Posted: 7/8/12

On February 5th, 2012 the St.Claire in conjunction with the ICA's Excursus exhibition series hosted an open forum conversation addressing artist, art, and contemporary civic action. What follows is a transcript of the first segment of this event. The remainder of the discussion will be featured in the next issue of the St.Claire magazine.

MATT KALASKY: Hello everyone thank you for coming. My name is Matt Kalasky and I am one of the editors of the Nicola Midnight St.Claire. We organized this event in conjunction with the ICA and their Excursus installation series that happens in this foyer landing—how often does it change out?

ALEX KLEIN: Two times a year.

MK: Two times a year, right. If you haven’t been here yet I suggest afterwards checking out this installation by East of Borneo.  It is a group from California and it is really interesting.

AK: Can I say one thing?

MK: Yeah yeah.

AK: If you want to come to other Excusus events we have a website. So if you go to the ICA website we have a little symbol that says arts, archive, design, and conversation. Click on that and it will link you to the Excursus website and you can find out about all the events.  A lot of the events are of this manner—workshops, discussions, and they are all kind of looking at alternative pedagogical structures this season so I encourage you all to come back. We have lots of great events coming up through the end of March.

MK: It is an awesome way to spend your Sundays.  Thank you Alex.  So basically here is what is going to happen.  I will explain how this got started, I will introduce the moderators, and then we will jump right into it.  OK?  So the genesis of this event was born out of several conversations with people. Like, during the fall, right, a lot of times the Occupy movement would come up, especially within groups of artists that I hung out with. And a lot of times the question was: How do you as an artist feel towards this movement? And with talking with people I found there was a variety of responses. People who just didn’t care—people who were really involved—people who wanted to get involved but just didn’t know how. And so there was this spectrum of responses. And out of this maybe the one thing that we could have coalesced from these conversations was that, as artists, we felt there was at least a standard or a historical precedent for artists to be involved in civic movements and protests in general, but exactly how they were going to be positioned in this specific movement, this Occupy movement was still unclear; up for grabs; still being negotiated. And so we decided to host this event not necessarily to produce tangible results but to just explore this relationship between art and civic movements and probably get more questions then answers.  But I think, as we might learn later today, that might be a new way—a new goal that is forming.  That maybe producing questions is just as productive as producing other answers, other structures.  Does that make sense?

So basically what is going to happen today is we have three moderators.  They are each going to present a viewpoint, a question, a topic, an idea, a conundrum, for us all to consider.  Once all three of them have presented their ideas we are going to break up into three smaller groups.  Each of you going to whatever moderator topic you felt the most connected to.  Right? In your small break out groups, your little tiny sub groups, you are going to talk on that topic for about twenty or thirty minutes. Afterwards we will all convene and each group will present what their small group has found; their conclusions or inconclusions as well as any questions they have come up with.  And then we will open it up for a more general larger discussion.  Does that make sense?

ALL: Yeah.

MK: First I want to introduce our three lovely moderators.  This is Jessica Feldman I know her from teaching at Tyler.  First though you are an artist working in New York City.  You are in a PHD program at NYU and I want to get this right, because it is the awesomest sounding program tilte—Media, Culture, and Communication.  Sounds awesome.  You are also very involved with the Occupy movement or parts of it in New York?


MK: John Paetsch. Paetsch? How do you say your last name?


MK: Paestch? Paestch?

JP: Paestch.

MK: Patesch. (It should be noted, Matt still doesn’t say it right.) Thank you.  John is a poet living in Philadelphia.  He has also been involved with the Philadelphia Occupy movements.  Lastly Anita Alyn is an artist working in Philadelphia. Her work has a lot to do with the interaction between performance and the aesthetics of protest in addition to addressing a sort of nostalgia we might have for protests. Is that fair?  Cool. So without further ado I think I am going to open it up to you because you are right here, Jessica.

JF: OK, well, hi. I just want to say thank you for having me in this beautiful space on this beautiful day, with these beautiful people. It’s really nice to be here.

So. I have a whole bunch of notes and questions. I think my kind of positioning and involvement in politics comes from a labor perspective. I guess that is where I am going to talk from and inquire from. It starts because I am an artist and I can’t make a living. I imagine other people have similar situations. I feel like there is a deeper question in that situation in our current economic model, and I am very interested in fleshing out the idea of making work that doesn’t have a use value -- work that doesn’t have a tangible purpose, "It starts because I am an artist and I can’t make a living." but exists for exchange or for some sort of more affective or more social reason. Following from that, I am also interested in how that is connecting to the movement in the art world lately towards performative acts, towards interventions, towards relational aesthetics … and why we have this need to dissolve the object. So that is the overall idea. I have some ideas about how this kind of immaterial labor really stymies the capitalist system: that by making stuff that is about the relationship between people (and that is very important and needed) one points to the problem with product and with cash and money.  And I feel like going at these protest movements and at the overall dissatisfaction with our current economic structure from that perspective is something very valuable that artists can do. We can start talking about solutions because we are already kind of working outside of the system. I feel that is what we have to offer and a way we can shift the dialogue. It also may be why we are all kinda of fucked over and can’t make a good living. And, you know, when you are lucky in New York, you have a gallery that takes half of your money from you all the time … and that is if you are doing well. So. There is a problem with this. That is one of my first questions: how can art as an affective labor, as an immaterial labor, as maybe a labor of love, be a model for an alternative economy …  one that we are maybe trying to push towards or protest for in the Occupy movement?

