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Transformative

Avant-Garde and
Other Writings
Krzysztof Wodiczko

Transformative
To the homeless, undocumented immigrants, school refusers, war veterans,
maquiladora workers, and others who—through their art of public testimony and
fearless speaking—became collaborators in my projects, and who greatly inspired
and informed many ideas elaborated in this book.

Avant-Garde and
Other Writings
Contents

7 Introduction: Reading Identity/Cultural 172 Dis-Armor 254 War Veteran Vehicle


Wodiczko Prosthetics 1998 A n I n t ervi e w w it h B e n Pa rry
Rosalyn Deu ts c h 175 Open Transmission 2012
94 Beyond Hybrid State 2000 263 Making of Out/Inside(rs)
Wa rr e n Nie s lu c h ow ski a n d A n I n t ervi e w
Democracy/Avant-Garde Kr z ys zto f Wo di c zko w it h Jaro s l av A n d Ê l
1992 Monument/Projection 2013
16 Maine College of Art 101 An Interview with Bruce Robbins 276 Casting Shadows:
Commencement Address 1992 184 I Want to be a Catalyst If You See Something...
2004 107 On Alien Staff A n I n t ervi e w A n I n t ervi e w w it h
20 Creating Democracy A n I n te rv ie w w it h Wi l l i a m F u r lo n g K at h l e e n M ac Q u e e n
An In te rview w ith w ith To m Fi n ke l pe a r l 1988 2014
Patri ci a C Phi l l ips 2001 187 Memorial Projection 287 The Inner Public
2003 112 Xenology: Immigrant 1986 2015
26 The City, Democracy Instruments 190 Public Projection
and Artistic Practice 1996 1983
2007 114 Cultural Prosthetics 193 A Conversation between Douglas War/UnWar
38 Realism as a Course of Life 2015 Crimp, Rosalyn Deutsche, Ewa Lajer-
an interview 121 Designing for the City Burcharth and Krzysztof Wodiczko 302 Message from the Artist
with sc apegoat of Strangers 1996 1999
2012 1994 206 The Venice Projections 304 City of Refuge: A 9/11 Memorial
45 I’m for the Academy 129 The Prophet’s Prosthesis 1986 2009
An In te rview w ith K A n I n te rv ie w 208 The Homeless Projection:  310 Response to the October Questionnaire
Banachows ka w ith Ch ri stia n e Pau l A Proposal for the City of New York Au g u s t 2 0 0 7
1977 1999 1986 317 Constructing Peace
48 West/East: The De-politicization 135 A Conversation with Marek Bartelik 210 Projection on the Monument A n I n t ervi e w
of Art D ec e mb er 2 0 0 6 to Friedrich II, Kassel w it h C a ro l B eck er
Kar l Berve rid g e a nd 1987 2012
Kr zysz tof Wo dic z ko 212 Speaking Through Monuments 322 Arc de Triomphe: World Institute for the
1980 Interrogative Design 1988 Abolition of War
51  ersonal Instrument:
P 214 City Hall Tower Projection, Kraków 2010
A Response to Maria Morzuch 142 Interrogative Design 1996 328 The Culture of War
1992 1994 218 Instruments, Monuments, Projections 2012
54 For the De-incapacitation 144 Homeless Vehicle Project 2003 334 Tomb of the Unknown Soldier: 
of the Avant-Garde in Canada Dav id Lu ri e 227 Monumental Interruption The Józef Rotblat Institute for 
1984 a n d Kr z ys zto f Wo di c zko 2004 the Abolition of War
62 Avant-Garde as Public Art: 1988–1989 232 Communicating Through Statues 2015
the Future of a Tradition 149 Poliscar 2004 341 Un-War Cities
1998 1991 2012
66 Liberate the Avant-Garde 153 An Interview with Bruce W Ferguson
Gr ego ry Sho l e tte a nd 1991 Parrhésía/Inner Public
Kr zysz tof Wo dic z ko 161 Alien Staff (Xenobacul) 344 Bibliography
2014 1992 236 The Fearless Monument Speaks
74 Transformative Avant-Garde: 163 The Mouthpiece (Le porte-parole) 2003 345 Acknowledgments
A Manifest of the Present 1993 240 Critical Guests
2014 166 Variants of the Mouthpiece John Rajchman 346 Index
85 Art, Design and Education (Le porte-parole) and krzysztof wodiczko
2014 1995–1997 2009
168 Ægis: Equipment for a City of Strangers 246 Art, Trauma and Parrhésía
1998 2011
Introduction: Reading Wodiczko
Rosalyn deu tsche

I have been reading Krzysztof Wodiczko’s verbal and visual texts for three
decades. I started in 1986, when I saw the Homeless Projection: A Proposal for
the City of New York and took away the accompanying brochure, which contained
the written component of the work.1 I was already familiar with Wodiczko’s
projections, though, with one exception, only in reproduction. Having co-
authored an article with Cara Gendel Ryan on the role that the art world was
playing in promoting the gentrification of New York’s Lower East Side, I was
especially interested in this one, whose title announced that it would focus on
the victims of gentrification, a process that Ryan and I had associated with the
cruelties of the global socio-spatial restructuring of United States-dominated
capitalism.2 By the time I saw the Homeless Projection I had become concerned
about another, related urban-aesthetic alliance: an increase in commissions for
a kind of public art that participates in State-sponsored re-development projects
carried out in the interests of international finance and local real estate. One
such project was under way in Union Square in Lower Manhattan, close to where
I lived and the proposed site of Wodiczko’s projection. The projection was never
realized at its intended location, but I was excited to discover an artwork that
engaged in spatial politics otherwise. Wodiczko planned to project images of the
attributes of homeless people—a crutch, a cast, a shopping cart, a wheelchair,
a can of Windex—onto the four historical monuments that stand in Union Square
Park, the ideological centerpiece of the re-development program. Whereas the city
planning department and real estate developers were using the monuments
to present the program as a restoration of tradition, Wodiczko transformed the
sculptural figures—Lincoln, Washington, Lafayette, a mother with children—
into people making a living on the streets, restoring to visibility the social group
expelled from a space, whose re-development, extolled as beneficial to all, was in
fact evicting thousands of the most vulnerable residents from the city. To borrow

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Introduction: Reading Wodiczko


from Henri Lefebvre, Wodiczko performed a “critique of space”, ripping aside moral priority of collective recollection must belong to the victim, and “the victim at
appearances and revealing the conflicts—the subterranean violence—producing issue... is the other victim, other than ourselves”.8
and haunting an urban space that was being made to seem harmonious.3 Inspired by the Homeless Projection, I enlisted its help in writing an essay
Reading Wodiczko’s written proposal for the Homeless Projection, I was that examined the role performed by aesthetic disciplines in Union Square
struck by the freedom and boldness of the writing, qualities I had also admired re-development. At times, in need of particularly trenchant formulations, I
in the visual installation. I would later learn from Foucault, one of Wodiczko’s incorporated phrases from Wodiczko’s proposal. A couple of years later, I drew
principal influences, that in the ancient Athenian polis these were precisely on the Homeless Vehicle project, 1988, exhibited at New York’s Clocktower,
the qualities that distinguished the democratic parrhésíastes, the citizen who to issue a call for critical alternatives to public art deployed as the aesthetic
assumes the responsibility and takes the risk of telling the truth publicly. The user arm of re-development. Wodiczko created the Homeless Vehicle with several
8 of parrhésía or “fearless speech” “does not hide anything, but opens his heart and homeless consultants, a collaboration that anticipates the artist’s partnerships 9
mind completely to other people through his discourse”, acting “on other people’s with immigrants and war veterans. Wodiczko had constructed instruments in
minds by showing them as directly as possible what he actually believes”.4 his native Poland, where he made his first Vehicle, 1972, but the Homeless
Consider the frankness—intellectual and emotional—of Wodiczko’s description Vehicle project was the paradigm of a practice that he would name “interrogative
of contemporary architecture: “What has been defined as ‘architecture’... is design”—the design and construction of equipment to help marginalized groups
really a merciless real estate system, embodied in a continuous and frightening navigate the city. On the website of the Interrogative Design Group he founded at
mass-scale Event, the most disturbingly public and central operations of which MIT, he explained that interrogative design “responds interrogatively to the needs
are economic terror, physical eviction and the exodus of the poorest groups of that should not, but unfortunately do, exist in the present ‘civilized’ world. In the
city inhabitants from the buildings’ interiors to the outdoors.” Had the Homeless unacceptable world, interrogative design should present itself and be perceived
Projection been executed in Union Square, it would have confronted people in as unacceptable.”9
the streets of the city, asking them to care about reality, much like Socrates, the My 1988 essay “Uneven Development: Public Art in New York City”
exemplary parrhésíastes in the dialogues of Plato. interpreted the Homeless Vehicle as a work with a dual function: “a practical
Wodiczko’s frankness is coupled with imagination. He asserts, for instrument and a symbolic utterance”, a combination that typifies many of
instance, that “in a monument there is nothing more disrupting and astonishing Wodiczko’s subsequent works, reaching a high point, as we shall see, in Arc
than a sign of life”, a remark that helps explain the powerful impact of his de Triomphe: World Institute for the Abolition of War, 2010.10 Meticulously
projection technique, which animates petrified statues and shakes their seeming conceived to fulfill the immediate needs of people without homes—the collection
immobility. Among the Homeless Projection’s goals, he lists the following: “To of bottles and a degree of shelter—the Homeless Vehicle, like the Homeless
liberate the problem of the homeless from the unconscious of the Architecture!” Projection, also asks viewers to question the society that produces such needs,
The psycho-analytic terminology echoes an earlier theorization of the public which the text in the brochure distributed by Wodiczko and David Lurie during
projections, which likewise mentions “the unconscious of the building”, and, the Clocktower exhibition, calls an “outrage”. The text also identifies homeless
calling the projections “symbol-attacks” that interrupt viewers’ psychic people as “refugees from the transformation of the city”, an incisive depiction that
identification with buildings, elaborates: “The attack... must come with the night immediately prompted me to refer to “the homeless” as “the evicted” and that
when the building, undisturbed by its daily functions, is asleep and when its body foreshadows Wodiczko’s design of equipment for immigrants, especially those
dreams of itself, when the architecture has its nightmares.”5 fleeing poverty, persecution, and other dangers.
Wodiczko’s references to the unconscious, dreams, and nightmares of Wodiczko’s early public projections and interrogative instruments provided
architectural structures are not just poetic figures of speech. They literally me with examples of a public art practice that assists the speech and visibility
describe the operations of human memory, including collective memory, which of silenced groups while at the same time asking viewers to become aware of
is constructed by such structures, especially commemorative monuments and to question the presence of power in the built environment. The works
or memorials. Official memorials exercise what the French philosopher Paul became powerful allies in my investigation into the very meaning of the word
Ricoeur calls “instrumentalized memory”, by which he means memory wielded “public”, especially when it is attached to the words “art” and “space”, as in
in the interests of power.6 The city’s restoration of the Union Square statues in such commonplaces as “public art”, “the new public art”, “art in public places”,
order to portray re-development as a uniformly beneficial return to tradition is or “art in the public interest”. So did my regular, if too infrequent, conversations
a consummate example. From a psycho-analytic point of view, however, the with Wodiczko himself, which, if I remember correctly, began soon after “Uneven
questions posed by memory are: What does it omit, which is to say, repress? How, Development” appeared in October along with documentation of the Homeless
that is, does what we retain “actively [modify] reality” in a manner that, as Freud Vehicle project. At that time and increasingly in the early 1990s, a mobilization of
says, is, “not in the interests of truth”.7 Like an analyst, Wodiczko submits memory democratic rhetoric to authorize right-wing and authoritarian agendas dominated
to reality-testing, investigating the dreams and nightmares of monuments—or, mainstream urban policy discourse. In 1994, with the election of Rudolph
more accurately, of those who speak through monuments—so that they remember Giuliani as New York’s mayor, attacks on specific rights and on the very idea of
differently. Against instrumental memory and its correlative, narcissistic memory, rights accelerated as the city embraced “quality of life” campaigns and a “broken
he helps the statues perform the duty of ethico-political memory, doing justice to windows” approach to policing, an approach that cracks down aggressively on
the victims of the social forces the monuments represent. Ricoeur insists that the minor offenses, particularly in minority areas, and that is implicated in the recent

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Introduction: Reading Wodiczko


police killings of African-Americans across the United States. Advocates of public to public space—the interactive space between people in which the meaning of
art—city officials and urban commentators as well as art journalists—contributed the social order is open to contestation through the declaration of rights.17
to conservative democratic jargon by linking public art to such democratic ideals as
“accessibility”, “participation”, and “accountability to ‘the people’”, even as support In the wake of the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center and the launching
of things that are called public justified censorship, exclusionary urban design, and of the “war on terror”, as I turned my attention to the issue of war, I found my
economic privatization.11 However, other artists and critics, disturbed by the social concerns as closely aligned with those of Wodiczko as they had been in the
conditions of the public art explosion, began to question assumptions about what 1980s and early 1990s. In 2005, I analyzed the Hiroshima Projection, 1999, in
it means to say that something is public or to claim to represent the interests of light of the ethico-political implications of the feminist critique of subjectivity in
the public. One of the first to do so, though not with regard to public art or urban visual representation, which has profoundly affected Wodiczko’s work. I wrote
10 re-development, was the critic Craig Owens, who in 1987 wrote that “the question about the dropping of the atomic bomb, of course, but said little about war in 11
of who is to define, manipulate and profit from ‘the public’ is... the central issue general—or, to put it differently, war as a specific social institution.18 But I was
of any discussion of the public function of art today”.12 soon prompted to say more by another post-9/11 development: certain anti-war
During this period, Wodiczko and I voraciously devoured and shared intellectuals, including many in the art world, were citing the urgency of the war
theories that, we thought, could re-frame the terms of debate about art’s situation to justify a return to traditionalism in leftist politics and to repudiate
“publicness”. Wodiczko introduced me to Emmanuel Levinas’ reading of the poststructuralist, psycho-analytic, and feminist interrogations of the meaning
biblical plan for “Cities of Refuge”, which the philosopher used as a metaphor of the political. Taking place since at least the 1960s, these interrogations
for contemporary Western cities and which would become the starting point challenge absolute foundationalism, forge relationships between struggles
of the artist’s proposal for a 9/11 memorial.13 I enthusiastically told him about against oppression that are not necessarily commensurable, and theorize a
Claude Lefort’s political philosophy and Kenneth Gross’ The Dream of the Moving politics concerned with subjectivity. Against this expansion of the political field,
Statue, a book whose ideas, especially those about “talking with statues”, can those whom I, following Walter Benjamin and Wendy Brown, have labeled “left
be productively applied to Wodiczko’s projections onto sculptural monuments.14 melancholics” used the war situation to constrict it, dividing the social from
Primarily, we discussed three discourses: those about (1) the social production the psychical realm, the private from the public.19 Mignon Nixon articulates the
of space, the politics of space, and what Lefebvre calls “the right to the city” problem perfectly:
and Michel de Certeau “the practice of everyday life”; (2) the public sphere, a
concept that connects public space to democratic politics and, in some of its The habit of separating the psychical from the social, the individual subject
ethical formulations, to a response to the suffering of others; and (3) radical from social subjectivity, even seems redoubled in times of war—as if
democracy, which, theorized in the 1980s by political philosophers Lefort, Ernesto waging war depends upon holding these terms apart.... Even now, in the
Laclau, and Chantal Mouffe, among others, diverges from conservative, liberal, political discourse surrounding the Iraq War, the psychical and the social
and traditional Marxist concepts of democracy. As I deployed these bodies of are split, even on the Left; as if to reflect on subjectivity in time of war
literature to challenge prevailing notions of public art, Wodiczko’s work—The were, in itself, to reject the political, even to diminish resistance to war.20
New Museum/Astor Building Projection, 1984, the Real Estate Projection, 1988,
and Ægis, 1988—continued to serve as some of my principal examples of a type Yet, as Virginia Woolf—who, according to Roger Poole, “may be [war’s] greatest
of art, whose publicness arises not from its location in a space preordained as theoretician”, 21 —wrote in 1938, “public and private worlds are inseparably
public—“art in public space”—or from its cooperation in designing re-developed connected... the tyrannies and servilities of one are the tyrannies and servilities
spaces—the “new public art” of the 1980s—but, rather, from the performance of the other”.22
of an operation: “making” or “breaking” a public space, as Vito Acconci puts it.15 In the midst of the retrenchment of masculinist politics, I studied
In fact, the two cannot be separated, for an artist—or, for that matter, a social psycho-analytic theories of war and discussed them with Wodiczko. Freud,
movement like #OccupyWall Street—produces a public space in the sense of a Franco Fornari, Hanna Segal, Roger Money-Kryle, and Jacqueline Rose, among
democratic public sphere precisely by contesting an official one. Wodiczko’s work others, argue that unconscious aggressivity is a significant factor in the waging
performs the two-fold operation in multiple ways. It engages in a conversation of war and that, therefore, psychoanalysis, offering the insight that individual
with readymade aesthetic objects—buildings, monuments, urban spaces—and subjectivity is socially constituted and maintained, has something important to
brings their repressions to light. It declares “a right to the city”—to urban life as contribute to the discourse of war resistance. In 2010, I was gratified to come
both a physical and social form—for expelled residents. It addresses its audience upon Wodiczko’s astonishing proposal for the Arc de Triomphe: World Institute
by forming them into a public that exercises the freedom of critical speech. And, for the Abolition of War and two years later, to read his newly published book The
as I wrote about the Homeless Projection, Wodiczko’s projects “[take] account of Abolition of War. For against left melancholy, Wodiczko combines a critique of
the exclusions that create the social unity that monuments supposedly represent subjectivity with a critique of the concrete phenomenon of war. Extending the
and thereby subjects the foundation of that unity to democratic contestation”.16 practice that the artist has called “memorial therapy”—therapy by means of and for
The last-mentioned is the radical-democratic maneuver, which makes the memorials—Arc de Triomphe is a proposal to surround the gigantic war memorial
others possible. For, says Lefort, democracy appears when references to an in Paris with a transparent, scaffold-like structure, which, if built, would facilitate
unconditional foundation of social unity disappear, a disappearance that gives rise critical examination of the monument and also house an international research

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Introduction: Reading Wodiczko


institute dedicated to ending war, research in which psychoanalysis would play 9 Interrogative Design Group, “Statement of Purpose”, http://web.mit.edu/idg/purpose.
html, 2002.
an indispensable role. Influenced by Fornari’s assertion that we must return to 10 Deutsche, Rosalyn, “Uneven Development: Public Art in New York City”, Evictions: Art
the unconscious of the individual subject in order to stop war, Wodiczko, with and Spatial Politics, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1986, p 99. Originally published in
October, no 47, winter 1988.
incandescent wit, notes that we are “inner war memorials”, which, like external 11 For a discussion of conservative democratic discourse in urban policy, see my “Tilted
ones, must be disarmed.23 “What is the ‘unconscious’ of the ‘war memorial’?” he Arc and the Uses of Democracy” and “Agoraphobia”, Evictions, pp 257–327.
12 Owens, Craig, “The Yen for Art”, in Hal Foster ed, Discussions in Contemporary
asks, echoing his earlier writings. “How shall one envisage even the beginning Culture, no 1, Seattle: Bay Press, 1987, p 23.
outline of the psychoanalysis of... war memorials as a part of broader work on 13 Levinas, Emmanuel, “Cities of Refuge”, Beyond the Verse: Talmudic Readings and
Lectures, Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1994.
the psychoanalysis of war?”24 Transforming the war memorial into an “un-war” 14 Gross, Kenneth, The Dream of the Moving Statue, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University
memorial, Arc de Triomphe would invite viewers and participants to acknowledge Press, 1992.
15 Acconci, Vito, Making Public: The Writing and Reading of Public Space, The Hague:
12 psychical desire for war, to, that is, take responsibility for war by taking Uitgever, 1993, p 16.
13
responsibility for the unconscious.25 Violence, it would suggest, does not always 16 Deutsche, Rosalyn, “Krzysztof Wodiczko’s Homeless Projection and the Site of Urban
Revitalisation”, Evictions, p 42.
come from somewhere or someone else. With this project, Wodiczko once again 17 Lefort, Claude, “The Question of Democracy”, Democracy and Political Theory, David
takes the risk of speaking out about historical disasters. Once again, he does so Macy trans, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, p 19. My characterization
of public space as an organization of people acting and speaking together rather than
with the freedom and boldness that first impressed me in the Homeless Projection. as simply a physical space, is of course from Hannah Arendt. See Arendt, The Human
Condition, Cambridge, MA: University of Chicago Press, 1958.
18 Deutsche, Rosalyn, “The Art of Witness: Krzysztof Wodiczko’s Hiroshima Projection, in
Wodiczko’s 2004 commencement address at the Maine College of Art encourages Monument Therapy/Pomnikoterapia, Sztuki, Warsaw: Zacheta Narodowa Galeria, 2005.
the students to become artist-parrhésíastes, though not in so many words. The 19 Brown, Wendy, “Resisting Left Melancholia”, Loss, David L Eng and David Kazanjian
ed, Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2003, pp 458–465.
talk begins by questioning the aim and object of the “success” that is implied in the Also see my “Not-Forgetting: Mary Kelly’s Love Songs”, Grey Room 24, summer 2006.
term “commencement”, a crucial question in today’s market-oriented art world. 20 Nixon, Mignon, “War Inside/War Outside: Feminist Critiques and the Politics of
Psychoanalysis”, Texte zur Kunst 17, no 68, December 2007, pp 134–135.
It then presents possible answers: artists, who “make visible things”, can “bring 21 Roger Poole, “ ‘We All Put Up With You, Virginia’: Irreceivable Wisdom about War”,
to light what is hidden and kept in the dark”. They can, that is, make visible those Virginia Woolf and War: Fiction, Reality, and Myth, Syracuse University Press, 1991, p 99.
22 Woolf, Virginia, Three Guineas, San Diego, CA: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc, 1938,
“who are relegated to the outside of our privileged field of vision” and inspire people p 142.
to respond to the suffering of others. They can be prophets, warning communities 23 Fornari, Franco, The Psychoanalysis of War (1966), New York: Anchor, 1974.
24 Wodiczko, Krzysztof, The Abolition of War, London: Black Dog Publishing Limited,
about the consequences of injustices and interrupting what Walter Benjamin calls 2012, p 37.
“the history of the victors”. They can exercise counter-memory, deepen and extend 25 For an interpretation of Wodiczko’s Arc de Triomphe: World Institute for the Abolition
of War and for a more extensive explanation of what it means to “take responsibililty
agonistic democracy, “testify to the wrong in order to propose a change for the for the unconscious”, see my “Un-War: An Aesthetic Sketch”, October, no 147, winter
better”, becoming “a notorious trouble-maker who troubles a troubled world by 2014, pp 3–19.

making its troubles visible”. They can be fearless speakers. Wodiczko summarizes
his passions, values, and ideas, passing them on as a legacy to younger artists.
Many others have been beneficiaries of his generosity. To a significant extent, my
work as an art historian and critic has unfolded in dialogue with Wodiczko. I have
had the good fortune to think in his company.

July 2015

1 “The Homeless Projection: A Proposal for the City of New York”, in Jana Sterbak and
Krzysztof Wodiczko, New York: 49th Parallel, Center for Contemporary Canadian Art,
11 January–15 February, 1986, exhibition brochure.
2 Deutsche, Rosalyn and Cara Gendel Ryan, “The Fine Art of Gentrification”, October,
winter 1984, pp 90–111.
3 Lefebvre, Henri, The Production of Space, Donald Nicholson-Smith trans, Oxford:
Blackwell, 1991, p 92. Originally published by Edition Anthropos, 1974.
4 Foucault, Michel, Fearless Speech (1983), Joseph Pearson ed, Semiotext(e), 2001,
p 12.
5 Wodiczko, Krzysztof, “Public Projection”, Canadian Journal of Political and Social
Theory/Revue canadienne de théorie politique et sociale, vol 7, nos 1–2, winter/spring,
1983.
6 Ricoeur, Paul, Memory, History, Forgetting, Kathleen Blamey and David Pellauer trans,
University of Chicago Press, 2004, p 80.
7 Freud, Sigmund, “Analysis Terminable and Interminable” (1937), The Standard
Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume XXIII (1937–
1939): Moses and Monotheism, An Outline of Psycho-Analysis and Other Works, James
Strachey ed and trans, London: Hogarth, 1953–19­­74, pp 209–254.
8 Freud, The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud,
Volume XXIII (1937–1939), p 89.

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Introduction: Reading Wodiczko


Democracy/
Avant-Garde

Vehicle-Podium, 1977–1979
Maine College of Art With striking seriousness or with a disarming sense of humor the artist
may examine (as one example) the very impossibility of understanding why one
Commencement Address makes art in the first place.
Breaking away from our own labyrinth of loneliness, strangeness and
16 May 20 0 4 puzzling, uncanny singularity we may (as I try to do) turn our eyes and focus on
the invisibility, silence and alienation of others. As artists we are able, (and in a
democratic society we may feel obligated), to expand the range of freedom and
equality by making visible that—and those—who are relegated to the outside of
our privileged field of vision.
One can further take responsibility for other people’s ability to respond, 17
and for one’s own response to what one sees. Making the presence of these
invisible others visible, and their memories visible and heard—is what I try to
make happen through my work.
Such a task creates the need to complement your sophisticated
emotional and aesthetic equipment by ethical equipment consciousness, the
consciousness to see social implications in one’s own artistic action or inaction.
To follow Walter Benjamin’s thinking, “interrupting history” to prevent the
repetition of catastrophe.
“A prophet (always) interrupts history”, Benjamin said.
Every artist should have the equal right in trying to become (like Gustave
Courbet or Joseph Beuys) a prophet.
In existing (deliberative) democracy, as theorist Chantal Mouffe
demonstrates, a consensus tends to be reached at the price of exclusions. We
A commencement: a beginning, a succession, with success implied. must struggle then for the agonistic model of democracy that favors dissensus.
But success in what? To what object and what end? The struggle for a non-passive and inclusive democracy demands an agon, a
Let us focus on the visual—a proper start in this place, a school of art. contest and creative struggle for the visibility of (and by) those whom no one
As artists, even when we work in media, performance, design, or sound, we wants to see and of whom no one wants to hear.
consider the visual field as our heritage and cultural or professional base. Can artists help the excluded and the invisible, traumatized, silent
So, what it is that artists do? What can artists do? survivors (of today’s ‘democracy’), to be capable themselves of communicating
Artists make visible things, in order to make (other) things, visible. They in public their disagreement? Could they, with our artistic help, become fearless
bring to light what is hidden and kept in the dark. speakers and respond with a regained critical voice to the unacceptable
They make things visibly visible. conditions of their lives?
As artists, we are also responsible for making our (emotional and We should never forget that every voice has a face—once again, the visual!
intellectual) response (to these things) visible. Here our artistic response-ability Here comes another burning question regarding visibility and invisibility: what
becomes a responsibility! And to make sense from sensibility may be our political shall we do in our present troubling world, suffused, even suffocated, by horrifying
and ethical responsibility. images of terror, torture and abuse, and by the resulting horror of such images?
You have assumed a share of that responsibility by virtue of the fact that In the context of the overexposure of such politically selective (unequal)
you are here today. Finishing this portion of your education is probably the most visibility let us think about the restrictions imposed on visibility. Of the invisibility
responsible thing you have ever done.... of wounded, horribly mutilated and damaged bodies of our soldiers, of the coffins
This ability to respond, to do so in a social and public sphere—the gallery, the containing their bodies. Let us also think of the invisible treatment and abuse
museum, in physical and media-based public space, etc—comprises your aesthetic of our own inmates in our own American prisons! How could one help these
qualifications. This capacity of your actions—gesture, speech, sound as well as the prisoners to make themselves visible and heard?
organization of spatial forms that affect our interactions—can make a difference, for As the political philosopher Hannah Arendt has implied, in a democracy,
the better (or at least prevent the worse). visibility is equality. Invisibility and inequality go hand by hand.
To exhibit, or expose, in public what is supposed to be kept in the private Shall we seek refuge (or post-traumatic healing, a therapy) from both our
realm often requires breaking a code of invisibility and silence. inner trouble and world troubles in an ultimate (utopian) peace and harmony
Some of us feel an inner necessity to break such a code in order to visually created and disseminated through one’s own art (as in Mark Rothko’s paintings
challenge and respond to our own silence. In this way one may bring out into the and pacifist lectures)?
open and share the unanswerable existential (and alienating) questions that hide Or shall we radically re-interpret them, infusing them with one’s own
in one’s own mind and in one’s own subjectivity. outrage and terrifying experiences (as in Leon Golub’s Napalm paintings)?

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Then again, can we re-present them critically in the contradictory contexts world she helps immigrants to hide while through the artworld (and cultural
of media and propaganda images as counterpropaganda (as in John Heartfield’s attention) she makes the immigrants enforced invisibility, visible.
AIZ montages or Ernst Friedrich’s War Against War, publication)? A good double ceiling.
Thinking of all this, and of other painful cases of inequality in terms of A good double trouble.
visibility, we may also think of Francisco Goya (and his Disasters of War), Honoré In many ways, of course, whether you acknowledge it or not, you—the
Daumier, and Käthe Kollwitz. How can we follow in the footsteps of these great critical mass assembled here: the graduates (and by implication and association
artists, our colleagues, and gain from their achievements and successes? And your professors, parents, friends and supporters)—are already the best trouble
then how can we challenge them, and their heritage, with new artistic approaches in this world. And I realize that there are many paths in art, and not all of you
of our own? The worst of any coming danger may be the increasing obscurity and will follow the same one. And in any case, trouble must be made in an educated
18 diminishing transparency of the social and political reality around us. fashion (for you are professionals now), and in an original manner, unique to you 19
We can and may feel, in a troubling moment, obliged to take up our (for you are creative artists now).
responsibility and be ‘troublemakers’. As I say this, here, ‘ex cathedra’, and having contributed myself in a modest
I am a troublemaker. I have made a ‘career’ out of being one. They call way to educating some of you, I am honored to be accepted by you as your
me an interventionist, and indeed I am one, among many—some younger, some colleague—a notorious troublemaker who troubles a troubled world by making
my own age, some even older—disruptive and critical artists, both suspects and its troubles visible.
exemplars. Our individual and collective works will be on display after next week’s Thank you.
opening of a show at Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art called The
Interventionists: Art in the Social Sphere. This is a grand public presentation
of the evidence of the troubling activities of a great number of groups between Commencement Address given on receipt of an Honorary Doctorate from Maine
the 1980s and today. I will be showing the Homeless Vehicle I designed around College of Art, 16 May 2004.
1986, at a particularly acute moment in the urban crisis of New York City—a work
of scandalizing functionalism, or “interrogative design” as I like to call it.
I hope the show is conceived, and perceived, as a successfully disruptive and
disturbing experience, rather than an untroubling and elegant display of documents
and relics of our past troublemaking efforts and works of protest.
But “pro-test” means “to testify to the wrong in order to propose a change for
better”. Protest then is both a critical and a positive (pro-active) practice.
If you are going to make trouble, make it consequential, not mediocre!
Make sincere disturbances, mindful of their effects on others (good,
transformative, one hopes). Develop them carefully, design them well, make them
artistically challenging, in the right places and on the right occasions.
In short, make responsible and meaningful interventions.
If you choose to do this and succeed in it, you may (in this disturbing
way) create a great artistic treasure, something of great cultural, political and
ethical value.
But most importantly:
Do not get arrested! Unless an arrest is a part of your project, and, if it is...
Have a good lawyer.
Let me remind you (this is a warning, and a collegial confession, from
one who has painfully learned it himself): there is nothing worse than a loud,
poorly made, empty of meaning, and (in an even worse scenario) intentionally or
unintentionally violent scandal. Making things visible may be troubling, and it may
affect the world in a good or bad way
Historically, in wartime, artists are often put to work making camouflage.
In the present time of an undeclared state of war, Jenny Polak designs
parasitical artificial ceilings, double ceilings which function in ‘real’ life as
ingenious hiding places. They keep their users, undocumented ‘Arab’ immigrants,
purposely invisible, and safe when deportation-thirsty immigration officers arrive:
a kind of camouflage for endangered species. In addition to this troublemaking
practice the artist is showing her ceiling prototypes in art exhibitions. In the real

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Creating Democracy important to an understanding of my own work. This began in the early 1980s
with Claude Lefort’s theory of democracy.3 Lefort proposed that democracy is
an intervi e w wit h patric ia c p h i l l ip s founded on public space that should be essentially empty. This emptiness does
2003 not belong to any individual or group, but should be available to anyone who can
bring meaning to it, recognize others in it and initiate and perpetuate dissemination
and debate about rights. Lefort’s position is a utopian concept. He describes an
ideal, non-existent public space, which in reality is not empty but controlled and
barricaded by speakers, commercial and political, who speak at the expense of
silent others. In the 1980s, Chantal Mouffe and Ernesto Laclau introduced the idea
of “antagonism” to a theory of democracy.4 Society is recognized as impossible, 21
as a space of endless contingencies. Establishing precise distinctions between
difference and conflict, they articulated a democracy based not on hostilities
where parties are enemies to each other, but on “agonism”, where parties are
constructively adversarial. This theory accepts that democracy cannot be organized
in a well-mannered way without room for confrontations and a multiplicity of voices.
More recently, Mouffe has offered a new, agonistic concept of public space,
which finally brings real life to Lefort’s Utopia. Her recognition of antagonisms and
the need for agonism in a democratic process radically questions the prominent
liberal philosopher Jürgen Habermas for his popular legalistic and rationalistic
position on democracy which seeks to resolve disagreements in a blind drive for
consensus.5 I am giving here a very simple description of agonistic democracy,
but it is a complex and dynamic model, which, as Mouffe suggests, invites and
accommodates passion as well as adversarial positions. For her, democracy is
Patricia C Phillips: Rosalyn Deutsche, who has written critically and eloquently on not a solution but a process of engaging more actors (and I hope artists as well)
your work, suggests that democracy involves the recognition, if not perpetuation, of in an ongoing energetic discourse in the form of an agon, that is, a contest.
difficulty and disagreement. In fact, it is constitutionally unsettled.1 In the 1980s we also encountered new conceptions of a public sphere
Krzysztof Wodiczko: Democracy is always unfinished. It should never be that radically expand and transform Habermasian theory. Barbara Kruger and
understood as completed. We accept the idea that democracy—and the public Nancy Fraser articulated a feminist public sphere, for example.6 These are critical
sphere—is a phantom, a term that Bruce Robbins introduced in a collection of alternatives to the concept of the unified and dominant (bourgeois) public sphere
essays he edited.2 Artists are in a special position to contribute to this exploration theorized by Habermas and add to the hope for greater strength of the social
of new forms of democracy, by creating work that is challenging and disrupting. “multitude”. In this way the aggressive, responsible, and critical agonism of a
Artists have the opportunity to continue the avant-garde tradition, which has democratic discourse may be joined by organized social, cultural, and artistic
always engaged public issues. They should try to make sense of this tradition movements and actions as a part of the workings of the “oppositional public
without being imprisoned by it. spheres”. Together they may animate the public space while forcefully holding
Public space is where we often explore or enact democracy. In the the State, mainstream media, and even global financial structures ethically and
1970s, there was a growing interest in public art, public space and site-specific politically accountable.
art because of the rapid transformation of cities. Eventually, site-specificity PCP: The idea of public speech or testimony—and its relation to art and
was replaced by other concerns, but it was an important stage when artists democracy—seems to be a growing preoccupation in your work.
began to focus on context. Art could be geographically specific, formally and KW: Michel Foucault introduced the idea of fearless speech or, more appropriately,
visually specific, or socially specific. Artists began to consider the implications fearless speaking, in a series of lectures he gave at the University of California,
of an intervention in one area when similar events were happening at the same Berkeley, in I983.7 This idea emerges from Foucault’s careful reading of classical
time in other places. In the 1980s, there emerged influences from critical Athenian philosophy, which examines the role of the public speaker, without
urban geography and the ideas of uneven development, urban struggle, and whom democracy cannot exist. A fundamental question is how to prepare this
cultural resistance. Artists began to think critically about art—the position of “fearless speaker” to participate in the agora or contemporary public space. And
their practice—in relation to development in a city and the lives of its people. what are our expectations for the fearless speaker? Should she speak from her
Questions of representation also emerged. How should a particular social group own experience?
or stratum be represented? More artists became directly involved in the lives of We are speaking here of truth-telling, or the Greek concept of parrhésía,
the inhabitants of cities. frank or free speech. In order to believe that a speaker is telling the truth, there
Of course, there always exists a theoretical environment that influences must be trust. The speaker must sustain her ability to convey truths in public,
artists’ activities. I entered this public space with a set of references that are often to people who may not want to listen. This, of course, relates to agonistic

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democracy, where there might be more and more fearless speakers who differ stress therapy can never eliminate individual or cultural trauma, but it enables
and disagree with each other. Of course, this can be seen as a problem by those individuals and society to live with it.
in positions of power. Rather than a theoretical inquiry, like in the work of Jacques Lacan, for
I find this an attractive proposition with both political and ethical example, this must be pursued in a practical way. People need help to regain their
consequences. Public speech requires a political consciousness that accepts memory and speech in order to become active members of society. Herman suggests
democracy, as Mouffe and others have proposed, as a process. Being adversarial that moving from self-examination and private testimony to engagement and public
is not about creating enemies or escalating hostilities, but is a way to develop testimony is a key part of the recovery process. I am not speaking in a clinical way,
the dynamic conditions from which people learn to respect each other. but this is an issue of personal healing that connects to a vision of society’s health.
PCP: How is public space both an opportunity and obstacle? How can we ensure This interest began when I first worked with immigrants. Strangers. It became
22 that new speakers flourish rather than flounder? clear that the operators, users, and performers of the instruments that I make use 23
KW: Public space is a site of enactment. It belongs to no one, yet we are all a them to negotiate their inner lives with the outside world. For example, the Alien
part of it and can bring meaning to it. How do we do this? How do we come to Staff, 1992, has a number of functions. These speaking/walking sticks with their
recognize each other? There are questions of rights and ideas of utopia. Is utopia personal reliquaries, monitors, and recordings are a user’s double. They can be used
harmonious? Or is it the recognition that we are strangers who recognize and as therapeutic devices, as well as implements to participate in a democracy. The
accept the strangeness of each one of us? instruments provoke an exchange of opinions. The entire process of pre-recording,
There are inequities and stratification. Artists need to understand, as most speaking, recording, and editing required for the Alien Staff and other instruments is
political and social activists and organizers do, that public space is often barricaded not unlike the stages of post-traumatic therapy. The process of editing turns speech
and monopolized by the voices of those who are born to speak and prepared to into a manageable scope and form that is available to anyone.
do so. First, this is done at the expense of those who cannot speak because they Crossing borders, in all senses of the words, is traumatic. Consider the
have no confidence that anyone will listen to them. Historically, they have good aftermath, with all of the legal issues, hostility, euphoria, and disappointment.
reasons not to be confident. Second, they have no developed language. Third, they The stages of transformation of identity for the immigrant, the internal dialogues
are frequently locked in post-traumatic silence. There is repression so that certain and disagreement, create a very stressful complexity. In the process of becoming
words cannot be said because particular memory patterns have been shattered. a new person, an immigrant must imagine, examine, and question all identities—
Yet, these are the most important speakers in a democracy. They should the past, present, and future. Those who are ready to negotiate these psycho-
speak because they have directly experienced its failures and indifference. They political roles need this equipment, an artifice or prosthesis, to begin this
can testify, but often at the risk of their status, health, or even life, in order to demanding process of fearless speech.
disrupt normal relations. I do not propose how all of this should be resolved. I only suggest that
PCP: You imply that truth-telling, like testimony, is a deeply felt, embodied experience. artists, who are situated between technology, discourses of democracy, and the
KW: Yes, in my work I try to actualize this concept of truth-telling. If we wish to lives of people, have unique opportunities to create practical artifacts that assist
bring these unheard, invisible, and uninvited speakers to public space, then how others in this migratory and transitory world.
are we to do this? We could give a microphone or loudspeaker to these people, PCP: Could you discuss ideas of witnessing in the context of your work?
but we may hear nothing. So the question is, what kind of conditions must be KW: To testify is to bear witness to a wrong, loss, or injustice in order to propose
created for these individuals to be heard? What is required for them to have a change for the better. As an artist, I try to equip unheard individuals with
some impact? This accepts the political perspective that we truly learn about a prosthetic device so that they can more effectively break the silence. The
the world from those less fortunate than ourselves. Truth-telling also requires equipment allows them to develop their speech—to help them with this final
a psychological understanding of democracy. So we need to connect a political stage of healing so that they can become more effective agents. They can speak
ethic with a psychological program. in either an indirect (by letting the instrument speak) or direct mode. With the
PCP: When did this inquiry into the post-traumatic enter your work? And if always device, they are armed with memory. Memory is annealed through the instrument.
implicitly there, how and why did it become more explicit? There are opportunities for change and interruption, but the act of testimony
KW: The theories of Mouffe and Foucault must be connected with trauma can occur. These instruments are symbolic structures that establish unstable
therapy concepts. A person to add to this growing list of references is Judith situations. The user can speak, but cannot be spoken to. The activity of speech
Lewis Herman, who wrote Trauma and Recovery.8 She is a psychoanalyst and can become a kind of obsession. I think of the survivors of Hiroshima that I
practising therapist who works primarily with survivors of rape and sexual worked with for the Hiroshima Projection, 1999. In this case, it was a challenge
violence. She is interested in the relationship between social justice and therapy. to overcome a silence imposed by their own community.
Her understanding of the stages of recovery, if not explicitly about a democratic PCP: I see a connection, one that I did not fully understand or appreciate before,
process, suggests the kind of work that must be done for people to become between your projections on monuments and civic structures on the one hand and
fearless speakers in public space. the vehicles and instruments on the other.
It is precisely those who have had traumatic experiences who should KW: There are many contradictions in the reality and ideology of monuments.
speak first. But they are the ones who cannot. So the political and ethical must It is in the shadows of mute monuments that speechless people dwell. Through
be connected with psychological and sociological agendas. Post-traumatic the instrument, the speaker becomes a critical participant in the environment of

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Democracy/Avant-Garde


the monument. The person begins to animate the monument. Another kind of someone else, determine that I have survived, they may decide that the project
dialogue begins for the city at large, perhaps for the world. This is what I mean can be used in some way.
by animation. Once they determine that they can use me—and I can use them—we may
PCP: Helping people overcome silence and move through that final stage of begin. Once we can use each other, we begin to trust each other. And once we trust,
trauma is potentially empowering. But what are the risks? we can begin to play. These are a triad of Winnicott’s theory: use, trust, and play.
KW: Once they have thought about the act of speech, they need to calculate what In this case, the transitional object can be the instrument, myself, or the project.
is more risky, to speak or not to. PCP: This allows the people you work with to imagine that this is not just
PCP: And what role do you play in these calculations? your project, but their’s as well. But your and their project may have different
KW: Sometimes I meet with people to discuss a project and they never return. It objectives and outcomes. This is an empowering way to think about all art: that
24 simply is not the right moment. Those who do come back tend to stay until the very it will not retaliate, that it can be used in multiple ways. 25
end. Obviously, there are risks with either decision. They need to anticipate what this KW: Some of the questions you sent raised ideas about the ethical dimension
process will mean for them. As a creative director, I serve as an active listener. of this work. What is trust in this kind of work? It is about mutual interest. They
Everyone has a choice to stay or to leave. Sometimes loss moves them can use me. I can use them. And there is nothing really wrong with being used—
to speak. Sometimes people are not ready to give testimony. They need more ethically speaking—as long as there is some mutual benefit.
time or other conditions. In some cases, this reenactment of trauma can be very PCP: We can accept that there can be a kind of collaboration where participants hold
helpful and healthy. But it also can be difficult. This is not a clinical situation. different expectations and understandings of the consequences. Collaboration
I am not a licensed clinician. I am an amateur in this field who understands the engages the ideas of democracy that we discussed earlier. It does not require a
significance of these situations. I try not to make mistakes. seamless, harmonious concept of community, but is animated by passages of conflict
PCP: Do you ever encounter hostility? and difference. Collaboration can accommodate all of this richness and texture. It isn’t
KW: In many ways, there is always mistrust at the beginning of a project. It is a homogeneous notion of everyone walking in stride to some common destination.
psychologically charged. The people I meet with first have to accept, reject, or KW: Yes, this idea of people using the project and me using them is, in fact, a
somehow come to terms with this mistrust. Does someone want to make money vital form of democracy.
from them? Do I want to become famous through them? Is someone after a
sensational story? These are legitimate questions. The fact that I come from the
outside becomes less threatening and probably less interesting. They begin to Originally published in Art Journal, vol 62, no 4, winter, 2003, pp 32–47.
listen to themselves and each other. The project becomes less threatening. They
begin to accept that the project will not retaliate. It can, in fact, be used by them.
PCP: Generally, fearless speech is not spontaneous rhetoric, but something that 1 Deutsche, Rosalyn, Evictions: Art and Spatial Politics, Cambridge: MIT Press, 1996.
2 Robbins, Bruce, “Introduction: The Public as Phantom”, in The Phantom Public
has to be developed and cultivated. I am interested in the ethical, psychological,
Sphere, Social Text Series on Cultural Politics, Bruce Robbins ed, Minneapolis:
and pedagogical character of your work. The prosthetic device is central University of Minnesota Press, 1993.
3 Lefort, Claude, “The Logic of Totalitarianism”, The Political Forms of Modern Society:
to these ideas. In our earlier conversation, you cited DW Winnicott and the
Bureaucracy, Democracy, Totalitarianism, Cambridge: MIT Press,1986 and “The
“transitional object”.9 Question of Democracy”, in Democracy and Political Theory, Minneapolis: University
of Minnesota Press. 1988.
KW: The project is no longer just my idea, but becomes a transitional space. 4 Laclau, Ernesto and Chantal Mouffe, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Toward a Radical
This is something that not only designers should learn, but artists as well. We are Democratic Politics, Winston Moore and Paul Cammack trans, London: Verso. 1985.
5 Habermas, Jürgen, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry
talking about an object or space that, with recurring use, becomes a container into a Category of Bourgeois Society, Thomas Burger trans, with the assistance
for the inner world of the user. At the same time, we accept that it is part of the of Frederick Lawrence, Cambridge: MIT Press. 1989; originally published as
Strukturwandel der Öffentlichkeit, Darmstadt: Hermann Luchterhand Verlag, 1962.
outside world. For example, my instruments or equipment have to be chosen by 6 Fraser, Nancy, “Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of
the users; I do not choose who will use it. And this process is very unpredictable Actually Existing Democracy”, Habermas and the Public Sphere, Craig Calhoun ed,
Cambridge: MIT Press, 1992.
and frequently begins with a deep skepticism or rejection of the object. Why 7 Foucault, Michel, Fearless Speech (1983), Joseph Pearson ed, New York:
would someone whose life is unrepresented in the media trust one of my Semiotext(e), 2001.
8 Herman, Judith Lewis, Trauma and Recovery, New York: Basic Books, 1992.
mediated instruments? 9 Winnicott, DW, The Motivational Processes and the Facilitating Environment, New
PCP: The instrument may be perceived as enabling, but it is also controlling York: International Universities Press, 1965 and Playing and Reality, London:
Tavistock, 1971.
and entrapping.
KW: Or stigmatizing. There are hundreds of reasons why people would mistrust
the situation. But for people who feel marginalized, the opportunity to insert
their voice may be worth whatever risks or discomforts. In terms of psychological
developmental theory—and here Winnicott’s work is very relevant—potential users
must, in some manner, destroy the project and myself. I have to be destroyed, the
project has to be destroyed, if we are to proceed together. Then they need to see
if the project and I will survive our psychological destruction. And once they, or

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The City, Democracy, democracy will die and it will be like it was in the communist Poland before I left.
Nobody told me about all that before I left Poland. I suspect that then nobody
and Artistic Practice really knew it. Who then would dare say that when democracy reaches the point
of stability and the safeguarded guarantee of its existence, it disappears? Who
2007 would dare say that democracy often equals risky work and a battle?
As an immigrant from Poland rooted in the Polish tradition and in the
emigrant tradition, I started to think more and more about Adam Mickiewicz. I
remembered that the title Trybuna Ludu (The Tribune of People) was a loan name
from a socialist and Christian journal, La Tribune des Peuples, co-established by
Mickiewicz who was also its editor-in-chief. In this journal the poet published the 27
so-called “constitution for Europe” that is a “set of principles” in which he put
forward the issue of “otherness”, stressing the importance of equal rights for
peasants, women and Jews and where he also formulated a certain social program.
How was it possible to learn the democratic tradition if the words
themselves such as: “democracy”, “socialist democracy”, “citizen”, “social
good”, “conditions of existence”, “equality of rights”, “social activism”, “political
activism”, “economic equality”, “social equality”, “political awareness”, “social
class”, etc all sounded like petrifying slogans from the communist newspaper
Trybuna Ludu and belonged to the language of the place I wanted to run away
from as far as I could? Already I realized then that irrespective of the language,
which was made infamous and corrupted by the communist regime, everything
that is democratic has to have a close link with what is social, political, ethical
and artistic. The work for the cause of democracy has to be continued. We need
Aeschylus: Why should we admire a poet? to restore and refresh the meaning of the language of democracy.
Euripides: For his intelligence and his admonishments, his warnings, and Today Ladies and Gentlemen, you and I are at the same point of the
because we make men in the cities better. above mentioned restoration of meaning to the language of democracy and are
Aristophanes, Frogs in the process of working for democracy; myself, who as many others was exiled
from Poland by communism, and you, who forced communism to be exiled from
Poland. Today, we meet on the same democratic grounds.
Introduction
In 1977 I left the then undemocratic Poland in my quest for democracy. However, The City
I have not managed to find democracy as something ready-made that could give The city—the civitas, topos, locus that means “a place”. Since the 18 April
me something concrete. I thought erroneously that, contrary to the bad ‘presents’ 1791 Free Royal Cities Act, an integral part of the Constitution of 3 May 1791
which we had always received from an undemocratic system, a democratic system adopted by the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the city is the place where
would give me good ‘presents’. Fairly quickly I came to realize that my hope for city-dwellers are equal and free. However, despite this highly inspiring promise,
finding democracy and receiving its presents is a utopia. Crossing more and more and perhaps because of it, the city’s egalitarianism and its freedoms and rights
new frontiers of different countries and cities I came to realize that democracy is are being put to test every day. The city promises all its citizens to be protective,
something that has to be made by ourselves because nobody can make it via ‘a supportive, open to newcomers, open to new cultures, practices and discourses
directive from above’. Democracy cannot be made for us without us. Democracy and yet the city does not always manage to deliver this promise and be open
cannot be ordered upon us, unless we are willing to accept the ‘democracy’ of and inclusive enough. The city is both the stage and the stake of democracy.
President Putin. By its very nature democracy cannot offer anything definite Paraphrasing Jacques Derrida, it is possible to say that, “the city does not exist”.
beyond constitutional rights, which are in fact only a conceptual ‘legal right’, the Like democracy the city is a phantom, “a thing to come” (a venire), a “thing to
right to have rights, to persistently ask for human and political rights, to strive become”. And this is where our ethical and political responsibility comes in as
for the rights to be stable and all inclusive for ourselves and for others. a continuous, constantly repeated effort (encore un effort) and work on the city.
In my unending pilgrimage to democracy I also started to understand that This effort and work requires political passion and the freedom to express one’s
the privilege of having the rights which democracy can offer is connected to the views, the right to disagree (dissensus), to protest, to contradict and to intervene.
duty to wake it up from the lethargic sleep it has a tendency to drift into it. I saw Emmanuel Levinas said that “the political hierarchy and totality of Athens” and
clearly that there is nothing worse for democracy than the passiveness of its “the ethical and anarchic individualism of Jerusalem” are equally indispensable
citizens. I came to understand that if dominated by those who will strengthen in order to suppress violence and secure the democratic process. The city as a
their own rights at the expense of limiting access to these rights of others, community must be continuously and simultaneously created and de-legitimized

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Democracy/Avant-Garde


in the name of democracy and in the name of that which remains excluded, Foucault, the psychological conditions for the development of these qualifications
neglected and suppressed. The city must take into account those citizens who were only implied. His demand for the ethics of the self, suggests however the
live and work in its ruins, in abandoned buildings, in its shelters for the homeless. need, and perhaps even a duty to take seriously the “care for the self” by the
It has to account for abandoned women and children in secluded sweatshops and parrhésíastic speaker himself. To be able to tell the truth and transmit it effectively
it has to notice all forms of slavery in the domestic, commercial and industrial and responsibly in public, the speaker must be ready to tell the truth and to make
environment. To get fit and fully able in terms of democracy, the city has to look it public; he must be of a healthy mind and prepared to develop his capacity to
at itself from the perspective of its ailments: physical, social and psychological. communicate. It must be assumed that those who bravely come forward with
Can the work of artists make a contribution for the sake of democracy the otherwise unsolicited, often unspeakable truth need others who can open
and can it be used to contribute something significant to the process of inspiring, themselves up to bravely listen, open their ears, I’oreille de I’autre, (the ear of
28 articulating and disseminating democratic awareness? In my lecture today I the other), using Jacques Derrida’s expression. 29
would like to pose the question of whether building such political and emotional
awareness and political discourse marked by passion is only an issue of politics, Art and Parrhésía Today
law, sociology and culture, or whether it should be an artistic project. If so, The ancient democracy was inclusive only for the small group of citizens: the
then precisely what kind of project could it be? How should this project be so-called polis. It did not include women, slaves, foreigners and others. Our
constructed? Can the artists make all the excluded, marginalized, and publicly modern democracy in its present form, at least on paper, promises to every citizen
invisible citizens often traumatized in their silent suffering— the city survivors— and every resident, rich or poor, the fundamental rights, including the right to
not only visible, but more importantly, can the artists help them to make communicate in public space, to speak fearlessly and fearlessly listen.
themselves both visible and heard? Can we, instead of working on their situation, If one wanted to look for a fearless speaker in today’s democracy, one
for them or on their behalf, work with them toward the betterment of their lives should look among those whose experiences should be most urgently heard, as
and toward the more open more inclusive democratic city for all? Can the artists most instructive, evocative and simultaneously offering valuable criticism to
together with the city’s nameless ‘others’ become the inspirers, interventionists, make the city a more inclusive, just, free and equal space. Unfortunately and
catalysts and more, the co-authors in such an inclusive democratic project for tragically, those who should be the first potential present day parrhésíastes
the embattled city or rather for the city which is never enough embattled? The are too often discouraged, even incapacitated by the very experiences which
aim of my lecture today is to encourage you to see positive answers to these and they should be publicly announcing and denouncing. As a result of traumatic
other questions. When elaborating on the issues I have raised I shall refer to life events, their ability to share their passion in an open public space has been
my own experience as one artist’s attempt to contribute to this possibility in the shattered. They are unable to publicly project their experiences, are unable to
hope that you will find more effective and more affective artistic methodologies, protest, to witness, to give a testimony, to voice their criticism and to share
means and techniques. their prophetic vision. In such a difficult situation, Foucault’s demand for the
In the 1990s I began to utilize video technology in my projects as they were ethics of the self and “care of the self” on the part of the potential parrhésíastic
taking on a more narrative and more collaborative character. Since then, my work has speaker, which aimed at perfecting his (and today also her) mental and
been connected not only with the ideas of intervention and public space but also with emotional qualifications, becomes today the democratic project. However, it
the idea of the alien, testimony, monument, trauma, healing, and with what Chantal must be said here that without solid social, psychological, cultural, artistic,
Mouffe calls “agonistic democracy” and what Michel Foucault called “fearless technological support and without the help of the community and self-help—
speaking”, evoking the Greek concept of parrhésía. that is work on oneself—the potential fearless speakers, the parrhésíastes,
will remain unable to open up and openly speak out in public space. They will
Parrhésía remain silent.
I would like to say a few words about the notion of parrhésía. Without protecting
its parrhésía, the city cannot call itself democratic. In Ancient Greece, in the time Parrhésía and Public Art
of Athenian democracy (and its later Greco-Roman form), parrhésía meant the In this situation, to call itself truly public, art has to develop relevant strategies
Athenian right and duty (and later even the art) of free unrestricted speaking or and practices which will allow it to effectively and affectively contribute to the
outspokenness and it was at the very core of the democratic process and the life of inclusiveness of the democratic process and of public space. In this effort the
public space. This open speech, fearless and free speaking required special political process of regaining and developing the ability to be open and to open up others,
and ethical qualifications. A potential fearless speaker needed to perfect himself (in as well as to speak out in public space, must become an integral part of the
Athenian democracy unfortunately only himself). The task of the fearless speaker artistic project.
was to articulate, to speak out in public space and to be able to tell the truth from One among such parrhésíastic projects for artists and designers is to create
the depth of his own experience while at the same time offering an unsolicited and inspiring artifices, situations and events to aid expression and communication
brave public criticism aimed to bring about a change for the better. through which silent and unheard city residents will be able to fearlessly open up
Michel Foucault made reference to this ancient practice in the context of and share the unsolicited truth about their existence while others, thanks to the
the 1970s discussion of “radical democracy”. While the importance of the political event, will gain the courage to be able to fearlessly bring themselves closer to
and ethical qualifications of the parrhésíastic speaker were strongly emphasized by them, to listen to them and to hear them.

