Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Strange Events Permit Themselves the Luxury of Occurring - curated by Steven Claydon

written by Tom Trevatt

In ‘Strange Events Permit Themselves the Luxury of Occurring’ Steve Claydon has permitted himself the luxury of the unapologetically grandiose task of cultural restitution. In his file notes Claydon asserts that ‘Strange Events…’ concerns itself with certain exceptions, flaws, aberrations, yawning apertures and flowering discrepancies inherent in taxonomic, historical, and aesthetic groupings. We shall begin by accepting Claydon’s claims to a redistribution of typologies and allow ourselves the luxury, indeed, to follow his curatorial argument.

Curation as happenstance; with a selection of objects and things that, through a process of becoming art (what he equates with the Heideggerian ‘Work-Being’), are selected purely for their ‘thingly’ character, Claydon comes to move away from two distinct curatorial models. On the one hand the more conservative method of selecting work to illustrate a theme or idea of the curator, to develop a narrative, on the other, the recent rash of curators that curate as artistic practice. This move, the curator suggests, is due to a pure love of the work. He has no thesis as such. His assertion that the show explores the problematic and elusive penumbra where the art object somehow distinguishes itself from the utilitarian or craft object through means of discretion or bombast seems to touch on what it means to exist on the discursive limits of art. However, the political move that Claydon makes here, whereby his questioning of modernism’s enunciation of the regime of art comes to bear on the specific objects he has selected for this show, is restricted to only objects he loves. This is the rub. Indeed, to say ‘I love you’ is immediately to cause violence, it is to say to all other things ‘I don’t love you’. What Claydon does then, put simply, is to form necessary limits of exclusion. By doing so he performs the very symbolic discrepancies within modernism that he flags at the beginning of his notes. The limits are necessary because any form of entering into an enunciation regime (as Latour calls it) unavoidably describes a closure of knowledge. Which is to say that to speak is to delimit. It is also, however, to speak for, to make oneself heard, to split the regime. And this split is the important moment here in representation. As we are aware, Bruno Latour, in his ‘From Realpolitik to Dingpolitik’, points to democracy’s etymology:

The word "demos" that makes half of the much vaunted word "demo-cracy" is haunted by the demon, yes the devil, because they share the same Indo-European root da- to divide. If the demon is such a terrible threat, it's because it divides in two. If the demos is such a welcome solution, it's because it also divides in two. A paradox? No, it's because we ourselves are so divided by so many contradictory attachments that we have to assemble.

For the social field is absolutely split, ruptured, fragmented and to enter into discourse is to act within this field to produce this split. But re-presentation (for this is surely what Claydon is involved in above all else) inescapably relies on the distance between that that is being represented and that that is doing the representing, and at the same time relies on an absolute transparency that can never be achieved. In Emancipation(s) Ernesto Laclau proposes that 'transparency requires full representability, and there is no possibility of achieving it if the opaqueness inherent in radical otherness is constitutive of social relations' (p.5) and i would propose the inverse, that full representation requires full transparency. Which is to say that the structure of democracy and representation operate in the same way; namely they both rely on a movement of radical difference and universality concurrently. There must be a commonality for difference to be constituted operationally within social discourse.

Steve Claydon’s exhibition, then, comes to bear on what we might know as a British modernist history by re-presenting artworks that have a thingly quality in common offering an entry into the regime. Our question would be, does Claydon’s selection have enough of a relation to modernity for his claims regarding the rehabilitation of them into the regime? Or more specifically, how does he read the exceptions, flaws, aberrations, yawning apertures and flowering discrepancies he sees in history? If on the one hand his selection is a means to set right an imbalance, to offer an alternative, then he is in danger of over simplifying the political in this problematic. However, if he suggests the show enacts a certain failing democracy, if he understands what we might call the dialectical nature of modernity (following Adorno and Horkheimer’s formulation of the Enlightenment as a dialectical process, haunted by the violence inherent in rationalism, rather than as the Kantian model of a linear process of perfection), then we may just allow him this one.

29th January 2008, London

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