fredag den 15. juli 2011


While writing about Fluxus and the archive (see the previous three blog entries), a work that sprung to my mind was Arthur Køpcke’s Reading/Work Piece No. 15. It is one of those works that seems to want to generate an archive of its own. It consists of a single staple, accompanied by a text to the effect that it ”will fit the following staplers: alpha – baby – brynce – bykama – cito – citopress – citofix – criterion – cometa – el casco – electric – erasit – ergo – everstrong – express – folle – frog – fafnir – floris – focus – fox – ideal – jilliot – jimco – king – knirps – kuki – longdon – mana – mosda – novus – rex – rexel – senator – sentamani – servo – servo 15 – servo 90 – servo plier – sigma – skre – skrema – stabil – stigma – three-in-one – trioh – universal – vélos – zenith”. The list is followed by a couple of empty lines, marked “place for supplements”, and that is all.

Of course the work is first and foremost an excellent example of the care and attention given to small, disregarded everyday objects and events by Fluxus artists. George Maciunas called Køpcke an “independent”, and none of his works were ever published as Fluxus multiples, but he was an early and important member of the Fluxus network, so it is justified to call him a “Fluxus artist”. But there is more to the piece. Like all Køpcke’s Reading/Work Pieces (128 or 129, depending on the version you are reading), it is both a logical conundrum and an invitation to act.

To start with the first: the staple no longer “fits” any staplers at all, because it is used, and therefore the text does not connect to the object. It is clear what Køpcke meant, but strictly speaking, either the object is wrong or the statement that is made in the text is false. The best that can be said is that the staple now fits the paper, not the stapler. Moreover, it is used in a way that denies its function. It could have been used to hold the pages of a Manuscript of Reading/Work Pieces together, but it holds on to nothing.  It becomes a model instead – a model of what a staple can do. The text is not about the staple next to it, but about an ideal staple that the reader mentally distills from the example on the page.

The way Køpcke uses the staple reminds forcefully of paragraph 2.011 of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus:  “Things are independent in so far as they can occur in all possible situations, but this form of independence is a form of connection with states of affairs, a form of dependence”.  “Things” should here be read as “objects” and “states of affairs” as “combinations of objects”. The paragraph is a part of section 2 of the Tractatus, where Wittgenstein defines things as always belonging to a situation – what characterizes a thing, he says, is its ability to connect, or more precisely, its ability to connect with other things in situations. The independence of an object is defined by the way it is dependent upon other objects to create situations. A staple is a staple as long as it can perforate a sheet of paper.

Moving to the other side of Køpcke’s artistic project, the invitation to act that is extended by this particular piece is the one to “add supplements”. If one had done so consistently since the publication of the Manuscript of Reading/Work Pieces (sometime after 1963, we do not quite know when it was finished), one would have had to try the staple on any stapler one came across and added the name of all staplers that fitted. However, the task would necessitate a lot of crossing-out as well. Out of all the brand names Køpcke lists, I can only find evidence of the continued existence of El Casco, Ergo, Folle, Focus, Ideal, Jimco, Novus, Rexel, Skre, Stabil, Universal and Zenith. The simple instruction to “add supplements” generates a map of closures, bankruptcies and takeovers in the office supplies industry.

What it does as well is illustrate the way an object acquires value. Some of the staplers Køpcke mentions –Skrema, Trioh and Velos, for example – have become collector’s items and fetch many times the price of a simple stapler for everyday use. By including brand names, Køpcke goes far beyond a simple invitation to take a closer look at an everyday object. He leads the reader’s attention out into the world of commodities and confronts him/her gently but firmly with the rules that govern that world. Moreover, it does so in a way that invokes Western society’s preferred ways of organizing data: the list, the map and the archive. In this manner, the used and useless staple gets a function after all, and even a double one: on the one hand, that of conjuring up thoughts of the archive and on the other, that of metaphorically connecting data.

This also means that Køpcke goes way beyond Wittgenstein. The Tractatus is about dependence and independence in a narrow sense, ultimately a linguistic one. Reading/Work Piece No. 15, on the other hand, is about dependence and independence in an extended, social sense. At the point where Køpcke comes closest to Wittgenstein, he confronts the reader with certain material qualities of the objects he uses, in this case the staple, the stapler and the piece of paper, and the ways in which they (the staple and the stapler and/or the staple and the piece of paper) connect, in a purely material sense. However, he also underlines their function and their value and ultimately the way in which we deal with all these data.

But then, his aim was not to create a system of thought that would enable everyone to come to grips with language and reality. His aim was to enable his readers to work out new ways of interacting with the world around them as individuals, without taking recourse to pre-existing systems of thought. He needed complexity, but not in order to make sense of it. He needed it as unmapped territory that everyone can wander through as they please. In Deleuzian terms, he sought a nomadic way of interacting with the world, not an imperial one; a system of thought that shapes itself from the inside, not a system that forces a shape upon thought from the outside. Therefore his archive is totally different from the ones we are used to. He gives us the terms, but not the structure. He gives us the dynamics, but not the desired result. Which is worth keeping in mind when thinking about art and the archive.

onsdag den 29. juni 2011


And here is the third part and last part of my trilogy on Fluxus and the archive. In part one, I introduced two forms of being in the world, the ecological and the economical. In part two, I applied these notions to two works of art, Mieko Shiomi’s Spatial Poem No. 1, subtitled Word Event, and George Brecht’s Word Event and suggested that even though one of the works appears archival and the other anti-archival, they both carry elements of the archive, if displaced. This part specifies my claim and translates it in terms of directionality.

In an article about Gerhard Richter’ Atlas (in October, of course), Benjamin Buchloh experimented with the idea of an “a-nomic” archive, an archive without laws. He equated the word a-nomic with “heterogeneity, random order and arbitrary juxtapositions” and described it as governed by the “principle of random accumulation”. All his terms apply to the two Word Events I describe in my previous blog entry. Brecht’s Word Event collects all sorts of materials, from thoughts to photographs to signs. Shiomi’s Word Event juxtaposes words on the basis of an ordering principle that is completely extraneous to the words themselves. Both works accumulate and juxtapose material in a way that appears lawless. But Buchloh also speaks of “the archival organisation of materials according to the principles of an as yet unidentifiable discipline”. He wants appearances of the archive in art to be radically different from existing real world archives; and here, I think, my two Word Events behave differently from the archives Buchloh describes. They are hetero-nomic rather than a-nomic; they formulate and obey different laws, but evoke existing archives nevertheless.

According to Derrida, the archive domesticates: it locks events inside documents and collects those documents in one place. That place is the centre of two movements, one of them outwards, one of them inwards. The element of the archive that Derrida associates with the word “commencement”, beginning, claims that society begins with the archive; things are pulled into the archive from a projected originary point. The element he associates with the word “commandment”, law, on the other hand, projects outwards; it casts the net of archival law over everything out there. The archive is both a long way away, at an imaginary beginning, and everywhere around us; it is active both as an ideal and as its countless imperfect embodiments. These elements are also present in the two Word Events. Brecht’s Word Event has the word “EXIT” as its starting point, but because it only acquires an existence when people undertake action in relation to it, be it thought action or actual physical action, the work as such is always beyond reach. It reaches out to all real and imagined exits but is itself forever impossible to grasp. Shiomi’s Word Event first spread itself out to all corners of the world and then returned in the shape of documentary evidence. Unlike Brecht’s work it is tangible and finite, but a change occurs at the far point of the work’s boomerang movement that carries it from the world of possibilities and realisations to the world of impossibilities and sensations.

