Readers
Silence
9 essays
Compiled by Chiara Ianeselli

What's the value of silence today? Or the value of something that is untitled, and does not ask to be named? “Untitled” as a way of naming/non-naming an artwork not only signifies and denies a name as such, but unsettles the plurality of meanings and consequences that might have otherwise been conveyed, linguistically at least. Silence, and its subsequent ambiguity, may be something sorely missing today, with the onslaught of noise that dominates the information sphere. With the following texts from the e-flux archive, we can ponder negation, the progressive verbalization of society, the chaos of noise, and the necessity of silence in titles, discourse, and meaning, broadly considered.

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Amelia Groom
There’s Nothing to See Here: Erasing the Monochrome
Originally published in September 2012

There was once a typist from Texas named Bette Nesmith Graham, who wasn’t very good at her job. In 1951 she started erasing her typing mistakes with a white tempera paint solution she mixed in her kitchen blender. She called her invention Mistake Out and began distributing small green bottles of it to her coworkers. In 1956 she founded the delectably named Mistake Out Company. Shortly after, she was apparently fired from her typist job because she made a “mistake” that she failed to cover up: she typed her company name instead of the name of the bank she was working for. She then sold her typewriter correction fluid from her suburban home for many years before changing the name of the company to Liquid Paper Corporation and selling it to Gillette in 1979—for fifty million dollars. She died six months later, and her son—Mike Nesmith from The Monkees—was primary heir to her estate.

Elena Filipovic
A Museum That is Not
Originally published in March 2009

One could say that everything begins and ends in Marcel Duchamp’s studio. His first New York studio is perhaps best known from a series of small and grainy photos, some of them out of focus. They were taken sometime between 1916 and 1918 by a certain Henri-Pierre Roché, a good friend of Duchamp. Roché was a writer, not a professional photographer, clearly. He was the same guy who would go on to write Jules et Jim, arguably a far better novel than these are photographs. But their aesthetic quality was not really what mattered. Duchamp was attached to those little pictures. He kept them and went back to them years later, working on them and then leaving them out for us like his laundry in the picture. Or like clues in a detective novel.

Joan Kee
Nobody Owns Me
Originally published in January 2019

“How can we talk about private events,” Gonzalez-Torres asked, “when our bodies have been legislated by the state? We can perhaps talk about private property.” Among the most pervasive idioms for describing Americannness, private property held further implications for artists whose national and ethnic origin, racial background, and sexual orientation compromised their acceptance as Americans. As one of the few domains where cooperation occurred regardless of political preference or personal identity, the market held untapped potential as a political site. Deeply aware of how precarious life was for an openly gay, nonwhite artist living with AIDS, yet adamantly unwilling to capitalize upon his identity by wearing a metaphorical “grass skirt,” Gonzalez-Torres stated it was “more threatening” that “people like me operate as part of the market.” Through certificates that embodied rather than represented ownership by metabolizing elements of copyright and contract, he navigated market conditions and art-world protocol. Eventually shifting his works away from the metrics of supply, Gonzalez-Torres recast them as dynamic sources of doubt according to the legal frameworks to which he and they were unavoidably subject.

Daniel Birnbaum and Anders Olsson
An Interview with Jacques Derrida on the Limits of Digestion
Originally published in January 2009

Working in the early 1990s on the book As a Weasel Sucks Eggs: An Essay on Melancholy and Cannibalism(published in English in 2008 by Sternberg Press), we exchanged a few letters with the late Jacques Derrida, who was then working on what he referred to as the “cannibalistic tropes” in hermeneutics and German Idealism. He was grateful for a little fragment by Novalis that we had sent him:

Martha Rosler
English and All That
Originally published in May 2013

Last year, Triple Canopy published Alix Rule and David Levine’s “International Art English.” As a broad critique of globalized artspeak semantics, the essay has since sparked many debates around the exaggerated claims and imprecise promotional language of contemporary art. In this issue of e-flux journal, Martha Rosler and Hito Steyerl each respond to Rule and Levine’s essay.

Nana Adusei-Poku
On Being Present Where You Wish to Disappear
Originally published in March 2017

In 2009 the Centre Pompidou in Paris opened an exhibition called “Voids: A Retrospective.” Through works such as Yves Klein’s The Specialization of Sensibility in Raw Material State into Stabilized Pictorial Sensibility, it explored a tradition of radical curatorial and artistic interventions touching on the “art of nothing.” The exhibition consisted of empty spaces in which nothing was on display, apart from the white walls and wooden floors that constituted the architecture of the rooms. The decision to recreate the peak of minimal art and show nothing but emptiness or the absence of objects is intriguing. It can surely reignite discussions about the exhibition space as an artwork in itself, or, as in the example of Maria Eichhorn’s project Das Geld der Kunsthalle Bern, it can stress the economic dimension of institutions and the cultural practice of exhibiting.

Marta Jecu
Concepts Are Mental Images: The Work as Ruin
Originally published in September 2010

Images don’t have to be descriptive; they can be concepts, and Deleuze and I often discuss this point. Concepts are mental images.

Debbora Battaglia
Cosmic Exo-Surprise, or, When the Sky is (Really) Falling, What’s the Media to Do?
Originally published in June 2013

Ethnography’s reach into the pluriverse of the contemporary moment has no shortage of surprises. In the summer of 2011, my interest in the anthropology of outer spaces drew me to Prague, where I participated as an official “observer” in an international conference on “space security.” The purpose of the event was to bring together space policy professionals and experts from the United States, Europe, and Japan, in support of drafting an International Code of Conduct for the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. The urgent problem of the day concerned the massive amounts of debris in outer space and its risk to human life, to scientific research and diplomacy, and perhaps most importantly, to telecommunications on earth.

Geert Lovink
After the Social Media Hype: Dealing with Information Overload
Originally published in May 2013

The “social media” debate is moving away from presumed side effects, such as loneliness (Sherry Turkle), stupidity (Andrew Keen), and brain alterations (Nicholas Carr), to the ethical design question of how to manage our busy lives. This Foucauldian turn in internet discourse sets in now that we have left behind the initial stages of hype, crash, and mass uptake. Can we live a beautiful life with a smart phone, or is our only option to switch it off and forget about it? Do we really have to be bothered with retweeting each other’s messages for the rest of our lives? When will the social fad that is Silicon Valley be over and done with? We are ready to move on. Time to send your last lolcats.

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