March 23 2017, 10:00
Blank Space: On the White Cube and the Generic Space of Contemporary Art
There is today a growing tendency to criticise contemporary art for feeding on a formal, financial and social indeterminacy. For many authors and artists, the increased fetichization of indeterminacy has lead contemporary art to be increasingly inconsequent. But what exactly remains indeterminate in contemporary art? How this indeterminacy is generated and sustained? How can art be more consequential? By grounding this criticism in a historical and speculative debate on the white cube (Brian O’Doherty), this talk aims to both specify and potentially reorienting this critique. Drawing on seminal essays by Jeff Wall and Thierry de Duve, it will first trace this constitutive indeterminacy in the sixties, when the reinterpretation of Marcel Duchamp’s ready made by conceptual artists met the institutionalisation of the white cube as the generic space of contemporary art. From this standpoint, it will then show that only a proper architectural reading of the white cube can really grasp the role that it plays as the material, institutional, and symbolic space in which contemporary art is both exhibited and legitimised. Examining the white cube in direct connection to Le Corbusier and Max du Bois’ Maison Dom-ino (Peter Eisenman), this talk will finally show that contemporary art must be defined as a specific genre, defined by a logic of self-referential indeterminacy that directly belongs to its generic space of exhibition, hence positing that any claim about the necessity to exit contemporary art must addressed in relation to this extended space.
March 23 2017, 10:00
The Nervous Body of the Spectator Around 1900: Between Hysteria and Hypnosis
The aim of this lecture is to analyse the figure of the cinematic spectator that emerged at the dawn of the twentieth century in a social context transformed by technological modernity, the second industrial revolution and the development of mass culture. It can be noted in this regard that, as a means to describe the cinematic experience, a number of discourses drew upon representations inspired by the imaginary of the nervous body that were being circulated at the time in several fields of knowledge and of popular culture. Cinematic spectators were described as akin to hysterics and depicted as being prey to hallucinations, automatisms, perceptual disturbances, drowsiness or mimetic behaviour. The spectator was thus clearly portrayed as vulnerable to images and to his/her environment, becoming an impressionable, mimetic, hypnotized and hysterical subject in the process. The end result being a spectator that was seen as miming the maelstrom as well as the ebbs and flows of modernity. Thus, what I would like to do is to analyse the imaginary of the nervous body of filmgoers by drawing upon two key psychiatric notions : hysteria and hypnosis, two complementary states that provide a definition of the effects of film and of the cinematic dispositive on the audience while also characterizing a model of spectatoriality which is representative of modernity.
January 12 2017, 10:00
Diagram of The Crime
The plot-driven genres of the police procedural and political thriller boast the peculiar feature of being epistemological dramas, schematic diagrams of knowledge-production. In the generic mechanisms of these dramas, the concept of ‘plot’ is revealed in its narrative, geometrical, spatial, and conspiratorial dimensions. Beyond the concept of site, the question of plot allows us to examine the ways in which ‘site-specificity’ has served both to uncover and to compound the constitutive malfeasance of the autonomous art object, and to illuminate the scene of the crime: the gallery.
December 14 2016, 13:30
30 Years Theatergarden Bestiarium: A Dream of Many Gardens and Exhibitions
The seminal exhibition Theatergarden Bestiarium has been derived from the text “Bestiarium: Theater and Garden of Violence, war and Happiness” by the artist and writer Rüdiger Schöttle. The text itself was based on a collection of Schöttle’s essays “Psychomachia” which he started to write in 1979. In his text, Schöttle describes an imaginary theatrical garden in which the natural and the artificial worlds merge. The exhibition Theatergarden Bestiarium opened at P.S. 1 Museum in New York in January 1989. Theatergarden Bestiarium, “directed” by Rüdiger Schöttle, was shown in different versions in Sevilla, Poitiers and Oiron. The participating artists included Bernard Bazile, Glenn Branca, James Coleman, Fortuyn/O’Brien, Ludger Gerdes, Dan Graham, Rodney Graham, Marin Kasimir, Christian-Philipp Mueller, Juan Munoz, Hermann Ritz, Alain Sechas and Jeff Wall. Theatergarden Bestiarium in retrospective was an important experiment as well as a forerunner for contemporary collective exhibitions. Chris Dercon, the initial “producer” of the exhibition, who organized the show for P.S. 1 Museum, will present the exhibition as well as its historical, theoretical and institutional underpinnings.
