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Aesthetics of Repetition: A Case for Oscar Masotta

Feature Juli Carson From the theaters booth we explained the idea of the [re-enacted] Happening over a microphone. We gave information about the authors and the actions of each of the original Happenings and we saidwhich was the truththat it was not our intention to repeat Happenings but to produce for the audience a situation similar to that experienced by archeologists and psychologists. Starting from some remains that had been conserved to the present, they had to reconstruct a past, the original situation. -Oscar Masotta, 1967 In Seminar XI, Lacan sustains that repetition is one of the four fundamental concepts of psychoanalysis. But if, as Heraclitus says, you cant step in the same river twice, repetition seems to be something of a misnomer, consisting in the return, not of the same, but of the differentthe return of something else, something other. Thus in fact it would seem there is no return For no two things are ever identical or exactly the same. -Bruce Fink, 1995 In 1966 Allan Kaprow christened Buenos Aires a city of Happenists. It was the year Kaprow collaborated with Marta Minujin and Wolf Vostell on Three Countries Happening, a simultaneous event in three cities: New York, Buenos Aires, and Berlin. Meanwhile, the Argentine trio Roberto Jacoby, Eduardo Costa, and Raul Escari were devising their Total Participation Happening, in which press releases and photographs of a Happening that never took place were given to various Buenos Aires newspapers. El Mundo (circulation 300,000) bought the story and ran it. There were also the deconstructed Happenings by Oscar Masotta, an Argentine artist and critic who deftly combined avant-garde aesthetics with Lacans theory of the subject and Sartres political imperative for committed art. What connected these experiments was a relentless focus on an events repetition, a rogue take on Kaprows Happening given his famous axiom that Happenings should be performed once only. But for a generation of Argentine artistsone associated with a flurry of neo-avant-garde strategies imported from the Northern Hemi-

sphere and staged at the Instituto Torcuato Di Tella (ITDT) in the mid-1960swhat mattered was the way a Happenings secondary documentation in the media was, in and of itself, a singular event. As Jacoby put it, [A] mass audience does not see an exhibition, attend a Happening or go to a soccer game, but it does see footage of the event on the news. In the final analysis, it is of no interest to information consumers if an exhibition took place or not; all that matters is the image of the artistic event constructed by the media. Whether or not we experience the original event, its reproduction ushers in another one. Perhaps, following Lacan, its because repetition involves the return of the different, not the same. What follows is a case study for a practice of repetition, one conceived in Buenos Aires by Oscar Masotta amidst an onslaught of military coups that would eventually lead to the Dirty War of the 1970s and 1980s. On this Argentine field we encounter Masottas Lacanian interpretation of the Happening, a model that lays the foundation for a psychoanalytic branch of Conceptualism highly relevant today for a group of international, contemporary artists interested in critical aestheticsthat tripartite investigation of art, politics, and theory. In Masottas times, critical aesthetics entailed simultaneously negotiating the strategies of the neo-avant-garde, a wave of military coups, and the introduction of Lacans theorization of the subject. This combination of disciplines, historical events, and intellectual ruminations now repeats among a select group of contemporary practitioners. But this repetition is no mere duplication. Rather, these eventsaesthetic, political and theoreticalare happening (again) for the first time in the discursive field of contemporary art and politics. For some the events are quite literally new, as they have no memory (primary or secondary) of the historical or neo-avant-garde vis-a-vis contemporary art. For others its figuratively new. But it is the latterthat subject who knowingly repeats, always as if for the first timewho functions as a courier of historical memory and is thus an interrogator of cultural practicethat concerns me. And this contemporary practice of repetition is happening at a moment when the discovery of Oscar Masotta (led in large part by the Museum of Modern Arts 2004 publication Listen Here Now! Argentine Art of the 1960s: Writings of the Avant-Garde) has piqued an international interest in this kind of critical aesthetics. First, a brief history of the Argentine campo. Oscar Masotta, c. 1966. Photo courtesy Susana Lijtmaer. reproduced in Listen Here Now! Argentine Art of the 1960s: Writings of the Avant-Garde (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2004). Used with permission of the estate of Oscar Masotta. Susana Lijtmaer.

