Dear Living Person II: Story of the Eyes
As the image of Margaret Thatcher circulates through the media ecology, John Russell's public art work in Southend-on-Sea works to redirect its affective charge. The Iron Lady, stable signifier for straight-jacketed social relations, becomes a fecund sump in which to grow new forms-of-life. Here he discusses his latest work while delectating Maggie's corpse
Dear Living Person,
I am a fly, laying my eggs on the dead body of Margaret Thatcher. Emerging from her nose, after squeezing out 150-ish white-tube eggs, in two batches of 75, inside the nasal cavity and on the eyes. Silence except for the counting down of the clock as I run my foreleg over my antennae, suppurating this somewhat dubious, schlocked-up cliché of an ‘author position' as a fiction pro-/receding from my previous experiences as a decomposing corpse.1 As a recession to the condition of a common housefly. The shackles of this necrotic voice twist around me like a swirling whirlpool of shit - after all you can't write a suicide note if you are already dead (or if you are a fly). I pitch around in search of some credible starting point. And in a desperate measure to spice up the stinking stew, gesture to Nick Land's sparkling preface to The Thirst for Annihilation, as an example of a starting point that operates as a prophesy - as a call to the virtual power and force of ideas. As I walk across her face, an historical fly. Land writes:
The corpse not only dissolves into noxious base matter analogous to excrement, it is also in fact defecated by the life of the species. For the corpse is the truth of the biological individual, its consummate superfluity. It is only through the passage into irredeemable waste that the individual is marked with the delible trace of its excess.
And later on he writes how the child (of ‘Rire') ‘transfixed by the stinking ruins of his father - is gripped by convulsions of horror that explode into pearls of mirth.'2 And so with the song of police sirens still fresh in our ears, and the images of riots running across our screens, as financial markets crash across the world, let us laugh the ‘Laughter of Nietzsche'. As Bataille puts it ‘what does the divine attained in laughter mean if not the absence of God?'3
1. Some thoughts regarding ‘the gaze' of someone looking at their body while they are being tortured/dismembered. At the beginning of Discipline and Punish Foucault famously describes the public torture of Robert-François Damiens. In line with his intentions it is the visual affect/impact of the passage which lingers in the mind. A particularly startling detail of the scene - notwithstanding the drama of the description of the various procedures involved - is the image of Damiens craning his neck like a turtle to observe his body being turned into object(s). The description of him watching his own torture is repeated on several occasions. So for instance, after having had his hands burned by sulphur and after the executioner has attempted to tear off chunks of flesh with a pair of steel pincers from ‘the calf of the right leg, then at the thigh, and from there at the two fleshy parts of the right arm; then at the breasts'. After these tearings with the pincers, Damiens, ‘who cried out profusely, though without swearing, raised his head and looked at himself'. Then after the executioner had poured boiling oil over each wound, attached ropes to his legs and arms, harnessed them each to a horse, and after each horse had pulled hard on a limb: ‘despite all this pain, he raised his head from time to time and looked at himself boldly'. And then after this when it is described how the direction of the horses is changed and each horse pulls against the joint and breaks them, even then ‘he raised his head and looked at himself'.4
Fig 1. John Russell, Angel of History/I can see for miles, Southend-on-Sea, UK, 2011
It is not mentioned if he still looks at himself later on, after the executioners have used a knife to ‘cut the body at the thighs instead of severing the legs at the joints' and the four horses carried off the two thighs. And after that when the same was done to the arms, the shoulders, the arm-pits and the four limbs: ‘the flesh had to be cut almost to the bone, the horses pulling hard carried off the right arm first and the other afterwards'. But it seems Damiens is fascinated by (if not necessarily enthusiastic about) the transformation of his body into objects. Conventionally a connection might be drawn here between death and objects; of the death drive as the idea of a becoming-inorganic, about turning into object(s) and watching yourself turning into object(s).
