(The) Art (we thought we knew) is finally collapsing, perhaps. To retain a speck of positivity —in an otherwise consistently dull generalised cynical muteness permeating the spirit of this very time, perhaps, art is finally mutating. At this paradigmatic moment the institutional forms where art has been usually exposed and validated are indirectly, virulently, asked to radically transform, or else to face a proximal collapse. Art as traditionally intended, namely as a field of which products need to be validated by the institution, has failed. We failed finding and financing autonomous spaces within the relentless growth of planetary-scale-computation, failing to realise the necrosis (sense and meaning) of art’s bodily presence, yet to start reckoning with what has happened in the recent fatal aftermath, the displacing pandemic blow that cannot be fully mapped, given its unpredictable bio-logical telos. The ongoing pandemic, existential now more than somatic, has only rendered legible what was already happening to art and agency: their total molecularisation and sublimation due to the gargantuan self-catalytic apparatus —the abstracting and self-accelerating process in which each regime of life and labour is churned and re-processed—, “capital”, the process of which art, as the field that valorises impossible (transcendental) objects1 is somewhat representative. The fractalisation and transformation of “meaning”, the loss of sense in the words agency and action, the sedation of presence, the alienation of embodiment, the spectrality of virtual “faciality”, the impossibility of bodily performance and presence, the transformation of what we mean by personhood and embodiment. All the above are factors that must be re-channeled, re-designed, re-purposed. They are factors affecting an exacerbated situation that is brought out in plain sight due to the ongoing Covid-19, a situation needing a fundamental reboot through the invention of radical strategies for living, or leaving, otherwise. What is the place of art? What is art when it stops occupying physical locations through its event-like incarnations; when galleries, exhibitions and spontaneous urban events are deserted? Asking where is the place of Art goes well beyond the field of art itself, as “place” has in-itself problematically and interestingly, explicitly so, mutated into forms not properly physical —in fact one must reckon, as place has never been ontologically only physical. After its post-modern death, “place” kept dodging any attempt at description, at theoretical capture. Place as general category should be understood as a medium made of interlocking physical and virtual extensions: this is a fact, one intuitively acquired right after infancy, staring at the "mirror” looking at the eerie presence of one-self, looking at the infinitesimal fracture where a univocal-dualism must find its form of survival, in space and in time I see the paradoxical super-position of the infinity of thought and the somatic finitude of my carbon based presence. I see that paradoxical couple arrayed in series as my several selves come and go to renovate the current model of my self. A vision or perhaps seemingly an hallucination takes place where physical space is altered by images, thoughts, myriads of digital happenings, thoughts —through lucid dreaming and fictionalising, by thoughts consciously and subconsciously inventing forms of presence, by thoughts grounded, stranded and alienated by the acquisition and manipulation of language. Place IS, a torsion of domains, and the Self is not given but it is a hole for it-self, a discontinuity to be filled, a model made through singular and communal processes of abstract-material re-construction.