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Democracy/Avant-Garde


Art of the Other seemingly ‘civilized’ consensus is in fact a shallow compromise, usually reached at
The word “respons-i-bility”, “being respons-ible’” is a derivative from the words the expense of various social exclusions: rejections that evacuate all inconvenient
“response”, “respons-ability”, the ability “to respond”. Since the very beginning (yet burning and painful) problems, issues and voices from public discourse.
of the artistic avant-garde, about 100, and some would say over 150 years ago, Democracy cannot be a solution. Democracy and solution or consensus are
artists have been mastering the skill of an ethical and aesthetic response and contradictory terms. Of course, no single group should claim a monopoly, priority
reaction towards what is often hidden in the world that we live in so that the or exclusivity as an agent performing the ‘disturbing’ and ‘disorganizing’ agonistic
suppressed existential and social reality can become visible. I believe that still task in order to keep democracy alive. There cannot be a ‘historically chosen’
today, albeit with new and different strategies and methods, and according to class, or group to perform such a role. The ways and methods of gaining access to
new notions of “utopia”, our respons-ability, our ability to aesthetically respond communicating through public space and urban media are a part of a democratic
30 to present-day realities, those neglected and kept in the dark, remains the core contest and that is agon. 31
of our artistic and civic respons-ibility. At the same time it is obvious that our Those whose role is to operate within the limits of social support or who
responsibility must reach much further. work within ‘cultural agency’ networks in the city, should have the ability to
Having acknowledged the lack of ability to respond in others, we should negotiate and cooperate with various individuals or groups to give priority to the
take responsibility for the respons-ability of others and in this way alleviate the agonistic choice of potential authors and performers of such public speech acts and
scarcity of ‘public response’. Understood in this way the ethical artistic practice, performances. The choice must be agonistically negotiated to secure its greatest
as proposed by Levinas, is located in the center of democratic interplay between impact in the context of events and circumstances that bring changes to the city.
the asymmetry of human interaction in ethics and the symmetry of these I firmly believe that art and design in its multiple forms of public
interactions in politics. Ethical asymmetry is always where I may see myself as intervention, through contesting ‘oppositional constructions’, ‘temporary
unequal to another and where I am forced to focus more on the other than on appropriations and infiltrations’, critical city performances, functionally provocative
myself. It is the ethical asymmetry that keeps the political symmetry alive, and and scandalizing projects and situations, interrogative design projects, ‘relational
in which we are all equal. What is needed in democracy, as put by Levinas, is an projects’ and, urban media innovations, are in a strong position to contribute in
ongoing interruption of politics by ethics, of totality by infinity, interruption of everyday life to a non-passive agonistic model of democracy. They can help citizens
what is said by what remains unspoken. fearlessly share and disseminate the truth about their unimaginable and unspeakable
life experience in the open and they can help others to openly listen and hear and
Visibility and Equality comprehend it without fear. This must be the first priority for art that wishes to
According to Hannah Arendt, political equality means visibility in public space contribute to truly inclusive and agonistic democracy!
and conversely, political inequality and invisibility go hand in hand. As artists who
use various means of communication, be it multimedia, sound, performance Trauma, Testimony, Monument, Projection and Protest
or the broad field of design, we consider our visual field as the area of contact As I mentioned before, those who should be the first to publicly testify today to the
with our heritage and our cultural and professional foundations. As visual artists truth of their experience, those who should be the new parrhésíastes, are often too
and designers, as practical experts in making ideas, things and experiences be traumatized by these very experiences to open up and appear in public space.
visibly visible by finding their purpose and giving them a public form, in making If I may use here Deleuze’s expression (albeit in a less diagnostic but more
them effectively appear in public and become affectively useful, we can take prognostic and provocative way) I would like to say that art in today’s democracy
responsibility for others, for the lack of ability and capacity on the part of these and in today’s city is both a critical and a clinical issue. According to clinical
others to react and be visible in public space. As professional artists we are capable psychoanalysts, the struggle for recovery from trauma is directly dependant on the
of contributing to the dissemination of freedom and equality by making visible those patient’s capacity to actively participate in developing a narrative voice and on his/
who are relegated to the outside of our privileged field of vision. her readiness to give direct testimony. Psychoanalysts claim that there is a greater
My city instrumentations, especially those designed by myself as chance for a successful recovery when the testimony is performed as a public
performative and communicative devices, and my public projections—the act, and even more so when it is directed as a social utterance to and on behalf
performative appropriation-animation of prominent city monuments—are aimed of others. The act of public truth-telling has a restorative power. A psychologist,
to function as the vehicles for creative dissemination and the strengthening of Pierre Janet termed this act “presentification”. Judith Herman, a trauma clinician
public presence and public visibility. As such, I hope they can contribute to the says that the “survivors” capacity to perform their testimony and make themselves
social equality of the city. visible in public space depends on their success in the process of emerging from
their post-traumatic stress. Public truth-telling is the common denominator of
Art and Agonistic Democracy all social action. Herman adds that survivors often undertake to speak about the
Foucault brought to our attention the Athenian demand—postulate for the place to unspeakable in public in the belief that this will help others. In doing so, they feel
be reserved in society for a “fearless speaker”. At present, this form of democracy part of a power that is larger than themselves. As put by Herman, “trauma forces
is passionately advocated by Chantal Mouffe. She strongly objects to the existing an average person to become a theologian, philosopher, and a judge”.
“deliberative democracy”, claiming that there is a dangerous tendency for Foucault’s politico-ethical democratic project on the issue of fearless
achieving easy agreement (consensus). Mouffe convincingly demonstrates that this speaking in the struggle for the truth as “critical truth” must merge with

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critical memory and with recovery from trauma to become one complex social disassociated from the pain causing reality. Let me say here that both city
and aesthetic project. I am convinced that it is art that is the needed and monuments and city residents need a democratic animation and re-animation.
indispensable practical form required to realize this project in public space, as
it is well suited for acts of presentification and for making visible the passage Let the Monument Speak
from a private confession through a public testimony to transformative action, A critical monumental ‘clinic’ should be initiated and run by those who, in the
that is to a metamorphosis. process of recovering from their own trauma, have themselves just become
‘speaking monuments’. I mean those of whom Judith Herman, said, “In refusing
Protest to hide or to be silenced, in insisting that rape (or any other unspeakable life
The word “protest”—pro-test—comes from the Latin testis, that is witness. event) is a public matter, and in demanding social change, ‘survivors’ create their
32 The word protest includes both praise for testimony and praise for the act of own living monuments.” 33
testifying as well as some encouragement for a change for the better. Protest is My monumental projections, such as my project in Hiroshima and in
simultaneously a critical and a positive act. I suggest that protest, similarly to Tijuana, attempted to appropriate these qualities of monuments that should and
agon, parrhésía, testimony and even monument and memorial, should become a are able to serve those who are otherwise invisible, unheard and disrespected. It
part of our attempts to reach a critical truth from the point of our “place” (topos) is clear for me that the traumatized silent city residents need to be democratically
which is situated in our present day—in our ‘today’: a place which is not hidden re-animated and it is also clear that the traumatized and silent city monuments
behind the horizon of the future. I also suggest that all these notions should be need to be democratically re-animated as well. In the case of my monumental
combined by something existential, critical, active and prophetic also including projections, my motto is as follows: To animate the monument one must animate
our dissensus for the place (topos). For utopia is not our place, but “No!-place” oneself. Conversely speaking, to help oneself to be able to animate oneself, one
meaning I condemn such a place, I protest as a witness of my present day which needs to animate the monument.
I cannot accept and as a witness with experiences of my past. I present my vision
of the future in which there will be no room for such a place. City of the Victors and City of the Vanquished
When we say, “This is the public space of the city”, we mean an official
Monument representative and also monumental space of the city which is reserved for the
Cities are populated by two distinct yet interrelated groups of dwellers: memory and history of the victors, a space for remembering and celebrating those
monuments and residents. And there is a relation between the democratic health who have won, who have succeeded and, let us say it clearly, a space where those
of the city’s residents and the democratic health of public monuments. At times, who have not succeeded, the nameless vanquished, the forgotten witnesses and
monuments and memorials in their stillness and speechlessness look strangely survivors of yesterday and of today are conveniently forgotten. The success of
human, while traumatized humans in their silence and motionlessness may democracy depends on the disruptive and performative tradition and on interaction
appear strangely monumental. The silent city survivors living in the shadows of with the nameless. This tradition of disruption must affect the linear continuity
these monuments look at the blank facades and blind eyes of public buildings of the history of the victors.
and memorials, which are speechless witnesses to present-day injustices. Referring to Walter Benjamin, the prophetic act of “interrupting history”,
Both—monuments and survivors need to be re-animated. They need, what I an act which can arrest time, must be an act of closeness to our “time-now”
call “monument therapy”. and a consequence of one’s revolutionary intuition of the present and it must
The word “monument” is related to remembering, reminding, or minding be combined with the hope that one can prevent the future from repeating the
and also to warning. Monumentum, in Latin derives from the verb moneo, monui, past and present catastrophes and injustices. The disruptive and performative
monitum that is to remind, to warn, to remind with regard to future conduct or tradition is also our artistic heritage. For quite a long time we have been involved
events. The word “memorial” refers to the Latin memento that is precisely a in joining the vanquished and nameless in this prophetic journey as cultural
command to mind and to remind. activists and animators with Gustave Courbet (“Bonjour Monsieur Courbet”),
In our present- and future-bound concerns the critical mission of the Die Brücke, Joseph Beuys, Guerilla Girls, Gran Fury, Act-Up, Barbara Kruger,
monument and memorial is being repressed through their continuing enslavement and others. In this context I should also mention the work of my colleagues in the
to the past, through all-too-excessive and uncritical commemorative and celebratory United States such as Walid Raad and the Atlas Group, Critical Art Ensemble,
functions and duties. Despite all the painful events and experiences which we Electronic Civil Disobedience, Autonomedia, the Yes Men, Visible Collective, and
(and also the monument) have witnessed, despite many victims and survivors, the the programs and projects of the Vera List Center for Art and Politics in New
authorities of public space do not allow for and notoriously prevent testifying, pro- York. Their political and artistic presence and work is also a kind of support for
testing and critically responding in public. In this way the monuments and memorials my own work in MIT’s Interrogative Design Group where I am currently working
are closed, forced to be inanimate and silent, forced to exist while being realistically on my new project, the Iraq War Veteran Vehicle.
and symbolically ‘cut off’ from present-day realities and experiences. They are
forced, as Janet said, to live in a continuing ethical, political, psychological and Public Projection
aesthetic stress and suffering from, if I may call it in such a clinical way, a Monument Etymologically, the word “projection” comes from the Latin projectlo (taking out)
Dissociation Syndrome (MDS), that is in the state of being psychologically and “pro” meaning forward. In its broader sense projection means an action,

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process, state, technique, an effect of showing something or outlining something, public who will give support; the public who will give criticism; the rebelling
of emphasizing something against a surface, against a background or against public, the infuriated public and the composed public—all these people together
the surroundings; it refers to something becoming visible, appearing or showing. participate in making the unique public life of the projection. Following the earlier
Projection as pro-jection suggests movement towards something new. At the mentioned encyclopedic understanding of projection, its public character becomes
same time it is also kind of connected with ‘e-jection’, throwing out of something effective when, through projection, issues are made visible and surface against the
ahead of oneself and out of oneself, and possibly it is also connected with the ‘re- background of social life, when new socially important issues are formulated via
jection’ of something or someone. a projection and when the third dimension is being added to oneself and others—
These two seemingly contradictory faces of projection make sense when taken others who become vividly visible in public space, who step out into the outer world
together. Ejecting (pro-jecting) something new (that we hope to be something better) (both socially and visually—as well as in any kind of action which aims to broadcast
34 is generally connected with re-jecting something old (that we perceive as something and make visible the presence of oneself and others. A public projection (frequently 35
worse). What I mean here is a projection which involves a public act of throwing out of preceded by a yearly process of socio-artistic preparations) is a public performance,
oneself a dangerously hidden inner complaint, which involves uttering this complaint stepping out into the forefront, in front of the crowd, fighting one’s way through,
in public and voicing one’s dissensus in the open. Such a projection is critical and pushing through, pushing out, ‘stepping out’ of line (I mean taking a risk); a
activates the process of transformation. becoming visible in public space that may sometimes prove risky.
In the world of art, publicity and performance projection is often taken
to mean a production of fantasy which has a link with the tradition, effects Political Art and the Art of Politics
and techniques of creating illusion, a magic show which aims at producing an Let us contribute to “the political” rather than to what is called “politics”. Let
illusion of reality and replacing reality with illusion. The artist actively projects us help to create the political on the grounds of disturbance, by disturbing the
and externalizes and the audience takes it in and internalizes. The audience ‘policing’ and ‘distributional practices’ of the governmental or the corporate
is expected to introject and identify with the projected image and symbolically authorities and State agencies: social, cultural and economic.
absorb the image. In my opinion these expectations especially in the case of a Since the 1990s our objective has been to contribute to the political rather
projection shown in a public space have dangerously moved projection towards than to politics, to the conception of polis rather than to policing or the ‘police’,
the range of aims and techniques characteristic of entertainment shows, political to that which is a multitude or potential, rather than potentates. In our actions
propaganda and the seductive production of consumer needs. we are closer to revolt than revolution, to agon and dissensus than consensus,
After all, the city itself is already a kind of projection which dominates, to democratic parrhésía than political passivity; we are closer to disciplined
blinds and makes it impossible to create other projections also of what remains civic responsibility and nomadism than to the State apparatus; and finally we
hidden, weak, unpleasant and inconvenient. In comparison with the projection of are closer to self-emancipation than teaching by a directive. Let us continue our
‘the city’s superpowers’—their economic, political and religious publicity combined efforts in creating art for the political.
with the ideological projection of the city’s monuments and architecture, as well There are new well-described methodologies developed for this purpose by
as with the projection of the social silence that is all of what the monuments and artists, artistic and cultural groups and local collaborative networks and coalitions.
the symbols of the city’s space do not say, to what they do not react and keep Referring here to the words of Jacques Rancière, let us see the project of “the
silent about when it should be of their concern and within their visual field— political” as an “emancipatory project”, in the way of disturbing “the set system of
the public projection which I offer is interrogative projection, interventionist social inequalities” by giving a voice to those who are being excluded or segregated
projection, a counter-projection but not an ideological fantasy, an introjection. by fixed “hierarchies of knowledge” and culture. In pursuing our aims let us
avoid categorizing these with whom we work by any preconceived and uniform
The Public Audience terms pertaining to their identity (such as for example the proletariat, the poor, a
Public projections count on an ample public audience which will turn up, as put by minority) and thus approve their common name, “the equals”.
Brecht, “not without interest”, that is not without a reason and who will be willing as In this respect to contribute to the political means to refuse to act as
an outcome of the projection to become motivated, unnerved, shocked or rebellious ‘masters’ over ‘others’ and to reject treating anyone as our disciples. If anything
thanks to the projection, together with it or even against it. The city’s public audience we should act as if we were ourselves the disciples in the emancipatory process of
has already got experience with projections because the city itself is a projection in others. In short, speaking again like Jacques Rancière, let us consider ourselves
which the public is both passively and actively involved; where the public is its object as “the ignorant teachers”, “the ignorant school masters” (maitres ignorantes)
and subject depending on the historical circumstances—circumstances that the who create conditions for the development of others self-awareness, self-
public itself sometimes creates. articulation, self-representation and the skill of communicating with the self.
In the case of my projections, the audience includes also its authors— Doing so, we should understand the psychologically developmental and transitory
actors, co-authors, co-artists and monument animators; their families, friends and character of the artistic production process and see it from the difficult and fragile
enemies; people involved in organizing the projection; social organizers, volunteers, perspective of those who choose to work on the project and are willing to infuse
help groups, and self-help groups; journalists and the media; the community it and transmit through it, their often traumatic life experience. In this process
gathered around and involved in staging the actual projection (projection crew, the question whether it is the work of ‘the participant’ or the work of ‘the artist’
film crew, sound people, editing team); the public meaning the witnesses; the should not be even formulated, let alone responded to. Such a question would

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Democracy/Avant-Garde


destroy the transitory and developmental character of the creative process which, Not public space for art but art for public space, disrupting it, unnerving
as put by DW Winnicott, requires securing the “potential space”: “the third it, stimulating public discourse, directing it toward a better life in the city toward
stratum of experience” in which the participant becomes the artist and, I wish to better people in the city.
add here, the artist becomes a participant in the project. One more thing remains As Bertolt Brecht said in his “Ten Poems from a Reader for Those who
to be said, when working with people let us learn to develop an atmosphere of Live in Cities”,
openness, trust and playfulness.
The cities are allowed to change,
Public Projection in Poznań But you are not allowed to change.
I am currently involved in the planning stages of my newest public projection We shall argue with the stones....
36 which, thanks to the Signum Foundation, can take place in Poznań in a public 37
space. Projection, protest, testimony and parrhésía are already there. The
collaborators in my project are those people whose presence should be noticed Based on a lecture given at the Poznań University of Art on reception of an
by social organizations. The presence and needs of those people who in their life Honorary Doctorate in 2007.
have been less fortunate than us, but who know more than us, about our cities,
have become more visible for me thanks to one of Poznań’s charity organizations
and its great social work, both deconstructive and constructive. I refer to the
Pogotowie Społeczne (Social Emergency Group) at ul Borowki 12 in Poznań. And
more specifically, the work of Beata Benyskiewicz and Wojciech Zarzycki. Their
work described in the Group’s newsletter, Biuletyn Stowarzyszenia Pogotowie
Społeczne shows the breath of practical and theoretical experiences in which
Poznań’s and Poland’s problem of rejection, homelessness, unemployment,
addiction, family and partnership issues is analyzed. It is also a sign that things
can go in the right direction in social work.
As in other projects, the planned public projection in Poznań will be
yet another attempt, once more an effort to employ the symbolic quality and
prestigious presence and scale of a selected city monument and to use it in order
to make publicly visible the city’s others with no false claim of true understanding
of their life situation and with no exaggeration. This project, I truly hope, will
create a two-fold socio-aesthetic situation where, on the one hand, the city will
allow the city’s others to develop and reinforce their weakened or shattered
capacity to open up and share their difficult life experiences in public and in
which, on the other hand, the public will be able to bring itself respectfully closer
to the city’s others and will acknowledge their role as major actors and heroes on
the stage of the city’s agon.
At the same time I hope that the projection will help the city’s monuments
to feel more confident as they become involved in the process of being useful
to the living residents, animators and the animating public. In this respect the
projection will widen our public space. Apart from the city survivors themselves
who will be directly involved as co-artists in this project, there may be many more
participants, such as, social workers, other rescuers and their families and friends
as well as anybody else who is willing to help and cooperate in a variety of ways.
The project is intended to be prepared and carried out in close collaboration with
social support organizations and groups, under the administrative and cultural
auspices of the institutions related to these organizations and in cooperation with
the authorities related to the urban site chosen for the projection, as well as with
the city itself, its civic authorities and all supporters of the project.
I would like to dedicate my ‘project to come’ to these city residents and city
dwellers for whom and with whom these social support organizations work, as
well as to all their workers—that is to all with whom I wish to work to be in accord
with my artistic and public beliefs.

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Democracy/Avant-Garde


Realism as a Course of Life Nochlin’s position was officially accepted, but reading and discussing
her book was not a very popular thing to do, and her book’s elaboration of
an intervi e w wit h s c a p e g oat “critical realism” has been generally not well understood. However, it was really
2012 an eye-opener for me methodologically. I read it together with In the Circle of
Constructivism by Andrzej Turowski, which was extremely important for me
because it raised the political dimension of the Constructivist movement in the
Soviet Union in both its analytical and Productivist phases.3 It became very clear
to me that in both of those books politics was central, the politics of realism
and the politics of Constructivism. In both cases (however utopian, or even
often misguided) there was an attempt to challenge the imaginary relations of 39
an individual to his or her own real conditions of existence (Louis Althusser’s
definition of ideology) as a condition for action in ‘the real world’ toward social
change.4 Whether it was Gustave Courbet, Èdouard Manet, or the Constructivist
revolution, each attempted to move from the world of imagery, illusion, or
representation into the world of action, production and the transformation of
reality. Vertov, Rodchenko, and Lissitsky were all Marxists. The realist painters
of the nineteenth century were not Marxist, but Marx himself was born into that
milieu; he was a realist. Philosophers and politicians with socialist and anarchist
tendencies, including the utopian socialist Saint-Simon and the anarchist
Proudhon affected both realist artists and the Constructivists. So after reading
Nochlin, realism became a very attractive proposition to me. I met her recently,
when I received an American Art Critics Award for an exhibition at Boston’s ICA
Scapegoat: We would like to start with the debates about realism in Poland called ...OUT OF HERE: The Veterans Project. This was the first time I had met
in the 1960s. Andrzej Turowski’s essay “Wodiczko and Poland in the 1970s” her since reading her book in the 1970s and I thanked her. I said, “you didn’t
discusses these questions in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, focusing especially just influence my life, you set the course of my life”. And she responded: “I also
on the debate between formalism and realism. He argues that in the early 1950s learned a lot from you.” Which was nice of her to say; at least I discovered she
Socialist Realism was dominant, then following the end of Stalinism in the mid- was aware of what I was doing.
1950s there was a quick turn toward abstraction.1 Could you talk about how you In fact, the work at the ICA, as well as the previous interior projections,
saw your work developing in relation to these debates. like the one in Galerie Lelong on the anniversary of September 11th, If You See
Krzysztof Wodiczko: I really began working as an artist in the 1970s, so the Something..., and Guests at the 2009 Venice Biennale, were all referring to realist
debates of the 1960s happened before my time. Turowski is bringing a historical principles. I think these works resonate with Roman Jakobson’s ideas about
background to the 1970s in order to provide a ground for readers who know realism, when he argues (using my words, not his) that a realist drills a hole in a
nothing about that particular period, which was curious for its openness and wall between ourselves and reality. The artist’s task and decision was to determine
apparently liberal relationship to art in comparison to Socialist Realism. But realism where to drill this hole, at what point in this wall, because through this hole we will
as such in the mind of people in the 1970s was still closely connected to Socialist only see a fragment that stands in for something much larger. I think this may sum
Realism, so its politics were linked to the authoritarian politics of the communist up the nineteenth-century vision of realism.5
party, or those who collaborated with them. Politics was poisoned by Stalinism and S: Can you briefly describe these works?
post-Stalinism, and realism was also poisoned by the legacy of that time. KW: Galleries rarely have windows. They are usually pure interiors and as such
I would say that Social Realism, as opposed to Socialist Realism, was set to they stand for all our own interiors. The gallery is a second interior. The first is
be reborn after the end of Stalinism in 1956, when I was still a high school student. inside our own skull. With our eyes partially blind, we are always trying to figure
At that time the Polish philosopher Adam Schaff wrote a spirited defense of Social out what is going on outside, but at the same time so much has accumulated in
Realism against all of the criticism that was coming from those who supported our inner world. So when we enter an empty gallery it is already filled with our
the abstraction and expressionism flourishing after the end of Stalinism. Schaff memories. The trick that I developed in a number of works was to create the
attempted to defend the tradition of realism in an intelligent way, by referring to illusion that the wall is broken somehow, that there are windows where there were
political and aesthetic debates on the topic during the early years of the Soviet not before, projecting the image of a window with its view.
Union. However in the mid-1970s, I read Linda Nochlin’s book on nineteenth- I did this first in the 1980s at Hal Bromm Gallery in New York City. There
century art, Realism.2 It was translated into Polish by the Academy of Science, I photographed windows and the view from an apartment that was for sale in
as one of a series of excellent books on topics such as semiology and semiotics, the East Village. In the photos views of urban ruins appear beyond the blinds of
which the censors allowed because they could be superficially connected to the the newly renovated apartment. I then projected those windows into the gallery,
government’s theoretical ambitions. which was the same size—the galleries in the East Village were the same size as

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Democracy/Avant-Garde


the apartments, as it was a residential zone. I called the piece The Real Estate that keeps those people outside. Like Homeland Security, the wall and the milky
Projection and I added some real estate magazines and binoculars, just to add a windows keep you from knowing what is going on. They can protect you from your
romantic-anthropological aspect to the projection. This was a classic realist trick— own fears, or what Bush called “terror”. In Polish, terror only refers to the outside
it broke the wall into reality—showing people a scene that many people saw every world, but in English it can be inside you. Bush’s War on Terror was in fact a war
day. Whoever came to the gallery saw it everywhere, but didn’t expect the gallery against the fear of terrorism, not against terrorism itself. A war was staged against
to actually become this place, so they had to realize their relationship between the feeling of terror produced by potential terrorist attacks, which of course
the art world and real estate development. The work resonated with the critique created its own paranoia. The Department of Homeland Security asked you to
made by Rosalyn Deutsche and Cara Gendel Ryan in their essay, “The Fine Art of confront your fear of terror by being vigilant, which in my piece meant that when
Gentrification”.6 The project emphasized the neighborhood’s uneven development you hear or see something beyond the milky glass you should report it. All the
40 and the role of artists in real estate development and in constructing a romantic things that were said outside the gallery were suspicious, despite the fact that they 41
vision of what Neil Smith would later call “The New Urban Frontier”.7 were actually stories of Homeland Security mishandling a situation. Of course, I
In 2005, I revisited this strategy in an exhibition at Galerie Lelong in am stretching realism quite far, but reality has so many dimensions here, external
Chelsea. Again there were windows projected, but this time you couldn’t see and inner realities, and the fear of reality is itself also real.
through them. They looked as if they were made of frosted glass, a very typical S: You have explained one dimension of your practice: interior projections. They
material in Chelsea galleries. They let light in, but you couldn’t see through them seem to get at a very fundamental relationship between a psychic space and the
unless somebody leans right against them, and then there is a shocking moment world outside. These two poles seem to be fundamental to any conception of
when you realize that there is somebody there, and you can see many close realism: on the one hand naive realism argues that things just exist in the world,
details, but only while the person remains right at the glass. I projected these and on the other, critical theory claims that reality is fundamentally about how
windows as if they opened into a vestibule, a type of space you could imagine we think and perceive the world, so it is very much about interiority. We think
in Chelsea—it could have been a hotel lobby or the gallery entrance. Behind the it’s great that you started with these interior works because in that way they
windows stood people who were talking about the way they were being mistreated resonate quite clearly with nineteenth-century notions of realism in art, especially
by Homeland Security, who had lost their jobs, who had been deported, who were in painting or film, but it would be interesting if you could now explain how the
discriminated against. You could hear what they were saying, but you couldn’t see outdoor projections and vehicles operate in relation to reality.
them unless they leaned close to the glass. In this case the wall was not exactly KW: There is a big difference between my interior and exterior projects, especially the
broken. On the one hand, the viewers sensed the foggy relation we each have to projections. When you are outside a building, the facade is taller than you are. It’s no
the outside world, and on the other, viewers had a strange feeling that the outside longer your interiority that you are confronting, but a superior body, in the shadow of
world was very close; that it could almost break through the glass, creating a which you live—a kind of father figure. You feel it in your neck when you look up. You are
disaster. There was someone with whom you have a voyeuristic relationship, like a baby, subjected to a projection from the thing that looms over you, while at the
a shadow of somebody that could actually be very close. Perhaps you would same time you project yourself onto the structure. So the relationship a person has to
hear something that you weren’t supposed to hear or see something that you architecture from the outside is very different from being inside. When you encounter
should report. The piece takes its very name from the Department of Homeland one of my exterior projections with video and sound (rather than slide projection), there
Security’s slogan, “If you see something, say something”. is somebody else there in the building, so your projection meets another projection.
It is about the reality that is both dangerously close, frighteningly close, with In many of my works, a building is made to speak through the voice and
which you don’t want to have much contact and of which you only have a very foggy gestures of a person who may be suffering horrifying life conditions, child abuse
sense. So it’s not the classic realist trick, where I break the wall in order to see reality. for instance, which as a member of the public you may not want to know about.
In this piece you actually don’t see it, but you see what you don’t see. It attempts to You might feel implicated in their condition, because you might have abusive
illustrate how little we see, how impossible it is to really establish contact with reality, tendencies yourself, or maybe you were abused and you deny it. It’s frightening
while at the same time bringing us close enough to it to realize how frightening this not to simply have your own projection and identification with the structure,
reality is, how unacceptable it is, even if we don’t understand it. It is also impossible because there is somebody else there and something of you is there too that you
for us to identify with those people whose situations are worse than we can imagine. may not want to confront.
This is a different form of realism because it exposes the impossibility of gaining So this is a different realism. Here, because of scale, somebody who is
access to reality, while also giving us a hint of what it is we cannot gain access to. It supposed to be very small, even invisible, becomes 50 times bigger. In relation
is the reality of our interior; the gallery provides space for our fears and uncertainty to that person you are 50 times smaller. You are forced to see the world from a
about the world. bottom-up perspective and you feel this perception in your neck, you feel how
It also projects the interior against the exterior. We are inside, but all the small you are, which means you have something to learn from this person as if
issues and threats that come from the exterior are managed by the Minister of the you were a student or a child. Through the authority of these structures you are
Interior—or Homeland Security. It also refers obliquely to Orwell’s windowless subjected to their sense of reality.
Ministry of Love in 1984, which housed Oceania’s Thought Police. There you In the earlier slide projections I tried to really re-actualize symbolic
can only imagine what is inside, and when you are inside you don’t see what structures in the present, to see the frightening continuity between what’s
is outside. In my piece you are trapped inside by the same Homeland Security happening today and what those structures meant when they were made,

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Democracy/Avant-Garde


by turning war memorials into symbolic war machines. Rather than simply launch the Arc de Triomphe project was partially a result of being disturbed by
commemorating those who died for their country, these structures actually the resistance of politicians and bureaucrats to this kind of project, their fear of
perpetuate certain beliefs, which is why I began projecting onto buildings. The creating something that will in fact act. At the speech during the opening of the
last one I did was in 1991 in Madrid during the first Persian Gulf War. There I memorial, I ended: “II faut faire quelque chose” (one must do something). It is not
projected a skeleton holding a gun and a petrol nozzle on either side of the Arco enough to commemorate. I think the city is doing things—not directly through the
de la Victoria, dedicated in 1956 to Franco’s army, in order to recall the phantasm memorial, but around it and with it and taking advantage of it. I want things to
of civil war. This was also a re-activation, or re-actualization, of a historic war be done through the projects themselves and not simply around them. So there
machine in a time when a new war machine was underway. is another aspect of realism here, more of a pragmatic aspect, if there is a link
At that time I wasn’t able to do video projections in the way I am doing between realism and pragmatism.
42 them now. Not only were video projectors not strong enough, but I also did not S: It seems to me that your dynamic, changeable, scaffold-like structures, are 43
have enough experience working with people. I developed this experience through deliberately set in an oppositional relation to monumental art, which in its very
projects like Alien Staff, 1994 and Mouthpiece (Le porte-parole), 1996. Those petrified form is unable to keep up with the mutability of realism. This is why your
projects forced me to learn techniques of working with people, so they could tell détournements of these monuments are so provocative: your projections are
their stories. In these projects I worked with people who know what reality is, three hours long, and they are always performed in relation to present conditions.
because they lived through it and are still surviving it. They see the world from KW: Courbet thought that he could create historical paintings as long as they
the point of view of its wounds. They have a bottom-up perception. As Walter were also contemporary, about and of the present. He projected the present
Benjamin would say, they see it from the perspective of the vanquished. That onto the past and argued that the opposite of realism was not idealism, but
is what realists always wanted to achieve, to see the real conditions of life, to “falsism”. What does “false” mean here? It refers to art that falsifies reality. Truth
understand them from the perspective of a nameless survivor. Alien Staff was is a fundamental issue in my work as well, a truth that is wrapped up in public
realist in the sense that it provided equipment for immigrants to become realist space, democracy, and parrhésía (the necessity to speak openly). Right now I am
artists themselves. It allowed them to testify to what was wrong, to protest, interested in the realism of the democratic process itself. The parrhésíastes are
to break the walls of miscommunication by recording, editing, and presenting the truth-tellers—true realists—those who speak of their own lived experience in
testimony of their experiences. order to confront the fakeness of all of the false promises that authorities make
S: Some of your recent works, such as The Arc de Triomphe: World Institute for and see the discrepancy between them and reality. In my work it is often the
the Abolition of War, or The Memorial to the Abolition of Slavery in Nantes, are very elected officials that need to be questioned, for what they really are doing and
much design projects. They are highly symbolic design objects and at first glance how they respond to real lives, needs, and critical issues. If the truth was the
they appear to function more in that realm than as practical spaces. centre of parrhésía, then provocative dialogue by cynics was actually often used
KW: Yes, the Arc de Triomphe project is clearly a working thing. The Memorial to get to the core of the matter, what is the true situation here. Even Socrates to
to the Abolition of Slavery was deprived of its initial program. It was supposed some degree was a realist, because he was trying to get to the truth of people’s
to be a monitoring station that would transmit present day abolitionist actions lives. In that sense the equipment that I designed, and the processes users
against contemporary slavery. There was a real working dimension to it that was engage in are interconnected here in terms of design and projection. Together
never really realized. However, what I proposed with the Arc de Triomphe project they lead to franc-parler, free speaking. These projects could come up with a
was the opposite. In this work I want to really respond to changing realities and proposal or vision, but they don’t have to. In that way my work is “cynicistic”,
also help transform that reality. So I attached a machine to the symbolic skin or not cynical—it doesn’t come up with proposals in order to resolve problems, but
body of the Arc de Triomphe itself, which is purely ideological, a machine that it actually reveals the truth, the reality of somebody’s life, the injustice. The risk
perpetuates certain beliefs—so that the new spaces that surround the arch are involved in this is a realist risk.
designed to help to monitor, map, and alter changing realities, so there will be
less conflict and less war. At the same time, the Institute for the Abolition of
War is designed to un-poison culture by studying the architecture that actually Originally published in Scapegoat: Architecture, Landscape, Political Economy,
perpetuates this culture and introducing an analytical and critical aspect to the Issue 03: Realism, 2012, pp 6–9.
working memorial. The project operates on two sites, attaching itself to the
existing monument in a deconstructive way and at the same time engages a much
broader reality of war in order to change it. 1 Turowski, Andrzej, “Wodiczko and Poland in the 1970s”, Krzysztof Wodiczko, Duncan
McCorquodale ed, London: Black Dog Publishing: 2011.
The Memorial to the Abolition of Slavery also has a critical dimension, but is
2 Nochlin, Linda, Realism, London: Penguin Books: 1971.
a more petrified structure closer to a classic monument. Julian Bonder, architect 3 The original title of Andrzej Turowski’s book was The Constructivist Revolution, but he
was forced to change it to The Constructivist Circle because the censors believed the
and co-author of the project, and I both congratulate the City of Nantes for letting
word revolution should be reserved for political revolutions.
us accomplish quite a lot within and through this monumental form. The project 4 Althusser, Louis, “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses”, Lenin and Philosophy
and other Essays, London: Monthly Review Press: 1971.
does more than most monuments of this sort, and that is their achievement.
5 This reference is to Roman Jakobson’s assertion that Realism is aligned with the
However, it was never fully realized according to the original competition-winning Metonymic pole of language, rather than the metaphoric pole, which is aligned with
Romanticism. Jakobson lays out this distinction in “The Metaphoric and Metonymic
design concept that I proposed initially as a sole author. So my motivation to

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Democracy/Avant-Garde


Poles”, Jakobson, Roman and Morris Halle, Fundamentals of Language, The Hague:
Mouton and Co, 1956, pp 76–82. Linda Nochlin refers to Jakobson’s ideas in
Realism, pp 164–65, 182.
I’m for the Academy
6 Deutsche, Rosalyn and Cara Gendel Ryan, “The Fine Art of Gentrification”, October,
no 31, winter, 1984, pp 91–111. an interv iew w it h k banachows k a
7 Smith, Neil, The New Urban Frontier: Gentrification and the Revanchist City, London:
1977
Routledge, 1996.

44

Krzysztof Wodiczko: I should begin by saying what irritates me about the


situation of art in Poland. My view is pessimistic. It’s hard not to notice that
young artists and critics are completely unprepared for working in the field
of contemporary art. Two weeks ago I was at the Remont Gallery in Warsaw,
attending a conference on one of art’s most important aspects—its social
context. Except the organizers, no one on the Polish side (there were foreign
guests too) was prepared to discuss the subject sensibly. The successive
speakers just gibbered and it was impossible to understand what they wanted
to say. There is no doubt that the quality of our artistic education leaves a lot
to be desired. There’s a dearth of professional art periodicals. Neither Sztuka
nor Projekt can be regarded as such. So the few critics who could write serious
stuff have no place to publish. The lack of source materials on contemporary
art renders self-education hopeless. Nor is there any serious media coverage
of artistic facts or the artistic intellectual debate. No editor, even of a literary
magazine, will cover contemporary art extensively. They will run a feuilleton
that distorts facts using trendy language. Given the great achievement of post-
war culture—its wide social reach—the exclusion of contemporary art coverage
from it is particularly nasty.
Everything, of course, begins with schooling. Academic art historians
don’t understand that art history needs to be written in the context of, and
informed by, contemporary art. There is no such thing as a timeless art history.
The same is true for artistic education. Art school professors situate themselves
beyond history and beyond the possibility of passing the artistic tradition on to
their students. Suspended in ‘timeless art’, they claim to be in touch with its
‘spirit’. They enjoy the power and status that magic invariably offers. For this
is not so much about art as about position, and thus about the preservation of
institutional structures.

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Democracy/Avant-Garde


All this creates great opportunities for autodidacts in both art and art criticism. KB: How to adorn your walls with objects that examine reality?
Those that are serious about their work need to begin their education anew once KW: Instead of wondering about the relationship between art and home, I’d
they’ve graduated from art school. It’s grassroots work. Yet the academy’s role should rather reflect on how to give people everything they want at home, including
be to “academize”, that is to absorb the avant-garde and its authors so that a new decorative objects in the widest selection possible. It would be absurd to make art
avant-garde can emerge. The quality of the avant-garde, which is a revolt against the for the sake of home decoration. The issue of whether art can function at home is
academy, has always depended on the academy itself. a problem of the home, not of the artwork.
K Banachowska: So what can be done?
KW: There are two possibilities. One is an ‘open’ academy, which teaches
students about everything that is interesting for art and attracts outside artists. Originally published in Sztandar Młodych, Jestem za Akademia, no 184, edition A,
46 We’ve recently had the pleasure to meet the founder of such a school at the 4 August, 1977. 47
Foksal Gallery, Gerald Ferguson, the originator of Canada’s Nova Scotia College
of Art and Design. The other possibility is schools that follow certain artistic
conceptions and study the issues of old and contemporary art accordingly. This
is the model that was developed by Strzemiński. But artistic education is simply
not treated seriously in Poland today. There’s an art school term that perfectly
camouflages the fact: “plastic thinking”. No one knows what it means, but it
makes things sound serious.
KB: What are the prospects for change?
KW: Some people believe that when a school changes, it degrades itself in the
eyes of its students. All this unnerves me because I’m very serious about the
academy. I suggest replacing the well-known slogan that “art can’t be taught”
with “there’s no art without consciousness”.
KB: How about “there’s no art without viewers”?
KW: I’d rather say “without the viewer’s consciousness”. Watching the public
at the opening of my exhibitions, I always ask myself: is what I’ve done here
a step forward in art? One of the fundamental questions that artists can ask
themselves is whether their work is meaningful in terms of social development,
whether they’ve posed a problem that is parallel to what is being discussed by
scientists and philosophers. This should be considered not simply in the context
of individuals but that of society at large.
KB: People find contemporary art irritating and annoying. Few understand its
experiments. They are, it is said, like trying to scratch your left ear with your right
hand. Wouldn’t it be easier with the left one?
KW: It would. But ease is the least criterion here. There’s a widespread view that
we should approach art emotionally, intuitively. This is not true in the context of
contemporary art, unless the artist themselves want it to be like this. Then we
should learn their agenda. If artists aren’t afraid to think, is it too much to expect
the same from viewers?
KB: Art is usually judged according to strict criteria, defined once and for all.
And you advocate thinking? Facts can hardly be discussed, and it’s a fact when
something is pronounced good or bad.
KW: There are no criteria in art anymore.
KB: What about beauty?
KW: The eighteenth-century notion that the artist is a producer of beauty no
longer has validity today.
KB: But what people want from art is beauty.
KW: If artists catered to such needs, they’d have to give up their other ambitions.
And yet even designers can’t confine themselves to that. Artists examine reality and
may even try to change it. This makes beauty an insignificant aspect. Producing
beauty would be like stupefying the public with art.

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Democracy/Avant-Garde


West/East: rest of the East Block, the Polish State maintains a much more elastic strategy
against opposition and a relatively independent cultural policy. This policy,
The De-politicization of Art initiated in response to the famous workers’ struggles in Poznań in 1956, could
be called the most ‘liberal’ within the East Block.
Kar l Bev eridg e Part of the mystery about Poland is based on a certain astonishment that
and Kr zys zto f Wo dic z ko ‘quality’ art could be produced under ‘authoritarian’ rule, a ‘quality’ that the West
1980 considers to be the cultural legitimation of its own ‘free’ development. This initial
astonishment is quickly overcome, however, by the explanation that Western
ideas have slipped through into Polish life to be heroically taken up by some Polish
artists, and have gradually provoked the ‘liberalization’ of Polish cultural policy. 49
In reality, there is no heroism in the ‘Westernization’ of Polish culture, and
there is no liberalization as such in official policy; one that has in fact supported
this kind of activity for a long period of time.
Looking closer at the character of both Western art and Polish cultural
policy, it comes as no surprise that Modernism, Minimalism or Conceptualism
easily pass State censorship, and are supported by the Ministry of Culture with
the approval of the Cultural Department of the Central Committee.
The de-politicization of art in Poland began in the 1950s with the institution
of ‘official’ Socialist Realism. The shift from the art of “politics as dogma” (Stalinism)
to the art of “politics as taboo” (as it is today) was a characteristic element of the
‘revolutionary’ change after the Stalinist period in the late 1950s. As one Polish critic
pointed out privately, whatever State censorship in Poland does not understand in art
is immediately rubber-stamped for public consumption.
Political art in its various forms is a topical issue in the ‘Western’ world. The issue When the State bureaucracy turned from the Marxian theory of class
of politics in art has run a different course in the ‘Eastern’, ‘Communist’ and/or third struggle to an ideology that legitimates its ‘steering’ role, real political opposition,
world, though not necessarily a clearer one. Most of our understanding about art in including its cultural expression, was (and continues to be) isolated and
Eastern countries is prone to misconceptions about the nature of those societies. suppressed. This kind of State rule, disregarding its more or less ‘elastic’ methods,
Common to these interpretations is the view that most non-Western art has some form must continually strengthen itself while its policy of censorship must grow
of relation to an authoritarian State. This reveals that we view such art comparatively, increasingly more intelligent and sophisticated, so as to ‘creatively’ deal with both
either colored by a conception of our own relative freedom, or from the vantage point liberal (cultural) and authoritarian (political) dictates.
of a developed industrial State as opposed to an underdeveloped one, or both. In Most artists in Poland lead a double life; a ‘free’ life relieved from politics,
other words, it is viewed from a position of ‘advantage’ and/or ‘sophistication’. and a ‘political’ life. The necessity of disengaging art from politics is juxtaposed in
It is seldom considered that such art is produced under particular conditions the day-to-day life of the artist with the necessity to be engaged in official politics
which are the historical variations of a common world economic situation. This is through the production of art and design for the State’s propaganda system. The
not to deny the cultural particularity of a given nation, but it could form the basis industry of State propaganda—from monuments to displays and graphic design—
of a common frame of reference. More importantly, in the immediate sense, it is a major source of income for the entire art community. On one hand, the
might dump the myth of our own cultural superiority. We may sneer at the rigidity State needs to develop effective propaganda to consolidate its power, but it also
of Soviet cultural production, be amused by the moral naiveté of Chinese art, or needs to develop the illusion of cultural freedom as a part of the same political
give a nudge of support to the art of Chilean resistance, failing to note the actual propaganda. Consequently both ‘lives’ of the artist—the ‘free’ and the ‘political’—
ideological underdevelopment of our own art production, and the problematic serve the same end. By dividing art practice into artistic and political spheres, the
contradictions within which it is produced. State controls both a de-politicized art and an aestheticized politics. (In the West,
The cultural policies of the ‘East Block’ (Warsaw Treaty) countries the industries of art, the media, and consumer propaganda provide a similarly
are often dismissed as being purely authoritarian under varying degrees of ‘dialectical’ life for the artist. The predominance of Canada Council and NEA
Soviet control. Cultural resistance in these countries is greeted uncritically by funding may also be contributing to the unconscious ‘double life’ of Canadian and
Westerners (from ethical and sentimental, but never political, standpoints) as American artists.)
a positive step towards liberation. This is, of course, a simplistic reading and Successful artists in Poland, organized into a strong union, win permission
mystification which creates an apparent schism between the realities of East and to earn more money,1 are allowed complete tax exemption, extra studio space,
West. All of this exists as an exotic nightmare punctuated by Cold War reality. and freelance work, and can more easily travel abroad.2 But they obtain this
Poland maintains a somewhat special relation to the Soviet Union, but this special status at a price. In the midst of economic crisis, witnessing the growing
only increases the mystery. Holding the same basic ‘principal’ position with the political opposition of workers and the development of underground political

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Democracy/Avant-Garde


activity, they are unable to participate both as citizens and as artists. Thus many Personal Instrument:
transform themselves into ‘philosophers’, and their work on aesthetic theories,
structures and concepts makes them interesting to those in the West. A Response to Maria Morzuch
1992
Excerpt from a longer essay originally published under the pseudonym Andrzej
Ostrowski with Karl Beveridge in Fuse Magazine, Toronto: Artons Cultural Affairs
Society and Publishing Inc, March 1980, pp 140–144.

50
1 Earnings in Poland are arranged into “allowable income” levels. Artists’ allowable
income level is among the highest in the country.
2 Freelance work is outlawed in Poland. Only a few professions, including artists, are
allowed the privilege. Everyone else must be employed on a regular basis.

Maria Morzuch: I would like to make a connection between your work from
1969 titled Personal Instrument (presently in the collection of the Muzeum
Sztuki in Łódź) and your recent public projections. Despite the fact that your
early ‘equipment’ in its direct physicality (as the body, the photo cells, and
sound filters) differed from later public projections which engage the larger
sociopolitical sphere, can one see both projects as an examination of the problem
of communication and silence, speaking and being mute?
Krzysztof Wodiczko: Since 1969 all of my works, from the Personal Instrument to
the present projects, refer to the socio-political sphere. The Personal Instrument’s
silence is haunted by its public voice. Mysterious private play with public sound is
its socio-political statement. By its very name, the Personal Instrument suggests
its close association with private rather than public space. The private character of
this instrument is made visible, however, only through its use of public space, on
which it depends in two ways: first, as an acoustically active environment (it needs
the sounds of the city to process), and second, as a socially active environment (it
needs passersby who would observe its performance and imagine how it works).
The Personal Instrument’s private character (privacy) is thus submerged
in the public character (publicity) of this space, and this determines its social
character (communality). The Personal Instrument is a public-private exaltation of
the citizen’s freedom. It is an art of private counter-censorship.
The street presentation of the Personal Instrument in use was an attempt
to create a public monument to a private human being in a monumental public
space within the State socialism of the early 1970s and during the epoch of
Gierek’s liberal technocratic autocracy (comparable in some ways to Franco’s late
rule in Spain). It was a metaphoric articulation of the boundaries of freedom and
of the ways of practicing it, as well as of the individual Polish citizen’s reserves of
power in relation to the use of public space.

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Democracy/Avant-Garde


The Personal Instrument was the point of departure for all my public Public space in Poland would then become a capitalist extension of
projects; it was my first attempt to metaphorically define the situation of a human Stalinism, a stage for life inside the nightmare of “capitalist realism” as the only and
being as ‘citizen’ in a totally controlled environment. It was also my first test run official response to the demand for public art. The Personal Instrument would once
for tactics of speaking through public space under conditions of the practical more become the only critical option permitted. And then once more a proletarian
deprivation of speech rights. Operating in space that was completely politicized revolution, and again a battle for the return of a democratic public space? I would
by the State, I abandoned direct speech and proposed instead a technique of not like this scenario to have to happen again.
indirect but public speaking through half-silence/half-truth; a grotesque exaltation
of virtuosity in creative listening. My current works (the public projections, the
homeless vehicles, and the immigrant instruments) are a continuing investigation Excerpt from Morzuch, Maria, “Krzysztof Wodiczko: Instrumentem osobistym/
52 of the strategies of communicating through public space, but this time under the I’lnstrument personnel”, Krzysztof Wodiczko, exh cat, Łódź: Muzeum Sztuki, 53
conditions of a non-autocratic yet troubling capitalistic system. 1992; reprinted in Museum Sztuki w kodzi, 1931–1992, exh cat, Lyons: Musée
Since the days of the French Revolution, the public space of capitalist d’art contemporain et Espace lyonnais d’art contemporain, 1992.
democracies has been intended to function as a space of communication (a space
for the exercise of communicative rights). The Declaration of the Rights of Men
and Citizens (France, 1791) assured communicative rights as a fundamental
human right. And the active practicing of this right was recognized as the only
means of spreading and reinforcing it. Public speech was considered a primary
civic responsibility. Democracy and freedom are therefore everyday practices.
Rather than something given or guaranteed, as a gift from ‘good authorities’, they
should be understood as an obligation to communicate through public space, to
insert one’s original voice, to voice one’s own opinion, to share a public discourse.
It is my opinion that art is an alternative act of speech and an important
ingredient of the practice of democracy. Active and critical art helps democracy
to preserve its life.
Under the conditions of life in existing public space, democracy as the
practice of making oneself heard (instead of passively listening to someone else’s
voice) is possible almost everywhere, including Poland. However, communicating
one’s own critical voice through the kind of public space that exists today is a
truly difficult political, cultural, and aesthetic undertaking. Poland must learn
how to do it ‘from scratch’, just as I was forced to learn it after my departure from
Poland in 1977. To make the passage from “speaking through silence” (critical
listening) to “speaking through voice” (critical speech), despite and often against
the presence of great orators who are speaking too much already and who do
not intend to stop speaking, is the real task of the artistic speech act. How is
one to speak in or through a space jammed with powerful voices? How is one to
treat such a crowded space as an instrument of democracy when this instrument
is not in our hands and when public space is barricaded and sealed off by the
colossal bodies of the great speakers (demagogues), ringing with the choirs of
advertisements, and occupied by armies of heroic memorials?
The strategy of public art, as an art that is critical and not official, is the
object of my socio-aesthetic investigations and experiments, while public space is
both their terrain and their stake. Today art is one of the voices belonging to the
complex discourse of power and freedom taking place within the space of the city.
To be silent in such a city is to give a sign of agreement and a seal of approval to the
disappearance of public space and consequently the disappearance of democracy.
Without disturbing voices, such public space would become in the end a private
space for the rulers, who would consequently be its owners. It would become a
totalitarian work of art, created by real estate magnates, drug lords, landlords, and
city politicians corrupted and co-opted by the present-day corporate and industrial
action groups.

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Democracy/Avant-Garde


For the De-incapacitation flexible in their strategies the “State ideological apparatuses” were (the coffee shop
is one of them), the more difficult it was for us to see to what degree our sharp,
of the Avant-Garde in Canada restless, and detailed critique was adopting the enemy’s linguistics and subjecting
us deeper and deeper to its seductive site, to its mastery at indoctrinating our souls,
1984 and awakening our unconscious drive for collaboration, and desire for bureaucratic
habits, style, language, aesthetics, philosophy, and power.
Through the same coffee shop, with its microphones in the walls and
informers (real or imaginary), the bureaucracy could learn which sections of
our statements, complaints, and naive fantasies (we called it critique) could
be appropriated by the State as an illusion of its liberalizing processes, to 55
reinforce their operational capabilities and, in the end, to serve the mechanisms
of bureaucratic legitimation.

Hot Beer
The intoxicated, stuffy, and feverish-by-hot-and-strong-espresso atmosphere of a
decorated and illuminated Warsaw coffee shop is in great contrast to the cooled
down, airconditioned, and tranquilized-by-the cold-if-not-freezing climate of the
dark Toronto bar. This contrast could be explained by the ‘cool’ character of an
authoritarian one-party system and the ‘hot’ (warm) character of a ‘liberal’ stoic
democratic organization.
But the situation is not so simple in the case of the artist bar in Toronto;
it is becoming increasingly warmer here—warmer than in any other bar. New
improvements are ideological stratification of the tables, heavy air, ambitious design,
The Canadian cultural State bureaucracy, with its ‘parallel’ tentacles, appears and slightly better lighting (one can see the faces and dresses). All of this was
today more charming and unchallenged than ever. Its appealing premise is remodeled not long ago. This might all appear confusing to the foreign visitor or the
that every ‘left’ or ‘libertarian’ idea can be incorporated with no delay into the immigrant artist. After years of being far from a native cultural life, the life dissolved
centralized State bureaucratic system, starting, of course, with appropriating any in cigarette smoke and coffee table debates, now far from that avant-garde-like style
idea of the decentralization of ‘culture’ and the need for alternative organizations. (of a Baudelairean State-socialist flâneur), here one again finds oneself re-submerged
This is especially effective when, in exchange, the art community itself, (to one’s immigrant dismay) into a quite familiar artistic atmosphere and “cultural
conveniently reviving the most questionable side of its avant-gardist unconscious, climate”. One learns that within the capitalist-liberal State of Canada, this bar belongs
a glorious modernist myth of a ‘liberating’ technology, suggests blindly to the to another State (a State within the State), that is, to the artistocratic ‘State’ of the
central administration its own bureaucratic, technocratic, totalitarian-like Canada Council. The Toronto site of the romantic dialectics of capitalist madness!
projects.1 Or when the artistic left attempts to ‘use’ or to ‘take over’ (but in fact This is a Canada Council Toronto bar, in which the trapped spirit of a middle-class
assimilates itself to) the existing Canada Council ‘supporting’ economic programs artist is tossing between a desire for democratic egalitarian capitalism and that of a
and the parallel bureaucratic artistic institutions.2 In writing this I am aware of my postcolonial bureaucratic aristocratism. Surprised (and there will be more surprises),
advantage of freedom from the right to apply for Canada Council grants, a freedom the expatriate-artist, through his discovery, recognizes a serious similarity, not
which helped to save me from the danger of integration with the very subject of between Poland and Canada, but between Poland and the Canada Council. Brrrrr!
my critical focus: the present central bureaucratic process of political, social, or The present state of high-cultural affairs in Canada is taking more and
cultural incapacitation and moral capitulation of the entire artistic culture.3 more complex institutional forms. The Canada Council State is trying to keep
its naturally shaking authoritarian balance by employing typical (and, I believe,
Feedback naturally hopeless—I am still a Polish optimist) ‘feedback’ critical mechanisms.
My own and my friends’ lives in my native Poland of the 1960s and 1970s consisted
to a large extent of conducting, as a daily routine, a continuous critique of the The one party totalitarian regime is an unstable form—it defuses the political scene,
cultural policy of the central bureaucracy. The main place where we exercised our it no longer assures the feedback of public opinion, the minimal flux in the integrated
opposition was, of course, the coffee shop, an important cultural site of intellectual circuit which constitutes the transistorized political machine.4
and artistic discourse in Poland. Remaining continuously in the state of being-
against-‘them’ (against the ‘oppressor’), but not able to imagine any concrete action The Canada Council, as in Poland and in every authoritarian machine, must
(practice), we were, in a negative sense, unknowingly becoming more and more neurotically produce its own ‘coffee shops’, alternative publications, and spaces,
vulnerable to an osmotic assimilation to bureaucratic ‘reason’. The more liberal and in order to control its own position and direction and to serve itself as a medium of
critical discourse on its own future. The beer is getting hot (warm).

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Democracy/Avant-Garde


In this permanently unstable survival process, the Canada Council is acting support artists’ utopian work toward the new social theory of form, leading to the
permanently against itself (in a controlling self-controlled sense), and superficially liberation of artistic (and any) language from falseness.7
fragmenting and camouflaging its main cultural effect: a total bureaucratic The utopian aesthetic-linguistic project of the artistic avant-garde failed as
pacification of the intellectual creative power of the artistic intelligentsia and much as the ideological strategic project of the political avant-garde. Yet the artistic
artistic culture. project was politically, aesthetically, philosophically, and ethically more ambitious.
The only remaining difference between Toronto and Warsaw (if one can see Its failure was, and still is, intellectually challenging to those whose work deals
it through the smoke of the battle of artistic bars on Queen Street in Toronto—or with art, language, and representation in relation to ideology, culture, revolution,
the coffee shops on Foksal Street in Warsaw) is that the distinction between and political theory. The political avant-garde’s strategic (as opposed to utopian)
the language and gestures of a bureaucrat and those of an artist is much less program was unsuccessful because, among other reasons, it never considered the
56 recognizable in Toronto (as a matter of fact, it is so blurred that it is almost questions raised by the artistic avant-garde. 57
invisible). Looking closer, one will be able to disclose a horrifying phenomenon:
what was for Warsaw a nightmare or an imminent danger (not yet reality) has By refusing to analyze the structures and the mode of ideological
received its total three-dimensional realization in Toronto. Finally everyone production inherent in its own logic, Marxism is condemned (behind the
appears to be both the artist and the bureaucrat. In the happy and comfortable facade of ‘dialectical’ discourse in terms of class struggle) to expanding
atmosphere of life in this State-hi-cultural-bureaucratic musak, in the climate the reproduction of ideology, and thus of the capitalist system itself.8
of final reunion of old enemies, artistic (anti-bourgeois) and modern State
(bourgeois) avant-gardes, in the aura of communion between the bureaucratized Through the false notion of a strategic revolutionary necessity (even if there is
artist and the aestheticized bureaucrat, the Toronto artistic intelligentsia elevates no revolutionary situation, or no revolution as such), and specifically in the name
itself to a much higher level of collaboration than artists in Poland. It approaches of not giving ammunition to the enemy, the embattled artistic left does not allow
the conscious level, the level which I shall call cultural corruption! for any public critical discourse within its own ranks, even if the only clear critical
challenge to the left can arrive almost exclusively (due to the critical weakness
Militant Melodrama and apathy of the enemy) from the left itself.
Every reversal, being essentially similar to its original, appears to us as an In the absence of a revolutionary situation this ideological trap might lead
opposite. Such a reversal deludes us (as a revelation on the original image) to the total degeneration of the left and its reduction to the point of an absurd
and pretends to reveal the reality behind it, the typical dilemma of every avant- revolutionary ornament in the State’s liberal bureaucratic cultural firmament.
garde critique. The absence of self-critical discourse within the left leads to the dangerous
To claim an objective position necessary for the fulfillment of one’s own appearance of seriousness about itself and its ‘mission’, and consequently about
destiny (to reverse the world image), the avant-garde must start first with itself, everything else, which often functions as a mask of ignorance. Wearing the
turning its own image upside-down, and presenting itself as either non-art-in-life militant mask, it is important to remember that its owner is masked both from
and anti-bourgeois anti-art (Dada, Futurism, Constructivism), or as a non- outside and from inside. In a challenging intellectual discourse, the unmasking of
philosophy-for-world-revolution or anti-philosophy (Marxism), or finally, as an the enemy should mean the unmasking of yourself. In other words, in the process
anti-avant-garde-art-as-cultural-work (present-day leftist art). In reversing itself (its of an intellectual concretization and formulation (such as art, critical writing, etc)
own pre-avant-garde image), the avant-garde never actually recognizes, admits, the public discourse leading to the cultural de-ideologization must realize itself
or presents itself publicly or discloses itself as the reversed second-degree image through the process of unmasking its own ideological, critical, linguistic, and
(meta-image). It is a dangerously blind denial by the political avant-garde or artistic theoretical limitations and cultural mystifications. (It would be better to conduct
left (anti-avant-garde avant-garde) to recognize itself as ideology, its own perception this discourse artistically through work on aesthetic practice and theory, and not
and production as being dependent on ideology (anti-ideology=ideology), or finally, only through popularizing didactic art, magazines, editorials, and ‘culturalizing’
as producing ideology itself. popular writings.)
The artistic left suffers from a great confusion. The political ideology is This unmasking process cannot be arrested by any institutional self-
confused with artistic utopia.5 The distrust of the artistic left toward artistic governing desires or decisions. There is no end to mystification (signification) and
avant-gardism (toward its own roots) expresses itself in a desire to reject the ideologization processes. Even “de-ideologization” can assume an institutional
experimentalism of artistic work “in the studio” or “in the gallery”, and in a and ideological form. If part of our own ideological limitation is a self-mystification
tendency to hunt for “formalist witches”.6 process, the battle against ourselves as myth (and our masks) is perhaps more
Artistic avant-gardism leads historically to the total and immediate urgently needed than the battle against the ‘enemy’, which may often only appear
degradation of art (as bourgeois art, official art, etc). Political avant-gardism, as an illusive result of the limited visibility produced by our own ideological outfit,
being artistically conservative and nostalgic for forms which it believes appeal to our camouflaged armor, our militant mask.9 The cultural performance of the
the working class (often forms of bourgeois romantic art), cannot allow for such artistic left avant-garde is not only dependent in a negative sense on its enemy
a degradation of art. By not calling for the “death of politics” and for liberation (such as dominant culture and official art) but also unfortunately is dependent in
from the ideological language, the political avant-garde could not accept and a positive sense on its main allies: the artistically conservative, if not artistically
join the artistic avant-garde’s radical critique of art (“death of art”) nor could it reactionary; the political and the independent cultural left.

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Democracy/Avant-Garde


And so, hypnotized by his enemy—of whom he makes an infinitely cunning The cultural, or artistic, bureaucracy is becoming a modern aristocracy and (similar
and terrifying monster—the avant-gardist often ends up forgetting about the to the caste of art historians) functions as a high priest which not only protects the
future. The future, he seems to imply, can take care of itself when the demons of spirit, but co-ordinates it, steers it, governs it, and understands it for everyone.
the past are exorcised.10 The Canada Council is serving its national duty well and contributing
In this militant but dependent ideological left atmosphere of struggle, effectively to the general politics of bureaucracy, the politics of saying and
the intellectual, artistic, and cultural program of the positive and critical left is doing politically nothing (or as little as possible). By ‘not-doing’, bureaucracy
unlikely to be built. Before anything else, the left would have to liberate itself is supporting the existing political balance.
from its dependence on the right. Such a program would, with no paradox, A mature political system needs to be partly non-political so as to possess
lead to the final phase, the ultimate liberation of the left from the left itself, adequate managerial capacity. By helping to provide such capacity, the bureaucracy
58 after which there won’t be any room for a reactionary shift to the right or has had a hand in the making of the contemporary State. 59
toward the center, but a need for the beginning of a constructive intellectual
artistic work-in-depth in the direction of the new movement of the artistic If this be action, the bureaucracy has mostly acted by seeming not to act,
intelligentsia, which I shall preliminarily refer to, not as the new avant-garde, by being neither heard nor seen.13
but as an “Intelligence”.
As such, zero-degree bureaucracy is developing politically zero-degree language.
Spirit Such public duty requires permanent linguistic coverage of every political
The process of neutralization—the transformation of culture into something moment, applying to each official speech terminology which camouflages any
independent and external, removed from any possible relation to praxis—makes it clear meaning. The bureaucratic zero-degree rational discourse is encumbered
possible to integrate it into the organization from which it untiringly cleanses itself. with the concepts of the individual human ‘destiny’ and ‘catharsis’ in the
Furthermore, this is accomplished neither with contradiction nor with danger. application of such terms as “spirit”, “beauty”, “climate of spirituality”, “quality”,
“creation”, “excellence”, “integrity” etc.
Today manifestations of extreme artistry can be fostered, produced, and By not saying anything, on the one hand, the Canada Council reinforces
pretested by official institutions; indeed art is dependent upon such support if the modern liberal State, and on the other hand, by overstating the romantic
it is to be produced at all and to find its way to an audience. Yet, at the same notion of “creativity” it degenerates art to cathartic kitsch and separates it from
time, art denounces everything institutional and official.11 any political, social, or philosophical sense.
Not only does the Canada Council have to produce the feedback
Canada has become a promised land, if not a paradise, for the modern cultural mechanisms within the art community, but also within the Canadian democratic
administrator—a realization of the oldest high-ranking bureaucratic dream, a corporate/capitalist system which cannot continue forever to be host to its feudal,
re-integration with the detached ‘spirit’. The initial separation from the spirit was, aristocratic parasite. The Canada Council might then be transformed from the
for the modern bureaucrat, a primary step and ethical condition to the formulation existing centrally appointed ‘oligarchic’ subsystem into a democratically formed
of an administration, whose objective mission was to protect the spirit outside (ie proportional political-cultural representation) parliamentary apparatus—a total
of the walls of the governmental office in the new democratic society. The spirit appropriation of the political differences of the art communities in Canada.
then achieved for bureaucracy a status of desire, used with religious intonation,
the sacred word-spirit, before the words “excellence” and “beauty”, became a key Alternation... is the end of the end of representation.... Democracy realizes the
term in the highest-ranking official speeches: law of equivalence in the political order. This law is accomplished in the back
and forth movement of the two terms which re-activates their equivalence
I can’t help but hear an echo of the philosopher Henri Bergson of my youth, but allows, by the minute difference, a public consensus to be formed and the
invoking a “spiritual supplement for democracy, in these times of enormous cycle of representation to be dosed.14
technological achievement...”.
I have a respectable accomplice in the philosopher Jean Lacroix. ‘Democratic’ transformations might challenge all feudal subsystems within
In effect, he says that democracy can only exist in a climate of spirituality. the bureaucratic machine. It is possible that we are witnessing a long-term
Democracy is not in opposition to the notion of aristocracy but rather in strategy, or better and integral to the apparatuses, an irreversible process of
favor of applying the notion to all men. One cannot define democracy in gradual absorption, assimilation, and incorporation of the left avant-garde
terms of institutions, Lacroix says, no matter what their importance. To into the democratic system. Applying Baudrillard’s terminology, we will see in
say that democracy is government “of the people by the people” does this completely balanced system a “back-and-forth movement of two terms”
not have any concrete meaning: there are only oligarchic, or rather, (“artistocrats” versus “cultural workers”), a permanent spectacle which will not
aristocratic, governments. Democracy makes use of oligarchies, whereas be the spectacle for us—we will be the spectacle.
oligarchies make use of people. The problem is to find a way to bring the The political debate (reflected on the screens in video bars) between the
best people to power and, once there, to require them to maintain their left avant-garde (artistic left) and the liberal aristocracy will constitute a hot
excellence and integrity.12 (warm) medium, cooling down of our bars to their normal freezing darkness: from

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Democracy/Avant-Garde


the idiotic to the worse; to the final movement of official culture; the glorious and the program of Disk in Czechoslovakia, can serve as examples of different choices.
These avant-garde artistic/decorative/aesthetic (utopian) proposals were too advanced
progression to “the end of the end of representation”. and too theoretical for the ideologists of the left-wing political avant-garde, who (like
Once again (as if nothing ever happened in the 1960s), we are living the most of the members of today’s artistic left) still do not understand the politics of social
and formal revolution proposed by the artists of the 1920s.
time of a corporate/commercial and bureaucratic incapacitation of art. This time 8 Baudrillard, Jean, For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign, St Louis: Telos
it manifests itself culturally in various forms of dissolution or capitulation of the Press, 1981, p 89.
9 Of course, this applies not only to the artistic left, but also to all the factions and
artistic intelligentsia and takes the form of a decadent revival of a pseudo-critical, professional groups fighting each other inside and outside the art community.
anti-intellectual ‘expression’ in art and the ornamental, skating irresponsibly on the 10 Calinescu, Matei, Faces of Modernity: Avant-Garde, Decadence, Kitsch, Bloomington:
Indiana University Press, 1977.
surfaces of history—‘postmodern’ design manipulation. 11 Adorno, Theodor, “Culture and Administration”, Telos, fall 1977.
Only the formulation of self-governing artists’ economic organizations 12 Lussier, Charles, “The Canada Council: The Principle of Excellence and Its
Implications in a Democratic Society”, Speech No 7702, 5 July, 1977. General
60 and agencies, the gradual detachment of the artistic cultural community from Wojciech Jaruzelski would certainly be in agreement with the idea of democracy
61
the centralized State bureaucracy, and the organization of non-bureaucratic, put forth by Charles Lussier, director of the Canada Council. Oligarchy: “a form of
government in which power is reserved for a small number; also, a state so governed”.
small and flexible intelligence-like working institutes and other, yet to be defined, Funk and Wagnalls’ Standard Dictionary, New York: Signet, 1980.
artistic-educational institutions (always ready to dissolve themselves) will help to 13 Marx, F, “Bureaucracy as a Political Action Group”, in Joseph LaPalombara ed,
Bureaucracy and Political Development, Studies in Social Development, no 2,
educate and recondition; to de-captivate our bureaucratized minds; to rescue and Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1963.
revive our stolen souls from bureaucratic protection, annexation, assimilation, and 14 Baudrillard, “The Orders of Simulacra”, pp 131–32.
appropriation; to return to collective or individual constructive critical knowledge,
independent and systematic artistic research, and a sense of social place.
This would be precisely the practical (not moralistic or ideological) cultural
action which is needed more than anything else at this time. This would be an
effective challenge to the monstrous system which, as we have learned in and from
Eastern Europe, has to be challenged first; the system of the “national liberal culture”
as a totally administrated and planned bureaucratic operation.

