Abstraction, evacuation of resistance and sensualisation of emptiness (2006)

by Marina Gržinić

Art institutions and art projects of today, produced in the capitalist First World, function on the basis of unbearable abstraction. This means that an enormous quantity of creativity is being released; however, it remains cut off from that which is most important, namely, resistance. In other words, artistic strategies and tactics that generate different forms of resistance have been evacuated. Artistic forms entail a lot of innovation and creation – but where are the forms of resistance? How do we engender resistance that opens up the possibilities of change?

It is my argument that the experience of this void in the First World is different from the one in the Second or the Third World, for almost nothing that has been produced in the Second or the Third World is reflected consistently in the First World of capitalism, let alone included in the genealogy of the latter. His[s]tory is being written for the First World of capitalism, things are being capitalized for the First World, and whatever resists this process is left out of this (his)story. What is more important though is whether we are going to articulate a new space, a space of our own.

Every history is a struggle. Have we formed another space? Who or what then is the driving force that rearticulates the social and the political space in a given context and adopts art as its mode of expression and fight, which, at the end of the day, is the gist of radical art and radical cultural practices? Giorgio Agamben observes that every living being assumes a certain form, which means that if you do not have a form of life you do not have a life either. The issue at stake is the question of what kind of form is still capable of rendering things visible and politically revolutionary. Perhaps it is the images, the method of work or the process; perhaps it is speech, the so-called performative politics. This is why we talk about processuality, about production of knowledge, or about theory, which is not written but rather spoken in a public space.

It is perfectly clear that in the present day we are dealing with more than just a gesture of exchange and production; we are dealing with a delineation of political lines within a certain space, with a codification of this space and with the establishment of power relations. Once that line is crossed, once things become contaminated, the radical and political ideas from those coming from the Second and Third World(s) are put apart, projects and people are removed or sucked into the system of friendships and obscure collaborations.

The second key moment is the economic moment, the art market, which today, more than ever before, exerts an influence on what acquires visibility and what is included in other interpretations. Some projects question art as a repressive institution and search for answers to questions about how this institution is codified, how it is perceived, how it is structured and who holds sway over it. The third key aspect I would like to point out is in the relations of ownership as exhibitions and projects belong to someone; they have specific owners, economic (multinational) as well as symbolic. Fathers do exist, and I am talking not only about patriarchy but also about the so-called institution of masculinity; the latter is disseminated by various individuals and institutions or groups that present themselves as the owners of contemporary art, cultural and political terminology. When we touch upon such relations and the institutions of power that govern a specific space, all relations of lightness come to an end.

Donna Haraway stated it is perfectly clear who the players are, who has a voice and who is relevant to every area. There are only a few chosen ones; everyone else is excluded from this story. In these relations, the patriarchal institution of masculinity and power is still central. This is when things become complicated, for what is at stake is not only the construction of a system but also the fact that, by constructing a proper system, we point out the weak spots of the other system, the one that is supposedly ideal. Accordingly, things deteriorate: the other party feels threatened.

Capitalism is a cannibal and in order to be able to “devour” everything and everyone it is ready to transform itself into an inventive or even social [capital], if the need be such. The matrix it relies on is not a utilitarian but a cannibalistic one. The capitalist engine has an inherent need to possess new forms of production and expressions of creativity because the capitalist logic survives by continually producing a surplus value of goods, including works of art.

Suely Rolnik, a psychoanalyst and professor at the Catholic University of São Paulo and head of the Centre for Research on Subjectivity, identifies similar implications. In her essay “The Twilight of the Victim: Creation Quits Its Pimp, to Rejoin Resistance”2 she exposes the purpose behind the need for the continual production of new forms of art and life, which is to ensure a subjective consistency for structures such as theory, criticism and official institutions, while in the same breath other artistic and cultural production may be swept off the stage of the “world,” along with all other deactivated sectors of the economy. Or, in other words, that which is happily shared by today’s art, criticism and official institutions is creativity, but this is creativity without resistance. For modern capitalism, this wellspring of “free” invention power and inexhaustible artistic creativity is a virgin resource, an untapped vein of values that should be exploited. Rolnik describes this process of the fresh blood supply for the capitalist (cannibalistic and blood-sucking) system – which coincides with the deactivation of entire sectors not trendy enough and too demanding artistic, cultural and social strategies – using the expression “kidnapped inventions,” whereby the task of the kidnappers is accomplished by various systems, theories, criticism, institutions and practices.3

Yet here we are not referring merely to the necessity of re-establishing a link between art and life that characterizes modernity, since, as Rolnik says, if life and art are still divided the reason is the deactivation of creation within the broader sweep of social life and its confinement to the artistic ghetto. This situation has already been resolved by capitalism and incomparably more effectively than by art.4 To remain in the artistic ghetto as a separate sphere (so-called “autonomy of art”), which in the previous system served to imprison the power of creation, means to keep art separate from the power of resistance and restrict it to being the source of (surplus) value representing an easy means of survival for the pimp – the capital (machine).

