A polarity is presently developing between the finite, unique work of high art, i.e., painting or sculpture, and conceptions which can loosely be termed “unobjects,” these being either environments or artifacts which resist prevailing critical analysis. This includes works by some primary sculptors (though some may reject the charge of creating environments), some gallery kinetic and luminous art, some outdoor works, happenings, and mixed media presentations. Looming below the surface of this dichotomy is a sense of radical evolution which seems to run counter to the waning revolution of abstract and non-objective art. The evolution embraces a series of absolutely logical and incremental changes, wholly devoid of the fevered iconoclasm which accompanied the heroic period from 1907 to 1925. As yet the evolving esthetic has no critical vocabulary so necessary for its defense, nor for that matter a name or explicit cause.
In a way this situation might be likened to the “morphological development” of a prime scientific concept – as described by Thomas Kuhn in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962). Kuhn sees science at any given period dominated by a single “major paradigm”; that is, a scientific conception of the natural order so pervasive and intellectually powerful that it dominates all ensuing scientific discovery. Inconsistent facts arising through experimentation are invariably labeled as bogus or trivial – until the emergence of a new and more encompassing general theory. Transition between major paradigms may best express the state of present art. Reasons for it lie in the nature of current technological shifts.
After the Classical Greek era, there has been an aesthetic division between form and content. The term “form” refers to the style, techniques, media, and materials of the artwork, and the term “content” refers to the representation or mimesis, in other words, that which is displayed or depicted. Eknæs’ Air Body is all throughout plastic, but does not get its form solely from the synthetic material. The cylindrical tube sculpture gets its form from air. The soft sculpture has a nozzle in one end and is made to be blown up by the artist or a museum technician. Air Body radically disrupts the relationship between form and content: it contains its own form. The air gives the sculpture its form, thus form and content are identical. There is no concealed inside, Air Body is what it is in its showing of itself and in a Hegelian sense, the flexible sculpture thereby is absolute flexibility.
When creating the inflatable sculpture, Eknæs utilized participatory strategies affiliated with design thinking. The artist placed the process of production outside herself: creating Air Body was an abstract process where no individual governed the creation process. The form of the sculpture was produced by sending an e-mail to the Norwegian company Somedayboats, that imports and sells custom made inflatable leisure products and boat fenders made in a Chinese factory. Eknæs provided the production facility with measurements and material specifications, and placed an order. Hence, the sculpture is produced in a participatory manner permitted by means of automated processes. Algorithms, Somedayboats, Eknæs, Chinese labour, and FedEx collaborated in the coming-into-being of the sculpture. The artist is radically withdrawn from her artwork. Air Body has surrendered to a multi-disciplinary teamwork co-creation process in all its levels of production.
The “reserve army of labour,” according to Marx, is a group of workers that are either partially employed, or in full-time temporary jobs. They probably earn enough to scrape by, but are highly vulnerable to circumstance and depend on friends or family for survival. Their role in capitalist production is simply to be available. The absence of predictable employment – and thus the impossibility of forming strong interpersonal bonds in their workplaces – gives rise to an easily expendable and replaceable workforce. In this, they are not dissimilar from the lumpenproletariat (which translates roughly as “rag workers”). Marx believed this group was politically useless, and unlikely to ever achieve class-consciousness because they could not unite; they had no shared activity, no collective place of work and did not belong to any particular community.
One of the fastest growing segments of self-employment is knowledge workers: professionals like lawyers, engineers, and architects; academics and university lecturers; technical experts; as well as all manner of designers. They are sometimes referred to as the creative classes, because their main economic function is (in the words of Richard Florida, who coined the term) “to create meaningful new forms” – that is, to use their expertise and skills to generate new ideas, new technologies, and new creative content. This group almost always works remotely, outside their client’s offices. Consequently, unlike lower-paid precarious workers, the creative class typically controls their own means of production. A taxi-driver might rent their vehicle. A seasonal fruit picker might be provided with equipment. But a graphic designer or music producer will probably be responsible for the tools they need to fulfil their contracts (computers, peripheral hardware, specialised software, etc.). They will also be liable for finding a place in which to carry out the work.
The struggle between what we might call the Uncreated and the Created – illustrated by the permanent contradiction of man and his taboo. Daily love and the capitalist modus vivendi. Cannibalism. Absorption of the sacred enemy. To transform him into a totem. The human adventure. Earthly finality. However, only the pure elite manage to realize carnal cannibalism within, some sense of life, avoiding all the evils Freud identified, those religious evils. What yields nothing is a sublimation of the sexual instinct. It is a thermometric scale of cannibalist instinct. Once carnal, it turns elective and creates friendship. Affectivity, or love. Speculative, science. It deviates and transfers. We arrive at utter vilification. In base cannibalism, our baptized sins agglomerate – envy, usury, calumny, or murder. A plague from the so-called cultured and Christianized, it’s what we are acting against. Cannibals.