November 11 2016, 10:00
Exhibition and Exposition in Diderot’s Experience of Arts
On Grimm’s request, in 1759 Diderot started to write critical reports about the biennial exhibition organized by the French Royal Academy of Arts in the “Salon carré” of the Louvre. Those reports circulated via Grimm’s Correspondance littéraire, a handwritten confidential and uncensored review to which Eastern and Northern European courts subscribed. Diderot was not an art specialist, and specifically not a painting specialist: he assessed the works of art he saw in the Salon carré relying on his theatrical experience, which first was, in 1757-1758… a failure! This can explain the peculiarity of the conception of space and relationship between the spectator and the pictorial scene Diderot developed in his reports, which became hundreds of pages essays in the mid-1760s. According to Diderot, there is no difference between the exposition of a historical subject in a painting and the exhibition of that painting in front of a spectator. ‘Exposition’ and ‘exhibition’ are the same word in french. But exposition is a matter of poetics, concerning the shaping of an intellectual, yet un-effective project, whereas exhibition is a matter of aesthetics, where the produced works of art aim to maximize an effect. As a matter of fact, Diderot as a playwright feels totally justified in assessing the exposition of a subject in any medium of representation; but not its exhibition, while he was impeached on the national stage of Comédie française. Diderot’s strategical confusion between exhibition and exposition paradoxically led him to a revolutionary apprehension of “scopic satisfaction”. He entered the “aesthetic regime” (Rancière) in this materialistic way, which competes with the Kantian way of subjective aesthetic judgement. This lecture will explore that french verso of the aesthetic regime, where exhibition reduced to exposition ushers the poet-spectator to contemporary performance art.
November 11 2016, 10:00
Seeing, showing, ordering: On a natural history of exhibiting
The exhibition as a genre, and the norms and practices of display, have been central to both forms of scientific rationalism and modern aesthetic subjectivity. Display functions as a mediating interface between different forms of visuality and conceptions of knowledge, conferring rationalist, positivist, or metaphysical status to natural and aesthetic objects. Yet along with the materialist histories of display developed in recent decades, what might be the natural history of these practices, one uniting the sensorial, experiential, rational and epistemic spaces of the garden, the zoo, and the museum? From the head-bobbing of pigeons and human blinking, ancestral humans staring at the irregular geometry of nature and the aesthetic display birds, to an 18th century menagerie and the taxonomical origins of one of the earliest public museums in Europe, this lecture will speculate on the possible intersections between materialist and a natural histories of exhibiting.
October 21 2016, 10:00
On the historical existence of objects: Archive as afterlife and life of art
This talk will address the theme of the programme at two mediated levels, via the work of Walter Benjamin: 1) that of the historical ontology of the artwork – and the historical existence of objects more generally; 2) that of recent transformations in the institutional structure of museums. In particular, it will consider the mutually reinforcing relationship between transformations in exhibition practices and the ontology of the postconceptual artwork. As a result of recent changes in exhibition practices, the conventional distinction between the collection, on the one hand, and the document and archive, on the other, has been progressively broken down. There has been a process of ontological homogenization of previously discrete kinds of object and practice associated with the spatial, temporal, conceptual and institutional extension of the concept of the artwork, within the generic conception of art. The talk will focus in particular on Benjamin’s concept of ‘afterlife’ (Nachleben), in the context of the changing artistic function of documentation. It will thus ask, ‘What does the becoming art of documentation have to tell us about the historical ontology of the artwork, and its relations to the practices of collecting and archiving, in particular?’
