Even The Dead Will Not Be Safe: Part II of III
Editors’ note: This is the second installment of a long-form essay to be published here over three subsequent issues. In it, artist, filmmaker, and teacher Madison Brookshire examines how art museums, and art history can be radically re-potentiated through strategies of cinematic montage.
There is no progress in art, only actualization. It is not that so-and-so’s work begat so-and-so’s, nor that without Pollock there would be no fill-in-the-blank. As Paul McCarthy says, it is not about influence; it is about opening:
Somewhere, there’s an informed part in me acting on this thing. Is the acting on the thing directly the result of the informing […]? The answer is no. It’s more complicated. But I wouldn’t deny that reading Gustav Metzger or Yoko Ono at that time didn’t affect what I did. What it did is open the possibility of what felt right or made sense.1
Neither a direct result, nor the realization of previously unrealized potential (“the first…”), but an opening—suddenly emergent—that brings what-has-been in alignment with the now at a moment of actualization. Something that wasn’t there is—that was invisible or obscure becomes clear—that was virtual becomes actual. This is how art is made—and how art history should be written.
There is a synthesis that occurs when perceiving more than one work of art together (apperception), but it is beyond dialectics or compare-and-contrast. What if we do not want to calculate the ideological conclusion to be drawn from pairing or grouping works of art together? What if we endeavor not to resolve the conflicts that arise (“a real problem and a real chance […]”), but to pass from a state to a new state, through difference and repetition, to modulate from one quality to the next?
The image is a pure creation of the mind. It cannot be born of a comparison, but from the bringing together of two more or less distant realities. The more distant and true the relationship between the two realities, the stronger the image will be and the more emotional power and poetic reality it will have.2
Distant and true: two works open a space between them, opening a field of potential. The distance itself (or differential) between the two can be productive, poetic. More than producing an image (Benjamin) or a concept (Eisenstein), cutting two works together can, to borrow a term from Deleuze, induce an interstice3:
Given one image, another image must be chosen which will induce an interstice between the two. This is not an operation of association, but of differentiation… given one potential, another one has to be chosen… in such a way that a difference of potential is established between the two, which will be productive of a third or of something new.4
Do not pit one work against another: arrange them so that they illuminate one another—as well as the distance between them. Cuts creating openings, a fissure that is productive, a between that is at once transformative and revealing.
The fissure has become primary, and as such grows larger. It is not a matter of following a chain of images, even across voids, but of getting out of the chain of association. Film ceases to be “images in a chain […] an uninterrupted chain of images each one the slave of the next,” and whose slaves we are (Ici et ailleurs). It is the method of BETWEEN, “between two images,” which does away with all cinema of the One. It is the method of AND, “this and then that,” which does away with all cinema of Being = is.5
As it is in cinema, so it is in the museum. Between two artworks, induce an interstice. Do away with an Art History of Being—a slavish, uninterrupted, teleological chain of objects—to create an art history of becoming: a history of and, “this and then that,” with each thing for itself, opening the distance between.
Minor art history
A minor literature doesn’t come from a minor language; it is rather that which a minority constructs within a major language.6
Micro connections and macro connections: art history thus far largely prefers making connections on the macro level because of the power of linear accounts to create historical narratives. Connections on the microlevel tend toward ever more micromovements, creating webs of association rather than direct links to an overarching structure (narrative arc). But the overarching structure is always an oversimplification that privileges certain artists over others, breaking down the collective in favor of the individual. “Individuated” voices separate from the social scene, which in turn becomes background: noise. This privileging forms a pattern that is restrictive, exclusive, and definitive—a canon.
Rather than bringing everything in line, forcing it into an arc, let connecting threads unfurl and webs of association emerge. In place of linear narratives written with the authority of the institution (“contextualizing” artists and artworks): works of art like cells suspended in connective tissue, layers upon layers of tissue, tissues forming organs, and so on. Non-linear history brings works together—not as instances or examples of an already outlined narrative—but as points in a field. Each work is a node in a vast network of interrelations, and the job of the non-linear historian is to show the threads so that a web emerges overall, or better yet, to show the points so that threads and webs present themselves. Rather than writing macro-narratives—the long arc of art history bending toward injustice—allow the nodes to actualize a field of contingent connections, non-linear microhistories.
Because Forti published little, and little was published on her, until well into the 1970s, the critical discourse on her early work is structured by absence. […] It would be a mistake to understand Forti’s curiously liminal status as simply the product of personal circumstances. Her work is both immediately accessible and yet very hard to grasp. It almost defies discourse. And amidst histories of 1960s art constructed around punctual successions of movements and styles, Forti’s project remains curiously unhinged.7
Art works against discourse; conversely, discourse works against art.