2. Stretched across one face of the railway bridge that spans Southend's pedestrianised high street, is the art work ‘Angel of History. I can see for miles': a pair of eyes, looking away from the sea front. Margaret Thatcher's eyes in the style of Walter Benjamin's ‘Angel of History' (Fig. 1).
3. The forthcoming film The Iron Lady (released December 2011) stars Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher and is, according to the press release, the portrait of ‘a woman who smashed through the barriers of gender and class to be heard in a male-dominated world.'5 The story concerns ‘power and the price that is paid for power', and the perspective of the film is constructed around the idea of Margaret Thatcher ‘looking back'. As Cameron McCracken, the managing director of Pathé UK, confirms: ‘the film is set in the recent past and [...] Baroness Thatcher [looks] back on both the triumphs and the lows of her extraordinary career.'6 In fact, according to The Daily Telegraph the screenplay of The Iron Lady depicts Baroness Thatcher as an elderly dementia-sufferer looking back on her career with sadness. She is shown talking to herself and unaware that her husband Denis has died.7
Margaret Thatcher's political success was built around a performance of looking back. Looking back and reflecting back to sections of the community she didn't give a shit about (working classes, lower-middle classes) a new/old way of looking at ourselves/themselves/herself constructed around images of Victorian values and ‘Great' Britain.
4. The angel in Walter Benjamin's ‘well known and quite over-quoted'Angel of History passage also looks back.8
A Klee painting named Angelus Novus shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like him to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.9
In various texts, but most specifically his essay ‘On the Concept of History' (1940), Benjamin distinguishes between two different approaches or performances of history (ways of ‘doing' history). The first, an historical formulation whose ‘procedure is additive: it musters a mass of data to fill the homogeneous, empty time.'10 This is a philosophy of history that refers to historicism, continuity and progress: ‘it may be that the continuity of tradition is mere semblance. But then precisely the persistence of this semblance provides it with continuity.'11 The second, an ‘interruptive' philosophy of history, where history is constructed in a politically explosive ‘constellation of past and present', as a ‘lightning flash' of truth:
The past does not throw its light onto the present, nor does the present illuminate the past, but the image is formed when that which has been and the Now come together in a flash as a constellation'.12
Drawing on his writing about surrealist strategies of rupture and montage - this lightning flash is configured as a ‘dialectical image' which occurs in the Now of its recognisability - a suddenness which precludes its re-assimilation into the structures of continuity, but is animated as the potential for immediate action (in this suddenness). The present recognises itself as ‘intended in that image' as it ‘flits by'.13 Hope is now historically ‘actual' in the sense that it is realisable: ‘time filled full by now-time (Jetztzeit).'14 Past and present overlap in a political possibility, ‘a secret agreement between past generations and the present one.'15 So, for instance, Benjamin describes Robespierre as a model for the ‘materialist historian', because he ‘blasted' ancient Rome ‘out of the continuum of history' to have it serve as an ideological precedent for the French Revolution.16 The dialectical image is therefore pitched against historicism, against continuity, transition and conformism and its images.17
5. After this, when the four limbs had been carried away:
the confessors came to speak to him; but his executioner told them that he was dead, though the truth was that I saw the man move, his lower jaw moving from side to side as if he were talking. One of the executioners even said shortly afterwards that when they had lifted the trunk to throw it on the stake, he was still alive.18
My palpi tremble as a slight breeze indicates a door has opened somewhere in the building. If you can imagine me here, walking across the cold surface of the window pane.
6. What we are talking about, extrapolating from Benjamin's ideas, is a war of images. Not a bloodless ‘politics of representation/representation of politics' - decoding and recoding - not mainly this anyway, but rather a concern with the force of images in and as themselves. Not in terms of how they can be interpreted, but in terms of what they do. Acting with force. The way images might return performatively, with illocutional force.19 To be acted upon. To use an example from Deleuze and Guattari, what transforms the accused into a convict is the incorporeal attribute that is the expressed in or of the judge's sentence; the expressed cannot be separated from its expression, and neither can the attribute be located in the body of the convict to account for this transformation in sense.20 Saying-doing him/her into a convict. A fictioning where fiction EXPRESSES the force of language, and the articulatory force of images and/as objects, and/as fantasies, and/as language, and/as the real. This is the power of Benjamin's ideas.