October 21 2016, 10:00
The Contemporaneity of Contemporary Art
What does the term contemporary art mean, and above all, to what “contemporaneity”—to what present—does it refer? The first thing to note is that the term contemporary art has largely superseded the term modern art for describing the art of our time. To be “absolutely modern” today, it seems, is no longer quite up to date. But how can we understand this displacement of modern art by contemporary art, the art of the present? One first intuition might be to understand it as a distancing from modern art’s own programmatic movements of displacement. In the end, modern art was a decidedly anti-traditional art, committed to progress. Contemporary art, then, would be a name for a state of art after such historical movements of progress. According to this reading, what was discussed in the nineties with the keyword “posthistoire” has in fact therefore been realized with regard to contemporary art. Everything appears in this perspective as if art had entered into a period after the end of history: In place of making us realize our historical time through style, art, then, would eclectically level out historical differences, in place of visible breaks it would only offer false totalites, and in place of decided engagement it would only show indifference and boredom. Although there is no denying that all of this exists in the contemporary art world—empty eclecticism, historical amnesia, indifference, boredom—the question, is whether these phenomena should be taken for the whole. The talk therefore takes a closer look at the ways in which contemporary art programmatically breaks away from modernist ideas of progress. Instead of hastily deducing from this—as the representatives of the posthistoire thesis do—that contemporary art stands for a crisis of progress in general, the talk argues that we should evaluate the artistic critique of modernist models of progress and history itself as forms of progress in our understanding of history.
May 11 2016, 10:00
Hysterical Blindness and Binocular Visions: The Contemporary Condition of the Exhibition as a Medium
In this talk Anselm Franke will depart from the deceptively simple question: how to exhibit something that cannot be seen? Conditions of mediality, power, mental and emotional processes; perhaps all conditions of relationality? And how does visibility produce invisibility? Certain works and artistic traditions provide partial and always temporary answers to this question, always exceeding the pure visual and positivist category of that which presents itself to the eye. But on the level of exhibition making, it leads to a more specific confrontation with the genealogy of the exhibition medium and the particular positivist and objectivist forms of knowledge that it is historically attached to. The exhibitions organised by Anselm Franke in various collaborations are animated by an immanent critique and problematisation of the medium exhibition and its changing institutional framings, while embracing its capacity to produce new forms of visual and other literacy through a binocular view on the dichotomies and oppositions that characterise modern history and its frontiers.
May 11 2016, 10:00
On Some Aspects of the Definition, Institutionalization, and Dramatization of the Concept of Nature
In a first moment of this presentation, Olivier Surel will examine several key moments in the definition of the concept of Nature in post-Cartesian philosophy, in order to shed light on its use in contemporary critical theory (and especially its deflation in the “ontological turn” of anthropology). In a second moment, he will show how such a transversal examination can contribute to problematizing the practical and political dimensions of the institutionalization of “natural history” (taking the Multinatural Histories exhibition at the Harvard Museum of Natural History as an object of case-study). Finally, and on a more prospective note, he will address the question of the articulation between the cognitive and aesthetic dimensions pertaining to the “dramatization” of the concept of Nature in the exhibition context.
April 22 2016, 10:00
The playful monkey and the elephant in the room—visiting zoos in the company of Gregory Bateson and Chris Marker
This presentation departs with an exploration of the common inception of various systems for the observation of animals which are situated within a close-enclosed condition, detaining itself in the analysis of certain aspects that traverse the cinematic and zoological apparatuses. Two parallel moments of human and nonhuman animal visual contact, which take place in the extremes of the second half of the 20th century: Gregory Bateson’s account of his experience looking at a group of spider monkeys at the San Francisco Zoo in 1952 and Chris Marker’s video Slon Tango (1993), shot at the Ljubljana Zoo are considered and commented in relation to their respective potential and biases.
