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Image: Calvin Frederick, Bermuda (2011), film still.

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Friday May 27th-June 30th, 2011

Curated by Arne De Boever and Dan Davis

Malene Dam, Dan Davis, Nick Goss, Asmund Havsteen-Mikkelsen, Andrew Palmer, Alex Robbins, and Willem Weissmann

FOLD Gallery London is pleased to present a group show celebrating the first two years of www.PRIMITIVEACCUMULATION.com, an online collaboration between artist Dan Davis and literary critic and critical theorist Arne De Boever. Although the project initially recorded only work by its founders, it gradually began to include works by other artists as well, leading the process of accumulation to intensify until the point of its destruction. In the midst of an emergency situation that is both political and economic, Primitive Accumulation aims to stage a dialogue between artworks and texts that would empower audiences to not simply face up to the challenges of their times, but to generate works in response.

The exhibition invites selected artists from two years of Primitive Accumulation.

To mark this occasion a full-colour 90-page print version of the project is now available. The curators have also invited theorist Anneleen Masschelein to give a talk on Sunday, May 29th. In celebration of the exhibition, London-based band My Sad Captains (Stolen Recordings) will perform a concert in the evening of Monday, May 30th.

DanLog

This exhibition is sponsored by the Danish Arts Council Committee for International Visual Arts

Opening, Friday May 27th 6 – 9pm

Sunday May 29th 4pm

“Enter Keyword Enter: Nonconceptuality and How to Deal With the Indefinite Possibilities of Algorithmic Heuristics”

Anneleen Masschelein is Assistant Professor in Literary Theory and Cultural Studies at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium and Postdoctoral Researcher at the National Fund of Scientific Research, Flanders (Belgium). Her book, The Unconcept: The Freudian Uncanny in Late-Twentieth-Century-Theory, has been published with SUNY Press.

Monday May 30th 6pm

Concert by My Sad Captains

Soon to release their second LP on Stolen Recordings, My Sad Captains will play a night at the Fold Gallery as part of an ongoing series of music in art spaces. The band  features Primitive Accumulation artists Dan Davis & Nick Goss and has previously played at the Josh Lilley Gallery and will host an evening of live performances at London’s Saatchi Gallery this summer. The new full-length album will be released in the early autumn on Stolen Recordings.

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CenteroftheUniverse

In the final section of his text “In Praise of Profanation,” Giorgio Agamben discusses Walter Benjamin’s concept of “exhibition-value.” Benjamin uses this concept “to characterize the transformation that the work of art undergoes in the era of its technological reproducibility”; according to Agamben, it characterizes better than any other concept “the new condition of objects and even of the human body in the era of fulfilled capitalism.” As an example of what he understands by exhibition-value, Agamben turns to the human face: “It is a common experience that the face of a woman who feels she is being looked at becomes inexpressive. That is, the awareness of being exposed to the gaze creates a vacuum in consciousness and powerfully disrupts the expressive processes that usually animate the face.”

In a more recent text titled “Nudity,” Agamben characterizes the attitude expressed here as the “nihilism of beauty”: “common to many beautiful women,” this attitude “consists in reducing one’s own beauty to pure appearance and then exhibiting this appearance with a sort of remote sadness, stubbornly denying the idea that beauty can signify something other than itself. … This disenchantment of beauty, this special nihilism, reaches its extreme stage with the mannequins or the fashion models, who learn before all else to erase all expression from their faces. In so doing, their faces become pure exhibition value and, as a result, acquire a particular allure.” In the profanation essay, Agamben turns to the porn star Chloë des Lysses to develop his point. She is cited as an example of someone who “has recently pushed this procedure to the extreme”: “She has herself photographed in the act of performing or submitting to the most obscene acts, but always so that her face is fully visible in the foreground. But instead of simulating pleasure, as dictated by the conventions of the genre, she affects and displays—like fashion models—the most absolute indifference, the most stoic ataraxy. … Her impassive face breaks every connection between lived experience and the expressive sphere; it no longer expresses anything but shows itself as a place without a hint of expression, as pure means.”

