What Conceptualism After Conceptual-Art? (Platforms – Abstraction and Emancipation)
We cannot dodge-denying the harsh actual state of things, we can’t simply naively hope for a “return” to a past through an anti-technics revolution, for reinstating an hypothetical anarchic state of nature —which never existed, due to the fact that the human is language, and that language is identity, division and commandment—, or a return to a previous states of normality, thus to a less virtualised inter-subjective form of living. There is no return as there was no past outside technics, hence how to move forward with a different form of technics? Simply put: technological emancipation through abstraction is the kernel of an interconnected collective intelligence, a potentially exponential emancipation that at the same time carries within itself multiple series of negatively oriented drives. The way forward cannot be entrapped by a romantic gaze towards a non-existent past, the way forward is through a programmatic rewiring to re-channel the disruptive entropy liberated at each twist and turn by technics, via reshaping it to emancipate diverging modes of being, to enable alien life-forms and intelligences, more integrative models of collectivity and to liberate the vision of alternative forms of futurity. If there’s a space where this non-givenness could be tested out, that is the speculative domain of art. If there’s still a place where art could have agency, it is one in which form, concepts and material creations, could at unison instantiate alternative samples, examples and statements, radical ideas so to deteriorate from within the negative coagulations made by unevenly distributed technical powers: to bring to life new interfaces of mediation, modes of connection and disconnection, alternative infrastructures of redistribution. We need new concepts. Conceptualism after conceptual-art has had enough of hyper mediated walls, interactive installations claiming sense simply for their use of data, blatantly promoting their relevancy because of their obnoxious and trivial display of information. Conceptualism after conceptual-art focuses on the creation of topologies where concepts could be emplaced. Conceptualism after conceptual-art has had enough of spectacular scene exploited as background, where to consume and re-post insta-grammable instants; alas, one cannot but ask from art to stop producing frivolous expressionisms and to employ full on, dogmatically, the powers of speculative rationality and of emancipatory abstractions. As Suhail Malik made clear, “[…] such a rationalism puts firmly destructive pressure on the current operating, artistic, intellectual and ideological paradigm of art, a pressure that is much needed as contemporary art now continues to all-too-happily recycle standard tropes of anti-foundationalist critique, ethical piety, apolitical politicality, and cultural hegemonization”1. If art means to carry forward the imperative of generating a “wave-function collapse” able to necrotize the unequal foundations given at a specifically selected time in culture and history, so to be able to concretise the spectre of an alternate actuality, and if art is able to understand that the logic of the word-function is purely iterative-and-digital (functions and series) then art must understand that there’s no other way forward but to necessarily learn how the creatively encode, formally, the phenomenon within the Concept, to hybridise the former with the latter and vice versa. It is through such process that the true contingency of an event of change could emerge, by formally creating the conditions for the event —that event that even in its molecularity— manages not to be subject to the exploitative logic of capital. One must learn how to create the conditions of emergence that will possibly germinate. One must learn how to encase anxiety; one must learn to make a stance, and wait. One must demand “art” the following: that any creative gesture should after having indexed the grammar of post-neo-liberalism (for lack of a better term), expose and deconstruct its logic. Being such logic a “discrete” and “iterative” one, being such grammar and mode of accumulation a quantitative one, being such system the intrinsic operative infrastructure onto which digital and physical materials are grafted: then the language and expression of art, if art wants to be effective and not only affective, cannot but be a formal one, and if curatorial practices want to still have the radical agency to craft the archives of the future, then they need to sharpen their analytical approaches making full use of coded strategies and digital platforms. But let’s pause a second a move couple of steps back.