And so, also, I have been caught up on Marx lately. If you have ever read any early Marx, you know that he talks a lot about alienated labor. And that the main way capitalism works, and the worst thing about it, is that it alienates everyone from their labor -- from the act of working, from the product of their work, and from each other and from themselves. So, because you make this thing that you are going to sell, and you make it for someone else, and you make it to sell to someone else, you don’t realize yourself in the process of making it, and you feel alienated. And your time is waged time so you don’t have a real healthy relationship with your time. And people are just there to make things and products for each other. That’s a very reductive version of Marx but I think that is basically right. So if that is alienated labor, I would like to talk about what unalienated labor is. And I think art might be it … or some forms of art-making that are on the rise now. And I wonder why they are on the rise right now, in this particular moment of rampant finance capital. And I would like to connect that to love. Because I think they are related.

So I can close with two quotes. The first is from Marx’s early philosophical manuscripts. One of the questions he poses -- well he doesn’t really pose questions, he just kinda says how its gonna be -- one of the things he says is that “only when man has recognized and organized his forces propres as social forces, so that social force is no longer separated from him in the form of political force, only then will human emancipation be completed.” (1A) So he says there is a distinction between social force and political force right now and that they need to be merged. Social force is actually when you know your relationships with other people in a more intimate way. Then, writing then one hundred and fifty years later, Claire Fontaine talks about the notion of “human strike,” the idea of people, especially women, just stopping. Stop producing, stop doing their things, stop going to work, stop cooking food, stop making love … stopping all of these things that we don’t think of as work, but that are essential to a good, happy, human existence. She says, “ … the notion of work comes out modified if seen from the ethical prism of human strike: activities that seem to be innocent services and loving obligation to keep the family or couple together reveal themselves as vulgar exploitation. The subject isn’t the proletarian or the factory worker but the whatever singularity that everyone is.”(1B)

So I would like to have a talk about that: about how art might be a type of service that goes beyond the factory floor, and a model for a different way of working and connecting people.

MK: That was nice.  Thank you.  John.

JP: I am not as brave as Jessica so I have prepared an excessively obtuse speech to read.  So this is a working out of two basic assumptions, which are derived from   conversations I’ve had with Matt. One, the Occupy movement and more specifically the General Assembly which is the legislative body within the Occupy movement, that this is a rupture of some sort; that this is "If one can identify a limit, it must be possible to become indifferent to it." something new.  As something new, I am assuming that it is not a matter of engaging with it, for one is already engaged by it; rather it is a matter of negotiating with it in its terms. So I will try to work out some of these ideas in relation to art, artistic practice, and political practice which I see as equivalent in a sense. Not identical but equivalent. In what follows I will be talking about systems a lot and so by systems I don’t mean a totality or a whole. There are a multiplicity of systems.  The capitalistic systems is an example of one. The Occupy movement itself could also be considered a system.

(What follows is a copy of John’s speech.  He reads it verbatim. Footnotes retained for your reference pleasure.)

A system determines what is sensible and insensible, possible and impossible, thinkable and unthinkable- in short, what can be made, said, thought or done. (1) These determinations are not absolute, but variable. (2)  If one can identify a limit, it must be possible to become indifferent to it. (3)

Systems are always prior to praxes. An artistic praxis is a locally determined function- or apparatus- that processes systemic content: a mode is always a modification of what it presupposes. It never sets its terms, but works with what is falsely given. One is never less free than when one sets out to freely generate content. Always one is an automaton, elaborating the consequences of a system by means of logical operators. Still, what exists in a system is irreducible to it. There is always an excess, the potential to be placed under the condition of a different axiomatic. Put differently, philosophy is always possible by means of subtraction.

I take it as axiomatic that: “it is better to do nothing than to contribute to the invention of formal ways of rendering visible that which Empire already recognizes as existent” (Badiou). It follows from this that existence is an effect, “stem*ming+ solely from the contingent logic of a *system+” (Badiou LW 152). So we arrive at our first question: how is it possible to process what doesn’t exist? To do this, we must become automatons of different systems. “The dream of a suitably political work of art is in fact the dream of disrupting the relationship between the visible, the sayable, and the thinkable without having to use the terms of a message as a vehicle. It is the dream of an art that would transmit meaning, in the form of a rupture with the very logic of a meaningful situation” (Ranciere 63). I will return to this notion of transmission.