Based on the lecture, The Bureaucratization of the Avant-Garde, given at the Rivoli
Cafe in Toronto on 14 June, 1983. Originally published in Parallelogramme 49,
1984 and reprinted in Wodiczko, Krzysztof, Critical Vehicles: Writings, Projects,
Interviews, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999, pp 32–41.

1 Here, as in the case of the “Living Museum”, a monstrous Orwellian proposal (see
Parallelogramme, Retrospective 3), the myth of technology is cynically revived by the
present pseudo-avant-garde as it is a common old sentiment of both the artistic avant-
garde and the modern (stoic or capitalist/corporate) administration.
2 As the best example, the 1983 victory of the artistic-cultural left in the election of
the Toronto A Space Board of Directors, or the process of (more or less successful)
use of Canada Council grants for financing radical-cultural magazines, film, video
distribution centers, etc.
3 Under the ‘independent’ Canada Council ‘Law’, after they obtain formal permanent
resident status, immigrant artists must wait five years before they have a right to
participate in the ‘democratic competition’ for the artists’ awards (apply for grants). In
some cases immigrant artists work and live in Canada for many years while waiting for
their formal permanent resident status.
4 Baudrillard, Jean, “The Orders of Simulacra”, in Simulations, New York:
Semiotext(e), 1983, p 131.
5 I am applying here the concepts of “ideology” and “utopian thinking” in the light of
the discussion on their interrelationship by Karl Mannheim in Ideology and Utopia: An
Introduction to the Sociology of Knowledge, San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich,
1985, p 40.
6 Attacking the shallow Greenbergian concept of artistic modernism, with its orthodox
‘disciplinism’, it is easy to forget that art is and always was a specific method of
questioning and reinventing itself through the practice of analyzing older concepts and
forging new concepts from reality. In this practice, the formal method is the only one
art has at its disposition.
7 In the 1920s the Soviet and Eastern European avant-gardes called for the rejection of
art and demanded the immediate construction of a new and ‘better’ (that is, freed from
the social chains of capitalism and the bourgeois heritage) socialist language and theory
of form. The programs of Opoyaz, Novyi Lef, Vkhutemas, and the work of Rodchenko
in the Soviet Union; Blok, Praesens, and the work of Strzemiński and Kobro in Poland;

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Democracy/Avant-Garde


Avant-Garde as Public Art: The aim of critical public art is neither happy self-exhibition nor passive
collaboration with the grand gallery of the city, its ideological theater and
The Future of a Tradition architectural social system. Rather, it is an engagement in strategic challenges
to the city structures and mediums that mediate our everyday perception of
1998 the world: an engagement through aesthetic critical interruptions, infiltrations
and appropriations that question the symbolic, psycho-political and economic
operations of the city.
To further clarify my position on public art, I must also express my critical
detachment from the apocalyptic visions of urban design and environment
suggested by Jean Baudrillard in terms of “cyberblitz” and “hyperreality”: 63
however brilliant his metaphorical-critical constructs may be, they cannot account
for the complexity of symbolic, social and economic life in the contemporary
public domain.
For Baudrillard the Bauhaus proposed “the dissociation of every complex
subject-object relation into simple, analytic, rational elements that can be
recombined in functional ensembles and which then take on status as the
environment.”1 Today, however, we are beyond even this: “[W]hen the still
almost artisanal functionalism of the Bauhaus is surpassed in the cybernetic
and mathematical design of the environment... we are beyond the object and
its function.... Nothing retains the place of the critical, regressive-transgressive
discourse of Dada and of Surrealism.” And yet this total vision omits the powerful
symbolic articulation of two economically related but distinct zones in the
contemporary city: State architecture and real estate architecture. The two work in
Before I attempt to characterize briefly the strategies of public art today in light of tandem: State architecture appears solid, symbolically full, rooted in sacred historic
public practices of the avant-garde of the past, I must express my critical detachment ground, while real estate architecture develops freely, appropriating, destroying,
from what is generally called “art in public places”. This bureaucratic-aesthetic re-developing, etc. A monstrous evicting agency, this architecture imposes the
form of public legitimating may allude to the idea of public art as a social practice bodies of the homeless onto the ‘bodies’—the structures and sculptures—of State
but in fact has very little to do with it. Such a ‘movement’ wants first to protect architecture, especially in those ideological graveyards of heroic ‘history’ usually
the autonomy of art (bureaucratic aestheticism), isolating artistic practice from located in downtown areas.
critical public issues, and then to impose this purified practice on the public domain Now in the current attempts to revitalize—to gentrify—the downtowns,
(bureaucratic exhibitionism) as proof of its accountability. Such work functions at cities legally protect these graveyards as meaningful ideological theater, not
best as liberal urban decoration. as places of cyberblitz where “the end of signification” has been reached. In
To believe that the city can be affected by open-air public art galleries this regard Marc Guillaume is only partially correct when he states that the
or enriched by outdoor curatorial adventures (through State and corporate contemporary downtown is just a “signal system” for touristic consumption:
purchases, lendings and displays) is to commit an ultimate philosophical and
political error. For, since the eighteenth century at least, the city has operated The obsession with patrimony, the conservation of a few scattered centers,
as a grand aesthetic curatorial project, a monstrous public art gallery for some monuments and museographic remains, are just such attempts [to
massive exhibitions, permanent and temporary, of environmental architectural compensate for the loss of social representation in urban architecture].
‘installations’; monumental ‘sculpture gardens’; official and unofficial Nonetheless, they are all in vain. These efforts do not make a memory; in
murals and graffiti; gigantic ‘media shows’, street, underground and interior fact they have nothing to do with the subtle art of memory. What remains
‘performances’; spectacular social and political ‘happenings’; State and real are merely the stereotypical signs of the city, a global signal system
estate ‘land art projects’; economic events, actions and evictions (the newest consumed by tourists.2
form of exhibited art) etc, etc. To attempt to ‘enrich’ this powerful, dynamic art
gallery (the city public domain) with ‘artistic art’ collections or commissions— And yet it is still possible to establish a critical dialogue with State and real
all in the name of the public—is to decorate the city with a pseudocreativity estate architecture or even, as described by Guillaume, with monuments to
irrelevant to urban space and experience alike; it is also to contaminate this pseudomemory. Not only is it still possible, it is urgently needed—that is, if we
space and experience with the most pretentious patronizing bureaucratic- are to continue the unfinished business of the Situationist urban project:
aesthetic environmental pollution. Such beautification is uglification; such
humanization provokes alienation; and the noble idea of public access is likely People will still be obliged for a long time to accept the era of reified cities.
to be received as private excess. But the attitude with which they accept it can be changed immediately.

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Democracy/Avant-Garde


We must spread skepticism toward those bleak, brightly colored avant-garde art as specialized procedure. Public intervention against spectacle;
kindergartens, the new dormitory cities of both East and West. Only tendency toward alternative spectacle. Creation of situations “concretely and
a mass awakening will pose the question of a (conscious construction deliberately constructed by the collective organization of a unitary ambience
of the urban milieu.... and game of events”; manipulation of popular culture against mass culture.
The basic practice of the theory of unitary urbanism will be Organization of dérive (drift), urban wanderings to contest modern structures,
the transcription of the whole theoretical lie of urbanism, détourned dominant architecture, city planning (Surrealist tactics). Influence of post-Marxist
(diverted, appropriated) for the purpose of de-alienation: we constantly cultural studies and sociology; the city as a “re-discovered and magnified” festival
have to defend ourselves from the poetry of the bards of conditioning—to to overcome conflict between everyday life and festivity. Attack on passive
jam their messages, to turn their songs inside out.3 reception of the city: “Our first task is to enable people to stop identifying with
64 their surroundings and with model patterns of behavior.” 65
Of course, the Situationist project of intervention now requires critical evaluation;
some of its methods and aims seem too utopian, totalitarian, naive or full of Present Critical Public Art: New Avant-Garde as “Intelligence”
avant-garde aestheticism to be accepted today. In this respect we can learn much Barbara Kruger, Dara Birnbaum, Alfredo Jarr, Dennis Adams, Dan Graham,
from past and present avant-garde practices, which I will schematize below in etc; also Public Art Fund (New York), Public Access (Toronto), Artangel Trust
terms of their relationships to: the cultural system of art and its institutions; the (London), etc. Critical affirmative action on everyday life and its institutions
larger system of culture and its institutions; the system of ‘everyday life’; and (education, design, environment, spectacle and mass media, etc); critical
mass or public spectacle and the city. transformation of culture from within. Critical collaboration with institutions of
mass and public media, design and education in order to raise consciousness
Historic Avant-Garde (1910–1940s) (or critical unconscious) regarding urban experience: to win time and space in
Futurism, Dada, Suprematism, Constructivism, Surrealism. Artistic interventions information, advertising, billboards, lightboards, subways, public monuments and
against art and its institutions; critical and self-critical manifestations of the buildings, television cable and public channels, etc. Address to passive viewer,
rejection of its cultural system. Discovery of direct public address eg Futurist alienated city-dweller. Continuous influence of cultural studies enhanced by
synthetic theater, evenings, actions and manifestoes. Discovery of media art; feminist critique of representation.
discovery of critical public art as contestation. Roots of Situationist aestheticism
(rejected by the new avant-garde as well as by engaged and neo-avant-gardes).
Originally published as “Strategies of Public Address: Which Media? Which
Socially Engaged Avant-Garde (1920–1930s) Publics?”, Discussions in Contemporary Art 1, Hal Foster ed, New York: Dia Art
Brecht, Grosz, Tatlin, Lissitzky, Vertov, Alexander Bogdanov, Varvara Stepanova, Foundation, 1998, pp 41–45.
Lyubov Popova, Galina and Olga Chichagova, Heartfield, etc. Critical affirmative
action on culture and its institutions; critical transformation of the institutions of
the cultural system of art. Engagement in mass publications, design, education 1 Baudrillard, Jean, “Design and Environment or How Political Economy Escalates into
Cyberblitz”, For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign, St Louis: Telos Press,
systems, film (Kino-Pravda, Kino-Oko) opera, radio, theater (‘epic’ form, 1981, pp 185–203.
‘estrangement’ technique), Agitprop, Proletkult, spectacles, Novyi Lef (Sergei 2 Guillaume, Marc, Zone 1–2, 1986, p 439.
3 See Situationist International Anthology, Ken Knabb ed, Berkeley: Bureau of Public
Tretyakov’s affirmative intervention). Roots of present affirmative interest in media Secrets, 1981.
cultural programs and the public domain; also roots of Situationist interruption
and détournement.

Critical Neo-Avant-Garde (1960–1970s)


Daniel Buren, support-surface artists, Hans Haacke, etc. Critical affirmative
action on art and its institutions; critical and self-critical manipulation of its
cultural system. Artistic attack on art as a myth of bourgeois culture; critical
exposure of structural ideological links between institutions of bourgeois art
and culture—politics, ethics, philosophy, etc. Critical infiltration of museums as
official public spectacle, but no significant attempts to enter mass spectacle,
popular culture, public design.

Situationist Cultural Avant-Garde as Revolutionary Force (1960–1970s)


Henri Lefebvre, Situationist International, Guy Debord, etc. Cultural revolutionary
intervention into everyday life and its institutions (environment, popular media,
etc); critical and self-critical abandonment of art as cultural system and of

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Democracy/Avant-Garde


Liberate the Avant-Garde? Museum of Art Director simplified the point: “Art is money-sexy! Art is money-
sexy-social-climbing-fantastic!”3
Gregory S h o l ett e If the avant-garde has stopped being scandalous—and even subversive
and Kr zys zto f Wo dic z ko practices become little more than a naughty tease or an instrument for amplifying
2014 commercial value—wouldn’t we be wise to just steer clear of it? For many critical
artists the concept of the avant-garde is a liability with simply too much baggage to
unpack, too many pitfalls to avoid. Theorist Marc James Léger suggests, however,
that the avant-garde hypothesis remains operative though suppressed within
contemporary art discourse. Similarly, the artist Krzysztof Wodiczko urges us to
not abandon the transformative promises of the avant-garde “despite our apparent 67
weakness and marginal position”. He implores us not to give up but to continue
sparking unrest, criticism, and raise questions while “doing something practical,
forming new concrete situations, creating new examples, infiltrating the system’s
web of bureaucracies, collaborating and transforming autonomous organizations and
networked social movements, becoming inspiring catalysts and informed agents in
the best sense of these terms.”
Wodiczko is not denying the frailty of the situation, nor is he disavowing
the instrumentalization of the avant-garde by deregulated capital’s economy
of attractions and distractions. But neither is he shying away from the latent
terminology of tactics and maneuvers that have remained implicit within the term
ever since its coinage by a French military newspaper in 1794. There is a suggestion
of being dropped-in behind enemy lines with all the existential exposure and sense of
duty such a narrative implies. And his emphasis on weakness is significantly different
It is a time for affirmative action; as social life implodes, as solidarity is from Boris Groys’ use of the term. In candidly theological language Groys describes
under threat, art and culture feel compelled to take on a role in the social the avant-garde as modest messengers of time who are forced to repeat their radical
sphere as community work: participatory art, process-based art, etc. critique of mainstream society as a cumulative evangelism over the long duration. It’s
Lieven De Cauter not that Wodiczko’s call to arms lacks a doctrinal feel of its own, but by positing the
artist as a tactical interventionist colluding with those who have been systematically
The goal of activism (activist art) at the beginning of the twenty-first excluded from the realm of political participation and representation, his notion of the
century has become extremely prosaic: survival, survival of humanity and avant-garde comes close to Léger’s proposal for an “occupation and radicalization” of
other species on this planet... the new world order requires a redefinition capitalist culture by extra-disciplinary practices that prefigure new forms of political
of the place and role of art. organizing.4 Krzysztof Wodiczko and I met several times at the De Robertis Caffe on
Karel Vanhaesebrouck   the Lower East Side this past spring (2013) to discuss these concerns. What follows
is an edited account of this discussion:
I would argue that the avant-garde idea continues to operate as the repressed
underside of the contemporary forms of extradisciplinary practice. Gregory Sholette: In the post-industrial West we have seen the demise of labor
Marc James Léger unions along with the replacement of the Welfare State by precarious forms of
work. It’s a situation in which organizing opposition to such decentered exploitation
1. Art Is a Weak Force? is increasingly difficult. And then along came the so-called ‘great recession’,
To rethink the idea of the artistic avant-garde today means taking a cold critical the most serious capitalist contraction in over 70 years. Something seems to
look at the way it has been selectively appropriated by enterprise culture. Just have begun to happen. Now, about a year since the emergence of the Occupy
consider the term avant-garde itself. David Cottington insists it has become Movement and Movement of the Squares in Europe, as well as of course various
a mere buzzword useful for signaling that something, pretty much anything, struggles for liberation in the Middle East, artists and cultural workers who were
possesses a quality of “up-to-dateness”.1 In certain markets this buzz is enough previously disinterested in the politics of the economy are expressing a growing
to endow brands with a competitive edge, a kind of “brand-guard”. But the unhappiness with their current and future possibilities, both within the art world
influential aura of the avant-garde is broader still. As art historian Chin-tao Wu and beyond. And yet this resistance, or potential resistance, is not particularly
puts it in Privatising Culture: “The irony is, of course, that while contemporary well organized or theorized, not to mention that it knows little about past attempts
art, especially in its avant-garde manifestations, is generally assumed to be at generating similar opposition to economic injustice, or for that matter anti-
in rebellion against the dominant system, it actually acquires a seductive war and pro-democratic organizing. Although this informal movement is now
commercial appeal within it.”2 Or, as Thomas Hoving, former Metropolitan undertaking its own rapid self-education, its political position would certainly be

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Democracy/Avant-Garde


described as weak. But I am thinking that it is still something irrepressible and KW: For me it is really a living relationship to the past, not a revival or
therefore important to artists, including those who refuse the ‘prohibition’ against resurrection of the past. Because when I see the work of some of the artists from
framing one’s art as vanguard, as Léger’s hypothesis has urgently noted. In other the time of Productivism or Constructivism, especially in their later phases, or
words does it possesses a kind of ‘weak force’ that nevertheless makes it oddly even the works of Architectonism, which is another phase of Constructivism,
formidable, if that makes any sense Krzysztof? I feel direct connections with my work. It feels sometimes like these concepts
Krzysztof Wodiczko: Yes, we might think of it as a dispersed power, but circulate through my veins. This may explain why I have an allergy to the way
remember we are not dealing here with the normal meaning of ‘weakness’ that the idea of the avant-garde has been neglected and abused by the contemporary
many people think of, although I admit artists themselves might unfortunately art world. That is not to say of course that I am not also very critical about some
think of themselves as weak. I meant that the imagination and perception of aspects of that historical moment in the time of the Soviet Union, especially
68 artists actually has a much larger effect than they think. And in fact, this effect, regarding the avant-garde’s complicated and in many ways dubious relation to the 69
you know, is very hard to measure, although it is no less significant. The avant- Leninist Party.
garde can only be measured much later. Actually, not measured—that is the wrong GS: So it is an immediate if no less contradictory rapport between past and
word. It is more correct to think what would have not happened had these artists present, a history that does not round off its rough edges.
never existed rather than “they’ve done this; this is the effect”. KW: And I was thinking that if we don’t think of this gradual accumulative resistance
GS: So it is like gauging something indirectly by considering its accumulative in terms of small community processes, but instead as one of creating conditions
reverberations over time within a culture, rather than measuring the force of some for several groups to work collaboratively at a particular time and particular place,
original collision or impact-event? then this breaks the self-imposed silence about the avant-garde that Marc Léger has
KW: Yes, these are allusive effects and require their own forms of measurement. described. In fact when you look at the history of the avant-garde there were always
Just imagine: if we didn’t have this kind of historical resistance proposed by the various groups operating in tandem. They were never large-scale actions, but specific
avant-garde, including the many propositions for transformative collaborative to a particular time, place, and context or struggle.
work, where would we be now? In other words, it’s unthinkable to imagine all GS: Solidarity as essential to both resistance as well as memory? A solidarity that
kinds of design, even the Internet, without also considering the legacy of the is as much with our living colleagues as it is with the past.
Productivists and Constructivists for example. KW: Yes, we actualize this monument in present times.
GS: In this sense the present is therefore also simultaneously the past, GS: Hmmmm... at first I thought you said we actualize the ‘moment’, but what
figuratively as well as literally? That would also suggest that the stakes of current you did say helps to throw a light on your practice of projecting images of the
struggles are far more serious than they sometimes appear in the world of living—workers, immigrants, the victims of wars—onto public monuments in order
contemporary art. But how in an era like ours, when the very idea of the future to re-animate these otherwise motionless memorials.
has been foreclosed or at best imagined in only the darkest, dystopian terms, KW: Yes, I’m not so interested in the dead, I’m interested in the living.
do we understand the fundamentally radical and utopian dimension of the avant- GS: And yet to some extent these projection works of yours involve the voices of
garde hypothesis? the living now posing as the dead. So maybe the other question is this: are the dead
interested in you? I mean in a sense does the past not also project its own kind of
2. History and Futurity expectation or even solidarity forward in time and directly onto us?
Perhaps even more than the term avant-garde the word “revolution” is today KW: Maybe they are or have always been hoping for me to exist and in that sense
repressed and therefore avoided by artists and critics, unless or course it is being they are hoping to be useful for the living. That’s for sure because I always need
used ironically, sarcastically. To even call oneself a “revolutionary artist”, as for their help with these projects! One cannot change the monumental past, but to
instance artist Dread Scott does, seems destined to attract sneers. And yet can move on, one must learn how to live with it in a creative way—animate it, project
one be an avant-garde artist without believing in a radically transformed future? new meaning on it—as with the Lincoln statue and the traumatized war veterans
The loss of belief in the future as a better place is endemic today among the in my recent project.
younger people I encounter. Occupy and the other movements of last year were to GS: I too always try to bear in mind Benjamin’s warning that, “not even the dead
my mind a railing against the foreclosure of hope brought about by the penetration will be safe from the enemy, if he is victorious”. It’s a bit heavy certainly, but it
of everyday life by the market. This includes art and artists who are expected to helps keep me on my toes.
cheerfully join in the affirmation of capitalism because it is presented as the only
option today. Thus the birth of the so-called “creative industries”. But can we 3. A Post-Machine Age Agency?
participate in a truly transformative cultural agenda without acknowledging the Swarms of belligerent ‘creatives’ occupied Zuccotti Park last fall, generating what
importance of imagining an entirely better world tomorrow? I mean something more resembled a superorganism of minds and bodies striving to achieve coherence (if only
profound than the accumulation of small changes or interesting subversive tactics? provisionally). Or at least that is one way to read that extraordinary happening. As The
Or is the invocation of the avant-garde at this point in time not so much an act of Occupied Wall Street Journal from 20 November 2011 described it with a kind of
repetition as it is a kind of necromancy in which we are attempting to revive that ‘fuck you’ bravado: “the 1% is just beginning to understand that the reason Occupy
which is deceased—not so much a rearguard, but a “deadguard”, or “necroguard”? Wall Street makes no demands is because we aren’t talking to them. The 99%
And does that make us more like sorcerers of the past than apostles of the future? are speaking and listening to each other.” This inward turn towards autonomous

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Democracy/Avant-Garde


self-governance resonates with much of the history of the avant-garde, which never am not alone in attempting to create conditions for them to become co-artists,
sought to simply dissolve art into life if that life was less than transformative in its agents, or co-agents through my socio-aesthetic projects.
own right. This is where relational aesthetics and interventionist art part company. GS: This is how the technology becomes so important in your media work?
When Vladimir Mayakovsky proposed that the streets should become canvases for KW: Yes, and instead of working ‘for’ or ‘about’ or ‘on behalf of’, the technology
the avant-garde it was not in order to render an existing reality still locked in the allows me to work with the immigrant for example in developing and realizing a
grip of feudalism, but rather to collaborate with the birth of a new society. Up until project. Ideally these works engage people in communicating through a specific
that moment of rupture the radical avant-garde has demanded its own separate public space or through a form of media, and my role as an artist becomes a kind
sphere of culture, a space in which judgment, agency and meaning operate apart of “good enough mother”: a facilitator who can create a ‘potential space’ or space
from the stifling authority of the state or the disciplinary structures of the economy. of potential for the nurturing of speech-acts.
70 But there is another sense in which the historical avant-garde and certain kinds of GS: Kind of like the “people’s mike” so to speak? 71
socially engaged practice converge. Both express interest in non-human forms KW: No, something quite different. Something that deconstructs and constructs
of agency. This was true of Dada, Futurism, Productivism, Constructivism, participation through language but also bodies, histories, affects, etc, involving,
Suprematism, even Surrealism in some instances, just as it is true today of tactical recording, re-recording, special writing workshops, etc, involving communication
media, hacktivism, interventionist art, and bio-art. Are we again therefore on the development processes that can sometimes last one year or more.
edge of a new societal or even bio-societal mutation that will transform politics,
economics, and culture, and if so what role should artist’s play? Are they in the 4. Sci-Fi Crime Stories
vanguard of this process? Or are rapidly evolving technologies driving this change? Writers such as Stanislaw Lem, the Strugatsky Brothers, Octavia Butler, JG
Or are both collective forces and technologies merely effects being generated by a Ballard, and Philip K Dick have grappled with complex social and political
broader paradigm shift? issues through the medium of science fiction. Some of the most engaging art
projects today similarly explore contemporary subject matter by intermingling
KW: Maybe this is not an enlightenment moment. I don’t know what it is that we fact with fiction to produce a space of fantastic possibilities. Wodiczko’s
are in. Artists of course are not invited to the parliament. But what artists are talking public memorials and his Alien Staff project are especially good
doing is attempting to figure out other ways of living and surviving under present examples of this tendency, as is some of the work of Critical Art Ensemble,
circumstances. Again, it’s not a global or even monumental picture of saving the but a younger generation of artists is also exploring this connection, including
world in the older avant-garde utopian sense. There’s a very big difference. Jalal Toufic, Trevor Paglen, Tom Sachs, Omer Fast, and Melanie Gilligan.
GS: But what kind of agency does this experiment in survival presuppose? In my own writings I use the astrophysical metaphor of “dark matter” to
KW: The agency today is a prophetic kind of newcomer: the immigrant. They are describe the emerging power (a weak but growing power) of social [non]
the vanguard of our age. And because they do not carry their culture with them productivity that:
but leave it behind them from the very moment they arrive they inevitably begin
to question everything from a new perspective. They are in a sense located in- Appears to mobilize its own redundancy, seems to acknowledge that it
between the science-fiction story and the crime novel. But also between vision, is indeed just so much surplus—talent, labor, subjectivity, even sheer
deconstruction, and construction. So this is maybe my fascination with the physical-genetic materiality—and in so doing frees itself from even
immigrant. They make a connection with the historical avant-garde when artists attempting to be usefully productive for capitalism, though all the while
sought to work with common people, even if they sometimes treated them as an identifying itself with a far larger ocean of “dark matter” that ungainly
essentialized class-consciousness. surfeit of seemingly useless actors and activity that the market views as
GS: So unlike the proletariat who for Marx signaled the birth of a new class but waste, or perhaps at best as a raw, interchangeable resource for biometric
also a liberatory historical force, today it’s the paperless worker, the migrant, the information and crowdsourcing.6
exile, and the homeless person?
KW: Yes, exactly. Utopia is ‘no place’ but this has to be pronounced “No!-place”: Perhaps what we are seeing is not just a convergence between sci-fi and art, but
No-exclamation mark-place. For the immigrant today utopia is a critical vision of the methods by which the suppressed avant-garde thesis is permitting a return of
future, a vision of the place, the topos in which there will be ‘no place’ for this kind of the repressed?
place and experience that she or he are forced to live-through today. The immigrant’s
utopia as No!-place is at once a prophetic vision, a criticism, and a resistance.5 GS: What would you say about method and its relationship to art and theory, as
GS: Only are we in danger of idealizing these poorest of the poor, of projecting a well as to documentation and fiction, two things that were very much present
kind of lumpen saintliness onto them? within the original avant-garde?
KW: I don’t mean to romanticize but still there are a certain number of these KW: Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari have written that the work of philosophy must
people who have a very special perspective and who can speak on their own be permeated by science fiction and crime stories. Regarding art and its method I
behalf. War veterans, people who are abused, those who are innocent victims, all would add that it’s not enough to be deconstructive, one must also have a visionary
those who have no choice but to sink in where they are, this is the avant-garde of sense of construction. But then it’s very difficult to be optimistic and intelligent at the
the people and who we artists should be listening to. My intuition tells me that I same time. It’s a risk. But its a risk worth taking.

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Democracy/Avant-Garde


GS: A risk that one is either too much of a forensic analyst or too much of a Just then the art fabricators step away from the model of Tatlin’s tower revealing
utopian fabulist or story-teller? a massive Nike swoosh emblazoned on its exterior.
KW: There is a story about the last Polish King who in 1791 was masterminding
the first European Constitution. At the same time he used his own money and Tatlin: The bad news is... life sucks.
invited a French engineer to present the first flight of a balloon in Poland. In an
extraordinary move he decided that there would be a crew of four: an engineer, a
writer, an artist, and a dog. So what was he hoping to achieve? In my imagination Originally published in Léger, Marc J, The Idea of the Avant-Garde—And What It
at least the king wanted this writer to report on a larger and loftier worldview Means Today, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2014.
than was available at a terrestrial level. Ultimately the balloon-ride experience
72 was formulated into a courtly poem also paid for by the king. I’m sure it was 73
a commission. It’s called “Balloon Flight”. The poem describes the flight, its 1 Cottington, David, The Avant-Garde: A Very Short Introduction, London: Oxford
University Press, 2013.
take-off and landing. The observer describes the world changing with people 2 Wu, Chin-tao, Privatising Culture: Corporate Art Intervention since the 1980s, London:
getting smaller and smaller. Even differences between nobles and peasants, as Verso, 2002, p 161.
3 Thomas Hoving cited in Chin-tao Wu, Privatising Culture, p 127.
he reports, are disappearing. And then appears the graceful curve of the horizon, 4 Léger, Marc James, Brave New Avant-Garde: Essays on Contemporary Art and Politics,
proving that the world is round. So he is immediately talking about democracy by Winchester, UK: Zero Books, 2012, p 3.
5 See Wodiczko, Krzysztof, “Designing for the City of Strangers”, Critical Vehicles:
way of science-fiction. Up in the balloon is a vision of the future while down below Writings, Projects, Interviews, Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1999, pp 4–15. See also
rages an argument over the constitution and the city. It’s a fantastic image, it’s a Wodiczko, Krzysztof, “Strategies of Public Address: Which Media, Which Publics?”,
Discussions in Contemporary Culture, Hal Foster ed, New York: The New Press, 1987,
great image, and this is art and technology. Yet when will we ever have an artist pp 41–45, as well as Wodiczko, Krzysztof, The Abolition of War, London: Black Dog, 2012.
ascend as an astronaut? Probably never.7 6 Sholette, Gregory, Dark Matter: Art and Politics in the Age of Enterprise Culture,
London: Pluto Press, 2011, p 188.
GS: Agreed. 7 This story about the balloon flight, poet and dog collapses three balloon flights that
KW: But there is more. As this flight went on there was also a demonstration were very close but separate in time. The first balloon flight with human crew that took
place in Poland was undertaken by the French engineer Jean-Pierre Blanchard and
of another new technology: the parachute. It was of course the dog who his wife Sophie Blanchard in Warsaw in 1789. In order to celebrate and philosophize
‘volunteered’ for the test. Unlike poor Laika in the early Soviet space mission on the meaning of this event, the poet, historian, dramatist, translator, and publicist
Adam Naruszewicz wrote the same year a poem called “Balloon”. On 13 May, 1789,
this dog landed softly. Blanchard launched a balloon with a dog as the only crewmember. The balloon blew
out. Thanks to a delay device, however, a special parachute carrying the dog detached
itself automatically and landed safely, the dog alive and well. On 14 May in 1790,
5. Coda Jan Potocki, a Polish poet, etymologist, aeronaut and author of the acclaimed The
It is the year 2050 and curators at the Museum of Modern Art in New York Manuscript Found in Saragossa, took a balloon flight with Blanchard, his Turkish
servant and his dog (a white poodle). Together they reached a height of 2,500 meters
hire Vanguard Genetics, an innovative biotechnology firm, to clone Vladimir and landed safely after 30 minutes. On 3 May, 1791, the Polish Constitutions
Tatlin and Lyubov Popova as living artworks for their upcoming exhibition about was adopted in Warsaw. It is often described as Europe’s first modern national
constitution, and the world’s second, after the United States Constitution.
early twentieth-century avant-garde art. After months of preparation Tatlin
is resurrected first. He spends the first day of his new life viewing web news
programs, perusing shopping chains where Rodchenko-inspired graphics entice
consumers to satisfy their desires, and he buys a bio-synthetic blini from an
automated street cart. Arriving back at the museum Tatlin watches a group of
young art fabricators putting the finishing touches on a quarter-sized model of his
legendary Monument to the Third International. A door opens. In walks a newly
restored Popova.

Privet Comrade Tatlin.


Privet Luba.

Popova: So, what do you make of this new world? Tell me honestly, don’t
hold back.
Tatlin: Well, to be honest, there is good news and bad news.
Popova: How about the good news first?
Tatlin: The good news is that after all these years life has finally merged
with art.
Popova: But that is fantastic news! What could be so bad?

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Democracy/Avant-Garde


Transformative Avant-Garde: The role of the avant-garde has been to unfold new horizons without which
there would be no way for us to move beyond the point where we already are. The
A Manifest of the Present avant-garde is an indispensable force that keeps us moving against the backward
entrapments of our cultures and ideologies. To survive philosophically and
2014 emotionally, to sustain ourselves as sensitive and sensible beings, to have an idea
of our future, and to be able to transform ourselves and our world into something
better, we must critically re-actualize and reinvent the avant-garde.
Without reverting to reactionary nostalgia for its simple recuperation, and
without expecting from it new agendas and methodologies, with its name updated
to its new task and modus operandi, we must bring the avant-garde back to life as a 75
newly transformative, intelligent and critically affirmative artistic force.

After Deconstruction—Towards a New Construction


What is critical today is the recognition of the need for a new intelligent, pro-
active and complex civic art as well as an art that seeks a radical transformation
of social reality through design.
Beyond its role in creating acts and events of contestation, provocation,
disruption and dissensus, the avant-garde art of today must urgently re-actualize the
propositional, pro-active, transformative, and design side of its inherited practices.
Engaged in creating new situations, environments, equipment, and
networks, the new civic and design art can be at once critical and pro-active,
deconstructive and constructive; it can fearlessly create new needs, expose
hidden ones, and propose original visions and unexpected solutions.
The Avant-Garde Is Dead: Long Live The Avant-Garde!
The term “avant-garde” feels outdated, its meaning washed out, referring to Avant-Garde Art as Design
something that is of no interest to us today.1 Indeed, in the not too distant past, after Unless it operates in new critical and transformative ways, the design and civic
its deconstructive examination, the avant-garde was pronounced dead. Disregarding work of avant-garde art should not respond to the repertoire of existing public
the fact that its ethical and political energy did not stop circulating in our artistic expectations and market demands, nor should it necessarily be intended for mass
veins, we buried the avant-garde alive, without autopsy and proper mourning. After production. Instead, it must take responsibility for creating and proposing new
the last nail was hammered into its coffin we made a silent pact that there would be needs and expectations, and provide an emergency response to existing critical
no more declarations (of independence or dependence), no more manifestos (like needs which otherwise would remain ignored, neglected or suppressed.
the Communist Manifesto or those of the Futurists), no more visionary projects (like Being both pragmatic and symbolic, critically pro-active and respectfully
Constant’s New Babylon and Victor Papanek’s Design for the Real World), no more transformative, the new avant-garde art must not be afraid to radically enter the
writing with bold typefaces and exclamation marks, and no more speaking with a domain of design in order to challenge the ossified professional norms and limits
strong tone of voice. We promised ourselves that we would stay away from new utopias that exist in design practice and theory.
and visionary designs because, as we concluded, they were all naive and they failed. In general, design must be understood as the process of invention and use of
Membership and affiliation with the avant-garde carries a great many public projects that assist and improve human environments and living experience. Design may
expectations and the heavy weight of responsibility for what one may say and do, take the form of processes, objects, spatial structures, environments, networks, bodily
how one may express oneself and why. By burying the avant-garde we ‘liberated’ implements and other psycho-social and cultural tools and equipment that are at once
ourselves from the risky task of proposing a new transformative agenda for today functional and symbolic. Art that is understood as avant-garde design must become a
and new visionary projects for tomorrow. It was easy, much too easy—a way out. radical and fearless entry into the field by creating new conditions for a better life and
This is not a call for action. It is not a manifesto for the future. It is new living experiences, and a force for acknowledging and disclosing those experiences
a “Manifest of the Present”. It is a statement of evidence. It is a supportive that are unacknowledged, hidden and excluded.
recognition of the active existence the avant-garde today.
By calling it “transformative” this manifest points to an important facet The Avant-Garde User
of the avant-garde’s contemporary function: its pro-active attitude and role in Avant-garde artistic practice should consider the development and
intelligent, critical, post-contestational and post-deconstructive engagement implementation of original long-term or short-term design projects that are
through social design and civic practice. This manifest is also a reminder of the developed with the input, collaboration and expertise of self-selected groups of
avant-garde’s powerful historic tradition, which is part of any transformative and initial Users. Avant-garde art needs avant-garde publics and collaborators and
critically affirmative practice and theory. avant-garde design art needs avant-garde users. As the projects respond to

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Democracy/Avant-Garde


critical and emerging needs or propose new vital needs, such avant-garde users After challenging the dangers of the appropriation of our lived-through experiences
and publics will emerge from the hidden and unexpected pockets of our society. by the experience economy, the transformative avant-garde must now brace itself
As Brecht would say, the project users and their publics will join and respond to for a new task, the task of challenging the approaching appropriation of our very
the project “not without interest”. existential transformations of ourselves by the coming “transformation economy”.
Users choose to be part of design projects because they are intuitively The experience economy goes hand in hand with the ‘creative’ appetites of
or consciously ready to speak and publicly express the truth of their lived the over-expanding “creative class”:
experience, not only on behalf of themselves but also on behalf of others who
would like to be part of the project but cannot participate for various reasons. Creativity is becoming more valued in today’s global society. Employers see
They are potentially a social front-guard, which both challenges inaction creativity as a channel for self-expression and job satisfaction in their
76 and acts in favor of complex change. They change the preconceived and misguided employees. About 38.3 million Americans and 30 per cent of the American 77
public image of themselves, public perception of the issue they address (and of workforce identify themselves with the Creative Class. This number has
which they know more than anyone else), and the very social change that is needed increased by more than 10 per cent in the past 20 years.6
to resolve this issue. In these ways they will use the project to become projectors of
truth and agents for change in the direction of pro-active work and engagement in In the context of the appropriation of art by the experience economy and by the
organized social movements. As a front-guard, users feel compelled and responsible “event economy” business that orchestrates “urban experience” through urban
to be ahead of, in front of, leading others, and to become, using Hannah Arendt’s spectacles (often to attract the creative class to re-developed city centers), artists
expression, the “vanguard of their peoples”.2 today must focus on projects that challenge the commercial anesthetization and
The artistic and design projects that users join become the cultural trivialization of living experience.
equipment and developmental tools of expression and open transmission that
they can further master to the point of communicative virtuosity. As public Consumer Kitsch and Avant-Garde Tactics
speech act survivors, they are part of an “existential avant-garde”, helping others What for the avant-garde was a genuine mission and struggle to create or bring
through the projects they become a part of and contributing with their expressive us closer to ‘lived’ experience (against our experiential numbness) has become,
performance to the artistic avant-garde as such. Through their own creative and in the ‘art’ of the experience economy, a mockery—at best a mere nostalgia and
performative input they collaborate with designers as avant-garde co-agents— voyeuristic substitute for such experience.
transformative avant-garde co-artists. Not unlike German Junker’s art, which was a nostalgic substitute for lost
contact and experience with nature—the origin of Kitsch—the experience economy
The Avant-Garde and the “Experience Economy” has become a substitute for lost contact with experience itself.
As described by Peter Bürger, the task of the artistic avant-garde, the search for and New avant-garde art should take a closer analytical look at such commercial
recovery of the lost “lived-through experience”, has been taken over by the art of the ‘avant-gardism’ as the new cultural kitsch.
new commerce: the experience economy as today’s marketing aesthetics.3 The new task is to develop methods that are effective in the recuperation of
According to Joseph Pine and James Gilmore, the authors of The Experience the public interest in media spectacles and in urban experience from the complete
Economy, a book that has been translated into more than 15 languages: control by the event industry and the experience economy. We must revert their
‘experiential’ perversions and appropriations back to socially ambitious art
Goods and services are no longer enough.... Experiences have necessarily adventures and publicly meaningful events.
emerged to create new value. Such experience offerings occur whenever a The new task is to create autonomous events and projects that are
company intentionally uses services as a stage and goods as props to engage independent of the workings of the event and experience economy or to infiltrate
an individual. Whereas commodities are fungible, goods tangible, and and infuse them with ethically and socially radical content. Visionary projects must
services intangible, experiences are memorable.... The company—we will become one of the key transformative objectives of the avant-garde today.
call it an experience stager—no longer offers goods or services alone but the One of the aims of the avant-garde today is to challenge the kitschy
resulting experience, rich with sensations, created within each customer.4 consumer substitutes for lived experience by bringing into the foreground the
experience, performance and presence of those whose life, work and survival
Pine and Gilmore predict that the experience economy will have an even greater is relegated to the outside of privileged fields of vision. We must change our
after-life: own perspectives as well as those of the entire creative class, including the
consumer clientele, the ‘performing’ personnel, and the aesthetic managers of
Once the Experience Economy has run its course, in the decades to come, the experience economy.
the Transformation Economy will take over. Then the basis of success will Inserting our socially and philosophically minded media and design projects
be in understanding the aspirations of individual customers and businesses into the existing program of urban festivals and various official cultural events
and guiding them to fully realize their aspirations.... With transformations, may be one among many advisable methods. Art must “dis-avant-garde” the
the customer is the product!... When a company guides transformations commercial, and “re-avant-garde” itself into it in order to offer (even if only for a
the offering is the individual.5 moment) both the pleasure and the meaning of cultural experience. In order to

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Democracy/Avant-Garde


succeed in such work, however, we must accept, as Brecht would have it, the need cross borders and to work illegally and resist restrictions that are set against them.
to combine in our projects both the “pleasure” of entertainment and “instruction”. A functional avant-garde consists also of the groups, organizations and movements
You want experience? Here it is! You wish to be part of a real event? Here is that assist immigrants in the process of becoming non-immigrants, often by liberating
a chance. You seek flexible work and creative business? Perhaps there is a chance them from detention and retention centers and by bringing them back from the
here as well. You wish to be flexible in the accumulation of your capital? You have countries to which they were deported.
an opportunity here, but... in an unexpected way to you, a way that will open your Among the functional avant-garde are the war veterans and their families
eyes, ears, mind and heart to something else... something you may not ‘be ready’ who agitate against the perpetration of wars, who give witness to the impact of
to experience but which you should and ought to experience.... war on their lives and who educate younger generations about the reality of war.
Conscious of this critical agenda, performative, participatory and They are joined by veteran health centers, housing projects and social support
78 communicative media projects may involve spatial, or nomadic, wearable designs, organizations that try to bring them back to social life. 79
and other potential alternative and avant-garde methods, equipment and armament. The functional avant-garde is also comprised of all other groups and
minorities who are similarly mistreated and at best tolerated as strangers, and
The Avant-Garde as Transformative Engagement who act to resist and change the preconceived notions of their identity and their
My own sense (and I hope I am not alone here) is that one should stop being ‘place’ and role in society.
nostalgic for the past historical avant-gardes’ radical ‘negativity’, autonomy The functional avant-garde may be any persons, groups, organizations or
and oppositionality; stop feeling lost in postmodern deconstruction, and stop social movements, who, like their predecessors, the resisting slaves, as well as
lamenting the appropriation and recuperation of our ideas by a spectacle industry, those who supported and assisted them in their liberation—the suffragists, workers
event economy and creative class culture. We must stop feeling lost and move on. and labor organizers of the past—radically transform the world for the better.
The new transformative avant-garde must move on by forming new Without thinking too much about the avant-garde tradition, the two
temporary or longer-term alliances with many partners, engage in its new projects branches of the functional avant-garde are the existential avant-garde and the
many publics, communities and social strata, and also be inclusive of the broader social support avant-garde—those who engage creatively with avant-garde users,
creative class. who join each other through artistic, pro-active socio-aesthetic projects and in
In approaching this task, the transformative avant-garde will need to work this way form one complex alliance of the transformative avant-garde.
collectively not only with social movements and oppositional action groups, but also
with other activist artists, small and large research, educational, political and social The Avant-Garde and the Art World
institutions, governmental and NGOs, non-profit public art agencies, and yes, We need today a recognition of the presence and an understanding of the complexity
with municipal and district city agencies, their officials and offices, urban public of the transformative avant-garde, especially in the context of the sometimes
space administrations, cultural, heritage and public art agencies, urban festivals fashionable and shallow endorsement of “social art” by official art institutions and
organizers, curators, as well as private owners of public spaces, private cultural in the face of the return of some aesthetically conservative intellectual skepticism
foundations and private agencies. towards the artistic tradition of social engagement and contemporary civic practice.
With all of its problems, issues to address, as well new opportunities, Rather than forcing emerging socio-aesthetic projects into an old art gallery
the world is too complex for artists to work alone. In the forefront of innovative and museum framework (only to predictably find out that it does not fulfill its art
urban politics, culture and public media, avant-garde leaders like Antanas world-based set of criteria and expectations), art theorists and critics should seek
Mockus, the former mayor of Bogota, work on transforming culture and society. and invent new methodologies for understanding the new avant-garde practices.
They are social workers, cultural and social researchers, urban geographers, Conservative critical historians should keep in mind that ‘proving’ that
investigative reporters, documentary media artists and researchers, urban Constructivism, Productivism, Situationism, Fluxus and other avant-garde
designers, social and art educators, art therapists, psychological health movements, ideas and projects ‘did not work’ proves nothing. We would be nowhere
clinicians, political theorists and philosophers, curators, and cultural producers. today without them. Nothing in the avant-garde tradition ‘works’ in the ways one
All of these people are waiting for our involvement and potential collaboration. expects, including the expectations of some of the involved artists themselves.
Our sense and sensibility, our consciousness, artistic methodologies and
The ‘Functional’ Avant-Garde artistic programs keep changing in the context of changing times thanks to the
There are people, groups, organizations and movements today who function as contextual and propositional attitude of these historic avant-garde projects and
avant-garde even if they are unaware of it. These are today’s functional avant- this is the way art and design art ‘works’. These projects may ‘not work’ but ‘they
garde. They may be too busy with their survival, resistance, pro-active and work’ because rather than ‘resolving’ existing problems they work to formulate
transformative work to have time to even think of the avant-garde as a reference and articulate new points of view; they uncover neglected and emerging issues
point for their everyday practice. Avant-garde may sound to them as an overly and they do so through design.
charged and perhaps pretentious term and so they do not wish to be associated As we see it today, both the ‘fiascos’ and the ‘loss’ of artistic avant-garde
with such a label or tradition. movements, like Constructivism, Productivism and Architectonism, are in fact
Among the many examples of such a functional avant-garde are the its success and victories, while the ‘success’ and ‘victories’ of the Leninist and
immigrants who have been forced by economic and political conditions to illegally Stalinist political avant-garde are indeed their loss and historic fiasco.

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Democracy/Avant-Garde


The Civic Avant-Garde questions or critically infiltrates and appropriates. We hear about the ‘danger’ of such
The work of urban cultural animator Antanas Mockus, with two non-consecutive appropriation by clever capitalist hegemony, by authoritarian ‘communist’ (State
terms as mayor of Bogota—a Colombian mathematician, philosopher, and politician socialist) apparatuses or by military dictatorships (as in my old country Poland under
who became known for his surprising and humorous initiatives—is an example of the previous regime). Sure, the experience economy has managed to appropriate
successful civic avant-garde work. His projects, which encouraged and helped city artistic avant-garde tactics quite well, but each counter, or sub-movement and each
inhabitants to become pantomime artists, to act as traffic police, and to become infiltration project must be aware of its temporality. Inherent in any avant-garde
artist-painters in order to visually transform their urban dwellings, were an indirect agenda is the inevitability of appropriation by the powers that it tries to deconstruct
follow-up to avant-garde public art works, as exemplified by Arseny Avraamov’s and transform. So be it. Let us dismantle our own projects ourselves just before
Symphony of Factory Sirens in Baku in 1922. In Avraamov’s project, nearly the each coming moment of appropriation. Let us be as clever as the smartest powers
80 entire city work force as well as city maintenance workers and military personnel and the most flexible capitalist forces that surround us. Let us recognize the moment 81
and their equipment, became part of one collective urban sound creation and the that requires a swift shift to new areas of work and that demands a change of
entire ‘oeuvre’ was directed by a team of avant-garde artist-conductors using flags tactics. The dialectics of the avant-garde method of operation and its politics must
and pistols. continue: action, appropriation, disbanding oneself, forming new areas of action and
These were pro-active art and design projects, designed to counter urban transformation, the coming moment of appropriation... and so on.
alienation and create a new sense of creative togetherness—social experience as a We need art to design the transformation of life. We need artists to inspire,
lived process of collective use and play. direct and design the conditions for participatory, collaborative and inventive
Of course Avraamov’s ambitious civic work had a questionable (especially people’s art and design. We need artists who work with people and not only for
from our present perspective) propagandist and pro-State agenda, as was the case them. One of the avant-garde lines of thinking endorses art as design through
with some Constructivist and certainly many Productivist projects. Yet it displayed which people are in partial or complete charge of the projects’ realization and of
an exceptionally original socio-aesthetic methodology, urban scale, transformative the processes of design, production, maintenance, distribution and use.
cultural ambition, groundbreaking aesthetic methods and design agenda, including Mierle Ukeles’ Touch Sanitation, 1970–1980, involved shaking hands with
many projects coming from the circle of Vkhutemas design school. For us today, more than 8,500 workers in the New York City Department of Sanitation while
these must be seen as instructive and influential. saying “Thank you for keeping New York City alive.”
Despite their questionable inspiration and associations with State In 1987, Suzanne Lacy staged the performance work, The Crystal Quilt,
ideology, Soviet Constructivist projects may be a methodological inspiration which featured 430 older women talking about their lives as their gathering
for today’s anti-State and anti-hegemonic deconstructive work, and certainly created an 82-foot-square tableau in the shape of a quilt.
for contemporary alternative, transformative, affirmative and pro-active socio- In 2001, Atelier Van Lieshout realized AVL-Ville, a year-long project of
aesthetic projects. a “free republic” in the port of Rotterdam. In his project Joep van Lieshout
When it comes to building theoretical foundations for such practice, where practically explored and experimented with the complexity of a community building
would we be without Boris Arvatov’s theory of Productivism? Where would be without through peoples engagement in autonomous design process and fabrication. AVL-
Brecht and Avraamov, without Augusto Boal and before him Paulo Freire, and Ville had its own flag, its own constitution and its own currency. Van Lieshout had
today’s social artists like Michael Rakowitz and Tania Bruguera? Where would be the also designed the money notes for the AVL-Ville. It was a self-reliance based socio-
works by N55, Critical Art Ensemble, Atelier Van Lieshout, without Victor Papanek, aesthetic project with a motto “as long as it’s art, just about anything is possible”.
Buckminster Fuller and Tatlin, without the Situationist International? Where would It was a free open-ended republic, a State in the making as a counterpoint to
I be with my Immigrant Instruments, Homeless Vehicle, War Veteran Vehicle, video present-day restricted and ‘well managed’ society. In AVL-Ville, art took form and
animations of war memorials and statues realized with and by war veterans, or my a process of design and manufacture. Food and energy, its own houses, objects,
proposals for institutional and symbolic design supplements to war memorials, without mobile green sections, and mobile buildings were all produced on a daily basis.
Constructivism, Productivism and Fluxus, and again, without Papanek and other During the summer of 2013, Thomas Hirschhorn worked with the
chapters of the avant-garde tradition and its socio-aesthetic practice? residents of Forest Houses in the Bronx housing project in order to create a
Monument to Antonio Gramsci, which, according to its publicly stated mission,
Avant-Garde ‘Failures’ was designed to “Establish a new definition of monument, to provoke encounters,
They all, the avant-gardists, seem to have failed in their utopian zeal. One should to create an event, and to think Gramsci today.” The residents were inspired and
admit it, and I am willing to do so as well. I wish, however, that we could have employed in a collective creative process of editing and production of the Gramsci
more artistic ‘failures’ of such ethical, aesthetic, and political ambition, scope and Monument Newspaper, Gramsci Monument Radio Station, Gramsci Theater,
scale. Yes, each time we must be more intelligent in our attempts to not repeat the Gramsci Seminar, Gramsci Poetry Sessions, Gramsci Art School, Gramsci Field
previous ‘failures’ of our predecessors, including those from the avant-garde past, Trips. They created and organized the extensive and comprehensive Gramsci
yet we must risk new kinds of projects and new kinds of failures. The failure of an Library-Archive, edited the daily newspaper, and organized lectures and other
avant-garde project is a risk worth taking. pedagogical cultural events and workshops in order to immerse themselves in
There is an overbearing skepticism, perhaps even a ‘cynical intelligence’ Gramsci’s thinking and to re-interpret and re-actualize Gramsci’s intellectual and
at work in pointing to the appropriation of the avant-garde by the very powers it political work in the context of present day existential and political situations.

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Democracy/Avant-Garde


These and many other artists’ projects are original in the ways they are at My own projects in Europe and in the US with undocumented immigrants
once disruptive and transformative, deconstructive and constructive, in the ways and returning soldiers from contemporary wars may also be included in a long list of
they are both pro-active designs and performative actions. examples of performative and media art projects by artists today that engage the public
Where would these socio-aesthetic public projects be without the domain in an attempt to contribute to conflict mediation and transformation.
groundwork that was paved by the Proletkult, Productivist and avant-garde work In his projects designed for helping people to live in healthier non-violent
of the 1920s? ways with tragic post-conflict memories, artist-designer Cristóvão Canhavato
We could also ask the opposite question: why would we recall the manufactured in 1992 his Thrones of Weapons. These sculptures were pieces
Proletkult, Productivist, Avraamovist and other avant-garde histories if not of furniture built with ingeniously appropriated gun parts and other weapons left
because of the work by Rajkowska, Rakowitz, Ukeles and Hirschhorn? It is behind after a bloody civil war in Mozambique. This was a truly transformative
82 precisely the avant-garde character of these contemporary art projects that project of cultural and psycho-social disarmament. His art helped people to learn 83
point to and inform our thinking about avant-garde predecessors. We are today that in moving on with one’s life one cannot change the tragic and traumatic past
re-discovering the historical avant-gardes because the projects of contemporary but one can change his or her relation to it and live with such an overwhelming
avant-gardes are projecting new meanings onto the past. past in a creative even playful way.
Speaking like Walter Benjamin, one could say that the present is here as
if in ‘anticipation’ of the past. When new artistic work encourages new historical, The Avant-Garde and War
critical, and theoretical discourse that engages a particular tradition, such new War is a sanctioned collective madness. Armed with nuclear weapons, it leads
work becomes a true continuation of such tradition, because by way of a critical humanity to global annihilation. The culture of war idealizes war and orchestrates
re-actualization of the past, art creates conditions for extrapolating it into the war psychosis. It mobilizes and unleashes our paranoid, grandiose, and aggressive
artistic future. behavior, and makes us believe that killing and dying in wars is a just and justified
mission, and an honorable duty.
Avant-Garde and Conflict Transformation Building a war-free civilization demands dismantling the workings of the
Conflict is a vital life force as long it is creative rather than malignant and bloody. The culture of war, disarming its symbolic arsenal, exposing war’s human toll and
task for us today is to transform such malignant conflicts into creative ones by inspiring fallout and confronting our drive to enter war situations. An even more important
a paradigm shift through which the new more common problems, rather than the old task is to create and disseminate new and effective peacemaking and peace-
irresolvable ones, will be at the center of public democratic discourse. securing projects.
One must keep in mind that the work of the transformative avant-garde can The transformative avant-garde can become a generative and active part in
be especially indispensable in the areas of conflict transformation.7 Artists can such war-un-making and peace-building processes.
contribute to finding new forms and aesthetic means of expression and creation Some peace researches propose that peace is not simply a state of non-war.
and in these ways inspire, provoke, and assist in the development of the symbolic “Positive peace”, they say, is “filled with positive content such as [the] restoration
(rather than bloody) exchange of positions, collective memory and communication. of relationships, the creation of social systems that serve the needs of the whole
They have already done so through the development of rituals, performative population and the constructive resolution of conflict.” Positive peace means the
dramatic therapy or communicative cultural-prosthetic projects. Art can work non-violent unfolding of conflict in a constructive way.8
in post-conflict situations in order to help people live with and overcome post- Avant-garde design can contribute to such positive peace. Artistic means
traumatic psychological, social and cultural conditions. are irreplaceable when it comes to helping to publicly express human experiences
In one example of such projects Joanna Rajkowska worked with Palestinian that are unspeakable, and to challenge and transform the culture of violence
youths in performative workshops. The project was aimed at the recognition, creative into a culture of dynamic, honest, inclusive, critical, passionate and emotionally
articulation and symbolic communication (through invented bodily expressions and articulate communication.
rituals rather than violent actions) of their complex patterns of emotional behavior.
In yet another work, in a dangerously close to violent conflict in Hungary, in a The Avant-Garde Beyond Contestation and Deconstruction
dramatic and humorous attempt to physically displace, even if for only a memorable In the face of environmental catastrophe and the unknown consequences of
moment, a malignant social and political conflict, Rajkowska organized purposefully globalization, continued armed and bloody conflicts, civil wars and hunger,
rough airplane flights for an assemblage of passengers who represented extremely poverty and epidemics, proliferation of nuclear weapons and other large
divided political views, beliefs and positions. At the end of such frightening flights, problems, we must develop methods and practices that learn from and go beyond
the project ‘passengers’ landed together not only safely and with a relief, but also the work of our interventionist avant-garde ancestors. We must go beyond the
touching a new common ground—the experience and the memory of surviving work of our postmodern and poststructuralist predecessors as well as their
together the flight itself. deconstructive critical analysis and critiques of representation.
In 2006 Joanna Warsza conducted a project with the mostly Vietnamese While continuing to contest and deconstruct, we must also focus on
immigrant population in Warsaw to establish a communicative and performative construction and act pro-actively in transformative ways, critically and in an
bridge between them and the alienated majority of the city. Hers is a good and early affirmative spirit, but all of this on condition, as Chantal Mouffe would prefer,
example of transformative socio-aesthetic work in Poland. that we do so in an “agonistic-pluralist” and radically democratic mode.