Margaret Thatcher understood this - the affective, political power of big, dumb, familiar, dead images. Like the Monarchy, the Queen, private schools, Winston Churchill, the village green, the corner shop. Images which recur and police our potentials and abilities to act and perform. Images which bind us in, set parameters, inscribe what is sensible, what is civilised, what is unacceptable, what can sensibly be spoken of, and who can speak ‘sensibly'. As William Burroughs writes:
What hope for a country where people will camp out for three days to glimpse the Royal Couple? Where one store clerk refers to another as his 'colleague'? [...] God save the Queen and a fascist regime [...] The Queen stabilizes the whole stinking shithouse and keeps a small elite of wealth and privilege on top ....The English have gone soft in the outhouse. England is like some stricken beast too stupid to know it is dead. Ingloriously foundering in its own waste products, the backlash and bad karma of empire. 21
And the current crop of ‘Thatcher's children' with their Big Society, Small Government, Sick Society clichés and immediate, violent attack on the public sector: ‘the slow bleeding, coupled with a recent gutting unprecedented in its severity and rapidity, of the carcass of the welfare state, through attacks on social programs, housing, and pensions.'22 Or for example, the seemingly irrelevant Countryside Alliance who are only interested in images, in the image of themselves or other people like them sitting on horses wearing their red jackets, because this is an historical image. And they are only interested in preserving rural life as a preservation of (the images of) conventional power relations.23 But we are also talking here of morphogenesis. Or the movement between/through/across images and things: image to image, image to object, fantasy to matter, ideology to things, virtual to actual. The persistence and continuity of history (as historicism) is tied to the persistence and continuity of these relationships, both in terms of the real and/or fantasy, or as phenomena and/or noumena, and/or morphing between the two. Images are also objects are also bodies.
7. As my prostomal teeth scrape at the surface of a fragment of meat lodged between her teeth, my mind turns to more philosophical contexts. In his essay ‘The Pineal Eye', Bataille writes:
I represented the eye at the summit of the skull to myself as a horrible volcano in eruption, with exactly the murky and comic character which attaches to the rear and its excretions. But the eye is without doubt the symbol of the dazzling sun, and the one I imagined at the summit of my skull was necessarily inflamed, being dedicated to the contemplation of the sun at its maximum burst (éclat).24
And later on in the same text: ‘The fecal eye of the sun is also torn from its volcanic entrails and the pain of a man who tears out his own eyes with his fingers is no more absurd than the anal setting of the sun.'25
In his essay ‘Metaphor of the Eye' Barthes identifies a number of objects in Bataille's novel Story of the Eye that are associated with the Eye. Objects that are similar in whiteness and/or roundness, but also dissimilar (in different ways). The Eye as a saucer of milk in which Simone, the main female character squats: ‘"Milk is for the pussy, isn't it?" says Simone'; the wheel of a bicycle; eggs, particularly yolks; bulls' testicles; the eyes of the matador; the eyes of the priest; the sun; the blind eyes of the father.26 The narrative trajectory of Story of the Eye slides across these different combinations of intertwining metaphorical series. As an endless exchange of meanings and usages, in the move from the paradigmatic to the syntagmatic, from metaphor to metonym: ‘...to break an egg, to poke out an eye'/' ...to break an eye and to poke out an egg'27. And in other contexts blow_fly girl describes finding a dead reindeer by the highway:
The open belly of the deer was a huge mass of maggots. There had to be thousands of them, greyish-brown maggots writhing and churning and filling every part of the open belly. [...] Little black beetles crawled among the maggots and dozens of flies buzzed around the carcass.