Contamination of creativeness and politics

We no longer work, but create. This is the process of subjectivisation through production in the time of post-Fordist global capitalism. This process transcends dualism and focuses on the shaping of subjectivity, but not through work – rather it employs creation as an activity that re-defines work and literally hides abstract exploitation. Because of this, the explanation of immaterial labour is of key importance for the explanation of the process of subjectivisation in our contemporaneity. Understanding these processes necessitates the re-connection of creation and the power of resistance, and the freeing of both from the grip of the pimp, i.e. the capitalist system. As Suely Rolnik explains in her essay “…[w]e need to place ourselves in an area where politics and art are intertwined, where the resistant force of politics and the creative forces of art mutually affect each other, blurring the frontiers between them.”5 This is an attempt to place us in a thoroughly contaminated area, “first on the side of politics contaminated by its proximity to art, then on the side of art contaminated by its proximity to politics.”6

Rolnik further observes that “[a]t present, certain artistic practices seem to be particularly effective in dealing with these problems [relating to the dissociation of creation from resistance]. Their strategy consists of precise and subtle insertions at certain points where the social structure is unravelling, where tension is pulsating due to the pressure of a new composition of forces seeking passage. It is a mode of insertion mobilized by the desire to expose oneself to the other and to run the risk of such an exposure, instead of opting for the guarantee of a politically correct position that confines the other to a representation and protects subjectivity from any affective contagion. The ‘work’ consists in bringing the forces and the tension they provoke into existence, which entails the connection of the power of creation to a piece of the world grasped as energy-matter by the resonant body of the artist; and it consists at the same time in activating the power of resistance.”7

I would like to emphasize that we have to think in a much broader sense about the pimp, capital, and take into account its linkages with the art market, art institutions, theory, criticism, tourism and educational institutions, from art academies to universities. What is, in fact, happening today in contemporary art is the formation of a specific set of technologies for de- and/or re-territorializing capital, which puts into process the rearticulating of hierarchised structures that include people as a component and which exclude art and cultural practices in accord with institutional models.

The new vocabulary proposed by Rolnik – which in addition to “kidnapped invention” includes such terms as “contamination of art and politics,” “contagious art practices,” “radicalised theory” – has rarely been used previously in the field of art and culture. But if we consider certain events in the art, cultural and social-political arenas of Slovenia, on the local level, and more broadly in relation to Documenta and the various biennials, Manifestas and big Balkan shows, we can see the importance of using such paradigms to name in precise terms the processes of expropriation and exhaustion, abstraction and evacuation that are taking place in contemporary art and culture.

What Rolnik calls “kidnapped inventions” is exactly what happened to the underground or “Ljubljana alternative movement” that developed in the 1980s in Slovenia. This movement was literally kidnapped, taken hostage, and released when it was already symbolically dead, abstracted from interpretations and segregated by academic writings and theoretical non-writings, at the beginning of the 1990s and continuing until today. Throughout the 1980s, the whole underground, or alternative culture in Ljubljana, was kept under harsh political and economic censorship, a hostage of the communist political party in power which was cut off from any kind of civil-society space. Although this same underground was of crucial importance in the formation of the civil society towards the end of the 1980s in Slovenia, which supported the emergence of numerous heavily marginalized sexual, political and cultural minorities, it has not yet received a single serious theoretical or critical review by the official theoretical and political structures in Slovenia.

Which is that form of struggle that can make things visible and politically revolutionary? It is not sufficient to restrict the consideration of art to creativity only.

The 1980s saw the emergence of political art in Slovenia – political not by virtue of its content but owing to the emergence of the political subject within the field of contemporary art that was precisely the underground or the alternative movement. This spelled a great difference compared to the 1970s or earlier periods, when formal art dominated culture in Slovenia. The 1980s underground production cut through and fought the emptied tradition of formalism that prevailed throughout the 1970s and therefore encountered vast resistance and obstacles also regarding its reinterpretation. Insisting on such genealogy means disrupting the abstract struggle for the old form of expression and counteracts it by introducing a rearticulation of art, culture and social productions completely excluded from History. This denotes an act of cutting into specific space, an act that compels this space that has been living happily its own “abstract” story to re-establish itself. As Alain Badiou would say, this is indeed an “event.”