Why being concerned about the de-materialisation of art, the loss of its emplacement, its eradication from physical extensions when art as subsisting-insisting-alteration of the “given” is “the genetic function of thought”? One certainly cannot but feel place’s digital and physical sublimation; this is common-place. “Place” is the weird univocal bi-polarity of physical and virtual locations, the strange mutation and mutilation of matter in time, the coagulation of something we call effects and affects perceived, within the multiple that escapes, time. Place is always virtual and physical, a topology where collective meaning is forged and transformed; place is multi-spectral and multi-valent, it is widened as it is endangered, necrotised, eroded by entropic processes of meme-fication. We should not be worried about the virtualisation of “presence”, we should be concerned instead about the displacement of place into opaque digital domains where agency is entrapped and nullified, where action is captured and formatted by anonymous yet privatised and biased functions, apparatuses speculatively extracting value, devices deploying unmonitored modes of control, always inventing new forms of commodification. Molecular and planetary encounters have no autonomous grafting places, the only possibility to be, is to accept to rent and sublet digital extensions. Now that the reality of digital-reality has overcome —explicitly— the reality of physical presence (which is always augmented by layers of virtuality also in the absence of digital extensions) we are coming to terms that reality and place must be constructed in a commune in constant processual struggle with what is given, in a process trapped swinging between tendencies of abstraction and of concretisation. We have finally realised, as a species, a buried, and queer truth: that reality is matter, a matter always duplicitous, physical and virtual matter that in both domains is subject to processes of dispersion, diffraction, segmentation, alteration. How to make art given the complex topology of “place” and of “self-hood”, given we are unable to form a consistent, intersubjective and collective sense of our-selves? Who’s the subject of art? Is there a sender-receiver or is art the very thing between two or more selves? How to define the topos of art? How to think-sustain art neither as pure capitalisation (institutionalised) nor as pure dissolution (lost in the deep spaces of the digital), how to keep art’s agency fervently inventing new times and spaces, not as a passive enabler of more structural exploitations and fetishisation, but as an active field for the creation of emancipatory tool-sets, for critical engagement and collective emancipation, for re-creation of inter-subjective forms of self-hoods?
Digital art is made of fragments, its grounded and consumed willingly or unwillingly through a language of bits, a grammar outputting sounds-images-texts objects, digital presences made as they are already formatted, captured to be indexed, analysed, dismembered and finally exploited. Place and objects of art, in its hybrid physical and digital variants, gets churned by processes of discretisation without return (among many, monetary return). To have agency within this strange duality means acquiring the art of weaving and forging meaning between physical and virtual extensions, creating objects that sacrifice their commodity-form for something else. Who cares about the attractiveness index of an image at a museum, who cares about interactivity of content and no form? Of course “we”, qua audience, seem driven to care towards such form of expressions, as we are driven to celebrate an ego(-tistical) sense of presence, often needing to commemorate the image itself (of ourselves) through such artistic production. Hence, to find the place of art, a curator or an artist must work towards the definition of a strategic experiment: if art is to survive in any sense, artistic practices should begin h(a)unting an-other sense of “place”, to envision alternative structures of expression, for the archival and the re-distribution of art and/as knowledge, for art to “mean" something in today’s systemic failures, first and foremost the failure of funding and financing individual and collective agencies operating para-institutionally. If one has to make an experiment in inventive alternative futures, such prototyping stage cannot but be one that stars within art-fields, operating through the instantiation of platforms, places where collaborative practices can be sustained in time. Art isn’t and must become nothing but, the emancipatory field to enable meaningful collective forms, patterns resisting the exploitative opacity of elite-owned platforms. In fact to have agency means starting by inventing modes of art diffraction and refraction retaining the possibility of its future re-articulation. We must construct strategic visions for thinking through art —as art at the same time has lost its spatial medium, the traditional institutions where it was validated by self-entitled experts, by the hands of the museum and the private gallery. What is art, and what could art be without a physical extension? Is there art without place of instantiation, without a social medium? Does art exist without interlocution, communication, an audience, or even just without a co-creator, a receptor, etc.? Does art need “presence” (a physical audience) or could be made and subsequently experienced by anonymous, faceless avatars? Is art a collective endeavour or could art be a solitary exploration? Meaning, is art a medium to tell-share a story —to emancipate a community through engagement-inspiration— or to live a different story of one-self —to emancipate one-self from a troubling, or for a taken for granted, “given” structure? Could art stop producing objects and start defining processes and strategies of construction? Could art stop being the vector of its capitalisation and so of its exploitation and become the field for constructing the possibility of patching the hole, of designing a transformative idea of one-self, of the self in a community of other selves?
