Text by: Tadej Troha
The Construction of Perception, ŠKUC Gallery, Ljubljana, Exhibition Catalogue / 53rd Venice Biennial - Slovenian Pavilion, 2009
In relation to a work of art, a painter's personal perception of the world is usually secondary and is constructed by combining critical interpretations and the painter's own commentaries. Such explicit and secondary commentaries often provide the basis for biographical studies and can offer a variety of fascinating thematic starting points – but this variety can prevent us from seeing formal issues.
In relation to a work of art, the artist's perception is a silent, invisible condition, which, however, is excluded from the final product – it is the blind spot in the final image. How can it be accessed? How can it be made visible? How can the material presence of perception be retained in the final image?
Let us begin with a weak thesis: everything that can be said about a work of art is already in the work of art. Ever since the adoption of the concept of immanent interpretation, this statement has been generally accepted and self-evident. However, the condition for this universal agreement is established a priori. The consensus is based on a narrowing of the subject – on an implicit distinction between artists and their output. While the thesis above is understood as self-evident and absolute within its domain, it remains partial and insufficient if a treatise seeks to provide a comprehensive examination of an artist and their production – that is, of their life and work. The concept of immanent interpretation can proves useful up to the point where the issue of the artist's personal perception emerges – at which point it shifts into biography. The answer to the question of origins is provided by secondary, additional sources.
To be more precise: immanent interpretation does not exclude a work of art from being the inalienable expression of an artist, their essential predicate, that which makes the artist an artist; however, at the core of its logic lies exclusion. This constitutive exclusion presents itself through two seemingly different paradigms. The first, pre-modern paradigm openly sees immanent interpretation as partial and insufficient, and consequently supplements it with positivistic biographical analysis; the second, post-modern paradigm relinquishes all discussion of the author, and understands the immanent method as inherent within different interpretations. Contrary to general persuasion, we can argue that the paradigms are two sides of the same view in terms of examining a work of art in opposition to the issue of authorship and its ineffability – in the case of the former, the mystery is 'quilted' by biography, while in the latter, the mystery is constituted as absent and always elusive. To put it differently: despite all the differences, both paradigms are defined by their view of the condition as transcendent: the idea that there is no trace of the condition in the output. It is true that by examining the effects we can approach the condition, but when they are addressed on the basis of these paradigms, above all they speak only of the condition which is used to determine them. To the artist, every work is only an approximation, and the mystery of the essence of the artist's perception cannot be accessed through the work of art. Everything is in the work of art – except the artist's personal perception. We can speak about everything, but whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.
When we try to read the statement above without distinguishing between the author and the product, however, the transcendent prerequisite directly enters the artwork – the work of art will no longer speak of its prerequisite, but will be the prerequisite. Because of this 'flattening', the abolition of the transcendental distinction between life and work, the thesis has to be modified.
So, it is better to say that nothing which can be said about a work of art is outside the work of art. The new formulation reveals the true problem. The artist's personal perception is not all that eludes the positive thesis. Its expulsion conceals another exclusion which is demanded by the logic of immanent interpretation: everything that can be said about a work of art is in the work of art – except the work of art itself.
Paradoxically, only a change from an affirmative to a negative statement can end the silence surrounding both excluded elements only when they are discussed in terms of an equation. Nothing is outside the work of art, so: perception = the work of art, the work of art = perception. The shift can only be achieved under the condition that the ineffability of the cause and the ineffability of the effect are thought at the same time.
The prevailing subjective discourse also reaches a self-defining limit when it is applied in the society at large. The moment it attempts to resolve social antagonisms with its own terminology, it slips again into an irrationality which ceases to be defined as intrinsically positive and harmless. In a moment of social crisis, the official discourse will maintain that problems must be addressed by searching for 'objective' reasons, but this empty speech will rely on its irrational supplement, which, paradoxically, is in fact more consistent than its formal opposite. If the social mechanism is built on subjectivity, the subject will also emerge at the place of social antagonism as the carrier of conspiracy theory.
Although such irrationality is less noble and deep, its social role is no less harmonic. A conspiracy theory will ensure the quilting of the social antagonism and its disavowal – the crisis will become harmonic waiting for a future harmony.
It may sound unusual, but one can intervene in the harmonious relationship between the protagonists in a conspiracy theory through the subject who is convinced there is a conspiracy, who takes it seriously and sees it as total – the subject driven by something which is today seen to be as old-fashioned as the concept of social antagonism – paranoia. So how does a paranoiac intervene in this situation?