What this amounts to, is that although this type of work generates ecological knowledge, it shares certain features with the archive as well. I do not mean material features; even Shiomi’s Spatial Poem No. 1, that explicitly calls for the documentation of an event, is not an archival work of art in the sense in which Buchloh understands it, as the archival organisation of materials according to principles that are valid for a discipline outside the art world. What it does instead is explore the way the archive files, actively; not the materials but the act it performs; not the archive and the document, but the two directions it moves in, the outwards of commandment and the inwards of commencement. Works such as the ones I have discussed here understand the archive as performance and performance as archival. What we tend to notice about the archive is its solidity, its tangibility, but these works destabilise it and reveal its lack of balance by allowing you to experience what it cannot do, and therewith what it does, instead of what is and what it is not. They are both ecological and economical. They point the mind – the mind of the curator as well – in the direction of the archive because they make use of the mechanics of the archive even as they generate experiential knowledge. Their heteronomical character is indeed heterotopian, but not in the sense in which Foucault understands the term. It is not the evocation of different times and places that makes them heterotopian, but the way in which they activate the here and the now and the self of the spectator.

fredag den 17. juni 2011


In my previous blog entry, I formulated the apparent incompatibility of Fluxus and the archive in terms of the opposition between ecology and economy. Ecological Fluxus works, I argued with the help of Fluxus scholar Hannah Higgins, situate the individual in his/her here and now, while the archive disconnects objects from their own time and place and hoards them. This sums up the problem, but it brings us no closer to an answer to the question, why the archive is such a natural form for a Fluxus display.

In order to start closing the gap, I will here introduce two works of art and a third (imaginary) discipline besides economy and ecology: eco-topology, the study of the place of the house. The first work I want to draw into the discussion is Japanese artist Mieko Shiomi’s Spatial Poem No. 1, subtitled “Word Event”. The work was accompanied by the following introductory text: “This event was done through March, April and May, 1965. Some of the words already might not be in the place described, some might change its place in the near future, some might stay there for a long time from now... some flags being movements... some still indicating the real place”. The work is based on an instruction that reads “Write a word or words on the enclosed card and place it somewhere”. The words and sentences she received in response were printed on small flags that could be stuck into a map of the world. The work is a very early example of mail art – but it is also one of the few works produced in the context of Fluxus that not only disperses itself, but comes back together again as well. In fact, it is almost archival.
By contrast, American Fluxus artist George Brecht’s Word Event is purely dissipative. The instruction that lies at the basis of this work only consists of one word, “Exit”. At one level, it plays on the grammatical ambiguity of the word: it can be an exit, a door, that is meant, but it can also refer to the act of leaving. As such, it is related to a work like “Drip Music (Drip Event)”, which consists of the equally ambiguous word “Dripping”. At another level, it is related to works such as “Direction” and “No Smoking Event”, which read, respectively, “Arrange to observe a sign indicating direction of travel. Travel in the indicated direction. Travel in another direction” and “Arrange to observe a no smoking sign. Smoking. Not smoking”. These works are part of a group of works in which Brecht focuses on barely noticed fittings such as hooks, hinges and in this case, signs. Brecht’s aim was to create what he called “borderline art”, an art precariously balanced on the brink between art and non-art. To obtain such a result, he took the Duchampian ready-made one step further, to the point where it is enough to observe an object, a situation or an act in daily life. The Duchampian act of selection, whether dictated by aesthetic delectation or not (Duchamp in a talk at the MoMA, 19 October 1961), is replaced with a casual noticing. The actual physical shape of the work is no longer important.
Both works imply a certain conception of space and place; it is this aspect of them that is studied in an eco-topological analysis. Now I have to say from the outset that my comments are only relevant if one is willing to accept the work on its own premises, just as one has to be interested in archiving it in a way that suits it for my argument to be relevant at all. Both works are extremely open and rely on the collaboration of the viewer or recipient, so they are easily sabotaged. Shiomi’s Spatial Poem no. 1 appears to operate in the same way as Derrida’s archive does. The recipients were supposed to write their word, the place where they had put it and their name on an enclosed response card. In Derridean terms, the card functioned as a material substrate for a living memory. The moment when the card is filled out is the archival moment, another one of Derrida’s expressions, after which living memory is written proof and the act is marked as having taken place at a different time and in a different place. Moreover, the responses were numbered, ready for the map to receive them as a material substrate for the material substrate: it carries numbers to indicate where each flag needs to be stuck. The flags are documents, the map is an archive – different, but powered by the same logic.
However, the work seems to have invited subversion of that same logic. No less than three words were thrown into the sea, two were kept in the recipient’s pocket and composer György Ligeti – see my blog entry called “100 Metronomes” – flushed his word down the toilet. What is even more important is that the map with all the flags stuck on it makes it very clear that the human brain cannot capture so many things going on at the same time. The “word event” it embodies is also the event of experiencing your own inability to grasp so many words at one time; it is that, at least as much as it is the event of collecting and localising the words. In Brecht’s Word Event something similar happens, but along a different route. Upon first glance, the instruction, “EXIT”, appears to be an authorative, generative text. It seems to have the authority to turn everyday objects or events into art and to generate documentary material of itself. But the work is never complete without you, the spectator, thinking about it. Even when looking at the score you are realising the work – which means that no-one can ever see the actual work. The original disappears and the work is dispersed across a million living substrates, namely, living, thinking, feeling people. Their eco-topology, the place of their house, is different from that of the archive as we know it. All the ingredients – the substrate, the archive, the law it establishes and perpetuates – are there, but they are displaced.
To be continued.

søndag den 5. juni 2011


Bird house courtesy Dansk Ornithologisk Forening.
The money-box was once my uncle's
This blog entry, and the two that follow it, are an adapted version of the paper I read at the 17th annual conference of the association Performance Studies international (PSi) in Utrecht, on 25-29 May 2011. In its turn, my paper is an altered and expanded version of a tiny snippet of a longer text on Fluxus and its relation with the archive. The choice of snippet was determined by the theme of the conference, “Technology, Memory, Experience”. It is about the experiential nature of Fluxus works, the way they activate and affect our memories and their relationship with our sanctioned ways of remembering as embodied by the archive. The paper consisted of three sections, entitled “Two Houses”, “Two Word Events” and “Two Directions”. Today’s blog entry is a modified version of the first part.

