The Seminar in its Bounds: Location/Location

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In the beginning of June, Lily Robert-Foley organized a mini-symposium about the relationship between translation and object. However, I wanted to also publish Lily’s introductory remarks — especially since they paint an another portrait of the show and the way it functioned as a platform for other ideas. Unfortunately we don’t have the ability to publish all the papers and talks that were given. Gene Tanta’s presentation was recently published on Montevidayo (hooray!). If you are interested in listening to a digital recording of the symposium, email me and I will send it along. 

The Mislocation of objects:  Introduction to Symposium, Location/Location

.:. Lily Robert-Foley : June 6, 2012 .:.

The name of this symposium looks like it reads Location/Location.  But actually, if said with the proper PHRANCH intonation, it should be Location/Location, or Location/Location.  Location (in French) doesn’t mean “location” (EN), as in place (endroit, lieu), but renting, renting out, or rent (as in rent money), hire, reservation, or booking.  This pair of bilingual heteronyms are intended to syndicate a kind of metaphor, that serves as the departure point for today’s talks.  The metaphor is of the delocation of location, like a rental, which belongs to one person but is used by someone else.

This seems somehow even more significant sitting here today in this place, surrounded by all these wonderful objects.  In a sense, we are renting this gallery space—or the space of this art show—for a symposium.  Not that we paid for this space… but still, renting in the sense that we’re occupying it, and using it in a way other than that for which it was originally intended.  A kind of detournement of the space:  by inhabiting it, we’re changing the meaning of it.  That’s what I mean by the metaphor of location/location.

The same is true for what we have done with our theme.  Our location (FR) of this location (EN).  By location I also mean the positioning of a discourse (the spot from where I am speaking.  See Judith Butler on that.).  Maybe this was to be expected since a symposium is a display of subject discourse and an art show a display of objects.  The name of our show, the collection of works that surrounds us beautifully is, “Field Static” and was lovingly and expertly curated by Caroline Picard and Devin King who are, as some of you may know, soon to be married in this very space.

Before the show began to concretize—set itself in stone so to speak—Devin and Caroline waffled between two names for the show, “Field Static” and “Static Field”, which seem at first glance, very similar:  the same two words rearranged in a different order.  But I feel they are strikingly divergent.  Field, one of those beautiful untranslatables, which defines and delimits an area that could or should have no determinable boundaries.  (I remember a story an uncle of mine—a musician—told me about once when he bought a “near field monitor” from Japan.  The instructions read “take the device into a nearby meadow”).  “Field Static” (the current name) gives a space humming with indeterminable, mutable connections between objects, horizontally arranged.  If there is a subject, she is subsumed into their mass, becomes one of them, a sobject (which is a term I believe originated from Barthes).   Static Field, the rejected name, reminds me of Emerson[1] surveying the lyric landscape, all elements fixed in their totality.  The subject watches on but is also fixed, static not kinetic.  Fixed in the field’s tractor beam.  In the waffle from one title to another the subject is de-localised, transported at the mercy of objects.

Devin said to me—at a moment when the show was still but a twinkle in his eye—that he feels so much involves and revolves around the subject.  We’re always talking subject subject subject—what about objects?  Although I can’t speak with authority on this subject at all, I feel it is true that—especially philosophical discourse—often places the subject at the center.  Objects are in relation to the subject.  Part of the yen of this show is to displace (delocate) that central position of the subject in placing the emphasis on objects.  To take  a term from object oriented philosophy, to promote a kind of anthrodecentirsm. 

            To show how deeply ingrained this subject oriented universe is, one need merely to take a look at the description of this symposium.  When I was coming up with a theme for this symposium and writing a call for papers, I mistranslated this hope for a more object oriented discourse.  I thought it meant de-centralizing the subject, showing how the subject may also be an object, a sobject.  I even went further, and started thinking about subjectifying the object and showing how objects themselves manifest a subjectivity.

As a result, nearly all of our presentations today contain some kind of reflection on the subject, or more specifically, the point where the subject is folded up as object—as it says in the description of this symposium, “the meeting place of subject and object”.  It works out though, this band of six wonderful subjects, discoursing on objects, the subject objects, the object, subjects, surrounded by objects, discoursing on objects, or the interrelatedness of objects.

The choice of location/location is not random.  I rented it (j’ai loué) from a famous French sociologist, Michel de Certeau, who argued that the dominant mode of object usage was that of rental, or detournement (I’m changing his vocabulary here considerably, but if you want the real deal I highly recommend his Practice of Everyday life / L’invention du quotidien).  Objects are fabricated within a dominant paradigm of capitalism production and consumption with a reified (fixed) use value and market value.  However, the dominant mode of using these objects in everyday life is to subvert and appropriate them.  Much like the apartment that is owned by someone else but that you live in and shape to your own needs: you disable the fire alarms, you take a door off or put a door on, you buy floor lamps and redesign the lighting, you paint or write on the walls and complain about how you won’t get your deposit back.  You use a toaster as a doorstop.  You use a plate as a pot cover.  You use a water bottle as a bong.