What is more, the alternative practices in Slovenia were not merely evacuated and abstracted, they were literally “kidnapped” – excluded and completely marginalized – at least twice and in very blatant ways. The first time was in 1997, when the city of Ljubljana was declared the “Cultural Capital of Europe” – precisely because of its reputation in the 1980s and early 1990s for its non-institutional strategies that were, for the most part, conceptualised, produced and organized within the alternative and, later, independent spaces. The event Ljubljana – “Cultural Capital of Europe” (for one month) proved to be a disaster for the independent scene, which was left without any infrastructural investments or a substantial program.

The second “kidnapping” took place in 2000, when Manifesta 3 was held in Ljubljana. Although proclaimed as a pure act of transnational and global artistic vision, Manifesta 3 was, in fact, commissioned by the Slovene state, government and the Ministry of Culture, along with the main managerial artistic and culture institutions in Ljubljana, and not the other way around. Manifesta 3, with its outside reinforcements, legitimised on an international scale the power of the major national institutions of art and culture in Ljubljana (led by Cankarjev dom, Cultural and Artistic Center in Ljubljana). Once more, the leading independent (!) institutions, such as ŠKUC Gallery, Metelkova, and Kapelica Gallery, which had been crucial in constructing the paradigm of contemporary political and radical art and culture and new media productions in Slovenia, were not included in the Manifesta 3 project. Manifesta offered a perfect camouflage for the codification and acceptance of fake and abstract internationalism in the so-called Slovenian national realm.

Rolnik cites the example of Bilbao with its Guggenheim museum building to illustrate the operation of evacuating resistance from creativity, which transforms the object of art into a pure trademark. For Slovenes, this is precisely what occurred in 1997 and 2000 in Ljubljana. “At issue here is an operation of great complexity that can intervene at different stages in the process of creation, and not only at the end. Its effect at that point is just more obvious, because it coincides with the moment when the dissociation makes itself felt on art’s products, reifying them in two ways: either transforming them into ‘art objects’ separated from the vital process whereby the creation was carried out, or treating them as sources of a surplus glamour-value, attached to the logos of businesses and even of cities, like Bilbao, for instance.”8

The case of Metelkova represents an intermediary point in this genealogy of dissociation of creativity from resistance. The situation may be summarized as follows. Metelkova is the name of a street in Ljubljana on which the barracks of the Yugoslav People’s Army had been located. After Slovenia’s Ten-Day War for independence, in June-July 1991, the Yugoslav army withdrew from Slovenia. The new generation of underground hard-core punk activists, independent artists and activist groups asked the City Council of Ljubljana in 1991 to give this former military complex of empty buildings to independent artistic and cultural organizations. After promising to do this, the Ljubljana City Council secretly began the demolition of the Metelkova buildings with the aim of constructing a commercial centre on the site. Activists, intellectuals and artists then occupied the area as a squat in 1993, and to this day it remains a site of conflict between the independent art and cultural scene and the Ljubljana City Council. In 1993, municipal authorities cut off the water and electricity supply to Metelkova in an attempt to put a stop to the cultural activities and force the activists, intellectuals and artists to leave the squat. By depriving the activists and artists of basic services, the city essentially took Metelkova hostage. The city of Ljubljana then “kidnapped” the Metelkova invention of organizing the area as a central cultural and artistic space in Ljubljana for the new millennium. In fact, the city is now financially supporting the development of the Metelkova site by constructing a complex of museums there.

It is necessary to rethink Metelkova within the context of a biopolitics through which the state produces and administers the life of its citizens. Giorgio Agamben argues that global states today play with and against two entities of life: modal life and bare (non-modal, naked) life. Modal life exists in Western democratic states in the form of life-which-chooses, life with style, and consumer life. Bare life is, on the other hand, life that serves only as the foundation of sovereignty. According to Agamben, the foundation of sovereignty is, then, based on a concept of bare life; the sovereign body fulfils its role of being sovereign based on its right to take or give/permit life (rights or style) to citizens.9 This is what happened with Metelkova when, in the 1990s, the city of Ljubljana cut off the electricity and water supply. The kidnapped Metelkova citizens were transformed through this clear biopolitical action into denizens, or ‘denied citizens,’ to borrow a term from Tomas Hammar.10

Sefik Seki Tatlic, a theoretician and media activist from Sarajevo, helps us to develop this even further: “(…) what displays sovereignty is a model where bare-life is not destroyed, but converted, exposed as a cultural practice of life-with-modality in cases where Western pop and heavy metal music allegedly have been used to torture prisoners and may serve as a banal example or a display of the power of sovereignty where cultural practice is displayed as a weapon by exposing differentiation.”11

In the process of global capitalist production, bare life is a primary source of labour force. Our subjection to the capitalist machine takes place through uncertainty, marginality, and permanent fear for one’s life circumstances and through the absence of a firm employment option, i.e. through precariousness. The uncertainty of life is connected with the uncertainty of work, and this is a topic that is central not only for modern biopolitics but modern radical artistic practices as well.