At different rhythms, at different speeds; things and events are translated into digits. One finds more “art” (as patterns of unbridled, innovative creation) in machine learning experiments, in online repositories of 3d models, one finds art emerging there, rather than museums and galleries, where we find art’s geology and art qua commodity. Artists emerge online since the materiality required for artists to begin, is at the bare minimum just a computer and a wi-fi connection, thus infinite collections of digital sound-image-text models are made. Digital archives generate infinite possibilities of recombination, appropriation, hybridisation. We have long seen the emergence and death of remix culture, notwithstanding there we stand still, trying to understand how to have collective agency by working within a machinery of fragmentation and virulent association. Making art through digital tools, outputting mostly digital presences, necessitates the creation of novel spaces where such creations could be kept alive. Art is in-completion although at a certain point a process must become one, a fragment must solidify into a presence, an object, an event showing a tendency, a vector, a tensor, one that could potentially open thought ethically to alternative forms of being. Art’s digital object is incompletion and the domain of art, could become in the digital an open archive made of versions, where artworks are dismembered components in-relation, to be seen as transformative-objects. In the digital, objects keep mutating, they potentially could be made and used not as dead-final entities given they could be altered at will by trans-subjective collectives. If any model-object or part of it could be downloaded, indexed, reutilised, what is that makes a specific model truly (essentially, meaningfully) different from others, what is the inherent value in a “version”? What makes one model an art-model and not simply another “test” belonging to the infinite series, another commodified object of exchange, of consumption, another “asset” (a term utilised in game production) to be exploited in other contexts? As any creation, based on sound-image-text, is more and more a complex kit-bashed assemblage —the non-figurative golem, a non fully mappable figure made of available fragments, finally an object born out of digital surplus— what form of recognition, validation or redistribution shall we put in place to sustain the material life of the ones involved in the digital making? Should one be ethically concerned about the act of unremitting appropriation and fragmentary transformation of someone else output? What is the future space, “object” or “act” of art? What is the future of art given that any object, any digital object can be cloned? What do “additive games”2 do to the metaphysics of art? Certainly they help in transcoding culture, in queering the given, though, what is the creation of a true event, of an event opening a gap revealing an alternative form of life, through readily available and almost non-copyrighted surplus ready-to-hand, to be downloaded in the amusement cemetery of digital fields?
Collaborative practices, digital communities could function through platforms, though could we rely on existing ones or what digital and physical plat-forms does art require? Is there a way to sustain a form of life, artistic life and life qua agency of change, in a system that subjects and dissipates, that operates through multiplicities of coding languages, splintering and slicing, recombining information-objects-events in autonomous non-alphabetic, non-anthropomorphic non-traditionally-cultural manners? How could a collectivity of artists be kept digitally alive in time without losing its integrity without succumbing to the crushing powers of digital extractions, the entropic dissipation of sense and meaning? What kind of platforms should be created for allowing confrontation and continuity, spaces subtracted from information’s redundancy and decay —entropy? What is the future grammar of art? What heterotypic languages, binary-alphabetic-ideogrammatic, recursive and/or performative one should speak to create a space where art is produced, discussed, consumed and contested? What is the grammar and the logic of art outside the museum, after the death of the institutions? Is the space of technics qua creative emancipation, rather than that of culture qua ethical dialectical confrontation, the space of creation? If so, what should the agency of technical-art be? What is its politics? What is its ethics? In which way should art be reprogrammed, in what should it be morphed into, not only in order to move forward, but to open new vectorial forces of divergence, new domains of constructions… alternative forms of being and manners of actualisation? What are the temporalities displaced and discovered in new-media art? What are experiences that happen in explicitly non-linear, digital, times and spaces? What’s the role of speculative design, fiction and world-building in constructing new form of emplacement and new modes of presence, of presentation of art?