But first, what is a system? A system is a set of axioms, their consequences, the set of operations by which these consequences are realized, and the relations to other systems. (4) In all cases, it is governed by a logic. Logic here is not a set of laws governing propositions and argumentation, but “the laws of the relational network which determine the worldly appearing of multiple-being. Every world possesses its own logic, which is the legislation of appearing, or the ‘there’ of being-there” (Badiou LW 156). To process what doesn’t exist, one nominates new axioms- say, “Equality”– and creates new logical operations, for example, the General Assembly, an operator which allows the assembly to process propositions. Axioms have no positive “independent” content, only the contingent content elaborated by a subject plus the self-reflexive relation to it. (5) Put differently, axioms are not ontological, but performative.

Since its inception, philosophy has subtracted itself from present systems in order to inhabit new axiomatics. Thus, subtraction is its first condition. If artistic or political praxes are to reject the determinations of present systems, they must first place themselves under this subtractive condition. Upon doing so, they will find themselves in the same interrogation room as philosophy, a discourse that has maintained itself there by endeavoring “to say what cannot be said” (Badiou Conditions 6). If art is to withstand the interrogator, it will have to draw on this obsessive nomadicism. But it must not merge with the philosophical corpus: there must be a means to distinguish it from this decrepit shag. In what follows, I would like to suggest how to submit to philosophical conditions without hatching into the same diffusion.
The task of Benjamin’s historical materialist is well known: first, track down the detritus of an alternative emancipatory history; then, condense these undeveloped potencies so that they disrupt the time of the present. Similarly, the artistic materialist scours the philosophical archive for novel axioms and operators, for spectral systems that didn’t have time to develop. Where Benjamin established a kind of destructive anamnesis*, the latter establishes a constructivist anamnesis. The constructivist “moment is an elusive transition in the unfolding work of culture in which social negativity- the experience of rupture, an act of refusal- invokes a fantasmatic future- a horizon of possibility, an imagination of participation.” (6)  (Watten 191). Constructivist anamnesis’ primal scene is in Plato’s Meno: in it, a young slave accesses a geometric theorem and promptly vanishes from the dialogue. This suggests accessibility, but one which is ultimately exilic.

But how does philosophy differ from other practices? Rather than an apparatus to process systemic content, it hangs a foreclosure sign on its prepared habitation. Its restless dis-ease is a result of its imperative to think the new. (7)  Thus it always sets off, neither in one system nor another: specular. By “specular” I mean the creation of concepts and other systems, coupled with the inability to inhabit these systems. “Since philosophy... equates thinking with infinite specularity (8) and interminable interpretation, it cannot imagine any thought... that would be neither specular nor interpretative. Yet axiomatic abstraction provides the paradigm for precisely such a thought: one which is non-specular, non- reflexive” (Brassier 28). By ratifying axioms and bearing out the consequences, artistic and political praxes become non-philosophical praxes. But “the ‘non’ in the expression ‘non-philosophy’ [is] akin to the ‘non’ in the expression ‘non-Euclidian’ geometry: not as a negation or denial of philosophy, but as suspending a specific structure” (9) (Brassier 25). Thus we have 2 types of suspension: suspension of the present by negativity, and suspension of philosophy’s specular captivity by a “non.”

We arrive now at the second condition of philosophy: transmissibility. Mathematics is an example of a transmissible discourse. I can think a mathematical thought, transmit it to another, and verify this transmission. By contrast, experiential discourses are intransmissable: no one can have my experience. One can relate to a description or expression of it, but relation differs from inhabitation. (10)

Metaphysics begins with the decision that its systems must be transmissible. In so doing, it becomes “incompatible with any legitimation by narrative, or by the initiated status of the subject of the enunciation... By causing the Speaker to disappear, by removing any mysterious validation from its site, [it] exposes argumentation to the test of its autonomy and thus to the critical or dialogic examination of its pertinence” (Badiou IT 93). Put differently, metaphysics is the first mode of collective discourse, one which other praxes can imitate. We see similar operations at the General Assembly: no leader, no privilege of presence, no fetishization of history- only the assessment of immanent processes by axioms of equality.

So how does a non-philosophical practice block its assumption into the metaphysical corpus? “Instead of using the mirror of philosophy to think the transcendence of ‘real’ objects in the world, [non- philosophical praxes use] the immanence of the real to de-specularize those objects which philosophy cocoons in its reflexive transcendence. It follows that the object of non-philosophy is not the real, which is never an object, not even an unthinkable one, but the philosophical specularization of real objects” (Brassier 32). As said, where philosophy remains a stranger to its concepts and systems, non- philosophical praxes take up residence in these systems, familiarizing themselves with the furniture. But what is gained is not autonomy, for the system is still prior: we have instead the subject-as-function, “a radically disembodied, excarnate, non-conscious subject performing a set of quasi-algorithmic opera- tions upon a philosophical material” (Brassier 31).