The promotion of Bill Traylor and William Edmondson from ‘folk’ to ‘modern’ artists underscores the capacity of reigning authorities to assess and confer ultimate value—a vital function of any supremacist franchise.8
Against the inherently repressive, supremacist major mode of art history—a linear progression of vanguard (read: winning) artists succeeding one another in a march past the present—minor art history.9
In Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature, Deleuze and Guattari outline their concept: minor literatures are constructed by a minority within a major language, and that language is thereby “affected with a high coefficient of deterritorialization.” “Everything in them is political” as they exhibit a nearly claustrophobic subjectivity—“its cramped space forces each individual intrigue to connect immediately to politics.” And “everything takes on a collective value,” even as it exists in individual voices that may not always agree. It is not a literature of great masters and individuated enunciations, but of authors’ utterances producing a collective enunciation—“an active solidarity.”10
Is this not precisely the position of the radical in relation to the museum? Of “experimental” (film, music, performance, etc.) in relation to Contemporary, Visual, or Fine Art? Is this not the position occupied by feminist art or the Black Arts Movement? And what if we think these things together, conflicts and all, and instead of segmentation (segregation) based on identity—do we discover collective enunciation, collective vision? Not agreement, but solidarity, that is, radical politics given in the form of works (“each individual intrigue”).
Radical works give rise to radical concepts.
[A]nd if the writer is in the margins or completely outside his or her fragile community, this situation allows the writer all the more the possibility to express another possible community and to forge the means for another consciousness and another sensibility…11
The world is starving for thoughts. I worry about the thoughts. A new thought must come out in new language.12
There is major Art History—that can draw a straight line from Marcel Duchamp to Andy Warhol the “painter” and oppose it to a direct line from Pablo Picasso to Jackson Pollock (conceptual vs. retinal, rationalist vs. expressionist, etc.)—and then there is minor art history, which is inclusive of Warhol the filmmaker, producer, impresario, proto-installation artist, diarist, portraitist, queerist, and recordist, as well as his milieu of (among others) purloined “creatures” from Jack Smith’s retinue. Importantly, in the fissure that opens within this latter vision of Warhol, we find room for other interdisciplinary figures such as La Monte Young, Yoko Ono, Ben Patterson, and Tony Conrad, to name just a few. Then, Pop in general and Warhol in particular are not so much reacting against Abstract Expressionism or reinstating the reign of Duchamp, Dada, content, or whatever, as they are swimming in a sea of contingencies amid a tidal wave of possibility. Nothing is fixed, especially not one’s position in history. There are no straight lines between artists; there is Brownian motion instead.
Whenever someone makes love, really makes love, that person constitutes a body without organs, alone and with the other person or people. A body without organs is not an empty body stripped of organs, but a body upon which that which serves as organs (wolves, wolf eyes, wolf jaws?) is distributed according to crowd phenomena, in Brownian motion, in the form of molecular multiplicities.13
As it is with wolves, so it is with art. Thus Jack Smith’s Flaming Creatures. Thus minor art history.
Lucky Landlordism in a Rented World
The whole fantasy of how money is squeezed out of real estate. It supports the government; it supports everything. And it isn’t even rational. When is a building ever paid for? […] It supports the whole system we have to struggle against. We have to spend the rest of our time struggling against the uses they make of our money against us. […] All the money that runs the government comes from the fantasy of paying rent.14
Where does all the money that runs the art world come from? The whole fantasy of exchange value—that art, like real estate, appreciates in financial value over time—animates the art world. Not art itself, but the world of art as a separate entity divorced from (and superior to) our lived reality.
Art is not only whatever we think of when we enter a museum. It is also a system of economic exchange. A work of art, in addition to whatever else it is and does, is an unregulated speculative commodity increasing in exchange value over time. Capital accumulates. Artwork is real estate—a little piece of turf to defend and inflate. Is it any coincidence that many collectors are “lucky landlords” of real estate themselves?
There is a close, if indirect, relationship between major art history, museums, and the fantasy of accrued value. Critical reception is not equivalent to financial value, but intellectual capital increases the fantasy, the exchange value of the work.
We have to struggle against the uses they make of our art against us.
