Around the Formula

by Stas Shuripa

(the reproduced works are made by Salvatore Puglia)

Generally, a formula is a statement that through a relation of abstract values shows the structure of a process. A formula can be understood without reference to any example: it expresses a reality that is exterior to it. A formula is material because it only exists if it is written. A work of art, in order to be able to express an array of concrete human relations and yet remain autonomous, should have the nature of a formula.

The following values make the Formula for a Monument:
Imagery, or the expressive quality that makes images possible
Multitude, or an indefinite number of human lives
Management, or control, or bio-logistics
Network, or the materiality of communications
Objects, or the visible parts of things
The Present, or exterior space
The Past, or the interior world

The Formula for a Monument processes the material referents to the values mentioned:
Pictures: from paintings to photographs
Public: from spectators to participants
Objects: from commodities to things
Symbols: from letters to shapes

Every formula expresses something that is multiple and universal. In this case, it is about the public function of art. Is art just a production of affect that can be used for various purposes by various societies and regimes? Is it just a sarcastic part of culture or an existential decorum? Should it react, annoy, construct, mock, or propose? The formula for a Monument is about being human in History, it’s about navigating the space of missed possibilities.

The relative autonomy of the aesthetic experience works as an axiom that allows the language of art to evolve out of its own premises. Thus, the new terms can be generated out of the above-mentioned: Management of Multitude brings forth the Imperial; Present through Past points to History; History, Multitude, and Object make the grounds for the Monumental.

Matter and Monstrosity: the Monumental
The queue management installation is a form of ordering the multitude. It decreases anxiety through increasing power’s capacity for counting. It is a folded line; it separates and yet keeps people close to one another; and the way through is much longer than the distance between its beginning and end. It makes space bigger by injecting in it a form of symbolic order, it slows down public time, and that is why the queue management device is monumental.

It works as a monument to the procedures of counting and control. As often happens with monuments, the meaning is imbedded in some effects of its presence rather than in its plastic qualities: the space dissected by it, traversed by the capacity to count and register. The queue management device works as a pedestal for an invisible figure, for the traffic of the multitude.

A Memorial relates to an event like a storyteller relates to the space of her narrative. The Storyteller, or subject (be it artist or spectator), is a binary singularity that in a unique way translates the event in the narrative.

Monumental optics of History is about temporal colonization. It can be compared with the view of the skyline of an abandoned megapolis. It originates from the pre-modernist mountainous visions of sublime monumentality: multiple traces of the human relations are like geological layers. Instead of colossal time spans the skylines keep the memory of an indefinitely big number of communications. The skylines control the space like mountains dominate the landscapes, like great achievements of the past form the focal points of temporal flows.

Monumentality is inspiration radiated by the constellation of past achievements that became a kernel of present self-recognition of a community. Monuments keep the power of the past to renew the public self-recognition, that fictive Thing that is the base of every community.

Time becomes space. The Present gets heavier from the awareness of its own selectivity: monuments look with the unseeing eyes of the timeless terrors of History. And the slowed down Present becomes a monument to its own amnesia, a prisoner of the fossil gaze from the Past.

Monumentality is equilibrium placed at the crossroads of temporalities: it speaks metaphorically about the Past from its own Present, and metonymically about its own Present, which unavoidably fades into history.

The historical experience of objecthood comes from the points of confrontation between the Monumental and the Antiquarian, public and private, production and perception. What is Antiquarianism? It is the shamanism of the spirits of History.

All spirits are only shadows of the Power in the murky horizons of language, positivisations of the human wish to be taken care of, to be possessed. Antiquarianism becomes historicism when it enters the markets of the creative Industry in order to enjoy laments about the irreversible. Objects replace situations, infinite possibilities shrink into the presence of the eternally past. The Past becomes a showcase, a scene where objects flatter, console, and convince the Present that real life is the afterlife.

Histories. These are the pictures that reflect the observer on the surface of the bottomless flow of sadness that is going from what will never happen again to what will happen but never be known. The always missed encounter of the Past and the Future: if melancholy would be electricity, the antiquarian thing would be a light bulb. The invisible Past sees the Now through the thousand eyes of antiquarian objects.

“The Monstrous is something that should have remained repressed but suddenly comes to light.” The excessive horror that usually subsequently receives the status of a great event – this is the stuff that any monument is built of. At the frontiers between the lightness and darkness of being, monsters appear as the incarnated fear of the future: every monument is born as a monster.

Exorcising the demons of power in order to hand victory to the ghosts of desire. The monument is like the eye of the storm: with the lessening of the pressure of meaning it gains stability, being the boundary between the past and the future as the temporalization of the internal and external. The empty eye of History: it is not so important whom monuments are dedicated to; what matters is their very presence—for they inscribe the pressure of the unknown into the architecture of the collective imagination.

Structure as Object: the Border of Autonomy

The object can be seen as a manifestation of the autonomous work of art: it is what appears to the senses, not the depiction of something else. The objects are just what they are, frontiers that have allowed art to stay aloof from functionalization.