Digitally produced and exposed media-art have the tendency of vaporising in the maelstrom of digital happenings and data-diffraction. In the digital, the excess, the unthought, the emergent, properties typically associated to the (modern) subject making and experiencing art, are elements emerging in their cryptic phenomenality, they emerge on platforms, abstract machines which frame and re-articulate as they format them in the space of consolidated archives. The “outside” that art attempted to summon, to manipulate, to instantiate seems to have vanished, and we know by now that the radical rebellion of the “excess” has minimal emancipatory purchase. In the juvenile years I was positively dismembered by Bataille’s poetics of waste and rebellion, also, I endured through solitary years of communion with all the saintly heretics preaching denial and fragmentation —among many, Dada. Alas, the excess, as surplus but also as hyper-minimal renunciation, we know by now is a vehicle for more capitalisation that has no real power of constituting emancipatory diversion. Furthermore, online Art tends to become a figurine, its ecstatic presence entrapped, its value mutilated due to how fast it comes and goes, how it is consumed and how abruptly its concepts deteriorate. Miserably, the spaces on which art is forced to appear have the need to exclude the outside, as allowing the outside-in would mean to grant the production and installation of a “change” that would compromise such digital spaces’ formal consistency. Capital-platforms work formally; they inflate through the reiterative integration of rebellious fragments, though their self-preservation is assured only if such fragments don’t have the agency of affecting their functioning code. The fake paradoxical symbiotic dependency in which the host always ends up eating the guest. Art, for all its good intention a posteriori as a docile parasite of capital is eaten alive. There’s nothing unique and absolute in a piece, because the uniqueness is credited to be capitalised upon, even better if uniqueness can be reproduced. The aura is a phantasm generated and exploited, today minted through block-chain, marketed by algorithmic functions.
We started to know from the impactful inception of photography that art’s finality isn’t in the creation of absolute objects. Art’s traditional cult value and exhibition value were suspended, maybe allowing humanity finally of realising that there isn’t any a-priori value to be found, and that the singularity of a piece is not presenting any value in-itself, absolute value, absolute truth, but that value is to be ethically given. Value should be credited for the potential of the act or the object in affecting the transformation of thought, of the subject. The value resides where a piece allows a collectivity of subjects in reckoning the absence-of-absolute-value, and so at the same time, the necessity to construct, of creating inter-subjectively and ethically, a temporary value. As Hal Foster reporting on Malraux, at the dissipation of cult value and exhibition value, we are given the possibility of meta-construction, “the means to reassemble the broken bits into one metatradition of style, a new Museum without Walls whose subject is the Family of Man-and it is the very flow of a liquidated aura that allows all the fragments to course together in the River of History.”2 Art must become a field that keeps revising absolute figures (philosophically seeking, of the “Real”) and constructing, assembling, prototyping the necessary models of (future) reality. Through the production of digital relics, events and queer sanctuaries, we must make art for exposing thought to what is not, driving thought into a rational madness, hacking the given and unsettling thought’s certainties via its exposures to transcendental (non-)objects, reminding ourselves that there is no absolute capital value beyond a piece of art, but that any true art-event is one able to reveal an alternative, and also that instate in each ready to be opened up thought, the ethical acceptance that all forms of life and of thoughts belong to the same “generic” and genetic mediums.
