Lothringer 13 Studio,Lothringer Str. 13, 81667 München
Last night I tried to think of the first animal I can remember. My grandmother’s black, shaggy dog perhaps? Or earlier, as my mother would say, the jellyfish that stung me on my wrist. I was only two then. Or earlier still I remember the fish on the beach I would make out of the warm sand. But maybe I am thinking about this wrong, maybe it is not about the actual animals I might or might not remember, but rather that all memories belong to the animal kingdom. Maybe memories are like animals.
First of all, there are the individual memories of different things that happened to us, personal memories like family pets, domesticated. Zuza Piekoszewska shows a small landscape of fields in the early morning mist as described to her by her parents. Elsewhere she remakes a kind of very specific dish cloth her mother used in mid-90s Poland, pastel, striped, homely. Julia Klemm’s lions do not prowl but play around the rubble like kittens. The lions though are a different type of memory. They belong not just to us, but to our culture, much like in the taxonomist’s biological classification, a species belongs to a genus. These animals are ordered along evolutionary lines, significant events of our shared past marking out a historical trajectory. These lions that Julia Klemm gathers, derives from 3D scans of bronze and stone lions dotted around European capitals, traditional symbols of strength, courage and nobility in our Judeo-Christian tradition.
Finally there are the memories of the pack, memories like the swarm of cicadas that emerge all together and so suddenly, after 17 years of underground sleep. History has no place for such memories; this kind of animal is missing from the taxonomist’s classification systems. It is less about individuals, identification and contextualisation and more about how to think the animal as already a population. Memories are never single – there is never the one lion. An animal before it is this or that animal, my animal, yours and ours, is an animal like another, but also different. I mean lions as the same but also as mutants, the repetition of genetic material always harbouring mutation. These memories of the pack are always unknowingly carried with us. I am a product of memories I do not even remember; we are a multiplicity of memories that history cannot contain. The most interesting things happen in between the lines, in shared proximities where the discernibility of points disappears. As Deleuze and Guattari write,
The line-system … of becoming is opposed to the point-system of memory. Becoming is the movement by which the line frees itself from the point, and renders points indiscernible…(Thousand Plateaus, 294)
Here becoming is an anti-memory. To really learn how to remember animals, we must first forget.
This is the first of a series of ‘air’ exhibitions, based on a visit to the artist studio.
When attempting to describe the paintings of Hannes Heinrich, it seems useful to think in terms of Peirce’s typology of the sign. For there are three ways in which a sign might denote the object, all at work in his painting. The first way is iconic, where the sign in some way resembles or imitates its object; the second is indexical, where the sign and the object have a direct connection, and finally, the third is symbolic, where the sign denotes the object by means of a convention or rule that allows for interpretation. Now by large, Hannes Heinrich paints objects he finds in his studio. Nothing uncommon and everything ordinary: there is a chair, a plant by the window, trainers with shoelaces undone. There is his body, his head, face, hands and feet. Especially in the past we could clearly distinguish these objects in his paintings as he traced their shadows directly onto canvas. His work was thus primarily iconic, although the actual shadows cast by the objects would be described as indexical. In the last couple of years a shift occurred in his work, where instead of using charcoal to trace an object’s shadow he began to wrap the canvas around an object and trace it directly, in a kind of vaguely erotic, masturbatory surrealist act. In this new work, the technique of frottage was no longer limited to a textured surface but now included the object in its three dimensional entirety. These charcoal tracings would then become the basis for his paintings as elements were further rubbed away or painted over. The indexical aspect of his work therefore gained importance.
Yet whether more iconic or more indexical, this did not alter the work’s symbolic character. As much as his, or indeed any other painting, looks like or is a trace of an object, it must also be understood as a convention or a sign – a fact of which Heinrich is well aware. Already Braque and Picasso’s art dealer understood this explicitly, associating cubism’s new found freedom from illusionistic practice with the recognition of painting as ‘script’ ( as quoted by Yve-Alain Bois in ‘Kahnweiler’s Lesson‘). But structuralist and poststructuralist readings of western art history especially common in the 80s and 90s, showed that all painting, no matter how abstract or realistic, also functioned within this symbolic system. When introducing cubism as an art movement, Francis Frascina shows that the use of the symbol was already at work in the most illusionistic of Chardin’s still lifes, arguing that a painting like ‘The Ray’ was not only about the painter’s ability to depict the light glistening on the ray’s wet and slimy surface, but also about his ability to play with symbolic meaning. There is sexual significance to be found in the exposed gonads of the ray fish – not to mention its sexually suggestive shape – as well as in a particular kind of jug, that Chardin’s contemporaries would well understand.