April 22 2016, 10:00
Anna-Sophie Springer & Etienne Turpin
Necroaesthetics: the life & death of Natural History
Natural history collections have played an important role in Anna-Sophie Springer and Etienne Turpin’s curatorial collaborations which have unfolded at Jakarta’s infamous bird market, the ornithological collection of the Berlin Natural History Museum, and in partnership with the Indonesian Institute of Science. Activating a complex spectrum that collapses fact and fabrication, detachment and affect, and even life and death, natural history specimens have traditionally been displayed to create three-dimensional representations of wild nature in the museum. Artists and scientists have worked together to create simulations of living nature—not least through the celebration of a particular sense of necroaesthetics based on life-like taxidermy animal-objects, reassembled bones, and dried-up mammal skins. Yet, apart from these deanimated objects in their individual glass cases, the natural history museum itself has been more recently conceived as a dying institution—often due to its persistent inability to meaningfully address contemporary questions of the Anthropocene—that requires reanimation. In the context of environmental crisis and planetary mass extinction, as curators Anna-Sophie Springer and Etienne Turpin also confront the legacies of modernist colonial science and its attendant politics of knowledge production and display.
During their talk, they will discuss cultural, colonial, economic, and environmental stories and histories to present a mediated history of the deanimated specimen of natural history. By focusing on the progressive scientific discovery of the birds of paradise they will consider three specific moments: first, the groundbreaking role of British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace’s 1850s bird collection; second, Sir David Attenborough’s first capture of birds of paradise on moving image film in 1957 for his BBC nature documentary Zoo Quest; and, third, the high definition imagery produced in this current decade by nature photographer Tim Laman and ornithologist Ed Scholes in the context of the digitized database specimen. By moving among these examples, the presentation will make explicit a mediated history of deanimation, thereby asking: can these collections of dead specimens and their various mediated specters be renegotiated through a materialist history of exhibition making? And, can such an approach facilitate and embolden aesthetic and political commitments at odds with the modernist project of colonial science?
March 14 2016, 14:00
Performance and Exhibition in Science and Art
In early modern times, empirical science became experimental science not least because of the increased investments into techniques of staging experiments. In the case of anatomy, it can be shown that the theatrical dispositive and the public performance of anatomical demonstrations are main causes for the scientific and cultural hegemony of an experimental rather than Aristotelian approach to the human body and its diseases. An analogous observation can be made with regards to the emergence of modern art: Public performance and public exhibition also mark a decisive difference between representational and modern art. In my talk, I will start from such historical observations in order to analyze the act of exhibition in contrast to performative acts and to subsequently distinguish scientific performances and exhibitions from artistic ones. My hypothesis is that artistic exhibitions are acts which transform any aesthetic object into works of art. This will lead to a critique of contemporary art as confusing the acts of performing and exhibiting and their implicit temporal structures.
March 14 2016, 14:00
Movie images are arguably the « flattest » you can get: they are flatter, at any rate, than those found in painting and photography, with no more breadth than that of intangible spots of light sliding across the surface of the projection screen. Yet the capture of motion achieves something extraordinary: it strips off the bi-dimensionality of the cinematic image, revealing its inner voluminosity beyond the illusory depth of linear perspective. The varieties of “expanded” cinema develop this three-dimensional virtuality further by installing films and videos in exhibition spaces in a way that turns them into genuine time-sculptures. But you do not need to go so far as literally setting up space-time blocks in gallery or museum spaces to conjure up the four-dimensional nature of the movie image. Traditional forms of cinematographic projection, combined with relevant editing techniques such as split-screens, jump cuts and other kinds of “edge effects” (I will try and articulate this notion based on specific examples) are sometimes enough to suggest—somewhat intermittently—a mobile, angular shape looming behind the fleeting alternation of light and shadow. It is as if a multi-facetted hologram started developing in 3D, slowly turning on its axis to show us its backside. I shall call it the “volume-image”. Its presence is somewhat obscure in single shots, and it is best apprehended at the scale of an entire feature film. But some films truly function as toy-models in this respect, intensifying the cinematic effects otherwise achieved by traditional means. I would like to examine the underlying mechanism of this transfiguration of the image, which I take to be the true object of many experiments in radical cinematography and video art. Several topics will be considered: the very idea of mobile or spatio-temporal perspective, the so-called 180° rule governing the construction of classical cinematic space, the subtle notion of “off-screen,” the distinction between “framing” and “masking,” the general implications of relative motion… Based on a few paradigmatic cases, I will attempt to show that the Bergsonian reverie of “flow” that infuses the aesthetics of the “cineplastic” is consistently contradicted by the equally persistent theme of weightlessness attached to the ideal of axonometric vision. The natural environment of the volume-image is a world laid out before a floating gaze, emancipated from horizons and lines of sights. These reflections point to a more speculative claim regarding the possibility of treating time itself as a virtual volume—what I call vertical or floating time, as opposed to the more familiar flow-time associated with the “stream of thought”. This involves a critical re-examination of the lateral dimension of time known as “simultaneity,” an aspect which has been too often eclipsed by an exclusive focus on the varieties of duration.