And then goes on to describe how she pushes a section of the maggot-covered reindeer meat into her vagina, and how she orgasms: ‘drunk with arousal'.28 Blow_fly girl's brutal reworking of something like Marvell's ‘To His Coy Mistress' engages with the erotic potential of decomposition and multiplicity, and points to Bataille's heterology which proposes a radical reconfiguration or realignment of the body, its organs and its drives. The transformation of the mouth from an organ of consumption to one of excretion. Transforming an eye into a mouth or anus; transformed as a dragging/eating inwards or as shitting outwards. As in the film The Human Centipede, 2009, where the surgeon, after a botched escape by one of his victims, declares: ‘I have decided now who will be the middle section' stitching together three people, mouth to anus, mouth to anus. Transformed by connecting their openings into a tube, a section of the digestive system. If Thatcher's eye/eyes are configured as an intestine-eye, there is no longer an end-point, it is part of a tube - an optical-throat or anus. Like the Marquis de Sade, using the wooden funnel he used to shit into as an impromptu megaphone to scream from his prison cell inside the Bastille: ‘They are killing us in here. They are killing the prisoners', inciting the proletariat outside to riot.
Fig 2. Margaret Thatcher House
8. Why have the British Labour party not sought to eradicate these images at some time in the last 30 years. Shame on them that they never seriously attempted to dismantle private education, private health, the Monarchy and fox hunting.29 As an eradication of images, as a dialectic of images. As Head Gallery write
you have to destroy the representations of class domination before you bother with re-orienting the heavy metal of material culture because otherwise, like ghosts, these representations will reappear and re-orientate things themselves. Reappear and reform objects in their own image. Image comes first. Image comes first. Always image.30
Less than a quarter of a mile away from the bridge in Southend, there is a council property named ‘Margaret Thatcher House'. Until recently this building had a sign attached to the exterior with the words ‘Margaret Thatcher' printed on it. It was recently taken down and only the bolt holes remain, like bleeding stigmata (fig. 2).
9. Objects have trouble persisting. Human objects, or cultural objects. Any sort of object is under threat in the medium to long term of being turned into something else. The human body decomposes and animal's carcasses are injected with an ‘alternating current' to prevent this from happening, thus preserving the quality of the meat. Due to their robustness cancer cells are being used in bio-nanotechnology. We will soon be supplementing our thinking processes by the use of cancer computers. It is difficult to maintain anything after your death. Graves are leased for 10, 20, 30 years. The objects which record our existence breakdown and people who have memories of you disappear. And there are very few ways of preventing this unless you are rich and your objects are valuable. The standard shit of people's lives - TV, 3-piece suite, ornaments, photographs - will not persist.
One way to ensure the persistence of objects is to successfully enter them into the correct cultural circuits - and here I am talking about ART OBJECTS. Art as collector/collection-based. A finely tuned system to ensure the persistence of objects. And since Duchamp and beyond, it is clear that any object can persist as long as it is correctly articulated as art. Correctly articulated by the correct languages. Entered into the correct circuits of distribution in the correct way. With the correct type of visibility and so on. This discursive structuring is entwined with, and is part of, the investment structures in/of the art world. Necessarily, ‘investment' requires some level of persistence to enable investment. Art offers increased and unusual possibilities of persistence (art-object-as-investment) in a way that is unusual in our society because anything can be art.31 This is a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy: buying into the potential of art's persistence, as a form of persistence (investment), which guarantees the persistence of the art object.
This type of reciprocity echoes Pierre Bourdieu's analysis of the ‘love of art' which marks out class status and guarantees cultural capital. An act which guarantees the system/structure/discourse which allows that act of guaranteeing, and which allows for the marking out of ‘the chosen who are themselves chosen by their ability to respond to its call.'32 Or as Brian O'Doherty and Thomas McEvilley describe it,
The outside world must not come in, so windows are usually sealed off. Walls are painted white. [...] The condition of appearing out of time, or beyond time, implies a claim that the work already belongs to posterity - that is, it is an assurance of good investment. [...] the endurance of a certain power structure is the end for which the sympathetic magic of the white cube is devised.33
Therefore, the value and collectability of an art object is tied to its perceived significance (in and as its articulation as an art work) and therefore its ability to persist (within those systems in which it is successfully articulated and therefore inevitably persists within). And validates. And persists. And validates. And so on.