Agamben characterizes this capacity to show itself as pure means as a “profanatory potential.” As such, “[n]either the brazen-faced gesture of the porn star nor the impassive face of the fashion model is … to be blamed.” What he condemns, instead, is pornography’s attempt to neutralize this potential; the fashion show’s attempt to divert the fashion model from the use of this potential. In Nudities, the conclusion that Agamben draws from his discussion of exhibition value is clear: “The only thing that the beautiful face can say, exhibiting its nudity with a smile, is, ‘You wanted to see my secret? You wanted to clarify my envelopment? Then look right at it, if you can. Look at this absolute, unforgivable absence of secrets!’ The matheme of nudity is, in this sense, simply this: haecce! there is nothing other than this.” (Presumably, this haecce also leads beyond Agamben’s focus on the face of beautiful women—into the faces of women as such, whether they are beautiful or not, as well as into the faces of men.) Or, as he puts it at the very end of his even earlier text “The Face”: “Be only your face. Go to the threshold. Do not remain the subjects of your properties or faculties, do not stay beneath them; rather, go with them, in them, beyond them.”

References: Giorgio Agamben. Profanations. Trans. Jeff Fort. New York: Zone Books, 2007; Agamben. Nudities. Trans. David Kishik and Stefan Pedatella. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2010; Agamben. Means Without End: Notes on Politics. Trans. Vincenzo Binetti and Cesare Casarino. Minneapolis: U of Minneapolis P, 2000. Image: Dan Davis, Center of the Universe, 80 x 170cm, oil on canvas, 2007.

Aloe-Vera

Think big. Think dark. And think forward. Those are the imperatives of Timothy Morton’s The Ecological Thought. In Ecology Without Nature, Morton had already argued that our ideas of nature did not serve ecology particularly well. In The Ecological Thought, his call to leave those ideas behind receives a more concrete articulation: big, dark, forward. Big: so big that the bigness can no longer be contained by thought. The ecological thought is about this excess, and about caring for what’s not there. Dark: a darkness that unworks the domestication of the stranger. Although Morton doesn’t say so, one could argue that it’s about turning the entire world into Twin Peaks. It is no coincidence that special agent Cooper, by way of explaining his investigative techniques, first lectures to the local sheriff and deputies about Tibet; Morton argues in his book that Tibetans, because they cultivate a relation to infinite space, are particularly attuned to the ecological thought that he practices. (It is probably also no coincidence that Morton’s book, when abbreviated, turns into E.T.) Finally, the ecological thought thinks into the future—much further than any of us can conceive. This is because it is the thought of the hyperobject: of objects like the styrofoam cup, which will outlast us all.

Morton is the David Lynch of ecological thinking. One night, Lynch, who started out as a painter, thought he saw something move in one of his canvases—that’s how his career as a filmmaker started. It was this uncanny experience that made him want to make his paintings move, and turn towards film. For Morton, art is open to these experiences. It is in art that some unspeakable elsewhere—the “getting lost in the library stacks” that Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak talks about in a recent interview about aesthetic education—happens. The particular form of what Morton calls dark ecology is film noir. But there are also other artworks that live up to the challenge.

Morton’s argument raises the stakes for nature painting, in the way that Willem Weissman’s work does (see the entries titled “B-sides and rarities” and “Inhuman”). It is in the painting of clutter that our ideas of nature are left behind, and that the ecological thought can begin to happen. As Slavoj Zizek states in The Examined Life, it is among trash that we should start feeling at home. We should unwork the ideology that makes thrash disappear. Dan Davis accomplishes this in a different way in Aloe Vera, a painting that operates (1) within the “without” of nature–the plant it represents has disappeared into a whiteout, only its contours remain; and (2) within the darkness of the environment that surrounds it. As the name of Davis’ plant illustrates, it is here that the “truth” (evoked by the adjective “vera”) of the painting’s aesthetic ecology lies.

References: Timothy Morton, Ecology Without Nature: Rethinking Environmental Aesthetics (Cambridge [MA]: Harvard UP, 2007); Morton, The Ecological Thought (Cambridge [MA]: Harvard UP, 2010); Cathy Caruth, “Interview with Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak: Aesthetic Education and Globalization.” PMLA 125.4 (2010). Image: Dan Davis, Aloe Vera, oil on canvas, 2010.