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Democracy/Avant-Garde


A Personal Note Art, Design and Education
Being ahead of oneself and beside oneself, ahead and beside the ways of one’s
own upbringing, ahead and beside acquired and outdated norms, values and 2015
patterns of thinking, beyond acceptance of one’s own conditions of life, is a
psycho-social, political and ethical imperative for changing such norms, patterns,
values and conditions in oneself and in the larger outside world.
To transform the world one must transform oneself, and transforming the
world helps self-transformation. This is the conviction that informs the pursuits
of my own work and of the work of many fellow artists who have chosen to join or
84 are unintentional part of the transformative avant-garde.
Art is a communicative, developmental psycho-aesthetic, and socio-
expressive tool, as well as a prophetic and magical force. The transformative
avant-garde is born of the artists’ existential, social, political and ethical
consciousness, their critical motivation and visionary will, and of their capacity
and skills in making full use of and mastering such force.
It is a true task to match our avant-garde predecessors in the ambition,
scale, and scope of their transformative projects, in the impact they have
had on public consciousness, in their fearless and pro-active challenge to our
conservative patterns of thinking and feeling, and to our addictions to the
ideologies of our cultures and to our life immersed in everyday phantasms.
I am not ashamed and afraid to see myself, call myself and be seen by others
as an avant-garde artist. I am only afraid that in my attempts to respond to the
present world, and to myself within it, in a critical, transformative and pro-active
way, I may not be, or have been avant-garde enough. What art works most influenced your ideas about the role of the artist when
you were starting out?
Krzysztof Wodiczko: Before answering any questions, I want to say that I find it
This text was inspired by the book by Andrzej Turowski, Manifest/Manifesto. very difficult to advise people on the basis of my own experience because I don’t
Sztuka, ktora wznieca niepokoj/Art That Sparks Unrest: The Artistic-Political want anyone to simply follow me. Everyone is different! In any case, and I don’t
Manifesto Of Particular Art, Warsaw: Ksiazka i Prasa, 2012. Originally published know what use my own art experience may be for young artists today. So please
in Third Text, vol 28, issue 2, 2014, pp 111–122. take note of this qualification. In this context I would say to them: listen to me, if
you wish, but do not ‘believe’ me, nor take me as an example, especially as your
‘best’ or only example.
1 Such general feeling prevails in most countries but is especially evident in the United States. In responding to you question it is difficult to suggest one single image or art
2 Arendt, Hannah, “We Refugees”, Menorah Journal 1, 1942, p 77.
3 See Bürger, Peter, Theory of the Avant-Garde, Michael Shaw trans, Minneapolis:
object that has been the most important for me, but I can suggest a few things that
University of Minnesota Press, [1974] 1984. set the course for my work. First and foremost, there were things that I have read.
4 Joseph Pine II, B and James H Gilmore, The Experience Economy: Work Is Theater
and Every Business a Stage, Boston: Harvard Business Review Press, 2011, p 17.
Reading the book by Linda Nochlin, called Realism, 1971, was a real event in my
5 Pine and Gilmore, The Experience Economy, p 255. life. It was translated into Polish quite quickly and I read it when still living in Poland
6 See the Wikipedia entry on “Creative Class”. See also Florida, Richard, The Rise of
the Creative Class... And How It’s Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday
in the early 1970s, quite soon after I graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in
Life, New York: Basic Books, 2002, p 8. Warsaw. Another important reference was the book Design for the Real World by
7 I speak here of conflict transformation, rather than conflict management or conflict
resolution. See for instance Miall, Hugh, Conflict Transformation: A Multi-Dimensional
Victor Papanek, 1971, and also writings On Theatre by Bertolt Brecht, 1978.
Task, Berghof Research Center for Constructive Conflict Management, 2004, In terms of art, learning about the Soviet Constructivist, and Productivist
available online at http://www.berghof-handbook.net/documents/publications/
miall_handbook.pdf.
art inspired me. Thinking of a specific artwork that always stays in my mind, I
8 These are the words of Johan Galtung, the originator of “peace studies” who must recall, a small painting by Honoré Daumier called The Third Class Carriage,
distinguished between positive and negative peace. See “Negative versus Positive
Peace”, of the Irenees Peace Workshop, 2007, available at http://www.irenees.
and also works by Vladimir Tatlin especially one called Letatlin and John
net/bdf_fiche-notions-186_en.html. See also the United Nations Department of Heartfield’s photomontages for AIZ magazine. Of course, the work of visionary
Economic and Social Affairs, The Centre for Conflict Resolution, Skills Development
for Conflict Transformation: A Training Manual on Understanding Conflict, Negotiation
designers, such as Buckminster Fuller and Lucien Kroll, were very important for
and Mediation (1997), available at http://unpan1.un.org/intradoc/groups/public/ me as well. So as you can see both the tradition of critical art and avant-garde
documents/un/unpan001363.pdf.
design have played an important role in my life.
The one particular project that also sticks in my mind is a 1922 project by
the avant-garde composer Arseny Avraamov. It was called Symphony of Factory Sirens

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Democracy/Avant-Garde


and was made in the city of Baku (now in Azerbaijan), celebrating the fifth anniversary this is actually the same school of thinking. It is about engagement of intellectual
of the 1917 October Revolution. Avraamov took nearly the entire city’s workforce, pedagogues and artists, which is not about didactically teaching people, but about
including maintenance workers and military personnel, and their equipment to become creating conditions for them to become creative producers of knowledge from
part of a collective urban sound project. He commanded this grand performance by whom we ourselves as educators must learn.
conducting other conductors, who, using flag signals and pistols created this urban This is how I would like to see a methodological direction of my own work
symphony with the sounds of car horns, factory and ship sirens, whistles and flying as an artist, designer and educator, and this is exactly what I was not taught in
airplanes. I thought that this was quite an amazing project that showed how much art school. It was never mentioned as a possibility in my time as a student in the
artists could be involved in transforming the collective perception and imagination of an late 1960s. Today, in a welcome contrast, there are programs in some art schools
urban population. The direct experience of performing and perceiving this kind of project and universities that suggest this kind of method of socio-aesthetic practice,
86 might only last for a moment but because it involves an engagement in an elaborate and, specifically, of engagement in working with (rather than only for, on behalf 87
process of preparations, it stays in the hearts and minds of everyone involved forever. or about) people. I think my generation was the last one that was completely
Of course, it was the specific context of the Soviet system, which is incomparable prevented from taking this kind of approach.
to anything we have today, that made it possible, but it set a precedent for a certain Another important thing not presented to us as an option at art school was
methodology and an exceptional scale and originality, combining media and involving the possibility of the artist to operate as a designer. In fact this is still the case
many sections of urban strata. An amazing, amazing proposition and experiment! now. I think the relationship between art and design is something that needs to be
further explored and to help in this direction we should look closer to the avant-
What writings or projects have inspired you more recently? garde tradition. The divisions were less fixed in Constructivist and Productivist
KW: I was quite impressed by the work of the Mayor of the city of Bogota in work in 1920s Soviet Union, and also to some degree with the Bauhaus, the
Colombia, Antanas Mockus, who was elected in two non-consecutive terms from Futurists, Fluxus and the Situationst International. We have, more than we
1995–1997 and then from 2001–2003. He was a mathematician, philosopher acknowledge, a tradition of artists operating as designers, and doing so with an
and politician, who became known for surprising and humorous initiatives, which approach that is radical, interventional, deconstructive but also constructive.
are an example of successful civic cultural projects. So, he encouraged the city Artists who want to bring “art into life”—or better, as Richard Wagner would say,
inhabitants to become pantomime artists, or to become painters so they could “life into art”—to make art a meaningful companion to people’s daily life while
visually transform their urban dwellings. This shows that there could be a new disrupting outdated patterns and provoking new perception, while thinking with
kind of civic avant-garde art created by civic leaders. Other mayors in several new critical imagination and vision, may well consider becoming artists-designers.
cities elsewhere followed Mockus’ example. Conversely, design students are not encouraged to operate as artists. This
Another very recent project that caught my attention and surprised me is true especially for future architects. They are not taught and inspired to consider
in an inspiring way, which is more well-known, was by Swiss artist Thomas other, more artistic paths in their design projects even as parallel practice to
Hirschhorn in the summer of 2013. He worked with residents of the Forest the official ‘professional’ one. Development and implementation of shorter term
Houses project, in the Bronx, New York, to make a monument to the twentieth- unsolicited projects, not commissioned by ‘clients’, especially these developed
century Italian political theorist Antonio Gramsci. It was to establish, as with the less privileged and less acknowledged potential users, collaborators, and
Hirschhorn said, a new definition of ‘monument’, to provoke encounters, to producers in mind, are seldom encouraged and discussed.
create an event and think about Gramsci today. So there was a newspaper, a The fact that artists, even these who operate as designers, are rarely
radio station, a theater, a lecture program and all of the projects involved local invited to teach or co-teach design studio courses in architectural and design
residents, some of whom were immigrants from African countries, and it also schools makes the situation difficult to change. As a Professor in Residence of
attracted the intelligentsia from other places. Of course, there are ways in which Art, Design and the Public Domain at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design I
the project can be critiqued, but its complexity and ambition demanded critical feel lucky and privileged because I am in an a unusual position to encourage and
discourse on a very fruitful and creative level. inspire design students to consider art as a way to expand and transform their
So those are some fragments of a larger theoretical and practical body of design field and challenge the limits of both art and design for the benefit of life.
work that have affected my life as an artist. Such a challenge however is a difficult task even in my privileged situation because
the design profession is generally not open to temporary projects, interventional
Has anything influenced your ideas about art education and how is this different projects, and critical-political projects. Yet design can have a role in identifying
from your experience of being a student at the art academy in late 1960s? those whose needs are not recognized by the market, whose needs should
KW: The Brazilian educator, Paulo Freire, wrote an important book called not exist but unfortunately do exist in our ‘civilized world’—the needs that, like
Pedagogy of the Oppressed, which was first published (in English) in 1970. He wounds, need emergency bandages. These needs can be articulated by design but
reversed the traditional and accepted methods of education and turned things at the same time, design should alert us to their unacceptability and emphasize
upside-down by turning students into co-creators of knowledge. This pedagogical that the solution (elimination of such needs) must come through other means.
work affected many artists back then. This kind of approach is something that I called “interrogative design”,
Freire is not talked about so much now as people prefer Jacques Rancière’s or “scandalizing functionalism” in the 1980s. My earlier projects such as the
The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation, 1981, but Homeless Vehicle project didn’t seek to offer a permanent solution to homelessness

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Democracy/Avant-Garde


but instead made the real conditions of survival and practical needs of people living The possibility for artistic engagement in this kind of project is something
on the streets more visible and more understood. It was both an articulation of such that I certainly didn’t learn from going to art school. But again, to be fair, I have
needs and a sort of emergency design response to them, aimed at the amelioration younger colleagues who would not say the same about their educational experience,
of conditions of nomadic life on the streets, and the labor associated with the and we all see that now the situation is different and changing for the better. I have
redemption of bottles and cans—the recycling work performed by these people lived and worked long enough to witness many major changes. So, I can’t say that
in exchange for meager income. This kind of critical, interventional and discursive what was deficient in my time is a good way of seeing the present situation.
design is happening more today than it did before, but because of the division
between art and design programs, educational institutions are not the environment So, do you think art students today have an easier or harder time?
for students to learn how to work as artists-designers. In any case, through working KW: Students today have many more possibilities than during my time. This kind of
88 with the homeless, war veterans and their families, illegal immigrants and other social engagement for artists working out in the world is more recognized. Students 89
alienated people, potential users, operators or performers, one may consider design now have a better chance of meeting artists who have managed to develop socio-
as an artistic method. aesthetic methods of working, despite the fact that nobody taught them how to do
Students need to learn the methods of research, development, social it. Some of these artists are visiting lecturers in art schools and so are becoming
production and critical analysis that such projects offer, and how to become, role models to today’s students. In fact “social art” has become a sort of design to
critical, interventional, or ‘interrogative’ designers of a useful, tactful, informed, be shown in some museums and its ad-hoc presentation and even production has
sensitive and inspiring kind. Unfortunately I continue seeing these ‘disciplinary’ now become a superficial art world fashion. Up-and-coming artists should recognize
divisions everywhere I go. Even when art and design departments are in the same such superficiality and move beyond it into independent, more engaged enquiry and
building, they put thick walls between them. projects seeking grants, support and contact among and with independent art and
It’s difficult, because I do not wish to haphazardly criticize art and design social networks and organizations.
educational institutions themselves for this, ‘divisionism’, because it is also Some of my own students are showing in the same exhibitions and working
something to do with the broader artistic culture and its aesthetic discourse in in the same contexts as I do, and we share similar convictions and approach, but
which use-value and symbolic value are kept completely separate, especially in they are making very different work from mine. The relationship between social life,
the minds of art theorists, art curators, art critics and art educators. It’s also engagement and the more pro-active role of the artist has become a real option, open
reiterated in museums, where art and design works are separated. When a to many forms and methods. Some universities even request that art and design
design project is presented in an art museum, it’s often treated as an aesthetic students seek experience with this way of working by engaging in social projects.
object, without understanding it as complex process. Usually, the public is not Yet it is very difficult for students to fully engage in this way of working due
encouraged to learn about design as a creative and ethically responsible field that to the limitations associated with the semester system. You cannot develop trust
is engaged in methods of envisioning, effecting, inspiring and developing—often and working relations with busy ‘outside-world’ individuals, groups, institutions,
with the users themselves—processes of invention, experimentation, fabrication, organizations and social movements leading to an artistic project in just three
use, distribution and maintenance. Projects by Buckminster Fuller, Victor months. However, students who genuinely want to learn can gain a great deal
Papanek, Lucien Kroll, N55, Marjertica Potrč, Atelier van Lieshout, Lucy Orta from trying this kind of work even if they engage in it in a limited way. They should
may be presented on occasions in art museums as desirable exceptions, but very go out to various places where people less known to them work and live to meet
rarely are the entire social aspects of their design process elaborated there. them, talk to them and ask questions. They may be surprised to receive generous
attention, interest, creative and informative responses, which will develop new
Do you think that art has a social role? ideas and imagination in their own minds. In response to students’ initial artistic or
KW: A book which I neglected to mention before, which also really affected me design proposals, there may sometimes be laughter, or critical reactions, advice or
was Trauma and Recovery: The aftermath of violence from domestic abuse to political counter suggestions but ultimately the students who work in this way will learn more,
terror by Judith Herman, 1992. She explains in this book the stages of work with because art and design is also a cognitive process in which discussion around a new
traumatized people. In my mind and my practice, these stages allow and invite project invites new consciousness. Through their response to the albeit naive student
artistic involvement in helping people to recover from trauma through becoming projects, parties approached and later involved in the design process may discover or
‘agents’ for social change and justice. acknowledge their new ways of thinking and the possibilities to transform their own
I also think about an art project called Throne of Weapons by Cristóvão situation. So even within the limit of the structure of educational systems, there is
Canhavato from Mozambique. In 1992, he made sculptures and furniture from the possibility of genuine creative and transformative encounters.
gun parts and weapons left over from the bloody civil war there. His work actually I just wish that the educational institutions could do more to support this
helped people to learn how to move on with life; to learn that the past that they kind of encounter and project. If they extend their projects beyond one semester
went through cannot be changed, but that one can live with this past in a healthy, and allowed for learning that combines social research with the development of
new, creative and playful way. This illustrates the role of artists in post-conflict collaborative trust and experimental work with the outside parties mentioned
situations, in healing and treating conditions through artistic means to help earlier, it would be much better. In places where research experiment and learning
alienated and traumatized people and society at large to regain cultural and are combined, especially in research-based institutes like MIT, the potential of
communicative strength and confidence to move on. such engagement is greater.

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Are there other places outside of higher education establishments where such new meaning in the face of present circumstances and the vision of the time to come.
projects are happening? We should recall certain facts and projects from the past and bring new meaning to
KW: Yes, in art centers, community cultural organizations, contemporary art them in new work. I am uneasy to see students being hypnotized and intimidated by
museums or art galleries that have their own media production base, community, the aura and halo of art history through slides, and brainwashed by readings of past
public art expertise, and outreach educational programs, there is always a fertile art, treating it all as a monument or shrine to worship. They should look at art history
ground for such projects. In some museums and art centers, the education with a critical eye; select things that are relevant to them and critically re-interpret
departments are doing cultural and artistic work that is more ambitious than them. They should dare to discover undetected aspects and notions in past art,
what the exhibitions departments can offer. It was definitely the case in the New to see and inscribe new meanings in past art works, art projects, art movements,
Museum in New York in the 1980s and 1990s. The pedagogy there was very artistic manifestoes, activities and actions—in all that is not yet written in the
90 advanced, with people like Greg Sholette, who was Curator of Education, and textbooks. And then they should re-write or oppose it radically. In that sense, every 91
Susan Cahan and Zoya Kocur who published the book Contemporary Art and artist can and in my opinion should become a historian, but (as Nietzsche would
Multicultural Education, 1996. There were some tough projects. You can point to prefer) of a ‘critical’, rather than ‘monumental’ or ‘archival’ kind, and such artists’ own
similar projects today, but back then, they were really innovating. unique histories should be shared publicly, as widely as their art.
Regrettably, ‘art education’ and ‘art therapy’ are still the two fields that are That approach to history came with the avant-garde tradition. Gustave
greeted with ironic half smiles in the art world. I think that is really, really bad! It Courbet, for example, said that he didn’t mind making history paintings, as long as
actually puts down a very important field in which artists could be engaged, and it they were of contemporary subjects. Édouard Manet is another example in terms
creates a situation where fewer people are interested in studying these fields. The of his relation to Francisco Goya. When you look at their works together, you can
word ‘therapy’ is used in a pejorative way as ‘performance’ used to be. There is see how Manet, in relating to Goya, created his own academy, his own educational
no real understanding about how much artists can be involved in helping people, laboratory and his own art history. He seemingly indulged himself in ‘copying’ works
transforming situations, healing and inspiring new communication, expression of those great masters of the past, while in fact he was not copying them at all, but
and consciousness in places like hospitals, schools, the workplace, prisons youth was responding to them, re-interpreting them, looking at them and ‘un-painting’ and
and community centers, working with war veterans and their families, as well as ‘re-painting’ them, doing so both with respect and with a radically critical new mind
with and for many other people who really need help. There is a very long list of and eye.
places where art educators and art therapists end up working. If we could imagine I don’t see any problem, for example, if young artists and designers look
their engagement being organically extended by innovative design practice, so that again at some art and design projects of 1970s and 1980s. Many are already
these artists could acquire more command in social research, social psychology, looking at Buckminster Fuller and Victor Papanek and other ground breaking
anthropology and other relevant fields, it could create an incredible set of options visionaries and practitioners, asking why should there be a need to be inventing
for young artists to enter the larger outside world, rather than being locked in their new things, if these past works seem still so fresh and relevant to us today. But
studios to explore and express their own inner worlds like art-monks. It is very if they don’t just adopt these works, but un-do, and re-do them in a new ways,
important that this should not be such an obvious option, as is currently the case, they can learn and discover a lot. Some ingenious aspects of the agenda and
where it is taken for granted as a ‘natural’ way that artists should operate. craft of past projects may be brought back, but transformed in a new way and
This idea of working alone in one’s studio remains so prevalent because in new context. In any case, many things are radically changing: there are new
art is still primarily valued in terms of artistic individuality and its exchange value technologies, new opportunities, new agendas, struggles, and conflicts, new
in the market—as individual artist ‘oeuvre’ and a unique object ‘to be looked at’ ecological issues, new survival techniques and new art and design methodologies.
and consumed visually as a gallery or museum artifact, a potential object of art Young artists and designers should be taking these new changes into account while
collection. Historically, art as a social or cultural process, and art as a collective looking afresh at the past and developing their own critical-historical traditions.
cross-disciplinary project isn’t valued in the art market and in ‘art world’, so
artists are not encouraged to do this. Do you think it is still important that artists have a formal education?
KW: Yes, I think it doesn’t hurt at all to have a formal education, as a starting
How should artists learn from the past? point. The important thing is always to find a parallel way to supplement your
KW: Artists should take some inspiration from the past, but that inspiration must formal education through engagement with projects and groups and movements,
immediately lead to new contemporary project. Artists have an ethical obligation to outside the school or university where you are actually studying. Take advantage
operate in the social and cultural world as a transformative force. They should move of what it offers, but take advantage of everything else as well. That is my feeling.
on from what is in their heads into practice, into experiments, into connecting with I am sure not everyone will agree and I probably agree with them that they should
others. They should learn how to work with social workers, community activists, disagree with me! That is just my life and my approach. There should be room for
administrators, city officials, curators, with whoever needs to be approached, to give many different approaches—we should disagree and argue!
permission or supply funds or endorse their work in some other way. This is why
artists must move into the present day world as quickly as possible.
So it’s not that we should be learning from history, we should be creating our Originally published in Academie X: Lessons in Art + Life, London: Phaidon Press,
own history; not ‘learning from the past’ but ‘teaching the past’, understanding its 2015, pp 334–345.

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Identity/Cultural
Prosthetics

Ægis, 1999
Beyond Hybrid State the great whole. Although in the age of Capitalism Militant this was achieved almost
exclusively by (external) warfare, in the age of Capitalism Triumphant it is precisely
Warr en Nie sł u c h ow ski a nd K rz ys z to f Wodi c zko on the ruins of these wars (and in the maimed souls of its exhausted, wandering
1992 veterans) that future theaters of war will be staged.

(Re)mobilization
“America” is a state of war. Paradoxically, the social relations of the great standing
army in the desert were more peaceful and more democratic and egalitarian—like
those in the Napoleonic Grande Armée—than at home. In that self-contained civil
society of soldiers, each citoyen has human rights, including rights to social space, 95
public and private, and one must enjoy these rights, whether one desires them or
not. Facing this great mobilization in the unpopulated desert is another civil society,
composed not of soldiers but of warriors, fighting not a war against some enemy of
freedom, but each other. These warriors constantly defend themselves against each
other in an unsuccessful struggle, not for freedom in the abstract, but for their
ration of rights.
The army in the desert represents an oasis of civilization compared to the
society of permanently embattled individual warriors fighting in the urban jungle,
a social desert. This is an army of deserters from the battlefield of the United
States who have consolidated themselves as a new society in the desert, neither
polis nor rus (countryside), abandoning the (e)utopian (good place) but difficult
project of America for the (o)utopian (no place) and featureless terrain vague
of desert and ocean, a new social project of staging a theater of operations in a
Where are you from? space with no social problems—a theater of war.
Instead of a simple answer, a prolonged silence meets the question. The silence says, We propose as the obvious conclusion to that war the repatriation of this
“You are asking me the wrong question. Ask me, ‘Which “where” am I from?’” army back to the American polis and a general re-mobilization of society from its
There are millions on this planet today whose silence, too, is an answer. present mission as an outpost of (o)utopian society on the flawless surfaces of the
We are among them. desert for a social mission—redeployed as a welfare rather than warfare warrior
The following text is an attempt at recording, in the act, an unfinished state. No longer a state as Grande Armée, but as a homeless army, based on the
dialogue over the Paris-New York line, an attempt to grasp a fragile moment in the social realities of our society, important parts of which are composed of ex-slaves,
history of democracy and its forms as a political, social, psychological, cultural, and returning veterans from imperial, social, and civil wars, refugees, and immigrants—
ideological enterprise, and to situate the place of art in such a moment. an Operation Social Desert. As new recruits continue to be drawn in large part from
We found ourselves, entangled, in a labyrinth of fragmented ideas, these strata, the ideological sets and decors of the theater of war will be converted
metaphors imposed on us by the context of events spanning more than two to a broader theater of ideology. This new army will thus broaden its operational
continents and crossing existing categories. The moment calls for a xenology terrain and fill out its complement through a full and voluntary self-conscription.
(from xenos meaning “stranger”), a new, nomadic, and yet undeveloped form of It will have to transform the egalitarian structure of the army into one of multi-
understanding and expression. ideology and multi-identity—each “welfare warrior” exercising his or her right to a
As empires extend and recede, the boundaries and territories they multiplicity of particular identities and ideologies. The communications system of
incarnate shift, as do the particular and internal ones of the subjects they this army would have as its function the dissemination of the multiplicities of its
comprise. Drawn by the collision of their histories into identities they may not individual and collective units, and its mission would be, after a transitional phase,
have freely chosen, these subjects remain in an ongoing struggle over the hold its own “dis-arm(y)ing” and a passage to a state of “un-war”.
of imperial powers, engines of war. The forces deployed in these wars are not This new dis-army will require a new category of citizen, a member of
always ones from without. Taking advantage of differences, empires have often nomad kind, defined not in opposition to State power, but rather as a returnee
succeeded, by enclosing and excluding (Gilles Deleuze), in fashioning their from the wars seeking a new status and means of conceiving a society beyond the
world along the lines of this forcefield until they, too, fall victim to the crush of fatal dualism of social jungle and utopian desert, a social fata morgana. The newly
competing imperial formations. demobilized will at last be given a chance to see this un-war for what it is, not a
This is true whether the empires in question are capitalist democracies or question of individual struggle for some coherent identity based on notions of right
absolutisms. Although the premises—or the physics—of the forces may be different, to difference (usually a flat one like some advertising image and often quickly raised
the goals remain the same: the preservation and extension of a super-identity against to the level of a new multicultural nationalism or other hegemonic mirage), but a
the multiple and individual identities subordinated, assimilated or integrated into struggle for the right not to be continuously embattled, the right to be multicultural

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Identity/Cultural Prosthetics


inside and to live one’s multiple identities. This, too, is a utopia, but a nomad’s and process by combining materials in many fine layers only a few atoms
nomadic utopia, that of the new veterans of homelessness looking for a new home thick. This atomic engineering holds the promise of designer materials,
away from wars, soldiers, and warriors. ones whose properties are built in by blending elements that could not be
combined in other ways. Scientists say the new materials represent a new
(Dis)integration state of matter that was previously unavailable.... Some of the multi-layer
This dis-army calls into question any notion of a State only for survivors and materials are deceptive in appearance. A thin piece of shiny reddish-brown
winners (racially, economically, politically), implying the elimination of the metal looks like copper. But is does not bend easily the way a thin sheet of
possibility of recognizing differences, in all their complexity and antagonism. The copper would. Instead it is resilient, snapping back in place after a bending
capitalist army, for example, has converted its memory of victorious battles (often force is removed.1
96 crimes against humanity committed in common, to which our monuments are 97
both memorials and cover ups) (Sigmund Freud, Georges Bataille) into an ethos There are many ways of assimilating, deploying and fusing difference, as this
of social will or moral ‘necessity’, that of constantly fighting designated enemies appeal to the victories of Machine Age engineering in such an ambiguously
at home and abroad. The myth of this necessity—to fight and win—then becomes Durkheimian quote (whose applicability to social engineering is obvious) shows.
the primary social and political bond holding society together, a State fusion of The State Hybrid, too, is a transracial and transcultural war machine, one
differences into a hybrid, which comes at the price of alienation (Entaus-serung, that fuses sexual, racial, or cultural differences and erects another (abstract)
meaning the “estrangement, externalization, driving out”) of ‘passive’ or ‘weak’ economic one. This new difference rapidly transforms itself into the very engine
elements that cannot be assimilated or integrated into the agonistic culture of the machine, like the core of a nuclear reactor, which functions, so to speak,
(Georg Simmel). solely on the difference of energy levels in the states of various isotopes of
As was pointed out in a proposal for the Poliscar, The Homeless radioactive elements.
Communication Network in 1991, these alienated elements, like those who live Those who are too slow for this machine are down(ed) and out. Those who
in the city but outside, the urban homeless, are treated, or at best tolerated, as cannot transform into power and energy are eliminated, like nuclear waste, no
aliens on their own planet. This ‘alienation’—making into legal aliens legitimate longer of any conceivable use, even dangerous. This is such a fundamental trait
operators within today’s city—has a vicious effect, not so much of excluding of the ethos that it becomes difficult to appreciate and criticize from within the
‘them’, those alien, nomad homeless, as ‘us’, the community, from the masses categories of the social system itself. The US, which has thus freed itself of any
of strangers from whom we are then estranged and with whom we presume to other restraints on its activity, is in this sense ahead of the rest of the world. In
have no common language. In fact it is the strangeness of the situation that we one sense, of course it had no choice—alienation or ‘estrangement’ in this sense
project onto the other rather than confronting it together. This contradiction— has characterized its struggle from the very beginning, from the first wars against
to us they may seem strange in the city, but they are not strangers to the nature, ‘Indians’, religious intolerance, etc. Even when physical liquidation is not
city—results in a contradictory and complex identity: savage alien nomads involved, elimination, casting beyond the limen, the threshold, is a basic feature of
(the homeless) in a noble State and society (the city), or noble alien nomads this alienation. As Foucault indicated, we have passed from the repression of sexual
homeless in a savage State and society (the city). Squeezed between this play (and cultural and racial) difference to its deployment. Technically this has been
of images the nomads themselves, in their complexity in a complex city, remain achieved by an impressive feat of social engineering. For reasons of ideological
out of the picture, which has no room for the real life of people who happen coherence, equality must still remain the basic tenet of this new state. Ignoring
merely to lack a home or dwelling. the consequences of the deployment of difference, political demagogy of the right,
center, and left can all be useful as a tool for maintaining the machine.
The State Hybrid
First proposed by the Enlightenment, the democratic project of social and cultural From the Hybrid State to the Labyrinth
‘integration’ (in the strong sense of the word) as a political engineering of the To counter such a pseudo-democratic egalitarianizing repression into the unconscious
liberation of the individual through assimilation and total incorporation into a modern of these differences and scrape away the veneer of sameness and unity, we strongly
State machine is still being extended today (for example, by the pyramidal Socialist agree with Kristeva that a society must be founded on a dialectical recognition of
apparatus in Mitterand’s France through its official State policy of integration). It is the complexity within each ‘human being’. Her humanism, however, is a somewhat
endorsed by many social activists (SOS Racisme) but opposed by some concerned confused notion (since it posits but one human identity), as is the dialectical but
intellectuals (Julia Kristeva), and provides an inspiration for reactionary ‘criticism’ dualist confrontation between ‘I’ and ‘other’, something close to the biblical conception
from politicians of the radical right (Le Pen). It also re-emerges in everyday language of “neighbor”. This in turn is different from a “multiculturalism” which proposes the
through attacks of utopianism in the form of Orwellian nostalgias for engineered co-existence of many societies in one larger State, without a real recognition of what
hybrids superior to their base parts. the differences are. (The multicultural project is a more advanced one technically, in
the same sense that Georges Seurat’s chromato-divisionism of complementary colors
At least since the Bronze Age people have mixed metals together to and forms was advanced for its time—and perhaps reflected Seurat’s own anarchist-
obtain properties like hardness or ductility that are not present in the utopian but totalist positions.) What is required is the recognition of the multitude of
base materials themselves. Now scientists are improving on the alloying identities and cultures co-existing and often embattled within everyone.

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Identity/Cultural Prosthetics


It is also possible to self-alienate this society of identities-within into society beliefs, ideologies, languages, metaphors, slogans—psychological traces, lines,
at large (multiculturalism) without confronting differences, and in one superficial both shortcuts and roadblocks, running across the individual territories of
sense a ‘hybrid state’ already exists as a State Hybrid. Here, just as in its biological human minds. The migratory movements within each of us necessarily include
substrate, hybridizing always requires dealing with dominance and duality, and crossing one important internal boundary, the line drawn between the person
the danger of an integration, submersion, or simple disappearance into a ‘superior’ one has been but no longer is and the person one will become, thus establishing,
strain, a hegemonic whole, with no inscription of one’s own history, is always by transgression, an “extraterritorial de-militarized zone”, which is where the
present. The more alien element risks being forced to function as an alter ego, a alien feels most at home. Coming to terms with the varying directions of these
kind of complement to the citizen, the less alien. (One may, of course, hopelessly internal shifts and crossings (and their corresponding de-militarized zones) is a
hope that one-day soon dominant white culture will assimilate into weak minority complicated process, but the mapping of these zones constitutes one of the most
98 ones.) The State will argue that assimilationism is an important step forward, important social movements taking place today. 99
perhaps even a prerequisite for its affirmative-action program for aliens, but in For the alien, living is a series of entries, ‘crossings’, not in the biotechnical
fact this may be simply impossible for those who remain outside with no access sense usually implied by the term “hybrid” (although the latter does have the
to power. This constitutes a re-moralizing of the problem in the same way that the attractive force of transformation on its side), but rather the often painful and
Protestant Ethic, the New Socialist Man, or ‘liberation’ have all moralized and problematic crossing of spaces and borders, with concomitant changes in mental and
psychologized the various stages of the historical forced march of the modern moral position, which, as in the labyrinth, are as much (or more) internal as external.
capitalist individual (Max Weber). Here “alien” means both a political and metaphysical (nomadic and migrant) state
Far from being a wilderness, the vast and featureless wastes of Desert of being and ‘becoming’, perhaps even a psychological encampment in space and
Storm are the perfect background for the new multicultural army—women, blacks, time in today’s displaced and estranged world. In this new work, borders, internal
citizen-soldiers from the reserve army of the otherwise morally unemployed. We and external, shift and cross in perpetual movement and transformation, and so do
insist once again that this tremendous force must be turned inward—crossing the the identities they determine. “Who am I?” can only be answered in terms of “Who,
barriers we erect within and destroying the hold that our categories have over us. where, why, (in the name of) what, have I been?” (Just as it is for the proton in
Paraphrasing Bertolt Brecht’s point about cities, the following paradox quantum physics, which constantly and instantaneously ‘becomes’ a sequence of 11
arises: America is allowed (or forced) to change, but the individual may not. elementary particles, then a neutron and a pion, and then an individual proton ‘again’,
Something more than this technical and contradictory liberation must come this observed unending transformative process is the ‘definition’ of a proton, and its
into being as rights are extended to ever greater sectors of society, as was done only ‘identity’)
in the case of slaves after the Civil War. If we cannot necessarily rid ourselves The artist who would dare make a contribution to this present, understood as
of the repertory of masks that social categories generate, we must at least a home where past and future dwell together (Benjamin), as well as to the history of
understand what lies beneath them. Societies exist only in social forms, the most this present and future (Friedrich Nietzsche, Michel Foucault), would need to learn
complex of which, democracy, is still in the process of development, and this how to operate much like a nomadic Sophist in a migrant polis, providing new tools
is the battleground. Seeing this form not as a fixed essence but as a constant of language for it (in the performative sense of metaphoric speech-acts) for aliens
circulation is already an important victory. Yet, if multiculturalism is to be more alienated from themselves for lack of language. Like the Sophist in Ancient Greece,
than a liberal(’s) liberation, it too must learn to deploy its forces, inward as well as the new Sophist, as a practitioner of democracy in that politically guaranteed but
outward, psychologically as well as socially. practically non-existent empty space called “public”, must practically recreate an
Strategy must be developed for the passage from monocultural society agora or forum each time she or he wishes to speak or listen. Even in a democracy,
(the ‘repression’ or ‘expulsion’ of difference) through multicultural society the liberal State or corporate estate fills this space with its own “publicity” (Jürgen
(the ‘deployment’ and organization of difference) past the transcultural State Habermas), instead of leaving it for the “free communication of thoughts and
Hybrid (the integration of difference, its ‘crossing’ in this vitalist and biological opinions” (Declaration of the Rights of Man, 1791), becoming in effect a “tyrant of
metaphor—a kind of superstate)—”the passage from the fort” through the opinion” (Alexis de Tocqueville). The Sophist must be prepared for an adversarial
panopticon and the pyramid of difference toward a labyrinth (Bataille) where one role in going beyond corrupted forms of communication. In a democracy the most
is lost only when one tries to find a ‘way out’ (the illusion or utopia of exit) instead important right is the right to representation. Neither a pedagogue nor a demagogue,
of finding oneself or another in it, a ‘way in’, an entry. the Sophist is an interrupteur, a ‘switch’ always ready to open rather than close the
communications circuit. There must always be room for this empty space, open to a
Alien Art multiplicity of expression and interpretation (Claude Lefort). Alien art is this empty
For art today, as one entry (in)to this labyrinth, the task lies in finding its relevance space, existing only between the lines.
in the midst of the political, demographic, and psycho-social transformations— Among all the-more-and-less-alien in this world lives one even more
relative to the shifting and crossing of collective and individual boundaries. Shifts alien half. These are the double-aliens, women aliens, many of whom, often
in external boundaries (ethnic and State borders, for example, north-south, east- en-veiled, have learned to operate as double agents, skillfully crossing borders
west) are closely bound up with migrations and the crossing of these boundaries. between antagonistic alien compounds and the embattled zones within them
The face of Europe and North America in particular is being transformed in this (Carrie Mae Weems). Crossing by force of commerce or marriage a multiplicity
way. These in turn impose themselves on shifts in internal boundaries—ideas, of boundaries and identities, women become aliens not only to aliens, but aliens

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of and from aliens—the most nomadic of aliens, cross-aliens. In this depth of An Interview with Bruce Robbins
the depths of alienation, women’s memory, thousands of years long, conceals
and discloses sources of knowledge and philosophy for creating social space as 1996
de-alienating space, another private and public agora. One might even look to
women as the first Sophists. Based on the special alchemy in the metaphors and
expressions within this knowledge (devised under the most alienating chains of
circumstances), these traditions constitute an important artistic education for the
contemporary alien artist.
The most difficult and critical challenge is the changing and nomadic
100 status of the metaphor and the directions of its shifts and crossings. How one
disarms or deactivates dangerous metaphors, deciding which of them to preserve
(disarmed but not destroyed) as critical monuments, specimens of the dark past,
and which to publicly unmask or destroy, and creating space for new metaphors
to serve as elements of new aesthetic modes of communication among today’s
(alienated) aliens, are important practical questions facing the Sophist. The artist
who would undertake such a project should be aware of the dangers of repeating
or ‘repatriating’ old and habitual preconceptions, in particular preconceived
notions of (alien) ‘identity’ as a uniform category, and of turning a blind eye to the
internal and external antagonisms within and between it and aliens.
In this labyrinth, art must not only be psycho-demographic, but also
democratic, and it must contribute to the transformation of this democracy through
new nomadic forms and modes—art as xenology, a new form of inquiry (his-toria).
Its critical, historical, and prospective voice is necessary equipment for aliens in
transit, for whom an outdated history book, as much as any fading blueprint for Bruce Robbins: A passerby in the street sees someone holding a walking stick with a
the future, is a suspect, even useless, piece d’identite. TV monitor on top like a hooded cobra. There is a moving image, there is the sound
of a voice, perhaps an accented voice. The person holding the staff seems to want to
Paris-New York, 16 January, 1992 make eye contact. What goes through the passerby’s head? Another crazy foreigner?
(On the first anniversary of the Gulf War) Someone who needs help walking? Moses in front of Pharaoh?
Some of the brilliance of this seems to me the play on what Guy Debord
calls “the society of the spectacle”, on the fact that people will not stop for
Originally published in The Hybrid State, exh cat, New York: Exit Art/The First human beings telling their story but will stop for a televised image of the same
World, 1992, pp 92–98. human being telling the same story. When the image replaces the person, when
there’s an obstacle between you and the person, there’s a better chance of
making contact. Otherwise the operator is likely to be taken as someone asking
1 Holusha, John, The New York Times, 1 December, 1991, p F9. for spare change. Is this what you had in mind? What sort of public encounter are
you hoping to produce?
Krzysztof Wodiczko: It’s very hard for me to present a theoretical model for what I
hoped would happen, or even what I noticed did happen during these performative
presentations. But it was clear that without this object, none of this would happen.
Any kind of object held and operated by a stranger can be useful. But if the object
performs and is attractive by virtue of being strange, it relates to the tradition of
strangers, magicians, performers using instruments that come from somewhere
else, to make magic, or just to sell something. In the environment of the
contemporary city, too, a new object is always desirable.... The Alien Staff, 1992,
proved to be very effective because it was recognized as something familiar at the
same time as something strange. It’s like a cliché. A biblical staff. [Laughter]
BR: Does Emmanuel Levinas laugh when he talks about the face of the “other”?
KW: Comically, the face here is the face of a character and the face of an actor at
the same time. The face of a media performer and an actual person. And there is
the operator, also an actual immigrant, who is performing in relation to the

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pre-recorded image. The presence of the actual immigrant takes several forms. BR: Tell me a little about the science of xenology.
One of the forms is to embody disagreement with what was pre-recorded. Nothing KW: By “xenology” I mean a field of knowledge which also connects with the field of
here is very stable. It’s quite open for exploration. When others ask questions experience: the field of historical intuition or present intuition. I want to propose an
about what’s in the containers, for example, it brings up things that weren’t said in existential knowledge combined with life practice. A struggle of displacement.
the pre-recorded material. But very often the immigrant will also refuse to explain. BR: But not especially transnational displacement? It could as easily be an
He or she will say, “It’s none of your business. It’s there because it’s important internal or domestic displacement?
to me.” Other things are explained even if nobody wants to hear. Horrifying KW: A displacement inside of yourself.
descriptions of the immigration department and so on. You ask for it, you get it. BR: Oh, I see. “Strangers to ourselves”, as Julia Kristeva says.
Then there is yet another person, a person from the crowd—the beginning is the KW: Yes. This external and internal displacement is about crossing the
102 gathering of a crowd, and things are already leaking out of this two-person encounter into boundaries inside yourself. Because there are all those different borders one 103
the crowd—which is listening to all of this and is voicing its own opinion: “Well, excuse me, is discovering. Maybe they were there before. But one recognizes this whole
I’m also an immigrant”, or “I’m not an immigrant, but...”. Levinas’ “third” is the person incredible world which is normally not recognized by people who stay in one
who says, “I am not an immigrant, but...”. This is the person who sees the whole situation place for too long. One can definitely learn a lot from strangers. Those who
from the point of view of a symmetrical democratic project. In France, which lives the move less should listen very carefully to those who move more. (And maybe the
classic democratic Enlightenment, the third is the person who says, “But wait, aren’t we all opposite.) Xenology would be experiential, theoretical, and artistic. In the further
members of one large community?” development of my project, xenology could be its aesthetic, not just its cultural
This triple relation—me, the other and the third—can be reversed. Any or theoretical frame. The xenologist would be someone who is more aware of
one of these can be the one who sees the triple relation. But the object helps in the field, a kind of prominent scholar or practitioner in the field. Like a doctor. A
this process. It makes a multiple. The possibility of a like artifice, the Alien Staff, Talmudic doctor exists as long as Talmud exists. Here we are dealing with an oral
doesn’t really exist for Levinas. history, not written texts. Xenology is not centered around sacred literature, but
BR: I’m really fascinated by one aspect of your work that seems to me unique. It it could assign to certain fragments of this historical material something like the
seems to be designed so as to require a kind of narrative completion. To provoke meaning of a sacred text. Maybe it should be more displaced, not fixed in one body
a conversation about the work and between the people who are involved in it, a like the Torah.
conversation which is the building block of some new kind of community. BR: I have a larger question about the politics of your work and its trajectory,
KW: What I’ve tried to do, that I don’t see being done enough, is create an object about what the word “stranger” means to you. If one were unsympathetic, as I’m
or some intermediate form that inspires and becomes a starting point for exchange. not, one could say that to focus on immigration is to forget all the people who
And this constitutes a tradition that refers to the need of object or instrument, have not immigrated—to privilege, as we say in our jargon, the metropolis as the
like a story-teller’s instrument. A kind of magic staff that will make miracles. As center of the story, and to drop out all the people who have not left the countries
in the Bible. It is clearly stated in Catholic versions of the Bible that the staff is to that immigrants have come from. Is it to deal with an unhappy but somewhat
make miracles. In Protestant versions, it says to make a sign. But in both cases privileged group?
there is a magic to it. Without the stick, people would not believe the person who KW: That brings us back to Walter Benjamin and Levinas. To put emphasis on
was using it. But in this case the object can also become a center, a sacred place. the stranger is to see ourselves, and to see ourselves as a democracy. It’s the
Georges Bataille defines the sacred place much like Jean-Luc Nancy, as the place only way to know whether this democracy is human or ethical. We badly need
where passions are unleashed, where something can be shared that has not yet strangers. We call ourselves a community, we claim openness, rights, and so on,
been shared or that one has refused to share. It is the place of a birth of some kind. but we have no way to see that community. So it must be interrupted by strangers
This object is a performative object. I think we need more objects of this sort to (Benjamin), who are more important than we are. (I don’t consider myself a
come between an unprecedented explosion of communication technologies and a stranger, though I am of strange origins; I now have three passports.) For Levinas,
dangerous return to the tragic precedents of complete communication breakdown. the symmetry of democratic process can only be sustained by an asymmetry
BR: What about the Greek side? Xenology, and so on? of ethics. If the stranger to the city and someone born in the city are equal, and
KW: If this equipment seems to be prophetic, it’s because it puts every immigrant, democratic equality is guaranteed by human rights and by the Constitution, our
every operator in the role of a prophet, interrupting history to open up a vision of obligation is to challenge that symmetry, to open ourselves up to those who are
community. Each one brings his or her own experience, and in this experience is the less capable of taking advantage of their rights. But it is we who are less capable
seed of a new community. Of a world that would not ask the immigrant to integrate, of recognizing the needs of others, who do not fight for the rights of foreigners to
but a world that would disintegrate, made of people who have disintegrated. vote. We impose taxation on everybody, but we don’t demand that strangers have
This connects to Socrates because Socrates did not tell people what to do. representation. They are living here, they have children, they have nothing to say
Socrates used an amazing discursive technique: he created situations in which people had about how their children will be educated, and so on. There is a myth of equality, a
to start thinking. What is Socratic about the staff is the position of the performer in what myth of symmetry between us and them, that needs to be challenged. To make that
used to be called public space. Maybe a public space is being created in the very moment, symmetry possible, one has to act asymmetrically. You have to overexpose people
the very act of performance, or in the act of dwelling in the polis. Or, in Bataille’s terms, a who are underexposed.
sacred place. Where people face each other’s passions. BR: What kinds of changes in the Alien Staff do you have in mind?

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Identity/Cultural Prosthetics


KW: I’m interested to see to what degree instruments of this sort can be more imaginary relations to their memories of their own “first place”. They might feel
playful. Inspire more of an artistic or Baroque use. In other words, if they can that in that sense everyone is an immigrant. Everyone feels strange, everyone is
respond better to the gestural and narrative virtuosity of strangers. Of course, alienated. So what’s the problem? But when they start getting into the details
instruments of this kind are not for every stranger. Clearly they are for people who of the exchange of experience among immigrants, they realize that they are
are more artists than others in their technology of survival, of insertion into the actually not part of the same conversation. They cannot be. They want to listen.
culture. They are for special agents—or angels. Or, they want to speak in order to dominate the discourse, to re-interpret the
BR: In Ancient Greek, “angels” meant messengers. situation of immigrants for them. This was very apparent in France. There
KW: Yes, messengers who like to speak, who are angry enough, who are motivated. were some people who immediately translated fragments of what they heard
Sometimes even desperate. Or, say, initially reluctant, yet have an internal need to into a kind of rough theory, making it an act of their own political speech: “Let
104 construct, reveal, or open up their experience and share it. It is very hard to describe me tell you what you mean”, and “What does it mean from the point of view of 105
the whole process in which people, once they learn about the possibility of this kind of democracy in general?” All of those concepts, like egalitarianism, carried from
project, select themselves to be part of it. They are people who want to be more public the eighteenth century—they truly believe in them in France. But usually it is so
than they are despite the fact that what they say, the so-called public doesn’t want to ridiculous that they are overwhelmed by the reaction. Or there is silence. A very
hear. With the kind of equipment I am giving them at the moment, these people can do thorough kind of silence. They are trying to learn based on some sense of ideals
more than what they are expected to do. or recognized ignorance.
But there is also another possibility there. I am talking about an instrument that There was one moment I found quite amusing. Conversation developed
is not yet designed; a tool or instrument that will create a new situation. That level of the so well between the immigrants around the stick that they forgot about it. They
unknown is connected with a kind of intuition of the present, a revolutionary intuition ended up in a restaurant and the stick was just leaning against the wall. One of
of the present. There’s an intuition that those people will be able, for example, to come the immigrants, from Morocco, was laid off. And as a result of this, she got a job
to terms with their impossible set of experiences, the impossible re-configuration of from the operator, who needed a babysitter. Later I took this as an important
their identity or the new forms, new connections, inside of them. As they start recording possibility for new equipment. There’s something very pragmatic on occasion
and re-enacting their stories and re-interpreting, rhetorically articulating them in front of that comes out of all of the political and cultural debate, about national policy or
others, in interaction with the others, one hopes they will learn more about what they legal problems they share, an exchange maybe of some addresses of lawyers, or
would like to say and also that they will learn to play with this somehow painful, difficult, God knows, some services. There is also the job market that appeared here. So I
and maybe tragicomic device, enjoy it in some humorous and Baroque, or maybe even realized that in some next generation or network of instruments I should design in
in a more polite, Rococo way. the legal and economic issues.
There is also the possibility of modulating the audiovisual recordings with BR: When you were talking about the new computer technology that you’d like
gestures or even allowing the other people around to participate in this replay or to experiment with, I wondered whether you had recording equipment as part of
re-enactment. The Media Lab at MIT is continuing a project that was developed by the Alien Staff, as a way of making it more interactive, producing something that
Léon Theremin, a Russian inventor, and recently perfected an instrument operated would include the people around. And then I thought that, practically, this seems
by gestures. It connects human electromagnetic fields with electromagnetic fields like the worst idea in the world because of the fears people have that it would be
that are electronically generated. I would like to test this gestural instrument. I used as an instrument of surveillance.
have to build it to see how one could become a virtuoso of his or her own story, also KW: Yes, even the idea that I presented is doubtful. How do you convince people
maybe adding new components to the story, discovering more and more aspects of that the possibility of digital transmission is really there and is not really a trick?
the experience and making it into a more playful act of speech and, psychologically, How to open this up without scaring people to death? Another possibility would
an act of self-construction. The playfulness is definitely a psychological need here, be to eliminate this transmission altogether and rely on live transmission, rely on
for the operator and also for everybody else. In the space between strangers, and the possibility of meeting the same person at the same time. The operator could
between strangers and non-strangers (if one can describe them this way), this reappear the same time the following week. That is what happened in Greenpoint,
artifice, which is already there as a kind of object, could become more interactive Brooklyn NY, on a Sunday in front of a church. It is a very important place in
and more interpretive or performative than it is now. I hope that it may be the birth Greenpoint because it’s a church attended by both Poles and Puerto Ricans as well
of some other kind of instrument. as some other groups—not as many Polish as maybe one would hope, but some.
BR: Could you say something about any of the reactions to the use of these And it is a sacred place because they share the same religion. And a sacred place
instruments either that you’ve seen or that you’ve heard about from people who could be used as a site for this performance. And as I said, someone asked, “Will
were using them? you be here next weekend?” In this question there is the possibility of a community,
KW: It has become clear that much more is happening with this stick than I a newly born community. It means I will give myself a week to figure out whether
anticipated. The reactions were usually good when there were both immigrants I should trust you enough to bring my uncle or my brother and tell you something
and non-immigrants around this stick. First of all, there was an attempt to more. But now I will ask you a few questions. So I will ask you, “Will you be here
exchange and share experience between the operator and other immigrants, next weekend? And by the way, do you know anyplace to go for help? Or in what
maybe from other countries. There is usually very little connection between way are you connected with, say, people who clean apartments or people who
immigrants. And then there are the non-immigrants who, of course, might have take care of elderly women or men, or who clean offices at night?” In this moment,

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the operator will have to rethink whether this is actually a trustworthy person. On Alien Staff
Eventually, through probing questions they will find each other.
Certain fragments of what Jean-Luc Nancy has said about community an interv iew w it h Tom Finkel pea rl
seem strangely familiar when I observe what’s happening around the stick. He 2001
proposed a different kind of community, and this helps me to understand my own
work. He says that there is a kind of undoing of community, an undoing of ties
or preconceived notions of the commonality or communistic or communal. And
this immigrant is refusing to accept any imposed notions, or ties, or connections
with others. She’s saying, “No, no, I’m not part of it. Don’t worry.” Or, “Please
106 do not think that we all have the same situation or that I speak here on behalf of
others. No, this is a unique experience I am opening up. I don’t know what others
go through. Telling you all the complexity, all of the problems I have with myself,
with the way I was and I am no longer, with the things that change in me, it is
difficult to accept what I am doing. All of the questions, all of the disagreements
inside of me, this is something that you have to listen to. Because this is something
that I cannot even say without a certain hesitation and pain.” I’d like to connect
Alien Staff with this kind of community of unworking and undoing, a community
of refusing, of refusal to be fused—I think that is what Nancy says, more or
less—and yet it is also the possibility of a community disseminated, contagiously
spread by the immigrant, a community of all of those disagreements and problems
inside of one person. The person will say, “Join me in this exploration and we will
have in common all of our doubts about what is supposed to be our collective or
community, what is supposed to be the legitimate bond between us. Let’s replace
it or let’s drop it and talk about what is really happening inside of us and whether Tom Finkelpearl: You have worked in many different media and under many
we can share it.” In this way, I could see this stick as, maybe for a moment or 15 different circumstances. How do you see the continuity of your work?
minutes, the instrument of birth of a new community: a community that comes Krzysztof Wodiczko: As I read more and reflect on what I have done, I am
from inside the containers, from all those things that are contained in the video and developing a sense of the method of my work. In general, I have employed urban sites
the relics, but also from the play with them. I would like to make it more playful that are charged with some meaning, representing something that Walter Benjamin
and interactive: all the jokes, the disruptions and the changes of topics; all the called the “history of the victors”, or one might say, the “culture of the victors”. The
absurdity and impossibility of talking about identity. This is the new community. sites are monuments or other structures, and now the city at large. Into this, I insert
what Benjamin calls “the secret tradition of the vanquished”. By doing this, it is
possible to interrupt or disrupt, Benjamin would say, the continuity of the history of
Originally published in Wodiczko, Krzysztof, Critical Vehicles: Writings, Projects, the victors. He was talking about the philosophy of history and the necessity to see
Interviews, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999, pp 194–210. history from the point of view of those who do not take anything for granted, who
have a need to speak, for they are usually deprived of history, for example, people
who are perceived and treated as strangers. They are people with ‘no history’, and
these are the people who have been the focus of my work and my collaborators,
whether it is the Homeless Vehicle, 1988 or the Homeless Projection in Boston,
1986–1987, or the Leninplatz Projection, 1990, of a Polish shopper in East Berlin.
The tradition of the vanquished is the point of view of those who have no voice:
those who are newcomers, those born of the transformation of the city, or of global
transformation. They must somehow regain the right to become legitimate members
of the community or have a legitimate relation to the monument and the history it
represents, the Homeless Vehicle, 1998, and Alien Staff, 1992, are both operated,
or performed, or transformed by the operators who do not have a ‘voice’, people who
have no recognized, legitimate presence in the urban environment or in the media.
These projects have a psychological dimension, because the operators
become legitimate members of the so-called “urban community”. They operate tools
or instruments designed for and with them. In this society, once there is a product
designed for specific users, they are taken seriously. Even if onlookers do not know

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Identity/Cultural Prosthetics


exactly what is going on, they recognize the seriousness of this design engagement. though not necessarily fluently. Often, they help themselves with all kinds of Baroque
The operators, whether homeless people, or immigrants, or undocumented workers, phrases and metaphors, the particular language of strangers. They repeat the same
feel legitimate as human beings, as presenters of equipment newly designed for story in various languages, and of course the story is different each time. The final
them. They have something to offer and explain through this object, and other edited version combines them all.
people ask them questions through this ‘machine’. This object, as a ‘third party’ in In other words, the Alien Staff is truly an instrument. Not everyone will
this social interaction, helps to initiate communication. make the same sort of art with it. It requires the operators to become artists to
Through the creation and operation of the new equipment, the operators some degree: performers, story-tellers, oral historians, transforming your identity
gain the necessary distance and come to terms with their own conditions of life, into a more and more unfamiliar form. You might not be accepted by your old
the pathos, tragedy, and comedy of their experience, as something somehow community or by the people who are around you. But you have no choice—you are
108 rich and complex, no matter how terrible it is. This condition should not exist, creating your own history, a kind of critical history that infuses the present with the 109
but, at the same time, it is something human because they are human. They past, a little like projecting images on monuments. And then you have a history of
are witnesses to disaster, and they have comments about it. They are born the present which is unacceptable and for which there should be no place in the
of it. They can find form and communicate the history of becoming. They future. The immigrant utopia, then, is a future place in which there is no place for
remember other times. They can, in the midst of a crisis situation, empower the present experience.
themselves through certain abilities and skills. Strangely enough or perversely TF: So far, you have spoken of the experience of the Alien Staff from the point of
enough, they are not just survivors. Out of their alienation and displacement view of the ‘operator’. What about the interaction?
and marginalization, through the fact that they managed to survive, they are KW: Incredible conversations develop around the instruments, both with
strangely powerful, frighteningly okay. (Of course, we do not see all of those immigrants and non-immigrants. This can be seen from the videos made with a
who die in the process.) hidden camera in Paris. In one video the person carrying the staff, a woman in
With Alien Staff there is an aspect of empowerment and transformation of Paris, is discovering within herself a kind of community—a mental community
the self, and therefore the possibility of seeing one’s map of displacement. This of different discourses and dialogues with her own past, projections into the
happens through the performative act on video, recorded and edited and then future, problems with the present—and is acknowledging how mobile this
continued in front of, or surrounded by, people who the operators have never is. She is projecting this to the outside world, opening it up. This becomes
seen before, in the space of the very city from which they were alienated. That contagious because there is often someone in the group that forms around her
part is much stronger in the new projects. It has a psycho-therapeutic effect who understands, who has a close relationship with an immigrant or who is an
for those who choose to use this artifice, this double, this companion or magic immigrant, and then there is also someone who is not. And then it becomes a
object, around which they hope a new discourse will develop. It is something discourse around this staff and this operator who is disrupting herself. This staff
that relieves them from the responsibility of telling their story alone, providing is speaking, but she also is taking her pre-recorded comments as tips. She is
an extension of their own displacement. In this way the Alien Staff alienates saying, “No, no, no. It is not like this, not exactly as the staff says.” It is actually
their alienation. In the process of recording, in the process of performing, in the worse or better, or funnier, or more tragic.
process of displaying in the museum, as a museological object or artifact—in all TF: Commenting on what she herself had said?
of those cases, I feel that it is much more effective than the Homeless Vehicle KW: Yes, because she is always in the process of transformation. It opens up
project. The new projects are also much more provocative in terms of the a different kind of discourse on the identity of community. It is born of what
necessity to respond. is happening to that person, and that is why I feel that this is a project that
TF: For the Alien Staff do you conduct a series of interviews with the operators that is cultural, psychological, and political. And there is an ethical dimension,
are then edited and screened on the monitor at the top of the staff? because each time she uses the staff she is speaking to the world, confessing
KW: No. Not interviews. It is more like a video history, a video psychology. It or explaining her decision-making process and her impossible circumstances.
is not an interview in which I ask questions. In fact, when people start talking For example, she put a broken coffee cup into this container, which was a
to the camera, they have less difficulty, over time, saying things to the camera very important relic. In the videotape you see her trying to reassemble this
than to a person. It suddenly becomes a kind of confession, but also a kind of broken cup, but explaining that the parts do not fit anymore. It is not possible
liberation for many people—to finally find the words without any time constraint, to reassemble it. She cannot reassemble herself, and she does not want to. In
like in a psycho-therapeutic situation. Then they can edit the tape, or help in the many ways, she has been liberated from an identity that was partially a prison
process of editing. for her. Now she is in another prison.
Strangers have an incredible ability to see problems in a new place and Also in the container is a picture of her baby. She used to be totally
recognize them immediately. They can even criticize the ways in which people try dependent upon her husband to sign any documents. Now, her baby is a French
to be nice to them. On the tapes for the Alien Staff, they can say all the things that citizen because it is the child of a French father. This immediately gives her the
they haven’t had an opportunity to say, acknowledge all of the aspects of their own right to have a work permit, because the mother of a French citizen is entitled to
displacement, and recognize their transformation. They can relate how they have one. So now she is not dependent so much on her husband as on her child. She
changed since they crossed the border, and how many more borders they have says in this videotape to everyone, “What if my child misbehaves?” Imagine this
crossed internally. They try to find the words. Very often they speak many languages, monstrously powerful baby. People either identify with her or are amazed. They are

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Identity/Cultural Prosthetics


shocked, they act against it, or they dismiss it. On the hidden camera videotape, if it is presented in the form of artifice, something partially artificial, partially
you can see some French tourists from the provinces talking to the woman. They real, such as talking about a nightmare, or a fairy tale. The hope for strangers
are rightwing, and refuse to acknowledge that there is any problem. Here she is is to produce themselves as artifice.
standing in front of them almost naked, with all of those stories, ready to discuss
them, and they refuse. But then there is someone else standing behind making
faces, understanding. Originally published in Finkelpearl, Tom, Dialogues in Public Art, Cambridge, MA:
One thing that I like about this project as opposed to my projections is that MIT Press, 2001, pp 337–350.
it is not attached to any particular, fixed physical site. It may be a ‘projection’ in
terms of inserting or inscribing something into the everyday life of the city (as an
110 alternative kind of architecture or design), but it is not fixed. So, in other words, 111
it is not site-specific. I do not know why I am so happy about this. It may be
because it is more able to integrate and interconnect with the person. It is very
difficult for me to project, for example, an illegal domestic worker from Haiti onto
the body of a monument of Abraham Lincoln. It is ironically possible—in fact it
would make quite an interesting comment—but the monument will always be seen
as dominant. You are ironically making a hero, but you are still monumentalizing
someone who is marginalized. In the case of the staff, there is not this sort
of monumentalization. In fact, it is relying on the tradition of people who are
crossing boundaries. It is relying on the popular art of story-telling or magic,
performance, tricks. Making artifice in order to communicate. The stranger is the
maker of an artifice using gestures, songs, music and stories—a trickster of some
sort. It is partially artificial, partially natural. They are a cyborg of sorts: someone
who is artificially implanted into something that is called natural, but who is
denaturalizing it.
What I am saying is that this project is not an appropriation of monuments
of victors or of a dominant environment. It is actually a reinforcement of the other
tradition that already exists, the unacknowledged tradition of the vanquished that
I mentioned earlier. Clearly, those operators are agents. Angels and agents. They
are acting not only on behalf of their own life and their own transformation and
empowerment, but they also feel that they are acting on behalf of others who are
in a similar situation, or they would not be participating in the project. There is
a certain prophetic component without being monumental in the manner of an
official monument.
There is another aspect that is difficult to explain—the psychological
part. Freud believed, according to Kristeva, that it is very hard for people to
come to terms with their own strangeness: you feel stranger and stranger as
life goes on, because you have to learn things, and once you learn something,
it is no longer a ‘natural’ state of being. You have a theory for things. You
have words, cultural norms, patterns, and proscribed identities. Plus, there
is the history of being rejected or rejecting someone, a whole set of fears
and repetitions or uncontrollable drives. So, when you face someone who is
properly a stranger, who comes from somewhere else, who speaks in a different
accent, who is lost, it invokes your own strangeness. Rather than acknowledge
this strangeness in yourself, because it is repressed, you expel this strangeness
together with the stranger. This is a Freudian explanation of xenophobia. Of
course, it is much more complicated than that. In life, different categories of
strangeness are in conflict with each other—the stranger within the stranger
within myself, and so on. However, expelling the stranger outside without
recognizing and confronting the stranger inside is a general problem. Freud
thinks that it is easier to come to terms with the uncanny feeling of strangeness

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Identity/Cultural Prosthetics


Xenology: Immigrant Instruments antagonisms experienced within the newcomers themselves. One way to its
realization is commitment to a community of artifice and play, a recognition that
1996 such an interior community is possible and can be developed. This requires the
recognition of the presence of these strangers and newcomers in this community,
which must continually question and de-legitimize its own identity by asking
strangers to play a central role as major actors in this vast ethical and aesthetic
project on the stage of democracy. Xenology is the art of refusal to be fused, an
art of de-limitization, de-identification, and disintegration.
The life of an immigrant is an artistic process and requires special
equipment. The Alien Staff, 1992, and the Mouthpiece (Le porte-parole), 1993, 113
immigrant instruments, are presented as design contributions to xenology, inspired
by it and intended to further its development. In one sense, the most important
stage of the work is the psycho-aesthetic process that precedes the public
appearance and operation of the Alien Staff or Mouthpiece (Le porte-parole). The
immigrant operator’s preparations: recollections, confrontations, and presentations
of the self with the artifacts of his or her experience. Rather than proposing an art
that refers to, interprets, or translates the experience of displacement, I propose
the design of performative media equipment, albeit aesthetically conceived, to
assist and inspire its migrant operators in the construction and exposition of their
art as they take charge of their newly emerging identity.