10. In the publicity for The Iron Lady, 2011, if not in the film itself (yet to be seen), there is a particular focus upon Margaret Thatcher's sex appeal. As Stuart Jeffries writes in The Guardian, Tuesday 8 February 2011: ‘Ever since French president François Mitterrand suggested that Margaret Thatcher had "the eyes of Caligula, the mouth of Marilyn Monroe", we've had to get used to the unbelievable truth that Margaret Thatcher was made of more than iron.' He suggests that the publicity still of Meryl Streep, released to promote her performance in the film The Iron Lady, continues
that counter-intuitive narrative. Not Thatcher, Milk Snatcher. But Thatcher, Seducer. The image ideally realises what Tory makeover people wanted Thatcher to be - not just the hard-as-nails Conservative who destroyed a nation's industrial base, but a woman capable of deploying sexual allure politically.34
When/if Margaret Thatcher watches the film she will see an image of herself portrayed by Meryl Streep perhaps in the style of the all powerful fashion boss she plays in The Devil Wears Prada (2006), with that trademark sexy-sideways-power-glance she does.
It is claimed that Margaret Thatcher's
contrived posh accent [...] had a husky style that male politicians of her generation (Labour included) found sexy, especially if she had Scotch on her breath. Even Alan Clark, the old rogue, was excited by her, though not even he would have chanced his arm.35 In the trailer to the film Thatcher is shown talking to two male lackeys who are trying to finesse her image. ‘Thatcher is seen saying: "I may be prepared to surrender the hat, but the pearls are absolutely non-negotiable. That is the tone we want to stress."' Cut to Sexy smile mixed with ‘the Chobham-armoured handbag approach.'36
A new ‘sexy' Margaret Thatcher is giving us the eye. But this is also to bear in mind that there is a multitude of images of eyes/looking. This meshwork of images refers back to our previous discussion of the interchangeability of the Eye with eggs, bulls' testicles and other ovular objects. And liquid metaphors such as tears, cat's milk, egg yolks and semen. And also to note that Margaret Thatcher was often depicted as an ‘embodiment of phallic power'.37
11. The idea of object-ness has obviously been important in the articulation of art. In a conventional sense, (good) art has very often been associated with an escape from object-ness (ideal, sublime, abstract, spiritual, poetic). And bad art/poetry as a return to objects. Good poetry flies above (transcends) language and the objects that language is inscribed upon. Good poetry gives language wings, whereas bad poetry returns it to the grunting and squeaking of sound, its materiality. A dissembling of the divine dream and return to the dull materiality of existence/reality. This is one way of looking at it.
To reverse this, bad art might bring us back to the object in more positive ways. Margaret Thatcher's friend and ally, the former B-movie actor Ronald Reagan, has recently been transformed into an object. Not only by dying (in 2004) but also more recently through the erection of his likeness as a public sculpture in London, in front of the American Embassy. There are numerous three-dimensional representations of him in the US, and at least four public sculptures of Margaret Thatcher. On the same track, the otherwise useless painter Lucien Freud turned the Queen into an object with his brilliant Portrait of Queen Elizabeth II (2001). Or Antony Gormley turned both participants and audience into objects with his Fourth Plinth installation One and Other (2009) where he created one of the greatest art works of the last 20 years. For each hour of every day, a different person dicked around on top of Trafalgar Square's ‘fourth plinth'. Every second was filmed and web-cammed around the world with surrounding TV and video archives inventoried by Sky. The technology was impressive. The art work was a monument to the banality and triviality of human kind. To the abject shitness of human life. To our existence as dumb objects. Gormley as the absent artist sits like a black greasy cat sat up in the ramparts of the buildings surrounding the square, licking the fat off his lips as he looks down at the vermin clocking in and clocking out like flies slipping around inside a decaying corpse.