How in the actual post-contemporaneity should art's formalism and phenomenalism take place, how should they be put in productive struggle? What is “art”, when physical contact is reduced to the minimum, and the art “object” is experienced as a purely “digital-object”? Must the art-product be shared or could art be solitary contemplation without discussion? Does art need certification, validation? Does art need intellectual-critique, or any sort of social integration, not only to be validated but in order to exist? What’s today the relationship between art and the museum? What should the role of museums be? Is the place of art the topos where an act, the virtuous act, is performed? What are the differences between physical and digital performances, and specifically what is virtuosity on digital platforms given the collapse of direct/physical contact and given that everything is a record that can be appropriated and re-employed? What is art when every aspect of society is virtual, mediated, digitalised, translated…when the “object” or the “performance” is multiply recorded in order to be part of a collective, a digital collective? Performance is a chance-like experience in physical space that creates a connection between the creator and an audience (physical contact, connection, empathy), differently it is a performance/experience that could be made as it is digitally captured, to be remixed and re-broadcasted in multiple ways within digital infrastructures. Paolo Virno writes that “virtuosity is twofold: not only does it not produce an end product which is distinguishable from performance, but it does not even leave behind an end product which could be actualised by means of performance.”3 What and where is virtuosity qua autonomous performance in the wide heterotopia and interconnectedness of the digital? Could art become nothing else but the iconoclastic field splintering the necessity of events and objects that get financially capitalised upon? Could art become the field for programming for the future, and deny the crippled soul’s intrinsic desire to posses the unknown by capturing and owning through monetary transaction, paying the reiteratively inflating uniqueness and singularity of a piece? Could art stop claiming the production of singularities and begin scaffolding collaborative processes? Does it still make sense to keep art as a practice of making “objects” imbued of (fictitious) transcendental value? Could art transform so to prevent the subject from becoming subjected to its innermost drive, preventing it from becoming, financial powers allowing, a collector of fetish, of relics of the unknown? Is fetish and commodity in digital art forms any different from that of previous forms of art? Should art continue to accrue financial value through the production of objects of desire? Should art remain a field of production that generate “transcendental (non-)objects of desire”4, and so of commodification, of collection, of appropriations? Would exposing art-objects as processes —as work-in-progress, through the exposure of archives in the making—, mean the dissolution of the inexplicable essence that gets inscribed and capitalised at last in the art-work? Would producing art by making formal objects, object-qua-concepts (as mathematical-logical-topological-geometrical entities), and by sharing their code, dissolve the sense of entitlement and irremediable appropriation that emerges with after something is cast into the register of the living as art? Could art truly transform from making objects (digital and/or physical) to a practice of making collaborative strategies for changing and diverging from what seems to be the given-future? Should art become a survival kit, a field for forging tools for personal and collective strategies and tactics for developing alienation-from alienation (positive emancipation)? How could art produce an emancipatory path given that art is webbed, as language is, within digital and privately owned networks? Could art move into the production of pure performances that have as sole target the transformation of life without necessitating material consolidation? There could be a non-capital value of art? Is utility one of the necessary (but not sufficient) components defining the future of Art? Is “authorship” a necessary pole in artistic practices, and if so in which manner or in which new framework? Where is Art’s value? Where is the value of digital art? How could art’s value, created by the artist(s), be subtracted (even just partially) from the logic of the market, from the speculators, so to be given back to the artist? Is copyright a thing to be preserved in the future of art? How could we start compensating the value of what is considered immaterial labour, how could art’s digital objects and performances be paid back? Indeed there’s maybe a way, there you have it, there’s digital art, crypto-art, NFT. What if a digital object could be made unique, tokenised, unforgeable, and so valued and exchangeable through block-chain? What would that operation do to the meaning of art, to the creators of art and to the receivers of art? Would it be inflating even further the fictional value of things, and so participating in strengthening the despicable game of market speculations, or would it be a way to manage a fair and equitable system of re-distribution, for collectives of artists to find sponsors and so viable and sustainable forms of remunerations? What is the environmental cost of crypto-art5? Although questions, more than answers, may pave the way to solutions, we need in the next blocks of text6 to try to articulate some passages so to respond indirectly such questions, outlining what we call a form of conceptualism after conceptual-art.
1 Or what we could call empty signs, non-signifiers that signify the intensity of contingency, the future —and with that, the materialisation of future subjects.