There are as many accounts of Fluxus as there are Fluxus scholars, but one thing most of them seem to agree upon is the idea that Fluxus works offer nothing but themselves. I will here refer to only one of them, Hannah Higgins, and the way she phrased that particular idea. In her book Fluxus Experience (University of California Press, 2002), she writes that Fluxus works offer “an ecological form of knowledge that (...) allows us to understand ‘our place in the world’” (p. 34). I am especially interested in the word “ecological” here. Ecological knowledge, and another term Higgins uses, “primary experience”, refer to a direct bodily experience that tells you something about who you are in relation to the objects you handle and the temporal and spatial situation you find yourself in. Such knowledge is always personal. You can compare it with others, but others can never have the exact same experience. Applied to art, this means that everyone creates his or her own work of art. Such a work is always with you; it is never elsewhere; and that, of course, is the diametrical opposite of the archive as we know it, because one of the characteristics of the archive is that it accumulates things from elsewhere and from other times. In fact, it is exactly this aspect of the archive that prompted the philosopher Michel Foucault to characterise it as a “un espace autre”, a “different space”, a heterotopia, “a kind of effectively enacted utopia in which the real sites, all the other real sites that can be found within the culture, are simultaneously represented, contested and inverted” (in “Of Other Spaces”, 1967/1984). 

I will return to this quote in section 3 of this text, but actually I am not really concerned with Foucault here. What I want to do here, is contrast Higgins’ understanding of the word “ecological” with the word “economical” as Jacques Derrida uses it in his theory of the archive as formulated in the essay “Archive Fever, a Freudian Impression” (Diacritics, vol. 25, no. 2, Summer 1995, pp. 9-63. Derrida starts his account of the archive with the etymology of the word. He points out that it has a double root, both derived from the Greek word “arkhē”: commencement and commandment, beginning and law. The word is connected with the arkheion, the place where the records were kept, and the arkhons, the people who did the keeping. The archive, Derrida writes, “shelters” and “domesticates” its contents; it “places them under house arrest” (p. 10). That is why he speaks of an “eco-nomy” (p. 12), from the Greek words “oikos”, house, and “nomos”, law. He also speaks of the topo-nomology of the archive (p. 10), his way of saying that the archive is twice determined, by and as location and by and as law. The word “ecology”, by contrast, derives from the Greek word “oikos”, house, and “logia”, study of. The study of the house and the law of the house are apparently mutually exclusive.

When explaining his use of the word “economical”, Derrida writes about the archive that “it keeps, it puts in reserve, it saves, but in an unnatural fashion, that is to say in making the law (...) or in making people respect the law” (p. 12). What it collects is signs; written proof, but also, in Derrida’s words “that which it presupposes”. The archive “coordinates a single corpus, in a system or a synchrony in which all the elements articulate the unity of an ideal configuration”. Proof presupposes a distance between sign and signifier and that distance, in turn, presupposes an ideal that all signs point towards but give an imperfect rendition of. Hannah Higgins, by contrast, claims that Fluxus works never signify anything. They are carriers of primary, ecological knowledge, and any meaning that is found in them is secondary knowledge. An archive collects signs, a Fluxus work disperses primary knowledge. An archive imposes a law upon others and it regiments experience, a Fluxus work leaves you free to experience things for yourself and takes pride in the endless variety this produces. An archive collects things in a particular place – Derrida means the document and the archive at the same time –, a Fluxus work emanates from one place and wanders off from there with all the people it connects with. The two houses, the house of the law and the house of study, could not be more different.

And yet Fluxus exhibitions nearly always take the shape of archives. How come?

lørdag den 21. maj 2011


On 1 June, Copenhagen has a rare chance to experience György Ligeti’s Poème symphonique (1962). The piece is better known as “the metronome piece”, and for a good reason: it is scored for 100 metronomes that are simply wound up and left to run down. The work, and a couple of related ones from the same period, is markedly different from the rest of the Hungarian composer’s oeuvre, and its eccentricity is usually explained with a reference to Fluxus. The score of the Poème symphonique was reproduced in the first issue of the Fluxus newspaper V TRE, which makes the connection an obvious one. The fact that it appeared there probably means that Fluxus’ spiritual father, George Maciunas, planned to include it in one of the Fluxus yearbooks that never appeared; most of the material he collected for publication in the yearbooks ended up being printed in V TRE and/or as a single edition.
As a work, the Poème symphonique fits the Fluxus repertoire very well: it is simple, funny and concrete, it is what Maciunas called “monostructural” – but it is too easy to explain its wackiness with a reference to Fluxus alone. Ligeti himself has tried very hard to make it an organic part of his oeuvre by relating it to later, more acceptably musical works (his String Quartet No. 2 from 1968, more specifically the pizzicato movement in it), and musicologists tend to connect it with the mechanical style the composer developed towards the end of the 1960s. The only possible conclusion is that there is not a single story to be told about the work, but that it is possible to tell at least two. One of them is based on continuities, the other on breaks. One of them is connected, via the idea of the oeuvre, to the ideals of high modernism, the other via the suggestion of radical alterity to the notion of the avant-garde.
The appearance of such easy binaries ought to make one stop and think again.
Fluxus was different, but it was not unique. The type of experimentation it is known for, is characteristic for its time, and although the artists associated with it were more radical than most, their interests were shared by others. At the time when Maciunas collected the score of the Poème symphonique, he was interested in what he called “concretism”, a tendency in art to let phenomena be themselves. What he saw, or rather, failed to see in an oddly perceptive way, was a tendency amongst artists to abandon form as an artistic category. Fluxus works, and many other works of the same period, can no longer be filed on the basis of outside characteristics, but have to be understood from the inside out, as process. They have, so to speak, made the leap from invertebrate to vertebrate, from external shell to backbone. This reference to evolution is misleading, because the leap they made marked the change from modernism into postmodernism, and therewith the abandonment of all evolutionary thinking. Works such as these exist in what Rosalind Krauss famously called the “post-media condition”. 
Eric Drott, who devoted a long article in The Journal of Musicology to the metronome piece and two other works of Ligeti’s that are commonly associated with Fluxus, concludes that the piece does not conform to the Fluxus standard, amongst other reasons because it criticises recognizable musical conventions. The way the score is formulated, for example – extremely verbose and overly specific , with lengthy instructions about how to procure 100 metronomes, how to make sure that they are returned to the right owner, etc.; you will find the full text here – is interpreted by Drott as an ironic commentary on the typical modernist score of the time, with the attached elaborate instructions to the performer. As such, it is a specifically musical work, but at the same time it is not. The score does not contain a single note, but consists of words alone, and is therefore accessible in a way that is entirely different from the classical musical score. It is part-music, part-written word, and entirely something different.  It ventures out in that mysterious no-man’s land between the established media that Dick Higgins called intermedia.
At one level, the level at which Maciunas connected with the work, it is a musical piece that makes no effort to hide the nature of the material it employs, namely, the ticking of 100 metronomes. At another level, the one at which scholars such as Drott understand it, it is a supramusical piece that critiques certain musical conventions. Both interpretations are perfectly valid, but they fail to notice the way the piece behaves. Certainly, one of the things it does is cause performances, like all musical scores, but it also changes the status of the score. Its title, Poème symphonique, places it at the crossroads of poetry and music, but actually it inhabits a previously unclaimed territory in between music and the written word. It is intermedial in nature, but what is even more important is that it experiments with the score as a means to an end and turns it into an end in itself. As much as the presentation of a certain body of sonic material and as much as a critique of certain musical conventions, it is a postmedial work that can just as easily be read as a text as it can be performed as a piece of music.
Oh well. Whatever it is, I look forward to hearing and seeing it on 1 June.

tirsdag den 10. maj 2011


In my last blog entry, I wrote about a concert that has left traces in the present and has failed to do so at the same time. In this new one, I would like to supplement it with a concert that is twice there.The concert in question is the sixth and last of the Fluxus Festival that was held in Nikolaj Kirke in Copenhagen and the Allé Scenen theatre in Frederiksberg in November 1962. The first concert of the festival, on 23 November 1962, attracted a lot of attention, but because the reviews were unanimously bad, almost all supporters started to distance themselves from it and the other concerts, except the one at Allé Scenen on 25 November 1962, were left unreviewed. I never expected to find a review of the last one.