12. Meryl Streep looks out of the film Iron Lady at Margaret Thatcher who has died while watching the film. Margaret Thatcher has turned into her own private ‘crystal image'. As the light plays across her prone body, alone in her room she has now become a kind of object, an art work. This might fulfil the criteria for an installation.
Fig 3. Meryl Streep. Margaret Thatcher
13. In her essay ‘Digital debris: Spam and Scam' Hito Steyerl describes how there is something overlooked in Benjamin's text
if we take its spatial arrangement seriously [...] there is no rubble depicted on the drawing whatsoever [...] Since the angel faces us as spectators, and - according to Benjamin - also faces the rubble, the wreckage must be located in the hors-champ of the drawing. This means that the rubble is where we are. Or to take it one step further: we, the spectators, might actually be the rubble [...] we have become discarded objects and useless commodities caught in the gaze of a shell-shocked angel who drags us along as it is blown away into uncertitude.38
14. Huge wings arched outwards and backwards, legs sucked/stretched forwards to the viewer - as the angel is blown backwards, forced into the future. Her bony, serrated vertebrae scoring a trench down the street. History pushing her bony carcass down the arcades, flanked by shops: River Island, BHS, JD Sports, HMV. Smearing across the frontage. Routing out through the precinct, dragging behind her ... intestines ... trailing backwards a stream of shit and viscera coating the rubble. Two anus-eyes.
15. The thing about diseases of the eye - of your own eye - is that you look at them (in the mirror) with the same thing you are looking at. You are watching the disease taking over your eye and turning it into an object with your eye itself (the organ of this perception). The horror of this situation is the horror of seeing yourself seeing-yourself-seeing-yourself-becoming-an-object. Something of this horror is present in the image of the eye infected with Lamprey's disease (Fig 3.) This image was circulating on the internet a few years ago. It is a spoofed image - there is no Lamprey's disease. A lamprey is a water-bound parasite that latches onto fish. The picture on the internet is actually just a lamprey's mouth Photoshopped onto an eye socket - not a real disease, but horrific nonetheless. What we are experiencing here is the terror of the move towards the condition of an object. Becoming a corpse or block of meat (as opposed to flesh). These might be instances of humour noir working as a kind of defence mechanism. This could be described with reference to Freud's essay ‘Humour' of 1928, that formed the basis of Breton's essay on the grotesque/comic.39 These are instances of the splitting of ego, in which the super ego is able to look down upon 'one's' body as abject object. A defence mechanism of counter-narcissistic detachment from imaginary misrecognition of self as imago and sublime descent to finite, mortal bodily self. This is the way much contemporary theory would reconstruct this type of imagery. For instance Simon Critchley writes a lot about the mechanics of this.40
Fig 4. Lamprey’s disease
17. But this is not what I'm arguing here. And this is not to suggest that our vision/ gaze is diseased, or that society's vision is diseased (in the ‘sick society' sense) but rather to point to the radical forces of experimentation of life which include our own extinction/destruction as part of this experimentation. For instance, the Death of Margaret Thatcher might not involve a simple negation: Thatcher/non-Thatcher, but also experimentation on both a microbiological level (vermicular/ burrowing of worms/maggots, breakdown to chemical components) as well as experimentation on political, philosophical and artistic levels. As tunnel or viscera. Patricia McCormack in her discussion of ‘becoming-cunt' depicts/describes, viscera as a ‘frontier of excess'; as ‘safe' only when concealed, and offering ‘a materiality beyond that known through the traditional hierarchy of the body'. Like the cunt as ‘a volitional hole, that which is both penetrable and ingurgitant.' As an opening out: ‘the indiscernibility between what constitutes the cunt (not the thigh) and what constitutes the surrounds (not cunt).' And a becoming-cunt as a transgression and traversing of dominant (and dull) phallic paradigms ‘both prohibited and revolt-ing (in both senses of the word). The cunt, as opposed to the obedient vagina, will not be defined by production (family), chastity (Church) or an acceptance of subjugation (state).'41 Redetermining ‘how cunt is seen and how it may be used to see.'42
