New Directions May Emerge

The Editors

Viking Eggeling, Diagonal-Symphonie, 1924. Still from film, 07:29 minutes. Public domain.

June 5, 2024

In a review published last month, Kaelen Wilson-Goldie considered whether the impulse to play is a distraction from what she calls the “serious stuff.” Given that the exhibition by Marwan Rechmaoui prompting these thoughts is staged in downtown Beirut, in a country blighted by corruption and braced for war, what constitutes the “serious stuff” is left implicit. But the same anxiety must nag at anyone making or writing about art today, wherever they are based. How to reconcile awareness of the immediate and unfolding disasters through which we are living—the Israeli assault on Rafah, the humanitarian crisis in Sudan, the apparently inexorable erosion of democracy—with lives spent making and reflecting upon what might seem to be distractions or diversions from these world-historical issues?

It might be worth remembering, here, that the dismissal of creative speculation as socially irresponsible is an authoritarian impulse, and that it often functions as a form of censorship. Moreover, that the characterization of imaginative “distraction” as sinful is convenient to a certain strain of capitalist imperialism. By connecting the capacity for play to the possibility of freedom—imaginative and political—Wilson-Goldie instead suggests that the activity might be valuable precisely because it is a “diversion” from the paths laid by those in power. Because it allows us to imagine alternatives to futures that are otherwise presented to us as inevitable, play is not a distraction from but a precondition of change. And so it is suppressed by those who cannot countenance a future that does not recapitulate the past.

These thoughts were compounded last month by the death of Marc Camille Chaimowicz, an artist memorably described by Dan Fox as allergic to the “petrified mindset of ideology,” and for whom the art world’s preoccupation with the word “rigor” (as in “formal rigor” or “conceptually rigorous”) was “tyrannical, an intellectual machismo, a boast of power which left nothing to the imagination or to doubt.”1 In an entrenched political environment dominated by precisely this “violence of certainty,” from which ambiguity has been banished as a symptom of the same intellectual weakness associated with play, Chaimowicz’s embrace of free imagination and undirected speculation seems less like political neutrality than a rejection of the totalitarian logics that must lead to war.

The contestation of these fixed logics is a notable feature of the coming month’s program. It is a quirk of scheduling that this is repeatedly figured by analogy to nature’s resistance of artificial categories: an exhibition in Beijing takes the disregard of “indigenous” plants for the borders of the country they symbolize to contest categories from nationhood to gender; an exhibition of Sukaina Kubba’s textiles, many of which adapt traditional floral patterns to the articulation of trauma and displacement, has the Ovidian title “Turn Me Into a Flower”; the Yokohoma Triennale’s adoption of a title from Lu Xun brings to mind the poet’s description of his own lyrics as “small pale flowers on the edges of the neglected hell.” The cultivation and appreciation of which is one—not unserious—expression of resistance.


Dan Fox, “Partial Views of an Interior: Remembering Marc Camille Chaimowicz,” Keep All Your Friends, (May 29, 2024),

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June 5, 2024

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