April 18, 2019 - e-flux journal - e-flux journal issue 99
April 18, 2019

e-flux journal

Image: Illustration of the human placenta. Credit: John Bavosi/Science Source.

e-flux journal issue 99

with Christian Nyampeta, Alessandra Franetovich, Pedro Neves Marques, Kasia Wolinska and Frida Sandström, Sophie Lewis, Noel W Anderson, and Irmgard Emmelhainz

www.e-flux.com/journal/99/

e-flux journal issue 99

with Christian Nyampeta, Alessandra Franetovich, Pedro Neves Marques, Kasia Wolinska and Frida Sandström, Sophie Lewis, Noel W Anderson, and Irmgard Emmelhainz

www.e-flux.com/journal/99/

Defining the future is not easy. As we at e-flux journal look simultaneously backward and forward over our ten years of publishing, we wonder what lies ahead. This is issue #99 of the journal. Since we started with issue zero, this is actually our hundredth issue, amounting to nearly a thousand essays. Thinking ahead can be tricky, because the future always harbors a hidden object. Time does not move in one direction; it is not only the period we think we’re living in. Looking sideways, backward, at multiple shared timelines at once, we plan and we think ahead—but ahead of what? The restoration of many buried futures is long overdue. In this situation—which is also marked by imminent planetary precarity—how do we put the future together again?

In the twentieth century, Kazimir Malevich famously stated: “I transformed myself in the zero of form and emerged from nothing to creation.” He explained of his work that “it is from zero, in zero, that the true movement of being begins.” One hundred years ago, in his 1919 text “On the Museum,” the painter called for staunch noninterference in the ongoing decay of old museums, whose function was to store the art of the past. The aim in this provocation was to let conservative history burn, preserve its ashes in laboratory jars, rethink the museum as a pharmacy, and let those ashes comingle—and perhaps ferment—into a more generative art of the future.

At the time Malevich wrote his anti-nostalgic essay, the new Soviet government feared that the old Russian museums and art collections would be destroyed by civil war and the general collapse of state institutions and the country’s economy. The Communist Party responded by trying to save these collections. Malevich objected to this pro-museum policy by calling on the state to not intervene on behalf of the old art, since its destruction could open the path to true, living art. He wrote:

Life knows what it is doing, and if it is striving to destroy, one must not interfere, since by hindering we are blocking the path to a new conception of life that is born within us. In burning a corpse we obtain one gram of powder: accordingly, thousands of graveyards could be accommodated on a single chemist’s shelf. We can make a concession to conservatives by offering that they burn all past epochs, since they are dead, and set up one pharmacy.

Later, Malevich gives a concrete example of what he means:

The aim [of this pharmacy] will be the same, even if people will examine the powder from Rubens and all his art—a mass of ideas will arise in people, and will be often more alive than actual representation (and take up less room).(1)

Planning for the future of course depends on the quality of one’s present—and as there are many presents in operation, the images we create of the future are also manifold. On the one hand, there are people and institutions that charge forward with the certainty that the future belongs to them. If they know the end is coming, they also know it will not come for them. On the other hand, there are peoples, collectives, and assemblages who cannot take the future for granted. Instead of charging forward, they move sideways, trying to build a world while carrying hidden histories and smuggled knowledges that have already survived many endings, knowing they may not be lucky enough to survive the next one. These two extremes have always existed, but seem to have become more pronounced the further we get into the twenty-first century.

Sometimes defining the future or destroying the past appear to happen instantaneously, when only a moment ago it seemed painfully impossible. This week, a massive fire hit Paris’s Notre Dame Cathedral. Another fire consumed Al-Aqsa Mosque in Palestine. Last week a white arsonist, son of a sheriff, was arrested for attacking three historic black churches in Louisiana. At least one of these had already been rebuilt from fires past. In September, millennia of art at the Brazilian National Museum succumbed to fire. Mourning the loss of material history is always peculiar for how it resembles mourning the loss of human life—to this day, we are still lamenting the loss of Alexandria’s library. At the same time, such a massive loss of meaning and heritage could be seen as a mere change in the state of inert matter. This paradox defies not only comprehension, but conventional processes of grieving.