Whether or not you like Land's hypothesis that: ‘to produce is to partially manage the release of energy into its loss, and nothing more' or his ideas of ‘accelerationism', his assessment of Nietzsche's Death of God is acute:
To say ‘there is no God' is not to express a proposition in a pre established logical syntax, but to begin thinking again, in a way that is radically new, and therefore utterly experimental...43
In the same way we might engage experimentally with the idea of the Death of the Monarchy, Death of private education, Death of private health, Death of fox hunting or the Death of Margaret Thatcher. These might allow for something ‘radically new', rather than being ‘bilateralised' into docility' and falling back on procedures of ‘systematic closure of the negative within its logico-structural sense'. Where all ‘uses, references, connotations of the negative are referred back to a bilateral opposition as if to an inescapable destination, so that every ‘de-‘, 'un-‘, ‘dis-‘, or ‘anti-‘ is speculatively imprisoned within the mirror space of the concept.'44
18. As she leaves her meat behind and moves off to become an image - an image which people will try to use to shape future meat, it is clear that this is what the rubble partly is: the Angel's entrails and viscera. So fill your glass and join me in a celebratory toast. I have now laid my eggs on Margaret Thatcher's body. On a sump of matter and psychic gloop. Benjamin's Angel's eye, mixed with Thatcher's eye, mixed with Bataille's pineal eye and solar anus and McCormack's becoming-cunt. These eyes look back at us, seeping as a materialisation and solid fleshy rotting together of ideas like a toffee apple dripping flesh. My gaze wanders away from this scene across the sea as it ‘continuously jerks off' to a sunset transformed with dynamic potential. 45
Anyway. Nice talking to you.
John Russell <john.a.russell AT btinternet.com> is an artist living and working in London, http://www.john-russell.com
This text was written to coincide with the launch of the public art work Angel of History. I can see for miles in Southend, Essex, UK. Commissioned by Focal Point Gallery. 12 September to 22 October 2011, http://www.focalpoint.org.uk/offsite/current/9/
1 John Russell, ‘Dear living Person' Mute Vol 3 #1, Spring/Summer 2011, http://www.metamute.org/en/articles/dear_living_person
2 Nick Land, The Thirst for Annihilation. Georges Bataille and Virulent Nihilism (an Essay in Aesthetic Religion), London & New York: Routledge, 1992: xvii.
3Georges Bataille, ‘Nietzsche's Laughter' in The Unfinished System of Nonknowledge, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001, p.23.
4 Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, New York: Vintage Books, 1995, pp.3-6.
5 This is reminiscent of the ‘Comic Strip' film The Strike, 1988: a parody of a Hollywood depiction of the Miner's Strike in the UK, (1984-85) with Peter Richardson as Al Pacino as Arthur Scargill and Jennifer Saunders as Meryl Streep.
6 Tim Walker, ‘Margaret Thatcher's family are "appalled" at Meryl Streep film', The Daily Telegraph, 17 July 2010.
8 Hito Steyerl, ‘Digital Debris: Spam and Scam' from a lecture given at Universität der Künste Berlin, July 2011.
9 Walter Benjamin, ‘On a Concept of History' (1940), in Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings, Volume 4, 1938-1940, Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2003, p.392.
10 Ibid, p.396
11 Quote attributed to Walter Benjamin,The Arcades Project, Cambridge, Massachusetts & London: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1999, p.486.
12 Ibid., p.462.
13 Ibid., p.390.
14 Ibid., p.395.
15 Ibid., p.390.
16 Ibid., p.395.
17 The structure of Benjamin's ideas is reminiscent of Deleuze's description of virtual/actual (and the operation of memory) and teriitorialisation/deterritorialisation. Even if Deleuze refuses the possibility of dialectics.
