ch2: “Under the Gaze of Theory”

theoretical discourse reveals itself as a counterproductive form of advertisement: It narrows the audience instead of widening it.”

“theory was never so central to art as it is now. So the question arises: Why is this the case?”

“artists need theory to explain what they are doing – not to others, but to themselves. ”

“What has to be done? And even more importantly, How can I explain to myself what I am already doing? The urgency of these questions results from the collapse of tradition that we are experiencing today.”

“art was traditionally opposed to reason, rationality, logic – covering, it was said, the domain of the irrational, emotional, theoretically unpredictable and unexplainable.”

“The man of the Enlightenment despised art, believing only in himself, in the evidence of his own reason. Yet modern and contemporary critical theory is nothing if not a critique of reason, rationality, and traditional logic.”

“According to Nietzsche, reason and its alleged instruments are designed only to subjugate other, non-philosophically inclined – that is, passionate, vital – characters.”

“We were not present at our birth – and we will be not present at our death. That is why all the philosophers who practiced self-reflection came to the conclusion that the spirit, the soul, and reason are all immortal. Indeed, in analyzing my own thinking process, I can never find any evidence of its finitude. To discover the limitations of my existence in space and time, I need the gaze of the Other.”

“Before the Enlightenment, man was subject to the gaze of God. But that era has passed, and now we are subject to the gaze of critical theory.”

“Under the regime of theory, it is not enough to live: One must also demonstrate that one lives, one must perform being alive. And now I would argue that in our culture it is art that performs this knowledge of being alive.”

“We perform the image of life to demonstrate ourselves as living – but also to shield ourselves from the evil eye of the theorist, to hide behind our image. And this, in fact, is precisely what theory wants from us. After all, theory also distrusts itself.”

“…the irreversible advance of technology that will eventually make any life form obsolete…”

“…theory offers to us … the image of our own death … of our mortality, of radical finitude and lack of time. By offering us this image, theory produces in us the feeling of urgency…”

“In the secular, purely material world, destruction can be only material destruction, produced by material forces, and any material destruction remains only partially successful. It always leaves ruins, traces, vestiges behind – precisely as described by Benjamin in his parable. In other words, if we cannot totally destroy the world, the world also cannot totally destroy us. Total success is impossible, but so is total failure. The materialist vision of the world opens a zone beyond success and failure, conservation and annihilation, acquisition and loss. Now, this is precisely the zone in which art operates if it wants to perform its knowledge of the materiality of the world – and of life as a material process.”

“The avant-garde’s Angelus Novus always sees the same thing, whether it looks into the future or into the past. Here, life is understood as a non-teleological, purely material process.”

  • “non-teleological” = nihilist?

“In modern times and our present day, we tend to situate man between the animals and the machines. In this new order, it seems better to be an animal than a machine.”

“…as the machine paradigm was assimilated, the contemporary human being was increasingly seen as an animal acting as a machine…If we accept this Foucauldian perspective, the living human body – human animality – does indeed manifest itself through deviation from the programme, through error, through madness, chaos, and unpredictability. That is why contemporary art often tends to thematize deviation and error, that is, everything that breaks away from the norm and disturbs the established social programme.”

“Art programmes and machines, however, are not teleologically oriented. They have no definite goal; they simply go on and on…”

  • in a way they do have a goal/purpose… arguable
    • is “uselessness” truly possible, is a person actually capable of truly purposeless action, randomness is just an illusion brought forth by unseen complexity, etc …???

“…At the same time, these programmes include the possibility of being interrupted at any moment without losing their integrity. Here art reacts to the paradox of urgency produced by materialist theory and its call to action.”

  1. “our finiteness, our ontological lack of time compels us to abandon the state of contemplation and passivity and begin to act.”

  2. “this same lack of time dictates a form of action that is not directed towards any particular goal and that can be interrupted at any moment. Such an action is conceived from the beginning as having no specific ending – unlike an action that ends when its goal is achieved”

“Here the lack of time is transformed into a surplus of time – in fact, an infinite surplus of time.”

“Failure thus becomes impossible, because the criteria for success are absent.”

“…history is an ideological construction based on a concept of progressive movement toward a certain telos.”

  • art tries to liberate life from history

“Today, after Nietzsche, Foucault, Deleuze, and many others, we tend to believe that reason does not liberate but rather suppresses us.”

“…if we are mortal and finite, how can we successfully change the world? As I have already suggested, the criteria for success and failure are precisely what define the world in its totality. So if we change – or, even better, abolish – these criteria, we do indeed change the world in its totality. And, as I have tried to show, art can do it, and in fact has already done it.”