But I did, or rather, Dorte Errebo, an archivist at the Rudersdal historical archive, did. Thank you once again, Dorte! She drew my attention to a review in Birkebavnen, the Birkerød Statsskole college magazine.  Thanks to it, I now know that John Cage’s Fontana Mix and Music for the Marrying Maiden, Richard Maxfield’s Cough Music, Radio Music, Steam, Pastoral Music and Night Music, George Brecht’s Three Yellow Events and Two Durations and Dick Higgins’ Requiem for Wagner, the Criminal Mayor were all performed according to plan. In a sense, that is news, because Fluxus festivals NEVER took place according to the programme; but then again, nearly all of these works are movies or tape works, so how difficult can it be to play them as planned?

Of course this is a bit unfair. Thanks to the review, I now know that Brecht’s Three Yellow Events (1. Yellow, 2. Yellow, 3. Yellow) were performed by holding up a transparent piece of yellow plastic in front of a projector lamp, and that is a valuable bit of information. And I also know that the crowd expected scandal and soon became bored, so when imagining the scene, one has to remember to add paper aeroplanes, folded from program sheets, flying through the air.

But by and large, and quite unlike the episode I wrote about in my last blog entry, I now have a duplicate of the programme I already had. In the case of the other concert, I found that the combination of affirmation of its reality and its denial made it a ghost, and therewith a social thing. Does the lack of in-betweenness here mean that the concert is not social? After all, what we have here is an ensemble, consisting of two pieces of documentary evidence that both point in the same direction and that can therefore unquestioningly be treated as stand-ins – supplements, in the Derridean sense – of a lost, original event.

Living with ghosts means never entirely living in the present. A haunted present is alive with remains of the past and outposts of the future. This situation was easily recognisable in the case of the present/absent concert: it had taken place under the rule of a rector who believed he had already witnessed the essentials of the concert in the past and therefore did not think he had a need for it in the present; for whom the concert in the past represented the shadow of the concert that was censored, reaching back in time.  The situation would have been similar in the case described above if the review had never shown up; but it has, so what does its appearance mean?

There is a sense in which the concert can be said to be “happening between two” (Derrida’s expression) after all: it happens in the lack of change between the announced program and the performed one. It becomes a ghost when the program as promise of a future-to-come (a-venir, another Derridean term) meets the program as a fulfilment of that promise, with the extreme likeness of the two as the thing that determines its half-life. After all, it was the fact that the works were mechanically reproduced (projected/played) that caused the audience to react. People expected to see their expectations reproduced (they craved scandal), but what it got instead was a reproduction of the work, without the possibility of the fulfilment or defeat of expectations. The sociality lies in the frustration this produces, a frustration that is repeated by me, the scholar: while I am happy to have my facts confirmed, I am also disappointed by the fact that a new piece of evidence does not, or hardly, lead to new insights.

torsdag den 7. april 2011


Rosa van der Meijden,
Three ghosts, 2009
 I saw a ghost the other day. Well, actually I did not. What I did was see nothing where I believed there would be something to see. Now one might argue that that is not all that surprising. After all, the same thing happens with half your socks, most of your biros and all the money you earn. But I came face to face with a ghost nonetheless.

I was visiting the library of the Royal Conservatory in Copenhagen to investigate a Fluxus concert called Concerto that took place there on 23 April 1963. It was organized by the conservatory’s study group on new music and featured, besides a programme of Fluxus pieces, a selection of happenings by the local Experimental School of Painting. I know it took place: not only was it discussed in the June 1963 issue of Danish Music Magazine, there also exists a typewritten programme. I have held it in my hands. And yet the conservatory’s archives do not contain a single scrap of evidence of its existence.
The concert should have drawn attention to itself. The program mentions such classics as Alison Knowles’ Child Art Piece, Benjamin Patterson’s Pond and György Ligeti’s Trois Bagatelles. Surely, an evening that featured a child on stage ought to attract attention? And what about a work that has the performers croak questions, answers and exclamations with a mechanical hopalong frog as conductor, should that not leave its traces in the archives? Or what about a piece that consists of three movements and only one note? In 1963? Nevertheless, I found a gaping hole where the concert should have been. All the other concerts in the same series are listed in the Royal Conservatory’s yearbooks, but of the Concerto, not a trace.
The Concerto, it appears, has both taken place and not taken place. It “happens between two”, as Jacques Derrida puts it in the Exordium to Specters of Marx (1993) - and things that happen between two “can only maintain [themselves] with some ghost, can only talk with or about some ghost”. The Concerto can only maintain its bizarre existence between having taken place and not having taken place if it speaks to and expresses its own ghost.
That may seem an impossible task, but there is a temporal twist to this ghost business that may make it possible after all. As Derrida writes, there is no being-with, and thus no socius, without a being-with-ghosts; ghosting is an eminently social thing. And not only do we live with the ghosts of past generations, we live with those of generations to come as well. The living present, writes Derrida, is “non-contemporaneous with itself”: it moves towards the future, but the future moves towards it as well. This means that, if the present comes from the future, the future must precede it – it must in a sense be “already and irrevocably past”.
Back to the Concerto. In a commentary in Danish Music Magazine, the rector of the Royal Conservatory, Knudåge Riisager, wrote that he had “already witnessed the samples presented here for half a dozen years ago in Paris and other places”. The concert he attended in Paris was a ghost of the Concerto, and the Concerto a ghost of the earlier Parisian concert. The Parisian concert ghosts the future Concerto and the Concerto ghosts the past Parisian concert.