Buenos Aires: 1960s Located in Buenos Aires, the Instituto Torcuato Di Tella (ITDT) was Argentinas most dynamic and modernizing cultural organization. It was founded in the mid-1960s in honor of the industrialist and collector Torcuato Di Tella. Run by Guido Di Tella, the institute not only displayed the Di Tellas collection, it also sponsored national and international awards. Lucy Lippard, Clement Greenberg, Pierre Restany, and Allan Kaprow

all acted as jurors for the ITDT. In 1967, when Masotta delivered his lecture After Pop We Dematerialize there, he began by citing the Russian Constructivist artist El Lissitzky; The idea that moves the masses today is materialism: however, it is dematerialization that characterizes the times. Masotta argued, via Lissitzky, that as correspondence grows, so the number of letters, the quantity of writing paper, the mass of material of supply grow until they are relieved by the radio. Matter diminishes, we dematerialize, sluggish masses of matter are replaced by liberated energy. In this spirit, Masotta urged, [I]f there is talk now of not concerning oneself with content, it does not mean that avant-garde art is moving toward a new purism or worse formalism. What is occurring today in the best pieces is that the contents are being fused to the media used to convey them. And if the medium was now the message, as Marshall McLuhan said, it was up to the artist to chip away at the imaginary nature of this message in the context of mass media. For Masotta, this entailed, as we will see, a Lacanian consideration of the looking subject in the context of neo-avant-garde strategies that migrated between disciplines and regions. A year later, the American critic Lucy Lippard published The Dematerialization of Art, in Art International. For her, dematerialism evoked an art as idea, whereby matter is denied, as sensation has been converted into concept. Ostensibly this was a dialectical turn away from Greenbergs Modernist paintingknown as art for arts sakeon the road first to what Lippard termed a rational-esthetic and then a postesthetic. That said, she offered a caveat: Dematerialized art is post-esthetic only in its increasingly non-visual emphases. The esthetic of principle is still esthetic, as implied by frequent statements by mathematicians and scientists about the beauty of an equation, formula or solution. And yet the heart of Greenbergismessence, beauty, harmony, and orderwas still beating. Like Greenbergs Modernism, Lippards dematerialism had less to do with the signifierthe material of an artworkthan it did with the signifiedthe artworks non-visual aesthetic fact. Even though Lippard tossed aside Greenbergs notion of medium specificity in favor of a logical positivist Conceptualism, the essence game of transcendentalism that defined high Modernism remained in its place. Moreover, it may have been enough for Lippard to reject the visual, but in so doing, the subject who looks at a Conceptual artwork wasnt taken into consideration. While Lippard was devising her Conceptualist formulations in New York, Masotta was devising a model of dematerialist art production around this issue of the looking subject, a redirected investigation he made while discovering the structuralist psychoanalytic writings of Lacan a full decade before artists in the Northern Hemisphere would

do so. Moreover, while those in Europe and America would later encounter Lacan through the institutionalization of his writing in academia throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Masottas discovery was made contingently as a lucky find in the early 1960s. This entails another story. Following the death of his father in 1960, Masotta fell into a deep depression, to the point of contemplating suicide. As historian Mariano Ben Plotkin recounts, this was the moment that Masotta discovered psychoanalysis: Suddenly I had to forget MerleauPonty and Sartre, ideas and politics, commitment, and the ideas I had invented about myself. I had to look for an analyst. Meanwhile, the Argentine sociologist Enrique Pichon Riviere had taken the bereaved Masotta into his home, where Masotta gained access to the structuralist writings of Lacan and Levi-Strauss. His studies with Riviere, which began as a means of distraction from melancholia, would lead to Masottas seminal paper introducing Lacanian theory, a text he wrote in 1964 and published in 1965 in Pasado y Presente. A key periodical of the New Left, this choice of venue attests to Masottas continued interest in politicsor at least a psychoanalytic turn within the political field. Even more significant, Masottas essayin which he sought to reconcile Sartres existentialist philosophy and Marxs materialist theories through Lacans structuralist phenomenological lenswas the first discussion of Lacan in Argentina and most likely the first one in the Spanish Language.