Performative politics of formalized values

We live in a realm of production of ideas, images and communication, connections and emotional relationships. These processes do not provide the meaning of life, but life itself. An example of performative politics is provided by everyday advertisements that continually instruct us about our intimate lives and fears. In such a situation, it is a commodity that speaks, and as Antonio Conti says, it does not talk about its content but about our lives, needs and social relations.12 Commodities talk about the form of our lives, and about how we should think, where we should travel, and about what we should buy regularly if we want to live well. Obsession with communication, talk and language is obvious today, since all three are subjected to information and communications technologies, and the time has come, as Conti argues, to re-conquer their potential. This re-conquest is, for example, the “counter-cultural” production of information relying on the theory and practice of an open code and on the principle of “creative commons.”

This is also an act of dematerialization of the art object; it is a process of destabilization of meaning through action rather than through the production of objects. It is also an act of destabilizing perception and meaning through naming. Speech serves not only to convey commands and instruction for labour operations, but allows denoting processes as well. As Paolo Virno argues, language is not just an artefact of real life that conveys our relationship with nature, but it is also part of our biological matrix co-substantial and specific to human nature.13 The tongue is a biological organ in an intermediary place between thinking and political action. Or, as Franco Berardi Bifo maintains, any resistance or disobedience in the communication process is a process of marking and producing various denotations.14 Communication also lies at the root of the production process in which it plays a crucial role. The work process today relies on words, transmitting through language and speech labour commands and instructions that are, as Antonio Negro argues, something completely different from the “Habermasian reconciliation with communication.”15

Virno noted that in the present day the boundaries separating intellectual activity, political action and work are blurred. The post-Fordist type of (precarious) labour itself absorbed much of that which is understood as political action. And this fusion of politics and work represents a new physiognomy of the modern crowd.16 Instead of radical politics, an abstract formalization of labour processes and art activities is what is at work. It is possible within such a context to state that the political, due to processes of performativity (that engage only and solely in describing the logic of the speech act, being evacuated from any content), leads to an abstract formalization of art and cultural activities. What is taking part is a transition from the politics of memory to the memory of that which used to be a political act.

Using “paradigmatic forms of the human,” Agamben establishes the genealogy of the human represented as an arrangement of animal-like figures escalating and ending in headless and thoughtless snobbish figures. These are not just metaphorical but political figures of human development within the capitalist First World’s genealogy administered by the capitalist anthropological machine that is clearly moving in the direction of an increasing emptying, abstraction and formalization of what is to be perceived as the human. In his book The Open. Man and Animal (2002), Agamben writes about such an increasing abstracted formalization within the genealogy of the human, depicting in such a way the development of the human toward a mere form or a snobbish gesture without content.

How do these relationships appear on the level of art and culture? There is an almost axiomatic work of art – a sentence uttered by Mladen Stilinovic from Zagreb who in 1997 accurately defined the initial multiculturalism as an ideological matrix of global capitalism: An artist who cannot speak English is no artist! This sentence, a work of art of the 1990s, synthesizes capital’s “social sensitivity” to all those multicultural identities that should reveal themselves in the 1990s to the world (to be read: of global capitalism) and begin to talk in that world – in English, no matter how broken this English be. However, today’s performative logic, which is in perfect harmony with the abstraction and evacuation of global capitalism and which is working toward an emptying of any content, requires the correction of this sentence: An artist who cannot speak English well is no artist! This is the grand performative and snobbish lecture of 2000 within the first capitalist world that we still have (although never good enough) to master! As a result of these processes of evacuation, the alternative scene was literally swallowed up and exhausted by the over-institutionalised (official) culture in Slovenia, while theory was usurped and commercialised by the capitalist system (a pimp indeed, as Rolnik puts it), becoming part of the theory industry.