Between them, the programme of the Concerto that I have held in my hand in New York and the evidence of its existence that was so conspicuously absent from the archive in Copenhagen speak with and about the ghost of the concert.  There can be no doubt that it was Riisager’s experience of the concert as not-present – of his own Parisian experiences as future – that caused its disappearance from the Conservatory’s archives. Riisager made the event a social one. He may have wanted to protect others from what he saw as superfluous, but in actual fact he turned a mere piece of archived paper into something that can be addressed, in the double sense of the word: something that can be engaged in conversation and something that can be the subject of conversation – while at the same time not being there at all. Not a mere thing, but a ghost.

tirsdag den 22. februar 2011


Three weeks ago, I posted an entry about Hugo Ball’s “Karawane” and the multimedia spectacle that can be created out of a printed version of the poem, designed by the Berlin Dadaists, a diary entry in which Ball describes a poetry reading and a photograph of him in a “cubist” outfit. More specifically, I wrote about my own (and many others’) apparent need for authenticity, which makes us combine the three pieces to recreate a lost originary event and pointed out that they could also, and much more productively, be combined to make a statement about Ball’s and the Berlin Dadaists’ interest in language. The latter means contrasting the pieces of evidence instead of turning them into the harmonious whole we apparently so deeply crave, but here I spoke out in favour of surprise instead of regularity.
The argument made me think more about documentation, and especially about the use of photographic images as documentation. More specifically, I was reminded of Amelia Jones’ book Body Art, Performing the Subject, in which documentary photographs are described in terms of the Derridean supplement. It is the supplement that is the subject of this blog entry, so read on if you are interested in supplements - or if you want to know why I have red spots in my face on this week's photograph.
But instead of moving directly on to Derrida, I want to make a detour past a performance by Stanley Brouwn at Galerie Patio in Neu-Isenburg, just outside Frankfurt, on 13 February 1964. Although the performance is hardly ever discussed in any detail in the literature on 1960s performance art, it is quite well documented: the Archiv Sohm in Stuttgart keeps a whole series of photographs of it. To the scholar, finding something like that is like striking gold – but I also vividly remember the many hours I spent after that first glorious moment, trying to piece the fragmentary evidence together to form something resembling a narrative. My efforts are especially relevant for the argument I want to present here because Brouwn’s performance was so bizarre – the events it consists of offer no help whatsoever to those who want to reconstruct the bits as a continuous narrative – and because the documentation so readily and naturally made me try to reconstruct the original event.
The series begins with a photograph of Brouwn in front of the gallery entrance, peeling potatoes and throwing them into a pan filled with water; as is made clear by a puddle of water on the floor, hard. The next one shows him in front of the garage wearing skis. On the third photograph, he is inside the gallery, next to a lady who appears to be knitting. On the fourth one, the string has twisted itself around Brouwn’s face and stomach. He has a fork and spoon in his hands and looks as if he is being pulled forward. On the fifth photograph, the string has disappeared again, but Brouwn still holds the fork and the spoon. He eats a small clump of rice off a piece of fabric, perhaps a pillow. Next, he is shown holding a balloon and what appears to be a pair of scissors; he just might have cut a piece off the balloon and then closed it again, but the photograph is too unclear to be certain.
Next comes a series that appears to depict stages of the same action; to my surprise, I found them reproduced on duam85’s photo stream on Photobucket (click here – and I would be very grateful if someone could tell me who duam85 is and/or why he or she has reproduced that particular picture). The first one shows Brouwn standing in a corner next to a chair on a pedestal of concrete blocks. He balances a stick to which a pair of high heeled shoes is attached, on his feet and holds a large transparent plastic bag in his hands. On the next one, he is sitting down on the chair with the plastic bag pulled down over his body and the shoe-stick balanced across one foot. On the third one, he is standing up, still balancing the stick but holding the plastic bag in his hands. The final shot shows the chair on its concrete pedestal, now bearing books and flowers. In front of the chair, a box is placed. There are holes in the lid, in one of which a flower has been stuck.
The next two photographs also seem to depict a sequence. The first one shows Brouwn putting a tape recorder in a plastic bag and closing it by means of a belt. On the next one, he holds the bag up, so that we can see that a microphone is hanging out of it. The last group of photographs show Brouwn stretched out on the floor, busying himself with a magnifying glass, a caliper, an egg and a notebook. On the first one, he takes the magnifying glass out of a bag. On the next ones, he studies the egg, measures it, and writes the number 4,3 down in the notebook. The last photograph shows him still holding the egg, but now writing something on a sheet of paper.
After a lot of patient research, I now know more or less how the performance was constructed - but I am not going to tell you (ha ha!). The only thing I will reveal here is that the latter group of photographs illustrates the construction of a measured object. According to the announcement, the exhibition that the performance was the opening event of featured “BROUWNaction – BROUWNdemonstration – this way BROUWN – sealed objects – measured objects – BROUWNfilm – BROUWN eats a movie – coca cola statues – BROUWNcocktail – BROUWNmusic – BROUWNbooks”. But the fact that part of the action can be isolated already illustrates that what we are dealing here is not a continuous performance, which makes it all the more important to take a look at the reasons why one should want to combine the pictures to tell a coherent story anyway. At which point we turn to Derrida.
Derrida develops his theory of the supplement in chapter 2 of the second part of the Grammatology. He does so with the help of the Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Rousseau’s fetish for the spoken word and his enthusiasm about being a writer. Despite the fact that he bases his argument on an opposition between speech and writing, it is easy to translate it to the world of performances and photographs. Right at the beginning of the chapter he claims that “writing is dangerous from the moment that representation there claims to be presence and the sign of the thing itself”… and automatically, the scholar in the archive is transformed into the wizard’s apprentice (beardless, pimpled) who reads out a spell when the wizard is out, not knowing what he is doing and unaware of the consequences.
What the spell does is turn writing into a supplement for the spoken word. Such a supplement is a surplus, “a plenitude enriching another plenitude”, but it fills a void as well: “if it represents and makes an image”, he writes, “it is by the anterior default of a presence”. Actually, presence does not need a supplement. It is self-sufficient and therewith irreplaceable. The substitute cannot be equal to it, neither in substance nor in quality; but even though it is always alien and inferior, it gives an experience of presence (of speech, the real thing) anyway, because that is the way the supplement is experienced. The substitute offers itself to the individual as presence, but that presence “is the substitutive symbol of another presence”.
Here, the image of the wizard’s apprentice suddenly changes. The text suddenly begins to deal with masturbation, prostitutes and the Ideal Woman. Derrida introduces the terms auto-affection and hetero-affection, and suddenly one begins to wonder where the wizard apprentice got his pimples. The substitute, Derrida argues, offers direct satisfaction, but also absolute deferral of the moment of satisfaction. It satisfies, but only because one accepts it as substitute for the real thing and one therewith gives up all hope of ever becoming acquainted with the real thing. In fact, the thing-itself, the original presence, does not exist outside the play of substitution. There has to be a substitute before the idea of “presence”, of a thing-itself, can be thought at all. The result is that any feeling of presence we may have is a chimaera.
What is more, the supplements follow each other in an “infinite chain, ineluctably multiplying the supplementary mediations that produce the sense of the very thing they defer: the mirage of the thing itself, of immediate presence, of originary perception”. The thing-itself is beyond reach, and acceptance of the play of substitution seems the only option left. But then it comes: “it happens”, Derrida writes, “that [supplementarity] describes the chain itself, the being-chain of a textual chain, the structure of substitution, the articulation of desire and of language, the logic of all conceptual oppositions. (…) It tells us in a text what a text is, it tells us in writing what writing is”. His conclusion is, that in this game of substitution, sometimes, something can be known after all, namely, the game of substitution itself.
Along the road to insight, the wizard’s apprentice has sullied the original and finally removed it altogether and has exposed himself to great moral peril during the process (but that’s quite OK in the end, because after all it is only himself he violates). Derrida’s argument is a truly postmodern story of enlightenment: insight can only be attained via and in obscurity. What I like about the Brouwn photographs is, that they physically illustrate the progression of Derrida’s text. The first sequence has so many lacunas that it automatically steers the imagination towards the original and its absence, thus creating the idea of an original in the mind. The next sequence actually has a certain narrative logic, even though the meaning of the narrative remains obscures, so one is confirmed in one’s idea that there actually is a story behind it all and that one actually can reconstruct the presumed original event by means of the photographic evidence. Already here, one begins to auto-satisfy oneself, because after having used the photographs as proof of the existence of an original, they are now combined with the idea of the original to convince oneself that one can actually gain access to the work – which at the end of the day allows us to see what we have been doing to ourselves. Not that we necessarily do so, but should we want to do so, we could. We could actually see what we are holding in our hands, what we have been thinking of and where it has led us.
At which point I would like to make a brief final remark. Apart from referring to Derrida, Amelia Jones also mentions Rosalind Krauss. More specifically, she points out that Krauss mentions both performance and photography as examples of indexicality. Maybe their relationship is different from the one between Derrida’s speech and text, maybe it is the same but of a different order, but in any case, looking at the photographs can tell us something about our relationship with indexical signs and therewith about our relationship with works of performance art as well. Once again, Brouwn’s work is extremely illustrative: it will never reveal itself as one continuous narrative because it never was one. In his early performances, Brouwn combined a lot of shorter monostructural actions, reminiscent of the Fluxus event, although unscripted, to form a more complex whole. The frustration one experiences when looking at the photographs reproduces the frustration that was no doubt experienced by those who actually witnessed the performance, just as our efforts to create a coherent whole out of the disjointed mess we are presented with, reproduces theirs. In a sense, the photographs are a satisfyingly appropriate way of approaching the performance, despite their supplementary character.

