Bergson on The Future

“The idea of the future, pregnant with an infinity of possibilities, is more fruitful than the future itself, and this is why we find more charm in hope than in possession, in dreams than in reality.”

— Henri Bergson

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Azoulay on Potential History

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Solnit on Disaster

“Disasters are, most basically, terrible, tragic and grievous, and no matter what positive side effects and possibilities they produce, they are not to be desired. But by the same measure, those side effects should not be ignored because they arise amid devastation. The desires and possibilities awakened are so powerful they shine even from wreckage, carnage and ashes. And the point is not to welcome disasters. They do not create these gifts, but they are one avenue through which the gifts arrive. Disasters provide an extraordinary window into social desire and possibility, and what is seen there matters elsewhere, in ordinary times, and in other extraordinary times.Most social change is chosen – you want to belong to a co-op, you believe in social safety nets or community-supported agriculture. But disaster doesn’t sort us out by preferences; it drags us into emergencies that require we act, and act altruistically, bravely, and with initiative to survive ourselves or save the neighbours, no matter how we vote or what we do for a living. The positive emotions that arise in those unpromising circumstances demonstrate that social ties and meaningful work are deeply desired, readily improvised, and intensely rewarding. The very structure of our economy and society prevents these goals from being achieved. The structure is also ideological, a philosophy that best serves the wealthy and powerful but shapes all of our lives, reinforced as the conventional wisdom disseminated by the media, from news hours to disaster movies. The facets of that ideology have been called individualism, capitalism and Social Darwinism, and have appeared in the political philosophies of Thomas Hobbes and Thomas Malthus, as well as the work of most conventional contemporary economists, who presume we seek personal gain for rational reasons and refrain from looking at the ways a system skewed to that end damages much else we need for our survival and desire for our well-being. Disaster demonstrates this, since among the factors determining whether you will live or die are the health of your immediate community and the justness of your society. We need ties to survive, but they, along with purposefulness, immediacy and agency, also give us joy – the startling, sharp joy I found in accounts of disaster survivors. These accounts demonstrate that the citizens any paradise would need – the people who are brave enough, resourceful enough, and generous enough – already exist. The possibility of paradise hovers on the cusp of coming into being, so much so that it takes powerful forces to keep such a paradise at bay. If paradise nowadays arises in hell, it’s because in the suspension of the usual order and the failure of most systems, we are free to live and act another way.”

Rebecca Solnit “Falling together” from A Paradise Built in Hell

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Robert Cumming in conversation

Part One of an excellent two part conversation between curator and critic Sarah Bay Williams, and artist Robert Cumming, covering a broad sweep of his inventive and contemporary body of work. Hosted at Aperture in New York in October of this year. Part Two can be found here.

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Piper on Consumerism

“The culture of unrestrained free-market capitalism feeds on the shared and foundational experience of incompleteness, inferiority – of generalised insuffuciency, or want. The experience of generalised want is created by media fabulations of a fantasy world of perpetual happiness that sharply contrasts with our complex and often painful social reality, plus the promise that this fantasy world can be realised through the acquisition of those material goods that serve as props within it. For those who have the wealth to acquire such props, this promise is broken on a daily basis, and the hollow dissatisfaction at the core of perpetual acquisition is a constant reminder that something is missing. Unfortunately, this dissatisfaction only rarely leads to interrogating the basic premise of the fantasy itself – i.e. that the acquisition of material props can realise it in the first place. Usually the conclusion is, rather, that more props are needed to do the trick.”

— Adrian Piper ”Political Art and the Paradigm of Innovation” in The Life and Death of Images: Ethics and Aesthetics

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One off: Catherine Opie

Untitled#1 (Jan 20th 2009), from The Inauguration Series © Catherine Opie, courtesy of Regen Projects

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Kozloff on Voyeurism

Voyeurism, then, realizes itself only through a hindrance that it creates on its own. In refusing or fearing to engage directly with the attracting object, the individual compensates by possessing it visually. At the same time, if the occupational hazard of this player of a silent game is the possibility of his own discovery, the effortful defeat of another’s privacy is his stimulus. Voyeurism may be one of the more peculiar bargains the libido makes with the puritan work ethic.

— Max Kozloff, “Photography and Fascination” in Photography and Fascination

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One off: Laurie Anderson, John Berger & Laura Mulvey.

“…men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves. The surveyor of woman in herself is male: the surveyed female. Thus she turns herself into an object – and most particularly an object of vision: a sight.”

John Berger Ways of Seeing


from Fully Automated Nikon, (Object/Objection/Objectivity), 1973 by Laurie Anderson.

“When I got back to my neighborhood, the Lower East Side in New York, I decided to shoot picures of men who made comments to me on the street. I had always hated this invasion of my privacy and now I had the means of my revenge. As I walked along Houston Street with my fully automated Nikon, I felt armed, ready. I passed a man who muttered “Wanna fuck?” This was standard technique: the female passes and the male strikes at the last possible moment forcing the woman to backtrack if she should dare to object. I wheeled around, furious, “Did you say that?” He looked around, surprised, then defiant, “Yeah, so what the fuck if I did?” I raised my Nikon, took aim, began to focus. His eyes darted back and forth, and undercover cop? CLICK.”

Laurie Anderson, in Stories from the Nerve Bible (1993) Continue reading

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One off: Joel Sternfeld


Joel SternfeldA Tourist at the South Street Seaport, New York, New York, July 1987, from Stranger Passing

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Fischer on Art

“If we are to regard the recognition of an objectively given reality as the nature of realism in art, we must not reduce that reality to a purely exterior world existing independently from our consciousness. What exists independently from our consciousness is matter. But reality includes all the immense variety of interactions in which man, with his capacity for experience and comprehension, can be involved. An artist painting a landscape obeys the laws of nature discovered by physicists, chemists, and biologists. But what he portrays in art is not nature independent from himself. It is a landscape seen through his own sensations, his own experiences. He is not merely the accessory of a sensory organ apprehending the outside world, he is also a man who belongs to a particular age, class, and nation, he possesses a particular temperament and character, and all these things play a part in determining the manner in which he sees, experiences, and depicts the landscape. They all combine to create a reality far larger than the given assembly of trees, rocks, and clouds, of things that can be measured and weighed. This reality is determined, in part, by the artist’s individual and social point of view. The whole of reality is the sum of all relationships between subject and object, not only past but also future, not only events but also subjective experiences, dreams, forebodings, emotions, fantasies. A work of art unites reality with the imagination.”

Ernst Fischer ‘Realism’ in “Art and Capitalism”, from The Necessity of Art

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