Alena Alexandrova / How To Do Things With Theory: seminar Anarcheologies

Participants: Silvia Ulloa, Kim Schonewille, Larraitz Torres, Abner Preis, Sarah Jones, Charlie Dance, Maria Barlasov, Marie-Andree Pellerin, Sarah Demoen, Bryony Gillard, Eona McCallum, Bonbon Juan

Key Words: apparatus, archive, atlas, infrastructure, images of images, in/visibility, counter-appropriation, counter-history, breaking chronologies, negative space, cartography, infrastructure, materiality, mediality, subjectivity, anarcheology


The theory seminar is in line with Alena Alexandrova's current curatorial and research project entitled Anarchaeologies, and is at the same time envisaged as an open space to discuss ideas, issues and questions which are relevant to the practices of the students. The seminar aims at juxtaposing and exploring three key moments in current art practices: intervening in the space of the archive, giving new visibility to analog media, and reinventing the strange apparatus of the image-atlas (as imagined by Aby Warburg). Recycling images, obsolete media devices, or industrial ruins, poses questions of time and obsolescence, yet it also gives a new life and visibility of those objects. Deprived from their usual functionality both images and media-ruins, or archives become opaque and autonomous, impossible to inscribe within an economy of meaning. As much as this is an impulse to reconsider the narratives of history, to retrace alternative possible histories and facts; it is also a desire to reflect on the very infrastructure of the apparatus of the archive, and of the image, as well as a concern with a more intimate and subjective mode of production of meaning.

The group will read a selection of texts taking the question of the image in different perspectives: art theory, visual studies, philosophy, media-theory. For each seminar the required reading will be two texts, articles or chapters, which in combination create tension, resonate with each other and open further questions. The proposed texts will be adjusted and modified by taking into account the interests and needs of the group. The list remains open but it will most likely include articles and chapters by: Aby Warburg, Philippe-Alain Michaud, Georges-Didi Huberman, Roland Barthes, Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, Jean-Luc Nancy, Jacques Rancière, Jacques Derrida, Claire Bishop, Vilém Flusser, Raoul Ruiz, Bruno Latour, Keith Moxey, Gilles Deleuze, Hans Belting, Christine Buci-Glucksmann, Marie-José Mondzain, Adrian Rifkin, Alexander Nagel, Walter Benjamin, Peter Sloterdijk and Raymond Bellour.

From DAI-week to DAI-week

Theory Seminar Friday April 11, 10:00 - 13:00

An artwork, an artefact, an image, a thing, a painting, a trap, an original, a facsimile, or a digital file? They are all fundamentally placeless entities migrating between different types of collections, places of display and media. Images and artefacts seem to have a particular capacity to elude definitions the more they are imposed on them, and to question the mechanisms and theories that claim to assign them with a place. Alfred Gell demonstrates the inherent instability of the distinction between art works and “mere artefacts.” He argues that anthropology at the present operates with a “reactionary definition of art” and that the “aesthetic definition of the art object is … unsatisfactory.” In a post-Duchampian world animal traps can be shown as artworks because they embody models of a the world, as well as, complex ideas of being, otherness and relatedness. Bruno Latour and Adam Lowe take the case of a famous artwork  - Veronese’s The Wedding at Cana, 1563 to reopen the undying question of the relationship between originals and copies. They demonstrate that the facsimiles can be more enjoyable, or even true to the artwork, and that the two members of the couple are in fact not two opposing poles, but moments in a process of a constant transformation of the artwork.

Alfred Gell, “Vogel’s Net: Traps as Artworks and Artworks as Traps” Journal of Material Culture, 1996: 1, pp. 15-38
Bruno Latour and Adam Lowe, “The Migration of the Aura or How to Explore the Original through its Facsimiles” In: Switching Codes, ed. Thomas Bartscherer (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2010)

Face to Face Tutorials on Thursday April 10

Theory Seminar Wednesday March 12, 16:00 - 18:30

Can images think? We will address the intricate relationship between, theory and looking modes of thought and modes of visuality, and ultimately the question of the agency of images (the Greek verb theorein means to look attentively, to contemplate). In his discussion in “The Pensive Image” Jacques Rancière offers an extensive commentary of the photographic image and the well-known distinction between studium and punctum by Roland Barthers. Rancière suggests that images can contain “an unthought thought,” which does not overlap with the intention of its producer, and has an effect on its viewer that exceeds its perception as representation. The pensiveness of the image then situates itself in the “zone of indeterminacy” between art and non-art, activity and passivity as modes of spectatorship. Rosalind Krauss engages in a detailed discussion of photography examining its emergence as a theoretical object, and the double moment (articulated by Walter Benjamin) of the new creative possibilities emerging at the moment of its obsolescence. While Rancière offers a prospective line of analysis, thinking the future mediated forms of pensive images; Krauss looks at the “pastness” of a medium, its condition of being outmoded to articulate the concept of post-medium.