If we consider the construction of the youth hostel Celica (“the prison cell”) in 2003 in Metelkova – whereby the former Yugoslav army barracks prison was renovated, with financial support from the city of Ljubljana, into a shiny youth-hostel theme park, painted in hues of red, yellow and orange – we see just such a turnover. This can be understood as the city re-establishing subtle control over partially autonomous spaces without the open use of force and in a way that is directly related to the systematic gentrification politics of contemporary cities and states.17

Rolnik theorises such processes in precise terms:

In order to extract maximum profitability from this inventive power, capitalism pushes it even further than it would go by means of its own internal logic, but only to make an ever more perverse use of it: like a pimp, it exploits the force of invention at the service of an accumulation of surplus value, taking advantage of it and thus reiterating its alienation with respect to the life process that engendered it – an alienation that separates it from the force of resistance. On the one hand, you have a turbo-charged inventive power freed of its relation to resistance, and on the other, a tension. Easy-to-assimilate ‘ready-to-wear identities’ are accompanied by a powerful marketing operation concocted and distributed by the media, so as to make us believe that identifying with these idiotic images and consuming them is the only way to succeed in reconfiguring a territory, and even more, that this is the only channel by which one can belong to the sought-after territory of a ‘luxury subjectivity.’ And this is no trivial matter, for outside such a territory one runs the risk of social death, by exclusion, humiliation, destitution, or even the risk of literally dying – the risk of falling into the sewer of ‘trash subjectivities,’ with their horror scenarios made up of war, slums, drug trafficking, kidnapping, hospital queues, undernourished children, the homeless, the landless, the shirtless, the paperless, those people who can only be less, an ever-expanding territory. If trash subjectivity continuously experiences the distressing humiliation of an existence without value, luxury subjectivity for its part continuously experiences the threat of falling outside, into sewer-territory, a fall which may be irreversible. The prospect terrifies it and leaves it agitated and anxious, desperately seeking recognition.18

Are not the stories we receive daily through the mass media evidence enough of the deepening gap between these two subjectivities? In Slovenia, for example, we witness the horrors of life and sheer chaos endured by the Roma people, as well as by others such as the “erased.”19 Abroad, in the world at large, we see the horrors of wars supposedly intended to preserve civilisation, as well as such atrocities as decapitations, and many other kinds of misery.

Such expressions of dominance over bare (naked) lives allow the political oligarchy in transitional societies to constitute itself as sovereign, to demonstrate the practice of sovereignty to the nation. As Tatlic explains:

Post-socialist and former Eastern European societies perceive global capitalism not through future inequalities, class divisions, but with a willingness to prepare their states/economies to adopt global capitalism. European Union demands from transitional societies are seen as an implementation of several extremes, such as, for example, the implementation of an information society, but with the false predisposition that it is a mere technological structure, followed by extreme economic imbalances, extreme class divisions, fascistic nationalistic regimes decoded as mere figures in endless political games, with the following unequal distribution of knowledge to certain local social structures which conduct the whole process.20

The biopolitical in Slovenia decodes itself in a way that, as Tatlic stated, “It firstly patches its own linear progress toward modal civilizations by accepting a ‘non-repressive’ democracy, but only as a countermeasure to the former, ‘repressive,’ communism. Functioning as a fictional platform, which if read through post-modernist practices, works as a collective phantasm: the West should accept us, because we were oppressed by communism.”21

The process is completed, first, by taking advantage of the deepening gap and, then, by strengthening different political positions and developing fake solutions, which are ultimately processed through the mass media.

Sensualisation of abstraction

The abstraction processes (the processes of evacuation, performative formalization etc.) pointed out earlier in the text have gained currency in the very heart of representation politics. They can be defined as the disintegration of oppositions within the image, for example, representation of politics that erases differences between the subjective and the objective, or between the national, nationalistic and the space of resistance; disintegration taking place at the very centre of the “space” of the image. This is one of the results as well of the current new media technology processing techniques onto the visual system of images.

Jonathan L. Beller22 in his attempt to formulate a political economy of vision also explores the processes of abstraction. He connects the growing abstraction of the medium of money in capitalism and the evolution of image production in post-modern times. Therefore, we can link the abstraction of money in capitalism with abstraction procedures in the fields of contemporary art, culture and theory. This comparison between the money economy on the one hand and the visual “economy” on the other brings out the alienating effects of image making in a techno-capitalist society. According to Jonathan L. Beller, I can say that we are today confronted not so much with the abstraction of our senses (this being a typically modern phenomenon), but with the absolute sensualisation of abstraction, i.e. of the contemporary emptiness of the neo-liberal individual within global capitalism.