Originally published as an exhibition statement in conjunction with Xenology:


Xenology (from the Greek xenos, Latin alienus), the art and science of the Immigrant Instruments, distributed at the Galerie Lelong, New York, 1996 and
stranger, is also the immigrant’s art of survival. Historically the integrity of the reprinted in Wodiczko, Krzysztof, Critical Vehicles: Writings, Projects, Interviews,
community has often been measured by its openness to strangers. Today this Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, pp 131–135.
openness to the stranger, whose contemporary form is the immigrant, has once
again become a test for democracy. The representation of the stranger, the
unfamiliar, interrupts the flow and continuity of the familiar. It seeks to convey
its uniqueness, despite the fact that no one may be ready for such a presence. It
proposes a vision of a better world, as an exceptional and difficult hope lived in
the mode of the present.
This social and communicative utopia, as suggested by Walter Benjamin,
emerges from a unique clarity discovered in the “revolutionary energy of the
new”, based on transporting personal experience into the historical. This new
energy helps break the inertia that perpetuates past injustices provoked by fear
of the stranger.
This is not only an ethical and philosophical program, but also an aesthetic
one. Based on an existing body of knowledge of the world—stories, histories,
sacred and profane texts, literary and oral, lore and science, archives and
correspondence, techniques of social and ethical know-how (with the Talmud as
an example)—it constructs an aesthetics of self-creation and recognition. Being
an immigrant is in some sense already being an artist, even a counter-artist. It
communicates the secret tradition of the vanquished (which never allows itself to
forget) in opposition to the “history of the victors”. It is an art of existential ethics,
creating new communicative and performative forms for survival while employing
ancient traditions of know-how in the design of tactically useful artifacts.
What occurs within each and every immigrant in our present world is far
more interrogative, critical, and visionary than what occurs outside. A community
for new Americans must be born of an unstable world of disagreements and

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Identity/Cultural Prosthetics


Cultural Prosthetics1 or augment missing or impaired parts of the body”. Cultural Prosthetics adds
a new dimension and emphasis to this charge. It is especially concerned with
2015 replacing and augmenting peoples’ missing or impaired capacity to open up and
communicate with others; to restore missing or poorly functioning means of
expression; and to restore their interpersonal, community, and social ties, as well
as their larger societal connection.
According to the same dictionary the second meaning of prosthetics (in
relation to the production of prostheses) is defined as “pieces of flexible material
applied to actors’ faces to transform their appearance”. Cultural Prosthetics too
is concerned with the technology and methods that allow for the transformation 115
of the appearance of actors, albeit of a particular social and cultural kind:
a transformation that allows those who, while marginalized, alienated, or
psychologically and socially disconnected, to be able to appear and be perceived in
public space no longer as disabled ‘invalids’—useless, inconvenient, and politically
irrelevant—but as significant actors on its stage; as legitimate contributors to
social change and the democratic process.
In response to such situations, needs and demands, Cultural Prosthetics
must define itself and operate as a new techno-artistic and socio-aesthetic field.
It must focus on the development and implementation of human-to-media and
human-to-human interfaces that inspire, encourage, and assist traumatized and
marginalized social and cultural minorities to open up and develop to the point of
virtuosity their communicative and performative skills.

Cultural Cultural Prostheses


1 Of or relating to the ideas, customs, and social behavior of a society. Design and research into cultural prostheses must respond to and articulate the
2 Of or relating to the arts and to intellectual achievements. situation of people who need to regain and perfect their lost psycho-social abilities
and capacities, as well as the lost meaning of their lives as legitimate actors on
Prosthetics the stage of real life, personal and social.
1 Specialty concerned with the design, construction, and fitting of artificial New artistic, technological, and psycho-social means and methods
devices—prostheses—to replace or augment missing or impaired parts of of designing cultural prostheses may focus on the invention of original
the body. communicative media artifices, speech-act implements, and performative
2 Pieces of flexible material applied to actors’ faces to transform techno-cultural equipment that counter new forms of social alienation. Cultural
their appearance. prostheses should assist in challenging and ‘disarming’ cultural prejudice while
making the user feel safer in public and private space, and therefore more
Survivors of psychological and physical trauma are today’s estranged, a socially confident and better equipped to openly share and discuss the critical issues he
and culturally excluded people. These are the survivors of wars, of forced or she wishes and needs to address.
migration and displacement, tragic accident, abuse, neglect, social exclusion, In addition, Cultural Prosthetics may focus on developing, experimenting and
or personal loss. They may have suffered amputations, physical injuries, or socially implementing specially designed techno-aesthetic devices, tools, equipment,
psychological wounds. They are often incapacitated by the overwhelming events instruments, and other human-to-human interfaces and media-enhanced bodily
that have dramatically transformed their lives. Socially stigmatized, they are supplements for the development of cross-cultural communication, public dialogue,
treated, at best tolerated, as strangers. individual and collective expression, dissent, and civic engagement.
These people need the replacement and augmentation of their missing or To be intelligent and effective in addressing and challenging social and
impaired body parts, alongside the missing or impaired zones of their minds and cultural alienation through socially inclusive and discursive design, the field of
their emotional, cultural and social lives. For this we need new transformative Cultural Prosthetics must extend its research and collaborative practice beyond
tools that challenge both residual and emergent forms of psychological, social and the limits of any single professional inquiry. It must build cross-disciplinary
cultural alienation. In addition, bodily or emotional loss may cause another great— links between prosthetic technology and the fields of media technology, cultural
sometimes even greater—loss: that of social ties, cultural connection, and ability and media study, anthropology, social psychology, political philosophy, trauma
to communicate. therapy, social ethics, industrial design, art therapy, education, social justice,
In the dictionary, prosthetics is defined as a field “concerned with the public health, performative public art, media art, social media, fashion, and
design, construction, and fitting of artificial devices—prostheses—to replace other fields.

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Identity/Cultural Prosthetics


The Survivors of Survivors groups, communities and society at large, as those who can offer a unique and
The person who assists another person in surviving is a survivor also, and she or valuable contribution to it.
he may also be in a need of cultural-prosthetic equipment.
The lost breast or prostate of one member of the family is a lost breast or War Veterans
prostate for an entire family. The lost leg of a father in the fog of war is a lost leg War veterans suffer—perhaps even more than other survivors—a loss of capacity
suffered by his entire family. For the family whose members have been physically to communicate and express emotions, to convey their overwhelming feelings
or psychologically traumatized in war the trauma is of the loss of the persons that and memories of war and post-war events and experiences. For psychological
they once were. and cultural reasons only a small percentage of them, and almost none of their
Cultural prostheses are clearly required not only for survivors, but also for families or those close to them, speak of this publicly.
116 their loved ones, those who suffer traumatic symptoms via secondary trauma: the Their incapacitation denies them a chance to share their experience with 117
survivors of survivors. society at large, especially with younger people (including those who might wish to
Family members and partners who are caregivers for those impaired by war, join the military) and to help people learn the realities of war rather than absorbing
congenital defect, accident, or illness also have a primary need for prostheses, romanticized media phantasms of war and military recruitment propaganda.
so that they too should have the possibility and means to bear their loss together, Veterans’ communicative incapacitation contributes to a distorted public image and
without the moral blackmail that prevents them from also being recognized among imagination of war, leading only to the perpetuation of wars. As a result, the public
the wounded and amputees: as survivors in their own right. remain unaware of what they and their families may face in the event that they join
What kind of cultural-prosthetic equipment might they both need, and, the military and go to war. The development of cultural prostheses would therefore
when appropriate, collectively, in tandem or separately, use or share? play a vital role in helping veterans in the vital task of developing and disseminating
a greater societal awareness of war.
Communicative Prostheses
Technically advanced prosthetic substitutes for parts of our bodies are within US War Veterans
reach, but the loss of a breast, eye, hand, foot, arm, or leg also constitute a Only those who have been through war can tell us what war has done to them and
charged cultural and psychological domain. Responding to the physical and their comrades, to their ‘enemies’ and to civilians, and what war will continue to
emotional needs of the survivors of such loss, we must envisage innovative do should it occur again.
psycho-social and techno-aesthetic approaches. Such new cultural-prosthetic Unfortunately the wall that separates those who know what war is and those
equipment can aid in the process of re-coding the ‘self’ beyond mere substitution who do not is a thick one. To challenge such a social divide is a difficult task, not
and improvement, to empower the impaired with new abilities, including the only because of the very small number of veterans who are inclined to and able to
virtuosity to regain and acquire an invigorated sense of personal and social speak of war but also, and especially, because uninformed and misguided younger
worth. The design and technology of cultural prostheses must offer its users both people, potential new soldiers and future veterans, are not inclined to listen. They
inspiration and assistance in the process of developing new forms and skills of are poisoned by our war-based national and ethnic cultures and by the recruitment
communication and expression, which will aid users in resuscitating lost social propaganda with which they were brought up. They will not listen as they seek an
ties and connections or to create new ones.  ideological path to noble missions.
In order to proceed, we must respond to the core questions in the In such a situation, to close the divide between the minority who are
development of prostheses. What kind of prosthesis can be designed, equipped, conscious of war and the unconscious majority who are not requires extraordinary
and ‘fitted’ to overcome survivors’ physical, cultural and social impairment? cultural and artistic measures. It requires an invention of some thing in-between,
How will our prosthetic design resolve those impaired zones and other aspects some transitional artifice through which veterans experienced in war can
of their emotional, family, cultural and social lives? Could, for example, today’s communicate in public. Both war veterans and the path to a war-free world require
technologically advanced prostheses be further enhanced by integrated the design of special kind of cultural prosthesis.
communications like electronic memory, interactive software, sensors, audio-
visual display and projection components, as well as wireless communication A New Type of War
and transmission functions? We are engaged in a new type of warfare in which 80 per cent of soldiers have been
Finally, via a greater inventiveness, elegance, artistry and symbolic trained and desensitized so as to better be able to kill (in contrast to 20 per cent
articulation, can we displace, disrupt, and challenge the stereotypical and of those who killed in the Second World War). At the same time advanced medical
often degrading perceptions of survivors of illness, displacement, social and field technology and armor saves more lives. Every US soldier killed leaves
cultural exclusion, accident or war? A cultural prosthesis must help its users, 16 comrades who survive. The greater survival rate contributes to a greater
wearers, operators, and performers transform themselves into agents who number of traumatized veterans, survivors who have killed more ‘enemies’ and have
are different from others not by virtue of their psycho-logical and physical witnessed more killing and wounding. More of them will return alive and more of them
disadvantage, but through their new bodily and mental skills and expressive traumatized. An estimated one-fifth of current veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan
communicative capacities. Cultural prostheses must allow users to be conflicts report suffering from PTSD. Upon their return from war, many will live as if
admired, desired, respected, and welcomed as legitimate members of social dead, or have a deadly and violent life. Many will commit suicide.

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Identity/Cultural Prosthetics


In designing cultural prostheses, it is important to stress that many survivors The Veterans’ Helmet
will pass their trauma on to those closest to them, onto their parents, grandparents, The Veterans’ Helmet, at present under development at the Interrogative Design
wives and husbands, children, and even grandchildren. If we estimate that there are studio at Harvard, is just one example of many potential design approaches in
seven to nine people affected by such secondary trauma for every veteran suffering Cultural Prosthetics.
from PTSD, the ripple effect of the trauma will reach an even greater number of The main objective of The Veterans’ Helmet is to alleviate the veterans
people than usual, as an increased number of soldiers with larger families have been suffering and symptoms of combat stress, to be more confident and less fearful,
deployed from the National Guard and reserves. and to feel more protected when moving through busy and crowded public spaces
According to new research from Stanford University, by 2023 the rate of or places with particularly significant sounds and smells. An important additional
PTSD among Iraq war veterans alone could rise to be as high as 35 per cent: one- task for the helmet is to help people around its user to become more aware of the
118 third of all veterans. Considering that some 2.4 million have been through the Iraq veteran’s war and post-war situation, experience and condition. 119
and Afghanistan wars, ten years from now there may be 700,000 traumatized The visual appearance of the helmet is as important as its protective and
in addition to 4,900,000 affected by secondary trauma, who thus become war communicative function. It appears partly familiar and partly strange; partly
veterans in their own right—veterans of veterans. There will be a half-million or belonging to the past and partly to the future. It should refer to the memory
more traumatized people in the US. of the destruction of combat while contributing to a new vision and future
The suicide rate among veterans now eclipses the number of combat action. The helmet should be fit for a new, double ‘combat’ mission: against
deaths among enlisted soldiers, and that rate is rising. The trauma of those the user’s own silence, social isolation, and exclusion but also toward a war-
who have lost loved ones to suicide will add to the ripple effect. In 2010, 43 free world, a world in which there would be no ‘need’ for more veterans. The
per cent of soldiers who took their own lives never asked for or received help. Veterans’ Helmet’s appearance must assure the user’s readiness for the battle
An estimated 145,000 US veterans of all conflicts benefit from homeless- to transform war culture into a discourse of peace, and war armament into
housing programs each year. This number will rise dramatically in the next disarming cultural equipment.
ten years with the return of soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan adding to the The helmet should resemble a real combat helmet, while at the same time
incidence of trauma among veterans and those left behind, especially children. appearing curiously strange and different: light, elegant and ‘Futuristic’, as if from
The US will be facing a major clinical, psychological, social, and cultural crisis the world of science fiction. The design and form of the helmet will emphasize
for the next 50 years. its playful usefulness—evident in the appearance and interactive functions of its
Only one per cent of veterans speak out publicly, and almost none of those protective and communicative components—as elements that visually override
closest to them do so. Even a small number of veterans appearing in public space the uselessness of the combat-like parts that resemble a real, ‘serious’ combat
and communicating their real war experience could make a big difference. helmet. As such, in its function and appearance, for both user and public, the
Given this situation, in order to make a public impact, cultural prostheses helmet should acknowledge that a terrible war-torn past cannot be changed but
should not be designed immediately for a large market and mass production, but can that one can live with it in a creatively pro-active, useful and healthier way, thus
be initially designed with input from and use by a smaller self-selected number of contributing to a war-less future. The past is a crime story that needs to remain in
veterans and their families and support groups. Those who choose to begin operating memory while the future is a science fiction that must be turned into reality. The
these cultural prostheses will become its ‘avant-garde’ users and design agents, helmet should both contain the crime story and project such a vision of the future.
ready to take upon themselves the task of expressing their critical and philosophical In sum, the design tasks for the helmet are the following:
position with respect to war and their existential experience of it. They may advance
the use of such prosthetic equipment that aids in the development of their emotional  To protect the user against his or her post-traumatic reaction to certain

capacity to appear in public and better perform and communicate. In doing so they war-related smells (burning flesh, petrol, human sweat, decomposing
will generate a population of new users as their co-agents. animal or human bodies, etc). This may be realized through the use of
To cite Judith Herman, veterans with an intense experience of war, like all special smell-detection and “smell-camouflage” units: special software
trauma survivors, are “living monuments to their own trauma”: traumatized but and an interface attached to the helmet, covering the area of the face and
silent. How can they be helped to become active as speaking monuments, rather nose to inject and disperse smells preselected by the veteran and stored in
than silent and passive ones, so they may publicly speak not only for themselves the helmet.
but also on behalf of the silent others? How can we design effective cultural — To protect the user against his or her over-reaction to certain war-related
prostheses for them? sounds (sudden explosions, like the sounds of shutting doors, firecrackers,
My past performative media projects, which take the form of wearable and people screaming, etc). This may be realized through the use of sound-
mobile communicative equipment, developed with marginalized urban minorities (the detecting microphones and a special software-driven headphone unit
homeless, ‘illegal’ immigrants, alienated school youth and war veterans), among them that responds to unwanted sounds by activating external noise-cancelling
Poliscar, 1991, Alien Staff, 1992, Mouthpiece (Le porte-parole), 1993, Dis-Armor, headphones that can project preselected alternative sounds.
1996, Ægis, 1998, the War Veteran Vehicle, 2009, as well as recent projection- — To protect the user against his or her post-traumatic reactions to
animations of war-memorial statues, will be the basis for further explorations in certain war-related events and crowd situations (the sudden appearance
search of a specific answer of my own to such questions. of people from high above, behind, and in peripheral vision, the sudden

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Identity/Cultural Prosthetics


approach of another person, the closeness of a crowd, or generally any Designing for the City of Strangers
visual over stimulation caused by crowded places and the like). This
could be realized through the use of mini video screens installed at the 1997
front of the helmet close to the user’s eyes that will survey and display
the situation in the user’s peripheral vision, transmitted from mini-
cameras mounted on the helmet and pointed to the rear and upwards.
— To provide the user with a means of sharing with the public the vivid
images experienced by the user in traumatic combat situations (exploding
and burning military vehicles, suicide bombings, mortar attacks and the
120 like) especially those corresponding to and triggered by certain sounds and
smells. This may be realized through the use of a specially designed unit
with a projector and screen or mini–video monitors attached to the helmet,
or alternatively a unit for projecting onto ceilings, floors and walls in indoor
and outdoor public spaces.
Note: The above function should be part of a special version of the
helmet designed exclusively with and for veterans who are less affected by
combat stress and willing to speak about combat and discuss it openly in
public, in order to inspire and engage public dialogue.
— To secure, when needed, occasional or continuing contact with the
user’s comrades-in-arms, supporting partners and family members, trauma
therapist or other medical personnel and services, through a specially
designed communications interface attached to the helmet.

Presentification The messiah interrupts history.


According to Judith Herman, a trauma therapist and theorist: Walter Benjamin, “Theses on the Philosophy of History”, 1940.

[S]urvivors’ capacity to make themselves visible and perform their testimony


visibly and in public is inter-connected, and depends on their success in City of the Victors
emerging from their post-traumatic stress. Conversely, the struggle for According to Walter Benjamin, the fact that things ‘go on’ is a catastrophe. The city
recovery from trauma—for... finding a narrative voice through testimony—has is a monumental stage for things to ‘go on’ because it perpetuates both a spatial
a greater chance of success when performed as a public speech-act, even relationship between its inhabitants and its symbolic structures and a psycho-social
more so when directed as a social utterance to and on behalf of others. An... relationship among its dwellers. These two perpetuations must be perturbed to wake
Act of Public Truth-Telling has a restorative power. Psychologist Pierre Janet up the city and to save it from the bad dreams of the present, the nightmares of the
termed this act ‘presentification’. past, and the catastrophes of the future. I would like to propose the possibility of a
design practice that would interrupt these processes and could eventually help to
In supporting the development of veterans’ capacity to make themselves visible, heal the city’s wounded psycho-social relations and its catastrophic reality.
active, and communicative in public space through their acts of presentification, Theorist Stéphane Mosès, in analyzing Benjamin’s theological-political
there is the tremendous potential for artistic, cultural, pedagogical and therapeutic model of history, focuses on his concept of the “history of the victors”, which
projects within which the new field of Cultural Prosthetics can play an exceptionally operates as a past “transmitted to us through a hermeneutical tradition that
important role. selects events, preserving some and rejecting others, at times determining their
interpretation”. It can easily afford to forget the catastrophes it has caused. I
recognize this kind of history as the foundation or cement that stabilizes the
1 The term Cultural Prosthetics was first introduced in the context of my research continuity of the ‘legitimate’ and ‘familiar’ city. The history of the victors, the
(2008) and teaching (2009) as a head of the Interrogative Design Group and director
of the Center for Advanced Visual Studies at MIT. See http://act.mit.edu/academic-
official presence of the official past, constitutes the official city. This official city is
program/courses/spring-2009/4-3701-interrogative-design-workshop-g-u a lived tradition that celebrates, in everyday life, “the triumph of the strongest and
the disappearance of the weakest”.1 Such a history (as represented in textbooks,
national literature, films, and public monuments) cherishes a notion of progress
that, according to Benjamin, is inevitably linked to a legacy of destruction.
The history of a nation or city, like every synchronic narrative, collaborates
with the history of catastrophe by celebrating the lineage of ‘our’ progressive and

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Identity/Cultural Prosthetics


victorious traditions. To avoid future catastrophes, daily disclosures of the often- of the fundamentally asymmetrical nature of this passage, for immigrants do not
hidden destructiveness of the present must be linked to critical recollections of have the rights enjoyed by citizens. But within each immigrant lives an entire city,
past disasters. This sort of critical approach to history has been—and continues often richer, more complex, and more hopeful than the public one—the city to come.
to be—an intuitive and interruptive survival practice of every immigrant. This Benjaminian utopia is, according to Stéphane Mosès, “a hope lived in
“The inertia that perpetuates past injustices can only be broken by the the mode of the present”. To survive, the immigrant must establish a utopia, a “no-
eruption of something radically new; unpredictable”, says Stéphane Mosès, place” that is located in the present time, not hidden behind the horizon of some
building on Benjamin’s analysis. The history of the victors must be confronted and idealized future. Why should the immigrant just add to the perpetuated misery of
interrupted by the memory of the nameless or the tradition of the vanquished. past immigrant experience? Why should this degrading experience, now taken for
In staging such an interruption and bringing these traditions to light, the granted as part of the romantic patrimony, be endlessly imposed on every future
122 stranger, the vanquished of today, functions as a prophet or messenger. Each immigrant, who must wear it like a pillory of American identity? No! The no-place 123
time the experience of a stranger is shared and understood, the city revives and should be a “No!-place”. And once formulated in the immigrant’s mind, it must
returns to its conscious life as a democratic hope for us all. To heal one voiceless be projected onto both the future and the past. The No!-place is an unacceptable
stranger, then, is to heal the entire city. place, the site of “my personal experience that I refuse to accept for today, for
tomorrow, and forever, for myself, my children, for everyone, immigrants and non-
City of the Vanquished immigrants alike”. “My utopia”, says the immigrant, “proposes a vision of hope in
Tremors and aftershocks caused by the end of the Cold War are being felt across which the society of tomorrow houses no place for the perpetuation of the kind of
the planet. As the old and stable ideological front lines have vanished, a new war experience I am forced to live through today, the kind of misery that your immigrant
has begun, no longer cold and seemingly bloodless, but often hot, like fire, and parents and grandparents were forced to accept yesterday.” The immigrant’s No!-
openly bloody. Refugees are fleeing new religious wars, new chauvinisms, and new place is at once a vision, a criticism, and a resistance.
nationalisms. For many, the end of the Cold War has been the end of their world, Cultivation of the tradition of the nameless has a self-defensive function
their identity, their community, and the beginning of a new diaspora. as well: to survive, the stranger must guard against the fate of nomads, who, first
With the official account of the population of refugees soon to reach deprived by the victors of their history (and even the right to have a history), were
40,000,000, the United Nations has called the last quarter-century the “Migration later forced to function as merely geographic subjects. As the French philosophers
Era”. The influx of immigrants to the United States has now reached the historic Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari teach us, “The defeat of the nomads was such, so
levels of the nineteenth-century immigration wave. By the year 2010, foreign- complete, that history is one with the triumph of States.”2 Just as we have been told
born residents and citizens will probably outnumber US-born inhabitants in most that nomads “invented nothing”, so we have presumed that migrants and immigrants
American cities. By then, these cities will undoubtedly be the sites of the greatest have nothing to contribute to public discourse.
challenges and hopes for democracy in the US. But the most questionable question, “Where are you from?”, should
Historically, the city has always been a hope for the displaced. And today, never replace “In what way can your past and present experience contribute to
as it was in the past, our cities are worth nothing and will be condemned to everybody’s well-being today and tomorrow?”
destruction if they cannot open themselves to strangers. Look back at Sodom The infusion of the tradition of the vanquished (a critical-visionary history)
and Gomorrah! Tens of millions of these strangers now traverse and transgress into the history of the victors (a catastrophic-progress history) can be made
frontiers and borders that are simultaneously internal and external, geopolitical by strangers thanks to their political intuition of the present. Such an intuition
and psycho-social, ethical and spiritual, private and public. Identities and realizes the danger of repeating yesterday’s injustices today and tomorrow. Every
communities are disintegrating, multiplying, crossing, shifting, and re-configuring, day a new history needs to be written, one that will retrieve the tradition of the
sparking fear and violence among those who feel invaded by others, who import vanquished. This new history, what Nietzsche would call a “critical history”,
speechless pain. is announced by the stranger and can help to sustain the agonistic democratic
process. As philosopher Simon Critchley points out, “Democracy is the form
Immigrant Utopia of society committed to the political equality of all its citizens and the ethical
As part of the second largest wave of immigration in US history, these wanderers inequality of myself faced with the Other.... Thus the rational order of the polis
will be confronted by the multitude of divided and competing groups of both US- is justified by a philosophical language which criticizes the polis in the name of
and foreign-born residents. But unlike the immigrants of the first wave, these new what it excludes or marginalizes, the pre-rational one-for-the-other of ethics.”3 In
refugees enter cities that are already fully built, with their architectural, ideological, other words, democracy can be kept alive by an ongoing recognition, exposition,
and monumental theaters in place. It is up to these newcomers, then, to transform and legalization of the strangers’ ‘illegitimate’ experience, their ‘illegible’ past, and
and unbuild the cities by inserting their presence, their performances, and their their ‘illegal’ present.
histories into the collective memories and democratic discourses of the city
itself. The city is reconceived with each new immigrant, assuming that an open Transitional Artifice
communication exists between the immigrant and all others. Too often, however, As psycho-analytic theorist Julia Kristeva writes, “Your speech has no past and
such openings exist only as wounds, a result of the wars that created the need for will have no power over the future of the group: why should one listen to it?...
these large-scale migrations in the first place, or as a kind of psychosomatic symptom One will listen to you only in absent-minded, amused fashion, and one will forget

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you in order to go on with serious matters. The foreigner’s speech can bank only transformed bandage address the ills of the outside world as perceived by the
on its bare rhetorical strength, and the inherent desires he or she has invested wounded? To see the world as seen by the wound!
in it.” Unfortunately, this perception by the non-stranger also conforms to the In the complexity of the contemporary urban context, this equipment
symptomatic condition of the stranger: “Settled within himself, the foreigner has becomes a device for communication and mediation—design as tactical media,
no self. Barely an empty confidence, valueless, which focuses his possibilities of its purpose being to treat not only individual human suffering but also the external
being constantly other, according to others’ wishes and to circumstances. I do society that produced the wound. Could this device create new conditions that
what they want me to, but it is not ‘me’—‘me’ is elsewhere, ‘me’ belongs to no would soon render the need for it obsolete? Or, if needed, could it become a
one, ‘me’ does not belong to ‘me’... does ‘me’ exist?”4 As Kristeva’s statement prosthesis, a (semi)permanent extension of the body (politic)? Such design
suggests, strangers need to gain confidence in the possibility of communicating requires thinking both clinically (therapeutically) and critically.
124 their own experiences, and they need to be able to communicate this confidence Over the centuries and millennia, the memory and tradition of the 125
as well. The stranger must learn to take his or her own experience seriously. To nameless developed certain tactical features against the strategic character of the
gain this confidence, however, the stranger must find a communicative form for history of the victors. Those features, according to Benjamin, have a profoundly
the experience, then establish a playful distance from it. “interactive” character based on “non-linearity, radical negativity”, performativity,
Conversely, the non-stranger, or ‘local’, must gain a playful distance from and the “arrest of time”. The tactics of this tradition consist of story-telling, magic,
his or her own fear of the stranger to establish a healthy curiosity that will foster miracle, humor, and entertainment (refer back to Freud). This is a “discontinuous
communication and closer contact. The presence of a stranger evokes in the non- tradition while continuity is that of the victor”.6 The tradition of the vanquished
stranger a well-hidden secret: the recognition of one’s own strangeness. The stranger brings something new and unknown to the understanding of lived time,
is unfamiliar and uncanny (unheimlich in German, or “un-homely”). The uncanny, transposing subjective experience from the personal sphere to the historical.
Freud says, is everything that “ought to have remained hidden but has come to Even in those societies that are most open, inviting, and attentive to the
light”. Kristeva claims that the ideal situation would be one in which the non-stranger displaced, the psychological needs of immigrants are far less recognized than
recognized his or her own uncanny strangeness. As she says, “The foreigner is within those of children, for instance. But like children, immigrants must develop their
me, hence we are all foreigners. If I am a foreigner, there are no foreigners”. In search autonomous identities in the process of psychic development, independent of
of an anti-xenophobic society, Kristeva notes Freud’s stress on “those [esthetic] internal and external conditions or personal cultures. And they must do so in an
works in which the uncanny effect is abolished because of the very fact that the experimental, creative, and playful way, in an atmosphere of internal and external
entire world of the narrative is fictitious. Such are fairy tales, in which the generalized trust. Yet, unlike children, they cannot expect the necessary protective space,
artifice spares us any possible comparison between sign, imagination, and material normally provided by parents or society, for such experiment and play. On the
reality. As a consequence, artifice neutralizes uncanniness and makes all returns of one hand, then, immigrants are treated as hopeless and voiceless, incapable
the repressed plausible, acceptable, and pleasurable.”5 infants or defiant children. On the other hand, they are expected to be super-
In sum, the state of being a stranger accumulates as an experience with adults, self-motivated entrepreneurs, and fully independent individuals capable
no form, no language, no expression, and no right to be communicated, and of facing a harsh new world. At the same time, the locals are treated as infants
thus becomes a dangerous psychic symptom. This stranger-ness is a strangely by the immigrants, who believe that the hostile or ‘naive’ native residents do not
familiar, secret, and uncanny condition that we all share and that, when repressed understand the ‘sophistication’ of the newcomers. The immigrants expect the
in the ideological caves of our subjectivity, can sometimes explode in the face of locals to be super-adults and to extend themselves in special ways to understand
an actual stranger. Between the speechless pain of the actual stranger and the foreign customs, ideas, and experiences. Both locals and aliens must refuse to be
sequestered fear of one’s own strangeness lies the real frontier to be challenged. infantilized or expected to be super-adults.
Can art operate as a revelatory, expressive, and interrogative passage through This situation demands a new artifice that would serve both needs:
such a frontier? Can it be an inspiration, provocation, and opening act for a inspiring playful distance and playful contact, as well as reinforcing the
new form of communication in a non-xenophobic community? If the stranger is stranger’s confidence in communicating the experience of alienation. To
a prophet who interrupts history, today’s artists and designers should help the defuse xenophobic paranoia, one important function of this psycho-social
prophet by designing special equipment for such an intervention. artifice would be to neutralize the uncanniness evoked by the presence of
a stranger. To do this, such an artifice should take the form of a special
The Prophet’s Prosthesis kind of equipment designed to function as a “fictitious narrative”, one that
Such equipment would be the result of “interrogative design”, a critical nonetheless preserves and disseminates an emotional understanding of a
articulation of what is most questionable and unacceptable in the present: the painful and unacceptable reality.
stranger’s pain in survival. The oldest and most common reference to this kind On the other hand, if this psycho-social artifice is to be of any use to the
of articulation and design is the bandage. A bandage covers and treats a wound stranger, it would have to function as, in DW Winnicott’s terms, a “transitional
while at the same time exposing its presence. Its presence signifies both the object” or “transitional phenomenon”, or, in extreme cases, as a transitional
experience of pain and the hope of recovery. Is it possible to develop this concept prosthesis. For the immigrant, such equipment would have to be perceived as
further? Could we invent a bandage that would communicate, interrogate, and neither internal nor external but belonging to a “[third zone] of experience in
articulate the circumstances and the experience of the injury? Could such a the potential space between the individual and the environment”. This space

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“depends on experience which leads to trust. It can be looked upon as sacred to “justifiable said”, since the traces of the original ‘saying’ will remain the sole basis of
the individual in that it is here that the individual experiences creative living.”7 his or her speech act.8
The zones, spaces, and objects that immigrants invent are the territories The stranger equipped with the immigrant instrument will be able to speak
of play, distance, irony, and humor: the uncanny in the locals’ terrain, where the back to all of those strangers or non-strangers who would like to cast the stranger
familiar and the unfamiliar wrestle with each other and where the lost land argues in some preconceived mold of an individual or collective identity. The strangers
and jokes in a mother tongue with the promised land, speaking in the newly and their doubles—the instruments—could disagree with each other or with
acquired language of a new critical history and a new vision of hope. The new anybody who wants to fuse the strangers into a particular culture or community.
kind of transitional object must be created here, where the zones of experience of The use of the Immigrant Instruments, while encouraging trust, can displace any
the newcomer and the local can be encouraged, overlapped, and shared. But it is preconceptions of communion and commonality, protecting the stranger’s right to
126 the immigrant who must introduce such an object first. The immigrant is the one exist as a unique singular human being and the right to announce or denounce his 127
who, in order to survive, must learn how to be both provocative and tactful. or her affiliations and associations.
Left alone with such newly designed equipment, the immigrant could
create a space where he or she could accept, shape, even enjoy the complexity A summary of the main points for the design of new equipment for strangers:
and originality of his or her own strange and often painful experiences. Bringing
the instrument into the open would create the sacred and ethical space of Proposition 1: Strangers in their relation to the self and to the non-stranger (as
the third zone. This space exists not only between the stranger and the non- well as to other strangers) need a thing-in-between, an equipment-artifice that
stranger but also between the inner and outer worlds of the stranger; between will open up discussion and allow them to reveal and to share (communicate)
the stranger, the non-stranger, and the ‘third person’ (who may or may not be a their experiences, identities, visions, and unique strangenesses.
stranger, and who represents the point of view of ‘we’, of the larger society as a Proposition 2: Such equipment (communicative instrument) is an
whole); and, lastly, as in the case of the Alien Staff, 1992, between pre-recorded emergency need in today’s migratory era, and the first user of the instrument
speech and improvised live speech, contained and ‘broadcast’ by the instrument must be the immigrant, followed by other foreigners, and then all of those
and performed by the stranger. native locals who are so profoundly estranged, infantilized, silenced, and
In this way, the newly designed equipment could inspire a birth of a new excluded that they resemble the immigrant, even if they did not experience
community, even a temporary and momentary rebirth of democratic public crossing the ‘proper’ geopolitical borders.
space based on the agonistic speech acts and discourses that Hannah Arendt Proposition 3: Such equipment, which I call the Immigrant Instrument,
supported, enacted in a place that allows for the “unleashing of passions”. must offer healing powers to its users, overcoming the ever-present fear
Georges Bataille called such a place “sacred”. This space will be constituted of one’s own strangeness, as well as communicating the strangeness
through the use of the Immigrant Instruments, which, in this way, will become with playfulness, confidence, and power. For this purpose, the Immigrant
“sacred objects”. It will be constituted on the site of the newcomer, who is the Instrument must operate as a psychological container (the confident
stake of the society to come and the new mentality to be born. companion) and as a social opening (displayed-presenter), the stranger’s
speaking double.
The Return of the Said Proposition 4: The Immigrant Instrument must bring the interlocutor
To summarize, the interruption of the victors by the nameless can only happen closer to the stranger. To achieve this goal, the Instrument must first
through the design and implementation of a new psycho-cultural artifice—a take attention away from its user and bring the focus on itself as a
transitional object, which, on the one hand, will help the stranger to open up and ‘bizarre’, ‘magical’, ‘strange’, or ‘curious’ object, a cliché, totem, attribute,
come forward and, on the other hand, will encourage the non-stranger and other technological gadget, or prosthetic device. In the second stage of its
strangers to bring themselves closer to the stranger’s experience and presence. operation, the Instrument will expose, at a close distance, the stranger as
This will inspire the new discourse in which the strangeness can be shared across speech-act virtuoso, who, armed with and empowered by the new media
all social boundaries. technology and ancient instrumental know-how, will be able to entertain
In doing so, such new equipment will provide both the means and the field and announce her or his critical and prophetic presence. Achieving such
of play, where the speechless can creatively articulate their ‘saying’, interrupting goals, the Instrument will increase the user’s communicative abilities
the flow of the ‘said’. Armed with the new equipment, strangers will hopefully despite all psychic, linguistic, and cultural barriers in the context of the
gain new rhetorical power to wrestle with the power of the said. The interactive present-day xenophobia.
character of the encounter with the said, the irony and humor of this unsolicited Proposition 5: The Immigrant Instrument must operate both as a
performance, will help to articulate, expose, and eventually disseminate the image transitional object (Winnicott) and as a communicative artifice (Kristeva).
of their unstable identity as well as the complex world of their multiplicity and their Proposition 6: The Immigrant Instrument must function as an artifice,
internal antagonisms, all overlapping in the process of becoming. Despite all of the inspiring playful distance and playful contact. The foreigners must learn to
power thus gained, the stranger, speaking from the bottom of the experience of the take their own experience seriously; to see, however, that one’s own often
vanquished, will not resemble the victor in speech. As Emmanuel Levinas would say, painful experience requires the ability to establish a playful distance from it.
the stranger, during the performance, will appear as the said, but this time as the Conversely, to establish a communicative contact with the stranger, the

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Identity/Cultural Prosthetics


non-stranger must gain equally playful distance from his or her fear of The Prophet’s Prosthesis
the stranger.
Proposition 7: The situation of today’s immigrant (who is both a psychic an interv iew w it h Ch ris ti ane Paul
and a social symptom) requires an instrument that would help its operator 1999
to become both the patient and the doctor. Self-healing must be combined
with healing others, being healed while healing, making whole, and
articulating and curing wounded psycho-social relations.

The Immigrant Instrument must aid the stranger in making the transition to non-
128 strangeness while assisting the local in recognizing his or her own strangeness. This
will contribute, as Kristeva would like, to the formation of a communicative cross-
stratum based on shared multiplicity of identities in an unstable process of becoming a
community or, better, a community of becoming, the only commonality of which will be
its communicated uncanny strangeness.

Fragments of this essay were delivered as parts of lectures for Harvard University,
the Public Art Fund Lectures at the Cooper Union, New York, the Institute of
Contemporary Arts, London, and the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston.
Originally published in Wodiczko, Krzysztof, Critical Vehicles: Writings, Projects,
Interviews, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999 pp 5–15

1 Mosès, Stéphane, “The Theological-Political Model of History”, History and Memory 1, Christiane Paul: In your recent works, Alien Staff, 1992, and Mouthpiece (Le
Tel Aviv University, 1989, pp 11,13.
2 Deleuze, Gilles and Félix Guattari, Nomadology: The War Machine, Brian Mas-sumi
porte-parole), 1993, you continue to address issues surrounding the alien, the
trans, New York: Semiotext(e), 1986, p 73. immigrant, the stranger. In the age of the “global village”, did you consider the
3 Critchley, Simon, The Ethics of Deconstruction: Derrida and Levinas, Oxford:
Blackwell, 1992, pp 235, 239.
effects of global communications, or did you focus predominantly on the general
4 Kristeva, Julia, Strangers to Ourselves, Leon S Roudiez, trans, New York: Columbia experience of being an alien or stranger?
University Press, 1991, pp 8, 20–21.
5 Freud, Sigmund, “The Uncanny”, in The Standard Edition of the Complete
Krzysztof Wodiczko: There appear to be two disconnected worlds, the world of
Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, London: Hogarth Press, 1955, vol 17, p 225; the explosion of communication technologies and the world of the explosion of
Kristeva, Strangers to Ourselves, pp 192, 187.
6 See the discussion of Benjamin in Moses, “The Theological-Political Model of
cultural miscommunication. There are all these enthusiasts of technology who
History”. Winnicott, DW, Playing and Reality, London: Tavistock, 1971, p 103. advocate the liberation of the world through digital technologies and there are
7 For an elaboration of the Levinasian concepts of “saying” and “the said”, see the
chapter “A Levinasian Politics of Ethical Difference”, in Critchley, The Ethics of
crisis zones, such as Yugoslavia, where people need these technologies, at least
Deconstruction, pp 229–236. in the most difficult moments of the crisis. Instead, people were sending blankets.
The equipment was needed before the actual conflict exploded. People have to
learn how to open up and communicate before they become manipulated by some
psychologists/ideologists and politicians and are molded into opposing camps to
kill each other.
The Alien Staff project was my response to the situation in France in 1991–
1992 and in Europe in general. At that time, there was an explosion of xenophobia
such as Le Pen and the victory of the xenophobic party, and the xenophobes in
Belgium. There were also a lot of hostile feelings toward foreigners in Germany and
Italy. My response to this climate was informed by an earlier project, which was
a mobile communication network, and the vehicles I previously designed for the
homeless in New York. Unlike the previous homeless vehicles, the new ones were
equipped with a vast array of communications tools and were designed to be operated
by those homeless people who communicate well. There’s a relatively large group
among the homeless population that has some background, education, or experience
in media. I was hoping that they could provide an alternative image of the city from the
point of view of their experience and pain—from the point of view of the wounded.

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The idea was that they would create programs that could be heard and strangers are allowed to tell the same story in several languages, the story will be
seen: programs necessary for their own survival, for resistance, for communication, different every time it is recorded and the same story will turn into a completely
necessary for self-protection against the police or hostile groups, but also cultural different one if it is recorded again the next day. The materials that have been
programs that facilitated an exchange among various alienated groups. The collected this way can later be edited with the participation of the speaker, which
project strives to establish a complicated constituency, which would be based on constitutes another construction process.
the recognition of its unstable character and all the differences and antagonisms Statements, speeches, and expressions can be finalized and words might reach
involved. The next step could be that the homeless would form constituencies and the level of Dada truth. They can be squeezed or liberated, as in Futurism or in Concrete
have representation in city councils for example. Poetry, but in a new, cross-cultural way, where all of the divisions between languages
The most important parts of the project were the alarm system, the start with questions, such as what one was, who one is, and who one becomes. These
130 use of the Internet and telephone system, as well as walkie-talkies or beepers, boundaries are not stable but fluctuating and ideas overlap. 131
and sometimes even satellites, Xerox machines, and CB radios. Some of the It is possible to use video in order to create a certain representation of
technology was already available to the squatters: photos of the Homeless Vehicle this instability? Ideally, the strangers who went through this process are armed
pre-prototypes, not even the working models, were taken by one of the squatters with a new confidence and distance from their misery; they suddenly have
who actually had a fully equipped photo lab in one of the abandoned buildings. created doubles of themselves. This double now contains all of the things that
The buildings often had electricity and telephones, and the squatters were actually no one wants to hear and that couldn’t be expressed before, so the operator of
restoring and renovating them and sometimes saved them from destruction. the walking stick is relieved of this incredible load. Once it is externalized, the
CP: Devices such as the Alien Staff or Mouthpiece (Le porte-parole) give strangers operator is ready to open up to anybody else, in any place, whether it’s a domestic
a voice by making it possible to prerecord a speech which can then be activated. environment, the work place, the streets and parks, or public transportation
On the one hand, these devices bridge psychological gaps and offer new systems. Suddenly, the operator becomes a mediator between the speaking stick
possibilities of communication; on the other hand, the communication is ready- and anybody who will approach, not necessarily in order to speak to the operator
made which creates a form of double alienation. The alien has a possibility to but in order to listen and see what this object is, this third part, this in-between.
speak out but probably can’t communicate what he/she wants to say in a specific CP: The object becomes a device to explore one’s own strangeness and to
situation because the speech is pre-recorded. externalize it in a medium which is a process that again entails alienation.
KW: My experiences in New York helped me to design the Alien Staff device, which KW: And this new alienation is needed in a way. The performer must also become
will become more performance-oriented in the future. I abandoned the idea of heavy- alienated from the staff. Alien of the alien, a kind of double alienation: “Don’t
duty equipment in favor of something very simple that can be operated and used by listen to this, it wasn’t really like this, I now realize it was different, we went
a single person and that facilitates the development of virtuosity, performance, and through this so many times and now I find this aspect much more important, just
story-telling. At that point, the process of alienation becomes interesting because listen to this part.” Or someone might ask what is displayed in a container—there
whatever is pre-recorded in the Alien Staff can be questioned in direct communication. are those Plexiglas containers for relics in the central part of the staff—and the
I’m not necessarily defending this instrument as good for every immigrant operator might just reply, “It’s none of your business.”
or stranger. I’m working on a new project now which might be directed more There also is a connection between the relic and what was videotaped. The
towards other groups, because there is no single category of ‘stranger’ or ‘homeless process of finding the object that is meant to be exhibited in the staff is a process
person’. There are so many different kinds of people with diverse beliefs, abilities, of exploring things that are hidden. By being exhibited, these relics are becoming
psychological conditions, and histories of external conditions that contribute to exposed—they are supposed to be hidden but are brought to light. Sometimes it
their way of living; so no single piece of equipment can respond to this. On the takes a long time to even find these relics because they are so well-hidden, they are
contrary, there should be many different devices. The walking stick was designed so precious. Immigrants usually bury them in some hidden location or they leave
for people who are somewhere in-between speechlessness and virtuosity of them with friends. There is a process of construction at work here, a recollection
communication. They would like to speak and have certain abilities to speak. They of events and the reconstruction of ties with the past from a new, healthier point of
know languages and gestures—they are what Julia Kristeva called “Baroque”. But view. This transcends an attitude such as “I don’t want to talk about this because
they need an artifice to fully realize their abilities because they are afraid to do so it’s shameful” or “I’ll be hiding this, it is something my friends and family in my old
otherwise. They have important things to say but they never really try to say them country should never know because I’m supposed to be successful, I’m supposed to
because they can’t find words. So the process of de-alienation, the process that is be a victor here, not vanquished.” The immigrants who use the Alien Staff are often
needed here, has something to do with all the preparations that have to be made resentful at first—it forces them to reveal awful secrets—but by going through the
before the equipment can be used in public—the gathering of all the memories, the process step-by-step they sometimes realize that after resentment and perplexity
recalling of events that sometimes have been repressed or maybe even expelled comes a new awareness. One of the immigrants went back to her home country
or replaced by some half-truth and intermediate stories. Users of the Alien Staff and presented the Alien Staff there; everyone hated it, it caused complete rejection.
have to examine all of these aspects in the process of recording in front of the video The reaction was, “We don’t want to hear this. How dare you?” And at the same
camera. Video cameras can tape anything—as the Germans or Russians say, paper time, the immigrant confirmed her identity, by saying, “What do you know? Who
can take anything—particularly if the person who speaks is addressing somebody are you to tell me?” There is an incredible process of communication involved but
behind the camera who is sympathetic, who wants to hear. If the immigrants or it is not going to happen for everybody. Some people rejected the project and never

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Identity/Cultural Prosthetics


came back, they were not ready; others rejected it and then came back or sent their transcends the boundaries of this realm. Do you see your works predominantly
friends who came back to use it. It is difficult to say what exactly the result will be as artwork? To what extent would you like to see them integrated into the non-
or if people are ready for this kind of instrument. artistic, socio-economic world? In other words, do you want the Alien Staff to be
CP: What’s the difference between the old and the new generation of the Alien Staff? mass-produced?
KW: In order to increase the level of adeptness developed by the immigrant in KW: Today, we always assume that a design or prototype must lead to mass
recalling the stories, I decided to ask George Smith, a PhD student at the Media production, but this is a modern way of thinking. David Harvey used to call this
Lab, to help me. He came up with the idea to use the “electric field sensing” “flexible accumulation capitalism”. A smaller number of units with some variety
system on which they were currently working; it is in fact a quite advanced can also be understood as production, it doesn’t have to be mass-produced—it
version of the instrument which the Russian inventor Leo Theremin developed. could be an experimental implementation, it could be a cultural project that
132 The sensing system is embedded in the center section of the walking stick and is industrial design at the same time, performative industrial design. Cultural 133
responds to the gestures of the user. There are several containers in the new agencies all around the world are giving money to public projects. Public art
version of the staff, which can now be taken out for closer examination of the projects should be understood as a possibility for financing all kinds of projects
content and can be discussed with anyone approaching; in the old version, including media projects.
people had to bend down to look at the content. Now there are electric sensors Of course, these media projects are often ‘temporary’, time-based, but we
between the containers, so when a hand comes close to this zone, it triggers a don’t know exactly what temporary means; it could mean years. The Alien Staff,
response. This kind of interactivity requires a fairly complex computer program for example, has been operating for years in various parts of the world, not on a
because a certain type of gesture has to be assigned to a certain type of continuous basis but on and off. A project like that could be more systematically
manipulation of the story’s content, both acoustic and visual. developed, for example in connection with cultural and psychological projects,
The Baroque personality of the immigrant has a lot to do with the ability to or maybe in cooperation with institutes such as the Institute for Psychology and
use gestures, which in fact has a whole tradition. There is a tradition of migrants, Cross-cultural Communication in Stockholm or the Centre Françoise Minkowsky in
wanderers, gypsies, aliens, or even magicians whose survival depended on their Paris—a big center providing assistance to immigrants and refugees that is run in
talents and knowledge in using gestures or singing, making sounds, performing 45 languages. The support could also be provided by a public art organization, like
magic or tricks. The performative aspect often guarantees the performer’s survival, Public Art Fund in New York or Artangel Trust in London. It could be a combination
without it they might die—as long as the pianist plays or singer sings, they can’t be of all of these institutions. I don’t see why this approach should be unrealistic.
chopped into pieces. Some story-tellers might want to have a more performative CP: That’s what I meant, your project belongs to all of these different realms but
instrument than a walking stick, so this new version allows for a story to evolve people often tend to categorize it. They want to make a distinction between an
according to the choice of container. artwork and a scientific project.
CP: So the objects in the containers are now connected to their respective histories. KW: Not all of the funding institutions and audiences completely understand
KW: Yes, and it requires a pretty complicated development process. You have what I’m doing. The French Ministry of Culture, which helped to develop and
to select and organize the content, connect an object with a particular story and paid for the Alien Staff and Mouthpiece (Le porte-parole) prototypes, understood
also decide what the relationship between the gesture, sound, and the visual maybe half of it. They fund cultural programs but only over a short time frame.
effect shown on the monitor on top of the stick should be. It requires different Nevertheless, as experiments the projects were well funded, and it was enough
levels of development as well as technological literacy. The programming time for me to learn a lot. At the V2 organization in Rotterdam, two or three
process is very slow and to be honest, I am a little frustrated. It has something of the instruments were used for only four or five days and there were about
to do with a larger dilemma: how can artists develop an experimental project two weeks of preparation. The person who is running a clinic for immigrants
in tune with a scientific and technological research experiment? The agendas in Rotterdam and is an immigrant herself evaluated the project and stated in
overlap but they often don’t match. public that what I had done in two weeks was something they couldn’t achieve
Coming back to the most recent model, I learned a lot from it. The new in a year in the clinic because from a medical, psychological point of view, I had
model comes with a built-in transmission system and an antenna which is a turned the immigrants into “both doctors and patients”. In just a short period of
symbol of hope. It symbolizes the possibility that singular units could actually time, the immigrants had gained enormous confidence and were pleased with
speak with each other across the city and maybe the world—that each single themselves. I was invited to explain the project on a television program, which
operator could communicate with a base that could store an enormous amount makes a lot of sense since I think that the mainstream media should become
of information in computers with powerful memory. The base would be run an extension of my ‘small’ media where the operator or speaker works together
by someone who could be called a “xenologist”: an expert on the law and with the monitor. I had asked the operators to come to the television station
ethics of displacement. The user of the instrument would be a performer who with their equipment, so you had both the speakers and their small screens
is disseminating information on the basis of what’s happening in her or his and the show’s host on the television screen. The program was a talk show,
mind, opening up a world of displacement and complexity, undoing all those and because of a number of coincidences—festivals, events, problems with
preconceived notions of identity and community. immigrants or skinheads—it made national news and everything connected.
CP: In your own work, the agendas constantly overlap. The work addresses Without this little piece of equipment none of this would have happened. Mass
political, psychological, and ethical issues, it exists in the realm of art yet it media picked it up because it already was media.

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Identity/Cultural Prosthetics


CP: Your works address issues of interactivity on various levels and technology is A Conversation with Marek Bartelik
the enabling factor rather than the focus of the communication devices you design.
These devices address a specific need and at the same time explore the very nature of Decem ber 2006
communication technology. How would you describe the role technology plays in your
works and the improvement of communication you are striving for?
KW: It is still a modern assumption that design should offer solutions to
problems, which, in general, may not be a bad expectation. Modern design is
often supposed to resolve a problem but in reality it becomes a facade behind
which the actual problem is hidden so that there is only a superficial answer to
134 it. There seems to be a similar expectation with technology: each new gadget
and new system is supposed to resolve some problem. Those who work on
scientific or technological research have some playful ideas, they are working
on applications for those ideas in order to sell them or connect them with the
expectations of the industry or consumers. The basic idea is to further improve
the existing world. In fact, both technology and design—technology as a technical
opportunity and design as the relation between this opportunity and the world
of needs—can reveal and clarify needs that should not exist. They both have the
potential to expand on our access to the complexity of the present world rather
than just projecting into the future.
Technology and new media and design could articulate and expose the
problematic world in which we live and at the same time provide emergency service
and help to people who really need it. With media and technology we can achieve
two things at the same time. We can do cultural work and provide access to the Marek Bartelik: Are there places that could be called “beyond” or “poza” as we
circulation of power for those who are least likely to have it. That way we provide have it in the exhibition title?
emergency help and transform the understanding and awareness of the world. Krzysztof Wodiczko: Are we really going to switch to English? All our
Those who are marginalized, displaced, and misfortunate could in fact become conversation so far has been in Polish, and I began to formulate my thoughts on
agents of this new and prophetic way of understanding the world. They can provide our topic “poza” in Polish. Now that we have switched I need to look for English
an image of the world from the point of view of those who are in trouble and a vision words and expressions, and they no longer seem to fit my ideas. This destabilizes
of a better world. There are a lot of things we could achieve if the cultural world me and requires me to rethink them, to question even the questions I have already
would connect technological design and artistic research in the same place at the formulated in Polish.
same time. Most of the time we are dealing with disconnected organizations and In this transitional and transitory moment, I think I am now inside our topic
institutions. Of course I don’t want to advocate a new monstrous institution that of “beyond”. A frightening thing to be in, but, at the same time, it feels strangely
will bury all of these possibilities in a bureaucratic machinery. familiar to be there; it’s like home to me.
CP: Which is the inherent danger of large-scale collaborations. On the other Am I now and again poza, beyond my own 1970s Warsaw Polish, in which
hand, all of the realms you mention won’t be able to survive by themselves. An I was speaking a moment ago, or am I beyond my almost American, New York
interdisciplinary approach is needed more than ever. English, or with my Polish-American and American-Polish ‘accents’—am I in both
KW: And not in the name of the arts but in the name of life. Pozas and Beyonds?
Am I then in a zone beyond and at the same time in-between them, the zone
beyond the language of customary cultural identities and social categories?
Originally published in Sculpture Magazine, vol 18, no 4, May 1999. Is this then the meaning of our topic, a “utopia”, a topos as a “No!-place” or
a “good place” called Poza? Is this a place of the future, or is it the place already
here, now?
Is Poza, then, a lost land, or the utopia of a promised land, away from
and beyond the strict territory of that which is ‘clear’, ‘stable’, preconceived,
and with a singular meaning? Is this thing we call “beyond” located beyond
the prison house of every easily identifiable ‘ethnic’, sexual, or ‘professional’
state, or a national, regional, geographic, or any other ‘identity’, community,
or commonality, a fixed piece d’identite, as they call ID in French?
Is this the place where I would like to be, the only possible home where I
would agree to move and dwell?

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Identity/Cultural Prosthetics


Is this an understanding of poza one might see, imagine, or hope (for In short, my Polishness is born of the passionate ways of my Jewish
oneself and others)—a psychic, intellectual, cultural, and political space, a mother’s assimilation and her artistic faith in mass communications, and of
philosophical and “existential land” called “Beyond”? the determined ways of my father’s secular Protestant work ethic and of his
It is very possible that during all these years of migration, consciously, or commitment to the realization of his socio-aesthetic vision.
semi-consciously, I have been trying to immigrate to such a place, to this Poza, My own version of Polishness was also a response to the context of art
and, strange to say, finally settle down in it. Without admitting it to myself, I may and politics in the 1970s, the time of late Communism in Poland (the State
be already in this place, a somewhat disappointing fact but a consequential and socialism of the Gierek regime), including my experience as an actor in a
demanding, even visionary state of being, and a place for working and living, called political student cabaret (the Kabaret Stodota in Warsaw). There was also my
New York City. work as an industrial designer inside the Polish industrial system (especially at
136 MB: A few weeks ago, I got this email, and then an article, from a young the Polish Optical Works in Warsaw), my simultaneous active membership in 137
woman from Hartford who attended the conference that accompanied [the the avant-garde artistic circles of the Foksal Gallery in Warsaw and the Gallery
exhibition] POZA on the issue of Polish identity. She noticed that all the Akumulatory in Poznań. One significant relationship was with Marxism-minded
participants spoke about how they thought their work was international art critic and avant-garde art historian Andrzej Turowski (“conversations about
and more than just specifically Polish. She told me she was first-generation essentials”) as well as ongoing arguments with many other critical intellectuals
American and her parents were Polish. “All my life”, she said, “I have been and artists.
trying to be more Polish than I am, searching for my Polishness.” Is she My changing sense of Polishness also owes a great deal to my early
searching for a mirage? theoretical and existential encounters with feminism and with Polish-Jewish
KW: When I hear someone call me “Polish”, I am in fear of being displaced, history (especially in the period after the Second World War) while visiting in
evicted, “ex-missioned”, as we say in Polish (eksmisja, “eviction”), from my own the US in 1975.
very special home, still under construction but nonetheless already a home, a This challenge continued in a similar fashion, or even more so, later in the
home for myself and all my displacements. I feel evicted from a relatively safe, if 1970s and early 1980s, when I was residing in Canada. In this respect I value
in some ways not always stable place, a place for all my own instabilities, for the very highly my Canadian experience, with studies in social and political theory,
multiplicity of my identities, identities that do not always want to agree with each the Marxist philosophical tradition, and discussions and teaching in cultural and
other, that like to quarrel with identities that keep arguing in the continuing process media studies circles in Toronto, Trent, and finally in Halifax (where my public
of generating and refining their disagreements. projections began).
When I am called “Polish” I feel as If I am about to be deported to my old It was then that my Polishness underwent a powerful critical test and
country, or worse—to Poland, the stereotype and cliché, to which that person radical transformation.
wishes me to belong. The mirage? In fact I am beginning to feel a bit the same In sum, my Polishness means a 30-year process of transporting,
when I am called “American”, “Canadian” or even when one intentionally or not extrapolating, challenging, and transforming all my early artistic and design
touches on the nostalgic site of myself by calling me “Jewish”. experience from Poland into my immigrant work as an artist and art educator—a
When, however, I call myself Polish it is a very different matter. I feel in that work and a life in Canada, Australia, France, and the United States, and now in the
case free to try to provide my own, however convoluted and unstable, definition of new, post-Communist Poland, where I frequently produce and show my work.
Polishness, to issue myself my own passport, through my own immigration office, My experience of emigrating from Poland was and still is, in many ways,
a passport with my own intellectual, artistic, social, historical, geographic, ethnic, interconnected with my theoretical and artistic work in and around issues of
singular, or multiple entry and exit ‘visas’, stamped with my own temporary and displacement, otherness, memory, trauma, public space, media, communications
permanent ‘resident permits’—my own carte de sejour, carte de travail, J-1 (cultural technologies, and design and democracy, and was informed by deconstructive
exchange visitor), B-1 (business visitor), H-1 (temporary worker) and finally the and post-deconstructive theory and the related aesthetic and cultural practice of
Landed Immigrant (Canada) or Resident Alien Status (the American Green Card). my fellow artists and intellectuals.
MB: Could you say something about your Polish upbringing? My Polishness also developed in the ways I needed to challenge, and
KW: Polishness means for me the upbringing by my father, an agnostic Protestant, ‘deconstruct’, my own nationalistic tendencies so deeply rooted in Polish culture.
a musician of Czech origin (and education), a conductor and composer, a director The avant-garde internationalist spirit and sentiment, which, since my Foksal
of operas and orchestras, a musician devoted to educating and attracting large, and Akumulatory Gallery years, have been circulating in my veins, continuing
especially younger, audiences, to contemporary and avant-garde music and opera, migration were, of course, helpful in this process.
and an artist of great social vision and patriotic mission, and, without admitting it, Speaking here for myself, but I suspect also for many other fellow
a truly socialist mind. immigrants (and I hope non-immigrants as well), I needed to ‘undo’ all those
The mode of my Polishness also owes a great deal to my mother, an unfortunate vestiges of ‘historical’ chauvinist ideologies inhabiting my cultural
agnostic, assimilated Jew, a pianist, microbiologist, philosopher, and person unconsciousness: Polish feudalistic and hierarchic social snobbery, Polish
devoted to her work as a music editor for Polish Television Broadcasting, an artist anti-Germanness, anti-Jewishness, anti-Ukrainianness, anti-Russianness, anti-
who believed in the enlightening role of mass media, a musician of great social Czechness, anti-Gypsyness, anti-peasantness—all sorts of anti-Otherness, and,
and patriotic commitment. yes, the one that is the most difficult to deconstruct—Polish anti-Polishness.

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Identity/Cultural Prosthetics


I knew that in the context of those feudal and nationalistic vestiges still MB: How would you define your own role?
remaining in us and in Poland, it is an obligation to be poza and beyond. For me, KW: Who was I in this project? Social activist, social worker, psychotherapist,
the only intelligent way to be Polish is to do so in a deconstructive way, in the media artist?
sense of undoing oneself, refusing the way one has been made Polish, questioning Whose art was this projection? Theirs or mine?
and radically transforming the Polish way in which one was culturally ‘brought up’ These and other questions were poza—beyond their own right and capacity
and conditioned to become Polish. to be asked, even formulated. This was a third zone of experience, a potential
This way of Polishness is, of course, a great opportunity, and a relatively space, a “transitional phenomenon”, a necessary space for the development of
easy task for those who emigrated, who are properly from Poland, but those who participants’ capacity to act and open up in public, speak out in the open, to learn
live in Poland should also enlist in such a deconstructive project, and many already to do so on their own. It was as well a space for the public to come closer and
138 do so.... Even if it is more difficult for them than for us emigrants, they too, should open up their ears, minds, and hearts and listen. 139
live and work inside Poland as if they were poza. This is also an occasion for a great Was this projection a work of Polish art (taking or not taking into account
contribution to democracy in Poland and elsewhere, wherever each of us may live. all the considerations we have previously mentioned)?
MB: How do you see your work as contributing to this process? Was this a work of American art (art of the First Amendment to the
KW: The migration to the land of Poza is probably quite evident in my most Constitution, an art of communicative rights, the most basic political and human
recent project in Poland, the public projection onto the facade of the Zacheta right in the US)?
National Gallery of Art in Warsaw in November 2005. Was this perhaps a work of Canadian art (an art that understands the
Thinking optimistically and pro-actively, the process of trying to reach the fundamental cultural importance of public media and communications from and
state of being and becoming called “poza” and “beyond” means challenging the in Canada, where my public projections began)?
lack of confidence in one’s own capacities to make a change for the better. Was this perhaps a work of a Jewish kind (art for, of, and by oppressed,
It means making oneself publicly visible. It means ending one’s life as a person marginalized minorities, a diasporic, prophetic art of memory and trauma, art of
outside of society (in Polish poza can be understood here not only as “beyond” but and in wandering and displacement)?
also “outside”). It means taking a step outside the conditions that force us to act as Are these ways of my Polishness, my Americanness, Canadianness, and
outsiders, as alienated, marginalized, socially and economically estranged. my Jewishness...?
It means inserting oneself back into the democratic process, in order to My own ways of being poza and the ways of being beyond?
become a political and cultural actor (and agent) for change, mentally, culturally, Acting as impatient caryatids in revolt, the women participating in the
and politically acting on the larger stage of public space. Warsaw Projection turned themselves into speaking monuments to their own
It often means action, the action of telling the story, giving public testimony, trauma. They turned a prominent Warsaw civic landmark into a monument
organizing others becoming an agent, even an agency, of social change. speaking to social injustice, and to the unacceptable world of Poland, a world in
The task of the Warsaw Projection was to provide safe and patient which they live and one they denounce, a world that needs to be radically changed
conditions for the development of a public speech act, for the social animation for the better... a world poza and beyond.
of public space. This task was assigned to those women acting as speaking
caryatids, to the building facade itself, to myself, and to the numerous members
of the social and technical production team. Originally published in Poza: On the Polishness of Polish Contemporary Art, Marek
Among the most indispensable people in this project was Ms Lidia Bartelik ed, exh cat, Hartford, CT: Real Art Ways, 2008.
Ostałowska, a great, socially committed writer and trusted social investigator.
Without her skills and political passion, the project would not have been possible.
In this projection the facade animators, the co-artists in this project,
represented two generations of women from small Polish cities and from Warsaw
itself. They have suffered and survived domestic abuse and violence. Some of them
themselves committed violence against their male domestic partners and their
own children. Some who were still in early stages of recovery from their trauma,
while others, now well recovered, who seemed to enjoy a healthy, even humorous
distance from their traumatic past, all became passionate honest, politically
critical, and savvy public speakers in this project.
The participants in the Warsaw Projection have become scriptwriters,
social activists, actors, story-tellers, and crown witnesses to injustice, survivors
who can publicly testify to it.
They became doctors in healing their own silence and dumbness, and
doctors in healing public social and cultural numbness, and, finally, media artists,
skillful artists of gesture and speech-animation of architectural monuments.