Art is splintered —displaced, reflected, refracted: how to create and keep fermenting concepts outside the entrapment of the institutions? The “platform” one must construct is one that occupies an interstitial space where digital emplacements of sort could emerge reminding of the possibility of physical encounters, a space where both digital events and objects are displayed and maintained through a digital archival structure, a structure lasting in time where physical events could be imported in stages, as data to be further manipulated and re-materialised. A space that should last in time for a community to orient itself, to design modes for the “occupation of abstraction”3, the creation of formal and physical gestures, the constitution of non-privatised spaces for non-narcissistic art(ists). Through the creation of platforms artistic practices should be able to alienate themselves from the entrapments and subjugations performed by Capital; they should be able to create “objects” (concepts or material formations) that do not genuflect to the logic of financial valuation and cultural fetishisation, but that instead manage to materialise pathways oriented not towards the trivial cringe-tainted deployment of what people with verbal agility call “alternative futures”, but towards the instantiation of new codes and principles, spaces of ethical struggle for allowing, potentially, the germination of alternative futures. A different (strategic) rebellion must be devised to bypass the risk of entrapment, to keep experimenting with the unknown without having the unknown lobotomised, hygienized and sold in virtual auctions. One must try not to despair; art as collective/critical actions (digital and/or physical) still appears, at times, as events that having no home to stay, no archive to dwell and no modes to subtract some value from the system of exploitation— cannot be utilised in-time as tools for communal re-creation. Art still appears but falls prey as anything else to the processes of commodification. There is no ethical role of art if art does not have the possibility of being constituted and archived without being exploited: if it doesn’t find modes of survival from within, forms of rebellion from the apparatuses of capture (that elude any equitable system of redistribution), if art as any other ethical-political action, does not resist the total dissolution of sense. We need interstitial places and strategic plan, coordinating communities living in both digital and physical places. To remain a critical place of confrontation art necessitates platforms, union-like spaces allowing “artists” —a name which stands for any individual possessed by the ethical “imperative”, the imperative to live the act of making art, and that to make art is to transform the conditions of the living by forming new modes of thinking and being, singularly and in a collective— to subtract a fair amount of value form the market, in order to redistribute it to themselves and to the community, a redistribution necessary in order to maintain art alive —namely through acts that construct liberating pathways, and not acts that immediately become objects of consumption and capital enslavement. Platforms, as collective but genetically autonomous spaces should be designed as place for holding long-lasting intersections, knitting together through novel diagrammatic lines spaces where physical and digital happenings could co-exist, and be meaningfully read, distributed and re-utilised. We must think of platforms as systems of archive that don’t exploit the artwork through copyright (like patents) nor that annihilate any form of authorship sublating art and the artist into forms of exploitation. With platforms art agency and production must be oriented towards maximising three axis: collaboration, integration and emancipation.
Conceptualism after conceptual-art should aim at creating events and objects that could, after all material output gets removed, outline the essence of a process, a formal text (as logical and mathematical recipe) that could be read and reutilised. To do so such art requires artists and curators to work collaboratively for the construction of open and explorable archives. A collective of artists shall create so an archive-of-archives, a space that requires the construction of a platform for orientation-manipulation —by the artists, curators, and public. A platform is the space of curatorial practices, as it allows for art’s gestures to be grasped and transformed, allowing meaningful, constructive possibilities of recombination, appropriation, hybridisation. Platforms are strategic spaces for emancipation, for communities of artists at first, finally, for communities of subjects. Like Aby Warburg’s atlas, like Malraux’s “Le Musée Imaginaire”4 (“museum without walls”), art must be archived as it is made by collectively owned protocols defining how information is stored and the possibility of its crossover. Art requires at first not objects or events but the invention of spaces, topologies where future archival function could be performed. As in Malraux, it is in an active archive that allows “spectres of the past” to be perceived and manipulated, oriented towards alternative modes of the future, that allows history to truly transform from a line imposed by elites into a labyrinth designed by each one willing to explore, to get lost, to create. The minotaur is not a figure to be studied, but a myth to be forged as it is lived. The project of art, of artist and curators, should start at the creation of a platform, a non-existing structure that requires a vision, the imperative constitution of communal and ethical fictions5. The platform should be a “museum without walls”, a