Oscar Masotta, Para inducer al espritu de la imagen (To Induce the Spirit of the Image), Instituto Torcuato di Tella, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1966. Photo courtesy Susana Lijtmaer. Reproduced in Listen Here Now! Argentine Art of the 1960s: Writings of the Avant-Garde. (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2004). Used with permission of the Estate of Oscar Masotta. And the results? Having read Lacans Seminar II on The Purloined Letter, a seminar Masotta would later explicate to artists in a lecture series delivered at the ITDT, his focus shifted to the subjects relation to the symbolic registerthat linguistic field of signifiers through which the subject is determined. Following Lacan, Masotta was concerned with the efficacy of the symbolic world (conscious thought) in contrast to the complete inertia of the Symbolic register (unconscious thought) that is anomalous to the subject. Against Lippards formulation of dematerialism, this was an anti-positivist approach be-

cause it took up more than what the subject knows to be true. In tandem, it took up what is unconscious in the subjectthose inert thoughts that paradoxically determine the subjects consciousness relationship to the Symbolic signifying system. This followed Lacans axiom that the unconscious is structured like a language and is therefore knowable in the field of the Other, even though the subjects own consciousness is incapable of accounting for the eternal and indestructible nature of unconscious contexts. Like Edgar Allan Poes purloined letter, the subjects unconscious thoughts are always hiding in plain view of the Other. It is thus to the field of the Other that the subject turns to find the truth of his or her shifting desire. Notably, because Masotta delivered his Lacanian lectures to artists at the ITDT, the Symbolic register to which he referred delineated more than the socio-political field, which was the primary concern of the Argentine Lacanian Left. Masotta purposely extended his investigation to consider the aesthetic field as well. In the mid-1960s, it was a radical and even precocious move to wage a tripartite investigation into the limits of representation within the visual field (dematerialist art), the subject who looks within the discursive field (Lacanian theory), and the social function of aesthetic critique vis-a-vis the political field (New Left). But it wasnt without political application or ramification. This burst of hybrid intellectual activity by Masotta and his cohorts at the ITDT was concurrent with the military coup detat of June 1966, led by General Juan Carlos Ongania. Whereas previous military coups in Argentina established temporary juntas, the Revolucion Argentina, headed by Ongania, established a new political and social order, one opposed to both liberal democracy and communism. Unapologetically fascist, Ongania immediately waged La Noche de los Bastones Largos (The Night of the Long Sticks), when police stormed the Faculty of Sciences of the University of Buenos Aires, beating and arresting students and professors. This attests to the braveryor frivolousness, depending on your ideological biasof the combined revival of psychoanalysis and the avant-garde amidst the advancement of a totalitarian dictatorship that would eventually enact genocide upon the Argentine Left from 197683. A Happening Redux The 1966 coup set the political mise-en-scene for Masottas essay I committed a Happening, written to counter the condemnationmade by one Professor Klimovsky in the newspaper La Razonthat perpetrators of Happenings would better serve the Left by investing their creative imagination in lessening this tremendous plague (of hunger).

For Masotta, this choiceeither Happenings or Left politicswas a false dialectic. His rebuttal evoked Walter Benjamins address to the Institute for the Study of Fascism, made in 1934, when he denounced the false choice the Left was forcing artists to make between political correctness and aesthetic engagement. For Benjamin, the Left needed to interrogate aesthetic tendencies, not merely reject them. Similarly, Masotta argued that Happenings reclassified the materialist basis of Art with a capital A (its most noble form being bronze or marble) and site (traditionally confined to the museum). As such, Happenings had the potential of interrogating and demystifying the hegemonic value system of art production/consumption by formally imbuing (critical) aesthetics with a social function. This entailed reorienting the subjects imaginary and symbolic relationship to a conventional artwork or art event, returning from the repressed the evocation of a forms different connotative value thats over-determined by standing aesthetic convention. The Happenings critical potential, then, was not ontological. In its most conventional application, a Happening could just as easily reestablish cultural hegemonies, as was the case of a Happening performed by La Monte Young in New York City, in 1966, which Masotta had attended. In I committed a Happening, Masotta described his experience of Youngs event: After climbing the last staircase [into a downtown New York City loft], one was assaulted by and enveloped in a continuous deafening noise, composed of a colorful mix of electronic sounds. Something, I dont know what, something Oriental, was burning somewhere. The lights were turned out; only the front wall was illuminated by a blue or reddish light. Beneath the light, and almost against the wall, facing the room and facing the audiencewere five peoplesitting on the ground, one of them a woman, in yoga position, dressed in what was certainly Oriental clothing, and each of them holding a microphone. One of them played a violin, whilethe four others remained as though paralyzed, with the microphones almost glued to their open mouths. [T]he four, stopping only to breath, were adding a continuous guttural sound to the sum of the electronic sounds. There was in this timeless spectacle a deliberate mixa bit banal for my tasteof Orientalism and electronics. Upon returning to Buenos Aires in April 1966, Masotta decided to repeat Youngs Happening. Though it might be more appropriate to sayemploying Guy Debords term that Masotta detourned it. Entitled To Induce the Spirit of the Image, Masottas Happening