You’ll notice that each of these examples repeats the anaphora you use.  We’re back in subject oriented discourse again.  Can’t teach an old dog new tricks.  As I visit each of the works in this gallery I wonder though if objects can’t translate or “louent” (rent) themselves, or each other.  It’s a fantasy perhaps that I graft onto these works of art—a fantasy that objects act like subjects (which is another misinterpretation of the hope motivating an object oriented discourse), or that objects are subjects.  C.S. Peirce, a 19th Century semiotician, says somewhere that all objects have consciousness but just that some are more resistant to change.  Derrida says that what makes things translatable is not so much a common signified or a common object (shoe for chaussure for example) but rather their untranslatability.  Shoe is chaussure, sure, but we can always tell foreigners by their shoes.  We don’t translate what is translatable we translate what is untranslatable—that foreignness, that Italian high heel that no American woman in her right mind would wear, that American sneaker, that Japanese house slipper.  Objects, like words, have discourse, have untranslatability:  homophony, heteronymity, history, colloquisms, metaphor &c.…  in other words they perform in a way we normally reserve for subjects.

Consider for example Rebecca Mir’s paper rock that greets you as you came in to this show today.  (I think rock paper scissors.)  Or the near non-representationality of her icebergs.  This has a kind of heteronymity to it, no?  I bracket the arguments of this heteronymity stemming from authorial intention or from the title (the title for me is not distinct from the object).  The object is suffering from field static, hovering between multiple definitions of its objectivity.  Is it rock?  Is it paper?  Shape?  Iceberg?  Art object?  Its objectivity—a word I’ll use wrongly (delocate), because I would like to give it an equivalent weight to that of “subjectivity”, without opposing it to subjectivity—its objectivity shimmers like light on a wave, bobs like a driftwood from a shipwreck, flipping or folding between its objective identifications.  The object has an inside outside relationship to itself (even its location in the show, in the front window between the street and the gallery).   It has untranslatability (homophony, history, colloquisms, metaphors &c).  I would say that its “hetero-objectivity” hiccoughs in the sense that Meredith Kooi will give to it.

I would argue that all of our talks today will address the issue of subject and object—although perhaps some of our presenters will disagree with me—and that each locates the subject and object in different spots along an adjustable scale.  Subject and object are far from being fixed terms, their homophony, the history and diversity of their meanings and uses, boggles.  For example, they are a grammatical set: subject, verb, object.  In the case of a sentence like,  “I am me”, the pair subject/object become a kind of divide within the speaker, making her both subject and object.  Likewise a word or some other unity of language is expressive of some subjectivity, but it’s also an object.

Gene Tanta’s talk on Radical Banality will discuss the heightened sense of materiality in language as it is seen by or in the translingual writer (a writer writing in a second language is an example of a translingual writer).  In the far right corner of the gallery you’ll happen upon Christian Kuras’ & Duncan MacKenzie’s Announcements, Suggestions and Advice.  I read, but I also look, appreciate materiality and objectivity.  In Michel Foucault’s wonderful book on Calligrams and on Magritte’s “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” he writes about how the supposed division between the visual and phonetic aspects of language deconstruct each other in the visual poem.  He uses these wonderful untranslatables, “creuser” which means to dig out, hollow out, erode, sink, plow, deepen, and “relever”, to pick up or raise, bring out, notice, point out, or even in some contexts, to note, write down or read, to describe the way in which each dimension of the language emerges into and disrupts the other, the invisible becoming more visible, the visible more invisible.  This objectivity of language deepens it, enriches its heteronymity, its untranslatability.

I might be projecting here (in my summaries and interpretations of the works and talks): some of these topics may have changed in the meantime or perhaps I’m reading things into them that aren’t there, but I won’t hesitate because contention is often more productive than agreement when it comes to intellectual research.  A.D. Jameson will talk about conceptual writing and the status of “objectivity” in language as it is used in conceptual writing.  Part of the gesture of conceptual art and writing as I see it is the automatic.  By that I mean both endlessly reproducible without intervention and self generating.  You hear this in the homophony of “auto”:  The text that writes itself.  Conceptualism effaces the author and embraces the machine.  I see this partly, among other things (and we can discuss this more), as the horizontalizing of subject and object.  As Vanessa Place says, in conceptualism, there is no simulacra there is only symbolism.  Likewise, if objects have consciousness it is not because there is a supernatural force residing in them that anthro-dominated-dogma failed to notice but because there is a staggering dearth of supernatural force in the human subjectivity.  If everything means nothing, this doesn’t destroy meaning, but rather liberates it to intervene into all our conversations.  This is Mark Booth’s flag, which has a seemingly endless homophony.  It’s flag-phallus, the symbol that detaches itself from any object, to become its own object.  An object of a symbol rather than a symbol of an object.  This is the metaphor of his material as well, the ultraviolet radiation blocking window film, which reflects opaquely:  the text is dead, to quote Vanessa Place again.  A dummy therapist.