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Identity/Cultural Prosthetics


Interrogative
Design

Poliscar, 1991
Interrogative Design Design must put in doubt its search for all such often well-intended design
solutions or self-deconstructions, to open the way to explore, discover, uncover,
1994 and expose the hidden dimensions of lived experience. Doing so, design as a
practice must acknowledge this experience as a history of resistance to the
conditions of life and a history of one’s destabilized identity in the process of
an often enforced re-configuration.
A history, being a critical structure of experience, is a recollection of the
lived events of the past infused with the criticism of the present. Interrogative
design must create the points and spaces of convergence for a multitude of
internal and external enquiries to such experience and its history. 143
Design of any object, space, place, network, or system must become a
technology and a technique of constructing an artifice that would function as
an opening through which a complexity of the lived experience can be recalled,
memorized, translated, transmitted, perceived, and exchanged in a discursive
and performative manner. Design must not hesitate to respond to the needs that
should not, but unfortunately do, exist.
Designers must work in the world rather than ‘about’ or ‘upon’ it. In an
unacceptable and contradictory world, responsive and responsible design must
appear as an unacceptable and contradictory ‘solution’. It must critically explore
and reveal painful life experiences rather than camouflage such experience by
administering the painkillers of optimistic design fantasies. The appearance of
interrogative design may “attract while scandalizing”—it must attract attention
in order to scandalize the conditions of which it is born. Implicit in this design’s
Interrogative temporary character is a demand and hope that its function will become obsolete.
1 Of, pertaining to, or of the nature of questioning; having the form or force of The oldest and most common reference to this kind of design is the
a question. bandage. A bandage covers and treats a wound while at the same time exposing
2 Of a word or form employed in asking questions. its presence, signifying both the experience of pain and the hope of recovery. Is it
possible to further develop such a bandage as equipment that will communicate,
Design as a research proposal and implementation can be called interrogative when it interrogate, and articulate the circumstances and the experience of the injury,
takes a risk, explores, articulates, and responds to the questionable conditions of life provoking so as to prevent its recurrence?
in today’s world, and does so in a questioning manner. Interrogative design questions The proposed design should not be conceived as a symbolic representation but
the very world of needs of which it is born. It must respond with a double urgency to as a performative articulation. It should not ‘represent’ (frame ironically) the survivor or
such a world. First, it should function as an emergency aid in the process of survival, the vanquished, nor should it ‘stand in’ or ‘speak for’ them. It should be developed with
resistance, and the healing of social, psychological, and physical wounds. Second, it them and it should be based on a critical inquiry into the conditions that produced the
needs to increase and sustain the high level of ethical alertness that creates, in the crisis. Interrogative design can also function as a critical mirror questioning the user’s
words of Walter Benjamin, a state of emergency understood not as an exception but preconceptions and assumptions about others and about the self. The equipment
as an everyday ethical condition, an ongoing motivation for critical judgment toward can re-interpret various existing materials and components, like protective clothing,
the present and past to secure a vision for a better future. portable tools, electronic gear, defensive armor or weaponry, prosthetic components,
Instead of deconstructing itself, design should deconstruct life. Design wearable digital equipment, alert devices, shields, or a combination of these. One of
should unmask and uncover our singular and plural lives, our lived experience, the objectives of the design is to extend the use of the media of communication to
and a history of this experience from the panopticon of our subjectivity and those who have no access to them but who need them the most, and to those who
ideological theater of our culture, no matter how unacceptable and repressed have full access to them but who fail to take critical advantage of them.
or neglected such experiences may be.
Design must articulate and inspire the communication of real, often difficult
lived-through experience, rather than operate as a substitute for it (ie, the kitsch Originally published as “Projektowanie i doświadczenie” in Krzysztof Wodiczko,
of Sharper Image design). The experience and its history are the often invisible Sztuka Publiczna, Warsaw: Centrum Sztuki Wspoczesnej, 1995, p 29.
and seemingly unimaginable complexes of problems, internal and external, that
have been quickly covered up by the naive facades of all design ‘solutions’ to these
problems, and more recently by a melancholic ‘deconstruction’ of the design heritage
of such cover-ups.

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Interrogative Design


Homeless Vehicle Project on the streets have been compelled to develop a series of strategies for self-
sufficiency under constantly changing—and always threatening—circumstances.
 av id Lu rie a nd Krz ys z to f Wodi c z ko
D Problems of garnering food, keeping warm, remaining safe from personal harm
1988–198 9 and relatively undisturbed during sleep all present challenges that are never
perfectly resolved.
The fact that people are compelled to live on the streets is unacceptable.
But failing to recognize the reality of these people’s situation or holding up the
fact of their living on the streets as proof of their universal insanity is a morally
and factually untenable position. Advocacy for permanent, safe, and dignified
shelter for all people is essential—and is being pursued. But a recognition 145
that all individuals need and deserve permanent housing must also lead to an
examination of the immediate needs of homeless people. Given the failure of the
city’s shelter system, what can we do for individuals struggling for self-sufficiency
on the streets today?
Our proposed vehicle is designed to play a role in filling a dangerous gap in
shelter needs. It seeks to be of use to the significant number of individuals who
will, for the foreseeable future, continue to be compelled to live a nomadic life in
the urban environment. Rather than an ideal shelter, the vehicle is designed with
attention to the specific limitations and compromises imposed by urban nomadic
existence. Though it cannot appropriately be called a home, the vehicle is a
potential means for ameliorating the conditions of life for people surviving under
trying circumstances.

I was not insane when they picked me up, I was homeless.


Joyce Brown, homeless person forcibly hospitalized by the When I came to New York I was struck by the occasional form lying on the
New York City government1 street, with people standing over it as if it wasn’t there.
John Bowers, The New York Times3
During the winter of 1987–1988, an estimated 70,000 people were homeless
in New York City.2 A large portion of this population is made up of homeless Although in our daily encounters with homeless people we are aware of their
individuals. Unlike families with children, homeless individuals are not given status as refugees, we generally fail to recognize that they are refugees from the
priority for placement in the city’s transitional housing facilities or in welfare hotel transformation of the city itself. The re-design of city parks to allow for better
rooms. Instead, the city government offers space to the single homeless in its surveillance and easier removal of homeless people signifies an institutional
growing system of dormitory shelters. ignorance of the fact that the destruction and renovation of entire neighborhoods
Most city-run shelters—though they provide food and respite from the has left no place for these people to go.4 We are reluctant to discern the relationship
elements—are dangerous and unfriendly places that impose a de-humanizing, even between the physical transformation of the city—through real estate development
prison-like, regimentation on residents. Guards routinely treat clients as inmates, and economic displacement—and the creation of homelessness. An American
allegedly denying them food for the violation of rules. Some shelter residents are Broadcast Company official stated that his company is hesitant to construct a public
bused from place to place for food, showers, and sleep. Charges of violence by plaza next to its midtown headquarters because it does not want to see a “tent city
shelter security guards and clients are common. for the homeless here”.5 But with or without a plaza, the homeless will not disappear.
According to the mayor of New York City, a homeless person who chooses Homeless people’s marginalization is directly tied to the refusal of other
to live on the street rather than accept placement in a shelter during the cold of city residents to recognize them as fellow urban citizens. The dominant notion of
winter is, by definition, to be suspected of mental illness. But given the city’s the homeless as mere objects largely explains why we allow people to live and die
official response to the problem of homeless individuals, it is not surprising that on our streets without doing much to help them.
many have made a rational choice to live on the streets. In a television forum, columnist George Will argued that the presence of
Though a significant proportion of homeless individuals are the ragged masses camped out in front of midtown New York office buildings was an
de-institutionalized mentally ill, a growing majority of them are not. Furthermore, infringement of the legitimate rights of executives working there. In Will’s view,
both the sane and insane homeless share the same immediate, life-threatening dodging the bodies of homeless people and enduring their incessant demands
condition: they have no permanent shelter and no safe place to go. for small change is an unnecessary addition to the already stressful lives of
Their alternative has been to develop a means of survival on the streets businessmen.6 In the activity of moving through the city, described by Walter
of New York City. The nomadic homeless people we all observe and encounter Benjamin as a “series of shocks and collisions”, the homeless are apprehended as

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Interrogative Design


immobile barriers to travel. This description, from a recent article in The New York appropriate for other homeless people. As the project develops, the needs and
Times, of seasoned commuters’ strategies for dealing with their daily encounters interests of other groups of potential users must be addressed, particularly those
with homeless people in the Port Authority bus terminal is typical: they block out of homeless women. We have yet to speak with any homeless women and learn of
recognition by “locking their eyes forward” and “striding purposefully” toward the their particular strategies for survival. Though certain features of the vehicle as it
exits. The homeless are seen as identity-free objects that must be negotiated rather is presently designed, such as a possible built-in toilet, might be of use to homeless
than recognized. The article describes acknowledgment of the presence of the women, discussions with them will be necessary to develop a design responsive to
homeless as a sign of inexperience, a trap that only temporary visitors to the city their needs.
fall into: “They stop and stare, eyes wide open to the unfamiliar, raw suffering.”7 An initial proposal, the project is not put forward as a finished product,
Of course, the dramatic image of the homeless as faceless, rag-encased ready for use on the streets. Rather, it is conceived as a starting point for further
146 bundles signifies an elision of these peoples’ actual modes of survival. Though collaboration between skilled designers and potential users. Both parties will have 147
we encounter the homeless as figures anchored to a grate or bench or asleep in to play roles in the design and production of future versions of the vehicle, with
the subway as we rush to work, surviving on the streets of New York is actually continued adaptations in the design made in response to the survival needs of
dominated by the constant necessity for movement, often in response to the users and additional strategies devised by designers. Though such a collaborative
actions of authorities. In recreation areas such as Tompkins Square and Riverside relationship may sound unlikely or even impossible, it is the key to the project’s
Park, uniformed police officers are routinely deployed to remove homeless success. Only through such cooperation can the vehicle function usefully. Direct
people. All of Grand Central Station and portions of the Port Authority bus participation of users in the construction of the vehicle is the key to developing a
terminal are closed to homeless residents during the night. Survival, therefore, vehicle that belongs to its users, rather than merely being appropriated by them.
compels mobility. Especially for those who live entirely outside of the shelter A false notion of the homeless as individuals functioning in isolation from
system, the ability to travel from place to place with one’s personal belongings in the urban community and from each other contributes to their current status
a swift and efficient manner is a key to functioning successfully in the city. as exiles in their own city. We hope the vehicle will aid in making visible and
Through the use of adapted, appropriated vehicles, some homeless strengthening the modes of cooperation and interdependence that exist now
individuals have managed to develop a means of economic sustenance in the city. within the homeless population. The possibility of grouping, even linking the
These people, known as “scavengers”, spend their days collecting, sorting, and vehicles together could be explored.
returning cans to supermarkets in return for the five cent deposit. Shopping and The signifying function of the vehicle is as important as its strictly
postal carts and other wheeled vehicles are used for collecting and transporting cans utilitarian purpose. Building upon the existing image of the scavenger as an
and bottles during the day and for storage of collected materials during the night. autonomous, active individual, the vehicle attempts to function as a visual
Crowds of homeless redeemers outside of supermarkets have become commonplace analogue to everyday objects of consumption and merchandising (such as food
since the Bottle Bill went into effect in 1983. vendor carts) and to create a bridge of empathy between homeless individuals
In their familiar position of supplication and helplessness, homeless and observers. The use of a vehicle fashioned specially for their collection
individuals do not stake a claim to the territory that has been taken from them. activities makes visible the fact that scavengers, like other urban citizens, are
They are reduced to mere observers of the remaking of their neighborhoods working for their subsistence.
for others. Their homelessness appears as a natural condition, the cause is The goal of the vehicle project is, therefore, two-fold: to fulfill the need of
dissociated from its consequence, and the status of the homeless as legitimate homeless people for a means of transportation and shelter, and to aid in creating
members of the urban community is unrecognized. a legitimized status for its users in the community of the city.
The activities of scavengers and the growing numbers of what one reporter The prototype vehicle bears a resemblance to a weapon. In our view, the
described as their “gaily decorated” shopping carts have played a role in altering movements of carts through New York City are acts of resistance, opposing the
the public perception of homeless individuals. Their visibly purposive movement continuing ruination of an urban community that excludes thousands of people
through the city gives them an identity as actors in the urban space. Since from even the most meager means of life. Though the transformation of the
scavengers are mobile, they cannot be walked away from or easily dismissed as city, which has compelled so many people to survive through the collection of its
silent non-persons. Where the immobile figure’s status seems provisional and detritus, is an outrage, we must all be forced to recognize the value and legitimacy
ambiguous, the scavenger stakes a claim to space in the city and indicates his or of their daily work.
her membership in the urban community. Since its first presentation at the Clocktower in January 1988, the Homeless
The shelter vehicle attempts to function usefully in the context of New Vehicle underwent preliminary tests on the streets of New York City. The working
York City street life. Therefore, its point of departure is the strategy of survival model was discussed with scavengers and passersby. Drawings and documentary
that urban nomads presently utilize. Through discussions with scavengers, we material were shown to architects, artists, urban geographers, social workers,
developed a proposal for a vehicle to be used both for personal shelter and can activists, and journalists. These tests and discussions resulted in many practical
and bottle transportation and storage. An earlier design was shown to potential suggestions, critical comments, new concerns and ideas. New developments in
users and modified according to their criticisms and suggestions. Since the design urban politics, such as the Koch administration’s construction of floating shelters for
developed through reference to the needs of a specific group of homeless people, the homeless and the confiscation of homeless people’s belongings and destruction
all of whom are tall, male, and physically strong, it is possible that it may not be of their habitat in City Hall Park, as well as resistance to the curfew and the related

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anti-gentrification riot in Tompkins Square, have intensified the gravity of the situation Poliscar
for which the vehicle was intended, requiring additions to and reinforcements of its
functional and symbolic program. These include the following: 1991

Mobility
— A simple suspension system, larger wheels, and other adjustments to
facilitate increased maneuverability over curbs, potholes, and steps.
Safety
— A simple brake system both for slopes and for parking while resting or
148 sleeping.
— An emergency escape system in case of fire or attack.
— A lock and alarm system to protect collected goods and personal property.
— Rearview mirrors and emergency signals to protect against traffic.
Variants
— Versions of the vehicle responding to the needs of various users, in
particular those of women scavengers.
— Transformation of the vehicle into a vendor’s cart for selling found goods,
such as clothing, magazines, etc.
— Assembling vehicles in groups as collective habitats or defensive
encampments against police harassment.

Originally published by the authors as a photocopied brochure distributed during


the exhibition Public Image: Homeless Projects by Krzysztof Wodiczko and Dennis The name of the vehicle, “Poliscar”, comes from the same root as “police”,
Adams, New York: The Clocktower, 1988; reprinted as “Conversation about “policy”, and “politics”, namely from the Greek word for city-State, polis. In
a Project for a Homeless Vehicle”, October, no 47, winter 1988, pp 53–67. Ancient Greece the word referred more to a state of society characterized by a
In 1988 and 1989 four variants of the Homeless Vehicle, differing in the sense of community and participation of the citizen (polites) than to an institution
materials with which they were constructed and resulting in various technical or a place. To be a citizen is by definition to be a legitimate and protected
improvements, were tested, used, and publicly presented in the following places: member or inhabitant of the community and, as such, entitled to the rights and
Variant 1 in City Hall Park and the parks across from the Criminal Court and privileges of a “freeman”. Poliscar is meant both to underscore the exclusion of
the Municipal Building (Manhattan); Variant 2 in Tompkins Square Park and the the homeless from the city community and to provide them with some means of
surrounding area. Wall Street, and the area around Battery Park (Manhattan); participating in it.
Variant 3 in Central Park, Grand Army Plaza, Fifth Avenue, across from Trump The homeless population is the true public of the city in that they literally
Tower, and Battery Park City (all Manhattan), and in Greenpoint Park (Brooklyn); live on the street, spending their days and nights moving through the city, working
Variant 4 in Washington Square Park and the surrounding area and the area and resting in public parks and squares. The contradiction of their existence,
around Broadway-Lafayette (Manhattan), and in Dilworth Plaza, Rittenhouse however, is that while they are physically confined to public spaces, they are
Square, the area around the Liberty Bell, the area around City Hall, and the politically excluded from public space constitutionally guaranteed as a space for
National Temple Recycling Center (all in Philadelphia). Those who tested and communication. They have been expelled from society into public space but they
used them include Robert of “Dinkinsville”, New York; Allan Benjamin, Oscar, are confined to living within it as silent, voiceless actors. They are in the world but
Victor, and Daniel of Tompkins Square Park, New York; and Vanessa Brown, John at the same time they are outside of it, literally and metaphorically. The homeless
Alston, and Vernon Wilson of Philadelphia. are both externalized and infantilized, and as externalities and infants they have
neither a vote nor a voice. As long as the voiceless occupy public space, rendering
them their voice is the only way to make it truly public.
1 Quoted by Josh Barbanel, The New York Times, 19 January, 1988. Poliscar is designed for a particular group of homeless persons, those
2 Coalition for the Homeless estimate, reported in New York Newsday, 4 January, 1988.
who have communications skills and the motivation to work with the homeless
3 The New York Times, 4 April, 1987.
4 See Deutsche, Rosalyn, “Krzysztof Wodiczko’s Homeless Projection and the Site of ‘Urban population in organizing and operating The Homeless Communication Network,
Revitalization’”, October, no 38, fall 1986, pp 63–99.
an important part of which will be the fleet of mobile communications and
5 Quoted by Paul Goldberger, The New York Times, 17 January, 1988.
6 “David Brinkley Report”, ABC-TV, c January 1986. living units—the Poliscars. The vehicle will respond to some of the most urgent
7 Gross, Jane, The New York Times, 9 November, 1987.
communication needs of the different groups within the homeless population.
It will be serving mostly those who live on the streets and in empty lots, helping

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them learn and expand communicative strategies and technologies, some of certain labor markets. Employers who wish to employ homeless people
which are already well developed by the homeless who inhabit abandoned could use the network as a database as well as advertising for their own
buildings—the squatters. It will establish links between various encampments, needs. Events (fairs, theatrical, and musical performances, etc) could be
forming new social ties and leading to greater intercommunity and urban listed as either public or private listings.
organization for this emerging constituency.
Through The Homeless Communication Network and its equipment, the Equipment:
Poliscar will: Portable Microwave Link
Key Poliscars within The Homeless Communication Network will be outfitted
A Increase the sense of security among those who live outside by with Ikegami PP-70 Portable Microwave Links. This is a line-of-sight video
150 transmitting emergency information, such as early warning of planned transmission signal requiring a low-power transmission license from the 151
evictions and other dangers facing both the homeless and non-homeless Federal Communications Commission (FCC). A parabolic antenna with split
in troubled areas. Its use can help them organize quick and massive social RF units mounted on the top of the Poliscar will be equipped with Transmitter
action in the face of impending actions against these populations. In this and Receiver Control Units capable of two-way transmission on a single-
way the position of the homeless living in empty lots will be closer to that frequency band.
of squatters who are already developing telecommunications systems for A 13-GHz unit with a 0.5-foot parabola antenna can operate at a distance
the same purpose. of three to seven miles from its field pick-up site on the 82nd floor of the Empire
B Help develop forms of communication necessary for the participation State Building. Poliscar locations not capable of direct line-of-sight transmission
of homeless populations in municipal, State, and federal elections. The will require an IF Through-Relay System positioned on a nearby rooftop to provide
Homeless Communication Network and Poliscars will provide a medium for the necessary link from the ground to the Empire State Building.
articulation, exchange, and confrontation of ideas, opinions, experiences, Video signals from a Poliscar in one community can be directed to
visions, and expressions among different groups in the homeless population. the repeaters on the Empire State Building and transmitted as scheduled
Concurrently, it can take advantage of material and information transmitted communications to Poliscars across the city, providing a political and cultural
from other networks. information link between communities within The Homeless Communication
C Develop a sense of social and cultural bonds among the members of Network. Manhattan Cable receiver antennas also positioned on the Empire State
the groups. This implies an increased understanding of antagonisms Building can provide access to the larger community of the city through public-
and differences, resulting in a decrease of tension and the alienation of access cable systems.
one homeless group or individual from another. At the same time, the
preconceived, fixed, and a priori image of the homeless population and CB Radio
its identity produced and reproduced by existing official networks of The Homeless Communication Network is a mobile land-radio service. The FCC
communication will be challenged by this experimental speech-act machine allows the existence of such networks for private and special-interest public
for homeless self-representation and expression. communications. The CB radio component of the network is comprised of mobile
D Help create and record not only images but also individual histories of the units (Poliscars) and one or more base stations. A “mobile station”, such as the
homeless. History in this context means the relationship between the present Poliscar, according to FCC definition, is used while in motion or during halts at
situation and the changing city, and the changing life of that person within it. unspecified points. Usually, a mobile station means a radio-equipped car, truck,
Democracy, liberty, and identity are all forms of continuing practice that cannot motorcycle, or other single-operator vehicle. A base station is installed at a fixed
be separated from the instances of their expression, communication, and, by location to communicate with the mobile units and other base stations. CB radio
implication, reception by the larger population. systems operate independently from other communication systems.
E Produce both image and sound programs that could aid different CB land-radio services use half-duplex and full-duplex audio operations.
groups and individuals to considerably extend and expand existing A half-duplex system allows communications in two directions but not
action groups’ constituencies and constantly update the information in simultaneously. First one communication takes place, then the other. A CB
professional areas such as: legal aid—listings and interactive forums for system’s half-duplex modes require only one frequency. The range between mobile
issues within the realm of the law; medical aid—health and drug advice; units is shorter than between mobile units and the base station. Vehicle-to-vehicle
social crisis aid—helping people to communicate with one another in range is from three to ten miles, vehicle-to-base from 5–15 miles, and base-to-base
critical situations; taking into account the specificity of their life on the from ten to 50 miles. FCC regulations limit station antenna height to 20 feet above
streets, encampments, and squats through counseling by homeless and natural formations and existing architectural structures.
non-homeless psychologists, sociologists, etc; expression and individual
histories; formulation of political, educational, and aesthetic strategies. Electronic Communication and Other Equipment
F Help the economic system of the homeless population enter the larger Each community equipped with a Poliscar will generate information and
economic system of the city. There is a possibility of advertising skills and communications with video recorders and surveillance cameras. A Star Tech
commodities and using the communication system for job listings within Video Sender can transmit a high-frequency video signal for short distances

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between an active camera and its Poliscar. This allows mobility of a camera An Interview with Bruce W Ferguson
unconstricted by cables.
Beside the motor is a locker for the various materials that the urban 1991
nomad must carry with him or her at all times: water and other beverages; food
supplies (eg, special-diet food); baby food; dog food; cooking tools; equipment
for washing; emergency medical kit (including emergency shots for infections,
medication for asthma, diabetes, and for malnutrition, poisoning, and drug or
alcohol overdose, sleeping aid, vitamins, birth control, pregnancy tests, AIDS
tests, etc, along with a medical history); gas mask; umbrella; suntan lotion
152 and sunglasses; alarm clock; stationery; books; toys and games; audio and
video tapes; disposable bags; spare parts; tools (eg, flashlight, binoculars,
tools for emergency repairs and for attaching the vehicle to other Poliscars);
and valuables (money, personal and official documents, food stamps, drug and
alcohol reserves, etc).
The homeless are treated, at best tolerated, as aliens on their own planet.
This ‘alienation’—making into legal aliens legitimate operators within today’s
city—has the vicious effect of excluding not only the homeless, but us, the
‘community’, from those real masses of ‘strangers’ from whom we are estranged
and with whom we presume to have no common language. In fact it is the
strangeness of the situation that we project onto the other rather than confronting
it together.
This contradiction—to us they may seem strange in the city, but are not
strangers to the city—results in a contradictory and complex identity: the savage
homeless in a noble city, or the noble homeless in a savage city. Squeezed Bruce W Ferguson: Krzysztof, what were the circumstances surrounding the
between this play of images, the homeless themselves, in their complexity in original idea of a vehicle for homeless people?
a complex city, remain out of the picture, which has no room for the real life of Krzysztof Wodiczko: I began thinking about it in 1983. In the area where I lived,
people who happen to lack a dwelling. near Union Square in New York, you could see on a monthly, almost daily basis, a
growing number of homeless people. But I don’t remember exactly when I made
the first drawing.
Originally published as a brochure titled Poliscar, New York: Josh Baer Gallery, 1991. BWF: You could have made clothes, or worked in a shelter, or found some other
way of dealing with this issue. Was it because you had made or proposed ‘ironic’
vehicles when you were still working as an industrial designer in Poland that this
idea occurred to you?
KW: Yes, I just thought of how I could best contribute from the strength of my
professional and artistic background. I saw myself as someone who could come
up with something based on my industrial design experience and education. It’s
not true that a designer can design everything, or that every artist can be or is
a designer, and I’m more comfortable with industrial design than with clothing
design or social work because of my background and skills.
I was also working on projections or maquettes for projections that dealt
with homelessness, like the proposal for image projections onto statues in Union
Square. I was thinking of presenting the first sketches of the vehicle at the gallery
49th Parallel where I had shown those, but I rejected this idea because the
drawings were not developed enough.
BWF: Is there an implication in what you are saying that the vehicle addresses
the limitations or constraints of the projections?
KW: Yes, definitely. The projections rely on images, existing images. The
recognizable, circulating image of the homeless—a romanticized media image—is
already an image of a victim. For the projections, I had to rely on those kinds of
images which are already carved into the memory of the viewers. And then I would

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try to carve those images onto the monument in a fitting way. The technique is counter-image or a counter-monument. Only once have I projected a reproduced
complicated, but its aim is to question both the contemporary media image and image from a magazine cover, like the Pershing missile. Mostly, I have made
the monument as image—to create an embarrassing or disturbing connection, a models of missiles to photograph and to clarify certain aspects of them. By
contradictory relation between the two. doing this, I can prepare them for the photograph in such a way that they will
But I knew that a designed vehicle—a ‘pragmatic’ and a symbolic object— have certain structural qualities of the monument in order to make an organic
could create even more of an intervention in terms of the way in which people counter-connection.
perceive the homeless. I believe that there is more for the non-homeless and for the BWF: Could you talk about an example of a projection in which the monument has
homeless to think about when they suddenly are confronted with a new architecture a generic quality, and how you married it to an image from a recognizable code?
and a new space. In other words, I began to build a new kind of monument. KW: The projection of a missile in Stuttgart is the most perfect example. The
154 But those thoughts came later. At the time, the real motivation was the structure of the monument was a classical column. It is already a missile. And 155
urgent need I felt to supply whatever skills and experience I had to this debate. missiles are always displayed as columns. They are neo-classical monuments of
I understood that it would be a critical and aesthetic intervention, but I also slippery powers. In earlier projections I dealt with ideas of the body—an official
hoped that I could get closer, through my own work, to the real situation of body; the body as facade—from images in which the media present people like
homelessness itself. That I could help not only the non-homeless but also the buildings. I dealt with the way the media turns those photographs and people into
homeless; become a partner or a colleague, not someone who is just looking at monuments. I also dealt with the way buildings are constructed and the facades
them from the other side of the image. are often photographed, by emphasizing their symmetrical features to show a
The projections, as spectacles, act as a critique of representation by human face and the force of the corporate body. Neo-classicism resembles our
addressing the image of the homeless in relation to other images, and they are bodies because it is deliberate morphology. The question was always how far I
important as such. But the vehicle enters unknown areas as well, and breaks should go with the similarity between the image and the building—between these
the isolation of myself, the artist, from the situation. The vehicle forces a very two parallel bodies—and how much should I alter them.
real social engagement—discussions of design and compromises introduced by With the projections on monuments, I wanted to break the distance from
homeless people themselves. I think that there is an ethical complement to my the monument by creating something frighteningly real and living, like a ghost
industrial design practice—my history of doing this in Poland and the particular haunting the monument. To achieve something like the statue in Don Giovanni, who
education I had—which recognizes the need for something and, rather than finding starts speaking of the terrible things that have happened. There are things the city
a solution, adds a work or supplements reality in a positive and performative way. doesn’t want to talk about, and these are meaningful silences, which must be read.
And only design can do it, really. My projections are attempts to read and carve those silences into the monuments and
BWF: Obviously the media representation you mentioned is a voice which speaks as spaces that propagate civic and dramatic fictions within the social sphere.
though for society when it actually speaks only for a few vested interests. As does the BWF: How do the vehicles act as characters in such a narrative?
monument in its present state. They are both pseudo-voices, in effect. How do you KW: With the vehicle, firstly we have users and their relations to the object, and
feel the artist can speak between those two images, or does the artist speak through then we have viewers who are potential users, who have to imagine if this is an
them? How can the artist be more authentic? object for them. They examine it in relation to how it looks as a newly introduced
KW: I don’t have a clear theory on this. I know there are some theories, but object. So the vehicle is a kind of projection too, a projection into the world of
for me it’s always very important to project onto the monument something that objects. Its differences from and similarities to other vehicles, such as shopping
corresponds to life—to something real—to make the monuments pregnant with carts and cars, are discovered quickly and easily.
something real. The irony is that, of course, it is not real, it is only an image, and And there is also a desire to touch it. So there is a close contact through
by necessity it must be recognizable as a media image. In other words, it has to the object to the user—the other—who owns or operates it. It is an eerie situation.
be a quotation, appropriation, or displacement of an image. Why is the other person using it? And how can I, the viewer, get permission to
I would prefer to come up with something that isn’t a quotation—without touch it and use it, even partially? When we tested it on the streets, no one asked,
any reference to a media image—and I often try to use some other icon, but which “Why are you homeless?” or “Who are you?” Instead they asked, “Why is this
is as immediately recognizable. I don’t work by simply taking a media image and wheel here?” or “Why is it this color?” or “How much does it cost?” and “How
projecting it. I photograph all my images, and I try to rely on something attractive many of these are produced?” There are certain techniques of speaking through
and dramatic, like the cover of a crime novel, for instance. The image has to the object that I discovered in testing this vehicle. Then the user might become
have those qualities or no one will even see it. I simply eliminate images that a performer, in answering or not answering, or themselves questioning these
won’t be recognizable or strong enough, clear or crisp enough, because people questions: become an artist, so to speak. The vehicle becomes a performative
have difficulty recognizing icons they haven’t seen before—grasping new iconic operator, a medium, a stage, or a prop, or an occasion. It becomes a forum by
arrangements in a short time. being an object—a legitimate object. And the user—a homeless person—develops
But in a sense, art was always doing this anyway—photography, his or her own talents for public communication and performance by performing
architecture, planning, advertising, painting, sculpture, film, and television rely with this vehicle.
on existing codes. So, for me, there isn’t a big difference, in the end, between In fact, the vehicle became a disturbing communications medium and I
the monument and the projected image. However, I do make the image as a hadn’t predicted the many responses to it. There was a desire for it, a social desire for

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Interrogative Design


it, and the question was, what to do with all those desires? I can’t produce many of homeless vehicles being everywhere and replacing, or altering substantially, the
vehicles because I don’t have the money, and it was never clear, even to me, if it was a environment. And this image will stay. And that image, because it is reproduced in
good enough prototype anyhow. And if it were to be manufactured in units of 30 or newspapers, journals, or on television, and through word of mouth, already makes it
50, they could claim a certain territory and social presence, but they would need an seem that hundreds of these vehicles are on the move.
organization. And the vehicle itself can’t create an organization. I think it worked for several years. But I cannot take responsibility for the
So there were suddenly all these desires and questions in the minds of fact that everything acquires a mystique and eventually loses its meaning. You
people on both sides of the vehicle. Through this object, questions and doubts cannot be responsible for the fact that our art raises itself or becomes shallow
and fears, but also utopian visions, were communicated, and helping people with time and changing circumstances. What is important is what is actually
to concentrate. Just about everything that happened in testing the vehicle on happening at the very moment of the introduction of the work, between active
156 the streets is invisible, because even in photographs or written descriptions of and passive actors, and how this is reorganized by introducing this vehicle. It 157
this project the object is only seen partially. Because it was really an event, and was reproduced everywhere and it was discussed. Now it’s being dismissed as a
because of all the different inquiries meeting and crossing and reconverging failure because it’s not being genuinely produced. But I think it was worth doing
within it, the description of the vehicle is exhausted too early, so that it becomes because I was genuinely surprised by the amount of debate and discussion and
a theory of sorts. exchange it provoked and still arouses. This is the way in which the vehicle is
But the object was not outside of anyone anymore. It was the center of being produced.
many things—it became a critical point. Impossible, and in fact undesirable, BWF: Do you think that your projects act as a kind of visible conscience—in the
except to a few, it became too much for many people to take. And the moment sense that they relentlessly record the idea that someone unofficial is witnessing this
of saturation on the street was very revealing to me. After absorbing all the process of homelessness as it is being institutionalized, named, and codified within
questions, the vehicle became the explosive implosion of the problem. the official circles of media and other authorities of classification?
Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised, because this is what design KW: The artist as a kind of tower? Or guard? Yes, I think they may be disturbing
is. Or what design should be. It is not just something useful, nor is it just an the kind of confinement of reality through images and concepts, and by
image with certain associations. It is also an event—a social experiment that is reorganizing the connections that people make. Such projects might add to
also a philosophical experiment. It is something that disrupts reality. It creates alertness in place of passivity. They help to communicate because they disrupt
questions with no answers, but it is suddenly more real than something written, communications in the city.
for example, because of our complex relation to objects. They always seem to be Yet we have no clear way to consider design as a critical practice. Even
more disturbing in their merciless, naked presence. The vehicle is both there and if only a preliminary social experiment, as the vehicle is, we don’t know how to
not there; it is sculpture and not sculpture. It is an object and an idea at all times, discuss such events or designs, and we come back to the shortcomings of theory.
which was the most fascinating and insoluble part of its reception. And the limitations of language. Because we don’t know how design ‘works’, or
BWF: You talk about the vehicle and objects as “adding to” or “increasing” what happens when design appears.
or “complementing” a debate—expanding it. But it also seems to me that just This is especially true in a situation of such complexity and magnitude as
as it increases, it decreases. Because it seems like a solution, it may raise urban crisis. It is also true because we are talking about individual perception and
expectations which can never be met. It starts to take on a kind of pathos or imagination and how, when a voice occurs through an object, we would need a
melancholia precisely because it can’t be a solution. phenomenological approach as a starting point. We would have to enter a world
KW: I agree and disagree with you. I don’t know if, when I agree, that means it that is very intimate—what is happening to everyone’s mind and body in this
is a failure. It is an answer that is more of a proposition than a solution, or it is provoking situation, and how everyone’s reactions are voiced.
an impossible ‘solution’. But it is true that after all the technical questions which Thus we enter a world of fantasy, fictions, fears, the unconscious
brought people closer through indirect inquiry, people began to close it off and acceptance, false statements, and a variety of other responses. The object begins
make it into a new monument called the Homeless Vehicle. Because suspicion to collapse under the weight of an incredible load of inquiry, appropriations, and
remains between the non-homeless and the homeless; so it is easier to return to mental, metaphoric use. It might even start to function as a nightmare. Sometimes,
naming it, just as The Homeless was the name of a monument before the vehicle when David Lurie and myself write to city departments, we don’t even receive an
was on the street. answer. It’s almost as though the project description already acts as someone’s
For the homeless and non-homeless alike, the vehicle seemed like a beginning. It nightmare or guilt. Jacques Lacan might say that the fact that the letter is sent
looked like a weapon—a projectile—and immediately both groups projected onto it the doesn’t mean that it is received. Maybe some completely different letter is received
idea of a mass-produced object. It created an impossible image of a solution—the image or the answer is sent to somebody else.
of an army of masses of people with those vehicles. This could be seen as a criticism So what happened with this vehicle? It is not something that can be
of it, but I think it was morally and politically critical as it became infused with critique, easily confined in a normal art discourse, although art, too, has its normal—
and that’s why it worked. impossible—objects. But this new monument seems very complicated. I can take
Mass production of it will never happen. It is impossible economically, politically, responsibility for the first reading of it. But I would like everyone to help me to
technically. And I would be the first to make it impossible if anyone wanted to try to figure out what really happened, so I would consciously know the entire world of
produce them. However, it did effectively produce a monumental image of masses responses this project created.

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Interrogative Design


BWF: Could you say that, beginning with the projections in Halifax which dealt abandoned because no one wants to think about ‘him’ any more, of what happens
with gestures and codes of authority, your artistic trajectory has moved more around him, because it is too difficult. How, for instance, can we see Lafayette’s
and more toward an admission of the subjective element of both yourself and ideas in the context of the present social, political, and philosophical crisis of
your audience? democracy? The procedures inscribed in the American Constitution, with their
KW: Well, in the beginning it was not as closed as you describe it. It was open ideas of a guarantee of happiness and freedom, seem not to be working. So
enough. It was still to be completed in the mind—somewhere between those Lafayette and others are being erased and repressed, yet they are still physically
images of officialdom and the architecture. The South African Embassy Projection standing there. I was interested in how to involve them today.
perhaps had less latitude and was more ‘political’, and my response to the Gulf But there is a problem with simply projecting onto them, and I’m not sure
War in Madrid necessitated a shift from a more open projection to something I would torture history—or, I mean, this past, not history. Maybe those historic
158 directly related to the event—by connecting Franco’s fascist Arco de la Victoria monuments are not only astonished or petrified by what they see. Maybe it is possible 159
to the immediacy of the new declaration of war. But it was not I who made this to say that they turned a blind eye, a blank eye, on past reality. Or maybe the whole
monument, crowded with contemporary politics and the history of politics. It was concept of democracy of the modern kind is simply irrelevant or passé. Maybe there
the events surrounding me and the monument. Otherwise I would be useless, is a point when a new situation requires a break from the past. I think, personally, that
completely. I would be unemployed. Completely. the process of democracy is only in the preliminary stage.
During the October Revolution, artists would have been unemployed if they Nietzsche reflected on history in an essay called “On the Advantage and
didn’t find a formal project related to the social project. So those two projections Disadvantage of History for Life”. And his insight leads me, too, to think that there
existed in situations which demanded that the projects not seem open to a variety is a certain point when history is just an illusion. Because things don’t repeat
of readings. Everything seemed to be clear-cut. For instance, the CNN battalistic themselves. Do we need another Lincoln? Another Lafayette? So my earlier work had
art is actually a direct propaganda work. And I think that the Madrid projection, in these limitations, not only artistic and aesthetic, but philosophical.
contrast to a truly political piece, was actually more of a puzzle for people. At the The design projects may be a response to that constraint, because they
time, what was most unexpected was the actual inclusion of the fascist monument are not actualizing anything past, but simply projecting certain visions of the
in this situation. In other words, it is not what I projected as an image that resulted future—utopian or dystopian—onto the present. To see the present means
in a variety of readings, but the sight of the projection itself, the monument then to use the device of science fiction. The difficulty with Walter Benjamin’s
otherwise usually dark and free from any relation to reality. Suddenly illuminated, it concept of the future and the past finding a home in the present, in a collision,
is a partner to those events. is the actual usefulness of the past. Nietzsche divided history into three
Not only were hundreds of thousands of people killed, electronically, in the categories: critical history, antiquarian history, and monumental history. My
name of some redirection, the access to resources and control over political and projections, supposedly, are works of critical history, not antiquarian since
geographical spheres of influence, but Spanish people were reminded of their own I’m not merely preserving history. But they have to revive monumental history
Civil War and the very active monuments to Franco throughout the country. And in order to turn it into a critical history. But by illuminating it, no matter what
although they seemed not to want to participate in this contemporary war, the I project, no matter how critical I want to be, I bring it to its former glory,
monument was still there, in the dark. And because everyone was a part of that its presence. It still re-emerges from the darkness as a glorious symbol, as
extremely prolonged authoritarian culture, it was through their own experience Nietzsche would say, giving us “a sense that grand things did happen”.
and stories and images that this new war could act to inspire an uncomfortable So to pervert or act as a parasite on those monuments with some
memory. Without the monument, my projection is in trouble because the relation injections, infusions, or actualizations is only possible to a certain degree. Firstly,
between present and past is destroyed. most of the images hardly fit because of the strange shapes and iconography of
The past must be infused with the present to create critical history, according the monuments. And secondly, their formal arrangements are difficult because
to Benjamin and Nietzsche. Watching the monuments to Lenin being destroyed made they are not flat screens. And thirdly, and most importantly, is that we should also
me think there should be a public discussion before any of this is irreversible. The be able to detach ourselves from them in order to stop continuing that discourse
sculptures are witnesses to the past, memorabilia of the monstrous past. In Madrid, of power which they represent. Or at least interrupt it. But to destroy them,
for instance, I thought it was good that this monument of Franco existed. But I’m which people do, I cannot entertain because I am not a physical deconstructionist
only saying that there was neither any attempt to destroy it nor any debate about it of monuments. At the same time, I may be getting tired of making dead horses
at all. That’s what worried me. That such monuments are morally unemployed and kept come alive, like some necrophiliac. And why should I resurrect them from death?
physically and metaphorically in the dark. It is very tiring and I can only do it for a short period of time because of course
BWF: I’ve always been very moved by the way you discuss statues or monuments we know that they are dead. I just bring a kind of artificial life to them as an
in so-called public spaces. You’ve drawn me to the urban crisis and the idea alternative to the artificial character of their lives, and I am a little tired after
that witnesses, perhaps more than critics, are the most disturbing and powerful working with these horrifying structures, these terrible objects, since 1980.
facts for history. Because someone who has witnessed an event always has the BWF: The communications vehicle is both filled with contemporary, up-to-date
potential to change its meaning. technologies, and has the look and feel of a Medieval object. Even if it tries to
KW: Standing in the park at Union Square, the Lafayette monument, a avoid the past in some way, is it inevitable that the past explodes into the present
revolutionary monument, is completely passive—the homeless of history. He is in the sense that Walter Benjamin spoke of?

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Interrogative Design


KW: I think perhaps the communication vehicle (the Poliscar) could be Alien Staff (Xenobacul)
understood iconographically as a kind of grotesque, but it is simply a response
to the image of the contemporary city, which the uniformed police and the real 1992
estate armies have made a militarized zone. And the image of the city being
overtaken by a force of communication vehicles everywhere, an impossible
insurrection, accounts for the ridiculous aspect of its appearance. As Marshall
McLuhan told us, there is not only war but there is a war of icons, and humor
might have a liberating effect—help us to recognize this image of revolution and
the fear of it differently.
160 I mean, if I were to respond to the idea that my work is political art, I would
say that it is not. I would say, however, that it is a work of the politics of art. The
true political art is the official monument, the officially built environment, as well as
aesthetically considered works of any political propaganda or ideology. Repeating my
disassociation form the label “political artist”, I may say that I am perhaps a politician of
art, in the sense of a new kind of Sophist in the contemporary polis; an artist-politician
revealing the politics of the art of official space. My art must be understood, then, as
a form of aesthetic politics; of making space within the space of political art (polis).
Bringing a set of ‘political’ icons, unwanted and disturbing; bringing issues that are
silenced; bringing the private life, so to speak, to this public death; my art, as politics,
may then de-politicize this totally political art—this monument—this city and its image.

Originally published as “A Conversation with Krzysztof Wodiczko”, in Krzysztof


Wodiczko: Instruments, Projections, Vehicles, Barcelona: Fundació Antoni Tàpies, No aliens, residents, non-residents, legal or illegal immigrants have voting rights,
1992, pp 47–65. nor any sufficient voice or image of their own in official ‘public’ space. When given
a chance by the media (mainstream or ethnic) to communicate their experience or
to state their opinions, demands, and needs, immigrants find themselves already
framed and silenced. Feeling set up by preconceived categories of strangeness and
difference, they have no chance to convey the often unbearable complexity of their
lives, the world of differences between them and the confusing and antagonistic
voices within each immigrant group, family, or individual. These are the strangers in
the process of becoming non-strangers, double aliens in de-alienation.
The Alien Staff is a piece of story-telling equipment and a legal and ethical
communications instrument and network for immigrants. It is an instrument that
gives the singular operator-immigrant a chance to ‘address’ directly anyone in the
city who may be attracted by the symbolic form of the equipment, by the character
of the ‘broadcast’ program, or by the life presence and performance of the operator.
The Alien Staff resembles the biblical shepherd’s rod. It is equipped with a mini video
monitor and a small loudspeaker. A video player and the batteries are located in a
specially designed shoulder bag. The small size of the monitor, its eye-level location,
and its closeness to the operator’s face are important aspects of the design. As the
small image on the screen may attract attention and provoke observers to come
very close to the monitor and therefore to the operator’s face, the usual distance
between the stranger and the observer will decrease. Upon closer examination, it
will become clear that the image of the face on the screen and the actual face of the
person holding it are the same. The double presence in ‘media’ and ‘life’ invites a new
perception of a stranger as ‘imagined’ (a character on the screen) or as ‘experienced’
(an actor offstage, a real-life person). Since both the imagination and the experience
of the viewer are increasing with the decreasing distance, while the program itself
reveals unexpected aspects of the actor’s experience, the presence of the immigrant

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Interrogative Design


becomes both legitimate and real. This change in distance and perception might The Mouthpiece (Le porte-parole)
provide the ground for greater respect and self-respect, and become an inspiration
for crossing the boundary between a stranger and a non-stranger. 1993
The first model of the Alien Staff, called Xenobacul in Catalan, was built
and tested in Barcelona in June 1992 with the assistance of Fundacío Antoni
Tàpies and SOS Racisme of Barcelona. The first user was an immigrant from
Burkina Faso. A second model was built and its design further transformed in
New York during the fall and winter of 1992–1993. This new variant of the Alien
Staff differs from the first model in the ways it was developed with the input of
162 a singular person—a story-teller/video-performer, who was willing to present her
own experience and function as a legal and ethical advisor for other immigrants.
This version, with a vertically oriented screen of the “xenoscope” (the top or
crook section of the Alien Staff) for a closer view of the owner’s face, is made of
stainless steel to look more powerful and respectable in the New York context. The
new “xenolog section” (the central part of the rod of the Alien Staff) is made up of
interchangeable cylindrical containers for the preservation and display of precious
relics related to various phases of the owner’s immigration history. This version has
become something of a reliquary, with containers for such relics as rejected visa
applications, immigration and legal documents, apartment keys, old photographs,
and the various identity cards acquired by the owner. Through pre-recorded video
broadcast and live narration, these accounts of the immigrant past are recalled in
the face of the immigrant present and become an art of critical history and a critical
vision of the future.
The first operator of this version of the Alien Staff was Jagoda Przybylak, a The Mouthpiece (Le porte-parole) is a piece of equipment for strangers. It covers
prominent Polish artist-photographer, who moved to New York in 1981. Forced by the mouth of the wearer like a gag. A small video monitor and loudspeakers are
immigrant circumstances, she took various jobs of Polish women: “plejsy” (cleaning installed at the center of the instrument and in front of the user’s mouth. The
private apartments), “ofisy” (cleaning corporate offices), and “kom-paniony” monitor and the loudspeakers replace the real act of speech with an audiovisual
(accompanying elderly American women). Since 1986 she has worked as an broadcast of pre-recorded, edited, electronically perfected and quickly searched
assistant professor at the New York Institute of Technology, where she presented statements, questions, answers, stories, etc.
herself with her Alien Staff to give the students, professors, staff, and maintenance The Mouthpiece (Le porte-parole) ‘replaces’ the immigrant’s actual act
personnel an opportunity to hear and see the stories of her plejsy, ofisy, and kom- of speech with the moving image of the immigrant’s lips and the sound of the
paniony. The process of telling these stories required recording and much editing. immigrant’s voice. It is designed to be as attractive as contemporary virtual reality
She has found recounting and revealing her often hellish past emotionally difficult, gadgets. The clear resolution of the liquid-crystal screen of the video monitor
but morally constructive in terms of self-respect from others. Details forgotten or attracts viewers’ attention. The small size of the screen (no larger than the actual
suppressed return, providing the possibility of the discovery through language, both size of human lips) forces viewers to come close to the user’s face in order to see the
Polish and English, of identities old and new that go far beyond what is usually taken image of speaking lips and to hear the voice clearly. Thus the distance between the
for granted. immigrant wearing the Mouthpiece (Le porte-parole) and the viewers, non-immigrants
and other immigrants, decreases physically and, hopefully, psychologically as well.
For a speechless stranger living in a culturally, politically, and ethically
Parts of this text were originally published as “The Alien Staff (Baton d’immi- unnatural situation, wearing a piece of artificial and artistically conceived
gre)”, in Espaces de transit, Paris: École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts, speech-act equipment is a natural thing to do. In today’s migration era, the
1992; reprinted in Borja-Villel, Manuel J, Krzysztof Wodiczko: Instruments, wearer of Mouthpiece (Le porte-parole) appears as a prophetic story-teller and
Projections, Vehicles, Barcelona: Fundació Antoni Tàpies, 1992, pp 303–306 a poetic interrupter of the continuity of established life in public space and
and in Wodiczko, Krzysztof, Critical Vehicles: Writings, Projects, Interviews, the dominant culture. This stranger becomes an expert and a virtuoso in the
Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999, pp 104–105. Between 1993 and 1997, technology and the artistry of speech, equipped to speak better than others who
more than 20 persons used various variants of the Alien Staff in Barcelona, Paris, have yet to overcome speechlessness in their encounter with strangers.
Marseilles, New York, Houston, Stockholm, Helsinki, Warsaw, Rotterdam, and The Mouthpiece (Le porte-parole) is a further evolution of the Alien
Boston. These were refugees, immigrants, and in some cases citizens who are Staff as the next generation of speech equipment designed for immigrants.
perceived as foreigners in their own countries. The previous instrument was meant to operate as an attribute, an artifice,
a reliquary, a portable memorial to recall in public the ‘private history’ of the

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Interrogative Design


immigrant experience. It functioned as a third party between immigrants and non- With the use of digital technology, the process of recording and editing
immigrants and among immigrants themselves; it functioned as the immigrant’s the image and sound of a speaking mouth will become an artistic endeavor.
double, and as an inspiration for dialogue between the segregated worlds of the The process of composing and pre-recording each speech act in private is
people who entered into conversation around it. The new instrument is a more psychologically, politically, and artistically as important as public live performance
radical type of equipment. It is directly attached to the body (the face) of the and its social discourse. Advanced video editing, digital enhancement, and
immigrant, becoming an extension of the body. The user himself or herself is no transformation of both the image and the sound of the speech (through the most
longer delegating power to the instrument, but is integrated organically with it, recent Macintosh software) is critical to the project. The technology of video
transforming him or her into a kind of cyborg, a virtual subject. production will help to create a metaphoric synthesis of often overlapping and
The Mouthpiece (Le porte-parole) points to the absurdity of any attempt to displaced memories, fragments of experiences, statements, stories, words, and
164 deprive people of speech rights in a democratic society. It responds to the actual sentences, all of which correspond to the unstable identity of the stranger who 165
political process and experience of such deprivation, while at the same time it is living through the pain of displacement and becoming. Electronic montage will
helps to translate this disadvantage into a new advantage. In other words, it is allow for changes in the speed of the lips on the screen and the change of frequency
an instrument whose function is to empower those who are deprived of power. characteristics of the sound, for dubbing, correcting, playing with and multiplying
It is designed to assert the universal communicative rights introduced by the accents and gender indicators. Fragments of films and other videos can be inserted
Declaration of the Rights of Man in France, assured by the First Amendment and other people’s lips can be juxtaposed with those of the immigrant, for example.
to the Constitution of the United States, and guaranteed by most national The careful choice of locations and situations for the performative use
constitutions since. An implication of these declarations is that no artifice can be of the Mouthpiece (Le porte-parole) is crucial. Official events and symbolic
created to restrict communicative rights and, conversely, no artifice whose aim environments are the best, because they are the situations where immigrants are
is to aid in the exercise of communicative rights can be legally banned. Its basic least expected. The presence of a group of Mouthpiece (Le porte-parole) users
purpose is to provide a means of saying all the things that must be said and that is also essential. The image of a crowd of aliens appearing as if they have just
no one wants to hear. In doing so it does not prevent anyone else from doing the landed from another planet (which happens to be our own) is most desirable.
same. The Mouthpiece (Le porte-parole) is thus a democratic artifice. In the next stage of development of the project, a portable computer
The Mouthpiece (Le porte-parole) allows its owner to compose and prerecord and additional electronic devices will be added to allow for quick searching
his or her act of speaking and to replay and re-enact it later, in a particular chosen through a large repertoire of pre-recorded speeches using the operator’s voice
time and place, in private or public situations. This process reinforces a specific as a command. In this way the immigrant will have a greater variety of speeches
kind of power already acquired by immigrants, the artistic power of speech invention ready for all anticipated situations and will be able to choose the appropriate
and story-telling. The story-teller has always been forced to develop an art of speech videotape to respond immediately to any question. As portable equipment
in order to tell what has usually been untold and for which there is no ready-made improves technically, links to satellite communications and the Internet will allow
metaphor. The story-teller creates a situation in which repressed feelings, translated an immediate dialogue among Mouthpiece (Le porte-parole) users, enabling an
into stories, can be effectively expressed. The wearer of the Mouthpiece (Le porte- exchange of experiences and coordination of their presence and their actions
parole) is a story-teller who is an expert in the technology of speech in the cyberspace nationally and internationally.
era, an alien who has arrived in a xenophobic land and who looks strangely familiar to
us who have yet to overcome our speechlessness in the face of our repressed fears.
This project, like the previous Alien Staff, creates an artifice that provokes Originally published in the catalogue ARS 95 Helsinki, Helsinki: Museum of
or inspires communication or translation, a display of what is usually hidden. The Contemporary Art, 1995; reprinted in Wodiczko, Krzysztof, Critical Vehicles:
instrument suggests an acknowledgment of the richness and complexity of people Writings, Projects, Interviews, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999, pp 118–121.
who combine both ‘natural’ and ‘artificial’ qualities in life. This means that feeling Between 1994 and 1997 13 persons used various variants of the Mouthpiece (Le
artificial (not at home, alienated from oneself or others) becomes a process that porte-parole) in Paris, Malmö, Helsinki, Warsaw, Amsterdam, Trelaze, and Angers.
can open up new questions and introduce the possibility of different identities and These were refugees, immigrants, and other culturally displaced persons.
communities beyond nationalisms and fixed notions of difference, crossing social
and psychological boundaries, meeting on new common ground, however shaky and
displaced such ground may be.
‘Aliens’ equipped with specially designed instruments might appear
perfectly natural in the contemporary migratory environment of global
strangeness. Exposing their own disintegration and displaced identity, they
provoke and inspire the larger process of the disintegration of identities among
non-immigrants. They may spread the communicable (contagious) process of
the exploration of one/s own strangeness. They might help create new links and
affinities between immigrants and non-immigrants on the basis of the recognition
of their common strangeness.

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Interrogative Design


Variants of the Mouthpiece would feed into both the amplifier-speaker and the speech detection circuit. When the
operator begins speaking, the detection circuit suppresses the pre-recorded material,
(Le porte-parole) and the operator’s amplified voice is heard through the speaker. When the operator
stops speaking, the detection circuit re-connects the pre-recorded audio to the speaker
1995–199 7 and re-enables the video display.
In the second scenario, the pre-recorded audio-video speech would be
activated by the operator’s live speech. The pre-recorded video speech would be
superimposed over the direct, amplified acoustic speech of the operator, creating
a sense of interruption and contradiction rather than dialogue. There would,
however, be an alternating rhythm of speech and silence: when the operator stops 167
speaking, the pre-recorded speech stops as well, creating silence. When the
operator resumes speaking, the silence is broken not by a single voice, but by the
superimposition of the pre-recorded audio-video speech and the operator’s speech.
The equipment needed for this experiment is the same as for the first
experiment, except that the custom circuit would be slightly different. In practice,
we would make a single circuit with a switch to determine whether the system
would operate in the first, ‘dialogue’ mode, or the second, ‘contradiction’ mode.
The third scenario would involve a more intelligent, though perhaps more unruly,
Mouthpiece (Le porte-parole) unit. The videotape player currently in use would be
replaced by a small computer, and the video and audio would be stored, indexed, and
retrieved digitally. Furthermore, the computer would continuously monitor the signal
A later variant of the Mouthpiece (Le porte-parole) is equipped with a more on a microphone inside the Mouthpiece (Le porte-parole), and would be hypersensitive
powerful loudspeaker and a more stable and adjustable head attachment. The and hyper-responsive to certain words and their configurations through the use of
video-monitor section can function in two main positions: in front of (covering) the voice recognition unit. When it detected one of a set of special words or phrases
the operator’s the lips. The second position allows for speaking simultaneously (“immigration”, “home”, or “where are you from?” for example), it would trigger a
with two voices and ‘two lips’: the real (natural) and the virtual (pre-recorded related video segment on the display. The rhythm of the interaction between the
and transformed electronically). The disclosure of the previously hidden mouth operator and the pre-recorded material would be ‘more chaotic’ than in the first two
of the stranger helps to establish direct contact and dialogue during the public scenarios: at certain times neither source of speech would be active, at others just
encounter between the operator and interlocutors on the street. one ‘speaker’ would have the floor, and at still other moments both would be active. In
A prototype of this model was built by Brooklyn Model Works and was used variants of this scenario, the pre-recorded video segments might be triggered by special
in France in the summer of 1996 thanks to the support of the French Ministry of words spoken by the interlocutors into an externally mounted microphone, or by either
Culture. The present proposal offers three further elaborations of an experimental, the operator or the interlocutors. This would lead to still more complex speech rhythms.
interactive Mouthpiece (Le porte-parole). The first two are technically straightforward. This digital video version of the Mouthpiece (Le porte-parole) system might
The equipment necessary for the third may be prohibitively expensive. The include a wearable computer, which would be responsible for both the voice
mechanical parts of the new Mouthpiece (Le porte-parole) would be built by the recognition and digital video display. As an example, the Phoenix-2 computer is
Brooklyn Model Works, while the electronic part would be developed by the Physics based on the Intel 486DX-33 processor, and comes with 680 megabytes of internal
and Media group at the Media Lab of MIT. In the first scenario, the video- and audio- hard disk storage and built-in voice recognition capabilities. This amount of storage
recorded speech would be interrupted by the operator’s speech. The operator and enables it to store substantial amounts of digitized audio-video footage.
the recording would take turns, creating a dialogue between pre-recorded audio-video To improve the sound quality of the Mouthpiece (Le porte-parole), a low-
speech and direct, live, amplified speech. The gaps in the operator’s speech would frequency speaker could be included as a part of the equipment worn by the
always be filled in by the recorded material, eliminating all silences. The acoustic operator, in addition to the medium- and high-frequency speakers already installed
sensitivity would be adjustable. Different sensitivity settings lead to different artistic in the Mouthpiece (Le porte-parole). The low-frequency speaker would improve the
effects. For example, the system might interrupt very fluidly, aggressively filling even perceived sound quality, making the operator’s voice and the pre-recorded material
the normal gaps between words. Or it might be set more sluggishly, hesitating several more understandable. But because the human ear uses only high frequencies to
seconds after the operator had stopped speaking before ‘replying’ to the operator. locate the sources of sounds in space, the presence of this additional low-frequency
In addition to the existing Mouthpiece (Le porte-parole) unit, with its video speaker would not change the apparent origin of the voice inside the Mouthpiece
display, speaker, and video tape player, the additional apparatus needed for this (Le porte-parole). This is a well-known and frequently used principle of sound design.
experiment includes a microphone to be added to the Mouthpiece (Le porte-parole)
unit, a simple custom speech detection circuit (to be built in the Physics Lab within Originally published in Wodiczko, Krzysztof, Critical Vehicles: Writings, Projects,
the MIT Media Lab), and an improved amplifier-speaker system. The microphone Interviews, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999, pp 122–124.

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Interrogative Design


Ægis: Equipment for a City new community of difference. I imagine crowds of strangers presenting themselves
in such unsolicited disclosures as they make their way through the city. To help
of Strangers them do so successfully amidst the stormy interferences of the contemporary
world of communications and media is the purpose of this special psycho-
1998 communications equipment.