First and foremost, by obstinately insisting on the idea of objectivity. Conspiracy is no longer merely a supplement which enters at the point where interpretation ceases to produce meaning, but a consistent system, which thereby also takes over the role as the structuring principle of the paranoiac subject. The paranoiac subject no longer faces persecution by another subject, but, strictly speaking, exists within the persecution; however, contrary to the persecutor, the paranoiac subject is the impossible point of enunciation of the persecution. A direct consequence of this is that the criterion which separates conspiracy from harmless, everyday situations also becomes loose – everything that the paranoiac perceives in their environment is included in the conspiracy, is a manifestation of persecution.
However, the statement that there is no situation which would not be included in the conspiracy subverts the very concept of conspiracy theory, which is no longer possible if there is no room for an element excluded from the conspiracy. Conspiracy is no longer an assumed manifestation of evil subjectivity, an idea that evil subjectivity projects into the world, but is strictly objective and applies to everything. Conspiracy theory is replaced by conspiracy as theory.
If, in subjectivism, conspiracy theory marks a powerless moment of interpretation, the interpretation is, strictly speaking, redundant if the conspiracy constructs its own theory. This results in two things: firstly, the conspiracy cannot be doubted any longer – the only possible subjective position is certainty; and secondly, the difference between thought and perception is lost to the paranoiac, whose enunciation is the enunciation of the reality of perception.
This distinctive position of perception is also confirmed by a criterion that was described, naturally with great vanity, by the most famous paranoiac of all time. In his Memoirs of My Nervous Illness, a book which was – pro bono publico – subject to analysis by Freud, Daniel Paul Schreber wrote:
"One might of course doubt whether I can or will speak the truth, in other words whether I exaggerate or suffer from self-deception. But I may say—whatever one may think of my mental faculties—that I can claim two qualities for myself without reservation, namely absolute truthfulness and more than usually keen powers of observation; no one who knew me in my days of health or witnessed my behavior now would dispute this."
The paranoiac who is keen on discovering the absolute truth through illusions and has a special gift of noticing every hallucination: it is difficult to imagine a more bizarre self-definition if we are limited by the division of work into perception, observation, collecting impressions, and questionnaires and machines on the one hand; and thinking, interpreting and statistical analysis on the other. In complete contrast, the paranoiac perfectly demonstrates (and this is why their position is insufferable) the possibility of replacing perception and its interpretation, and the objective and its treatment, with a different paradigm which does not observe the object, the material, of perception, does not take it as an inspiration, or exterior condition, but retains it within the product as an effect, precisely because it is impossible to grasp completely at the point of its cause. This paradigm can be called the construction of perception.
Naturally, we cannot avoid the traditional reproach: is it possible to universalise the characteristics of paranoia? Does not paranoia, in its delusion, establish its own simulacra of law – a law which applies only to paranoia, and thus avoids universality, constitutes a flight from legality?
At this point, we should give credit to Freud's psychoanalysis. Even though, for obvious reasons, paranoia was not its starting point (paranoiacs were confined to sanatoriums), psychoanalysis has never refrained from attempting to inscribe paranoia within universality. Although the motive of this endeavour was not Freud's tolerance or humanitarianism, but the progress of theory, the concept of universality had to be revised. In other words, inscribing paranoia within psychoanalysis is only legitimate when psychoanalysis presents itself as the universalisation of the conditions of paranoia. Objectivity, required by a paranoiac to maintain their hallucinations, will take the form of an object.
The title of Miha Štrukelj's project – x=0 / y=0 Interference in process – already points to all the basic questions outlined above. The issue of the personal perception of the artist is first captured in the phrase x=0 / y=0. The point of origin is defined as totally formalistic, as if it had nothing to do with content, as if the artist's personal perception were only the central point of a grid and the central point for the author coincided with the central point of the product. All idealistic definitions of the mysterious essence of personality have been eliminated; in the final instance the mystery turns into tautology, where the point of origin is no more than the point of origin.
Does this mean that an artist can be reduced to art? Can art be reduced to technisation? Is it Štrukelj's purpose to present 'an end of man', a man who dissolves into technology?
Even though the first act of reduction was necessary, it does not give reason for nostalgia or the triumph of hyper-modernism. The answers to the questions above are negative – not because disavowal occurs in the next step or content is added at a later stage, a decoration of empty space, but because the tautology 'the point of origin is the point of origin' implied by the minimalistic definition in the formula x=0 / y=0 does not hold completely. It is essential that interruption in process does not refer to islands of freedom which have avoided the tautology, but rather the immediate consequence of tautology, a repetition of its un-wholeness, its contingency.