Incidentally, should you want to read more about Brouwn and the archive (and should you be able to read Danish), I recently had an article published about that very subject in the magazine Peripeti (no. 14, autumn 2010, pp. 31-38)

tirsdag den 8. februar 2011


I just read about Move for Life, a project organised by Littmann Kulturprojekte in Basel for the annual ArtParis fair (this year from 31 March – 3 April). An announcement on e-flux describes Move for Life as an attempt “to create a dialogue between art and the public through major societal issues… using lorries!” (I have always been suspicious of exclamation marks; they propel a sentence forwards at great speed, only to make them stop abruptly at the punch line. I am much more in favour of Alcanter de Brahm’s point d’ironie (irony point, a small, elevated, backward-facing question mark) or Hervé Bazin’s point de doute (point of doubt, a kind of z or Greek zeta over a dot), because they make you stop and think instead of accept the point unconditionally. But this is an aside inside the aside.)
Move for Life wants to enter into a dialogue about issues such as “poverty, aids, violence, racism and environmental destruction” and to that end, it uses artworks created by “internationally renowned artists” (the announcement mentions Ben Vautier, Daniele Buetti, Damien Deroubaix, Jochen Gerz, Isabel Muñoz, Robert Rauschenberg, Mark Titchner and Atelier Van Lieshout ). The works mean to “speak to each and every one of us”. The Rauschenberg lorry, for example, is decorated with a typical Rauschenberg silkscreen constellation with the word “OZONE” written across it. Images of the lorries are to be found on the Move for Life website.
The project attracted my attention because Knud Pedersen, whose latest book I discussed a week ago, has developed a project involving lorries, or rather, beer vans, as well. It was called “Faxe Drives With Art” (Faxe is a Danish brewery and soft drinks producer) and took place in August 1965. The idea was simple: the vans, Pedersen reasoned, drove all across the country every day with their cargo of beer and lemonade anyway, so they might as well carry a work of art, so that everybody could see it, free of charge. The image at the top is of a poster showing Fluxus associate Arthur Køpcke’s contribution to the project. It is reproduced on the website of Pedersen’s Copenhagen Fluxus Archive.  But the project was by no means Fluxus-only: Bjørn Nørgaard and Per Kirkeby, for example, who were both associated with the rival Eks-skolen (Experimental School of Painting), participated as well. The project was not designed to (re)present a certain group, style or school. It embraced no specific cause, but only reflected Pedersen’s own ideas.
A comparison with Move for Life is revealing. Pedersen’s role in the Faxe project is very similar to that of Littmann Kulturprojekte, namely, purely organisational. In fact, all of Pedersen’s projects from the 1960s were of an organisational nature; it was not until the 1970s that he began to manifest himself as an artist. But there are important differences as well. First of all, the Faxe project has no ulterior motive; its aim is directly related to the means it employs, namely, art. In Move for Life, by contrast, art is used to draw attention to other issues. Moreover, while the message of the Faxe project lies in its internal structure, the message of Move for Life is external to the art and its carrier(s).
The differences bring to mind Nicolas Bourriaud’s claim, in Esthétique relationelle (1998), that the “relational” art of the 1990s had left grand scale revolutionary avant-garde utopianism behind and merely wanted to create “micro-utopias”. For this type of art, getting people to think about issues such as pollution and poverty for just a little while is enough. Pedersen, on the other hand, wanted to abolish, not so much art, as all the institutions that insert themselves between art and its audience and make art an elitist enterprise. His is a grand scale revolutionary-utopian project, but it is much more specific than “relational” art as well. It wants to combat art mediation by mediating art in an alternative way, while relational art makes use of pretty much any type of relationship.
Bourriaud’s argument is annoyingly specific; the only art he really discusses is that of the 1990s, to the result that history appears to play no role in his argument. Underneath the surface, however, one can discern a sneaking kind of artistic Darwinism: the miniaturisation of the relational aestheticists’ micro-utopias is better than the avant-garde’s clunky utopianism and therefore represents a step forwards. His Esthétique relationelle develops a post-historic argument that is typical of the period just after the fall of the Berlin Wall and its aftermath. What is much more useful, now, 15 years later, is to focus on another aspect of Pedersen’s project, namely the alliance it forges between art and commerce. It is an extremely practical one (“those vans have to drive anyway”), but a rational one as well (“art wants to get out and meet the people and consumer goods want to be notice”). As such, it is the opposite of Move for Life, which is not practical and not rational. It may be able to strike up a dialogue, but not thanks to the lorries or the art. Pedersen’s project makes a case for systemic elegance and conceptual rigour that is still worth stopping up and thinking about today.

onsdag den 2. februar 2011


In a sense, this blog entry is a continuation of the one on Knud Pedersen (see under January), so if you have not read that, you may want to do so first. What I want to write about here is something that annoys me – not massively, but just slightly. And one of the main reasons why it annoys me is the very fact that it annoys me. It is a matter that I could have addressed in many different ways, but I have opted for a relatively safe way, namely a historical one. None of the protagonists are with us any longer.
The annoying thing is actually an assemblage of three things: a very well-known photograph of Zürich Dadaist Hugo Ball dressed in a Cubist costume, a printed version of his poem “Karawane” and a diary entry from 23 June 1916, reprinted in Ball’s book Flight out of time, in which he describes a performance. You will find the photograph on the Dada Companion website (top right hand corner) and the poem on Wikipedia.  The diary entry does not appear to have been reproduced on the internet, so I will summarise it instead. Ball writes that he has invented something he calls “poems without words” or “sound poems” and that he has performed some of them. He then describes the outfit he had made for the occasion (a collection of cardboard tubes and other constructions, more or less similar to the ones shown in the photograph), and finally he moves on to the performance itself.  He writes that he “began slowly and solemnly”, but that “the stresses became heavier” until “his voice had no choice but to take on the ancient