waged a dual critique of Western Zen-fetish, a social phenomenon that disgusted Masotta in the context of American capitalism, and class stratification, something one saw everywhere in Argentina. Performed at ITDT, Masotta retained Youngs idea of putting on a continuous electronic sound at a high volume for an hour, as he would the arrangement of the audience and performersface to face, with the performers being lit. However, instead of five performers seated in yoga positions, Masotta hired twenty elderly actors, dressed as motley-colored downtrodden-looking individuals, to stand on an illuminated platform. When Masotta discharged a fire extinguisher the event began: I told [the audience] what was happening when they entered the roomthat I had paid the old people to let themselves be seen, and that the audience, the others, those who were facing the old folks, more than two hundred people, had each paid two hundred pesos to look at them. That in all this there was a circlethrough which the money moved, and that I was the mediator. Then I discharged the fire extinguisher, and afterward the sound appeared, rapidly attaining the chosen volume. When the spotlight that illuminated me went out, I myself went up to the spotlights that were to illuminate the old people and I turned them on. Against the white wall, their spirit shamed and flattened out by the white light, next to each other in a line, the old people were rigid, ready to let themselves be looked at for an hour. The electronic sound lent greater immobility to the scene. I looked toward the audience: they too, in stillness looked at the old people. In the context of Youngs original Happeninga past someone may or may not know independentlyits helpful to read Masottas experimental Happening through the logic of a double-blind study. Based upon a technique in clinical research where neither the researcher nor the patient knows whether the treatment administered is considered inactive (placebo) or active (medicinal), in a double-blind study no one knows who is in the inactive control group and who is in the active experimental group. Analogously, in Happenings one finds an attempt to deny the distinction between audience (passive group) and performer (active group), following the neo-avant-garde axiom that audiences should be eliminated entirely. All the elementspeople, space, the particular materials and character of the environment, timecan in this way be integrated, Kaprow concluded in 1959. The two groups constituting a Happeningaudience and performers would thus mirror each other, the reality of one being bound up in the other. Of course

this symbiosis would have occurred in Youngs Happening. However, given the absence of any ostensible critique, this imbrication of positionswhich by 1966 had become quite conventionalwas left unexamined, which meant the chiasmic relation between self and other wasnt really seen. Rather, the participants passively reenacted these positions, with Young seated in the privileged location of conductor.

Brochure for Acerca de: Happenings (About: Happenings), a series of lectures and happenings organized by Oscar Masotta at the Instituto Torcuato di Tella, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1966. Reproduced in Listen Here Now! Argentine Art of the 1960s: Writings of the Avant-Garde. (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2004). Used with permission of the Estate of Oscar Masotta.