This is a new turn in the genealogy of capitalist abstraction that cannot be treated in an old way, as a matter of alienation of our senses (Adorno).23 The current state is just the opposite: it is characterized by the full sensualisation of the capitalist processes of abstraction; it is characterized by the full sensualisation of emptiness and of totally formalized values that are becoming completely empty of all content in the “historical” sense (Agamben). A good illustration is two art movies that are not ordinary Hollywood blockbusters. One is Lost in Translation (2003), by Sofia Coppola, and the other Broken Flowers (2005), by Jim Jarmusch. In both films, the image of white capitalist emptiness, hollowness and a disinterest in any kind of engagement, politics or action reaches a maximum. The white kind (portrayed through Bill Murray, the main actor in both films) is engaged only in elevating its own hollowness to a dimension of sensuous delight, that the Second and Third World will never be “capable” of reaching. In this process we can again observe Agamben’s genealogy of the human from animal to snob.

Out of Being

At present, I can state that there is an anthropological machine operating at the base of globalisation and it is developing a secret connection between man and animal. The idea is to make them both more human; humanisation is the basis of this connection. This idea of humanity is the idea of Being and its inclusion in civilisation. But who decides what is human and at what point non-humans should take part in the process of humanisation? It’s the capitalist machine, of course!

In his 2002 book The Open: Man and Animal, Giorgio Agamben in fact warns us that it may be time to insist on the dissolution, or better yet, the separation, of the connection between man and animal This animal can also be seen as the body of the modern slave. Rather than imagining the slave in the Roman Empire, one can, in the present context, think about the body of the immigrant or the refugee, paperless and poor, as well as the rest of the proletarian population. Agamben proposes a break with this constant hybridisation. To be left out of the anthropological machine, not to be saved – this is our only possible salvation. Not to be part of the process of capitalist humanisation, to be left out of Being, is perhaps the only possible way to have a decent existence. .

‘Outside of Being’ is, in fact, the title of the last chapter of Agamben’s book. Let me now briefly, but at a deep level, try to establish a possible genealogy behind the ‘Outside of Being’ that Agamben proposes. I will put forward the following thesis. In the history of modern philosophy, three books, or positions of thought, have marked the way we understand Being (Sein), which Derrida defines as ‘we and our life’. These books are Heidegger’s Being and Time (1927), Sartre’s Being and Nothingness (1943) and Alain Badiou’s Being and the Event (1988). To this list, I would add Agamben’s ‘Outside of Being’ chapter from The Open (2002).

Heidegger’s Being and Time is about the (Western) temporisation of History. Sartre’s Being is about nothingness in relation to the Holocaust, although I would agree with Derrida that Sartre’s ‘nothingness’ is only a modality of being – something as nothing.

Alain Badiou made a break in the line of Being by means of ‘the event’. In 1998, Françoise Proust defined Badiou’s event as a break with the house of Western philosophy, which resembles the capitalist anthropological machine in theory and philosophy. Badiou is well aware that the house of Western philosophy resembles the anthropological machine that is today compelled to engage in what is merely empty panic- stricken rotation, producing the total evacuation of histories and practices that are outside of the first capitalist world. Proust describes this house of philosophy as Western metaphysics, which has been transformed into an airless house that stifles our breathing. Badiou’s event is, according to Proust, the gesture of opening a window, or more precisely, windows, so as to breathe again. But isn’t this merely an attempt to bring fresh air into what remains the same, unchanged, old house of Western metaphysics?

In this trajectory we can identify other paths, or modifications, through history in relation to Being. We might consider the Deleuzian never-ending of Being, as Being in the process of Becoming. Derrida introduced the notion of différance. It claims difference by means of a single character (a instead of e). Within this context, Badiou made a far more radical gesture. He at least tried to start to think about Being from the beginning. Badiou’s event should be perceived as something similar to the gesture of the professor who, after listening to us and making corrections, tells us, ‘Once more from the beginning, please.’ But the text, the house, and the single (solely Western) history remain the same!

I would argue that such moves lead to a modification in the Western institution of metaphysics, or in the great philosophical and civilisational edifice, but in the final instance, the edifice remains unchanged. Agamben is the one, then, who provides us with the most radical gesture. Agamben’s ‘Outside of Being’ is not the simple gesture of opening windows within the old anthropological house . What he tells us is that in order to be saved we have to leave the house entirely! To get Outside of Being! To go Outside of Being may itself be perceived as Badiou’s radical event, one that was, indeed, invoked by the philosopher himself.

It is important to understand that this Outside of Being is not a gesture of foreclosure, of being suddenly dragged into a queer space without time, or outside of time. It does not mean finding ourselves in some weird suspension of time. To go Outside of Being means to open ourselves to another temporality. Or to be even more precise, to begin the projection of a completely different film, and not to spend time, as Badiou’s suggests , on redefining a single sequence, even if it is the opening sequence.

