A space to put up initial responses (or corrections, or adjustments) to discussions and texts which are explored on this blog and in the Reading Loop… .. A kind of wall, easily accessible, unintimidating, quick…  A gauge and a sort of evolving appendix to what’s happening elsewhere…

We would welcome reflections on the following ideas, which have all begun to emerge through the Reading Loop sessions. However, please don’t treat this as an exhaustive list!

– Reifying trauma

– The possibility of empathy within a culture of dissent, “indisciplinarity” (as opposed to interdisciplinarity), revisioning the Enlightenment

– The “picture-object”, artistic atavism (artivism)

– Ethics of representation, authorial responsibility, moral comas

– Commitment, autonomy, controversy, necessity, contingency…

– The spandrel (and other molehills)

– “Inbuilt obsolescence”, naturalising architecture (the urban spirit), reappropriation of space – ‘dingpolitik’

– Journalistic/historical truth, the New Orientalism

– Exile, nostalgia, notions of ‘home’, narratives of travel, refrains/ritornelli, nomads

9 thoughts on “components

  1. ‘To organize beyond and against work, to collectively desert the regime of mobility, to demonstrate the existence of a vitality and a discipline precisely in demobilisation is a crime for which a civilization on its knees is not about to forgive us. In fact, though, it’s the only way to survive it’. (The Invisible Committee, ‘The Coming Insurrection’).

  2. “Music, states of happiness, mythology, faces belaboured by time, certain twilights and certain places try to tell us something, or have said something we should have missed, or are about to say something; this imminence of a revelation that does not occur is, perhaps, the aesthetic phenomenon.” (J.L. Borges, 1946.)

  3. A response from Paul Evans to Reading Loop 18/5/11

    “Eres Lo Que Lees” Or “No Whale Was Harmed in the Making of This Drawing”
    I am very grateful to Hester Reeve for attracting our attention to the fascinating example of ‘Eres Lo Que Lees’ (You Are What You Read) a 2007 installation featuring an (allegedly) starving dog by the Costa Rican artist Guillermo ‘Habacuc’ Vargas. When news of this exhibition appeared it (perhaps unsurprisingly) sparked a global wave of protest:
    ‘The Costa Rican has been called an animal abuser, killer and worse over claims that a stray dog called Natividad died of starvation after he displayed it at an exhibition last year at the Códice Gallery in Managua, Nicaragua. Vargas tethered the animal without food and water under the words ‘Eres Lo Que Lees’ – ‘You Are What You Read’ – made out of dog biscuits while he played the Sandinista anthem backwards and set 175 pieces of crack cocaine alight in a massive incense burner. More than a million people have signed an online petition urging organisers of this year’s event to stop Vargas taking part.’
    As Hester points out, the concept behind this piece is a very difficult one – and the question soon arises as to why no-one in the audience took responsibility to free the animal:
    ‘Vargas, 32, said he wanted to test the public’s reaction, and insisted none of the exhibition visitors intervened to stop the animal’s suffering.’ As it turns out the exhibition was a hoax: ‘Juanita Bermúdez, director of the Códice Gallery, insisted Natividad escaped after just one day. She said: ‘It was untied all the time except for the three hours the exhibition lasted and it was fed regularly with dog food Habacuc himself brought in.’ (Above quotes from:

    In spite of this fact, our shocked response to the idea of ‘Eres Lo Que Lees’ does raise two very important questions: 1) What does the reaction to this exhibition (dumbfounded in the seminar; outraged online and apparently indifferent within the gallery context) say about human nature? 2) Are there any ethical limits to the content of art? I’ll begin with some thoughts on the second question. Esther’s example put me in mind of another work titled Portable Fish Farm by Californian artist Newton Harrison. It was exhibited at the Hayward Gallery in 1971 – here’s a news item from Time relating to the piece:,9171,903152,00.html Harrison populated large aquaria with various salt water animals, including 135 catfish. On the night of the exhibition 35 of the catfish were scheduled to be electrocuted.

    Shocking, you might say. The RSPCA protested against this ‘ritual slaughter’ and the comedian Spike Milligan (perhaps with arguable seriousness, but who knows) argued for laws to protect defenseless fish. In the end the piscid ‘executions’ were put off. I guess the issue here might relate to subject and content. Evidently it’s OK to make art about cruelty (in the case of Portable Fish Farm Harrison claimed that the piece was about the circle of life and, as we know, life can be cruel), however, to include actual suffering as part of the content, is that OK?

    The other question that I posed above relates to the issue of reactions to the exhibition and what they might reveal about human nature. The image that we see is of apparently indifferent gallery goers at a private view; there is a starving dog in the foreground. This situation has been sanctioned by the institution of art. Is this apparent lack of concern merely the expression of a vapid form of moral relativism? Is it decadence? Or is it an issue of authority?

    I may be at risk of dramatic hyperbole here, but I am put in mind of the Milgram Experiment. This was a famously bizarre social psychology experiment that took place in the 1960s. A paid subject (who received $4 per hour) was asked to press a button that apparently administered an electric shock to another experimental subject (though the person receiving the shock was actually an actor). The shocks grew in intensity, the actor faking more and more pain until he eventually ‘passed out’. In many cases the subject simply continued pressing the button in response to the authority figure controlling the experiment. The point of the experiment was to demonstrate the susceptibility of the will to authority figures, in fact the findings were published in a 1974 book Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View.*

    To an extent Vargas has created a similarly outrageous ‘thought experiment’. It is debatable wether this would get the blessing of a scientific ethics committee (and this would be the same for the Milgram Experiment if it was proposed today) but, well, does that really matter? When looking at ‘Eres Lo Que Lees’ , do we see a criticism of a hypocritical society that will happily tolerate the suffering of ‘the significant other’ whilst sipping from plastic cups? Or do we see an example of an abuse of creative authority? Or should we be taking an artworld prank this seriously? Please discuss … *

    One could also usefully consider the bystander effect or Genovese syndrome – the phenomenon when people do not offer assistance to individuals in need during emergency situations.

