October no. 183: Organizational Aesthetics

Issue no. 183 of October contains my article “Organizational Aesthetics: On Certain Practices and Genealogies.” This text examines organizational forms in art since the 1990s. With this obviously a partial and partisan mapping, I hope to open a fruitful line of inquiry. The text is part of my ongoing Forms of Abstraction project, and will form the basis of a chapter in the second volume, Personafications—which, I hasten to add, will not be for tomorrow, or even for next year. These things take time.

Image: opening of Jeanne van Heeswijk’s Trainings for the Not-Yet (2019).

Philipp Gufler

I’ve contributed a short essay to a new limited-edition book by artist Philipp Gufler, A Shrine to Aphrodite, which focuses on his mirror paintings and associated performances and films dealing with reflection and narcissism. From the text: “Gufler’s ‘mirrorical’ art passes through the looking glass; his spaces are traps for the gaze. The reflective surfaces and diaphanous scrims in his oeuvre function as projection screens and as obstacles in games of identification and disidentification; recognition and misrecognition; self-performance and self-alienation.“

Images: book launch at San Serriffe in Amsterdam,

Reenactment Again, Again

There’s yet another reenactment volume out, On Reenactment: Concept, Methodologies, Tools, edited by Cristina Baldacci and Susanne Franco. This time I’ve been roped in via the format of a “duet”—i.e., an interesting and enjoyable conversation—with Susanne. The publication is open access; the conversation can be found here, and the entire table of contents here.

Image: Pauline Boudry and Renate Lorenz, (No) Time, 2020.


Objections, which I’ve known for such a long time as a potential book in the form of various types of files, has been actualized and materialized. While I’m obviously already finding little mistakes that are entirely my own fault, thanks to graphic designer Rogier Delfos I couldn’t be more pleased with the result. I abhor the design fetishism that plagues the Dutch cultural field, but this is a wonderful example of graphic design as a practice of visual and material articulation, rather than as either generic or showy packaging.

The book’s page on the Sternberg Press website: here. MIT Press (the US distributor): here. MIT Press mentions “March 2023” as the publication date, but I’m assuming/hoping that it will not take that long for the American distribution to start… According to the Sternberg page, shipping will start on November 3.

Autonomy and Abstraction in Print, Finally

Speaking of delays: in an age of social media and hot takes, the printed book is a deliriously slow medium. I don’t think I’ve ever been involved with publishing projects so seemingly endless as the forthcoming (no, really!) Art and Autonomy reader and Objections, the first volume of my Forms of Abstraction project. Both Art and Autonomy and Objections have been printed, and should be making their way to a bookseller near you right about now. They’re both affordably priced, so you have no excuse.

It was thanks to the tireless editorial efforts of Louis Hartnoll, and backing from departing Afterall honcho Charles Esche, that the reader became a reality after all. At Sternberg, it was Zoë Harris who really took charge of the editorial side. Both Louis and Zoë have the kind of patient precision that are indispensable in these kinds of project, and they go many an extra mile while knowing that their names won’t be on the cover—even though they deserve to be, as far as I’m concerned! For Objections, I was lucky enough to have Rogier Delfos take care of the design, and it looks as though I will finally be content with the visual and material realization of one of my books.

Given that the manuscript of Art and Autonomy was submitted in 2014, and the concept for Objections (drawing in part on older work) began to congeal not long after, I’m rather curious if and how these books will register in our ever-new normal. This may be an anachronistic quality of this medium: too slow to be up to date, the book can potentially become a theoretical intervention in the prison of the present.

Documenta Delay

I’m getting questions whether I will review documenta. Frankly, at the moment I don’t know which medium would be a hospitable and productive context for such a review, but this summer I’ve been finalizing a long-gestating article on “Organizational Aesthetics,” updating its last section with thoughts on documenta fifteen. Since it will be published in a venerable academic journal, and since academic journals are at the other end of the spectrum of speed, this text will see the light of day sometime next year. In a culture of accelerating instant (and insta) comments and opinions, there’s something to be said for being out of sync and slowing downthough ideally not quite as much as in the case of those two books of mine that are finally about to be released. One of those albatrosses I’ve dragged around for ten years…

Image: nonkrong at documenta fifteen with members of Arts Collaboratory/ Cooperativa Cráter Invertido

From Farce to Tragedy

Ruangrupa’s documenta has done German’s culture warriors the favour of becoming the perfect enemy through its mind-boggling, bumbling obliviousness, i.e. its blindness to antisemitic tropes in a mural by the collective Taring Padi. The half-hearted excuses don’t help. This is a betrayal all who have been trying to move the conversation about Germany’s instrumentalized and weaponized Erinnerungskultur forward (or to start such a conversation under near-impossible conditions).

The tragedy here is that the affair plays precisely into a well-established Culture Wars playbook, and it makes it more difficult than ever to get out of a carefully designed and maintained vicious circle. In the process, it obscures a number of simple points that hardly amount to rocket science.

Noch mal zum mitschreiben:

-The antisemitic, fetishistic concretization of capitalism and imperialism in the figure of The Jew is anathema to any and all forms of emancipatory politics and culture.

-Solidarity with Palestinians and the rejection of Israeli settler colonialism must be grounded in a refusal to buy into the equation of Israel with The Jews, and the Israeli state’s self-image as the only legitimate home of Jews.

-Antisemitism can and must be analysed within the overarching framework of modern racial and colonial necropolics without denying its specific history and distinctive features, or its continuing virulence. Context doesn’t erase specificity; it brings it to the fore.

-BDS is not intrinsically antisemitic. There are legitimate reasons for supporting the campaign; reasons that one may find problematic, but that can be debated—or could be debated, if German political demagogy did not make this all but impossible. Then there are other reasons for supporting BDS.

-Specific cases (such as that of the Taring Padi mural) will often be used not to critique those cases, and the patterns and structures they may be part of, but as confirmation that all artists and intellectuals from Muslim countries are representative of some antisemitic Islamist hive mind. This is a transposition of the logic of antisemitic “reason” into the much more salonfähige register of anti-Muslim racism.

So what can we learn from this mess wrapped inside a train wreck wrapped inside an omnishambles?

-If you’re German, try to control your urge to turn intellectuals and artists from the Global South into racist caricatures. Hey, perhaps even question that urge, and your entrenched habits and privilege coated in self-righteousness. And if you’re coming from elsewhere to Germany to participate in an exhibition, be aware of the context, and try to confound the expectations of self-righteous racists.

-You try to shift the terms of debate and develop ways of living and organizing otherwise? You think of your practice as prefiguring postcapitalist forms of life? That’s just grand, but deserting from the Culture Wars requires tactical awareness and skills; otherwise you’re just blindly blundering into a minefield. Be mindful of context and perceptions. An opaque surface can quickly become a projection screen.

-It is up to you to make clear that your Anti-Zionism is not a front for antisemitism. It is up to you to prove that your “anti-antisemitic” critique of artists or intellectuals from the Middle East, Africa or Asia is not neocolonial cultural warfare.

-Don’t be anybody’s useful idiot. Try not to be a useless idiot either.

-Try again; fail better.