In Masottas Happening, by contrast, the rules of the game were explicitly established as a critique, such that the artist (investigator) would also be blind in the sense that what would happen between the two groups, vis-a-vis the investigators action (in situ), was unknown by all. The only thing known in advance was that all the playersthe two groups and the artistwould be positioned in a triangulation of inter-subjective gazes. The old people were rigid, ready to let themselves be looked at for an hour. The electronic sound lent greater immobility to the scene. I looked toward the audience: they too, in stillness looked at the old people. We might ask what they all were looking at? Or rather, who was given to be seen, and by whom? Within this galaxy of signifiersthe elderly, their weathered clothes, the Argentine flags, the spectator-audience, the artistconductor, the Instituto Di Tellaan Imaginary field of multiple, fractured identifications were played out via each persons relation to the Other. This recalled Sartres observation that in the look I am possessed by the Other; the Others look fashions my body in its nakedness, causes it to be born, sculptures it, produces it as it is, sees it as I shall never see it. The Other holds a secretthe secret of who I am. Like a double-blind study, a secret thus structured the Happening, embedded, as it were, in the various discursive fields mentioned above. Meanwhile, the Happenist who wrote the scoreYou will stand here for an hour and be looked atinitiated the scene with an implicit declarationI am a sadist. In this way, Masotta self-reflexively radicalized the Sartrean theory of the look, because the subject as Lacan would have put itwas hiding in plain view. Which brings us back to the unconscious, a concept Sartre soundly rejected. From a Lacanian point of view, we might conjecture that the entire point of Masotta committing a Happening was to call attention to the subjects unconscious relationship to the Symbolic register, in which the participants were embedded, and through which they were determined. Moreover, given the particular signs he mobilizedthe people, the clothes, the weapon-ness of the fire extinguisher, the exchange of capital, and the lookthis point was explicitly political (to the chagrin of Klimovsky, who implicitly conflated the Happenist with the criminal). Masottas point was, however, made performatively, not didactically, which confused many on the Left. As Masotta explained: When my friends on the Leftasked me, troubled, about the meaning of the Happening, I answered them using a phrase which I repeated using exactly the same order of words each time I was asked the same question: My Happening, I now repeat, was nothing other than an act of social sadism made explicit. Basically, Masotta transformed Youngs Happening into a Sartrean situation. But

what confused those on the Left was not that Masotta had done thisthe Left was squarely behind Sartrebut that he did it in order to interrogate those on the Left and the Right, artist and politician, a move that made a critical demand upon all the participants. According to Sartre, a situation is the position from which a person engages with the worldwhere one is presented with a set of conditions that he or she can passively accept or actively interrogate. The active position entails recognizing that the quotidian choices we makebetween this or that actionis an affirmation of a given image of humanity as a whole. As Sartre put it, in making a choice, I am creating a certain image of man as I would have him to be.In fashioning myself I fashion man. As a means of interrogation, the committed artist might repeat these situations. In so doing, the artist would visualize the conventional choices subjects make in life, ones that could be made differently through art as a critique of life. Accordingly, when scoring his Happening, Masotta made several choices that implicated his fellow practitioners of art, some of which have already been mentioned. For instance, he did not accept the pseudo-scientific notion of dematerialism as defined by Lippard. Nor did he choose, in his Happening, to maintain the Orientalist components of Youngs original event. Rather, Masotta chose to visualize what was hiding in plain view: the truth of the subject within the double fields of Argentine politics and the International avant-garde, which is to say, to visualize a certain strain of social sadism among artists and politicians alike. For most, this collapsed dialectic was understandably counterintuitive. Certainly the psychedelic yogi scene staged by La Monte Young and his collaborators defined the zeitgeist of many artists, which, like the Left, protested an American right-wing administration that would back Argentinas Dirty War. But in reality, when it came to each groups ethnocentrisman attitude that often entailed a sadistic relationship to the Otherthere was little difference between the two groups, even though this connection remained in the register of unconscious thoughts. The issue of this unconscious reality, no doubt, formed the basis for Masottas disgust with the American social phenomenon of Zen as he encountered it within Youngs Happening. Another of Masottas descriptions illuminates the Happenings underlying sadism in physiological terms, and we should note how readily Masotta discounts the conscious intentions of the participants Orientalism: [I]n this sum of deafening sounds, in this exasperating electronic endlessness, in this mix of high-pitched noise and sound that penetrated ones bones and pummeled ones temples, there was something that had very little to do with Zen. I felt isolated, as though nailed to the floor, the auditory reality now

inside my body. How long would this last? I was not resolved to pursue the experience to the end: I didnt believe in it. After no more than twenty minutes I left. By leaving the Happening, Masotta made a choice. Not only did he refuse to participate in Youngs so-called Zen mise-en-scene, he further resolved to commit another Happening at the conceptual margins of Youngs event as a means of critique, a situation about a situation. However, Masottas situation disregarded Sartres imperative for a committed art opposed to the avant-garde, in that the Happening wasnt a wholesale rejection of the avant-garde. Instead, in a move that foretold the aesthetic theories put forth by Jacques Ranciereand read by so many artists todayMasotta used the Happening to demonstrate (in real time) the extent to which aesthetics and politics were bound up in a reciprocal relationshipneither being pure in and of itself. He thus gave us another axiom: Theres a politics to aesthetics and an aesthetics to politics. Further anticipating Ranciere, and departing from Sartre, Masotta knew that underscoring the role of the unconscious was central in demonstrating this reciprocity. Here, again, Lacan enters the picture.

