e-flux journal issue 49:
Pieces of the Planet,
Issue Two out now

e-flux journal issue 49:
Pieces of the Planet,
Issue Two out now

e-flux journal

Sarah Eisenlohr, Walk on the Beach, 2012. Collage.
November 8, 2013

e-flux journal issue 49:
Pieces of the Planet,
Issue Two out now


Issue launch, Beirut: November 8, 7–9:30pm
Home Workspace Program at Ashkal Alwan 

For a public presentation of a special double issue
of e-flux journal developed for and in parallel with
the Home Workspace Program this year, and to mark
the journal’s five year anniversary, the editors are
pleased to present a special reading and discussion
of selections from essays by Walter Benjamin,
Hu Fang, Walid Raad, Rijin Sahakian, Hito Steyerl,
Oxana Timofeeva, Jalal Toufic, Anton Vidokle, and
Brian Kuan Wood performed by May Kassem,
Nesrine Khodr, and Stefan Tarnowski.

In 2003, Slavoj Žižek made a very prescient observation to explain how the US under George Bush used a plot twist borrowed from Alfred Hitchcock to justify the invasion of Iraq. He called it the “Iraqi MacGuffin.” Now, what is a MacGuffin? Exactly. The example Žižek gives: Two men run into each other on a train. One carries a suitcase. When asked what the suitcase contains, the carrier replies, “It is a MacGuffin.” But what is a MacGuffin? “It is a device used for killing leopards in the Scottish Highlands.” But there are no leopards in the Scottish Highlands. “Well, then that’s not a MacGuffin, is it?” Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction were never found, and somehow the fact that they did not actually exist was secondary to their enormous value as a narrative device for producing a precondition for going to war in Iraq.

Žižek’s piece goes on to list a chain of geopolitical ironies circulating at the time between statements and intentions, from the outsourcing of torture to protect the veneer of democracy to the US support of patently religious states such as Israel or anti-democratic monarchies such as Saudi Arabia. It is almost quaint to read now, at a time when these inconsistencies have become status quo. But how did this happen? We all remember Donald Rumsfeld’s RAND-corporation style stumble into metaphysics when he announced the existence of known unknowns and unknown unknowns—the things we know we don’t know and the things we don’t know we don’t know. And looking back at Žižek’s illuminating metaphor, it starts to become clear that something happened a decade ago, perhaps in parallel with the internet becoming a major actor in the transmission of geopolitical events across vast distances at incredible speeds. Narration emerged as the primary means of explaining events or justifying political acts. On the one hand, we can, and we must, fault the Bush government for using an absurd fiction to justify war. But the absurdity of the act released something else that was always hidden behind the need for political will to control the narrative. It recognized and released an enormous space within the political field where legitimacy is produced by means of narration rather than evidence or a court order. While artists were struggling to locate political agency in works of art, the actual political sphere had already gone fully cinematic in its approach.

Hitchcock is often called the Master of Suspense. And suspense is a funny thing. It has a lot in common with Kant’s sublime, as a sense of mastery over an impending disaster that one has the luxury of witnessing but not the power to stop. It is a narrative device that outsources responsibility to an author’s shadow game of concealing and revealing at intervals, allowing for a confusion that never compromises continuity. It is a machine that produces chains of cause and effect, and with those, it writes history. It is a mechanism for producing the foundations for speaking, much like any decent work of art. How then to counteract the abuse of this incredible power that narration has gained in recent years? Many of us are familiar with how Gulf States such as the United Arab Emirates are now directing a vast fortune towards subsidizing a cultural sector advertising humanistic values alongside a record of monarchic and nondemocratic rule. And it is happening through artworks and the participation of artists who specialize in the production of legitimacy and narrative. In a sense, we are all playing the same game of unknown unknowns on a board with many dimensions. The production of legitimacy and causality from nothing. What is that in your suitcase? It is the world. No it’s not. I would really love to know.

—Julieta Aranda, Brian Kuan Wood, Anton Vidokle

This special issue of e-flux journal is the second of several to be developed in parallel with Ashkal Alwan’s Home Workspace Program, with its third edition starting in November as a free, experimental school based in Beirut led by Jalal Toufic and Anton Vidokle.

Sven Lütticken—World History and Earth Art
The world has run out of earth. Once more, if on a small scale, space appears to offer a way out—not for colonization, perhaps, but for distantiation, for having your very own “whole earth” moment at what may very well be the far end of world history. If the Ideological Guide doggedly stays with the world, it may be precisely because at present, to look away from world history is to be on the side of disaster.

Hito Steyerl—Too Much World: Is the Internet Dead?
Data, sounds, and images are now routinely transitioning beyond screens into a different state of matter. They surpass the boundaries of data channels and manifest materially. They incarnate as riots or products, as lens flares, high-rises, or pixelated tanks. Images become unplugged and unhinged and start crowding off-screen space. They invade cities, transforming spaces into sites, and reality into realty. They materialize as junkspace, military invasion, and botched plastic surgery.