To go Outside of Being is to be open not towards the space of Otherness, but toward the Other, the Second, the Third Space.

A good example of this is Irwin’s project East Art Map (2002). In this , a history of avant-garde art from the former Eastern Europe is re-constructed through hundreds of images and references. Taking its cue from Alfred H. Barr’s seminal diagram illustrating the development of Western abstract art, Irwin’s East Art Map is a retrospective (re)construction and mapping of Eastern European Art (1920-2001). It also implies placing a radical hold on the process of historicisation that is taking place too quickly (equal to the process of forgetting) of different spaces, places and territories in the world. The East Art Map makes visible what was for decades beyond the gaze of Western (first capitalist world) history. The East Art Map is important, as it offers a way of perceiving the (new) avant-garde movement not simply as the space of (disturbing) Otherness, but as the Other space. With this project we can perhaps think about Aesthetics in a new productive form, namely, Easthetics.

To offer a kind of a coded order, then, we can read the story of Being and of the mad anthropological machine of humanisation run by capitalism in the following way:

  • Badiou: beginning (with his event, he wants to re-question once again the beginning of the edifice of Being and asks us to start from the beginning),
  • Deleuze: becoming (he insists on the never-ending becoming of Being),
  • Derrida: différance (he establishes A difference of Being), and
  • Agamben: outside of Being.

Agamben is aware that the anthropological machine of Being rotates today uniquely and solely as a mad machine that nobody can correct or improve (despite efforts at rethinking it from the beginning or in its never-ending becoming and/or difference), which is why he suggests an end to it – outside of being.


  1. (title)The following essay was partly published in DEMOKINO- Virtual Biopolitical Agora, edited by Ivana Ivkovic and Davide Grassi, Maska and Aksioma, Ljubljana, 2006. Cf. as well Marina Grzinic, “On the Repoliticisation of Art through Contamination, “ in: IRWIN (ed.) East Art Map: Contemporary Art and Eastern Europe, Afterall Book, London (forthcoming).
  2. Suely Rolnik, “The Twilight of the Victim: Creation Quits Its Pimp, to Rejoin Resistance,” Zehar, No. 51, 2003, p. 36.^
  3. Ibid, p. 35.^
  4. Ibid.^
  5. Ibid. p. 36.^
  6. Ibid.^
  7. Ibid.^
  8. Ibid.^
  9. See Giorgio Agamben, The Open: Man and Animal (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2004), originally published in Italian as Aperto. L’uomo e l’animale (Turin: Bollati Boringhieri, 2002).^
  10. Cf Tomas Hammar, Democracy and the Nation State, Research and Ethnic Relations Series, (Aldershot, England: Dartmouth, 1990), quoted in Sefik Seki Tatlic, “Post-Modal Reproduction of Power,” in: Marina Grzinic (ed.), Art-e-Fact: Strategies of Resistance, No. 3, 2004, published on line artefact.mi2.hr^
  11. Cf. Sefik Seki Tatlic, “Post-Modal Reproduction of Power,” in: Marina Grzinic (ed.), Art-e-Fact: Strategies of Resistance, No. 3, 2004, artefact.mi2.hr^
  12. Cf. Antonio Conti, “Politiche del linguaggio,” in: Insorgenze della communicazione, Posse, Manifestolibri, Rome, January 2005.^
  13. Cf. Paolo Virno, “Un movimento performativo,” in: Insorgenze della communicazione, Posse, Manifestolibri, Rome, January 2005.^
  14. Cf. Franco Berardi Bifo, “Interferenze media-attive,” in: Insorgenze della communicazione, Posse, Manifestolibri, Rim, January 2005.^
  15. Cf. Toni Negri, “Communicazione ed esercizio del comune,” in: Insorgenze della communicazione, Posse, Manifestolibri, Rome, January 2005.^
  16. Cf. Paolo Virno, Grammatica dela moltitudine. Per una analisi delle forme di vita contemporanea, Deriveapprodi, Rome, 2002, p. 41-42.^
  17. Cf. Ralo Mayer, Katharina Lampert and Moira Hille, “Example Celica, YOUTH HOSTEL, Metelkova, Ljubljana,” in: Marina Grzinic (ed.), The Future of Computers Arts, Maska and MKC, Ljubljana, Maribor, 2004.^
  18. Suely Rolnik, op. cit., p. 35.^
  19. Erased residents or izbrisani are a serious political issue in contemporary Slovenian history and politcs. Jim Fussell reports on line, on February 26, 2004, the following accurate description of the case: »On February 26, 1992, the newly independent state of Slovenia deleted the names of some 30,000 residents from the nation’s civil registries. The targeted population, which came to be known as izbrisani (erased residents) were not of Slovenian ancestry, but were so-called ‘new minorities’ including ethnic Serbs, ethnic Croats and ethnic Bosnian Muslims, ethnic Albanian Kosovars and ethnic Roma which the government sought to force out of the country. Twelve years later the Slovenian Government has still not yet acted to fully redress this massive violation of human rights. Critics of this radical action by the Slovenian government have sometimes characterized the mass erasure as soft genocide or administrative genocide. A more appropriate term is probably ‘administrative ethnic cleansing’ or ‘civil death.’ In the case of Slovenia, the izbrisani were targeted for elimination solely on account of the non-Slovene groups into which they were born. The policy must especially be condemned because it was a partially successful policy, causing over one-third (12,000 out of 30,000) of the targeted population to leave Slovenia. When officials asked an izbrisani for his old Yugoslav passport the top right corner would be cut off, making the document useless and marking the bearer for further discrimination. The izbrisani (erased residents) were not forced out at gunpoint and their homes were not burned down as in Bosnia, nevertheless they lost their jobs, medical benefits and sometimes were deported for minor offences. Ultranationalist politicians characterized the izbrisani as war criminals, swindlers and undesirables.« www.preventgenocide.org/europe/slovenia/^
  20. Sefik Seki Tatlic, op. cit.^
  21. Ibid.^
  22. Jonathan L. Beller, “Numismatics of the Sensual, Calculus of the Image: The Pyrotechnics of Control,” Image [&] Narrative, web magazine on visual narration, No. 6, February 2003, www.imageandnarrative.be/mediumtheory/jonathanlbeller.htm; this author is mentioned by Tom Holert, see next note.^
  23. Cf. Tom Holert, “Mass-Media Acts: On Visual Programming of the Political Space: Photo-Op-Effects,” four texts published in Camera Austria, Graz, No. 88-91, 2004-2005.^


