Alena Alexandrova / How To Do Things with Theory-seminar / Anarcheologies

tag: Arnhem

Participants: Charlie Dance, Maria Barlasov, Marie-Andree Pellerin, Sarah Demoen, Bryony Gillard, Bonbon Juan, Pilar Mata Dupont, Jammie Nicholas, Melissa Tun Tun, Dai Xiyun, Katja den Dulk, Joost Mellink and Maja Renn.

Key words: infrastructure, anarcheology, apparatus, technology, counter-history, anachronism, travel, historical object, affect, wind, invisibility, potentiality, fragment, mimicry



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. Both archives and media are characterized by set of conventions, they are frames rendering images, organizing and presenting objects. But the fixity of these conventions is a carefully negotiated fiction. They are open to be used against their grain - the archive has its counter-archive, and the medium has its counter-medium. Collections often work with displaced objects and fragments through complex, in many cases invisible and highly mediated, procedures of interpretation, and ultimately of the invention of their meaning. The archive claims to preserve objects and images like indexical traces of the past, but in many cases they are evidence that has lost its event, its contact point to the world to which it belonged. Many present-day artists set to reflect on the nature and the effects of such infrastructures, they animate the archive and summon images to life by departing from details whose significance would be overlooked. Their work is positioned between the desire to touch the past, which will be always lost, and setting the fragments of that past in motion, of making a juxtaposition, a montage of times, of displacing temporally the past object, and inventing its future. The image becomes endowed with potentiality; it is an open place of projection or nodal point into a network of meanings. 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. A selection of literary and film fragments will provide a counter-point to the theory texts we will be reading. These fragments will function as interruptions, which also open different possible lines to connect the texts. The proposed list will be adjusted and modified by taking into account the interests and needs of the group. It remains open but it will most likely include articles and chapters by: Theodor Adorno, Georges-Didi Huberman, Roland Barthes, Barbara Baert, Roger Caillois, Jacques Derrida, Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, Michel Foucault, Jacques Rancière, Gilles Deleuze, Christine Buci-Glucksmann, Claire Bishop, Vilém Flusser, Bruno Latour, Gilbert Simondon, Dario Gamboni, Alfred Gell, Alexander Nagel, Peter Sloterdijk, Hito Steyerl, Guy Debord, Italo Calvino, Jorge Luis Borges, Georges Perec, Raul Ruiz.

From DAI-week to DAI-week

Seminar 15 June, 2015, 14:00-18:00

We will contemplate a double scene involving the misadventures of critical thought and mistaking art for refuse. Ranciere diagnoses a reversal of the role of the procedures of critical tradition, which “still function very well” but in the condition of “a complete reversal of their orientation and supposed ends.” How are we to locate a genuinely critical moment in art practices, which claim to assume the sovereign position of critical voice-over of reality? This requires a slight, yet significant shift of focus, from the mode of critique as unmasking to one that creates dissensus. Gamboni invites us to consider the multiple (mis-)adventures of the artwork, in particular the ready-made. What happens when it is inadvertently taken from its pedestal and used in its original function? The power net that secures its criticality and history collapses, art and reality overlap, and quite heated legal debates ensue…

Seminar: 14:00-17:00

Discussion thesis projects: 17:15-18:00

Jacques Ranciere, "The Misadventures of Critical Thought" In: The Emancipated Spectator, trans.Gregory Eliot (London: Verso, 2009)

Dario Gamboni, "Mistaking Art for Refuse" In: The Destruction of Art: Iconoclasm and Vandalism Since the French Revolution (London: Reaktion Books, 1997)

Seminar 18 May 2015, 14:00 - 18:00

Consumer goods, collections, gadgets form multiple systems of objects on variety of levels and the all embracing net of consumer society. The chapter from The System of Objects by Baudrillard’s offers a critical commentary and reflection on the way objects embody socio-ideological structures and shape behaviours, needs or produce desires.

 Jean Baudrillard,"Subjective Discourse or the Non-Functional System of Objects" In: The Object Reader, ed. Fiona Candlin and Raiford Guins (London: Routledge, 2009)

14:00 – 17:00 Seminar

17:15 – 18:00 Writing workshop

Seminar 20 March, 2015, 14:00 - 18:00

Michel Foucault opens his preface to The Order of Things with the famous passage in Borges in which according to a Chinese encyclopaedia “animals are divided into: a) belonging to the Emperor, b) embalmed, c) tame, d) sucking pigs, e) sirens, f) fabulous, g) stray dogs.” The classification made according an impossible disparate order, indicates the fact that in every culture there are fundamental organising codes which carve out the possibility of things to appear as perceivable and interrelated, included into an implicit order that holds them together. Foucault’s archaeology of sciences examines the “general space of knowledge” and the history of the conditions of possibility of one or another articulation of knowable things to appear. Anarcheology would be the operation performed by artists, who winking at history and archaeology, performatively displace evidence and introduce a degree of disorder in historical narratives, to render visible, even in a fragmentary way, the “blank spaces of the grid that order manifests itself.” Such a gesture of engaging with things past, implies working with time. In other words, of being a contemporary, which as Giorgio Agamben argues, means relating to ones’ time through disjunction and anachronism. Those who are perfectly situated in their epoch fail to see it from a distance and are not able to transform the present by putting it in a relationship with other times. And in another sense, Jean-Luc Nancy suggests to think the intimate relationship between bringing to presence and ordering at the heart of art: “The word ‘poiesis’ comes from a family that denotes ordering, arrangement, setting in position [disposition]. Poetry sets in position. Art is setting in position. It sets the position of the thing according to the dictates of presence. It is technique productive of presence.”