If Frascina could still be confident that in the 1700s a jug could stand for a uterus and then show how the later, more contradictory and playful Picasso collage questions the conditions of representability, in our post-internet age signs have shown themselves to be inherently far more slippery. We may think of signs consisting of a signifier and signified, a particular expression linked to a certain content, but within the social context of the sign (a sign always needs to be interpreted by someone) a sign refers to as much another sign as it does a signified. This is why Deleuze and Guattari in the chapter ‘587 BC–AD 70: On Several Regimes of Signs’ of A Thousand Plateausdo not think of the sign as a Saussurian closed language system, terms defined by a set of relations, but instead as a deceptive signifying regime of endless, circular debt. A sign always refers to another sign and in doing so marks itself as deceptive. We see or hear something, but we also know that meaning is not found in the shapes that we see or the sounds that we hear – that meaning is found elsewhere. What we hear and see is meant to deceive us. There is paranoia associated with the sign, we, forever suspicious as to what a thing might or might not signify.
What is it then, that we see or hear in this paranoid way, if the signifier always deceives us, hiding its meaning somewhere else for us to find? Deleuze and Guattari would argue that what we encounter in the signifying regime is a mask or a face. Or rather, the face is always already a mask. We do not see the order behind the visible, but the structure of the visible, and that takes empty, hollow shape of the mask. That we are able to negotiate this world of signs and not fall into a constant state of paranoia, is because of the meaning we find in the face itself and which we then project onto the world. According to Deleuze and Guattari, the face is the means by which the signifying regime controls and organises the world, the semiotic configuration of political power. As such it is despotic, in that someone – the despot – has to tell us in a manner that brooks no argument: see this, in that. The despot needs the face in order to wield his power over us.
(And it has to be said, there is something despotic about the way semiotic interpretations have been used in art history and it is indeed unsurprising that someone like Frascina mentions masks in his discussion of cubism. The distorted faces of Picasso’s ‘Les Demoiselles d’Avignon’ are presented as references to the ‘primitive’ African mask, signifier of the then contemporary obsession with ‘primitive cultures’ and marked by the fear of the other.)
But despite including his face as one of the objects in his studio that he wraps in canvas and traces in charcoal, in a gesture that echoes St. Veronica’s veil – and let us remember, for Deleuze and Guattari, faciality is something they specifically associate with the rise of Christianity in western culture – there are no faces in Hannes Heinrich’s paintings. There isn’t even a faciality at work. As signs, his canvases with their traces of charcoal and paint do not deceive us, instead I would argue, they betray. Rather than confronting us with an empty frontal stare, they turn their face away, and we are forever looking around the edge of the canvas, with its marker line, to guess at the pattern of the folds, the movement of charcoal, and the object that the canvas once held. How is it that Heinrich repeatedly confronts the objects in his studio? He wraps them in canvas to hide them, so that they cannot be seen, so that their gaze is averted, veiled. If in Hebrew the word for face is ‘presence,’ then the veiled face, the face hidden in the hands of Moses, would be understood as absence.
For Deleuze and Guattari, betrayal is central to the new post signifying or passional regime, to which it bears witness. They argue that we do not live in the one signifying regime – neither do we only live in the other, the post signifying one – but always in a mix of both. In the signifying regime we are always faced with a multitude of signs, one forever leading to another; in the passional regime, there is a plurality of the subject, a ‘redoubling of the subject with a point of subjectification.’ In their reading of Althusser, when someone or something calls to us, we, as social individuals become constituted as interpellated subjects. You call and ‘I’ answer, your call determining in part that ‘I’ I become and which I in answering accept. On the other hand, the point of subjectification is the object that Heinrich so obsesses over – the chair, shoes, plant, whatever the case may be – that he cannot let go, that he repeatedly covers and rubs all over. The object of subjectification also calls out, yes, but not to me, because it is standing in profile and looking somewhere else. Heinrich obsesses about his object because as much as he wants to see it, the object doesn’t want to see him. The love here is unrequited.