  • Dr. Marina Grzinic *1958, philosopher, artist and theoretician Marina Grzinic lives in Ljubljana, Slovenia and works in Ljubljana and Vienna. Grzinic is researcher at the Institute of Philosophy at the ZRC SAZU (Scientific and Research Center of the Slovenian Academy of Science and Art) in Ljubljana. She is Professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. She also works as freelance media theorist, art critic and curator.
    She got the postdoctoral research fellowship from the Japan Agency for Promotion of Science in 1997 and spent a year in Tokyo at the Tokyo University for Technology and Photography (Kougedai).
    Marina Grzinic has been involved with video art since 1982. In collaboration with Aina Smid, Grzinic produced more than 40 video art projects, a short film, numerous video and media installations, several websites and an interactive CD-ROM (ZKM, Karlsruhe, Germany).
    Grzinic was the co-director of the project Symposium and University Network Mind the Map! History is not given (2005), conceived by IRWIN, Ljubljana and realized within the framework of relations, Berlin in co-production with the University of Leipzig, Department for Theater Studies.
    Grzinic most recent books are (2005-2004):
    Marina Grzinic, Aesthetics of Cyberspace and the Effects of De-realisation, Multimedijalni institut mi2 – MaMa Zagreb, Croatia and Kosnica – centar za komunikaciju i kulturu, Sarajevo, Bih, 2005.
    MarinaGrzinic, Avant-garde and Politics: The Eastern European Paradigm and the War in the Balkans, Beogradski krug, Belgrade, Serbia and Monte Negro, 2005.
    Marina Grzinic, Une fiction reconstruite. Europe de l’Est, post-socialisme et rétro-avant-garde [Fiction Reconstructed. Eastern Europe, Postsocialism and Retro-avantgarde], L’Harmattan, Paris, 2005.
    Marina Grzinic, Situated Contemporary Art Practices, Art, Theory and Activism from (the East of) Europe, ZRC SAZU, Ljubljana and Revolver, Frankfurt am Main, 2004.
Posted in articles

Bilokacija (Bilocation) (1990)

Post-socialism + Retroavant garde + Irwin, video, 1997

Deklica z oranžo (The Girl With Orange) (1987)

Moscow Portraits (1990)

Cindy Sherman or Hysteria Production Presents a Reconstruction of Sherman’s Photographs (1984)

Trenutki odločitve (Moments of Decision) (1985)

Labirint (Labyrinth) (1993)