“The discussion of art is open to everyone because by definition no one can be a specialist in art, only a dilettante. ”

“Advanced contemporary art is basically art production without a product. It is an activity in which everyone can participate, one that is all-inclusive and truly egalitarian.”

“…democracy is traditionally understood as the rule of a majority, and of course we can imagine democracy as not excluding any minority and as operating by consensus, but still, this consensus will necessarily include only ‘normal, reasonable’ people. It will never include ‘mad’ people, children, [birds, stones, machines] and so forth.”

“…an artist is somebody who is not merely social, but supersocial, to use the term coined by Gabriel Tarde in the framework of his theory of imitation… The artist imitates and establishes himself or herself as similar and equal to too many organisms, figures, objects, and phenomena that will never become a part of any democratic process… some artists, are, indeed, more equal than others. While contemporary art is often criticized for being too elitist, not social enough, actually the contrary is true: art and artists are supersocial. And, as Gabriel Tarde rightly remarks, to become truly supersocial one has to isolate oneself from society.”

ch3: “On Art Activism”

“The art activists do not want to merely criticize the art system or the general political and social conditions under which this system functions. Rather, they want to change these conditions by means of art – not so much inside the art system as outside it, that is, change the conditions of reality itself.”

“Art activists want to be useful, to change the world, to make the world a better place – but at the same time, they do not want to cease to be artists. And that is the point where theoretical, political and even purely practical problems arise.”

“Many critics say that these artists substitute morally good intentions for artistic quality”

“the use of art for a political action necessarily aestheticizes this action, turns the action into a spectacle, and thus neutralizes the practical effect of the action”

“In our society, art has traditionally been seen as useless. So it seems that this quasi-ontological uselessness infects art activism and condemns it to failure. At the same time, art is seen as ultimately celebrating and aestheticizing the status quo, undermining our will to change it. The way out of this situation is generally supposed to be the abandonment of art – as if social and political activism never fails if it is not infected by the art virus.”

Confused definitions of “aestheticization” in modern parlance… “The reason for this state of confusion is the division of contemporary art practice itself into two different domains: art in the proper sense of this word, and design. In these two domains, aestheticization means two different and opposing things.”

  • in design:
    • “to make more attractive, seductive, appealing to the user”; enhances object’s use; premodern ‘art’ is actually ‘design’ in today’s sense of the words;
    • “The goal of design is to aesthetically improve the status quo”
  • in art:
    • “the defunctionalization of the tool, the violent annulment of its practical applicability and efficiency”;
    • “accepts the status quo, but it accepts it as a corpse, following its transformation into a mere representation”

“Before the French revolution there was no art – only design. After the French revolution, art emerged as the death of design.” … “Instead of destroying the sacral and profane objects belonging to the old regime, they defunctionalized, or in other words, aestheticized them. ” … “This violent, revolutionary act of aestheticizing the old regime created art as we know it today.”

“aestheticized, which means, actually, negated, made nonexistent for all practical purposes – reduced to a pure form”

“[Groys] would argue that aestheticization is a much more radical form of death than traditional iconoclasm” in that “the aestheticized material corpse functions as a testimony to the impossibility of resurrection”

“Artists of the historical avant-garde were interested in technological, industrialized modernity only as something to aestheticize, to defunctionalize, in order to demonstrate their conviction that progress is irrational, absurd”

“Since the French revolution, art has developed techniques for defunctionalizing the status quo, aptly described by the Russian formalists as reduction, zero-device and defamiliarization.”

“…to be creative means, of course, to bring into the world not only something new but also something better – better functioning, better looking, more attractive. All of these expectations make sense, but as I have already said, in today’s world all of them are related to design and not to art. Modern and contemporary art wants to make things not better but worse”

“This is why modern and contemporary art is unpopular. It is so precisely because art goes against the normal way the things are supposed to go”

“…belief in natural gifts and creativity is the worst form of social Darwinism, biologism and, actually, neoliberalism, with its notion of human capital.”

“The world talent expresses this relationship between nature and investment… the notion of human capital… erases the opposition between consumer and producer – the opposition that under the standard condition of capitalism, in which man is producer and consumer, threatens to tear the human being apart.”

“According to Beuys, a person is creative because nature originally gave him or her human capital – that is, the capacity to be creative. So art practice remains dependent upon nature – and, thus, upon the unequal distribution of natural gifts.”

“It is this artistic, social and political ‘alpinism’ [(rising peaks of human potential)], in its bourgeois and socialist forms, from which modern and contemporary art tries to save us. Modern art is made against the natural gift.”