Technical Description
The Ægis is composed of a set of two wing-like screens enclosed in a backpack
hanging from the shoulders of its wearer, to be activated by a staff carried by the
wearer. When the wearer is ready to deploy the equipment, the screens will unfold 169
in response to physical, mechanical, or verbal cues (delivered either through
pressure on the staff or words spoken into a microphone, for example) and
simultaneously play pre-recorded video and sound images of the wearer’s face
driven by a laptop computer.
Each of the many sequences will be activated by a specific cue, a given
word or phrase designated in advance by the wearer. A microphone with a voice
recognition system is fitted on the tip of the staff carried by the wearer, with a
small shield to protect from the intrusion of ambient sound.
A more advanced version of Ægis will react to the changing verbal
environment at any given place or time. It will respond to words spoken both by the
wearer and by interlocutors. It will also react to words detected in conversations
The Ægis the most recent instrument in my Xenology series, but, unlike previous occurring around it, as well as any verbal material being disseminated by electronic
instruments like Alien Staff and Mouthpiece (Le porte-parole), it may be freely used media in the area. The voice-recognition system, microphones, and power supply
by anyone undergoing alienating experiences, not just immigrants. The ægis was will be located in the shield-like housing covering the shoulders and chest of the
the cloak of Athena, bearing a Gorgon’s head, that she used to protect herself and wearer. This version will be hyper-sensitive and hyper-responsive to certain words
others. The instrument is a piece of equipment designed to represent dual (and or sentences, and will ‘hear’ and ‘overhear’ preselected speech without regard to
often dueling) truths, those living contradictions that both define, depict, and can speakers’ intentions or the discursive context. In response to detected words, it
sometimes destroy individual existence. Socrates, himself a stranger in Athens, will unfold its wing-like screens and activate their spoken responses automatically,
appeared in three different roles: technician-teacher, prophet, and truth-teller. The selectively, and without warning. The investigative argument between the faces
truth (a-letheia: that which is not to be forgotten; rescued from Lethe, Oblivion) seen and heard on the screens will explore and expose their perplexed and critical
demands an ethics of “response-ability” that can withstand even the threat of reactions to the word or sentence that triggered the response. The Ægis will
being silenced. Revealing the complex truth of experience requires showing the appear as a device, a prosthesis, or a bodily extension that overreacts and behaves
contradictions—that between authenticity and assimilation, or between liberation ‘inappropriately’, with no ‘self-control’. In order to calm puzzled, amused, or
of oneself and being bound to or for another. For example, an adequate answer to disturbed interlocutors, the wearer may choose to ‘explain’ to them the ‘symptomatic’
the seemingly simple and well-meaning, but ultimately deeply insulting, question, nature of the instrument (as one does on behalf of an unruly child), to switch the
“Where are you from?” can only be given in the form of a dialogue between device off (folding and silencing the screens), or to let the Ægis continue speaking.
concurrently present images, and can never be achieved without revealing one’s
own contradictions. Perplexity can only be met with complexity. The containers Preliminary discussions with potential users suggest that the most favored verbal cues
of these contradictory images require an opener; and the process of disclosure, for Ægis wearers revolve around the question “Where are you from?”
opening up—whether through a physical effort on the part of the messenger, some
mechanical device, or, best of all, a sensor that responds to a verbal cue—is the Transcript of Preliminary Video Recording, to be Played Simultaneously on
heart of the Ægis. Two Screens of Ægis
The appearance of the stranger, in this new identity wearing and operating
the proposed equipment, resembles that of an angel or prophet. The author of Left Screen
this project believes that contemporary strangers intentionally or unintentionally Where are you from?
perform an angelic or prophetic mission in today’s migratory and alienating Where are you from?
world. They are messengers of a better world to come as well as critics of the Where are you from?
unacceptable world in which they live. They announce and denounce the world. Enough!
They are also discoverers of themselves in the process of disintegration and I don’t want to hear that any more!
becoming, and invite others to join them in this self-exploratory process toward a Fi-gu-red out!

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Interrogative Design


I don’t want to be figured out. Reconstructed,
Pigeon-holed. Remodeled,
I just don’t, that’s all. Strong.
What if we had met somewhere on a trip around the world, and you asked me, With faith in oneself
“Where are you from?”, and I asked you, “And you?” Because she proved herself in a foreign country.
Fine. Everything in order. We’re in the same boat.
And here Is that me?
You’re on your, your own home ground,
And me from somewhere else. But there’s that tiny nose-tweak.
170 From where, then? “Where are you from?” 171
Am I to explain how I got to your country? Is the building already tottering?
Just a minute—
Can’t this country be my country, too? Right Screen (continued)
Am I supposed to go back where I came from? You recognized my accent,
You shrug. And asked where I was from.
You don’t understand what I mean. Just like that.
So ask, “just like that”,
Right Screen About anything else.
Is that any way to start a conversation? —My shoe size
Where are you from? —Do I like wild strawberries?
I’m from here! I’m me. —Do I have goldfish?
Just like you. But don’t ask,
You’re yourself. “WHERE ARE YOU FROM?”
With your own first and last name. Because that question creates an abyss between us
And it makes me feel
You’re so smart— As tiny
You figured out my accent. As a dwarf
So quick? Next to you.

Where am I from?— And I thought


I’m from outside. I was grown-up.

What good will my answer do you? Do you really


Want to be
Maybe give me a feeling of inferiority. A giant
Next to me?
And you a feeling of superiority.

You’re from here. Originally published in Wodiczko, Krzysztof, Critical Vehicles: Writings, Projects,
Interviews, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999, pp 133–136.
Your Highness.
Ægis was developed in the spring of 1999 with the assistance of Adam Whiton,
Left Screen (continued) Sung Ho Kim, and other members and students of the Interrogative Design Group
Settled down. at the Center of Advanced Visual Studies at MIT. Kelly Dobson, Jagoda Przybylak
Pacified. and Jerzy Stypułkowski were consulting xenologists. Steve Weiss of Parallel Inc
Feeling at home. and John Kuntsch of Brooklyn Model Works will collaborate in the fabrication of the
No longer thinking of escaping. final working models of the Ægis. The same team assisted in the development of
Independent, the Mouthpiece (Le porte-parole). This project was supported by the MIT Council
Independent, for the Arts and the School of Architecture and Planning.
And again, independent.

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Interrogative Design


Dis-Armor hoshi kabuto, the helmet, with its horns and the horo (silk screen) extended
between them, and the fukikaeshi, helmet flaps, with the shikoro no ita, the
1998 crescent neck-guard, and the sendan no ita and kyubi to ita, the right and left
chest-guards as an additional possibility. It will not be so much a question of
aesthetic parentage or illusion, as of creating a contemporary allusion to a cultural
form so central to Japanese iconography and self-representation. For example,
the tactility and craftsmanship of Samurai yoroi, with its cords and panels,
resembles nothing so much as the mode of fabrication of electronic components,
and antennas and a flat-panel computer screen easily replace the horns of the
helmet and the silk screen of the horo. One historical precedent is the festival 173
known as Hyakumonozoroi Sennin Musya Gyoretsu, which originated in Nikko
to commemorate the first shogun of the Edo period, where children parade with
adults dressed as Samurai. More recently Kunio Ogawara has designed the Zeta
Gundam, a robot-like “extreme machine” that could constitute a playful but
critical opening towards a “humanistic Samurai”, a countervailing force to the
figures school-age children are now modeled into.
Acknowledging our own Samurai-ness is deliberately anachronistic
and contradictory: as a warrior’s code, the Bushido had an ethic with both
individualistic and democratic elements, but within a warrior culture that now
needs to be evaluated and re-evaluated. Furthermore, the demise of Samurai
culture in the last third of the nineteenth century was intimately bound up with the
creation of democratic institutions in Japan, with no small contribution on the part
of Samurai themselves, some of whom launched movements for popular rights
As was the case with the Bushido, ethical integrity in the age of democracy cannot and representative government based on the models disseminated through the
be attained without the shared sense of a moral code. The goal of the equipment “civilization-and-enlightenment” societies of this period. The proposed equipment
to be designed is to aid in the enabling and mastering of critical, honest, and will articulate another historical passage, that of the warrior of the bloody
concerned public speech usually concealed behind the masks and armor of proper battlefield, through the warrior-functionary, to the present-day warrior of peace,
social behavior, which keeps private personal experience—a shameful secret—from responsibility, and honesty, rather than honor alone.
becoming a vital contribution to democratic discourse and process. The failure to The ethical premise of honor without suicide as a solution to the problem
develop an ability for openness and criticism creates a feeling there is no room for of being ‘de-classed’ is a thoroughly modern one. The Samurai, however, was
honorable private pain in the public sphere, leading to the kinds of self-destruction trained for destruction and self-destruction from youth, and remained ever ready
often observed among adolescents. This may either take the form of social suicide— for demotion or death. This new equipment provides an occasion for revising the
self-exclusion represented by a refusal of the sociality and sociability of school, often outdated aspects of that ethical code and enable an internal psychological and
replaced by the alternative society of gangs—or that of the increasingly observed cultural chitsroku shobun, one which, rather than requiring any form of violence or
rises in adolescent criminality, murder, and suicide among teens. An “emotional violent behavior, challenges and transforms unlivable social realities through public
democracy” needs to be informed by the equal development of a critical “emotional speech acts that preserve our well-being.
literacy” based on a process of individual but passionately shared consciousness- As it was stated earlier, the design of the instrument, and its visual, technical
raising, during which the ‘personal’ is transposed into the ‘historical’ to use Walter and ergonomic form will draw inspiration from the upper body components of the
Benjamin’s words, to form the vision of a better future society as a whole. Samurai armor with the greatest focus on the helmet and possibly on some other
The project will take advantage of experience accumulated in my previous components referring to the chest-guard and arm-guards.
work on instruments like Alien Staff and Mouthpiece (Le porte-parole), and The flat panel monitors will most likely be located at the top of the helmet,
more recently in the ongoing work on Ægis, but also represents an entirely or on the sides of the helmet, symbolically referring to the silk screen of the horo
new field of endeavor. For the first time, an instrument will focus exclusively or in a way similar to two horns such as kuwagata, or in another variation to the
on the psycho-social situation of school-age youth, and refer specifically to the ‘roll-back’ helmet flaps or fukigaeshi. The other option will be to position those
cultural and historical traditions of Japan. The instrument in question will be a monitors in the way that arm guards were attached to the body like osode.
piece of portable equipment that joins the ancient traditions of representation In either of the cases proposed above, the flat panel monitor (or the two
and mediation. But this Dis-Armor is a new kind of cultural armament, whose flat panel monitors) will mechanically unfold revealing the speaking face(s) of
function, perversely enough, is disarming—through the honesty, charm, and the user-performer in response to particular words or sentences picked up by
aesthetic elegance and performative virtuosity of the user-wearer. The referent the microphones, the voice recognition unit from the immediate environment
in question is yoroi, historical Samurai armament and ornament: primarily the (people speaking among themselves or to the user-performer) or words spoken

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Interrogative Design


by the user-performer herself or himself. The microphone and voice recognition Open Transmission
unit as well as loud-speakers may refer aesthetically to the character of the
ornamentation chest guard of the Samurai warrior. 2000
The project will consist of a minimum of three but preferably five wearable
instruments. Each of the proposed instruments will be equipped with small laptop
computers similar to the type currently proposed by Sony, with detached flat
panel monitors as well as speakers, microphones, and the voice recognition unit.
The voice recognition unit and microphone will be a triggering device
controlling the operation of the computer whose memorized, pre-recorded
174 program (voice and image of the face of the user) will be visible on the screens of
the flat panel monitors as well as heard from the loudspeakers.
The user-performer, a school student, will need to develop an ability
(through the process of trial and error), to speak and to record on video his or
her personal statements, recollections and responses, as well as selected key
words which will trigger the public broadcast of the recorded material during the
performance. The process of selecting, recording and editing of the these words
will need to be emotionally protected by the understanding, trust, and generosity
of the teacher, the psychologist, the artist, and of a person operating the camera
and assisting with the digital editing process.

Originally published in Takeshi, Matsuoka and Toshiya Echizen, The 4th


Hiroshima Prize: Krzysztof Wodiczko, exh cat, Hiroshima: Hiroshima City Museum
of Contemporary Art, 1999, pp 174–175. The city operates as a monumental stage and a script in the theater of our way
of life, perpetuating our preconceived and outdated notions of identity and
community, preserving the way we relate to each other and the way we perceive
others and ourselves. An intense presence of historic monuments, advertising,
communication media and urban events merge with our own daily personal
performance into one uniform aesthetic practice that dangerously secures the
continuity of ‘our’ culture. Media art, performance art, performative design: they
must interfere with these everyday aesthetics if they wish to contribute ethically
to a democratic process.
They must interrupt the continuity of existing social relations and
perceptions that are well entrenched in the theater of the city. Such arts, using
the words of Simon Critchley in Ethics of Deconstruction, should “interrupt the
polis in the name of what it excludes and marginalizes”. To preserve democracy
one must challenge it; one must challenge its symmetry with an asymmetry of
ethical responsibility.
The issue of sharing a permanent presence with other people has already
been raised. Permanent presence, or the presence of the other, suggests
establishing some kind of communication with another party in order to cross
barriers, walls, distances; or breaking down the alienation or estrangement
between two different groups. Yet there has not been much said about the actual
world in which we live. It would be a great delusion to assume everyone is in
an equal position to share, to open up towards the other, to communicate his
or her own presence and existence, to learn from somebody else’s experience
and to accept the presence of the other. This is definitely not the case today, in
an era which has been called by the United Nations the “migration era”: an era
of international xenophobia or a fear of the other. This is also an era of uneven
social relations affected by uneven urban development; an era of urban struggles,

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Interrogative Design


of survival through resistance as in the situation of the homeless or of street they cannot confront the presence of a stranger any more than they can confront
children born into poverty, hopelessness, violence; or of people who live with HIV their own strangeness, which is well repressed and hidden in their unconscious.
infection, and many other marginalized and alienated individual beings, groups They would prefer to expel the stranger, rather than accept him and thereby
and populations. These people are definitely not in a position to share or even recognize their own strangeness. If, however, there was some kind of strange
make their experience publicly known. object between this person and them, they would focus on the strangeness of
If we are talking about technology then we must also think about the object first, somehow putting aside for a moment the presence of a stranger.
communications technology. What is the position of communications technologies Perhaps in this intermediate moment, through this intermediate object, they
in the troubled communications breakdown that we are experiencing today? If we might more easily come to terms with some kind of story or story-telling, some
are so divided, then what is the meaning of an interactive situation between me kind of performative experience, some kind of artifice, something artificial enough
176 and somebody else in order to work together, communicate or share things? If for them to accept the reality in a step-by-step way. I think that’s what Freud and 177
new forms of alienation are emerging today, forms that are yet to be discovered Julia Kristeva meant when they were hoping for an artifice to help people come
and studied, that’s where I see the relation between ethics and aesthetics and to terms with ‘uncanny’ strangeness. Of course they would want to establish a
technology. The more clearly I see it the more dissatisfied I am with my own playful distance from their own fears through an artifact. That object does not
work, which definitely still needs to absorb a lot of issues. I realize how behind I yet exist; or rather, I have not yet managed to construct one successfully. I only
am in terms of the technological options we have, and the great possibilities that attempted to do so and this is an experiment which probably will last quite a
are there. When I speak with my colleagues in the Media Lab at MIT, I realize long time.
how late I came into the field of technology. There is already a new generation Such an experiment is a risk worth taking. The city is worth nothing if it is
of people (especially undergraduate students) who are much better equipped not open to strangers or the estranged. Technology or design is worth nothing
at programming than are graduates or researchers. There is an incredible gap if it cannot create such an opening. Each time the experience of a stranger is
between those opportunities and the new responsibilities that they bring. It is understood and heard, each time such acts occur, the city wakes up and comes
in this situation that I am trying to present my work, which will perhaps inspire back to life. It brings back hope for all of us if the city is a place of hope for the
younger people to push it much further. I am trying to catch up with them—and stranger. To heal one estranged speechless soul in the city is to heal the entire
they are hopefully trying to catch up with me—in this area of art and technological city. My role is to contribute to a therapy for the city and for its speechless actors.
ethics: an ethics of cyborgs, an ethics of interactive environments and so on. The instruments that I design are an attempt to do this. My interests in psychology
The problems that are at the center of my work as a designer are: how to and technology merge as they do at MIT; but somehow social ethics is not yet a
confront the communication gap, and the absence of, or the need for, something powerful component in this merger. At MIT my role is to bring this component as
in-between our strangeness is a strangely familiar secret, an uncanny condition a part of my art and my design.
which, when kept in the ideological cave of our subjectivity, can explode against My first experiment was a very simple attempt to re-actualize so-called
the presence of the actual stranger. For those in transit, the state of being a ‘primitive’ technology. A walking stick, the ancient technology of the transient,
stranger accumulates as an experience with no form, language, expression, the messenger, a migrant or a prophet—a staff with specially-designed code of
or rights to be communicated. It thus becomes a dangerous psychic symptom, interchangeable carvings—could become a symbolic inscription for migratory
which Julia Kristeva has called the “condition of the migrant”. Between the experience. For example, being deported (expelled from a new country) three
speechless pain and despair of the actual stranger, and the repressed fear of times would be articulated through three forms attached to the staff; or if
one’s own strangeness, lies the real frontier to be challenged. Can art operate someone spent one year in transitional camps, or someone worked illegally for
as a revelatory, expressive and interrogative passage to such a frontier? Can a year or two, those things could be carved or sculpted on the staff. Of course,
it be an inspiration of, a provocation to and an opening act for a new form of that idea needed to be abandoned very quickly since all of the Departments of
communication, a new form for a non-xenophobic community? Can it provide an Immigration—which are de facto Departments of Anti-Immigration—would have
iconic object, a symbolic environment, an interface, with which to create or design learned very quickly about this ‘secret’ code, and no immigrant would risk using
such a reconstructive psycho-cultural project? The stranger is not equipped to such a walking stick openly.
deal with this framing, colonizing, intimidating gaze. Nor is he in any position even At the top of this walking stick, called the Alien Staff, 1992, there was a
to accept his own experience of crossing and trespassing, of the whole process video monitor and a loudspeaker which would represent the speaking face and
of ethical and political survival, of living through it all and opening it up to find the the voice of the stranger. Using this walking speech-act instrument, a stranger, a
form and the language to present it, expose it, announce it to others who are not story-teller, would feel he or she was perceived as a respectful and articulate actor
open to hear it. in today’s urban landscape. In this way the stranger could be reinforced by his or
So some equipment, some ‘thing’ in-between him and himself is needed, her Le porte-parole (spokesperson), as a companion, a confidant. There would
first as a kind of psychological object, a new form of what DW Winnicott might now be two of them: the stranger as a character and as an actor. The pre-recorded
call a “transitional object”: an object that will allow him to play and achieve and well-edited speech—the story-telling—could be broadcast with the comically
a distance, perhaps even an ironic distance, from the painful and impossible disturbing presence and speech of the actual person who recorded it. The relation
experience, in order to stand behind or next to his own experience and somehow between the stranger, his or her media image and anybody on the street—the
open it up to the non-stranger. The non-stranger needs the object as well. For interlocutors—would possibly create a complicated discourse in which the stranger

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Interrogative Design


could disagree with what was pre-recorded, because every time the story-teller her part. She rejected this project and at the same time she was allured by the
speaks, the story would be different. The interlocutor could then ask questions possibility of exposing the history of her experience to a world ignorant of it.
related to the lower part of the Alien Staff—the history of displacement inscribed She also felt a need to share this with somebody, as well as with herself
there—and the third person would come and start responding to the discourse and even with her own consciousness. The process of video recording—of
with larger questions, questioning the questions, questioning the discourse and recalling details, trying to find documents and other relics, editing the story,
speaking on behalf of ‘we’ rather than only ‘me’ and the ‘other’. This would create translating very often from one language to another, speaking in two languages
a political, critical and ethical field where both the interlocutor and the stranger, to the video camera—finally began. The same stories are different when spoken
by referring to what was pre-recorded and what was broadcast, could actually in different languages and on different days. To put it together, to concretize it
take up an external and critical position to it. At the next stage of the experiment, in some synthetic way, is also to release the incredible load of speechless pain
178 I realized that I needed to replace the carvings of the lower part of the Alien and responsibility for carrying all of this inside as a secret, as a uselessly hidden 179
Staff with interchangeable transparent containers: containers for sacred relics, testimony to truth. Once the story is next to her, her strangeness is estranged
important documents, and objects of historical value for the stranger. The stranger from her in a healthy way; she sees and hears it now at a distance. She can
is treated, and at best tolerated, as someone who does not have a history and must know now that her anger and alienation are contained there (the psychological
use story-telling, magic, song and other forms of performance and entertainment to container is important here) and now she can be open. She can be very polite,
insert his or her own history into the official culture; to propose himself or herself she can negotiate between herself, her pre-recorded double, the other person and
as a history. The issue is, what kind of history? The history of the time before the third person. She can also reserve her right to disagree with her double—her
crossing the border, or the history of the time after crossing the border—and I am Alien Staff—at any time. As one rabbinical scholar said: “The one who believes the
emphasizing the history after one has crossed the border—that is, the history of the story is a fool but the one who denies the story is a wicked non-believer.”
entire population, society or nation. This history is a performative kind of story that It is a myth that immigrants can understand each other. In fact there is a
will eventually be distorted and absorbed by the grand, national mythology and the world of disagreement and antagonism between them as much as there is a world
city’s monumental narrative, only to be challenged again later by another stranger. of disagreement and antagonism inside of each immigrant. The boundaries and
The recollection of past experience infused by the present in part creates de-militarized zones inside the mind of the migrant are in the process of shifting;
a completely new history of the present, a critical history of the present. If I go they are unstable, so in a way the possibility of internal conflict is as close as the
through all the miseries of the past five or ten years, I must reuse them to imagine possibility of external conflict among the different ethnic groups, and of course
that this is going to continue; that the future is going to perpetuate that misery between each of them as individuals and the rest of society as well. This is why I
for myself and for my children. Therefore I—an immigrant and a stranger—am am thinking that the Alien Staff can be expanded and absorb more contemporary
announcing what is wrong today. My utopia is based on a refusal to accept the technology, allowing strangers—their operators—to communicate with each
place in which I am—a new concept of ‘no place’—­as utopia. Utopia—that is a other when they ‘broadcast’ and speak. At the same time they could provide
place that is unacceptable; and the hope that is born from this unacceptable a communication service as social aid for the larger immigrant population and
experience is extrapolated into the future as another side of this utopia—so that everybody else, assuming that, for example, some of the immigrant operators
the future will not repeat the injustices and catastrophes of the present and of the would become agents or ‘angels’ (l’ange ou l’agent), or messengers who could then
past. This concept of recollection, or remembrance, of critical re-actualization and visit or explore different areas of the city where immigrants live. Such angels would
critical history, is located somewhere in-between Friedrich Nietzsche and Walter not only open up their own experience using the Alien Staff but also establish trust
Benjamin. According to Stéphane Mosès, Benjamin suggested that the process (play and trust are interconnected according to Winnicott) to such a point that they
of progress should be replaced by the process of remembrance and recollection. could then transmit back and forth questions and advice. The questions would
His utopia was functioning as the hope lived by the mode of the present, rather usually be legal ones, but could also be ethical ones directed to the communication
than as a projection of an ultimate social solution. I understand all immigrants base (the xenological base run by xenologists: immigrant experts on displacement),
as prophets, as prophetic peoples who through their disturbing performance and existential philosophers and legal advisers. Such an Alien Staff as a network is
recollection of their present experience are each day announcing a better world probably a very important option since many of the immigrants are not in any
for all of us. “The Messiah interrupts history”, says Benjamin. psychological, economic and social position to seek help or advice on their own and
A Polish exile living in Brooklyn who went through hell working day and take advantage of their rights, if they still have any.
night without documents and as a slave, as a domestic laborer, for a woman, the Versions of the Alien Staff were used in Barcelona, Warsaw, Helsinki,
oppressor. The exile had no choice, terrorized to the point where she entertained Stockholm, Rotterdam, Houston, New York, Boston, Marseilles, Paris—used
the idea of committing suicide, or giving up the job and going back to Poland, all by many people in many places even though there are only six of them. They can
of which were equally impossible solutions for her. She survived this but she kept be shared and their containers and videotapes are interchangeable. Confidence
it to herself or to be precise, to her unconscious. She never really spoke about is a very important result of many of the conflicts, once one is prepared to
all of this with anybody. When I suggested this instrument to her she rejected open up within the situation of the studio. A video camera is very patient. But
the possibility of ‘using it’ on the spot. Mentally she needed “to destroy” this then to accept this is another story. Once all of this is accepted it opens a new
instrument—the Alien Staff—in order to later accept it step-by-step and perhaps possibility: of thinking about one’s own identity and participating in an experience
in the end even to become addicted to it. At first it was a perplexed reaction on and a life that is much richer, much more complex, than is the case for those

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Interrogative Design


who never cross the borders. Then confidence and respect become a motivation there are electric sensors being used here. This means that hand gestures towards
for an action, or a speech-act, which is much more critical and demanding or each container can speed up speech ‘switching’ on the particular story related to
provocative. It might perhaps reach the point, as in one particular case, where the particular personal relics. It can modulate in a variety of ways to make it more or
person is invited to a TV station and appears on the national news. On occasions less hysterical, comical or strange, depending on the virtuosity that is demanded
(and it has already happened twice), immigrants appeared on the official TV on the part of the stranger—a performative virtuosity. Those metal components
screen armed with their personal televisions, with both virtual and actual well- are actually functioning sensors; all of this technology was developed in the
prepared statements, stories and visions. 1930s by the Russian inventor Leon Theremin who invented an electronic musical
So those are the three models historically lined up. The next generation instrument named after him and operated by gestures. The Media Lab at MIT has
of immigrant instruments, called Mouthpiece or Le porte-parole, is not for further developed this system using new minicomputers, programs and microchip
180 everybody—but only for those who really want to use it. This is not an artifice technology in this and other new instruments to increase performative quality. 181
positioned next to the stranger. This is a cultural prosthesis which can help the Story-telling will become new art and new craft. It took many months for Joshua
stranger him or herself to become a powerful artifice, perhaps a cyborg. This Smith of the Media and Physics Group at MIT to complete the program for this
equipment is to be used by those who are extremely angry and determined instrument. I realize only now how long it takes to work with this new technology
to speak. But also by people that feel more ‘cyborgian’ than others. A cyborg and new research. Two years is a very short time when it comes to programming
is a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism—a creature of and experimenting with new interactive equipment. So I am behind my schedule!
social reality as well as a creature of fiction. Social reality is linked to social But the new instrument, the new Alien Staff responds with its stories and their
relations, our most important social construction, and to the world of change variations to many gestures already. The Prophet’s Prosthesis is coming soon!
and technological development where, as Donna Haraway said, the “distinction
between science fiction and social reality is an optical illusion”. On this basis the
immigrant is, in fact, partially artificial and partially natural. It is also possible Based on a lecture given at the ICA, London and originally published in Read,
to say that once one becomes or is forced to operate this way, then maybe, as Alan, Architecturally Speaking: Practices of Art, Architecture and the Everyday,
Haraway said, “de-humanization is so inevitable that we might as well learn to like London: Routledge, 2000, pp 87–107.
it”. If we can.
Of course, the emphasis here is a prosthetic device. A prosthetic device
is not only like an additional part or a replacement for a lost body-part, but also
empowers or extends the ability of a human or an animal. In this sense the
cyborg analogy is very close to the experience of migrants, and, as Haraway
also suggested, to women and other groups that are marginalized, silenced and
oppressed. There is no way back to the ‘lost land’ or ‘paradise’. In the proposed
Mouthpiece (Le porte-parole) the combination of the deprivation of rights—speech
rights—and the reinforcement of speech ability is ironic enough to let us find some
kind of analogy to Haraway’s concept of the cyborg, which she called an “ironic
metaphor”. This gag—this loudspeaker like a cyborg—takes irony for granted.
These are my hopes and my ideas. My design and organizational projections
have not begun to materialize yet, but more and more is possible. Right now at MIT
we are experimenting with a version of the new Alien Staff that further develops
the possibilities for artistic virtuosity. Gesture is, of course, a very important part
of what is happening around this ‘sacred object’. Strangers assume “Baroque
personalities” according to Kristeva: overemphasizing things, accentuating, full
of gestures, in order to compensate for the lack of adequate communication
and abilities. And ‘locals’ seem to be immobile, completely opposite, making no
attempt even to exchange a gesture. As the stranger becomes a non-stranger,
the non-stranger must become the stranger, and somewhere half-way a new
communication, a new community, is possible. In the new version of Alien
Staff, the original antenna is probably not necessary but is an ‘ambient’ and
important symbol of the possibility of a transmission between or among each of
the instruments and the base. The larger form of the head of this instrument is
to do with the need to reinforce sound via the large speaker, which can be more
effective in an urban environment. Also new containers are being tested, so one
could show or conceal what is inside: there are two options. But most importantly

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Interrogative Design


Monument/
Projection

Proposal for a public projection at Place de La République, 2000

Democracy/Avant-Garde
I Want to be a Catalyst fashion, complete this unfinished adventure or architectural enterprise through a
symbolic act.
an intervi e w wit h Wil lia m Fu r lo n g WF: So you want to expand the issue beyond the immediate piece of architecture
1988 you are working with to the notion of site and of how a site can relate to the
resonance of what is around it. The Calton Hill site overlooks the city and in that
sense the site is seen to engage with the social, economic, cultural, political and
historic issues that are part of the resonance of the city.
KW: It is surrounded by those issues, but it is distant. It creates a platform,
a deck; reflective but distant.
WF: In a way, then, what you are attempting to do is to bring all of those notions 185
together through your work. The work becomes a sort of catalyst for those issues.
KW: Yes, I just want to be a catalyst or to provide an entry. I want people to talk
to each other in front of this projection. I would like the representatives of those
different groups to whom this hill belongs, including tourists, to start asking
questions and maybe some explanations or descriptions could be exchanged. In
addition, I hope that some of the groups or some very active individuals who are
running alternative programs—inner city social programs—will also come and
maybe distribute their information and leaflets. I won’t mind this. I would actually
like this to happen.
WF: In a way the work would set up another sort of map of the city, an authentic
one, which is much more concerned with the reality of everyday existence. I suppose
what you are really talking about is authenticity in terms of the experience of what a
city such as Edinburgh represents.
William Furlong: Krzysztof, there seem to be two primary characteristics to your KW: It is an interruption of the spectacle. Maybe not with a counter spectacle,
projected works. First, there is the way in which you engage with the specific as it is very hard for me to compete with the Edinburgh Festival—especially the
meanings of a piece of architecture. Second, you present your works outside a illumination of the city—but the form of disturbance will itself be spectacular in
visual arts context, so that you are making an intervention into the real world, to some way. One also has to see that the city is already an event in itself and there
put it simply, and people without art knowledge are encountering the works you are events which project themselves on to those structures without my work. It is
make. Could you expand on the sorts of relationships that you are interested in with just a matter of, perhaps, helping to concretize them visually and concentrating
particular reference to the Calton Hill project? attention, in maybe a synthetic way, in selected sites. In New York, for example,
Krzysztof Wodiczko: The structure we are discussing is the skeleton of the front the homeless now number 100,000. Their habitat is usually sites and monuments
on the unfinished temple which was to be a monument to those who participated representing, or at least produced to commemorate, acts of individuals or groups
in the Napoleonic campaign—one could say the victims of this blood bath of to secure liberty, civil liberties, the pursuit of happiness, individual freedom,
history. In many ways I think it works better being unfinished as it forces visitors or economic rights for all. The US was formed on the basis of those ideals.
to the hill to work to complete their own vision or to project meaning on to an Here we have Washington, Lafayette, we have Lincoln—statues surrounded by
unfinished symbolic structure. This is much more difficult than projecting a homeless people who live there and who, even worse, actually look similar to those
mental image onto a completed monument. The city is experiencing an extremely sculptures. The possibility of connecting frozen gesture and body cracked through
difficult period of urban crisis, visible, at least to those who are interested to see changing weather conditions, dirt and pollution with the homeless individual
and understand it, in most of the cities in northern England, Scotland and Ireland. is there. Yet there is a gross contradiction between them—a similarity and
They are in some ways similar to what we see in the US or in the third-world contradiction. They should not be together, yet they are bound to exist together.
countries. This Edinburgh—not the official image of Edinburgh—should somehow For a project in Boston, then, I projected actual bodies of homeless individuals
become visible. This is not to say that I am capable of transmitting, with any onto the bodies of those historic figures. The city’s Civil War memorial became a
precision, an alternative image containing all the critical issues related to the memorial to the contemporary civil war. Now I cannot really be as precise on Calton
survival of different groups—the homeless, drug users and addicts, people with Hill because although it is a fantastic site there are not structures like that. Here I
the aids virus, single parents, all the young in those bed and breakfast hotels, will have to be a little more abstract—more indirect.
abused groups like women and those who are victims of violence or who are in WF: Yes I understand what you mean. In a way, by also working outdoors you are
prisons—but what I can do is at least try to challenge or question the detachment using meanings that are already in place. It’s as though people are already aware of
of symbolic structures on this hill from what is happening around it. Let us bring a part of the work but the work itself creates a focus for those issues and concerns.
sign or maybe a gesture, an iconic symbol, and juxtapose it with the architecture, It is not as though you are taking something from outside and imposing it. It is very
with the facade of this unfinished monument; maybe in some way, in a temporary much a part of a set of codes or emblems or myths that we all know about.

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Monument/Projection


KW: It is not like psychoanalytical work on architecture, trying to reveal what Memorial Projection
it contains. It is really a projection of a new context onto those monuments, in
some ways forcing them to speak in new terms or to accept meanings and not 1986
only to accept, but also to articulate this meaning. They cannot really be forced
to say everything I would like them to speak about. I have to accept the way the
bodies are formed and the way their speech is limited. In that sense I have to
work seriously with the architectural form, but there is no necessity to include the
whole history of the meaning of that architecture, although if it could refer to that
history it would be even better.
186 WF: That is interesting, because when we last spoke in 1985 you were using the
architecture of Nelson’s Column and the Duke of York’s monument in London much
more specifically than you seem to be doing now. In fact now you have broadened
your approach to encompass the notion of the site, its resonances, and the way in
which the issues that surround the site can be articulated through the work.
KW: This is a reflection of the transformation of my own work and a shift of focus. But
still all the elements of this work are there. It is just as you mentioned, the accent is more
placed on what is happening around it. More and more, the work is attached to the
urban environment as a whole and less to particular architectural sites.
WF: The way you are talking about your current works is as though you are much
more concerned with making a social intervention, an engagement.
KW: Yes. Perhaps here I should mention another project which has nothing to do
with light and night. It is an attempt to design and manufacture, in a non-mass-
scale way, a series of tools that are instruments of survival for the homeless
in New York. Design objects function very well as communicative structures, Demonstrations! Clashes! Rallies! Voluntary and involuntary assemblies! Battles!
especially in the middle-class consumer culture. The idea is to introduce highly Events pregnant with far-reaching consequences!
articulate, mobile, functional objects, but ones which articulate things people Surprisingly seized by these social and political outbreaks, the old memorial
don’t want to see; which confront the attempt, on the part of the non-homeless, has no choice but to accept its new role and meaning as a revolutionary site.
to erase the existence of the homeless as living and working individuals, reducing To legitimize its historical indispensability during crowded, dramatic, and risky
them to the status of rubbish or a part of the architectural environment—a moments, the crafty monument must welcome and accommodate the optimistic
static one, a monumental one. It might be quite effective, especially if the and full-blooded events cankering into its skeptical, pale, and wrinkled facade.
‘functionalism’ of those objects was revealed. The condition of an individual who If the memorial were to allow itself any resentment or disrespect toward
is intelligent and capable, and is using all his abilities to, for example, collect these events, they would forcefully and mercilessly impose themselves upon it.
bottles, cans or other objects to sell in order to earn a minimum income, is almost Such meaning-forcing acts would be carried out either by physical destruction of
like the lowest degree of enterprise in this highly individualized consumer world. the memorial or, in a worse and more pathetic case, by cultural abandonment,
Yet it also provides an opportunity for those homeless to form a collective habitat. exposing the now-absurd-in-remaining-there poor structure to its shameful and
Architecture and design cannot liberate anyone but can certainly transmit—if they prolonged death from de-signification.
are critical—the real conditions of existence and maybe help people to survive State celebrations... tourism... free entertainment... health and recreation.
better. So this symbolic object might be a clue for a different type of aesthetic The newly erected memorial was an ideological creation of the post-
practice. This is still really the same as an intervention upon an environment. eventful state, which did not camouflage but, quite the reverse, exhibited outright
throughout its entire site its joyless, deadly, and heavy duty: the duty of the emotional
consolidation of the myth of the event as embodying official public value. The
Originally published in Bickers, Patricia and Andrew Wilson, Talking Art 1: Art previously respectful distance (‘historical perspective’) of the memorial from everyday
Monthly Interviews with Artists since 1976, London: Ridinghouse and Art Monthly, life is now being broken. Cold, tombstone benches, regimenting, mountainous
2007, pp 286–289. stairways, brainwashing fountains, architortured bushes, and windswept floors were
intended to banish unofficial life from the memorial’s territory.
Today, the authorities want to add life and ‘social function’ to the memorial
site, to turn it into a ‘humanized’ place for cultural relaxation, a zone of free
festivity, tourism, permanent recreation, and so-called art in public places.
Misattracted by refurbishing and by trivial cultural ‘events’, the confused public
must now learn how to live closer to the obscene necro-ideology of memorial

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Monument/Projection


icons, the naked, cold bodies of the monumentally frozen goddesses, gods, and picture itself will tell. If Mother approves it, the family-memorial-picture will be
heroes of our glorious massacres of humanity. selected and find its place on a prominent page of the official family album.
In extreme cases of life-with-memorial, the public will enter into very close,
intimate, psycho-political relations with memorial architecture, which can then Memorial
lead to disastrous neuropatriotic reactions. Frolicking, making faces and excessive gestures, running, and climbing, every
Thus administered by the department of ‘parks’ and ‘recreation’, height is somehow less restricted here than bodily conduct there, on the street, at
submerged in newly planted vegetation and tranquilized by bureaucratically school, at home, in church, shopping center, cemetery, zoo, post office.
guaranteed positive social reception, the relaxed memorial continues more To straddle its knees; to ride its imperial lions bareback; to slide down
effectively than ever its unchallenged ideological life. along their bronze, monstrously long, thick hair; to climb the shining tangles of
188 their tense muscles. Suddenly, and again, a familiar click of Father’s camera 189
Father interrupts my journey... yet I continue traversing the edge of the bases of all four
The son’s unsuccessful rebellion was not aimed against the legal rules and moral, grand bas-reliefs as if nothing at all has happened. With my stomach and chest
republican guidelines. The rebellion was against the father’s absolute sexual, adhering to the sharp shapes of their belts, holsters, buttons, and insignias, I
political, and social control. David’s fathers, Brutus and the Horatii, serve as continue clothing myself in their uniforms, arming and equipping myself with their
the monumental lesson on the system of the patrio-patriarchate as well as the rifles, bayonets, grenades, and packs. I learn through my fingers and cheek, letter
ultimate social definition of the form of the father’s body: the imperturbable, by letter, sign by sign, emblem by emblem, all the lessons there are to learn. I
unshaken, inflexible, sober-minded, sexless and lifeless, silent, cold, odorous sculpt myself through the recesses, nooks, and corners of the halfway-liberated
with death, ghastly pale (all blood transfused to the State’s disposal), tired but form, halfway-rooted into its flesh, its permanently thrown-out chests, heroic
powerful and self-disciplined, disciplining structure. The body of an unmoving bodies, and corpses.
father, barricading vast social territory, creates heavy traffic; the traffic which the Assuming their poses and gestures, my body grasps their heroic style.
father will then regulate himself. His lifelessness will regulate life; his sexlessness Synchronizing the focus and direction of my gaze with the position of their blank
wants to castrate. stare, I see....
The spirit of David’s model body continues to live its imaginary existence in
the bodies of fathers and in all structures built by them. At the cost of their own Projection
aliveness, their repressed particular bodies must continuously supply life-power The aim of the memorial projection is not to ‘bring life to’ or ‘enliven’ the memorial
to their monumental bodies as memorials to themselves-as-patriarchs. Thus the nor to support the happy, uncritical, bureaucratic “socialization” of its site, but to
body of the memorial, erected in the name of a particular father and a particular reveal and expose to the public the contemporary deadly life of the memorial. The
war, carries out an eternal ideological mission to symbolically secure and strategy of the memorial projection is to attack the memorial by surprise, using
‘historically’ legitimize the perpetuation of the ghastly double myth; the myth of a slide warfare, or to take part in and infiltrate the official cultural programs taking
patriarch as a great, heroic father and that of the war as a sacred, noble sacrifice. place on its site.
In the latter instance, the memorial projection will become a double
Picture intervention: against the imaginary life of the memorial itself, and against the
Where else can one take one’s own camera and one’s own son for a walk? idea of social-life-with-memorial as uncritical relaxation. In this case, where the
Only in the atmosphere of ‘nature’ and the environment of ‘history’ monumental character of the projection is bureaucratically desired, the aim of
can the enjoyment of a walk be sanctioned: a meaningful family pastime, the the memorial projection is to pervert this desire monumentally.
amusement instructive, the chat memorable, the picture-taking purposeful.
While I mimic the memorial’s grand gestures, the loud click of my father’s
camera freezes my body. This sound serves as a signal of formal encouragement Originally published as a section of the essay “Public Projections”, October,
of, if not applause for, bravado. no 38, winter 1986, pp 4­–10.
His busy movements are similar to the merciless procedures of land
triangulation. Following photographic strategy for a full-scale survey, he
repeatedly runs across the memorial grounds, moves from one shooting position
to another, changes the vast battery of camera lenses suspended from his body,
compensates for the difference of their focal lengths by short runs back and forth.
Following his sniper desperation for perfecting a shooting position (as if it were
a real combat operation), he will suddenly fall flat on the flagstone or gravel, go
down on his knees, squat, hop or jump over branches, flowerbeds, and fountains.
But the real reward is yet to come: the shiny color pictures and bright slides. It
is, of course, too early to imagine which particular pose of my body, juxtaposed
with which parts of the memorial body, will please my father the most. Only the

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Monument/Projection


Public Projection Superficially, we resent the authority of its massive monumental structure.
We rebel against a tyranny of its deaf, motionless, immortal walls; yet, in our heart of
1983 hearts, we not only allow ourselves to be outwitted by an academic methodicalness
of the hierarchical order, by its charm, the loftiness of its parts, and the harmony
of its proportional body, but, more dangerously, we allow ourselves to become
intoxicated and seduced by its structural ability to embody and to grasp artistically
our intimate, unspoken drive for a disciplined collaboration with its power.

Social Body
Its body is both individual and social; its harmony is based upon the same 191
discipline, governing a totality of relationships of the whole structure to the
parts and of each part to the other. This embodies and physically represents
the concept of the organization of a utopian society in the form of a disciplined-
disciplining body, allowing for both the multidirectional flow of power and the
controlled circulation of the individual bodies.

The Father
In the process of our socialization the very first contact with a public building is no
less important than the moment of social confrontation with the father, through
which our sexual role and place in society are constructed. Early socialization
through patriarchal sexual discipline is extended by the later socialization through
Motto the institutional architecturalization of our bodies.
Thus the spirit of the father never dies, continuously living as it does
It’s not a matter of emancipating truth from every system of power (which in the building which was, is, and will be embodying, structuring, mastering,
would be a chimera, for truth is already power) but of detaching the power representing, and reproducing his ‘eternal’ and ‘universal’ presence as a
of truth from the forms of hegemony, social, economic and cultural, within patriarchal wisdom-body of power.
which it operates at the present time.
Michel Foucault, “Truth and Power”, 1977 The Medium
The building is not only an institutional “site of the discourse of power”, but, more
The Body importantly, it is a meta-institutional, spatial medium for the continuous and
We are looking at the multiple sites of its body, and at the shapes of its external simultaneous symbolic reproduction of both the general myth of power and the
organs: the colonnades, porticos, domes, helmets, arches, columns, pilasters, individual desire for power.
pediments, stairs, doors, windows.... Attracted by its appearance, we begin to For these purposes, the building is ‘sculptured’ to operate as an aesthetic
gravitate around its body. Gazing, viewing, observing, and staring, we are trying structure, thus assisting in the process of inspiring and symbolically concretizing
to fathom its mysterious grammar. Standing face to face with the front, pacing (reflecting) our mental projections of power.
along the facade, touring all of the elevations of its vast structure, we are being
transformed into the mediums of a gigantic cultural séance. We are being drawn Social Effect
into the magnetic field of its architectural appeal and symbolic influence. The prime occupation of the building is to remain still, to be rooted permanently
to the ground, abstaining from any visible movement.
The Aura This static occupation—annexation of time and territory—creates both a
Crossing the monstrous shade of its elevation, we are halted by the blow of dynamic and a somnambulistic social effect. The ‘aura’ of the unmoving building
a cool wind cruising around the corners of its lofty massif. As we approach hypnotically animates and sustains our ritualistic movement around its body.
its body, we are confronted by an intimate and protective warmth radiating Circulating around and between the buildings, we cannot stop moving. We
through the walls, wings, and open doors, confused with the heavy breath are unable to concentrate and focus on their bodies. This establishes an absent-
of the airconditioning ventilators. minded relation to the building, an unconscious contact, a passive gaze.
We feel desire to identify with or to become part of the building. We By imposing our permanent circulation, our absent-minded perception,
recognize the familiarity of the building, like that of our own body. We feel a by ordering our gaze, by structuring our unconscious, by embodying our desire,
drive to ‘complete’ the building and we desire to be ‘completed’ by it. We sense masking and mythifying the relations of power, by operating under the discreet
that there is something about us which is incomplete, and which can only be camouflage of a cultural and aesthetic ‘background’, the building constitutes an
completed by a full integration with the building. effective medium and ideological instrument of power.

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Monument/Projection


The Method of Projection A Conversation between
We must stop this ideological ‘ritual’, interrupt this journey-in-fiction, arrest
the somnambulistic movement and restore public focus, a concentration of the Douglas Crimp, Rosalyn Deutsche,
building and its architecture. What is implicit about the building must be exposed
as explicit; the myth must be visually concretized and unmasked. The absent- Ewa Lajer-Burcharth
minded, hypnotic relation with architecture must be challenged by a conscious
and critical public discourse, taking place in front of the building. and Krzysztof Wodiczko
Public visualization of this myth can unmask the myth, recognize it
‘physically’, force it to the surface, and hold it visible, so that the people on the 1986
192 street can observe and celebrate its final formal capitulation.
This must happen at the very place of myth, on the site of its production,
on its body—the building.
Only physical, public projection of the myth onto the physical body of myth
(projection of myth on myth) can successfully de-mythify the myth.
The look, the appearance, the costume, the mask of the buildings is the most
valuable and expensive investment. In the power discourse of the ‘public’ domain,
the architectural form is the most secret and protected property.
Public projection involves questioning both the function and the ownership
of this property.
In defending the “public as the communal” against the “public as the private”, the
projection reveals and is effected by the political contradiction of the culture of capitalism.
As private property, the architectural appearance is well protected by the
police, the guards, and the city bylaws.
The attack must be unexpected, frontal, and must come with the night, Rosalyn Deutsche: Last winter you showed the Homeless Projection as a
when the building, undisturbed by its daily functions, is asleep and when its body proposal in a New York gallery. What procedures would be required to execute the
dreams of itself, when the architecture has its nightmares. work in its proposed site of Union Square?
This will be a symbol-attack, a public psycho-analytical séance, unmasking Krzysztof Wodiczko: I can only recall for you the procedures required for
and revealing the unconscious of the building, its body, the ‘medium’ of power. a work proposed for Washington Square in 1984. It was explained to 49th
By introducing the technique of an outdoor slide montage and the immediately Parallel, the gallery that helped organize the project, that permission was
recognizable language of popular imagery, the public projection can become a needed from the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation and from
communal, aesthetic counter-ritual. It can become an urban night festival, an the community board of the area. In that case, the Parks Department had no
architectural ‘epic theater’, inviting both reflection and relaxation, where the street public objections, but the community board, which was asked for approval on short
follows the narrative forms with an emotional engagement and a critical detachment. notice, said no. A single individual, the head of the community board, was
responsible for the refusal, because the decision had to be made in an interval
Warning between board meetings. He explained that the board had refused many other
Slide projectors must be switched off before the image loses its impact and proposals, apparently because they are not interested in organized public
becomes vulnerable to appropriation by the building as a decoration. events, which they feel would disturb the normal activities of the park. As you
know, Washington Square has a very rich life, students, people exercising,
Post Scriptum drug traffic. I haven’t attempted yet to realize the Homeless Projection, but I
assume the procedures would be the same for Union Square.
It may be noted, by the way that there is no better start for thinking than Prospect Park, which administers Grand Army Plaza, where I did a
laughter. And, in particular, the convulsion of the diaphragm usually provides projection in 1985, also has an agreement with the local community board. I
better opportunities for thought than convulsion of the soul. was told that the agreement states that any cultural or artistic event that would
Walter Benjamin, “The Author as Producer”, 1934 bring politics into the park should be excluded. I was given the impression that
my Grand Army Plaza Projection should not be politically explicit.
RD: What do you suppose they think public art is?
Originally published in Künster aus Kanada: Raume und Installationen, exh cat, KW: I think they want public art to consist of non-disturbing but spectacular
Stuttgart, Germany: Württembergischer, Kunstverein, 1983 and in the Canadian events or objects that will satisfy the community in an easy and immediate way,
Journal of Political and Social Theory/Revue canadienne de theorie politique et which I do not wish to oppose initially. It is essential to be able to take advantage
sociale, nos 1–2, winter–spring 1983, pp 185–187. of any administrative desire for art in public places, to ‘collaborate’ in such events

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Monument/Projection


and infiltrate them with an unexpected critical element. In this case the main same time. So I wanted the people to see various possibilities. But since everyone
event was the annual Brooklyn New Year’s Eve gala with a fireworks display by was interested in convincing others of his or her own reading, only a few seemed to
the Grucci family, music, and hot cider. My projection was intended as an integral realize that the various readings were all simultaneously possible. One reading was
part of the event. that the missiles were two phallic symbols. Another was that the projection was
RD: How many people saw the projection? about disarmament, the nuclear freeze, the liberal position. And a third group spoke
KW: I was told that 1,400 people attended the event, but since the Grand Army of the interdependence of the superpowers, the fact that they are locked together,
Plaza is Brooklyn’s major vehicular traffic circle and the red lights forced cars to that they cannot exist without each other, and that there is a frightening similarity
stop exactly in front of the projection, many more hundreds of people must have between them. Because the debate was open and easily heard, all the readings were
seen it. Many cars stopped or slowed down despite the green light, and some most likely received by everyone, and hopefully this social and auditory interaction
194 circled around for a second look. Most of the people who came to the event were helped the visual projection survive in the public’s memory as a complex experience. 195
from the black and Hispanic community in Brooklyn, many of whom were school For a moment at least, this “necro-ideological” monument became alive.
children. They were people who had no place else to go to celebrate New Year’s Halfway through the projection, behind and above the arch, there was
Eve. Some members of the cultural intelligentsia, as well as some junior high another audiovisual experience for eight minutes that gave the projection a new,
school students who had seen photographs of my projections shown at the New enhanced context. The fireworks—detonations, explosions, aerial illuminations—
Museum at that time, made an effort to be there. The projection was on the north this display would have had a double meaning for anyone who had experienced
side of the arch and therefore could be seen, not from Prospect Park, but from bombings of cities or who, growing up in the ruins of cities, had seen films of
the small adjacent park in front of which the arch stands. Cars drive all around those bombings. This was certainly the case for the Polish intellectuals among
that park, making it a very circumscribed and intimate viewing area. There are the spectators, among them the critic Szymon Bojko.
no sculptures or reliefs on the north side of the arch. This is a monument to the Bojko, who lives in Poland, wrote a popular book on Soviet Constructivist
northern army, so the south side of the arch is very busy with representations of graphic design.1 He is able to address, both popularly and historically, the relation
the army marching south to liberate the South from ‘wrongdoing’. The monument between art and propaganda. Through his connections in the Soviet Union, he knows
has absolutely nothing to say about the North, because if it did, it would have to a lot about Vkhutemas, the Soviet predecessor of the Bauhaus.2
reflect on itself. So despite the fact that the arch is symmetrically designed to Working in the 1960s in the cultural department of the central committee
carry sculptures on both sides, there is no sculpture on the north side. of the Polish United Workers Party, Bojko managed to influence the committee
Ewa Lajer-Burcharth: So you were interested in completing the monument with very clear ideas on the organization of industrial design education, research,
symmetrically with images that ironically echoed the structure and the elements and practice.3 He came to see my Grand Army Plaza Projection with a group of
on the southern side. For example, you projected a padlock, a sign of constraint Polish and American friends from New York, so I was very interested to see how
and limitation, on the keystone of the arch as a dissonant equivalent of the figure they would respond. They were relieved to see that there were both Soviet and US
of liberation, the winged victory. missiles, because they had heard that one of my projections in Stuttgart consisted
Douglas Crimp: It also re-inscribes the North/South conflict with an East/ of only a Pershing II missile and that one in Canada was of only a US-built cruise
West orientation. missile. So there was probably some talk of my not acknowledging both sides of the
KW: After growing up in the ‘East’ it certainly helps to arrive in the ‘West’ from the problem, which is a very sensitive issue in Poland. They also suggested the reading
north, by which I mean Canada, in order better to see all sides of the arch, especially of the interdependence between the superpowers, and some of them mentioned
the repressed, northern side. Ironically, this arch, which is conceived as receiving the ironic relationship between the heroic monumentality of the arch and the new
the victorious northern army and which uses a classicizing Beaux-Arts style, is ‘heroism’ and ‘monumentally’ of intercontinental ballistic missiles. Poles are very
challenged by two small realist bas-relief sculptures by Eakins placed inside the well educated about public monuments. As the Polish playwright Sławomir Mrozek
arch. They are the only two figures actually walking north, coming back from the put it, “Somewhere between the monuments and the memorials lies Poland.”
war, extremely tired. One of the horses is limping. As far as I know, this is the only EL-B: Your projections also remind me of an important aspect of Polish May Day
monument in the world that contains such an internal debate, aesthetically and parades. The focal point of the parades, the pompous facades of the socialist-
historically. The fact that a realist was allowed to enter the Beaux-Arts domain in realist buildings on the main street in Warsaw, used to be adorned with huge,
reverse direction is extraordinary. Anyway, my reorientation of the arch to an East/ four-storey-high portraits of contemporary Polish heads of State hung side by side
West conflict converts the reading of the arch from its commentary on the South to with those of Marx and Lenin. This display was obviously a kind of wish fulfillment
one of left and right, to the weight of the arch’s two bases. The people viewing the of the Polish rulers anxious to secure symbolic continuity between themselves and
projection offered their own interpretations. What I liked was that everyone was the unquestioned heroes of the communist past. The socialist-realist architecture
trying to impose his or her reading upon others. It turned into a political debate based was made to reinforce this continuity with the authority of its classicizing forms.
on reading the symbols and referring to the contemporary political situation. It was a And the portraits reciprocated as an endorsement by the current leadership of
time when the public was being prepared for impending peace talks between the US the excessive grandeur of this post-war architecture. Obviously, the effect of your
and Soviet governments. There were great expectations about coming back to the projections is very different. Far from this reciprocal completion, the clashing of
conference table and perhaps for a reduction of the arms race. I wanted to respond image and architecture calls into question the authority of both. But wouldn’t you
to this, but, of course, it’s impossible today to be optimistic and intelligent at the say that the Polish context is relevant to your attitude toward images of authority?

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Monument/Projection


KW: Yes, to the extent that the architecture of the 1960s, and even more so that Only a few artists and designers realized that in such a situation they were really
of the 1970s, the Gierek era, embodied a new style, a fetishism of progress, a acting as collaborators with the system not in the morning but in the evening.
Westernized, technocratic version of progress (echoing Lenin’s New Economic RD: Can you tell us something about your education?
Policy), a ‘State Productivism’, if I may put it that way. In this period the acquired KW: In the Soviet Union in the 1920s the educational path led from fine art to
capitalist, ‘scientifically exploitative’ organization of production was wedded to the design, from analytical Constructivism to Productivism. For me, in the 1960s
State socialist, centrally planned, bureaucratic exploitation of workers’ labor, all and 1970s, the situation was, of course, different. The period of Gomułka’s de-
in the name of achieving a higher, which is to say, closer to Western, standard of Stalinization in Poland provided an opening for contact with Western design circles,
living. The environmental evidence of Gierek’s new “New Economic Policy” was such as the school in Ulm,4 and with those of pre-war avant-garde design, such as
painfully visible in the form of the rapid development of office towers, gigantic BLOK, Praesens, a.r.,5 and the Koluszki school.6 I studied at the Academy of Fine
196 hotels, shopping centers, automobiles, super highways, and urban vehicular Arts in Warsaw in the 1960s. Jerzy Sołtan, a former assistant of Le Corbusier, 197
arterials. In this context, the grand official manifestations of the 1970s provided an directed the graduate program in industrial design, in which I was a student. At
opportunity to see very clearly the propaganda effects of both the earlier. Stalinist that time Sołtan was directing a similar program at Harvard, teaching the fall
architecture, which now looked ‘romantic’, and the new, Western-style, abstract, term in Warsaw and the spring term in Cambridge. I’m sure that Szymon Bojko’s
technocratic architecture. support was crucial to Sołtan’s success in Poland. Sołtan, his assistant Andrzej
EL-B: With the advent of Gierek an important change was introduced into the Wróblewski, now president of the academy, and Bojko had devised a post-avant-
official symbolic practices in order to take account of the new economic order. garde strategy for post-Stalinist Poland. The special education of designers was
In the May Day parades, portraits of contemporary Polish leaders were no longer a key point of their strategy. The program emphasized the developments of the
used. Gierek’s leadership was represented instead by such signs of technocratic students’ individual and collective skills for infiltrating the institutional structure
progress as the new Forum hotel, built by a Swedish contractor, at the site while working as common industrial designers, organizers of design offices in all
where the parade ends. This building and others built in the 1970s became the branches of industry, teachers, researchers, and so on. It was a Neo-productivist
backdrops for portraits of Marx and Lenin. The architecture itself was intended model. This was the period of the creation of the Industrial Design Council, whose
to testify to the successful continuation of their ideals. head is vice-premier of the government and whose members are vice-ministers.
DC: Are you saying, then, that this kind of political manifestation was central to So industrial design was very highly bureaucratized, much better organized than
your own understanding of the relationship between image and architecture? in the West or in Lenin’s Soviet Union. I was trained to be a member of the elite
KW: It did help to be able to see the impact of a grand but temporary political unit of designers, skillful infiltrators who were supposed to transform existing
decoration on the public’s perception of buildings, of the cityscape as a whole. It also State socialism into an intelligent, complex, and human design project. This
helped me to understand the effect of the absence of such decorations after they positive social program for industrial design, indebted historically to the program of
were taken down, to remember the architectural ‘afterimage’ of a political slogan Vkhutemas, unfortunately shifted in the Gierek era to a technocratic, consumerist
or icon, its lasting but illusive integration with the building. Such an experience phase and thus adopted the international Constructivist tradition in place of
suggests, of course, the possibility of a temporary, unofficial, critical ‘decoration’, Constructivism proper, the latter being the Constructivism that developed in the
difficult to imagine in Poland, where censorship of the public domain is total, but Soviet Union as a means of building a society rather than decorating bourgeois
a little easier to imagine here, where censorship is also strong but less centralized. society with objects. The de-politicization of Constructivism’s history was a
Generally, Poland was a great laboratory of environmental ideology. But the imagery very unfortunate part of our experience as artists. There is a famous museum of
of official Polish propaganda is so architectural itself, perfect to the point of its own Constructivism in Łódź.7 In the 1970s it was already quite clear that the effect,
death. The obvious, sloganistic character, the lifeless appearance makes Polish and perhaps even the mission of this museum was to de-politicize the entire
imagery less subversive, less seductive, appearing to be less ‘natural’ than American Constructivist tradition, intellectual and artistic, affiliating it more and more
propaganda imagery, such as advertising or even an official event like the “Liberty with international, Western Constructivism, the de Stijl movement, and Neo-
Celebration”. But Polish propaganda does have a powerful architectural quality that Constructivism such as Op and Kinetic art.
integrates well with the ideological/architectural environment. So I did learn much EL-B: This tendency to de-politicize Polish Constructivism by playing down
in Poland, but my education needed to be completed in the context of capitalist its links with the Soviet experiment should be situated historically within the
consumer culture. It was an advantage that I went first to Canada, where cultural liberalization associated with Gierek. The re-interpretation of Polish artistic
studies of media and communications are very strong. My teaching affiliation with traditions as independent from Soviet art paralleled the reorientation of the
the Cultural Studies Program in Peterborough, Ontario, was important in this regard. Polish economy toward the West. This view of Constructivism was also part of
Only after several years outside Poland was I able fully to comprehend the degree to the defensive reaction to the post-war imposition of Soviet art policies in Poland,
which artists and designers in Poland were ideologically trapped by the Westernized, that is, to Socialist Realism. The imposition of Zhdanovist orthodoxy stalled any
‘liberal’ State socialism of the 1970s. Artists earned their freedom to work with discussion of the alternative forms of culture for the new socialist society until
what were called “various means of expression” that is, to exclude official politics the late 1950s.
from their art, by including those very politics in the work they did on commission for KW: Quite openly so. As part of the six-year plan of 1949, the guidelines of the council
the State propaganda apparatus. So one was political as a collaborator-artist in the of architects specifically declared Socialist Realism a critique of Constructivism.
morning and apolitical as a ‘pure’ artist in the evening in the confines of one’s studio. This ‘critique’ collapsed the complex history of Constructivism into one international

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Monument/Projection


bourgeois movement, excoriated as “cosmopolitanism, Constructivism, and allowed to exist. But even this self-imposed marginalization did not guarantee
formalism”, whose “abstract forms” were said to be “always foreign to the people”. But complete freedom of operation. When I was involved with another alternative
the Stalinist position, for all its regressive effect, was at least conducted in the name gallery, founded after Foksal, we managed to publish several issues of a journal
of social responsibility, socialist content, the national cultural heritage, a human form about critical aesthetic practices without asking for party approval for our
for the environment, and so on. The Stalinist era represented a total politicization of editorial staff. We did this by using the paper allotted us for the publication of
art and design, including a politicization of the war against Constructivism. The Gierek exhibition catalogues. Soon, though, we were forced to discontinue publication,
era, by contrast, represented a total de-politicization of art and design, including a war not because of any specific contents, but because it is prohibited to put out a
on Constructivism carried out through its de-politicization. This most recent perversion serial publication—something that can be distributed and read regularly—without
of Constructivism, then, resulted in what I call “socialist technocratism”. the consent of the centralized apparatus of the State. Seriality itself threatened to
198 RD: So there was a de-politicization of Constructivism in the East that is directly spill culture outside its prescribed limits. 199
parallel to that in the West. KW: The experience with censorship, with official culture, and with the entire
EL-B: Except that in Poland this process took place in a more overtly political institutional system, the changing meaning of each form of cultural activity in
context. In the West the de-politicization of Constructivism was effected by the changing political circumstances, was a central part of my experience in Poland,
art-historical discourse, while in Poland it was an element of national cultural especially because of my affiliation with Foksal Gallery but also because of my
policy. The attempt to restore to Constructivism its real history that is now taking father. Throughout the period of Stalinism and the Gomułka and Gierek eras,
place in the West has also begun in Poland, especially in the work of Andrzej my father was involved with serious cultural politics as a conductor and artistic
Turowski. His Polish Constructivism appeared as late as 1981, but Turowski director of city and State orchestras and opera companies. He was famous
wrote an earlier, popular analysis of Constructivism in a book series devoted to for introducing the Polish public to the contemporary, artistically ambitious
twentieth-century avant-garde movements.8 repertoire.10 People such as my father and those associated with Foksal Gallery,
KW: His title for the earlier book was The Constructivist Revolution, which suggests just as the people like Sołtan and Bojko, whom we have already discussed, learned
the interplay between aesthetic and political revolution. The editors changed it to to cope with the system of restrictions and liberties in order consciously to infiltrate
In the Circle of Constructivism.9 It is against editorial policy to acknowledge openly and manipulate the system while also recognizing the extent to which they were
anything as political, including Constructivism. Turowski’s re-politicization and being manipulated by the system. So, having close contacts with the mechanisms
re-historicization of Constructivism was a crucial experience for me. The Foksal of censorship and self-censorship and with the politics of official artistic culture
Gallery, of which Turowski and Wiesław Borowski were the co-directors, had and of industry and education (I was teaching at Warsaw’s Polytechnique), and
established itself as a center of criticism of artistic culture. It is a type of alternative having my father’s example, I learned very quickly that we must adopt some kind
gallery not really known here in that it was run collectively by critics, and not by of post-avant-garde strategy in Poland.
artists. Through the presentation of works of art, critical texts, and debates, the EL-B: Since you are speaking of the strategy of manipulating the system from
gallery wished to affect the larger context. They applied the avant-garde style of within, of interfering with the codes, so to speak, were you familiar with the
manifestos and interventions, but were “post-avant-garde” to the extent that they writings of Roland Barthes?
accepted the limitation of utopia, dealing as they were with a reality that was KW: Barthes was not unknown to me and my generation. Most of the French
already organized in the name of utopia. theoreticians, especially those working in the field of culture, were translated into
When Turowski entered the gallery as a young scholar of Constructivism, Polish, possibly earlier than into English. Writings, films, plays, and art that was critical
he contributed a Marxist methodology to the gallery’s tactics and strategies, which of contemporary bourgeois culture were always welcomed by the Polish censorship
was a very significant change, because at that time the gallery critics and artists apparatus. It was, however, difficult to learn from writers like Barthes how to operate
were operating with Surrealist ideas. Turowski’s presence resulted in a fusion of a critically within the Polish situation. Once one realized the best strategies for one’s own
moral critique of established artistic culture with a social critique, and self-critique, place, though, it was easier to understand what Barthes was suggesting for the West.
of that culture’s institutions. Turowski wrote a very important short text entitled But we should not forget that the situation during the late 1960s and early 1970s was
“Gallery against Gallery”. It was the beginning of the concept of the gallery as a in some respects similar in France and Poland. We lost our student battles in 1968,
self-critical institution, an institution questioning its own place in society in relation too. We lost faith in our utopian revolutionary approach, and we needed new strategies.
to other institutions, and doing so to the extent of putting into question the entire Polish students’ demands differed from those of the French students, but there were
institutional system of culture. Foksal also published texts called “What We Don’t many similarities. Poland and Czechoslovakia were part of the overall movement in
Like about Foksal Gallery” and “Documentation”, which called for the destruction the 1960s. So after the failure of all of our revolutions, we found ourselves in similar
of all the art documents. The “Living Archive” created the exaggerated idea of an situations, whether we happened to be reading Barthes or not. I wonder, by the
archive that would protect documents by preventing their further circulation and way, whether Barthes would have understood the strategies of Foksal Gallery in the
cultural manipulation. context of French cultural politics of the same period. But you know very well that
EL-B: This occurred in response to censorship. In Poland, unlike other Soviet Poland and France have been very closely connected. Many Polish students witnessed
bloc countries, a certain independence is granted within the domain of culture so what happened in France in 1968. Turowski was one of them. The work of Daniel
long as culture is willing to contain itself and refrain from interaction with other Buren and the Support-Surface Group would not have been clear to me without the
social activity. Foksal Gallery was one such island of cultural criticism that was conversations with Turowski and some of his friends from Poznań...