Jacques Rancière, “The Pensive Image” In: The Emancipated Spectator, trans. Gregory Elliott (London: Verso, 2011), pp. 107-132
Rosalind Krauss, “Reinventing the Medium”, Critical Inquiry, 1999:25, pp. 289-305

Face to face tutorials both on March 12 & 13

Theory Seminar, 14 February 10:00-13:00

We will try to find the missing link between the phasmid insect and Diderot's paradox of acting through (an unorthodox) combination of readings. Roger Caillois' essay on mimicry introduces the figure of the phasmid that has a capacity to visually disappear blending with its environment and becoming the very place it inhabits. This master of dissimulation poses a very troubling question, which it as the heart of mimesis- the loss of identity implied in the mimetic act. Michael Fried takes the paradox of acting related to "the supreme fiction that the beholder did not exist" as the condition of successful performance to be at the centre of his well known distinction between absorption and theatricality. At the heart of all this is the question of a paradoxical mode of visuality – invisibility. Invisibility is an issue intimately related to the way images work. In other words, to the double question of their infrastructure and the subjectivity they articulate. Images can deny vision, and in many cases they strategically produce invisibilities. Rendering visible their infrastructure is an operation charged with an inherently political meaning related to the question of the link between belief and power. Invisibility is associated with a complex dynamic of exchange involved in the act of seeing, being seen, disappearing in plain sight, seeing the seer, or pretending to not be seen.

Reading: Roger Caillois, "Mimicry and Legendary Psychastenia," October, 1984:31 Michael Fried, "Jeff Wall, Wittgenstein, and the Everyday," In: Why Photography Matters as Art as Never Before (Yale: Yale University Press, 2008), selected excerpt

Lecture by Jeff Guess on Feb.14 at 2 pm is part of Alexandrova's seminar/Anarcheologies.

Face to face meetings both January 8 and 9 

January 9 seminar

In his essay "What is an Apparatus?" Agamben provides an extensive discussion of Foucault's strategic term dispositif, or apparatus. This text provides a point of continuation of our discussion of the author function as defined by Foucault in "What is an Author?" In Foucault's thought the term apparatus is not reducible its technical, juridical or military senses. Neither it overlaps with the term medium. It has broader meaning, and signifies a heterogeneous set of practices and mechanisms that capture, govern, orient, model and control human behaviour. In this sense apparatus is everything from prisons to factories, computers, phones to writing and literature and ... cigarettes. In order to create an expanded context for discussion of both terms medium and (technical) apparatus, we will read a key text by Belting who proposes that our bodies have the inherent capacity to be media of images, and images migrate between different media. The term 'picture' signifies the image with its medium. The key propositions of these two texts will open a space for a discussion of materiality and mediality of images going beyond their determination by a specific medium. In a broader sense the image itself can be understood as an apparatus that in some contemporary art practices is pointed at capturing the very infrastructure of different apparatuses we live with, or live by.

Reading: Giorgio Agamben, "What is an Apparatus" In: What is an Apparatus and Other Essays, trans. David Kishik and Stefan Pedatella (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009) Hans Belting, "An Anthropology of Images: Picture, Medium, Body" In: An Anthropology of Images, trans. Thomas Dunlop (Prinseton: Prinseton University Press)

November 28 face to face meetings

November 29 seminar 

Alena Alexandrova has chosen two texts that problematise the figure of the author (Foucault) and the mediated, or as Bishop names that, delegated nature of performative gestures in relatively recent performance art practices. Both texts are key and she selected them in view of the students practices and lines of research.

- Michel Foucault, "What is an Author?" The Essential Foucault, 2003
- Claire Bishop, "Delegate Performance: Outsourcing Authenticity," October, 2012:140

October 17 face to face meetings AA

October 18 morning: seminar & afternoon: guest lecture curated by 

 by Philippe-Alain Michaud: 'Aby Warburg: the History of Art as a Scene'

 Aby Warburg (1866 -1929), the inventor of what Giorgio Agamben calls a "nameless science" was interested in the life of images beyond the confines of art history and formal aesthetic questions. The focus of his research were images as a vehicles of cultural memory, sites of expression or "engrams" - charged with energy memory traces of the spiritual and psychological tensions of a culture. During the last years of his life he developed the Mnemosyne atlas, remaining unfinished or rather open project, including images from disparate sources (both art and documentary). The tables of the atlas form a strange apparatus in which images are set in motion, taken out of their proper visibility, montaged and re-montaged to write a history of culture entirely in images. A history touching deeper strata, the texture of conflicts and polarities which a culture has to constantly reconcile, the schizophrenic resonances of its "unconscious conditions." Philippe-Alain Michaud argues that Mnemosyne should be understood as embodying a cinematic mode of thought "one that by using figures aims not at articulating meanings but at producing effects." The opening pages of the Didi-Huberman's Atlas: Or How to Carry the World on One's Back, the extensive catalogue text accompanying the exhibition he curated following the multiple threads of Warburg's project, discusses it as "visual form of knowledge" and a "knowledgeable form of seeing." This double moment reappears in many of the practices of contemporary artists, consciously or not Warburg's followers, who do research through and with images.

Reading: Philippe-Alain Michaud, "Crossing the Frontiers: Mnemosyne Between Art History and Cinema" In: Aby Warburg and the Image in Motion (New York: Zone Books, 2006), pp. 277-293 Giorgio Agamben, "Aby Warburg and the Nameless Science" In: Potentialities (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999), pp. 89-104 Georges Didi-Huberman, "Disparates 'To read what was never written' In: Atlas. How to Carry the World on One's Back?, trans. Shane Lillis, Exhibition Catalogue (Madrid: Museo Nacional de Arte Reina Sofía, 2010), pp. 14-23