“…escape the pressure of our own gifts and talents, which enslave and exhaust us by pushing us to climb one mountain after the other. ”

“Only if we learn to aestheticize the lack of gifts as well as the possession of them, and thus not differentiate between success and failure, can we escape the theoretical blockage that endangers contemporary art activism”

“One can aestheticize the world and at the same time act inside it. In fact, total aestheticization does not block, but rather enhances, political action”

“…total aestheticization not only does not preclude political action, it creates an ultimate horizon for successful political action if this action has a revolutionary perspective.”

ch4: “Becoming Revolutionary: On Kazimir Malevich”

“I would argue that although Black Square was not an active revolutionary gesture in the sense that it explicitly criticized the political status quo or advertised a coming revolution, it was revolutionary in a much deeper sense.” Revolution ≠ “not the process of building of a new society”, revolution = “a radical destruction of the existing society”

“’Only dull and powerless artists defend their art by reference to sincerity.’ Similarly, Marcel Broodthaers declared that he became an artist in an attempt to become insincere. To be sincere means precisely to remain repetitive, to reproduce one’s own already existing taste, to deal with one’s own already existing identity. Instead, radical modern art proposed that artists get themselves infected with exteriority, become sick through the contagions of the outside world, and become outsiders to themselves. Malevich believed that the artist should become infected through technique. Broodthaers let himself become infected by the economics of the art market and by the conventions of the art museum.”

The goal of modernist artists (“Flaubert, Baudelaire and Dostoyevsky, by way of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, to Bataille, Foucault, and Deleuze”) was “to become alien to their own tradition”; to manifest “an inner solidarity with the Other, with the alien, even with the threatening and cruel…”

“Malevich shows us what it means to be a revolutionary artist: It means to join the universal material flow that destroys all the temporary political and aesthetic orders. Here the goal is not change – understood as a change from the existing, ‘bad’ order to a new, ‘good’ order. Rather, radical and revolutionary art abandons all goals, and enters the nonteleological, potentially infinite process that the artist cannot and does not want to bring to an end.”

ch7: “On Realism”

“realism”- 2 meanings in art:

  1. representational; “mimetic representation of things of the world as they present themselves to our ‘natural’, uninformed and technologically unarmed gaze”

“Realist art is defined precisely by its readiness to reject all religious and philosophical visions and speculations, as well as technologically produced images, and instead to reproduce the average, ordinary, profane view of the world. However, this reproduction has a certain ‘unrealistic’ aspect: it takes a certain state of things out of the flow of time.”

“all ordinary things are hard to see, because they exist inside the material flow… To really see things, we have to stop using them and begin to contemplate them. In other words, the role of art in the materialist age is to make things visible.”

“artworks that create visibility for other things lose their own visibility as things in the world.”

“If an artwork begins to circulate and be considered primarily as a valuable luxury object, its representational value begins to decrease: The artwork is now valued for what it is and not for what it represents.”

“Visibility is possible, but only for a moment… An artwork continues to circulate as a valuable and protected object, but the opening of the world that this artwork offered to the spectator becomes closed.”

“Some ideas can be clear and distinctive, as Descartes described them. But things cannot. To make their thingness become visible – even for a moment – means to betray these things. Thus, for an artwork to be able to reveal the truth of things it must not represent them, but rather share their fate.

“the goal of the radical avant-garde: to tell the truth about the material world by making the artwork share the fate of all the other things of this world.”

“The avant-garde is traditionally accused of being elitist, which is very ironic… [the radical avant-garde is brought] into conflict with the popular mood, which prefers stability and prosperity combined with a certain degree of privilege and protection.”

“to make one’s own artworks really share the common fate of all things, one should endow them with low visibility. These artworks should be neither spectacularly successful, nor spectacular failures.”

“on the Internet, any particular documentation of the produced events drowns in the flow of information. Thus, contemporary art truly shares its low visibility and transitory character with all other things of the world. The only difference is this: Artists take responsibility for individual things and their visibility… the artists are ready to answer the question ‘Why are certain things as they are?’. As a rule, this question of responsibility is regarded as structurally unanswerable in our postreligious world. We tend to speak about the flow of things, information and economic events as if this flow were neutral, as if nobody in particular were responsible for it… art provokes us to look for individual responsibility as an answer to the question of why things are as they are. It is actually what makes art political – that artists take individual or collective responsibility for what they are offering us.”

ch9: “Modernity and Contemporaneity: Mechanical vs. Digital Reproduction”

“Our contemporary age” is interested in the present more than ever before, which is “a symptom of a widespread feeling that we do not know our own contemporaneity”

internet / global comm leads to “synchronization of different local histories”

“the shared present as unknown and uncanny”

difference between modern & contemporary = diff between mechanical & digital


“the original” = “something that happens here and now” according to Walter Benjamin

reproducing the original = reproducing presence; producing co-presence

Benjamin asked “Does the extinction of the visual distinction between original and copy mean the extinction of this distinction itself?” and answered “No” because “The original has an aura that the copy has not.”

aura = “the relationship of the artwork to its external context” to Benjamin

“The original has a particular site… The copy, by contrast, is virtual, siteless, ahistorical; from the beginning, it appears as potential multiplicity. To reproduce something is to remove it from its site, to deterritorialize it.”