Against Anchieta singing the eleven thousand virgins in the land of Iracema – the patriarch Joa Ramalho the founder of Sao Paulo.
Our independence was never proclaimed. A typical phrase of Don Juan VI – My son, put this crown on your head, before some adventurer does it! We expel the dynasty. We have to get rid of the Braganza spirit, the ordinations and snuff of Maria da Fonte.
Against social reality, dressed and oppressive, defined by Freud – in reality we are complex, we are crazy, we are prostitutes and without prisons of the Pindorama matriarchy.
We are both interested in information systems that condition contemporary life. These networks are, in fact, the ‘medium’ within which the contemporary subject is suspended. As an artist, I am entering into these systems to define new spaces for artistic intervention—as new media. As an architect, what draws you to these informational infrastructures?
I am trying to see not only buildings, but the matrix in which buildings are suspended. I’m not necessarily turning away from buildings. I want to have skills to handle both things—both the object form and active form, which is something like the spatial equivalent of a software. The space itself is an information system. I always refer to Gregory Bateson (see Steps to an Ecology of Mind) who often talked about a man, a tree and an axe as an information system. The relationships between objects in space, in my view, are information. Whether or not there is an attendant digital system or any other abstract system—whether or not it’s coded with sensors—information is latent in the arrangement. I often use the example of mid-century suburbia, like Levittown. There are objects there, but what’s much more obvious is the information system in which those objects are sitting. It’s an almost agricultural system of multipliers that decides the form that an object will take. There’s nothing digital there. Yet, at the moment, when we talk about space as an information system, we have to overcome the automatic conceptual hurdle that an information system is a digital system. I don’t need AirBnB to make architecture dance. In my view, it’s already dancing. Latent in the arrangement is a disposition or propensity.
JV: Yes and no. Yes, if one were to interpret flexibility as the ability to work more and to forgo established ways of living, career paths and life goals, if one really were free to go astray. But no, if one pays attention to what’s actually happening in our cities. What we see happening in cities is, on the one hand, the destruction of habitat, of the biotope, by property prices, by the homogenisation of towns and also, if you like, by a production of confinement, of density. Moreover, it seems that cities are arming themselves, that in the service of flexibility they’re becoming militarised. People drive through towns in vehicles that had been developed for warfare, think of four-wheel drives, for example. So the destruction of habitats is one side of flexibility and the military armament of cities is the other. One might say that what is happening in the cities is a form of politics of occupation. Cities are occupied and become subject to the politics of occupation and with that, fundamentally, to a struggle for space.
JV: I believe that it is possible to live on unstable ground, like one can live anywhere if the temperature is right, if the air pressure and humidity are right, i.e. if there is something like a climate. But only if one develops certain political virtues. The political virtues necessary in such a flexible climate are, firstly, a readiness for conflict, i.e. one somehow has to develop individualistic virtues. And secondly – and this is part and parcel of warfare – one has to simultaneously develop diplomacy. One has got to be willing to negotiate a peace deal at short notice. Militancy and diplomacy will be the living conditions, the ethological conditions, if you like. That is the kind of behaviour that one will necessarily have to adopt, were one to live in such territories. If we were to treat this seriously, also in reference to what is shown in the video, i.e. this fluctuating, unstable ground, and this permanent mobility, this readiness at any moment to declare one’s independence, one’s self-determination, then individuals have to be able to arm themselves, to arm and to rearm themselves. We already have what are basically imported military gadgets for this purpose, e.g. walkie-talkies – nowadays that’s a mobile phone; or equipment for carrying provisions – that would be the water bottle. A psychological, physical, and logistical armament is essential; and then one is ready to fend for oneself in this flexible world.
We are accustomed to regarding freedom as primarily positive – the freedom to do or have something; thus there is the freedom of speech, the freedom to pursue happiness and opportunity, or the freedom of worship.(2) But now the situation is shifting. Especially in the current economic and political crisis, the flipside of liberal ideas of freedom – namely, the freedom of corporations from any form of regulation, as well as the freedom to relentlessly pursue one’s own interest at the expense of everyone else’s – has become the only form of universal freedom that exists: the freedom from social bonds, freedom from solidarity, freedom from certainty or predictability, freedom from employment or labor, freedom from culture, public transport, education, or anything public at all.
These are the only freedoms that we share around the globe nowadays. They do not apply equally to everybody, but depend on one’s economic and political situation. They are negative freedoms, and they apply across a carefully constructed and exaggerated cultural alterity that promotes: the freedom from social security, the freedom from the means of making a living, the freedom from accountability and sustainability, the freedom from free education, healthcare, pensions and public culture, the loss of standards of public responsibility, and in many places, the freedom from the rule of law.
As Janis Joplin sang, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” This is the freedom that people in many places share today. Contemporary freedom is not primarily the enjoyment of civil liberties, as the traditional liberal view has it, but rather like the freedom of free fall, experienced by many who are thrown into an uncertain and unpredictable future.