After the ready-made, objects may look like waste, like monsters or apparitions, because according to the logic of design, the only place for them is on the margins of visual culture: objects mark the limits of the drive for the industry of beautification.

The object is excess, a memento mori, a border mark of the realm where the cultural production of meaning ceases to function. They echo those megaliths that for prehistoric societies marked the beginning of the domain of the unknown and sacred.

The character of the ready-made relates the work directly to non-artistic reality. The post ready-made object mediates the connection of art and life through the labor of the specifically artistic formal inquiry. However, the navel of a vague semblance to phenomena of the outside world may remain.

Post ready-made objects bring up the question of the Format. Standard form, or format, does not have to mean anything as such; it is the redundant condition of the possibility of communication. It marks the beginning and end of the message, the frame that gives form to the meaning. When taken into art, it becomes a general sign of all these ways of the production of meaning. This double abstraction, link-through-rapture, allows developing the language of autonomous art.

The object and the thing are not the same. The thing as “thing-in-itself” that perhaps lies just behind the object is unintelligible, and therefore uncanny. Being an excess, the object should not have the fixed hierarchical composition of the traditional work of art. Being different from the thing-in-itself, the object presents itself to the senses as something relatively stable. Both composition and chaos are extremes of what can be called structure, or a form that includes a set of interrelated components. Structure is the complication of form.

The object is a fragment that is cut out of a pattern by the gaze of the subject. The artistic effort can often be described as seeing structures as objects. Taking a dynamic multiplicity in brackets, estranging it from the causal chains and the demand for meaning, such is the act of establishing distance between the work and the world, of forming the situation of art.

The object-as-structure problematizes its uniqueness. It is an example of itself, since it does not represent anything else; and yet, its identity is not equal to its presence. Every visible structure can be stretched further in mental space. Thus, objects as structures are always partial. The locus of such an object is not just a simple place: it generates the space of confrontational balance between integrity and dissipation, the limited and the infinite, capacity and possibility—in other words, space as medium.

The hierarchical unity of the work of art, or composition, comes out of the old idea of the immortality of the soul and her autonomous interior world. Later, Kantian philosophy transformed this quality into the mind’s capacity to synthesize sensory data in the act of apperception. The work of art was analogous to the transcendental subject; it filtered the flow of visual pleasure that fueled and supported the center-oriented construction of this subject. This was the beginning of the ethical, i.e. political, function of aesthetics.

Today, visual pleasure has become ubiquitous and ornamental; its production and consumption are intensified and interrelated. In medialized and formatted reality, the integrity of the artwork thus becomes a crucial problem again: what other form can the work of art find if not that of the subject-centered composition or of a flow of evanescent imagery? Structure as object becomes research on the conditions of the production of visual pleasure.

An assemblage of misrecognitions: the age of immaterial labor and information capital dissolves integral commodity forms. The integrity of the artwork becomes a knot of heterogeneous data flows and associations. The composed unity of the work is replaced by networks of flows, but if autonomy remains valuable for art, structure-as-object can be a response.

Mute Form: the Aesthetics of the Disastrous
It is important to understand the link between contemporary object-as-structure and the intentions of Modernism. Visual poetry of Modernism conceived the world through two filters: the universalism of utopia and the totality of disaster. Eventually, utopia had to be recognized as a great failure and permanent catastrophe that happened to History.

The end of the Utopian imagination meant the end of the Modernist production of meaning through art. Here, in this subliminal conflict between utopia and disaster, lies the crux of the Modernist mystery: the Unspeakable, or personalized Unknown. The end of the poetic line had a name in ancient Greek: “catastropha.“ It cuts off all possibilities but gives form to the verse, finishes it through defining rhythm and style. Thus, every final form is a disaster.

Today, the utopian impulse is splashed throughout the networks of culture. The inexpressible is distributed by language cast in channels and formats, through the very architecture of communication. Utopian energy is transformed into entertainment, corporate spirit, and ideological manipulation. The inexpressible became the special effect, an element of the consumption of meanings.

The aesthetical lays at the intersection of production and the disastrous. The rise of control means the growth of resistance. The Utopian comes back in the form of the rejection of the given, in the dysfunctional interconnections of objects and signs, through generative miscommunication, through a new appeal for the formal after the lessons of modernism are learned: purity of the medium and sacrality of the spiritual are the camouflage of control.

Disaster is the definition of form. The production of forms and meanings today is so fast and multidirectional that forms often remain unconnected. As opposed to the layering that was an “organic“ way of producing the meanings by pre-informational hermeneutic culture, contemporary culture is based on ideographic modes of saving and transmitting, on “disjuctive synthesis“, on practices of epistemeological “stacking”. It makes no sense for art to hunt for hidden meanings, for there are bunches of them, registered or not.

The only way how an artistic act can be juxtaposed to the universe, or better to say multiverse, of this production of massifs of meaning is a disaster that sets the limits to this universe.