Dan Davis, The Troubled Waters of Bethesda

I. Dan Davis does not believe in fairy tales: for him, there never was no once upon a time. Instead, such time is a principle internal to society, appearing when society is considered as if drowning. From such a perspective, humans—almost entirely absent in Davis’ recent work–begin to look decidedly less human, like creatures suspended in the down below or high above. Are they in hell? Are they in heaven? To answer the question might be to miss the point. For Davis is painting neither hell nor heaven, but society’s dissolution into these realms: its drown-ing rather than its being drown-ed. Kind of dark, one might say. But there is a peculiar consolation to it: as long as you are drowning, anything can happen. The game is only over once you’ve drowned.

Consider, for example, The Troubled Waters of Bethesda. The title refers to a spring-fed pool in ancient Jerusalem, whose waters were supposed to possess healing powers. An angel moved or troubled the waters at certain times, thus healing the sick. Davis takes on this tradition, and paints himself into the crack of the word “troubled”: under a bloody, dripping sky, we are invited to step into the mysterious waters, but it is not entirely clear what will result from this descent (which is also an ascent, given that one steps up, in the bottom right corner of the painting, only to step down again into the pool). As is often the case in Davis’ work, there are no people here. The plant on the left hand-side looks like it’s not to be trusted, like the infamous tree of life in the garden of Eden, the one from which we weren’t allowed to eat. The risk is perhaps not so much that we would eat of Davis’ plant (this is not a plant, after all, just like the pipe was not a pipe), but that the plant might eat us. There is a trouble that runs deeper here, a voraciousness that swallows up, like the waters in the painting, everything that is human, in the name of civilization.

Dan Davis, On and On

II. Davis’ painting thus takes place on the fine line between heaven and hell, which might simply be the space of what is real. Crammed in between the promise of salvation and the risk of the apocalypse lies the human condition: neither up nor down, but facing the dissolution of its reality into these projections. But where do the projections come from? Davis suggests they take root in What We Call Civilization—a phrase that includes not just religion, but also architecture, science, the economy, and art. Sigmund Freud writes somewhere that even science is marked by a primitive belief, however minimal, that we are omnipotent, that we will overcome our humanity (read: our mortality) through our inventions. It’s from this view on the high above that arises our experience of drowning. Civilization is An Antenna To Heaven, plunging us head over heels into the abyss.

No wonder then that in Davis’ world, very little, almost nothing is left of “we” as we know us. Un-peopled, our constructions haunt us as the foundations of our obsession with the high above and the down below, fairy tales that makes us forget about the excessive here and now. On and On captures this reflection to great effect: reflected, civilization’s calculus leads to “hell.” It becomes troubled, Hell(ed). But hell is high up, too, in this painting, thus coming close to “heaven.” To be drowning thus comes close to becoming-saved—with Davis situating us somewhere in the in-between, in the closeness that marks the minimal difference between heaven and hell. For Davis, there is thus neither heaven nor hell, only the excessive potentiality of the present. It is perhaps this insight that stands at the end (for now) of his reflections, of the multiple reflections that make up his paintings and occupy the figures in it—from this insight, too, that his recent attention to the extraordinary ordinary in Chromium/Foliage and Hiding in the Light emerges.

Screenshot from Paul Verhoeven’s Total Recall (1990):

TotalRecall

References: Arne De Boever, Charles Danby, and Joanne Lee. The Drowning World: Dan Davis, Michelle McKeown, Terry Shave. Stoke on Trent: Airspacepublications, 2010; Dan Davis, The Troubled Waters of Bethesda, oil on canvas, 90 x 120 cm, 2010; Dan Davis, On and On, oil on canvas, 140 x 170 cm, 2009.

HidingInTheLight_

Towards the end of “The Question Concerning Technology,” Martin Heidegger turns to Friedrich Hölderlin’s lines: “But where danger is, grows/ The saving power also.” The lines are cited in the context of Heidegger’s discussion of “the essence of modern technology,” which he calls “Enframing” (“Gestell”). Taking the concrete example of the Rhine, Heidegger deplores the monstrosity of the fact that this river appears to us as mere “standing-reserve”: it derives its meaning only from the power station for which it provides energy. Heidegger much prefers the Rhine as it appears in Hölderlin’s poetry. However, it is in the midst of this monstrous situation that “the saving power … also grows.” In short, “the darkest hour is just before the dawn.”