Michel Foucault, The Order of Things, Preface (New York: Vintage Books, 1994)

Giorgio Agamben, “What is the Contemporary?” In: What is an Apparatus? And Other Essays, trans. David Kishik and Stefan Pedatella (Stanford University Press, 2009)

Jean-Luc Nancy, “The Technique of the Present” In: Multiple Arts: The Muses II, ed. Simon Sparks (Stanford University Press, 2006), excerpt

14:00 - 16:30 Seminar

16:30 – 18:00 Writing workshop

Seminar 23 February, 2015, 14:00 - 18:00

What do we mean when we say: “I can, but I prefer not to”? Potentiality involves an aporia, it is a capacity that exists, and simultaneously it does not exist an actual thing. To be free, Agamben argues, means above all to be able to relate to the moment of “not to,” to “one’s own privation” or “the potentiality to not be.” This opens a space for perhaps one of the most radical kinds of resistance – the choice to remain fundamentally passive, which becomes perhaps even urgent in our increasingly saturated present. What would be the significance of an artwork that for one or another reason was not made?

Giorgio Agamben, “On Potentiality,” In: Potentialities: Collected Essays in Philosophy, ed. trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999), pp. 177-184

14:00 – 16:30 Seminar

16:30 – 18:00 Writing workshop

Seminar 19 January, 2015, 14:00 - 18:00

Reading: Theodor Adorno, “The Essay as Form,” New German Critique, trans. by Bob Hullot-Kentor, Frederic Will, (1984:32)

We will continue our discussion with a key text particularly resonant with a very contemporary mode of artistic production. In it research, writing as a practice, and theory in a broader sense, play crucial role in making works that both articulate knowledge, and resist definitions strategically maintaining the openness of a fragment. In his “The Essay as Form” Adorno charts out the territory of a mode of thinking and writing that engages with the complexity of cultural objects, and argues for the importance of play, spontaneity of presentation, the incomplete, and the fragmentary. As he puts it in the closing lines of his essay: “Even the highest manifestations of the intellect that express happiness are always at the same time caught in the guilt of thwarting happiness as long as they remain mere intellect. Therefore the law of the innermost form of the essay is heresy. By transgressing the orthodoxy of thought, something becomes visible in the object which it is orthodoxy’s secret purpose to keep invisible.”

14:00 – 16:30 Seminar

16:30 – 18:00 Writing workshop

Seminar 8 December, 2014, 14:00 - 18:00

Reading: Bill Brown, "Anarchéologie: Object Worlds and Other Things, Circa Now" In: The Way of the Showel, exhibition catalogue (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2013)
Irit Rogoff, "Studying Visual Culture" In: The Visual Culture Reader, ed. Nicholas Mirzoeff (London: Routledge, 2002)

Objects often have a fragmentary nature. In many cases they are torn from their past and their context and are transformed into figures that assign them with identities and promise of knowledge. Archaeology is driven by the desire of understanding the past through recovering its fragments. It resurfaces in contemporary art practices a trope and an open model. In a program essay describing the cenrtal aspects of the field of visual culture Irit Rogoff argues that it is constituted by: images that are produced and claimed within different and "often contested histories"; "viewing apparatuses we have at our disposal that are guided by cultural models such as narratives or technology"; and "the subjectivites of identification of desire or abjection from which we view." Bill Brown proposes the term anarchéologie (coining the term in French) as naming "an archaeology without end: the perpetual act of re-excavating and re-sorting and re-contextualizing."

I propose to think of anarcheologies as capturing an important moment within a variety of art practices that engages not with the object as such, or with its dematerialization, but with the multiple meaningfulness of infrastructures that hold objects. Archives, collections, catalogues, maps, technical gestures and scientific vocabularies, capture a variety of artifacts, images and territories. The transformation of their infrastructures into visual objects not only opens a possibility of unfixing historical objects with regards to their assigned identities, in other words with regards to narratives of origins, but more importantly of the anarchic aspect of apparatuses.

Seminar 3 November, 2014, 14:00 - 18:00


Hito Steyerl, "In Defence of the Poor Image" In: The Wretched of the Screen, (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2012)

Italo Calvino, "Collection of Sand" In: Collection of Sand. Essays. Trans. Martin McLaughlin (London: Penguin, 2013)

Raul Ruiz, "Images of Images" In: Poetics of Cinema, Trans. Brian Holmes (Paris: Disvoir, 2005)

The seminar will open with three essays hovering between the theoretical reflection and the register of poetic thinking. They are open fragments on question of the multiple identities of images, their contagious quality, and inherent plasticity. The poor image is a recalcitrant "copy in motion" and "itinerant image" in a digital context (Steyerl). But is it not the case that any "original image generates other images, which are at once fragment of, a reflection of, and an improvement of the original image," and also "a sort of cancer, complete with proliferation and inflammation" (Ruiz)? Collections of various kinds simultaneously carry the desire to capture and organize, to mirror the world, and the desire to put heterogeneous things together, to generate a world, to endlessly expand and spill over their own organization.