February 12 2016, 10:00
Charles T. Wolfe
Materialism and artifice: natural history and the cultured brain
Materialism – the doctrine that everything that is, is material – does not appear at first glance to be very friendly to la chose artistique, or more broadly, to the sphere of invention, fantasy and artifice. Materialist philosophers claim that everything real, is somehow material inasmuch as it belongs to the physical, ‘spacetime’ world of causes and effects, from microbes to volcanoes, from tables and chairs to paintings and love letters. In modern times (starting in the Enlightenment and reaching full velocity in the twentieth century) materialists have specifically been interested in the particular ‘region’ of minds and brains. That is, from a general metaphysical position on how we belong to the material universe, materialism focused on the particular case of how our minds would be material in the sense of being brains, i.e., how mental states are brain states. Aesthetic and moral theorists (including existentialists and phenomenologists) tended to react with horror to this thesis, since – in random order – it strips us of our free will; it is blind to the universe of values and emotions; it is similarly blind to the symbolic realm, to fictions and lies, and by extension to art.
In this lecture I return first to an apparently quite different case, that of cabinets of natural history, to explore the interpenetration of materialism and artificiality that 20th-21st century ‘physicalism’ appears blind to. Natural history is the (immediately pre-Darwinian) project to understand Nature as a whole, including the place of humans in Nature. Dispositifs such as zoos, curiosity cabinets and their near-cousin, natural history cabinets were an integral part of this approach to Nature, which was closely connected to the materialist tendency of some ‘philosophes’ such as Diderot and the natural historian Buffon (the curator, so to speak, of the Jardin du Roi, today the Jardin des Plantes in Paris). In selected texts by Diderot, I examine the interplay between materialism and the recognition of the irreducible nature of artifice, in order to arrive at a provisional definition of Diderot’s vision of Nature as “une femme qui aime à se travestir.” How can a materialist metaphysics in which the concept of Nature has a normative status, also ultimately consider it to be something necessarily artificial? Historically, the answer to this question involves the project of natural history.
I then turn to the case for how materialism is not necessarily blind to artificiality, as regards the brain. Additional cases of embarrassment for materialists include ‘neuroaesthetics’ which purports to find a neuronal basis for understanding art, with childish claims like ‘neuroscience confirms Cubism!’. It thus comes as something of a surprise to find that theorists from Terrence Deacon to Warren Neidich, along with passing aperçus from Gilles Deleuze and Daniel Dennett, have developed a view in which the brain belongs to the symbolic realm, and its plasticity embeds it in the world of culture. One key route to take is that of what I’ve called elsewhere a cultured-brain materialism. If the brain is (always) already social then the gulf separating cerebral materialism and art, or Natur– and Geisteswissenschaften, disappears in a puff of smoke. Cabinets of natural history and cultured brains (a.k.a. brains in development) turn out to be (a) part of a parcel of a thriving materialism and (b) irreducibly embedded in the sphere of representations, phantasmagorias and creation.