It seems that there is something naïve and politically blind about the turning point or crisis (from the Greek krisis, which means turning point) in Heidegger’s essay; think, in this context, of the criticisms that a similar turning point in the work of Karl Marx—who wrote that “capitalist production begets, with the inexorability of a natural process, its own negation”—has received. But I am thinking also of figures such as Jason Bourne from the popular Bourne-trilogy: in an obvious way, the trilogy is critical of the torturing techniques that are used not just in the CIA facilities where Bourne was trained but also in detainee camps such as Guantánamo Bay. However, the trilogy also relishes these techniques, because it admires the figure they have created: the form of its political resistance is thus entirely determined by the very same forces that this resistance is mobilizing against. Bourne’s political actions are merely political reactions.

Something similar is found in the graphic novel V for Vendetta, in which V applies the same torturing techniques to which he was subjected to Evey Hammond, in order to vacate her from fear and introduce her to an anarchist experience of freedom (a vacation, so to speak). In this case also, salvation seems to come from exactly the same techniques that represent the greatest danger: that which is condemned as the torture that traumatized V is also the technique that enables Evey to become free. Biopower turns into biopolitics (to work within Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s distinction between the two terms); loosely borrowing from Michel Foucault, one might see a shift here from his work on biopolitics to that on the care of the self. What appears to be torture in one light, appears to be a work on the self in another…

The problem is that such a work on the self does not constitute a political action; it is merely a political reaction that reproduces the very forces it resists. I am not calling for the political “outside” that is condemned in the opening pages of Hardt and Negri’s Commonwealth. Just resisting the heroization of those figures—Bourne, V—that exist only thanks to the extraordinary violations they decry.

References: Heidegger, Martin. The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays. Trans. William Lovitt. New York: Harper, 1977; Marx, Karl. Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. Vol. 1. Trans. Ben Fowkes. London: Penguin, 1990;  The Bourne Trilogy, dir. Doug Liman and Paul Greengrass (Universal, 2002, 2004, 2007); Moore, Alan and David Lloyd. V for Vendetta. New York: DC Comics, New York, 2005; Hardt, Michael and Antonio Negri. Commonwealth. Cambridge: Harvard (Belknap), 2009. Image: Dan Davis, Hiding in the Light, 55 cm x 46 cm, acrylic, ink, and spray paint on linen, 2010.

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I. There is a moment in Book VII of Plato’s Republic, shortly after Socrates has developed the famous allegory of the cave, when Socrates is criticized by Plato’s elder brother Adeimantus for having a conception of “higher studies”–he’s referring to philosophy, which Plato defines in the book as a love for higher, eternal forms of being that are intelligible but invisible–that is too generous: “for if someone were to study something by leaning his head back and studying ornaments on a ceiling, it looks as though you’d say he’s studying not with his eyes but with his understanding. Perhaps you’re right and I’m foolish, but I can’t conceive of any subject making the soul look upward except one concerned with that which is, and that which is invisible. If anyone attempts to learn something about sensible things, whether by gaping upward or squinting downward, I’d claim–since there’s no knowledge of such things–that he never learns anything and that, even if he studies lying on his back on the ground or floating on it in the sea, his soul is looking not up but down”. Socrates responds by saying that Adeimantus is right to reproach him, and that he’s been justly punished. In Book X, the critique of the visible realm of becoming as an inadequate basis for knowledge that Plato develops here turns into a critique of painting as a practice of imitation that, precisely because it imitates, cannot but be removed from the higher, eternal forms of being that constitute the true and the good.

One could, in an obvious way, theorize abstract painting as a kind of painting that would escape Plato’s critique, because it does not try to imitate but instead transforms onto the canvas precisely something of the mathematics–geometry and calculation–that Plato associates with the higher and eternal forms of being that exist beyond the imitations that surround us, and that other-than-abstract painting imitates. In this sense, the vampire–a creature that, according to the painter David Reed, recognizes itself in abstract painting because abstract painting, unlike mere imitation, does not reflect the vampire’s being, which is without reflection; the vampire, famously, has no mirror image–would be something like a platonic idea wandering among us, a living human being turned into a platonic idea that, in order to sustain its curious nature, is in desperate need of human blood. Although Reed does not do so, one could reverse his analogy, and say that abstract painting recognizes itself in the vampire: beyond imitation, but in need of human blood. The analogy can be completed, finally, by extending it to Plato and his theory of ideas: it might work for vampires, and yield a brilliant theory of abstract painting, but it is in desperate need for human blood, the life that might be brought to it through a little imitation.