If the formula x=0 / y=0 suggests a matrix of universality, the interruption which is produced from this point of origin in the process does not constitute a denial of universality, but shows that universality cannot be understood as a transcendent scheme and that its only modus vivendi is a seemingly marginal, insignificant blot, which resists being incorporated into assumed universality. The blot does not constitute a transgression of universality or entry into another domain, but constructs a new type of universality materialised in this blot, in this interruption, without ceasing to be universality.
In x=0 / y=0 Interference in process Miha Štrukelj juxtaposes different strategies of producing and reflecting on the interruption discussed above, an objective surplus in the artistic process. The problem is not tackled as a project through which he would aim to provide a resolution to the issue presented from outside, but as an opportunity to focus on juxtaposing different existing and discovered strategies of his own artistic practice. With this decision, he does not renounce the consequences of his (unwilled) anticipation of an answer to the questions posited above, nor the fact that he already knew their answers before the questions were explicitly put forward, but displays a certain degree of subjective rigidity, which is the only form of freedom in an era of particular identities. Subjective rigidity, the certainty that questions that relate to the subject and are worth answering are rare, is contrasted with the fluidity of subjective positions which are constantly generated for the gaze of the Other.
By juxtaposing different aspects of interruption in the process of re-presentation, Štrukelj constructs the possibility of accessing the world, which is as subjective as it is universal, in so far as it appropriates a universal issue and vice versa. Instead of tackling personal perception as a new issue and attempting to provide a new answer, Štrukelj persists in his singular position. He knew the answer, but had not recognised it as such yet – this realisation is contained in the only new strategy, which, however, works by confirming existing ones.
The danger of juxtaposition is that it can seem as if it is only a gesture which gives sense to heterogeneous strategies, which eliminates the inherent objective element of each strategy and links the unlinkable. Therefore, the act of juxtaposing has to model other strategies.
In the first strategy the interruption is manifested as a grid, a technical aid in painting, which assumes the role of an art object the moment before it should disappear, without completely eliminating the surface reference – the waste by-product returns as a constituent element of an art work. In the second strategy the interruption is directly manifested as such, as a pseudo-digital blot, a material 'nothing' as the point of inscription of perception. In the third strategy, the 'Lego picture', material removed from reality means an interruption, because in the process of removal, the material is robbed of reality. In what way? It is definitely not another attempt to move away from the function an object has in reality into abstraction; on the contrary, the Lego brick completely keeps its function of interlocking with another Lego brick. The dimension of reality is removed from the material in the most banal sense – the Lego brick loses its third dimension, as it is presented as a surface. However, the powerlessness to eliminate the third dimension in the mental picture of the viewer is physically returned through the illusionary third dimension which emerges because of the composition of bricks of different colours. So interruption is manifested as material robbed of a dimension of reality in order to produce an optical illusion; however, the material has not been erased; it is still present, and its reality is juxtaposed with the reality of the illusion without it being clear as to which has the upper hand. In the fourth strategy, used in works on tracing paper, the issue of perception and its construction is perhaps presented in its most elementary form. The artist's perception is not directly present in the final creation, but enters as a re-formulation of a moment caught by a photograph. The first moment of perception is lost; however, it persists as a note which determines the image as seen by the mind. Although the reconstruction of a photograph through the layering of tracing paper, which enables a subsequent focus, does reveal a possibility of a subsequently distinct perception, this perception is completely tied to the objective, lost perception. Therefore, the constructed perception is not a completely new perception, but only the first one in its retroactive construction.
As I have mentioned, Štrukelj adds a fifth strategy to the four existing ones, which links together the other elements at the risk of becoming one of the elements itself. 'Notes on a board' do not interpret the other elements, but form a point where the process of putting up a show is recorded, the process of juxtaposing four strategies. They repeat the interruption, which is inherently present in each part, on the level of the whole.
And so the point which establishes the whole, the point where the artist's perception is left to be seen in pure form, is nothing but excess material. However, it is essential that it is not a place where objective elements or blots of other images would be inscribed, and that it is not a channel for these. On the contrary, the excess material in the form of notes on a board is an abjet of pure illusion: it is possible to avoid the objective element. The quilting point is not a guarantee of sense; it is, on the contrary, the illusion of wholeness as an abjet.
However, the inability to form a coherent whole is no reason to despair, even though it is often an argument of despair, just as it is not a reason for frenetic attempts to remove oneself from universal problems, although it is often part of arguments made to defend them. Despite its sheer spectacularity, a popular approach is not revolutionary as it does not acknowledge that the aim of systemic interruption is the possibility of a shift in reality. Miha Štrukelj does not avoid reality, but enters it to shift it. Also, he does not shy away from the traditional painting process: he penetrates it, but in order to pause in it, to highlight its problematic instances, which he makes present as problems, problems of the world and its perception through interruption.