own; and such autonomy continuously interferes with the artwork itself regardless of the decisions of the artist – that is, whether or not the artist determines to be 'open' to their influence. In other words, the contingency of the artist's materials cannot be the strict subject of the artist's openness. Contingent materials cannot be directly embraced.” (Negarestani, R. “Contingency and Complicity”, The Medium of Contingency) As that that cannot be encompassed, contingency erupts as an evental interjection. Expressed through the materiality of the work of art, as something that surprises and leads the artist rather than being controlled by them, contingency is that which comes from the outside. For us contingency names the unknowable horror of the infinite reality that lies beyond the horizon of thought. It is the eruption of non-thought. Materiality, then, is the site for the post-human to express itself through a non-intentional affect. “Incognitum Hactenus – not known yet or nameless and without origin until now – is a mode of time in which the innermost monstrosities of the earth or ungraspable time scales can emerge according to the chronological time that belongs to the surface biosphere of the earth and its populations. Incognitum Hactenus is a double-dealing mode of time connecting abyssal time scales to our chronological time, thus exposing to us the horror of times beyond […] anything can happen for some weird reason; yet also, without any reason, nothing at all can happen. Things leak into each other according to a logic that is does
not belong to us and cannot be correlated to our chronological time” (my emphasis; Negarestani, R. Cyclonopedia) For Negarestani, material comes with a set of affordances that can channel or determine the process of production, so, instead of the openness of the contemporary period, art should be based on what he calls the “formidable ascesis of closure”. Materials afford certain aspects of themselves to be produced as such. In the quote from the beginning of this paper Duchamp formulates a gap between the expressed but intended and the unintentionally expressed, for him the unintentionally expressed is what is given over to the viewer by the artist for the production of meaning to occur. Apophenia is the name given to this process, the bursting forth of subjectivity from the object, in other words, the very human act of creating meaning out of random patterns. What occurs in the Duchampian paradigm is the internalising of the expectation of apohenia, or rather, contemporary art attaches itself to the production of subjectivity through the appeal to apophenia alone. Which is to say art prostrates itself to the subjective. What the atelic affect engenders is a thinking of a work of art shorn from its attachment to the addressed subject. Instead, instituting a thinking beyond the humanism of the contemporary focus on the subject towards a radical object focused thought. To quote Ray Brassier: “it is no longer thought that determines the object, whether through representation or intuition, but rather the object that seizes thought, and forces it to think it ... according to it” (Brassier, R. Nihil Unbound). Starting from a zero point of nihilist speculation art must think beyond the contemporary towards a realm of collected objectiveness divorced from the humanist promise of individual freedom, whereby the realm of art is defined not by its addressed subject, but by the stake by which it enters into an ecology of objects that understand themselves as capable of instituting their own politics. Upon the death of humanist ideology and the dawning of an age in which TOM TREVATT
politics must transform into a category capable of making the move beyond its previous neoliberal dominion, art has a renewed mandate to engender a new political imaginary. This, I claim, it does not through an opening up but by the procedure of non-dialectical resistance to thought, hence not the production of undecidability, but the instauration of affects. Art would then rest in the double position of addressed and unaddressed expression. Whereas, under Duchamp, this unaddressed expression would be the realm for the subjectivisation of the viewer, according to me, this realm of the art is the expression precisely of an ecological thought that is able to engender a radical new politics of interdependence and commonality that butchers the prioritised space of subjectivity. Art beyond the contemporary understands itself as capable of a politics beyond the limited ambition of the production of a free liberal subject, towards affective, powerful and intertwined objects that produce the common through an institution of affects and as such, a site for new politics to emerge. A version of this paper was given at the Beyond Representation conference at South Bank University in May 2012
This book was produced as a part of the exhibition illusion of the spectator 8th â€“ 18th June 2012 Editors Matthew Stock Keh Ng Copy Editor Matthew Stock Design The Modern Language Experiment Cover Design dividebythree.com Published The Modern Language Experiment First published 2012 firstname.lastname@example.org Available to buy at www.modernlangaugeexperiment.org
ÂŠ the modern language experiment 2012 All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any mechanical, electronic or other means known with out the permission in writing from the publishers.
This publication will re-examine the position and power of the spectator by looking at what has caused this preoccupation with the spectator...