“The copy lacks authenticity, therefore, not because it visually differs from the original but because it has no location and consequently is not inscribed in history. ”

but to Benjamin photography and film “from their very inception they are mechanically produced and destined for topologically undetermined circulation.” thus “the age of mechanical reproduction cannot produce anything original; it can only erase the originality of the originals that it has inherited from the previous times.”

“The relationship between original and copy is understood here as a relationship between nature and technique. And the aura of originality functions as a moment of resistance against the mass invasion of nature by the technical means of reproduction.

“according to [Adorno and Greenberg], modernity could relate to originality, that is to nature, only in a negative form by demonstrating the loss of originality, of aura, of natural harmony, or of nature’s original unconcealment.”

“…the artistic avant-garde used the notion of originality in a completely different way than Benjamin used it”: “to be original did not mean to be related to nature. Accordingly, it also did not mean to be inimitable and irreproducible in the future, but only to be historically new.

avant-garde artists “wanted to completely break with nature in the name of the new industrial world, and with the mimesis of nature in the name of inventing new, unnatural forms of art and life.”

In modernity, “the presence of the present can be experienced only at one moment – namely, at the revolutionary moment, the auratic moment of reduction that opens the way for the post-revolutionary reproduction of the results of this reduction. That is why modernity is a time of permanent longing for the revolution – for the revolutionary moment of pure presence”…ultimately being expressed “in the vision of mechanical reproduction of the revolutionary moment itself.


“One can argue that digitalization turns visual arts into performing arts.”

  • the digital image is actually just code
  • the code / digital data “remains identical through the process of its reproduction and distribution”
  • the code can be executed by a computer to be visualized as an image

“the visual identity among different digital copies – cannot be guaranteed. Just as a music performance is always different from a previous performance of the same score…”

  • dependent on the exact context within which the digital data is visualized (hardware/software types and versions and user format settings)

“The visualization of digital data is always an act of interpretation by the Internet user.”

  • interpretation of its form, specifically

and thus “it cannot be visually compared to the original – the original being invisible”

perhaps “every such performance [(of visualizing the image data)] itself becomes an original”

“…images do not exist unless we as users give them a certain ‘here and now’. That means that every digital copy has its own ‘here and now’ – an aura of originality – that a mechanical copy does not have.”

“Every presentation of digital data, every production of a digital copy-image, is at the same time a creation of our own image, an act of self-visualisation.” – you release data about yourself/your activity thru interaction with the digital content

“Our experience of contemporaneity is defined not so much by the presence of things to us as spectators, but rather by the presence of our virtual souls to the gaze of the hidden spectator.”

ch12: Art on the Internet

choosing work to archive in the past:

“What are the criteria of choice?”

institutional critique

all this doesn’t make sense on the internet though. instead comes another question: “What happens to art and literary writing as a result of their emigration from the traditional cultural institutions towards the Internet?”

“Historically, [before and/or outside of the historical avantgarde I guess,] literature and art were considered fields of fiction… the use of the Internet as the main medium of production and distribution of art and literature leads to their defictionalization.”

“…the precondition for the functioning of fiction as fiction is the dissimulation of the material, technological, institutional framing that makes this functioning possible.” - forgetting about the theater while seeing a movie - forgetting about the book/pages/words when reading a novel - forgetting about the museum when viewing its paintings

“the historical avant-garde tried to thematize and to reveal the factual, material, nonfictional dimension of art.”

“Heidegger understood art precisely as a struggle against the fictional.

“Science cannot reveal this framing [of the image under contemplation], either, because science depends on it.”

Heidegger thinks that “only art could reveal the hidden Gestell and demonstrate the fictional, illusionary character of our images of the world”

“the avant-garde has never fully succeeded in the quest for the real, because the reality of art… were refictionalized by being put under the standard conditions of art representation”

“On the Internet, art and literature operate in the same space as military planning, tourist business, capital flows, and so on”

“there are no walls in the space of the Internet.”