Oscar Masottas Ensayos Lacanianos (Barcelona: Anagrama, 1976). The Purloined Avant-Garde In his 1955 seminar on The Purloined Letter, Lacan declared, a letter always arrives at its destination. In saying this, he wasnt claiming that a letter always arrives at the address typed on its envelope. Rather, the implication is that the letters rightful addressee is by definition the person who receives it. This idea relates to Louis Althussers notion of interpellation, whereby a subject (of gender, nation, class, etc.) becomes defined ideologically the moment s/he answers a hail or call from the Other (be it a parent, politician, or artist). This call and response happens every time we (unconsciously) recognize a hail and know that it is I who has been hailed. If a hail always reaches its rightful destination, its because someone is always thereas if by chanceto receive it. Likewise in the case of the purloined letter, the receiver is merely the holder of the letter, not

the rightful possessor of it in any prescriptive way. We can think of a purloined letter as an anonymous message placed in a bottle and cast out to sea. When it lands and a subject recognizes it and picks it up, s/he has answered its call. The artist is one such subject, as was Masotta. In 1966, Masotta answered a Lacanian hail, initiated by his mentor, after which he considered the role that unconscious thought played in the Symbolic field and paid it forward to his colleagues at the ITDT. In the context of Sartrean situations, this was an ethical act. For if Masotta intended to expose a secret that was hiding in plain view within the aesthetic and political fieldssocial sadismthen making this secret explicit entailed confronting participants with a repressed reality and a series of concomitant choices. Moreover, by simultaneously inducing a Sartrean situation, the Happenings overall event was extended to include the sites of prior production and subsequent discursive representation, including this one. And in each siteproduction, exhibition, and distributionthe question remained: Who would receive what hail? Returning to Masottas description of the event in I Committed a Happening, the production entailed hiring twenty actors to work for four hundred pesos. He explains that he wanted them to evoke those people whose normal job was to be hawkers of cheap jewelry, leather goods and variety material that were sold in those shops that are always on the verge of closing along Corrientes Street. He speculated that at their usual work they must earn less than what he was going to pay them. The event thus began with a negotiation between the artist and his workers: I gathered them together and explained what they were to do. I told them that instead of four hundred I would pay them six hundred pesos: from that point on they gave me their full attention. I felt a bit cynical: but neither did I wish to have too many illusions. I wasnt going to demonize myself for this social act of manipulation, which in real society happens everyday. I then explainedthat they had nothing to do other than to remain still for an hourI also told them thatduring this hour there would be a very high-pitched sound, at very high volume, and very deafening. And they had to put up with it, there was no alternative. And I asked whether they accepted and they were in agreement. As I began to feel vaguely guilty, I considered offering them cotton plugs for their ears. I did so and they accepted. In this situation, the performers received the hail of worker once they negotiated with