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II. I find something of the tension that I have set up here–between the platonic idea, abstract painting, the vampire, and the need for life–in the paintings of Dan Davis, which fall neither under the category of abstraction that might come close to the platonic idea and the vampire, nor under what Plato would reject as imitation; and they don’t entirely (how could they, as paintings, ever entirely?) stand on the side of life either. Take, for example, Davis’ representation of something Adeimantus argues can never lead to philosophical knowledge: an ornament on a ceiling.

Entitled Math, Davis’ painting seems to suggest that something of the higher, eternal forms of being that Socrates is talking about–some of the philosophical knowledge that the Republic praises so highly–can be achieved through imitation, through imitation that is (like) math. Another painting entitled Illuminated by the Light shows something similarly mathematical: a corner of a room, constituted by a floor, two walls, and a ceiling divided into smaller geometrical forms.

However, in Illuminated by the Light the mathematics of the room already appear to be slightly off, as if the mathematical reality of the painting has been bent and the carefully divided geometry of the ceiling is on the verge of collapsing, just like the rest of the room. The feeling one gets looking at this painting is contrary to the illumination that mathematics, at least in Plato’s view, is supposed to bring. Instead one is left, particularly in the case of Math, with a sense of dark oppression, as if Davis, at some point in time, was there to witness this ornament on the ceiling and paint it, but has long since died, together with the rest of us–and all that remains, somewhere, in a very, very small room, is this ornament on the ceiling, some mathematical leftover of a vampiric society that at some point sadly ran out of blood.

References: Plato. Republic. Trans. G.M.A. Grube. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1992. Images: Dan Davis, Math, oil on canvas, 104 cm x 155 cm, 2007; Illuminated by the Light, oil on canvas, 95 cm x 70 cm, 2007.

Waiting (harold)

“What difference is there between apostle and prophet?” Giorgio Agamben raises this question in his book titled The Time that Remains. Whereas the prophet is turned towards the future, and projects the arrival of the messiah as something that is to come, the apostle speaks from the time of that arrival, when the prophecy has become fulfilled. In the apostle, past and future are contracted into the now, a now that through this contraction turns into a highly plastic—in the sense of explosive—potentiality: a time loaded with energy. In this time, anything can happen. It is a time of infinite possibility. This also means, however, that in this time, anything can happen: plastic time is a time of infinite vulnerability. Indeed, we are talking here about a potentiality so radical that it leaves nothing whole of any actuality, and instead forces one to begin anew, deprived from a childhood, as an entirely different person. The messianic time of the apostle is thus also the time of what Catherine Malabou calls “les nouveaux blessés”: those who because of a brain lesion are turned into another person.

It is this type of wound, Malabou argues, that truly constitutes a trauma, one that would exceed the realm of sexuality and the psychic energy of the libido, and would instead belong in the realm of cerebrality, which escapes hermeneutics. There is no sexual conflict to which the patient and the analyst can return in their pursuit of a cure, no anterior childhood state in which one can take refuge; all of that is gone. What remains is a new person who was born out of the nothing of the wound. It is with this for now final installment of Malabou’s research into the brain that the third characteristic of her concept of plasticity, its explosiveness, receives its full treatment: suddenly, the potentially utopian discourse of What Should We Do With Our Brain? or Plasticity at the Dusk of Writing flips over into its dark side, into emergency’s emergency.

This might actually reveal something about the discourse on time from which I was pilfering earlier on: if Agamben advocates a certain suspension of the law in his discussion of messianic time as the past and future’s contraction into the now of radical potentiality, it is essential to see this suspension in relation to his discussion of the camp, a state of exception in which the law is also suspended. In The Time that Remains, Agamben aims to show through a series of quick points that they are different—but their proximity remains, at least for this reader, uncomfortable, and it is not always clear how the problem in Agamben’s writings does not operate as its own solution.

References: Agamben, Giorgio. The Time that Remains: A Commentary on the Letter to the Romans. Trans. Patricia Dailey. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2005; Malabou, Catherine. Les nouveaux blessés: De Freud à la neurologie, penser les traumatismes contemporains. Paris: Bayard, 2007. Image: Dan Davis, Waiting (Harold), Oil on canvas, 125 cm x 153 cm, 2003.