Speaking of paradoxes, in 1962 Guy Debord wrote the following in his pamphlet “Into The Dustbin of History”: “The story of the arsonists who, during the final days of the Commune, went to destroy Notre Dame, only to find it defended by an armed battalion of Commune artists, is a richly provocative example of direct democracy.”

In the case of Notre Dame, the cathedral spire that burned is actually from the nineteenth century. In a way, it is not the original church, but corresponds to an active reconstruction of the past that art has had to enact. For buildings, the concept of truth to an original became more material and literal in the twentieth century, so that today, building to appear “medieval” or in “the spirit of” might seem kitsch. But that is probably due more to a modernist purism obsessed with historic originals and authenticity since the dawn of technical and mechanical reproduction. What then to make of the reconstruction of the Reichstag, and of the entire city of Berlin, which in the 1990s was made to look as if the Second World War had never happened?

The futures of some histories are insured and ensured, shielded by capital and backed up by digital replicas, like the intricately scanned version of a seventeenth-century Notre Dame produced for the video game Assassin’s Creed: Unity. On April 17, when a philosophy professor showed up with gas canisters at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York to replicate Notre Dame’s flames, the police were already there to apprehend him. Many places of worship or import cannot count on such state-backed protection. When the visible futures of other histories go up in flames or are buried under Culture, torn up, looted, and run through with pipelines, there is of course no assurance of reparation. It’s an old story that keeps getting coauthored. Many different kinds of cathedrals are built over older holy places. Futures are built and traded on the compacted and resold bones of other humans and extinct species. There has been living and thinking, underground rooting and overgrowth, in the space of shared timelines. Just look below you. Maybe when spaces of parallel histories and presents are better seen, there can be something like dancing, somehow, into shared futures.

—Editors

(1) Kazemir Malevich, quoted in Boris Groys, “Becoming Revolutionary: On Kazimir Malevich” e-flux journal no. 47 (September 2013).


 

Christian Nyampeta—“In the Black Color of the Night”: Theology, Philosophy, and Exile
Supposedly, one of the many “functions” of art is to heal the ruptures of history, and to “puncture” a whole in the membrane of the future, so as to render its advent felt in the present. In other words, artworking is to invent the sense of a shared time, across geographical expanses and ideological divides. How come today’s art, or philosophy, doesn’t achieve this? The underlying question is: How come “art” or “philosophy” doesn’t prevent violence? Ultimately, artists and philosophers are reproaching each other for the failure in solving problems that belong to the fields of medicine, education, political science, architecture, history, design, engineering, psychology, anthropology, genocide studies, etc. Is it only art or philosophy that fails in the face of the Rwandan genocide? Haven’t politics, technology, science, journalism, and the list is endless, also relapsed? What aspect of living doesn’t face its limit under such marks of death? I have no illusions that mere philosophers, or artists, are able to save the world! Why reproach the inadequacies of entire societies solely upon the ethics and the aesthetics of two cultural bodies?

Alessandra Franetovich—Cosmic Thoughts: The Paradigm of Space in Moscow Conceptualism
As absurd as it sounds, cosmism was part of a cigarette company’s advertisement campaign, and Yuri Leiderman’s work flew into space together with Andorra’s painting, which was hand-applied directly to the surface of the missile, as well as a text by the Kyrgyz writer Chinghiz Aitmatov. Leiderman’s photographs depicting the urn graves of the Donskoy Cemetery and Crematorium in Moscow were printed on a plastic film applied to the upper part of the proton rocket. After exiting the earth’s exosphere, the rocket burned up. This incineration aimed to represent the established connection between the ashes of the dead and the cosmos, as a prefiguration to their forthcoming resurrection. Instead of approaching cosmism only in a metaphorical way, Leiderman realized a concrete cosmist action motivated by a love for humanity.

Pedro Neves Marques—Parallel Futures: One or Many Dystopias?
Inaate/se/ may not be the most obvious example of the science-fictional aesthetics of “Indigenous Futurism,” a term coined by Anashinaabe scholar Grace L. Dillon to describe Native artists who work with science fiction to both refuse the representational expectations of “the Great Aboriginal Story” and play with boundary crossings, claiming the spaces of science, technology, and futurity as their own. Nonetheless, the film employs certain key strategies Dillon finds in such authors, from what she terms “Contact” and “Native Apocalypse” to “Biskaabiiyiang,” an Anishinaabe word “connoting the process of ‘returning to ourselves.’” In so doing, Inaate/se/ promises an ethics founded on an inhabited futurity, which, no matter how many blows it has suffered, still manages to survive. The Khalils do not attempt to surpass the trauma of erasure; they inhabit and politicize it for a new world to come. In this way, they make the dystopia lived through seven generations a starting point for livelihood.
 