18 Michel Foucault, op. cit., p.5.
19 The illocutionary act is the act we perform when speaking a sentence. See the discussion of performativity in J.L. Austin, How to Do Things with Words, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1962: 95-107.
20 Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, London & New York: Continuum, 2004, p.89.
21 William Burroughs, The Place of Dead Roads, London: Fourth Estate, 2010, p.175.
22 Evan Calder Williams, ‘An Open Letter to Those Who Condemn Looting (In Two Parts)', 11 August, 2011, Co-published by Mute, http://www.metamute.org/en/news_and_analysis/an_open_letter_to_those_who_condemn_looting_in_two_parts, and http://socialismandorbarbarism.blogspot.com/
23 As Naomi Klein describes it: ‘really what we have been living is a liberation movement, indeed the most successful liberation movement of our time: the movement by capital to liberate itself from all constraints on its accumulation. For those who say this ideology's failing, I beg to differ. [...] I think this has been a class war waged by the rich against the poor, and I think that they won. And I think the poor are fighting back.' Naomi Klein: ‘Wall St. Crisis Should Be for Neoliberalism What Fall of Berlin Wall Was for Communism', Democracy Now, October 6th 2008, cited in John Beagles ‘In a Class All of Their Own: The Incomprehensiveness of Art Education', Variant issue 39/40, Winter 2010, http://www.variant.org.uk/39_40texts/comp39_40.html
24 Georges Bataille, ‘The Jesuve' in Visions of Excess: Selected writings, 1927-1939, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1985, p.74. Quoted here from Land, Thirst for Annihilation, p.31.
25 Bataille. ‘The Pineal Eye', Visions of Excess, p.85.
26 Bataille, Story of the Eye, p.4.
27 Roland Barthes, ‘Metaphor of the Eye,' in Critical Essays, Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2000, p. 244.
29 I am not referring to the act of killing foxes but the performance of ‘Fox Hunting'.
31 Even an idea or a performance can be art. Nevertheless, the object always remains. As Benjamin Buchloh argues, the move to ‘dematerialisation' in conceptual art was followed by the rematerialisation of the artist and the infinite expansion of the art object as commodity.' See, Benjamin Buchloh, ‘Conceptual Art 1962-69: From the Aesthetics of the Critique of Institutions', October, 55, Winter 1990, pp.136-43. And this ongoing discourse of institutionalisation, commodification and capitalisation continues on through the objects of institutional critique, critical art, the dematerialisation of the artist, culturepreneur, cultural producer, nomad and so on.
32Pierre Bourdieu and Alain Darbel with Dominique Schnapper, from 'Conclusion' in The Love of Art: European Art Museums and their Public, Caroline Beattie and Nick Merriman (trans.), Cambridge: Polity Press, 1991, p.173.
33 Thomas McEvilly/Brian O'Doherty, in the Introduction to Inside the White Cube: The Ideology of the Gallery Space, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 1986, p.7.
34 Stuart Jeffries, ‘Meryl Streep playing Margaret Thatcher: What's not to like?' The Guardian, Tuesday 8 February 2011, http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2011/feb/08/meryl-streep-margaret-thatcher
37 Jacqueline Rose, ‘Margaret Thatcher and Ruth Ellis', New Formations, Winter 1988, p.9.
38 Hito Steyerl, ‘Digital Debris: Spam and Scam,' from a lecture given at Universität der Künste Berlin, July 2011.
39 André Breton, Anthology of Black Humour, Paris: Éditions du Sagittaire, 1940.
40 Simon Critchley, On Humour, London & New York: Routledge, 2002.
41 Patricia McCormack, ‘Becomings-Cunt: Flesh, Fold and Infinity', Frozen Tears III, 2007, pp.800-838.
42 Maria Fusco. ‘Review: Frozen Tears III', Art Monthly, February 2008.
43 Nick Land, ‘The Thirst for Annihilation', London: Routledge, 1992, pp.18-19.
44 Nick Land, Ibid., p.19.
45 Bataille. ‘The Pineal Eye', Visions of Excess, op. cit., p.8.