“framing becomes deinstitutionalized, and the framed fictionality becomes de-fictionalized. The user cannot ignore the frame, because he or she created it.”

“we, as users, do not immerse ourselves in this fiction, do not, like Alice, go through the looking glass; instead, we perceive art production as a real process, and the artwork as a real thing.”

“Art is presented on the Internet as a working process, or even life process, taking place in the real, offline world.”

not aesthetics on the internet but “data design… the aesthetic presentation of documentation about real art events and not with the production of fiction”

Art documentation refers to art but it is not art.

“only the form guarantees the reproducibility and identity of the fiction that this artwork is.”

“Today, subjectivity has become a technical construction: The contemporary subject is defined as the owner of a set of passwords that he or she knows and other people do not know.”

“Today, the hermeneutiker is a hacker.”

“the standard trajectory of a contemporary author is not from the local to the global, but from the global to the local.”

“to be able to survive in the contemporary culture one also has to draw the attention of the local, offline audience to one’s global exposure – to become not only globally present but also locally familiar.”

“The efficiency of the Internet is based precisely on its finiteness and, therefore, on its observability.”

“The Internet is by its essence a machine of surveillance.”

“The gaze that reads the Internet is the algorithmic gaze.”

  • the silicon valley STEMlord male gaze

“The emergence of the Internet erased this difference between the production and exhibition of art.”

“The results of surveillance are sold by the corporations that control the Internet because they own the means of production, the material and technical basis of the Internet.”

“the Internet is owned privately”

“the monetization of hermeneutics”

  • Classical hermeneutics = search for the author behind the work, chasing “ontological secrets that are inaccessible by definition”
  • Today classical hermeneutics is back as a means of economic exploitation: “The surplus value that such a subject produces [on the internet] and that is appropriated by the Internet corporations is the hermeneutic value: the subject not only does or produces something on the Internet but also reveals himself or herself as a human being with certain interests, desires and needs.”

“Nietzsche wrote that with the death of God, we lost the spectator. The emergence of the Internet has given us the return of the universal spectator.”

  • the algorithmic gaze?

“the life of a saint can be described as a blog that is read by God and remains uninterrupted even by the saint’s death.”

“Has the Internet effected the return of God or reintroduced the malin genie with its evil eye?”

  • is this universal spectator good or bad

“Sartre understood human subjects as struggling against the identity that had been given to them by society. ”

“In the gaze of the other, we see that we have lost the battle and have remained prisoners of our socially codified identity.”

“the creative work is the work that presupposes the desynchronization of the labour of creation from the exposure of its result, the created thing.”

“Modern artists practiced a revolt against the identities that were imposed on them by others… [it] was a search for the ‘true self’… modern artists always said, Do not look at me. Look at what I am doing; that is my true self. Or maybe it is no self at all, an absence of my self.”

“The artistic project becomes a revolutionary project that aims at the total transformation of society through the obliteration of taxonomies that define the functioning of this society.”

“modern art aimed to destroy the museums and begin to circulate beyond borders and control.”

“during so-called postmodernity, the search for the true self and, accordingly, the true society in which this true self could be revealed was proclaimed to be obsolete. ”

postmodernity = post-utopian

postmodernity = “the utopia of self-dissolution of the subject into infinite, anonymous flows of energy, desire, or play of signifiers.”

“In offline reality, the act of contemplation leaves no trace… But on the Internet, an act of contemplation does leave traces. And that is the last blow that finally destroys the ontological autonomy of the subject”

“in the context of the Internet the human being acts and is perceived as an empirical person and not as an ‘immaterial’ subject.”

“relationship between the archive and utopia”:

  • utopia = “desire of the subject to break out of its own historically defined identity”
  • archive = “gives the subject the hope of surviving his or her own contemporaneity and of revealing a true self in the future, because the archive promises to sustain and make accessible the subject’s texts or artworks after death”

“The archive’s utopian… promise is crucial, because it allows the subject to develop a distance from and critical attitude towards his or her own time and immediate audience.”

archive = conserving past but also archive = “machines for transporting the present into the future.”

“Artists do their work not only for their own time but also for the art archives – that is, for the future in which the artist’s work will remain present.”

“Art, as it functioned in modernity and still functions in our time, does not disappear after its work is done. Rather, the artwork remains present in the future. And it is precisely this anticipated future presence of art that guarantees its influence on the future, its chance to shape the future.”

“Maybe the most interesting aspect of the Internet as archive is precisely the possibility of decontextualization and recontextualization through the cut-and-paste operations that the Internet offers to its users.”