Hu Fang—Dear Navigator, Part II
Ophelia, the red-haired lass on the monitor, continues chatting with me, worried that my condition will become the spark that triggers collective panic, and I continuously reassure her, tell her: “I will not forsake humanity.” More than once, when I rejoice at waking, I am in a placeless place, cut off from the world. In this unending journey, everything that was once familiar has become abstract, but I seem to have more clearly realized that I am approaching the place where I want to go.

Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, Manal Al Dowayan, Parag Khanna, Turi Munthe—Freezone: Dubai
I think there is something very particular about that lack of long-term commitment to a historical story, a story of the future, which has historically involved the notion of citizenship, of engagement in the politics of the country in which you live. What strikes me about the Gulf is, one, the extraordinary demographic imbalance, and two, within that demographic imbalance, those people who stay here, like Manal in her Aramco compound. Manal, do you feel you’ve missed that capacity to engage with the very fiber, the meat, the body politic? I ask because this has an impact on the stakeholders in all these free zones. Are they really, fully real people? Are they really, fully engaged?

Walid Raad—Walkthrough, Part II
Who established the Metropolitan Museum of Art after all? Was it not robber barons? Let’s call them American sheikhs. Was it not American sheikhs who established the Met over one hundred years ago, and who helped shift the center of modern art from Paris to New York seventy years ago? Why can’t Arab sheikhs do the same for Arab culture today? They may not shift the center of the contemporary art world to the East, but at least they will certainly establish an eastern outpost for it there.

Gleb Napreenko—On the Format of the Divine
They remained calm and even affable as they packed LGBT activists into police vans without so much as touching the fundamentalist activists waving their Bibles, crosses, eggs, and bottles of urine. Without anybody really noticing it, the police created a homosexual homo sacer, rejected and unprotected by the law.

Nato Thompson—The Insurgents, Part II: Fighting the Left by Being the Left
It might seem counterintuitive to compare the arts and the military. Apples and oranges for sure. But while the ends pursued by these two spheres are radically different, aspects of their means are startlingly similar. Comparing examples according to means and not ends offers a new method for understanding formal approaches to the construction of a public. As the manipulation of culture becomes a major priority across a range of disciplines, it might prove instructive to overlook disciplinary boundaries and simply compare methodologies.