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EL-B: In Poznań there is a dynamic Marxist intellectual milieu, a rarity in Polish limitations, and obviously because of the censorship of the public sphere. Even
academic life. to use images from the press for my gallery projections, which I had taken of an
KW: I realized that what the Polish Constructivists Katarzyna Kobro and Władysław exhibition called References, I needed to have permission, because individuals don’t
Strzemiński were dreaming about, “the organization of the rhythms of life” as the own images; the State does. The result is that it is impossible to change the context
ultimate aesthetic project, was already organized all around us. So, learning from of images, because the State is perfectly aware of the semiotics of the image. In
the Constructivists the relationship between society and form, among politics, art, order to use images, one must resort to metaphor rather than direct statement.
and everyday life, and by combining this with the knowledge of Futurist, Dada, DC: Do people learn to read metaphors better in such a situation than they do
and Surrealist interventions, we could begin to understand that our aim was not to here, to perform a hermeneutic operation on every image?
contribute to the further organization of the rhythms of life, but to interrupt, interfere, EL-B: This is, in fact, how culture survives. Filmmakers, writers, and artists
200 and intervene in the already highly organized rhythms of life. who want to comment on social reality usually employ metaphor. Otherwise their 201
DC: So this strategy of interruption or interference, which might be said to possibilities of affecting public opinion are very restricted.
characterize your work now, is something that you had already developed in the RD: But can’t the censors also read those metaphors?
Polish context. EL-B: Yes, they can, but they are also embarrassed to admit that they can recognize
KW: Yes, seeds of my critical activity here in the public sphere can be found them, because that would imply that they are aware of the shortcomings or
in my early works in Warsaw, especially in the two ‘deconstructivist’ technical problems that the metaphors address. They are afraid to admit to the pertinence
‘inventions’. The first of these was Instrument, presented to the public in Warsaw of the criticism. This is why the books of the journalist Ryszard Kapuściński, which
in 1971. I designed it with the help of technicians from the Experimental Music expose the corruption of such regimes as those in Ethiopia and Iran, are permitted
Studio. It was an electro-acoustic instrument/costume that transformed, through to be published.12 Otherwise, the censors would implicitly acknowledge their
my hand gestures, the accidental noise of city traffic into modulated sounds that recognition of the analogies of those regimes with the regimes of Eastern bloc
only I could hear. The second was Vehicle, constructed with the help of Foksal countries, of Poland itself.
Gallery, and shown publicly in Warsaw in 1972. Through a system of gears and KW: One must read Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment to understand the
cables, the vehicle was propelled forward by perpetually walking back and forth relationship between censor and censored. You learn the language of the
on its tilting top surface. It thus transformed the conventional back-and-forth censor in order to communicate, and, to some degree the censor must also
pacing associated with intellectual reflection or with being stymied into the learn your language. There is a final episode to the narrative of the Grand Army
forward movement associated with the official notion of progress. You can see Plaza Projection that is relevant here. Several months ago I went to Poland and
that my metaphoric vehicle was an ironic reconsideration of such an optimistic, presented Foksal Gallery with a proposal to show a reconstruction of the project
techno-socialist project as Tatlin’s Letatlin.11 in the gallery. The idea was submitted to the censorship board and the woman
RD: If, to some degree, your work still involves the interruption of the official in charge explained that it would be impossible to present the work because
organization of society, how does such a strategy function here, in a different it would violate article number 800 and something or other of the censorship
context? In Poland, as you’ve explained, you had to work within a social code, which says that under no circumstances are weapons of the US and
organization that includes official and overt censorship, while here censorship Soviet Union to be visually depicted as of equal weight, volume, or quantity. An
functions very differently; the entire organization of the social is much less exhibition of documents of my public projections is opening at Foksal Gallery
apparent, much less obvious. How do you transfer the ideas that had formed your in September this year with the Grand Army Plaza Projection and a few others
strategies in Poland to a different context? excluded. A catalogue with reproductions of the projections and my theoretical
KW: By trying to intervene in the public sphere as close as possible to the legal texts is being published. The texts, both in English and in Polish translation, are,
and technical limits that are imposed. Acting in the public sphere in the West, I of course, censored. “Public Projection”, originally published in the Canadian
have confronted not only a different category of censorship, but also a different Journal of Political and Social Theory in 1983, attempts to situate my work in the
level. There is a greater general possibility for working in public, but this creates a relations among body, architecture, power, and ideology. This was accepted for
need for more complicated strategies to deal with a complex set of institutional, publication with only one “criticism”; the words “power” and “ideology” must be
corporate, State, and community restrictions. But the ‘transfer of ideas’ to the omitted entirely.
West must be discussed in relation not only to forms and categories of censorship, RD: But presumably you knew what would not pass the censorship when you
to different kinds of artistic unfreedom, but also to the applicability of the ideas to submitted your proposals.
the new situation. It is safe to say, however, that, despite all the differences, there KW: No, because the laws of censorship have changed. But also the very essence
are great similarities in our everyday lives in relation to our physical environment, of authoritarian existence is that you never really know what is allowed and what
whether in Poland, Canada, the US, or the Soviet Union. There are similarities is not. There used to be a “black book” of censorship, a general list of rules and
in the ways that architecture functions as an ideological medium, a psychological regulations. That has now been replaced by a code of specific regulations, which is
partner, in the way it educates, orders, participates in the process of socialization, changed regularly in response to changing circumstances, so the situation is much
in the way it integrates its ‘body’ with our bodies, in the ways it rapidly changes or worse now. It is much more difficult to fool the system when there are very highly
even destroys our lives. My public projections developed first in Canada, because qualified censors immediately interpreting changing conditions and implementing
in Poland I could not even consider such an art form simply because of technical regulations. Some of these people have PhDs; they are ‘intellectuals’. It is a

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Monument/Projection


perfect illustration of Marx’s definition of censorship, which is that it is centralized permission to project hands onto the column. I had therefore already committed
criticism. So, in Poland, there is a kind of centralized art criticism. No one in Poland one violation in not projecting hands but rather a huge intercontinental ballistic
can complain of the lack of ‘critical response’ to his or her work. Art criticism is missile wrapped in barbed wire, and tank treads underneath the lions at the
democratically guaranteed! column’s base. But I knew they wouldn’t be able to stop me. For one thing,
RD: Were you invited to do a projection on the New Museum of Contemporary Art bureaucracy doesn’t work at night, even if the media does; BBC televised
in New York, or did you apply for the opportunity? And what was your projection’s the projection nationally. I also knew that I had six xenon arc slide projectors
relationship to the exhibition Difference: On Representation and Sexuality? concentrated in Trafalgar Square. No one knows when such an opportunity might
KW: I was asked to participate in the On View series, smaller exhibitions held in happen again and it certainly never happened to me before. Many people would
conjunction with major shows, such as the Difference exhibition. It was not my have liked the opportunity to affect this building, for example those who were
202 primary focus to relate my projection to that exhibition. If there was a relation to demonstrating in front of it just at that time. The projection on Nelson’s column 203
the Difference show, it was mediated through the relation of my projection to the was to take place on two consecutive evenings. So the first evening, I came
architecture and to the politics of the entire building. The situation at that time prepared with slides with spots of different sizes to test the proper focal length of
was very dramatic. It was winter and I was living very close to the main shelter the projection on the South African embassy. I had a very short negotiation with
for homeless men and quite close to a shelter for women. I saw many people myself. Artists are so trapped in their own so-called histories, thought, “Wait a
living on the street, trying to survive the bitter-cold temperatures by burning tires. minute, this is not the type of work you do. You do not project swastikas”. But
It was therefore shocking to me to see one of the largest buildings in the entire the other side of me answered, “So what? Just because you haven’t done this
neighborhood empty. It was very evident that the building that houses the New sort of thing before doesn’t mean that there isn’t a reason to do it now. What
Museum was completely dark. People speaking to me at the time of the projection do you know of your so-called artistic development?” I agree with you, Rosalyn
had no doubts whatsoever about the meaning of it. I learned that the upper floors that this might open up new possibilities for a more specific contextual type of
of the building were awaiting new tenants at a price of nearly one million dollars intervention. It’s public art, and one must respond to changing circumstances.
each and at the same time the New Museum received the basement and ground It was just at this time that a delegation had come from South Africa to ask the
floor spaces for free, or at least for a very cheap rent. The very fact that the British government for more money, which Thatcher actually gave them, a very
museum moved into the building creates a certain myth for the building. There shameful act. So my little negotiation was quickly resolved and I reproduced the
are, in fact, two exhibition spaces there. One is for the New Museum exhibitions, swastika slides of different sizes. All I had to do was to use one of the projectors
and next door there is an exhibition of the former state of the building and how it from the Nelson’s Column Projection and turn its 400-millimeter lens 90 degrees.
will look after renovation, a real estate exhibition. There is obviously a connection It was projected over the sign in the pediment, which many people knew. There
between the presence of the museum and the subsequent conversion of the entire is a relief of a boat, underneath which it says “Good Hope”. This building is the
surrounding area into one of art galleries and other art-related institutions and most illuminated of all buildings in central London, obsessively illuminated, as if
businesses. I’m not saying that there is direct responsibility on anyone’s part, but it were afraid to wake up in the morning and not find itself. The projection lasted
this is a mechanism and it’s important to recognize and reveal our place within that for two hours. Of course I consulted a lawyer. The only charge on which they
mechanism, even if we cannot change it at this point. would be able to arrest me was for being a public nuisance, and those were the
DC: It is my understanding that the Astor Building functions similarly to the grounds on which they stopped the projection. After two hours I saw the police
Museum of Modern Art Tower; that is to say, the real estate development of sergeant coming. I switched off the projector and removed the slide, so he could
the ‘tower’ is used to provide the financing of the museum’s space and perhaps do nothing. But he told me that if I were to resume the projection I would be
a portion of its operating costs. Is it not a part of your working methods, as it arrested, and he also said, very pompously, “If I might offer my personal opinion,
is of Haacke’s, for example, to investigate the particulars of such a situation? I find your projection in very bad taste.” Photographs of the projection appeared
KW: If I were to project information onto the building about its operations, in the press the following day in conjunction with condemnations of apartheid,
I would certainly undertake systematic research, but what was immediately so the South African embassy sent an official letter of protest to the Canadian
striking here was the emptiness of this huge structure when all around it people embassy, which is just across Trafalgar Square, and which was exhibiting
were living on the street. The bottom padlock was decided upon later, when I documents of my work. The Canadian embassy responded with a letter saying
learned more about the connections between the museum and this art/real estate that the views of individual Canadian citizens are not the responsibility of the
operation. So this was, first, the Astor Building Projection, and then, second, the Canadian government.
New Museum Projection. DC: I’m curious to know more about the legalities of such a situation. Can a slide
RD: In discussing the Grand Army Plaza Projection you mentioned various projection, which is after all, immaterial, be considered a means of defacement?
possible readings of the work. But there are other works, such as the projection KW: We should be precise. This is not a clear legal question but a paralegal
of the swastika onto the pediment of the South African embassy in Trafalgar response of the police based on their own interpretation of regulations. That
Square, that have very unambiguous meanings. Does the necessity of doesn’t mean that what I am doing is illegal, but neither does it mean that I
responding to specific political events suggest a different kind of projection? cannot be arrested.
KW: That was a very short-lived dilemma for me because I had to make a decision DC: Was it especially difficult to get permission from the Swiss government for
very quickly. I already had permission for the projection on Nelson’s Column, the projection on the Swiss national parliament building?

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Monument/Projection


KW: It was a bit difficult, especially for Jean-Hubert Martin, then director of 9 Turowski, Andrzej, W Kregu konstruktywizmu, Warsaw: Wydawnictwa Artystyczne i
Filmowe, 1979.
the Kunsthalle in Bern, who was negotiating the permission for me, since my
10 Bohan Wodiczko (1911­–1985) was conductor and artistic director of the Baltic
projection was done for a show he was co-organizing called Alles und noch Symphony, Łódź Symphony, Kraków Symphony, Polish National Orchestra, Polish
Radio Orchestra, Łódź Opera and Polish National Opera. He was responsible for
viel mehr. I knew that I would have to use an image that would be acceptable
introducing post-war Polish audiences to Stravinsky, Berg, Nono and other modern
to the bureaucracy, and here I think my Polish experience helped. One has to composers, as well as for engaging such avant-garde figures as Tadeusz Kantor as
directors of opera productions.
know the psychology of officialdom, which is in many ways similar wherever I
11 Vladimir Tatlin worked on his flying machine Letatlin between 1929 and 1932, at
work, because it involves the very concept of modern bureaucracy, the kind of which time he attempted to launch it. He called his glider “an everyday object for the
Soviet masses, an ordinary object of use”.
bureaucracy which is supposed to be objective, objective in the sense of helping
12 Kapuściński, Ryszard, The Emperor: Downfall of an Autocrat, William R Brand and
people take advantage of ‘democracy’. I knew I wanted to project onto the Katarzyna Mroczkowska-Brand trans, San Diego: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1983;
and Shah of Shahs, William R Brand and Katarzyna Mroczkowska-Brand trans, San
204 pediment, since it was the only free surface on the building. It was a question Diego: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1985.
205
of what would be acceptable, and then, when accepted, what would make a  
point. I figured no one would object to the image of an eye, and at the same time
they wouldn’t have to know that the eye would change the direction of its gaze,
looking first in the direction of the national bank, and then at the canton bank,
then the city bank of Bern, then down to the ground of Bundesplatz, under which
is the national vault containing the Swiss gold, and finally up to the mountains
and the sky, the clear, pure, Calvinist sky. It was difficult for them to refuse to
cooperate because the work was part of the Kunsthalle show, which had already
received the support of the city. Of course, the parliament building belongs not
to the city but to the federal government, which would not want to create tension
between itself and the city. I had spent a certain amount of time in bars in Bern
and I learned there about the Swiss gold below the parking area in front of the
parliament, a fact that most people in Switzerland take for granted. It’s not,
after all, so bad to be a tourist. Sometimes you learn things that local residents
take for granted and are then able to expose the obvious in a critical manner.
But of course tourism cannot simply be treated as an individual experience. It is
becoming an ever-more complex political phenomenon, which requires its own
analysis. I intend to focus my projectors on this phenomenon in my work for the
Venice Biennale this summer.

Originally published in October, no 38, fall 1986, pp 22–51.

1 Bojko, Szymon, New Graphic Design in Revolutionary Russia, New York: Praeger, 1972.
2 Vkhutemas, an acronym for the Russian for Higher Art and Technical Workshops, was
founded in the Soviet Union in 1920. In 1927 it was re-formed and renamed Vkhutein
(State Higher Art and Technical Workshops): it was dissolved in 1930. For a brief
history, see Bojko, Szymon, “Vkhutemas”, in The 1920s in Eastern Europe, Cologne,
Galerie Gmurzynska, 1975, pp 19–26.
3 Polska Zjednoczona Partia Robotnicza, the official name of the Communist Party in
Poland, which was created during the Second World War from a merger of the Polish
Socialist Party and the Polish Workers Party.
4 The Horschule für Gestaltung was founded in Ulm, West Germany, in 1955. Walter
Gropius delivered the inaugural address, saying, “The work once begun in the Bauhaus
and the principles formulated there have found a new German home and an opportunity
for wider organic development here in Ulm”. The school was closed in 1968.
5 BLOK (founded 1924), Praesens (founded 1926) and a.r (Revolutionary Artists,
founded in 1929) were the major Polish Constructivist groups as well as the names of
their publications.
6 Katarzyna Kobro and Władysław Strzemiński taught at the industrial school in
Koluszki in 1930–1931 using a curriculum based on the educational principles of
Vkhutemas and the Bauhaus.
7 At the instigation of Strzemiński and the a.r. group, an international collection of
Modern art was formed in 1931 at the museum of Łódź, now the Museum Sztuki.
8 Turowski, Andrzej, Konstruktywizm polski, Warsaw: Polish Academy of Science,
Institute of Art, 1981.

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The Venice Projections contemporary fear of terrorism joins with the fear of the entire empire of tourism,
finding its center today in Venice, whose embattled history and architectural
1986 memory are haunted by it already.

— To recognize the imaginary Venice as the true Venice of today! As the site
of the merciless cultural and economic ‘terrorism’ of the world empire of
tourism, and the site of fear of the merciless ‘tourism’ of world terrorism,
ancient and contemporary!
— To infiltrate the Venetian tourist entertainments with counterfeit
spectacles aimed at the uncritical consumption of historical Venice and her 207
present-day myth!
— To interrupt this Venetian tourist romance, this shopping for the
imaginary past and present!
— To call off this consumer marriage to the sea!
— To take Venetian architecture as a historical ‘screen’ for the critical
projections of the present!
— To turn the projectors upon Venice as a historical fetish of a
contemporary reality!
— To project the symbols of the present onto those of the past!
— To confront publicly their illusive difference and embarrassing similarity!

Originally published as a flyer distributed during Public Projections in Venice,


The new world empire of tourism (travel, entertainment, art, and leisure) has published by the Canadian Pavilion at the 12th Venice Biennale, 1986; reprinted as
turned the ruins of the old world financial-military empire of Venice into an art- a section of the essay “Public Projections”, October, no 38, fall 1986, pp 18–20.
Disneyland and shopping-for-the-past plaza. In alliance with the international
“Save Venice” movement, this new empire has converted (renovated) the
once lavish and decadent capital of capital, that glorious, floating pioneer of
the multi-national corporate World Trade Center, into a tourist playground,
an imaginary ‘refuge’ from the politically and economically troubled world of
today. Such a refuge cannot, however, really succeed in Venice. The escape it
offers must function as a semi-conscious return to the golden roots of today’s
global reality.
The gilded architecture of Venice, thin as its own image, has been copied,
perfected, magnified, and mass-produced throughout the cities, suburbs, and
entertainment centers of Europe and the United States. Thus the imaginary
escapes and semi-conscious returns of Venice are easily furnished by the
‘gondolas’ of the Chicago World’s Fair, the ‘Piazza San Marco’ of Disneyworld in
Florida, the ‘Grand Canal palaces’ of apartment towers, the ‘campanili’ of city
halls, factories, churches, banks, fire and train stations, and by the ‘Condottieri
Colleoni’ of all colonial and post-colonial urban monuments.
The tourist, familiar with contemporary commercial, religious, and
militaristic slogans, draws upon this ‘knowledge’ in order to discover Venice.
Armed with the popular literature of art history, travel guides, and Italian
dictionaries, the tourist begins a consumer love affair with the Venetian past,
shopping for its difference, its richness, and its seductive historical atmosphere.
Today, mercenary pirates of political terrorism are threatening to cut off
the commercial routes of tourism’s global empire, of which Venice is the strategic
center. To secure this empire’s operations, in particular its overseas summer
crusades, the imperial jumbo-jet fleet demands military protection. Thus the

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Monument/Projection


The Homeless Projection: A Proposal memorials, or public buildings, however, for there is nothing more disruptive and
astonishing in a monument than a sign of life. To the observer the slightest sign of
for the City of New York life in the homeless is a living sign of the possibility of the death of the homeless
from homelessness.
1986 The homeless must display themselves in symbolically strategic and
popular city ‘accents’. To secure their starvation wages (donations), the homeless
must appear as the ‘real homeless’ (their ‘performance’ must conform to the
popular myth of the homeless): the homeless must become the homeless.
Adorned with the ‘refuse’ of city ‘architecture’ and with the physical
fragments of the cycles of change, the homeless become the nomadic ‘buildings’, 209
the mobile ‘monuments’ of the city. However, fixed in the absolute lowest
economic and social positions and bound to their physical environment, the
homeless achieve a symbolic stability, while the official city buildings and
monuments lose their stable character as they continuously undergo their real
estate change.
Unable to live without the dramatic presence of the homeless (since their
contrast helps produce ‘value’—social, economic, cultural) and denying the
homeless as its own social consequence, ‘architecture’ must continuously repress
the monumental condition of the homeless deeper into its (political) unconscious.

Projection
If the homeless must ‘wear’ the building (become a new, mobile building) and are
forced to live through the monumental problem of architecture, the aim of the
Architecture Homeless Projection is to impose this condition back upon the architecture and to
What has been called architecture is no longer merely a collection of buildings with force its surfaces to reveal what they deny.
‘stable forms’ and ‘permanent structures’. Architecture must be recognized today
as a social system: a new economic condition and a psycho-political experience. — To magnify the scale of the homeless to the scale of the building!
The new meanings ascribed to architecture through their interplay with changing — To astonish the street public with the familiarity of the image and to
circumstances and events are not new meanings but exist only as concepts in make the homeless laugh!
semiotic texts (Umberto Eco) and slogans in real estate advertisements for — To employ the slide psycho-drama method to teach the building to play
the gentry (Zeckendorf Towers). If architecture does, on occasion, preserve its the role of the homeless!
traditional and sentimental appearance in an attempt to ‘interplay’ with new events, — To liberate the problem of the homeless from the unconscious of
this serves only to create, impose, and ultimately reject or appropriate these new the architecture!
social circumstances. In this way, ‘architecture’ demolishes, relocates, rebuilds, — To juxtapose the fake architectural real estate theater with the real
renovates, re-zones, gentrifies, and develops itself continuously. Mimicking and survival theater of the homeless!
embodying a corporate moral detachment, today’s ‘architecture’ reveals its inherent
cynicism through its ruthless expansionism. What has been defined as architecture
is really, then, a merciless real estate system, embodied in a continuous and Originally published in Jana Sterbak and Krzysztof Wodiczko, brochure, New
frightening mass-scale event, the most disturbingly public and central operations of York: 49th Parallel, Centre for Contemporary Canadian Art, 1986; reprinted as a
which are economic terror, physical eviction, and the exodus of the poorest groups section of “Public Projections”, October, no 38, winter 1986, pp 12–16.
of city inhabitants from the buildings’ interiors to the outdoors.

The New Monument


Such forced exteriorization of their estranged bodies transforms the homeless
into permanently displayed outdoor ‘structures’, symbolic architectural forms,
new types of city monuments: ‘the homeless’.
The surfaces of the homeless—over- or underdressed, unwashed, cracked
from permanent outdoor exposure, and posing in their frozen, ‘classic’ gestures—
weather and resemble the official monuments of the city. The homeless appear
more dramatic than even the most colossal and expressive urban sculptures,

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Monument/Projection


Projection on the Monument to marked on each side of the crate. The statue itself was subjected to similar
superimposition. Projected over his Roman armor, a white shirt, tie, and Daimler-
Friedrich II, Kassel Benz identity badge had transformed the Landgraf into both warrior and company
executive. The face of Friedrich II, which according to many spectators resembled
1987 that of the Documenta 8 director, as well as the tubes held by the statue and
containing architectural and cultural designs, were strongly illuminated.

Based on a text originally published as “Artist’s Statement” in Documenta 8, exh


cat, Kassel: Fridericianum, 1987, vol 2, pp 278–279. 211

On the monument to Landgraf Friedrich II von Hesse-Kassel, I confront his glorious


but also egomaniacal heroic acts—the spreading of ideas of the Enlightenment
and the popularizing of aristocratic culture, the promotion of art and science—with
his dubious economic and political acts, which served as the monetary source for
all of his cultural and artistic projects. His politics, incidentally, were a source of
criticism even in his lifetime. Gazing proudly at one of these projects, the Museum
Fridericianum, his obscene white body too bloated from gluttony to fit its heroic
Roman armor, the Landgraf cannot conceal his ravenous hunger for conquest,
his imperial appetite for plundering foreign territories (look at Austria). He is
interested in political and cultural power over the world. (One thinks about the
Polish crown.) He also knows that the Soldaten-handel, a trade in soldiers in the
eighteenth century (22,000 peasants were sold to Great Britain for 21,276,778
talers in order to support that country’s war against American independence), is
hardly different from Daimler-Benz’s use of slave labor today by exploiting ‘guest
workers’ to make military equipment such as the Unimog S (a four-wheel-drive
military truck, parts of which are produced in Kassel) and deliver it to South Africa,
where it is used to subjugate blacks; or from accepting donations from Mercedes
and the Deutsche Bank, though knowing of their South African dealings, in order
to organize Documenta 8 in the Fridericianum and the Orangerie Gardens—places
Friedrich II built with money from the trade in soldiers.
To expose the relation between Daimler-Benz and Documenta 8 as a clear
example of the way the shameless “history of the victors” perpetuates itself today,
I had decided to recall the Landgraf’s monument in order to critically actualize it.
This slide projection superimposed onto the large base of the monument
an image of a crate containing axles to Unimog S military trucks produced by the
Daimler-Benz plant in Kassel. The content, the manufacturer, the origin, and the
South African, Salvadoran, and Chilean destinations of this shipment were clearly

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Monument/Projection


Speaking through Monuments Today, more than ever before, the meaning of our monuments depends
on our active role in turning them into sites of memory and critical evaluation of
1988 history as well as places of public discourse and action. This agenda is not only
social or political or activist, it is also an aesthetic mission.

Originally published as a statement in the brochure Krzysztof Wodiczko: Works,


Washington, DC: Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, 1988.

213

Among observers of the economic, social, political, and semantic transformations


of urban space, there is growing concern that the city, with all its old and newly
built architectural structures as well as their spatial configurations, is losing the
ability to operate as a communicative environment.
In today’s contemporary real estate city, the mercilessly dynamic space of
uneven economic development makes it extremely difficult for city-dwellers and
nomads to communicate through and in front of the city’s symbolic forms.
The unstable and uneven situation around and between the monuments is
complemented by the transformation of the monuments themselves, which become
victims of the same social and aesthetic manipulation as the entire city. Aesthetic
simulation and trivialization turn historic sites into mere decoration representing the past.
Our historic harbors are being turned into seafood restaurants.
The meaning of city monuments—whether intentional or unintentional,
historic or contemporary—must be secured today, as in the past, through the
ability of the inhabitants to project and superimpose their critical thoughts and
reflections on the monument forms.
We are witnessing the return of themes of nationalism and militarism
in politics in the context of gentrification and the gradual destruction of social
programs that affect urban life. In front of our memorials and monuments,
which were built to commemorate heroes of liberation, the flight to freedom,
civil liberties, and the right of the individual pursuit of happiness, are the facts
of homelessness, segregation, the isolation of individuals, and the destruction
of community ties—all processes that already project themselves on these
monuments. My projection is a clarification or specific articulation of those
already present projections.
Not to speak through city monuments is to abandon them and to abandon
ourselves, losing both a sense of history and the present.

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Monument/Projection


City Hall Tower Projection, Kraków The video and sound images transformed into a human being the most
prominent architectural structure in Kraków, the fourteenth-century City Hall
1996 Tower, which stands in the middle of the central square, Rynek Glowny. This
brought the people speaking through the tower to the center of public attention and
turned them into strangely prominent public figures. Everybody in Kraków identifies
with this tower. Everyone has a special relation with it. Even people who live far
away, on the outskirts of Kraków, see this tower as a special partner—a lonely, if
not heroically alienated, but authoritative, stable, protective, and trustworthy civic
structure. Even the most critical and ironic minds of Kraków share with the rest of
the city’s population this secret psycho-architectural addiction and sustain a lifelong 215
affair with the tower. Having already mentally projected themselves onto this tower,
viewers were now faced with somebody else being projected onto their projections. The
tower that they already inhabited (or that inhabits them) was now inhabited (or co-habited)
by someone else—someone who was different from them, marginalized, and relegated to
the realm of ‘otherness’, yet now strangely familiar. The animated tower communicated
the loneliness and alienation of someone suffering a nightmare, for example the experience
of domestic violence—an occurrence that is not uncommon in Kraków but which is rarely
communicated in public.
In this way, the tower became a very unsettling junction between me (the
viewer) and the ‘other’, overseen by a ‘third party’ (the crowd witnessing the
dialogue). The third party—the real person standing next to me in the crowd,
who could be my boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife—could speak through this
tower on another night, or I could speak to them through this tower, in front of
In this work, I managed to combine my experience in earlier monumental public everybody. What a frightening, liberating possibility. It is easier to be honest
projections with the social, performative, and ethical agenda of my more recent with someone who abuses and neglects you when you are 50 times taller than
Alien Staff, 1992, and Mouthpiece (Le porte-parole), 1993, projects. As with that person, when you can speak with your face masked by a huge city clock
those two communication instruments, the Kraków projection was open to people and your head protected by a gigantic Baroque helmet, clad in the fourteenth-
who were marginalized and voiceless, those whom no one wanted to hear. For century masonry of the City Hall Tower. Suddenly the secrets of the city and
the first time in my projectionist practice, I used video projectors rather than slide all its nightmares—powerful personal experiences that lie hidden inside homes
projectors. And, also for the first time, I used loudspeakers to introduce sound. or workplaces in the darkness of night—came to light and were publicly shared
This created a completely new possibility: transmitting through a public monument through our tower, everybody’s tower.
a narration of a particular person’s actual experience, ‘completing’ this landmark The tower acts as the stranger’s double, as an artifice and memorial, as
structure by projecting ‘into’ it bodily movement, gesture, and human voice. This something that is in-between him or her and me, something that can represent
afforded the participants/performers the opportunity to magnify and articulate and help the other to come to terms with his or her personal experience. It is
architecturally a voice and gestural expression and to make their experience public. what enables viewers gathered in the square below to confront what is being
The process of video recording, editing, testing, and revising the images and conveyed—the other’s experience—as well as to accept the painful similarity
voice recordings became an important experience for the participant/performers, between their own experience and that of the other. Like an Alien Staff or
who learned how to use the tower as a psychological artifice, to develop their Mouthpiece (Le porte-parole), the tower allowed the speaker/performer to play
confidence and powers of self-expression. creatively or to be playfully creative in story-telling and using gestural expression
Public architecture was appropriated here as a transitional object (DW to the point of virtuosity. At the same time it created a possibility for the
Winnicott) and as a communicative artifice (Julia Kristeva). Imagine oneself spectators to respond to such a performance in a critical and discursive way
as a tower! For those whose voices were heard through the tower, addressing while safely sharing the responses. All of those processes were made possible
the mass of people gathered in the square below provided a bizarre, almost because the event was partially artistic and partially life-like, partially real and
comical opportunity to reveal painful secrets either to a particular person partially virtual, science fiction and nightmare, personal tale and crime story.
or simply to anyone. Such truths may sometimes be unveiled more safely It is easier to accept reality as fiction or as a mixture of reality and fiction than
and spoken more freely in an open agora or forum, protected by the aura as reality itself. In this way, the uncanny feeling can be accepted rather than
of democratic public space, than in private, speaking to a friend, or even expelled through the rejection of the stranger. It takes a complicated work of art
silently to oneself. And for those looking and listening in the square below the to transmit (and to make one accept) what looks and sounds strangely familiar.
projection, it may have been easier to empathize with the person-as-tower than The projection on City Hall Tower used high-power video projectors
with the actual speaker. placed on the ground of the plaza, 65 meters from City Hall Tower at a

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Monument/Projection


35-degree angle. A powerful loudspeaker was installed at the top of the tower Originally published in The 4th Hiroshima Art Prize: Krzysztof Wodiczko Catalogue,
below the clock. Several months before the event, contacts were made with Matsuoka Takeshi and Echizen Toyshiya eds, Hiroshima: Hiroshima City Museum
the homosexual community, the disabled, the Kraków Women’s Center, and of Contemporary Art, 1999, p 155.
with organizations and individuals dealing with the problems of drug users
and people living with HIV. The eight actual participants emerged directly The public projection on the City Hall Tower, Central Marketplace (Rynek Glowny),
and indirectly from those contacts. They shared their troubling accounts in Kraków, was produced in summer 1996 by The Gallery of Contemporary Art
recordings of their voices and hand gestures on video. For the hand gestures, Bunkier Sztuki, the Andrzej Wajda Festival, and the City of Kraków as part of the
they selected everyday objects appropriate to their story, performing such Kraków 2000 celebration, with the cooperation of Centrum Kobiet (the Women’s
simple domestic tasks as peeling potatoes, wringing a washcloth, grinding Center) and the technical sponsorship of the Barco company (video projectors).
216 coffee, mixing kogel-mogel (a frothy mixture of egg yoke and sugar used 217
in Poland to cure laryngitis), and other symbolic gestures such as pulling
petals from a flower or holding a lit candle while protecting it from the wind.
The loudness of the soundtrack awoke the city, revealing these nightmarish
experiences that are normally kept hidden.
All the recorded accounts described personal events that took place at
night. Three women spoke of their experiences as victims of domestic abuse
(suffered by them and their children) at the hands of their husbands. One,
for example, spoke of her many years of ‘imprisonment’ in her own home, not
knowing why she allowed herself to become such a prisoner. Her husband, who
was well respected, had been imprisoned in the past, and was now acting as a
prison guard of his wife. One woman told of trying to calm her screaming infant
one night to protect it from her drunken husband who had earlier beaten the
child. Because she could not quiet the child, she too was beaten by the wakened
husband. Their stories addressed two of the most serious problems in Poland
today, that of domestic violence and alcoholism. A young homosexual described
his painful experience of being discovered by his brother in bed with a man, and
irreversibly losing his brother’s love. A drug-addicted man who was being treated
as someone who had committed a moral crime, not as a sick person, described
his experiences, especially with city agencies and at the illegal drug market in
the train station nearby. At this train station, addicts were treated superficially
and allowed to die by police and emergency medical technicians. An older
blind man talked about his tragic experiences of trying to walk at night in the
city (including the area around the tower), announcing publicly the unbearable
secret he held: that his son had always been ashamed to walk with him in the
streets of Kraków.
The City Hall Tower Projection was very well advertised in various media
as part of the Andrzej Wajda Festival, sponsored by the city of Kraków as part
of the Kraków 2000 celebration. There were many Polish and foreign tourists.
Transcripts of the tower’s narratives were widely distributed in English and
Polish. During the first 45 minutes of the projection, organizers counted 4,000
spectators. The projections lasted from 10:30 pm to 12:30 am for three nights
from 2 to 4 August. Large numbers of people also witnessed seven evenings
of tests conducted in the plaza beforehand. Media including radio, television,
and newspapers, national, regional, and city, reported on the projections,
taping events with audio and video recordings and conducting interviews
with spectators. The Women’s Center organized a special public event on the
occasion of the projections. One spectator was heard remarking to another,
“How is it possible that one does not believe a person, while one believes
the Tower?”

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Monument/Projection


Instruments, Monuments, there is no physical evidence of such space. It is a utopia, “a space that exists
nowhere”. But here there is a paradox—the space is practically and permanently
Projections barricaded by actors who, from their elevated positions, speak down, in the
name of democracy, at the excluded, those for whom there is no longer any
2003 room. For a city can be understood as a work of history that celebrates those
who succeeded and forgets those who did not. Consequently, we could say
that public space can only come into existence at the moment when what
Walter Benjamin called the “tradition of the vanquished” can break through to
challenge the “history of the victors”.
The history of the victors is composed of images of the past transmitted to us 219
through a hermeneutic tradition that selects events, preserving some while rejecting
others, and at times determining their interpretation. It also has a profound tendency to
forget things, unlike the tradition of the vanquished, which fears being robbed by that
history. As Benjamin puts it, this history perpetuates past catastrophes—victories—in
order to “allow things to go on”, which is the worst thing in the world). It celebrates
the triumph of the strongest and the disappearance of the weakest.1 The tradition
of the vanquished and the memory of the nameless, the forgotten, the omitted, and
the unheard, must challenge this continuity. The tactics of this tradition are based
on its interruptive nature, its ‘non-linearity’, interactive character, radical negativity,
and arrest of time. It is a tactical movement, as opposed to the strategic moves of the
history of the victors.
If such an intuition can be recognized, articulated, and announced, even
by the nameless or speechless, it may also help sustain the democratic process,
As we know, public space, like democracy, does not exist as such, and cannot “justifying the rational order or the polis by philosophical language which criticizes
be understood as something given, as a kind of social security. These things are that order in the name of what it excludes and marginalizes”.2 But how can
always both devenir (becoming), and à venir (coming, to come, the future). They one who is nameless and speechless expose a history of the new against the
are continually invented, inspired and initiated by every act of opening up—opening continuity of heritage, challenging the history of the victors, especially if no one
the space to ourselves, ourselves to others, and others to others: by every act of is listening and watching?
exposing and inserting what no one wants to hear into urban discourse; by every act For such agonistic public space to be possible, collective memory and
that breaches the boundary between what is appropriate and what is inappropriate, competing collective memories, must be conveyed by voices, even quarrelling
and of course, between public and private; and by helping others to commit precisely ones, in the very places where the traces of the past—traces of victories, losses
such acts. By understanding the theatrical ideology that forms the space or stage on and crimes—persist in the agora in which we have always tended to build our
which such acts of revelatory communication must occur, we may produce, if only for monuments. We do not have to create these discursive spaces, for they exist
a moment, a public space. But it is one that, like a phantom, immediately disappears, as part of public space and collective memory. In liberal ideological discourse,
leaving us continually in pursuit of it. collective memory emerges from a mere variety of voices; it is indifferent as to
Public space, as Claude Lefort passionately argues, can be understood in whether these belong to the victors or the vanquished. My work attempts to help
two ways. First it could be a virtual space, one that “has the virtue of belonging particular voices, monumental and human, to stand up once again and speak
to no one” (thus an empty space), or one “large enough to accommodate only in public spaces, by interrupting—an ‘interpellation’, an arrest or interruption
those who recognize one another within it” (and thus an open space). Its meaning of the proceedings, raising an urgent ‘point of order’. It is meant to heighten
and significance comes from “allowing the questioning of right to spread” (and our “response-ability”, implying the development of our analytical capacity for
thus extending the right to rights—in our case, communicative and performative memory, rather than a simple, and symptomatic ‘acting out’—and contradicting
rights). However, public space remains barricaded by monuments, by billboards, the flow of discourse by allowing “pro-vocative” voices, that were constrained to
by political and commercial discourse. Jürgen Habermas would say that it is be silent, to speak.
being used for “publicity” rather than as a public space. Rather than creating If we act as artists in this space, we are already working within a space
a “public sphere”—one where citizens hold authorities to account—the entire that is a work. This space is a theater dominated by forms and events. Within
city has become a space of visual legitimization for those who want to convince that space, symbolic structures, sculptural, architectural and spatial, are
others that they are serving well as elected officials, or for others advertising their given meaning on the one hand by orchestrated State and other official events
products and services. and performances (parades, commemorative ceremonies, and the like), and
Now, this asks a lot of public space or the public sphere. How can we on the other by disruptive events, ‘wake-up calls’ to those structures (rallies,
even imagine such emptiness and openness? Indeed, it may be impossible, for demonstrations and, heaven forbid—bloody revolutions) that treat them as both

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Monument/Projection


witnesses and suspects. We have seen an example of the latter during the May the vanquished versus the history of the victors) or Nietzsche (critical versus
Day demonstrations of 2000. monumental and archival histories—see “On the Advantages and Disadvantages
But in-between these historic events or civic actions, what can we do of History for Life”) as the infusion of present experience on to the past. This
in order to allow a public space to actually become a public space? Of course, trauma-like state takes the form of a pathological trance, a necessary self-
we must use our expertise in the field of visual (and, indeed, non-visual) arts defense mechanism to help them to survive, or cope with, their own painful
to subvert these spaces, or to navigate a path through them, or to find a way to speechlessness, or, to be more precise, their speechless pain.
create some other experience that will help both ourselves and others contribute When those who live in such a state of painful speechlessness speak or
to something that could be called agonistic democracy. This democracy would think of the moment in the shadow of which they live, they often say, “If only
be based on competitive processes in which a single voice can never win out, the monument could speak.” They identify with the monument’s post-traumatic
220 because it will always be locked in a dynamic relationship with other voices. A condition, and perhaps with their own, and its own numbness. At the same 221
multiplicity of experience, and of practice, will be transmitted throughout the time they express the hope they have not yet reached such an irreversible state
city by such agonistic acts. So we have two things: an ideological space that of dumbness that the monument will speak, as they will speak, some time in
is a theater or a conditioned space; and we have the hope for a democracy, the future.
specifically for an agonistic democracy. This general map of my concerns reflects the limitations within which I
To open up such a space, artists have to work through these metaphorical continue to work—whether I design instruments as interactive or inspirational
elements and languages, the semiotics (and semiosis) of the city. In doing so, vehicles to open up the potential for transmission or communication, or I am
we work with those who are silent, those who have lost, or perhaps never had or animating pre-existing structures, using them similarly as vehicles. Within the
never exercised, their capacities of speech. Of course, in a dramatic and radical latter one might include the act of bringing ourselves to these monuments, of
moral thesis, one could simply say that these are traumatic cases, people who listening to them and listening to those who are speaking through them. In the
have often survived overwhelming events and who, now, though managing well, cases I will outlined this is quite relevant, but more recently my projections
somehow need a vehicle simply to open up and convey their experiences. But have changed. I have tried to bring these paired dimensions—equipment and
people will not necessarily speak, even if we were to design for them the most monument, design and projection, performativity and narrativity, visual and
fantastic communication equipment. Even in more ordinary cases, the question vocal—together.
of how to imagine ourselves, as designers and artists, to be animators of this At the moment when I began using video and sound, projection became
public space, presents the problem of how to approach potential speakers—both endowed with narrative possibility. With it came the development of speech (visual
ourselves and others—in terms of developing an ability to respond (one might call and acoustic), a language I learned from the instruments that I designed, and the
this a “response-ability”) to what is happening around and within us, in ethical possibility of understanding the monument as a body, a symbolic structure with
and psychological terms. some connection to the experience of those who re-animate it, whether comically
The (im)migrant and refugee come first, agents of and for displacement, and or tragically or both. This also allowed those who animated paralyzed monuments,
most experienced in this composite mode of identity. But the rest of us, homeless those who spoke through them, to become both patients and doctors. In healing
hybrids in the officialdom of a monological world, are also speakers whose utterances themselves they are attempting to heal the monument; in order to heal the
are characterized, in Mikhail Bakhtin’s words, by the “irruption of alien expressive monument, they needed to heal themselves.
elements into authorial discourse”. But for all authors and actors, communicating I have worked on video projections for the last four years. The first took
requires self-knowledge, the ability to open one’s dialogical self as a dramatic place in Kraków, one of Europe’s cultural capitals, which is suffering (or living
character in the world, to transmit one’s own quotes, even those “felt and used as through) exactly the same problems as every other large city in Europe, whether
alien”. In caring for the complexities of our culture we create a healthier society. But a capital or not. But for some reason, in this cultured environment, it is not
for some migrants, those overwhelmed by the complications of social existence, very easy to speak about one’s problems. Similarly, given that the city itself is a
those whose creative capacities are traumatized by events, there is another caring, monument, it is impossible to add to or alter anything. Preservation has overtaken
for the subject, which requires its own training and equipment. Social therapeutics transformation. Consequently, I decided to illuminate the tower of the city hall
must recognize that often what is taken to be ill—splits in identity, for example—is with images, and to accompany the projection with sound. The tower is located
also a basis for health. Equipment that reveals and expresses those often-repressed in the very center of Kraków. It is really quite an ugly fourteenth-century brick
splits and traumas, recorded as potential scripts, may allow certain individuals to structure in the German style, the Medieval equivalent of a skyscraper, and a very
attain, for the first time, a fullness of dramaturgical enactment. Such clinical ‘fictions’ lonely one. It wears a Baroque helmet, as most of these structures do, and has a
serve as masks or screens that reveal as much, if not more, than they hide. clock tower and bell. The interior contains a ceremonial space for official events,
The pathological condition of the monument is perhaps not a classic case such as city council meetings and award ceremonies. The tower also bears the
of trauma or of post-traumatic syndrome/stress disorder, but a special state memory of its function as a place of execution and other horrifying events. Lonely
of being, a trauma-like symptom resulting from a prolonged period of life-in- structure though it is, the tower obviously inhabits the souls of most of Kraków’s
captivity. This captivity keeps its captives from symbolic participation in the inhabitants. Even the most detached skeptical, and ironic intellectual has a secret
present, repeatedly and continuously forces them to be at home exclusively with love affair with it. Everyone locates her or himself in relation to this tower and
the past, rather than with history, as understood by Benjamin (the history of consequently, there is a type of architectural relation between every single soul

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Monument/Projection


and the city—the body of the city—that is spiritually projected onto the tower. must first heal themselves in order to heal others, they must be ready to animate this
Thus it was clear that every city dweller had to perceive my projection on to the tower by animating themselves.
tower as the presence of an uninvited guest, someone else dwelling in the tower, During the projection you could see the bricks of the tower and hear the noise
in a forced cohabitation. They now had to live with a stranger. of the crowd. Obviously, I do not project onto a blank wall or a white screen. I seek to
Citizens of Kraków meet others in the tower. During the projection, these establish a dialogue with the physical and corporeal structures of tower and person.
others are, in the main, women who testify to their nightmarish experiences in They become interrelated in the old tradition of montage. (Perhaps John Heartfield
Kraków at night. These are women beaten by drunken husbands, protecting their would have liked some of these projections, but Heartfield did not work with
children, having all sorts of complex reflections and existential thoughts, and physical people and architecture, and that is a big difference.) The bricks function
making use of all manner of survival techniques. The women confess and share not only as the skin of the tower, which connects with the skin of the person who
222 these experiences with those on the ground around the tower, amongst which is projected onto it, but also as something like the partition in a confessional box. 223
may be their husbands or their sisters and brothers, their friends or their enemies. Given the dramatic confession of the participant/animator, there is a tendency on
Clearly, even for those whom we might describe as the most sophisticated the part of the spectators to imprison a person they think of as a ‘victim’ within their
inhabitants of the city, there is something strangely familiar in this. There can be no overly empathetic perceptions. This can drive the work towards an extremely kitsch
doubt that similar violence occurs amongst the middle-class intelligentsia as much magnification of the victim—a kind of TV talk-show confession within which there is
as it does amongst the working class. At night, in Kraków, violence is an egalitarian no room for a process of coming to terms with what happens to be developing—that
and classless act. is highly orchestrated and done purely for entertainment value. Those bricks are very
The crowd came to the projection to be spectators, but a strange electricity important safeguards; they will always draw people’s attention to the fact that there
began to be conducted from the body of the tower to the bodies of the spectators, is no in-depth illusion. There is a distance that must be maintained.
especially charging the bodies of couples. Freud might have said that this happens Many Japanese high school students find themselves in the most
when something that is supposed to be hidden—the uncanny—has come to light. impossible situation. Rather than being within the protected environment of
It is possible to confront the uncanny when it is presented as something that is elementary school, they find themselves in a sort of labor camp. With no warning
partially real and partially artificial, in this case, something somewhere between they may face impossible situations, impossible demands, a complete lack of
science fiction and a crime story, something that is both art and architecture. understanding of their lives, and a complete lack of space and time in which to
Architecture has a very special role in our psychic life: its forms have a develop themselves as human beings. They are pushed to pass more and more
permanence that allows surrounding events to project and confirm new meaning exams, and to prove themselves in a theater of desperate progress, governed by
upon it. These forms represent a history of meaning, and the history of a life can early-modern values.
be seen in relation to their structure, in the way that I have imagined a relation I thought that designing equipment that would help these school children
and identification with the tower in Kraków. I have no theory about this, only to present themselves, to become present, and to tell others about their lives. In
questions. What would a psycho-ideological theory of architecture be? What a number of conversations, I had been made aware of a Japanese expression—
really happens there? What is the relationship between art and such structures? “You can tell more about a person by looking at their back than by looking at
And once they are animated, how much can the people that are animating those their face”—that led me to try and develop the back as a speaking device, one
structures heal themselves in the process. that might reveal more than you could see in a face. One could say that this
Imagine a mother, or wife (a common historical representation of the State), a work relates to the projections in that it is a projection in daylight, and that the
heroic figure who has survived an overwhelming experience, but cannot really speak performer is the projector. The performer becomes a monument, initially silent,
about it. She has to be filmed standing on a tall pedestal, imagining herself to be a then animated by the use of the instrument.
tower, looking down at everyone, referring to some point in the city that only she, Dis-Armor, an instrument focusing on the psycho-social situation of
being 50 times taller than those around her, can see. Each time she starts speaking Japanese school children and “school refusers”, with their difficulties of speech
she bursts into tears; that is it for the recording. The next time she might not even and facial expression, uses the ancient tradition of arms making to conceive an
come. But strangely enough she does, usually with the perplexed feeling that she alternative to face-to-face communication. The pair of video screens worn on the
wants to perform in this architectural theater, but at the same time, knowing that she back displays a live image of the wearer’s eyes from the camera attached to the
cannot do this very well. So we try again. This time her sentence lasts a little longer. helmet, and the loudspeaker below the screens amplifies the wearer’s voice. A
Another time she does not come at all. Somebody else comes. Somebody who has rear-view mirror, or alternatively, another small camera, permits the operator to see
been somehow inspired, or who heard some gossip or rumor that something like this the spectator behind him. Specifically, Dis-Armor is designed for high school-age
is happening. Someone more ready to speak. And then, all of a sudden, more and students and school refusers that have survived overwhelming life experiences and
more begins to happen in the process of recording, re-recording, editing, changing, wish to try to overcome a false sense of shame. It is directed toward their difficulty
reconstructing. More and more of the story emerges. We are pre-occupied with in facing the truth of what happened to them and in facing the ‘others’ to whom
keeping their hands in the proper position, because the tower is very narrow, and they must communicate. In short, Dis-Armor is a device to help young trauma
speaking in a particular fashion because it is so tall. All of these things emerge from survivors lift their shields of shame, to break inner and outer walls of silence, and
a mixture of laughter and tears. The distance between the experiences, the memory, to share difficult memories, critical thoughts, and hopes with others in the midst of
and the person is increasing, and that may be a healthy process. Just as these people public space. Dis-Armor’s purpose is to attract the attention of passers-by on the

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Monument/Projection


street and others in the city, to entice them to come closer and to focus on the life recollection of the past, which by the very consciousness of this act becomes
difficulties of the young person. historical. The future is understood as an open horizon, but one constantly informed
Since direct face-to-face eye and voice contact is often too difficult for by the process of critical recollection, making it public, moving it in the direction of a
those who have survived such life events, Dis-Armor offers an opportunity for an new public life. Ironically, as in Newtonian physics, the user is propelled forward to
indirect, mediated communication. To do so, Dis-Armor transforms the wearer’s the future through a ‘rear-ejection’ of consciously recognized matter from the past,
back into an artificial, ‘mediated’ face: a media mask. At the same time, the accumulated in his or her inner worlds. Expulsed, announced, and denounced to the
actual face of the user is concealed behind the Dis-Armor helmet. This initial outside world, this exteriorized critique of the past is registered in the eyes and ears
‘masquerade’ of back-to-front communication may soon pave the ground for face- of observers and listeners left gathering in the rear, who in turn speak to the back of
to-face, open, fearless and shameless contact, which happens at first by simply the forward-moving user. At times, when encouraged by the listeners’ responses, the
224 turning towards the listener, opening the hood of a helmet, and exposing one’s user may turn to speak to them directly and ask them to join her or him in this critical 225
real face, and then later by taking off the Dis-Armor. journey. The action of Dis-Armor produces a critical history of the cultural mania of
Both variants (blue and gold) of Dis-Armor, consist of three main progress, the problem of a lifeless life whose eventual price is death.
components: the helmet, the chest shield, and the backpack. The chest shield The form of the instrument in-itself, reminiscent of a device out of a
contains a set of electric batteries, the power supply. The helmet is equipped with science fiction, suggests the future. It offers hope by helping the viewer to
the hood. When the hood covers the face of the wearer, two small TV cameras imagine, from the outset, that there really is a future. Conversely, it revives the
installed inside transmit enlarged images of his or her eyes, which appear on the past in its recollection of Japanese traditions of samurai, of prophetic warriors,
two video monitors, located in the backpack. The microphone installed behind and of helpful cyborgs.
the mouth cover of the helmet transmits the amplified voice of the wearer to the More recent works involve specially designed equipment to be worn by
loudspeaker located below the two video monitors. The helmet is equipped with operators whose interruptive responses can be projected on to the monument in
a switch that allows for remote closing and opening of the shields that cover the real time, such as the Tijuana Projection. This live projection using high-powered
monitors. The eyelid-like shields, when open, protect the monitors from excessive video projectors and sound equipment controlled by mixing-boards for switching
ambient light. The gold variant of Dis-Armor is equipped with a computer located between pre-recorded and live mode, took place on 23 and 24 February 2001,
in its backpack as an additional speech aid. The computer allows for memorizing, and lasted about three hours each evening. It was the closing event of InSite
recalling, and emitting pre-recorded speech and images of the wearer’s eyes that 2000, a several-month-long public art festival on both sides of the Mexican-
are synchronized with sound. An additional switch, located in the helmet, allows a American border.
choice between recorded and live modes of speech. A special keyboard allows for El Centro Cultural de Tijuana, Baja California Norte, is a civic icon of the
the selection of specific units of the recorded material. border city of Tijuana, Mexico. This cultural complex, with its theaters, museums,
In addition, wireless transmission equipment with antennae installed in the galleries, bookstore, educational programs, and restaurants, is also an agora, a
helmets of both variants, allow the two operators to work collectively, each carrying central gathering place for concerts and other festivities—the symbol of that city.
live images and sound from the other. Both are located in the helmet section and in Tijuana is also the center of a belt of maquiladoras (border factories), some 500
the backpack. In the backpack of the gold variant there is an additional shield that of which have been built there by transnational corporations. Foreign materials
allows for easy access to the computer keyboard and screen. This is necessary and parts are shipped to them for assembly by cheaper Mexican labor, with the
during the process of editing the pre-recorded speech. In the future, both variants finished products being returned to consumer markets throughout the world.
may be equipped with additional microphones located on the top of the backpack Young women from all over the country provide 90 per cent of this labor.
and an earphone attached to the helmet in order to allow the wearer to hear the Whether or not the new workers actually cross a border, they must constantly
responses of the spectators behind his or her back. pass through a multitude of difficult social and psychological checkpoints. There is,
It is the psycho-aesthetic process in Dis-Armor, of the preparation for example, the crossing from the feudal status of a village-based social economy to
preceding appearance, performance, and interaction in public, required by the the postmodern global and industrial assembly line of the maquiladoras. They also
instrument’s front-to-back structure and function—recollecting, recording, cross from the older identities of man and woman in a traditional division of labor,
re-recording and editing the written and enacted material—that is most critical. to new ones where woman is the preferred wage earner, even head of household,
This technological artifice seeks to create a more playful distance between rather than the now often unemployed husband.
the wearer’s drive to ‘tell it all, like it is’, and the spectator’s overly serious and These migrant families, many from the southern States of Oaxaca and
empathetic identification with the experience or trauma of the wearer. Dis-Armor Chiapas, often plan to come to the north only for a short time, but are then caught
inspires the creation of two ethical and psychological spaces: one on the part of in the fluid, phantom borders of new and alluring extra-urban agglomerations,
the operator, to open and reveal often suppressed splits and silences, and another where they are held in a tortured and perpetual love-hate relationship with
on the part of the spectator, to come closer to the wearer, and thereby to one’s everything ‘Tijuana’ represents. In the words of one participant in the projection,
own trauma and one’s own strangeness. “I escaped from one hell into another.”
Dis-Armor sails against the wind, tacking back and forth in a manner that El Centro Cultural’s huge globe-like form, designed for an IMAX theater,
preserves the trajectory of public history, but acknowledges any and all criticism is reminiscent of the cenotaph Boullée envisaged for Newton, or some gigantic
and doubts about official progress. It moves forward as a result of a continuing pre-Columbian structure. The women who participated in the live projection

Transformative Avant-Garde and Other Writings Monument/Projection


were able to animate the external body of the monument, transforming its Monumental Interruption
faceless, silent mass into a manifestation of their presence. This presence,
whose force is so central to the social economy, usually remains hidden from 2004
view, as does their testimony.
Inscribed with their architecturally magnified and reinforced faces and
amplified voices, this new center of attention, optical and acoustic, now accorded
them their true place as prominent actors in the drama of the city. For the
projection, six women from various generations sought to voice the difficulties
of their personal situations—domestic and sexual abuse, exploitation in the work
226 place and police violence—trying to find words for life events rarely addressed
either in their culture or in the media. Each of them projected her face on to the
central sphere and amplified her voice via a specially designed head-mounted
camera-microphone and wearable transmission equipment.
For the first time, this was done live, in real time. This was possible only
through a preliminary process of recording, re-recording, and listening to their own
accounts, gauging their effect and effectiveness on others when projected on a large
scale. The participants were then able to operate with greater confidence when in
the midst of spectators during the projection, as well as in facing several film, radio,
and television crews, who broadcast the projection to the city. For the women this
was a great step forward psychologically and ethically. This performative speech-
act, making the passage from testimony to transformative public action became
an important bridge to developing a capacity to intervene in real life. The response
evoked among the public which in a sense became co-actors in the event, in turn
furthered its dynamic. This may bring Tijuana a little closer to fully acknowledging Democratic process and public space cannot, even for a moment, be sustained if
who really inhabits her and how. we do not provide conditions for the inclusion of the silent, invisible and seemingly
passive, but potential, speakers and actors on the public stage. It is the silence of
the city, the invisibility of many of the city’s residents that needs to be interrupted.
Originally published in AA Files, no 43, 2003, pp 32–51. It is our fear of seeing the faces, hearing the voices, of these ‘others’—our
unwillingness, even incapacity, that needs to be exposed and disrupted.
We must be supportive and inclusive towards perhaps the most important
1 Mosès, Stéphane on Walter Benjamin in “The Theological-Political Model of History”, potential speakers: those incapacitated by the very experiences they may wish
History & Memory, fall/winter, 1989.
to communicate, are incapable of opening up. Their capacity for sharing their
2 Critchley, Simon, The Ethics of Deconstruction: Derrida and Levinas, Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1992. ‘passion’, their witness, their testimony and their critical vision has been internally
and externally, politically and psychologically, sha