The three bits of documentation can - and often are - be combined to form a kind of multimedia Dada show. Word (the poem), image (the photograph) and the spoken word (Ball's diary entry) come together to create a multisensory image of “Hugo Ball performing ‘Karawane’ at the Cabaret Voltaire in Zürich in 1916". But there are some problems. First of all, the diary entry actually quotes one of the poems he recited, and it is not “Karawane”,but another one called “Gadji beri bimba” (you can read the poem here). It mentions an “Elefantenkarawane”, but there are trumpeting elephants in “Gadji beri bimba” as well (“elifantolim brussala bulomen brussala bulomen tromtata”). The only other title Ball quotes is “Labadas Gesang an die Wolken”, and that is not the one either – so we simply do not know whether Ball actually performed “Karawane” that night. It is very likely, but we cannot be certain.
Secondly, the specific version of “Karawane” that is usually reprinted together with the photograph and/or the diary entry is the one from the Dada Almanach, published in Berlin in 1920, i.e. four years later and 850 kilometers away. According to Berlin Dadaist Raoul Hausmann, the distinctive typography is by Richard Hülsenbeck, who moved from Zürich to Berlin in 1917 and ended up creating an alternative Dada headquarters there. In fact, the use of different type faces is rare in the publications of the Zurich Dadaists, but highly characteristic of the Berlin Dadaists. Especially Hausmann did so extensively . The Berlin Dadaists even made a collage that combined the photograph of Ball with a Berlin-style rendition of the poem, albeit not the one that is usually reproduced these days (just to make things easier). The collage was intended for publication in Dadaco, the “Dadaist hand atlas” that never saw the light of day. The combination of the photograph and the poem, then, seems to have been a German fabrication, a piece of internal Dada politics, and not the original document we would like it to be.

If I used some time and energy on the matter, I am sure I could find out who fabricated it, when and why, but I will not. Because it is at exactly this point that I get annoyed. I get annoyed at the ease with which people heap fragments together in order to create the suggestion of a coherent whole and I get annoyed at myself for getting annoyed because it is a sign that I am no better.
Perhaps I should try to be surprised instead. In an essay called “Presence” (in History and Theory no. 45, February 2006), Dutch historian and philosopher Eelco Runia makes a plea for surprise, and it is a convincing one. History, Runia claims, is all about avoiding surprises. It seeks patterns, either in history itself or in metahistory (the writing of history). “What looks like the royal road to the past”, he writes, “never takes you anywhere but to places within sight of your point of departure”; but “exploring the present might have you, somewhere, someplace, tumbling into depths you didn’t suspect were there”. More specifically, Runia wants the historian to look for “metonymies”, “displaced words”, words that connect different contexts, “holes through which the past touches the present”. Viewing Ball’s caravan as a metonymy means watching the elephants march from the past into the present and from the present into the past, both at the same time.
One very good reason for doing so is that it represents a break with the oh-so-appealing idea that texts and photographs can turn us into eye witnesses of something that happened 95 years ago. More specifically for the assemblage discussed here, it means that we can turn our attention away from the factual information contained in Ball's diary entry and towards his opening line, where he announces that "I have invented a new genre of poems, Verse ohne Worte or Lautgedichte, in which the balance of the vowels is weighed and distributed solely according to the values of the beginning sequence". Instead of connecting it to the photograph and the printed version of the poem, which makes authenticity the central subject of discussion, it can then be connected to the Dada Manifesto that Ball read out just a week earlier: "I shall be reading poems that are meant to dispense with conventional language, no less, and to have done with it. (...) I don’t want words that other people have invented. (...) I want my own stuff, my own rhythm, and vowels and consonants too, matching the rhythm and all my own. (...) The word, the word, the word outside your domain, your stuffiness, this laughable impotence, your stupendous smugness, outside all the parrotry of your self-evident limitedness. The word, gentlemen, is a public concern of the first importance". In such a context, authenticity could never be an issue. Language and its limits, on the other hand, could. 