The print edition of e-flux journal can now be found at:
Amsterdam: de Appel arts centre / Rijksakademie van beeldende kunsten Andratx: CCA Andratx Antwerp: M HKA Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst Århus: Aarhus Art Building Athens: OMMU Auckland: split/fountain Austin: Arthouse at the Jones Center Baden-Baden: Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden Banff: Walter Phillips Gallery, The Banff Centre Barcelona: Arts Santa Monica / MACBA Basel: Kunsthalle Basel, Museum fur Gegenwartskunst Beijing and Guangzhou: Vitamin Creative Space Beirut: 98weeks Belgrade: Cultural Center of Belgrade Bergen: Bergen Kunsthall / Rakett Berlin: b_books / Berliner Künstlerprogramm – DAAD / do you read me? / Haus der Kulturen der Welt / NBK, Neuer Berliner Kunstverein / Pro qm Berlin and Zurich: Motto Bern: Kunsthalle Bern / Lehrerzimmer Bialystok: Arsenal Gallery Bielefeld: Bielefelder Kunstverein Birmingham: Eastside Projects / Ikon Gallery Bologna: MAMbo – Museo d’Arte Moderna di Bologna Bregenz: Kunsthaus Bregenz Bristol: Arnolfini Brussels: Wiels Bucharest: National Museum of Contemporary Art Bucharest (MNAC) / Pavilion Unicredit Cairo: Contemporary Image Collective (CIC) / Townhouse Gallery Calgary: The New Gallery Cambridge: Wysing Arts Center Castelló: Espai d’art contemporani de Castelló (EACC) Chicago: Graham Foundation / Logan Center, University of Chicago / The Renaissance Society Cologne: Kölnischer Kunstverein Copenhagen: Overgaden Derry: CCA Derry~Londonderry Dubai: Traffic Dublin: Dublin City, The Hugh Lane / Project Arts Centre Dusseldorf: Kunstverein für die Rheinlande und Westfalen Eindhoven: Van Abbemuseum Farsta: Konsthall C Frankfurt: Städelschule / Portikus Gdansk: Centrum Sztuki Współczesnej Łaźnia Genève: Centre de la photographie Ghent: S.M.A.K.Giza: Beirut Glasgow: CCA Centre for Contemporary Arts / Sculpture Studios Graz: Grazer Kunstverein / Kunsthaus Graz / Kunstlerhaus Graz, Halle für Kunst und Medien / para_SITE Gallery Grijon: LABoral Centre for Art and Creative Industries Gröningen: University of Gröningen Hamburg: Kunstverein Helsinki: Museum of Contemporary Art KIASMA Hobart: CAST Gallery / INFLIGHT Hong Kong: Asia Art Archive Iași: theartstudent at the University of Fine Arts, Iași Innsbruck: Galerie im TaxispalaisIstanbul: BAS / Cda-Projects / DEPO / SALT Johannesburg: Center for Historical Reenactments Kansas City: La Cucaracha Press Klagenfurt: Press Kunstraum Lakeside Kristiansand: SKMU Sørlandet Art Museum Leeds: Pavilion Lisbon: Maumaus, Escola de Artes Visuais / Oporto / Kunsthalle Lissabon Ljubljana: Moderna Galerija Llandudno: MOSTYN London: Architectural Association—Bedford Press / Calvert 22 / Chisenhale Gallery / Gasworks / ICA / Serpentine Gallery / The Showroom / Visiting Arts Los Angeles: REDCAT Loughborough: Radar, Loughborough University Luxembourg: Casino Luxembourg Madrid: Brumaria / CA2M / Pensart Maastricht: Jan van Eyck Academie Marfa: Ballroom Marfa Melbourne: Monash University Museum of Art / World Food Books Mexico City: Librería Casa Bosques / Proyectos Monclova Milan: Fondazione Nicola Trussardi, Hangar Bicocca Milton Keynes: Milton Keynes Gallery Minneapolis: Walker Art Center Moncton: Fixed Cog Hero (a bicycle courier company) Montreal: Canadian Centre for Architecture Moscow: Garage Center for Contemporary Culture Munich: Haus der Kunst / Museum Villa Stuck / Walther Koenig Bookshop New Delhi: Sarai CSDS New York: e-flux / Independent Curators International (ICI) / Printed Matter, Inc Nottingham: Nottingham Contemporary Omaha: Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts Oslo: Kunstnernes hus Oxford: Modern Art Oxford Padona: Fondazione March Paris: castillo/corrales – Section 7 Books / Centre Pompidou / Les Laboratoires d’Aubervilliers Philadelphia: Bodega Pori: Pori Art Museum Portland: Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, (PICA) / Publication Studio Porto: Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Serralves Prague: Dox Centre for Contemporary Art Prishtina: Stacion – Center for Contemporary Art Prishtina Providence: AS220 Reykjavik: Reykjavik Art Museum Riga: Kim? Rio de Janeiro: Capacete / A Gentil Carioca Rome: MACRO Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Roma / Opera Rebis Rotterdam: Piet Zwart Institute / Witte de With Saint-Nazaire: Le Grand Cafe, Centre D’art Contemporain Salzburg: Salzburger Kunstverein San Antonio: Artpace São Paulo: Kunsthalle São Paulo / Master in Visual Arts, Faculdade Santa Marcelina Sarajevo: Sarajevo Center for Contemporary Art Seoul: The Books / The Book Society Sherbrooke: Foreman Art Gallery of Bishop’s University Skopje: Press to Exit Project Space Sofia: ICA Sofia / Sofia Art Gallery St Erme Outre et Ramecourt: Performing Arts Forum St Louis: White Flag Projects Stockholm: Bonniers Konsthall / IASPIS / Index / Konstfack, University College of Art, Craft and Design Stuttgart: Württembergischer Kunstverein Stuttgart Sydney: Artspace Tallinn: Kumu Art Museum of Estonia The Hague: Stroom Den Haag Toronto: Art Metropole / Mercer Union / The Power Plant Torun: Centre of Contemporary Art Znaki Czasu Toowoomba: Raygun Contemporary Art Projects Trieste: Trieste Contemporanea Umeå: Bildmuseet, Umeå University Utrecht: BAK, basis voor actuele kunst / Casco-Office for Art, Design and Theory Vaduz: Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein Valletta: Malta Contemporary Art Foundation Vancouver: ARTSPEAK / Fillip—Motto / Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, University of British Columbia / READ Books, Charles H. Scott Gallery, Emily Carr University of Art and Design Vienna: Kunsthalle Vienna / Salon für Kunstbuch—21er Haus, Belvedere Gallery Vigo: MARCO, Museo de Arte Contemporanea de Vigo Vilnius: Contemporary Art Centre (CAC) Vitoria-Gasteiz: Montehermoso Kulturunea Visby: BAC, Baltic Art Center Warsaw: Zachęta Narodowa Galeria Sztuki / Zachęta National Gallery of Art Wiesbaden: Nassauischer Kunstverein (NKV) Yerevan: Armenian Center For Contemporary Experimental Art, NPAK Zagreb: Galerija Miroslav Kraljevic / Gallery Nova / Institute for Duration, Location and Variables, DeLVe Zurich: Postgraduate Program in Curating, Zürich University of the Arts / Shedhalle / White Space.

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November 8, 2013

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