I have been writing of images as they arise between things that are distant and true producing a third, something new: the concepts the artworks give rise to. But there is another image, one that dissembles, one that we must defend against, or rather, that has been so successful as to become almost totally dominant—and therefore must be actively assaulted. It is not the same as the “archaic image” Benjamin describes—a picture of progress. It is spectacle; an image that, as it arises, covers even the possibility of other images. “The spectacle is capital accumulated to the point where it becomes image,” writes Debord.15 This image is the medium of exchange, the currency of power, in the society of the spectacle. “The spectacle is not a collection of images, but a social relation among people, mediated by images.”16
The art market creates images over images. This meta-image, spectacle itself, is far from merely chimerical. It is creative. It creates the images it covers and produces images of its own.
The spectacle in general, as the concrete inversion of life, is the autonomous movement of the non-living.17
We have traded the experience of the image for the image of experience. We are poorer for the loss, although it has made a certain class of owners very rich indeed.
The art world is where art exists as commodity, and does not exist if it is not commodity.
The spectacle presents itself as something enormously positive, indisputable and inaccessible. It says nothing more than ‘that which appears is good, and that which is good appears.’18
The dominion of the art world over art is nothing special, even if it is acute; it is just another sign of the success of commodity culture in general.
Capital is successful because it flows. Like water, it is always running, content to slowly erode at times, to break and flood at others. Capital is the chaos of exchange reified. This reification, however, is not just an abstraction; it is productive. It produces ever more capital in the form of markets: financial, commodities, probabilities, etc.
If we want to resist this movement, then we must learn to be blocks in the flow, a million blocks, not immobile, but moving. We must become fluid. We cannot stop the movement of exchange any more than we can stop a river from running. We cannot oppose the flow universally, for there is no universality. We must act collectively, without being unified. Resistance must be unorganized—and stronger for it: a solidarity that does not erase difference or individual voices, but amplifies all through interaction—interstices as collective enunciation.
Capital is not monolithic and has no agenda, other than its own propagation. It has no motive at all, not even profit. All that matters is increase. The Economy, production and exchange reified, requires perpetual motion, an autonomous forward “progress” of continual, abstract increase, but an increase that in reality has no telos, and therefore no real measure. Capital is not successful against anarchy; it is successful precisely to the extent that it is anarchic.
To resist the violence that this abstraction does to our lived reality, we must become individuals whose actions are not unified, yet form a collective. We must learn to be as supple as capital itself. Art, or more specifically relations between artists and artworks, fractious and unstable by nature, can be useful as a place to concentrate, incubate, and study these energies.
Much of what we call “contemporary” in art is little more than the gilt on our new techno-plutocratic age.
The spectacle is the wrapper around the real that produces hyperspace.19 It too is a combination of images producing a third, but its third is spectacle itself. All of this production has hypertrophied and now we have exceeded even spectacle. We are living in the age of the supervisual: surveillance, metadata, and the exchange value it generates.20
In the age of the supervisual, which is a not a repudiation but an intensification of the society of the spectacle, resistance amounts to making the supervisual visible. We must become a billion points of darkness. We must make everything move around us, as individuals. Whatever we cannot stop, we can refract. All these individual refractions will affect the flow of the whole and demonstrate something about its movement. Resistance in the form of refraction maps currents of power. This is one of the projects of Black Lives Matter: to make systemic judicial racism in the United States, which “can neither be satisfactorily represented nor entirely concealed”21; not only representable, but unavoidable.
This was the most effective aspect of the Occupy movement as well: to call attention to and make visible the supervisual divisions between public and private space, and the interdependence of public and private finance. Indeed, the metastasized financial sector is the supervisual par excellence—it produces “instruments” that, when increasing in exchange value, appear to have no basis in physical or lived reality yet that, upon decreasing, demonstrate disastrous effects for lived reality. So-called private equity is even further removed from the lived realities that it is as disastrous for as it is hyper-productive of exchange value.
This quality of going dark is one of the many strengths of the Mni Wiconi sacred site resistance as well. First Peoples, describing themselves as water protectors, adopted the non-violent means of 20th-century social justice movements, but did so while refusing to engage in the terms of the debate as defined by the white, Western hegemony, represented by the United States government, the Army Corps of Engineers, local law enforcement reinforced by the National Guard, and Energy Transfer Partners, the group constructing the pipeline. Refusal to engage also included denying traditional media access and an insistence on indigenous media representation. This latter decision had a double movement: on the one hand, first peoples sharing their stories through social media were far more active (and often more accurate) in their reportage of the resistance. On the other hand, this refusal to participate in practices that would make the camp and the story more accessible to mainstream media narratives all but guaranteed that it would not be reported on, which ironically increased the urgency of its online representation: darkness producing visibility, resistance revealing the supervisual. Indeed, without this double movement, many of the financial microconnections underpinning the construction of this private infrastructure may never have come to light.