I’ll put it differently this time: the sovereignty of survivors.

Frida Sandström and Kasia Wolinska—The Future Body at Work
Through each action that we convey as bodies, a distribution of expressions shape common forces of radiation, enabling us to fall into, and follow closely, the shared present. Dance proclaims that it belongs to the sphere of the commons, that it can constitute the wave of joint gestures, of outward movements that become means of communication. Bound to sustaining relations, the wave forms a stream of larger movements, overflowing ideas of immobility and singularity. Through this wave, the resonances of historical and future gestures are manifested. In the commons, time slips. The underlying logics of the flow organize states of experience and codes of conduct with regard to possible encounters and collisions. The “underscores”—activated support structures—of the dance space must be tested and activated accordingly, as the dialectics of the wave, continuously contracting and releasing, constitute the world with all its relations and moving subjects. Once bodies, images, and affects are mobilized in space, the gestation of new physicalities requires time. To digest, to know, to give space to bodily responses—these transport us into a temporality that stands in strong opposition to quick formulations based on ready-made discourses that sometimes might mean the world to us, and at other times, without prior experience, might instead mean nothing. But to listen and respond through the resonance of a history that takes place and takes shape, requires waiting. As Hardt and Negri write, “Revolution needs time,” and we need support structures for what we mobilize. We need to take responsibility for the outbursts that we unleash.

Sophie Lewis—Full Surrogacy Now
The everyday “miracle” that transpires in pregnancy, the production of that number more than one and less than two, receives more idealizing lip-service than it does respect. Certainly, the creation of new proto-personhood in the uterus is a marvel artists have engaged for millennia (and psychoanalytic philosophers for almost a century). Most of us need no reminding that we are, each of us, the blinking, thinking, pulsating products of gestational work and its equally laborious aftermaths. Yet in 2017 a reader and thinker as compendious as Maggie Nelson can still state, semi-incredulously but with a strong case behind her, that philosophical writing about actually doing gestation constitutes an absence in culture.

Noel W Anderson—Echoes from the Hole: Doubling Darkness is Most Dark
Echoing Ellison’s protagonist speaking from the hole, the American artist David Hammons presents three objects: Untitled (2014), Bird (1990), and The Door (Admissions Office) (1969). Developed in the shadow of black folk traditions, these works by Hammons engage the spectator in a series of tricks and games. Through considering the evasiveness (fugitivity) of these works—they paradoxically resist capture, as they enact deception and deadpan humor—we can think about critiques of racialized class; the aestheticization and exhibition of leisure as wealth; the possibilities of a base/black materialism that dissolves class in race; and a continuation of the black radical tradition as established during slavery. Furthermore, Hammons’s black aesthetics absorb, display, rehearse, and reinforce Ellisonian maneuvers of advance and withdrawal in a critique of economies internal and external to black social life. Ellison’s lyricism of blackness as “most-black” reverberates retreat towards a hole. It is from this protective, performative position that Hammons enacts a strategy of darkness-as-darkness. An excessive radical blackness!

Irmgard Emmelhainz—Decolonial Love
In our neoliberal era, subjectivities are being further shattered by absolute capitalism and its crisis of human, environmental, and interpersonal relations manifested, for instance, in femicide; or in the transformation of the mechanisms of love (feelings, emotions, seduction, desire) into commodities. Brokenness also stems from capitalist “productivity,” which means dispossessing peoples not only of their territories, but also their labor, bodies, language, lives. These forms of violence have been justified by the production of an abundance of goods, so that a portion of the global population can have anything we want, so we can live “good” lives designed by technocracy, adorned by culture, so we no longer have to make a living with the sweat of our brows. As the communist idea of cooperation is obsolete, excess production and labor achieved through violence and dispossession provide the general feeling that we can have comfort while being relieved of the pressure of contributing to society and of the feeling that we are needed by others.

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