If the moment of the first condition is subtraction, the moment of the second is abstraction. If art is to be non-philosophical, it “cannot merely be the expression of a particularity,” but must labor for an “impersonal production” (Badiou). This is nothing less than the emancipatory recollection of the inhuman. For in the end, equality is inhuman, unnatural. We are the embodiment of a non-relation, between thought and body, free automatism and animality. Corrosively edged, collectivity is not what we think it is.

MK: Excellent.  Lastly but not leastly.

ANITA ALYN: Very impressive topics that you both have brought to the table. My questions stems from ideas of global capitalism and specifically I think envisioning a post-capitalism a post-democracy and what that could be.  My thoughts are that artists are very much involved with this process but I don’t know if it is just through the venue of opposition but that there are perhaps other kinds of ways to build that or envision that. And I think what drives my questioning comes from a quote attributed to Jameson.  About how is it we can conceive the end of the world but we can’t conceive the end of capitalism.  That we can’t understand what comes after capitalism but we can envision annihilation.  That is very compelling to me—our short sighted vision. I am interested in having discussions about what post capitalism means in lieu of a global look from the 1960s to the present. About different forms of revolution including the Arab Spring but also prior to the Arab Spring thinking about different movements and where they have lead us to politically and  what sort of agency have we inhabited since then.  So I have some graphs and I have some charts and I am interested in how the visual plays within this question.  And that is where I am.

MK: Cool.



1A. Karl Marx, “On the Jewish Question, “ Early Writings, trans. Rodney Livingstone and Gregor Benton (London: Penguin, 1974), 234.
1B. Claire Fontaine, Human Strike Within the Field of Libidinal Economy (Pétroleuse Press, 2011) 4. 1. The category of the possible is an instrument of oppression.
2.  We will call a system’s aesthetics the “a priori forms determining what presents itself to sense experience” (Ranciere 13).
3.  It is always possible to assess the conditions of possibility “immanent to a particular system of thought, a particular system of expression” (Ranciere 50).
4.  “Each closed system also communicates... It is not because the notion of the whole is devoid of sense... *The whole+ is rather that which prevents each *system+, however big it is, from closing in on itself... *It+ is therefore like a thread which traverses *systems+ and gives each the possibility... of communicating with another, to infinity. Thus the whole is the Open” (Deleuze 16).
5. “Axioms are in no way judgments that can be said to be true or false; they have a sense only in the context of the whole system” (Bernays 192).
6.  New possibilities of thought become available once that structure has been suspended and non-philosophy is an index of those philosophically unenvisageable possibilities. (Brassier 25)
7. “Philosophy is under the conditions of art, science, politics and love, but it is always damaged, wounded, serrated by the evental and singular character of these conditions. Nothing of this contingent occurrence pleases it. Why? To explain this displeasure of philosophy with regard to the real of its conditions presumes that one sets at the heart of its disposition the following, that truth is distinct from sense. If philosophy had only to interpret its conditions, if its destiny was hermeneutic, it would be pleased to turn back toward these conditions, and to interminably say: such is the sense of what happens in the poetic work, the mathematical theorem, the amorous encounter, the political revolution. Philosophy would be the tranquil aggregate of an aesthetics, an epistemology, an erotology, and a political sociology.... But ‘philosophy’ begins when this aggregate turns out to be inconsistent, when it is no longer a question of interpreting the real procedures where truth lies, but of founding a unique place in which, under the contemporary conditions of these procedures, it may be stated how and why a truth is not a sense, being rather a hole in sense” (Badiou Infinite Thought, p.101-102).
9 For example, the suspension of Euclid’s 5th postulate. 10 This does not imply a hierarchy.

Badiou, Alain. Infinite Thought. New York, NY: Continuum, 2004. Conditions. New York, NY: Continuum, 2008. Logics of Worlds. New York, NY: Continuum, 2009. “15 Theses on Contemporary Art.” Lacanian Ink 23.
Bernays, Paul. “Hilbert’s Significance for the Philosophy of Mathematics.” in From Brouwer to Hilbert ed Paolo Mancosu. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1998.
Brassier, Ray. “Axiomatic Heresy.” Radical Philosophy 121 (Sep/Oct 2003). Deleuze, Gilles. Cinema 1. Minneapolis, MN: Athlone Press, 2003.
Ranciere, Jacques. The Politics of Aesthetics. New York, NY: Continuum, 2004. Watten, Barrett. The Constructivist Moment. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2003.


The Longevity Conundrum


The Fear of the Future

Baby I Got My Facts

Dear Gordon,
Love Emily