But A.D. Jameson will also—I think—aboard this question of the subject.  Subject, author, reader, writer, we’re not done with you yet.  And this will bring me to the next “flag pole” of our discussion today (a little metaphor for a locus around which the entities of subject and object may oscillate).   Subject and object are a linguistic distinction.  This distinction also resides in the body:  the body, like an art object may be the site for the homonymy of subject and object.  It’s the place from which subjectivity emanates and it’s also the ultimate metaphor for subjectivity.  It’s also an object.  Meredith Kooi will talk about Aristophanes Hiccough in the Symposium (in our Symposium) as the location where subject folds into object and object into subject, inside outside outside inside.  Justin Cabrillos’ Dance for a Narrow Passageway also presents a body-subject rendered object, caught in a liminal zone (narrow passageway).

Tessa Siddle is another artist who has been preoccupied with the subject/object fold that takes place at the site of the human body (and the animal body).  She will, I believe, talk to us today a bit also about Objectum Sexuality, the love of humans for objectsI believe she will also talk about animism in this context.  Animism:  that jesus really is in the cracker.  My favorite anecdote about animism comes from Bruno Bettleheim’s The Uses of Enchantment, in which he describes a group of young students (aged 6-8 perhaps if I remember correctly) in front of a model of the universe. Their teacher explains to them that this is the universe and they are enchanted, THAT is our universe!  Eventually however, the teacher gets to explaining to them that that’s not the actual universe and is just a representation of it.  This is the problematic of poetics, and also the inherent homonymy of representation (that it is there and not there).  The students immediately lose interest as soon as they realize, oh that’s not really our universe.

This brings me in a roundabout sort of way to the last point I would like to make before passing the so-called buck over to our presenters—it’s also the point I’ve been trying to make throughout this entire, long winded introduction, which I won’t argue is not perhaps in conflict with the original idea behind this show, in de-anthro-centerizing discourse.  The objectification of the subject is an important, rich and commonly treated subject.  I believe that all these presentations problematize in their own way the relationship between subject and object, in treating it not as a segregation, but as a kind of fold or third space inhabited by a multiplicity of subject-cum-objects and object-cum-subjects.  My personal fascination however is not with an objectification of subjects but with the subjectification of objects.  This is impossibly far from any kind of anthrodecentrism since it merely dislocates or mislocates a set of world weary meanings of the word subjectivity onto objects.  Mostly it just anthropomorphizes the world of objects.  It’s a favorite past time of mine to confuse theory and science fiction.  Total acid trip.  This is my call to return to animistic thinking.  I like to imagine that objects have a secret world, like in children’s books:  that they have their own language, meaning, their own syntax and their own translation practices.

Take a potato.  Seriously, after the symposim, go and handle a potato or a yam or a beet over there:  there is a surprising level of personality and sensuality in a potato.  The title of that piece however is not “collection of individual potatoes having nothing to do with one another.”  It is a taxonomy of root vegetables.  It’s a society (taxonomy).  It’s pointland.  A potato sentence.  A network.  Field static.  Part of the secret universe of objects that excludes us as it subsumes and digests us, is an object’s autonomous heteronymity or even metaphoricity, and by extension its syntax, constellations, networks.  Laura Goldstein and Brett Balogh’s will present local area networks, originally an art project that maps signal strengths from wifi networks.  This translates the metaphor of transmission in much a similar way to Heather Mekkleson’s Antenna with Belts, which creates a poetic constellation out of the material of device.  Language too.  It’s an auto biography, or an organic machine, a robot society, the secret, growing, interrelatedness of objects.  An object civilization.  A paragraph of spectral lines (as in Carrie Gundersdorf’s piece).  Ellen Rothenberg’s Constellations that create meaning independently in shifting alliances between object entities, to create mobile yet finite webs of meaning.  The “hand” of the market.  The cyborg revolution that we are in the midst of without knowing it.

In other words, objects are people too.  Maybe this sounds crazy to you but when I stroll around the gallery here, I like to imagine that beyond my own interpretations that allow me to discourse on our context, there is another set of interpretations unknown to me, generated in and by a private cyborgian landscape.  I trust them to generate their meaning better than I can without knowing what that meaning is.  I’ll do the same with our presenters.


[1] The charming landscape which I saw this morning is indubitably made up of some twenty or thirty farms. Miller owns this field, Locke that, and Manning the woodland beyond. But none of them owns the landscape. There is a property in the horizon which no man has but he whose eye can integrate all the parts, that is the poet.

The symposium itself came together as a result of the show that Devin and I curated at the Co-Prosperity Sphere in Bridgeport. You can read the catalogue essay from that show here (and, if you’re so inclined, buy a copy of the catalogue by going here: other essays in the catalogue were written by João Florêncio, Lin Hixson, Robert Jackson, Lily Robert-Foley, and Peter O’Leary).

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