  4. I had hitherto concealed the secret of my dress, in order to distinguish myself as much as possible from that cursed race of yahoos; but now I found it in vain to do so any longer. Besides, I considered that my clothes and shoes would soon wear out, which already were in a declining condition, and must be supplied by some contrivance from the hides of yahoos or other brutes; whereby the whole secret would be known.”

    (Swift, 1726)

    Language can only describe the shores of our exile, and what is contained within. “…Outside, the silent wilderness surrounding this cleared speck… Something great and invincible, like evil or truth, waiting patiently for the passing away of this fantastic invasion” (Conrad). We may, in our endless freedom, construct metaphors of escape, but whether they sink or sail is unimportant, for they do both in perpetuity. Left to stroll aimlessly, what we do not see is always a reminder of what we have seen – shades are reflections of the sun.

    Home, this mystical lacking, primordial and vague, is here defined in opposition – it is a place of un-exile. Because opposites cannot be reconciled, the result, in this instance, perhaps in all, is a painful awareness of separation, a nostalgia. Preoccupation with this space between opposites is utopian thought; all utopian thought is nostalgic.

    Karatani ( relates a practise of Zen Buddhism, in which a disciple sits before the teacher, and is presented with a number of alternatives, all of them unpleasant, from which he must choose one. The student chooses none: he walks away. Is such a thing possible in the dichotomy described above? Is the restriction of dialectic a matter of choice?

    An allusion to a metaphor of escape:

    What if there was more than one language? What if there was some meta-language, which is assumed not to exist because to confirm it would necessitate translation? Any description, such as this one, is another denial. To call it ‘meta-language’ is a cutesy affront; ‘passive’ or ‘existential language’ only create further binaries. ‘Aporian language’ might be better, but even this is “infinitely false” (De Quincey). All allusions to its existence, like this paragraph, teeter hopelessly – mystically – into a pit, in which prowl the vague, the primordial, and other linguistic creatures.


  5. The ‘hippopotamus’ is a Greek creation, and at some point meant ‘river horse’. To an Asian or European child a ‘hippo’ is something comical, or cuddly. To a tourist on safari it is huge and faintly ludicrous, and no number of photographs will convey the repulsive smell that hangs in the air around it. To a Zulu villager, as many a well-informed tourist has told his (it is usually ‘his’) companions as they crowd against the rails of a river barge, the hippo is something to be treated with fear and respect. (There is almost always a self-appointed ‘expert’ in any group of tourists on safari – they may have read Hemingway, and are prone to fall into raptures over buffalo. Of the so-called Big Five – the others are lion, elephant, leopard, rhino – these are the connoisseurs’ favourite; ignored by popular culture, they are somehow felt to be more authentic.) A hippo at nighttime, when it leaves the river to graze, is among the most dangerous of the large African animals. The well-informed tourist would probably remark that it is responsible for many more human deaths than the rest of the Big Five. He will certainly mention that, on land, it can run at surprisingly considerable speed.

    Surprise is the moment of impact, or spark of synthesis, between two mutually contradictory modes of thinking (formalised, allusively, in description). A hippo is not surprising; the process of accretive interpretation, which moves in fits and starts, is. Evidently, no interpretation of ‘hippopotamus’ is preferable; all are equally false, or equally true. In each case, ‘hippopotamus’ functions less as a noun, and more as an adjective. With the exception, possibly, of ‘companion species’ (, all animals are either adjectives (wild), or verbs (working). The variety of meanings that can be assigned to ‘hippopotamus’ is not a reflection of the creature itself, but of its allusionary properties.

    But then, which nouns are not adjectives or verbs? Perhaps those that have the capacity to self-contradict. Contradictory versions of the ‘hippopotamus’ were offered above; however, what results is only the quality of self-contradiction. The well-informed tourist, in his willingness to share what he wants for himself, his public acknowledgment of memory, his private disavowal of memories, is condemned to an almost endless questioning of quality. Hippos, or buffalo, or whatever else, are freely appropriated in this process because of their supposed absence of capacity. An absence is assumed because they are believed to act in an unquestioning way: a natural way. Their qualities are eternal; those of the well-informed tourist’s fluctuate. A hippo can only be a certain number of things; the man who steps off the barge is not the same thing to himself as he was when he boarded it. Perhaps he is tired of the unrewarding search for some definitive quality. Perhaps he envies the certitude ascribed to hippos, Hemingway, and the Zulu villager. Perhaps he wants to always be a well-informed tourist.


  6. More public art…

    ‘Escultura publica en la periferia urbana de Monterrey’ was a project run by the Mexican collective Tercerunquinto between 2003-06. They had identified an area on the edge of Monterrey that was, at the time, undeveloped, although inhabited ‘informally’ (in shacks that often made imaginative use of disused satellite dishes, among other things). The collective arranged to install a concrete platform on a piece of land belonging to one of the area’s residents – he agreed to their condition that it was to be used by members of the public.

    Initially, the sculpture was used by neighbours as a place to congregate. Later, it was designated as a meeting spot for local charities to distribute aid and institute educational programmes. It was also used by political parties as a campaign ground, and Evangelical organisations for proselytism. Eventually the owner of the land fenced it off, the sculpture was privatised, and the project was finished (although the object itself remains). The city, in the meantime, has grown larger, and many of the shacks have moved with its borders. The sculpture, which was at some point monumental (in a way) and obtrusive, has been surrounded by concrete, and ‘naturalised’.

    Some pictures here:


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