February 12 2016, 10:00
Recontextualising Les Immatériaux
In 1985, Jean-François Lyotard curated with the design theorist Thierry Chaput the exhibition Les Immatériaux at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. The exhibition, or more precisely a “manifestation” according to Lyotard, displayed industrial objects, scientific objects and art works within a scenography from the architect Philippe Delis inspired by Denis Diderot’s Grand Salon. Les Immatériaux exhibits what Lyotard calls the postmodern from the perspective of its material condition in related to language, sensibility, time and resistance. The new materiality, which he deliberately calls immaterial in order to break from the modern conception of it, was the point of departure to conceptualize the exhibition, its aesthetics and its medium/message. It is not only an exhibition that reflects on the immaterial materiality, but that also helps to understand what an exhibition can be under this condition. This talk aims to situate Les Immatériaux within a genealogy of “exhibition as medium” –which involves a redefinition of medium in contrast to the modernist approach of Greenberg – by contextualizing it firstly among the writings of J.F. Lyotard between 1983 (Le différend) and 1988 (L’inhumain), and secondly in relation to the initiative of Pontus Hulten (1973) on the informatisation of museums against the backdrop of cybernetisation.
November 25 2015, 15:30
A Way in Untilled, Human Mask, De-Extinction
This program gathers Pierre Huyghe’s most recent films: A Way in Untilled (2012, 14 min), Human Mask (2014, 19 min), and De-Extinction (2014, 13 min). Echoing both the cinematographic form and the scientific documentary genre, these three films mobilize frames and figures situated at the hinge of several conceptual divides (the human and the non-human, the organic and the inert, the animal and the vegetal, the natural and the artefactual), in a exploration of the exhibition of nature and the nature of exhibitions.
November 25 2015, 14:00
Look but don't Touch: The Role of Tactility in an Era of Visual Excess
Western culture’s obsession with images began over a thousand years ago, when sacred icons displaced the relics of saints as a medium of access to the divine. Until that moment, touch prevailed as a direct experience, with the ocular acting as an extension of the tactile. This can be appreciated in the popular medieval display of relics, which gradually shifted from the immediacy of touch to the “ocular caress” via the mediation of glass. Like the Benjaminian aura, whose value is enhanced by its inaccessibility, glass conveys meaning through proximity and promotes value through the transparency and brightness of light. The transition from the tactile to the ocular was greatly accelerated in the 19th century, when industrialization and mechanical reproduction rendered nature secondary, covering, displaying and suffocating it under glass. In our technological era, glass has become the new skin, the great intermediary between human beings. The digital has replaced the tactile, and the ocular reigns supreme over a world of images.
November 25 2015, 10:00
Dorothea von Hantelmann
Transforming Exhibition Formats in Transforming Societies
Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall tells us as much about the state of Western society in 2015 as the Crystal Palace reflected mid-19th century productivism, or as early modern curiosity cabinets connect to the rise of consumer culture. Art institutions are mirrors of the socio-economic order of their time, whose basic parameters they practice and enact. We can retrace the entire history of individualisation by following the increase of wall space between paintings in 19th and 20th century galleries. We can comprehend the transition of early market societies into consumer societies alongside the transformation of 19th century museums into white cubes. And we can analyse the contemporary experience society on the basis of the way it transforms the white cube into time-based experiential spaces. Art institutions are deeply linked to the values and categories that constitute a given time, which is why they have to keep transforming in order to adjust and to remain what they always have been: a contemporary ritual. Looking at art spaces from the 16th century to the present day as a series of decisive moments of transformation, we may find that the transformations of our epoch are asking for a new kind of ritual, after that of the exhibition.
- Jeremy Lecomte
- Mireille Berton
- Robin Mackay
- Chris Dercon
- Stéphane Lojkine
- João Ribas
- Peter Osborne
- Juliane Rebentisch
- Anselm Franke
- Olivier Surel
- Filipa Ramos
- Anna-Sophie Springer & Etienne Turpin
- Ludger Schwarte
- Elie During
- Charles T. Wolfe
- Yuk Hui
- Pierre Huyghe
- Celeste Olalquiaga
- Dorothea von Hantelmann