“Big data” is the intensification of the production of spectacle to the point where it becomes supervisual. Debord writes, “The spectacle is a map of this new world—a map drawn to the scale of the territory itself.”22 Metadata is more than the territory itself. It is above and beyond any “precession of simulacra.” It is information exceeding existence, to the point where history becomes obsolete. It is the absolute ascendance of technocracy over any other form of government—only specialists can make such an amount of data usable, and no one can make it comprehensible.23 Hence extrajudicial execution in countries with which we are not at war: for the movement of military power in the age of the supervisual, borders, treaties, and the laws that govern them are obsolete. This endless proliferation also explains the ease with which false narratives and non-histories proliferate online—again, abstractions producing disastrous results for lived reality. For “fake news”—perhaps better thought of as the interrelated hyper-production of misinformation and exchange value in the age of the supervisual—has real consequences on individuals, institutions, and even elections.24
- “Paul McCarthy Oral History,” unpublished interview by Liz Kotz.
- Pierre Reverdy, “L’Image,” Nord-Sud No. 13. March, 1918. As quoted in Linda Williams, Figures of Desire: A Theory and Analysis of Surrealist Film (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992), 3.
- In writing about Godard’s style of montage beginning with Ici et Alleurs, Deleuze coins the term to describe an effect of cutting that is no longer about “collision,” but about the difference between images: “the question is no longer that of association or attraction of images. What counts is… the interstice between images, between two images: a spacing which means that each image is plucked from the void and falls back into it.” Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 2: The Time-Image, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1985), 179.
- Deleuze, Cinema 2, 179-180.
- Deleuze, Cinema 2, 180.
- Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature, trans. Dana Polan (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986), 16.
- Liz Kotz, “Convergence of Music, Dance and Sculpture c. 1961: Reconsidering Simone Forti’s Dance Constructions,” Assign & Arrange: Methodologies of Presentation in Art and Dance (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2014), 39.
- Kerry James Marshall, “Sticks and Stones…but Names…” in Mastry, ed. Helen Molesworth, (New York: Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Skira Rizzoli, 2016), 232.
- For this concept, I am indebted to the work of Branden W. Joseph, especially his book, Beyond the Dream Syndicate: Tony Conrad and the Arts After Cage, (New York: Zone, 2008).
- Deleuze and Guattari, Kafka, 16.
- Deleuze and Guattari, Kafka, 17.
- Jack Smith and Sylvère Lotringer, “Uncle Fish Hook and the Sacred Baby Poo Poo of Art,” Semiotext(e) 3.2 (1978), reprinted in Jack Smith, J. Hoberman, and Edward G. Leffingwell, Wait for Me at the Bottom of the Pool: The Writings of Jack Smith (New York: Serpent’s Tail, 1997).
- Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, “One or Several Wolves?,” A Thousand Plateaus, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989), 30.
- Smith, Wait for Me at the Bottom of the Pool, 116.
- Debord, Society of the Spectacle, 24, thesis 34.
- Debord, Society of the Spectacle, 12, thesis 4.
- Debord, Society of the Spectacle, 12, thesis 2.
- Debord, Society of the Spectacle, 15, thesis 12. Consider as well: “For ‘artists of color,’ destiny is not just a matter of ‘who buys,’ it is also a consequence of who defines, and what people are able to see.” Marshall, “Just Because,” Mastry, 245.
- I am indebted to Frederic Jameson’s concept of “the wrapper” that he develops in Postmodernism, Or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (Durham: Duke University Press, 1991).
- Compare the “supervisual” to Adam Curtis’s concept of “hypernormalization.” For Curtis, the technological apparatus of the internet itself (which he sees as a high-tech feedback mechanism) all but guarantees that the real world remains invisible, superseded by a fake world, a bubble we can disappear into online. Adam Curtis, Hypernormalisation, streaming digital video, color, sound, 2016.
- David E. James, Power Misses: Essays Across (Un)Popular Culture (London: Verso, 1996), 100.
- Debord, Society of the Spectacle, 23, thesis 31.
- Witness the ranks of the National Security Council, which swelled from just fifty in the early 1990s to currently somewhere between 300 and 400 people. Kathleen J. McInnis, “‘Right-Sizing’ the National Security Council Staff?” CRS INSIGHT, June 30, 2016.
- Andrew Weisburd, Clint Watts, and J.M. Berger, “Trolling for Trump: How Russia is Trying to Destroy Our Democracy,” War on the Rocks, November 6, 2016.