For Deleuze and Guattari this moment of unrequited love turning away is an act of betrayal, and it is worth mentioning that in Meyer Schapiro’s account of symbolic form, within our system of visual representation – the account that Frascina draws on so heavily – Judas, the ultimate betrayer, is presented in profile. When it stands in profile, the object as a sign betrays you, because it does not do what it was supposed to do, face you, so that you can find meaning within its mask-like structure. Before, in the paranoid system, everything was about me – me finding significance in everything. Now, I nothing is about me, and I seem irrelevant. By facing somewhere else, the point of subjectification indicates meaning is to be found elsewhere, by a different subject within a different social context and a different organisation of power. The task is now up to me, to assume authority and lend interpretation. But I also betray the object of subjectification, as cannot absorb the this object, I cannot fully mirror the speaking subject that interpellates me. And this double betrayal creates a powerful bond between us.
Hannes Heinrich institutes his painting within a regime of signs, a mixed regime, as much signifying as passional. Or rather the hold of the object over him, and his paintings over us, is of passion, lending this configuration of power its semiotic structure. His objects are in profile, as are we, when we encounter them in his paintings. I keep returning to his work, not because I find the objects interesting or because they have some hidden meaning but because I am forced by them to look somewhere else, and in doing so, to be someone other than me.
This year is the year GiG Munich becomes nomadic as GiG air.
When I say ‘circumstances force GiG to become nomadic’, I mean it in a very specific way. The last series of exhibitions at GiG Munich in its former location, ‘Thinking Nature’ were in large part a response to Deleuze and Guattari’s chapter ‘1730: Becoming-Intense, Becoming- Animal, Becoming-Imperceptible’ in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’, which I was reading at the time. I was interested in how, in this chapter, they introduced the idea of becoming through the discussion of the naturalist and his approach to classifying nature, either through the establishment of series when comparing outward resemblances, or when comparing interior workings of living organisms, the establishment of inner structures. Deleuze and Guattari oppose to this naturalist approach not only to the kind of symbiotic relation, such as between the wasp and the orchid, that is without offspring and therefore also outside the filial relations of evolution, but also to the becoming-animal of creatures like vampires or werewolves, seemingly fictional yet having nothing to do with an imaginary required of comparing and assessing visual similarities between species. There is a suggestion here that becoming-animal constitutes an alternative relation to nature, or rather a bond that isn’t a relation, a relation without relation, because without a recognisable subject and a distinct object. Instead of a molar organisation, Deleuze and Guattari offer the intensities and speeds of the molecular. The exhibition series ‘Thinking Nature’ aimed to explore the impact of man’s relation to nature has on thought. What kind of thought would there be, if this relation between man and nature would be different?
The project however neglected one crucial aspect of this approach to nature, and that is politics. About two months ago a video work by Franz Wanner alerted me to the politics involved in discussions of the molecular. His work was about Germany’s Erinnerungskultur and the problems associated with it. The way in which specifically businesses acknowledge their Nazi past, results in a production of memory that could be understood in Deleuze and Guattari’s molar terms. For Deleuze and Guattari memory, and not just because of its relation to the imaginary, is inherently molar, because of it follows a point-based arborescent system. We think of memory like history generally: as a string of points, going from past to present, each point some event that we can connect to another. Indeed, we organise history in a way not dissimilar to how the naturalist does his charts, in timelines, with branches breaking off in different directions at significant points. But to truly make history involves anti-memory, a break from arborescence in the production of a molecular lineal system. It involves creation, the making of a new reality that then history can only re-contain. This is GiG’s new project: our cultural organisation of memory and how this relates to our organisation of nature.
From the filial relationships of evolution timelines and the punctual system of memory it is but a step to the establishment of the state. The state of things, the status quo, is based on man. It is molar – molecular is the nomadic. Deleuze and Guattaru frame their chapter on becoming on either end with the discussion of the war machine of nomadic origin and of different assemblage to the state apparatus. The war machine is what institutes change and this is why the state cannot appropriate it except as war. The war machine is the mutation the naturalist cannot contain.
Every creation is brought about by the war machine. GiG air is GiG molecular, a mutant, a war machine. Watch this space.