Giorgio Agamben’s address; ©2011 Google; imagery © 2011 Tele Atlas; map data © 2011 Tele Atlas

To Locate One’s Self

Mary Ellen Carroll and Peter Noever

On March 6, 2011, in the overhead compartment for seat 14K of an Austrian Airlines’ Boeing 767 en route from JFK to VIE (Flight 88) is a suitcase full of printed matter, most of which goes unread. The exception is Giorgio Agamben’s The Man Without Content,1 with its first chapter, “The Most Uncanny Thing,” extensively annotated and the draft of a letter to Agamben addressed to his home. This introduction by Peter Noever 2 was completed on the same airplane (Flight 87) going in the opposite direction on March 14, 2011. 

Art Lies No. 68 comes at a historic moment for all of us, personally, publicly, economically, nationally, institutionally and one that is emblematic of our current political age. In the nature of things, in 1968, at a “red-diaper baby” summer camp in the Catskills in upstate New York, one had to decide upon entering at the age of six whether one was a Trotskyite or Stalinite.3 This declaration determined a cabin location for eight weeks and perhaps one’s dreams, at least for that summer. This recollection is not meant to engage in extremism as a superficial framing of political discourse as childhood memory but to make a point about self-selection and how binary opposition is imprinted and begins in social relations at a relatively early age. Consciousness is the process whereby one locates one’s self.4

Be it materially or ideologically, nationally or locally, contemporary life exists within a much larger context than in 1968, evidenced most recently by the devastating events of March 11, 2011, the “thrust faulting” that resulted in tectonic plate shifts in the Pacific, the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. The utter destruction by an act of god 5 and other political disparities in the present have impacted all of our worlds—universally. Through networks, we are able to witness and experience these events simultaneously, as they occur. 

Architecture is inherently a political act, be it in the public or private sector. As a process it begins long before actual design work, and it is difficult to do by oneself. Art can be political, but the work of art only has to be itself and can be done by oneself. Architecture is not Art.

The invitation to be Guest Editorial Contributor for this issue of Art Lies, on the topic of art and architecture, was extended at the end of 2010. Even this period just weeks ago feels now like a different time, and temporality itself has managed to become a subject. The bare fact of who would be able to contribute quality material that would wreath both art and architecture at such collapsed notice was also paramount to the invitations that were extended. And it was necessary that there be collateral disciplines engaged, including policy, history, law, science, economics and the media. Cultural capital would be generated for the participants as well as for the publication itself.6

We are living in a hyper-politicized epoch, and the informed positions in this magazine are intended to provoke a strong response in the audience while maintaining a tautness of meaning at a time when language is so much abused. It is language that frames our existence.

The positions maintained in and by this issue upend the seemingly quaint flaccidity of Picasso’s moral argument that “Art is not truth,” and that “Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth”7 and shifts to Nietzsche’s enigmatic statement from The Gay Science that “we need art, and the other kind of art, an art for artists.” 8 While I have always appreciated Art Lies, I have never agreed with its name.

In 1986, in the role of director at MAK in Vienna, the decision was made to reinstall the permanent collection without architects designing any of the spaces; rather, artists would install the works.9 In effect, Nietzsche’s idea was put into practice. Like a Möbius strip, there exists a symbiotic relationship between these disciplines. As is the case with all creative endeavors, the boundaries start out seeming clearly defined and at a certain moment are revealed to be illusory. The interplay between art and architecture reflects a process and aesthetics of our time. This blurring functions not as an act of obfuscation but offers new possibilities for the disciplines to be advanced and for new definitions to occur.

This gray area itself is not “interesting” but is of interest—as is the opposition between Nietzsche and Kant that continues to be a critical debate in philosophical circles. Within aesthetics, the declaration of the consideration of work from the intention of the creator as opposed to the viewer is where Art Lies No. 68 locates itself.

As a starting point the magazine itself was taken as a structure to be considered, with the possibility for it to be “destroyed” if necessary. Risks would be taken.10 This risk was determined variously by the contributors themselves and is relative to their own intentions and practices. The contents of these pages in print as well as online come from a variety of disciplines and locations from around the world and can be positioned on the continuum between art and architecture. A publication, like a musical composition, needs variation and is temporal in nature. Material can be repeated, but it is never the same.11 The participants all make audible the issues that can be perceived to be invisible in the present, even historical ones. They may begin locally and internally, but as a network, their work is expansive and visibly global.12

1. Agamben’s book The Man Without Content (1999) references Robert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities (1930–42). In his essay “The Most Uncanny Thing,” Agamben establishes and critiques the opposition between Immanuel Kant (beauty as an engagement with the viewer by a process of disinterested pleasure) and Friedrich Nietzsche (beauty as the consideration of the work of art from the point of view of the creator).

2. In February 2011 Peter Noever resigned as CEO and Artistic Director of the MAK, Österreichisches Museum für angewandte Kunst. His tenure began in 1986.

3. “Red-diaper babies” describes children of parents who were members of the United States Communist Party or were close to the party or sympathetic to its aims. There were a number of summer camps in the Catskills region of New York for these children that favored political workshops over craft workshops.

4. This refers to Jacques Lacan’s concept of the mirror stage, which represents a permanent structure of subjectivity. 

5. “Act of god” is a legal term for events outside of human control, such as sudden floods or other natural disasters, for which no one can be held responsible. 

6. “Cultural capital” was first articulated by Pierre Bourdieu and refers to nonfinancial social assets; they may be educational or intellectual and may promote social mobility beyond economic means.

7. Epigraph for the Art Lies Mission Statement: &s=9.

8. The former editor of Art Lies Anjali Gupta (2004–10) added another epigraph: “‘We have art in order not to die of the truth.’—Nietzsche.” My quotation of Nietzsche is taken from The Gay Science (1882) and is what Agamben is proposing art needs to be.

9. In 1986 the Museum’s original purpose was reconfirmed and radically expanded. The current MAK identity was created and a fundamental agenda, bold and decentralized, was introduced. One of the significant elements of the restructuring included exhibition design to be determined by the interventions of contemporary artists. The development of new display strategies for the permanent collections reorganized formal modes of presentation and allowed an unparalleled interplay of historicism and contemporary intervention. Artists involved with the re-presenting have included Barbara Bloom, Eichinger oder Knechtl, Günther Fšrg, Gangart, Franz Graf, Jenny Holzer, Donald Judd, Peter Noever, Manfred Wakolbinger, Heimo Zobernig, Sepp Müller, Hermann Czech and James Wines/SITE.

10. Agamben: “Nothing is more urgent—if we really want to engage the problem of art in our time—than a destruction of aesthetics that would, by clearing away what is usually taken for granted, allow us to bring into question the very meaning of aesthetics as the science of the work of art.”

11. The actual recording and composition that is being referenced is Skullflower’s album Exquisite Fucking Boredom (2003).

12. Saskia Sassen’s use of the global is referenced in closing as an opening.

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