tirsdag den 25. januar 2011


Just before Christmas, Knud Pedersen presented his latest book,  “Kunsten ud til folket og hjem til kunsten igen, et testamente” (“Art to the people and back home to art again, a testament”). Flatteringly, he dedicated a chapter to me. And now you, the reader, will probably expect me to tell you in a few words who Knud Pedersen is, and that is no easy task. Explained very briefly, Knud Pedersen has since the early 1950s worked to make art available to everyone, first by means of Byens billede (The Picture of the City), an easel on a street corner where a new painting is put on display every month or so (the easel is still in use and is now to be found on Nikolaj Kirke Plads in Copenhagen), and from 1957 onwards via Kunstbiblioteket (The Art Library), where one could rent a work of art “for the price of a packet of cigarettes a week”.  Throughout his long career, Pedersen has devised many more ways of getting art out to the people, for example by displaying it on the side of beer vans and by renting it out in jukeboxes. His most recent idea is ArtScreen: annoyed by the fact that he could only rent out paintings and small sculptures, art forms that make up a rapidly decreasing percentage of the total amount of art produced, he decided to offer digital access to art – in any form and shape – at the now-standard price of 57 crowns per month. If you are interested, you will find more information about it on the ArtScreen website.
Anyway, Knud Pedersen has written this book and he signals that it is his last one. Not only does he call it a “testament”, but he also suggests that he has come full circle: art out to the people and back home again.  In the chapter dedicated to me, he describes a work of art he once made (I do not know the year, and to try and find out would be extremely problematic in the given context – see below). It consisted of two panels, the first one of which bore the instruction “Phone a taxi. When it arrives at Den Frie [the exhibition hall in Copenhagen where it was on display, PvdM], invite the driver to come inside and ask him to choose the work from the exhibition that he likes best. Move it from its place in the exhibition to the other panel with the legend ‘the chosen work’”. The other panel, predictably, read “The chosen work”. Pedersen did not make the panels himself and never even visited the exhibition. When the show ended, he arranged for the panels to be sent to the German artist Jochen Gerz, who buried it in the Jardin des poètes in Paris. Pedersen, therefore, never actually saw the work himself.
As Pedersen points out himself, what motivates the work is a rejection of the concept of the “work” of art, the idea that it needs to be physically produced and the idea that one needs an artist to produce a work of art. All this is perfectly normal for the time; it is my guess that the work was made sometime during the 1970s. As usual, the sting is in the tail. The concluding sentences of the chapter are: “As far as I can recall, this project has never been discussed by myself or others. Maybe it has never taken place”. And there he has me. How does an art historian, an academic, deal with this story? Of course one could travel to Paris and dig up the work, but to desecrate its grave in such a way would be to destroy both Gerz’s  and Pedersen’s work. One could also take an easier way out and merely dig out the catalogue of the exhibition, but then, one would only find secondary evidence of its existence. Anyway, the panels are not the work. They can be recreated. The exhibition, on the other hand, cannot, so the work cannot be recreated either. The work only exists in the story, and the story is told by someone who never actually witnessed the work. This is enough to make any art historian nervous.
My worries remind me of a passage from Jean Baudrillard’s “Simulations” (1983): “It is always a question of proving the real by the imaginary”, it says, “of proving truth by scandal, proving the law by transgression, proving work by the strike, proving the system by crisis and capital by revolution, (….) – without counting: (…) proving art by anti-art (…). Everything is metamorphosed into its inverse in order to be perpetuated in its purged form”. What is especially worrying about the passage is the context. Baudrillard arrives at his statement via a discussion of the Philippine government’s decision, in April 1972, to create a reserve for the Tasaday, a people that were claimed to have lived in isolation since the Stone Age, and to close it for all visitors. The episode is now widely considered to be a hoax, but Baudrillard did not know that. What was at stake for him was the fact that in making further ethnological research impossible, ethnology (read: science) made a “simulated sacrifice in order to save its reality principle”.
What is at stake here is no longer the question of whether a particular work of anti-art was actually made, but whether it can be a subject of art historical investigation. I cannot have direct experience of the work, but the rules of the academic game demand that I produce physical evidence, preferably in a shape that looks acceptably archival: a document, a photograph, something that can be preserved and filed. Transposing the story of the Tasaday to Pedersen’s story, I can either discuss anti-art in an art context, thereby “civilizing” it, or I can explicitly refrain from speaking about it and so help to preserve a totally fictitious idea of a “savage” art. Either way, I give reality to an idea of art, rather than to the work. Art history as an academic discipline may seem to demand of me that I prove the reality of the work, but what I actually end up proving the reality of a theoretical construct called “art”. You will not find a single molecule of art in the entire universe, so any attempt to prove its existence must be disingenuous. Academia would give me ample opportunity to hide behind the image of the solid researcher who has order in his empirical material, but I would still be doing something else than what I claimed to be doing.
How to avoid this? An obvious answer is to refrain from referring to the Stone Age. The Tasaday were there, around 1970, and ethnologists spoke to them, but they had nothing to do with the Stone Age. By drawing in the Stone Age, people made it impossible for themselves to see what the Tasaday were. In art historical terms, this means forgetting about history. It means forcing myself to stop seeing Pedersen as a witness of something that happened some 35 years ago and to start seeing him as someone who is telling me a story, now, in the present. That  is an effort it is important to make, because one of the things I am currently discussing with Pedersen is the 50th anniversary of the first European Fluxus festivals in 2012. Admittedly, it also means that I have to think about myself quite a lot, and that always makes for rather tedious, introverted, introspective, egotistical texts, but I guess we will all have to live with that. One of the ways of complying with Pedersen’s testament, and I think a good one, would be to stop thinking of this 50th anniversary as a direct line back to an originary event and to start thinking of it as an event in the present – as a story that is told now, rather than documentation of an event that took place back then.


Right. This is it. My first blog entry. Well, I guess I could do worse than to say a bit more about the name, Peter’s flux de parole. Originally, I wanted to call it “Flux de bouche”, “word flow”, but unfortunately, that name is already taken: in 1992, Dutch sound performer Jaap Blonk released an album of sound poetry by the same title. You will find a page devoted to it  on Blonk’s website and on that priceless online  collection of experimental music, poetry and much more, UBUWEB, you can hear all the tracks and see some of the scores. To make things worse (for me, not for him), Blonk performs texts by authors whose names are also bound to crop up on my blog, especially Dadaists Hugo Ball and Tristan Tzara and Fluxus associate Dick Higgins. So “Flux de bouche” was out of the question, and it became “Flux de parole” instead.
One very important reason why I insist on using the word “flux” is that I have spent so much of my professional life studying Fluxus. As it also says in my bio, I wrote my MA thesis on Fluxus in Holland and my Ph.D. thesis on Fluxus in Northwest Europe. But what is at least as important is that I really want it to be a flow of words. I hope to use this blog as an opportunity to speak about my professional field of interest – avant-garde art from the early 20th century until the present day, and especially Fluxus – without the academic rigour that is expected of an art historian like me. Other names I considered using were “Chatter Letter”, the title that Higgins gave to one of his Something Else Newsletters (volume 1, number 7, January 1968, chips in the academic), and “Serious Gabcard” (Something Else Newsletter, volume 1, numbers 4 and 5, August 1966 and February 1967 respectively – old habits die hard). I would like this blog to be an opportunity to slacken the academic standard somewhat and just chatter and gab.
And there we have the reason why I think “flux de parole” is a very acceptable alternative:  the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure used the word “parole” to denote  the way an individual expresses himself in language, as opposed “langue”, which is the system that lies behind. In his Course in General Linguistics (1916), Saussure famously compared “langue” to “a symphony, the reality of which is independent of the way it is executed; the mistakes that the musicians who play it might make can never compromise that reality” (my translation from the French – and please notice how I carefully refrain from adding a page number or a footnote here). “Parole”, by contrast, is the realisation of “langue” by the individual subject expressing his/her “personal thought”. Parole consists of all the sounds the musicians make, right and wrong, intentional and unintentional. I want to use this blog to explore particulars, contingencies. I want to focus on the exceptions, not the rules, and I want to treat everything as an exception.
The only lingering regret I have is that I have to let go of the physicality implied by the term “flux de bouche”. It suggests saliva, teeth, lolling tongues and the sounds of chewing, breathing and swallowing. Part of the reason why George Maciunas chose to call his creation “Fluxus” is that dictionary definitions of the word mentioned diarrhoea, purges and “the bloody flux” (dysentery). He even wanted to package the first Fluxus yearbook in (a facsimile of) the box of a do-it-yourself enema kit. “Great box”, he enthused in early March 1963, “listen to this: ‘… in preparation for proctoscopy and sigmaoidoscopy: in the relief of constipation due to fecal or barium impactions.’ Or this: assume knee-chest position insert tube and squeeze bottle gently… maintain position until a strong urge to evacuate is felt (usually within 5 minutes) etc. etc. – wonderful” (postcard to the composer La Monte Young in the Gilbert and Lila Silverman Fluxus Collection, now at the MoMA in New York – ouch, doing it again). The expression “flux de bouche” would have echoed Maciunas’ corporeal interests extremely well. To compensate for this, I have chosen a portrait of myself that shows me covered in raw egg during a performance of Dick Higgins’ Danger Music #15 (“Work with butter and eggs for a time”) at The Building in Berlin in December 2008. I might one day devote a blog entry to the delights of smashing eggs into one’s own face, who knows.
But I feel I have spent more than enough time speaking about reasons. It is high time that I posted my first real blog entry. To lift just a little tip of the veil: it is about Knud Pedersen’s most recent book and my worries about the value of the idea of “reality” in connection with the type of work I tend to work with. Exciting stuff!