Masotta, who, in doing so, received the hail of management. The repressed fact that returns hereafforded by the exchange of money that Masotta later reveals to the audience as part of the performanceis what Brecht claimed to be the (masked) reality of theatre: the non-distinction between actor and worker, and, by extension, the stage and the world. Its not a matter of all the worlds a stage, but rather that the stage is the real world, with all the social acts of manipulation that accord it. One doesnt leave the world for the theatre, which represents reality. Rather, in theatreand in artone enters another situation where real choices have to be made. In Masottas case, a public situation was established once he announced the agreed upon exchange of money at the beginning of the performance. But this utterance didnt begin or end with the Marxist intent to expose the circulation of capital in art. Rather, the exchange of moneyestablishing the purchase of a sceneset the stage for the transparent exchange of looks, something that producers of conventional theatre and performance take great efforts to mask. As Brecht noted in The Messingkauf Dialogues, in theatre the audience sees quite intimate episodes without itself being seen, or so they believe. Its just like somebody looking through a keyhole and seeing a scene involving people whove no idea they are not alone. But in reality, this is an imaginary arrangement that theatre simultaneously sets up and conceals. In Masottas Happening, however, there was an attempt to establish a situation whereby participants were not just seeing the performers. To the contrary, they were looking at the circuit of gazes in which they, themselves, were self-consciously caught. Herein lay the potentiality of critique. In Masottas mise-en-scene, the participants were hailed to acknowledge the ethics of the look, which they had either sold or purchased, within the circuit of the gaze. The question of who looks at whom, and for what purpose, could not be ignored. Absolutely central to this sceneto the critical act of lookingwas the stark difference it conjured up in the art viewer in respect to the normative circuit of exhibitionism/voyeurism that characterized events such as Youngs, events that laid a claim for a cutting edge aesthetic. Certainly, this consciousness would have indeed been the case among those attending art events at the ITDTrecall Kaprows announcement that Buenos Aires was a city of Happenists, a claim the mass media ran with. In this way, Masottas commitment to avant-garde practice as a strategy of social critique relied upon his tactic of repetition being recognized by the viewer. However, even without consciousness of the first event, there was critical potential in Masottas iteration. For what was grounded here was the unabashed, naked act of evaluative lookingan act in which we regularly and problematically engage in our quotidian affairs and one, more-

over, that is masked by conventional realist art and theatre. Which brings us back to why the work of Oscar Masotta matters today. For this tactic of repetition is to be found everywhere in the best instances of contemporary critical aesthetics. Witness Andrea Geyers Comrades of Time (2011) project, in which the artist videotapes young women repeating the speeches and writings of historical avant-garde thinkers and collectivesRosa Luxemburg, the November Group Manifesto, Heinrich Mann, Walter Benjamin, Ernst Bloch, and Margarete Susmanas a means of critiquing the amnesic nature of contemporary art and politics. Or Constanze Ruhms Crash Site: My_Never_Ending_Burial_ Plot (2010), in which the artist-as-filmmaker revives and rescripts the identities of iconic female film charactersin this case, Hari of Andrej Tarkovskys Solaris (1972), Nana of Jean-Luc Godards Vivre Sa Vie (1962), and Giuliana of Michelangelo Antonionis Il Deserto Rosso (1964)as a means of putting the legacies of neo-avant-garde auteur filmmaking and Postmodernist feminism in dialogue with each other and contemporary filmmaking. Theres also Kerry Tribes 2010 re-performance of Hollis Framptons 1971 film Critical Mass, in which a couple improvises a break-up that Frampton edited into a series of stutters and repetitions. In Tribes redux, her actors re-perform Framptons scriptboth in its improvisation and final editwhereupon the actors, given to be seen, are objects of the audiences simultaneous identification and disidentification with a spectacle thats both real and reconstructeda performative metaphor for gender identification in the public sphere. These are but three examples in which a purloined avant-garde tactic gives rise to critical art production, to the chagrin of such contemporary thinkers as Peter Burger, who continues to argue, as he did in 1974, that repetition of these tactics institutionalizes the avant-garde as art and thus negates genuinely avant-gardiste intentions. Many excellent critiques have been made of Burgers claims, but suffice it to say that Burger squarely adheres to the belief that one can be in step with ones times. That, indeed, we can step in the same river twicethe first time being real, the second being false. This myth of authentic origin versus fraudulent repetition is a notion that tenaciously plagues a conservative facet of contemporary art production. It is against this myth of origin that I reviveno, repeatMasottas call for a dematerialist practice that utilizes the detourned signifierbe it the word, the image, or the lookto interrogate the limits of representation in which we are both caught and split. And, in repeating Masottas own repetition of an event, it is my hope that Masottas legacy will continue, after the fact, to bear fruit in the work of those artists today committed to the politics and aesthetics of repetition.

Juli Carson is Associate Professor in the Studio Art Department of the Claire Trevor School of the Arts at the University of California, Irvine, where she directs the Critical and Curatorial MFA Program and the University Art Galleries. She is author of Exile of the Imaginary: Politics, Aesthetics, Love (Vienna: Generali Foundation, 2007) and The Limits of Representation: Psychoanalysis and Critical Aesthetics (Buenos Aires: Letra Viva Press, 2011). Her forthcoming book, entitled The Conceptual Unconscious: A Poetics of Critique, will be published by PoLYpeN.