living archive, or better be, an an-archive —a space challenging the legislative, “archontic” drive embedded into any act of generating an archive, basically a space challenging, whilst having to generate, itself6. One or multiple sets of nested archives that given the fragmentary system of communication and of production should be able to organise in an additive manner concepts and materials, components uploaded by different actors at different times, that could be reassembled and put in novel relations. The space of the platform categorises the abstract materiality of concepts, exposing protocols of abstraction, allowing different agents to interact and to create, to formalise new, or to add upon, to subtract, modes of-being and of-acting. Given the exponential lack of autonomous physical topologies, the artist is asked to become the curator of archives, and the curators the creators of digital domains where multiple archives could co-exist. To make art is constructing-curating archives (or making a “piece” and exposing the underlying archive), which then to be part of a collective must become part of an archive-of-archives. Hence to make and curate art requires more and more the act of designating, not organising objects and projections in spaces, but crafting speculative topologies where conceptual entities of different kinds could emancipate alternative models of thinking. Archive-making is a necessary act not to store the past but to create a collaborative future. The digital archive is an active collider, within which two vectors, that of orientation and of manipulation, are employed —for the artists’ community (active users), and for the community of art (passive users) to inhabit the same fields of action; to co-create the value of art, to give it meaning… for starting to take art for what it should be: an effort of construction and only laterally as a magnification of effects. To curate art is to instantiate and manage collaborative platforms able to resist capital sublation and exploitation, managing fair redistribution, making value within and against the gaseous entropy of solipsistic signifiers, creating events and places not for masses craving photo-shooting, but events generating new attitudes towards the living. This means that exhibitions stop pretending to appeal to Saturday’s visits; to become places of excruciating reflection. Art needs time. So online, platforms are spaces that could help integrating and mastering notions, places to learn, active extensions of the gallery, for the manipulation of abstract materials, for any user’s orientation in heterogenous fields and modes of creation. To curate art is to create and manage a space, that of a collaborative platform. Such space, or better said, such field of relations made of spaces, such layered topology is the enabler of collaborative practices, for concepts to be discovered and to be augmented, modified, hybridised. Hence we ask, following Hal Foster, “what is the edge of the archive without museums? Perhaps its limit takes the form of an illusion of a superficial mobility of signs that covers a profound stasis of system. Perhaps the library has returned, but as a container in which other orders are melted down, then set in deep freeze. An entropic archive, a new Alexandria.”7 How could we create archives that perform “negentropic functions”?
2 From Hal Foster, “The Archive without Museums”, October, Vol. 77 (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1996), pp. 97-119. Hal Foster reading Benjamin’s work writes: “Benjamin argues that photographic reproduction strips art of context, shatters tradition, liquidates aura. Not only is cult value lost forever, but exhibition value is also threatened, and in lieu of these old and new rituals a political refunctioning of art becomes possible. Out of the same archival event Malraux files a very different report. If for Benjamin exhibition value troubles art value, for Malraux the museum guarantees art as such. Moreover, if for Benjamin reproduction shatters tradition and liquidates aura, for Malraux it provides the means to reassemble the broken bits into one metatradition of style, a new Museum without Walls whose subject is the Family of Man-and it is the very flow of a liquidated aura that allows all the fragments to course together in the River of History.”
3 McKenzie Wark: “What we need is neither abstraction nor occupying, but the occupying of abstraction” (source missing).
4 André Malraux, “Le Musée Imaginaire”, 1947.
5 Rosalind E.Krauss writes on Malraux’s imaginary museum that ““[t]hese great “fictions” that the musée imaginaire makes visible are, then, so many stories about the collective spirit of human creativity, so many versions of the inventiveness evidenced by the Family of Man, like multiple documents of Man’s Fate. And further, what the musée imaginaire makes possible is that the user of the museum may participate in this writing, may create his or her own “fiction”—a new account that will reveal yet another transsection through the body of “Fate.”. Rosalind E.Krauss, Thinking About Exhibitions (chapter: Postmodernism’s Museum Without Walls), Routledge, 1996, p.243.
6 Jaques Derrida: “What is at issue here, starting with the exergue, is the violence of the archive itself, as archive, as archival violence. It is thus the first figure of an archive, because every archive, we will draw some inferences from this, is at once institutive and conservative. Revolutionary and traditional.” From Jacques Derrida, “Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression”, in Diacritics, Vol. 25, No. 2, (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995), p.12.
7 Hal Foster, “The Archive without Museums”, p.108–109.