This text by GORDON LEBREDT is published alongside the ROBIN COLLYER exhibition.
A few opening remarks*
So let’s imagine that we are somewhat ahead of ourselves here.
Already inin the middle or milieuof an exhibition.
Yes. It could be any exhibition; indeed, that would be the law, which is to say that any and every exhibition could necessarily serve as an example.
An example of what? What would such an example exemplify?
Only itself. Hence, before there is anything to see (an object of one sort or another), even before there is a subject who sees (an eye, a consciousness), some showing would, in showing itself, make an example of itself.
You’re saying that something like the showing of what shows itself always comes first. Which means, if I’m reading you correctly, that, with respect to this primordial gesture of the showing pointing to itself showing, we always miss the boat, we inevitably arrive too late.
Correct. Such would be the enigma of any proclamation that thought it could take the measure of this demonstration, to referentially catch it out so to speak.
So, to stay with your example: if we imagine we are standing in the middle of an exhibition, and one of us took it upon herself to point out that the showthis show for exampleis presently, at this very moment, taking place, she would in effect be responding to a demand anterior to such a showing, a demand that simply says Look at this. But where, in this instance, this instance in which there appears to be nothing to look at, is one to look? Rather, is it not the so-called subject who is caught out here and thus made to look the fool precisely because he or she appears to have missed the point?
Yes. But everyone misses the point; everyone to a certain degree is made to feel stupid. However, it’s this condition of feeling stupid, or more to the point, of being ex-posed, of being caught staring in the wrong direction that is of interest to me here. Why? Because I think it comes with the territory; it is a necessary part of any demonstration, any exposition.
So the point is not to put stupidity on show, but to solicit it, if only for a moment, beforeand this goes without sayingone redirects one’s attention
To the security of some point of reference. You can, without much difficulty, picture the scenario. In response to our hapless subject’s inquiry What exhibition? Where? there comes, from who knows what point in time and space, only a perfunctory this. And so our scene might go like this:
This! At this moment, here
The point becomes, in a word, attenuated. The entire event, the whole show or showing is interminably drawn out. With each moment, each this, inscriptionunderstood as that which precedes any subject, any object whatsoeverunfolds itself. One could then say that insofar as it dis-inscribes itself, spaces itself out in presentation, itthe this of the looksends itself
Or represents itself
Yes, it re-presents itself. And so this detour, this self-posting, by all counts is never one with itself.
It remains that it reverberate, here and there, without quite coming back to itself.
Which is to say that it has no time for presentation; the look as you call it never suffers gladly the restraints of place, the oikonomia of the home.
Your little scenario reminds me of an old SNL sketch.1 You know, the one where Steve Martin comes on stage and, after peering rather intensely into the camera, exclaimsto himself we presume: What the hell is that? As if having failed to receive anything like an adequate response from his own internal reserves, he more or less repeats his query not once but several times, and each time changing the inflection or angle of the question: What the hell is that? What’s that danged thing doing here? How did that get here? What the hell is that? Unable to name it, he is reduced to calling it a thing, and, oddly enough, a deal: How’d that dang deal get here?
Anyway, whatever it is, obviously it’s a big deal and it’s got hisMartin’scomplete attention.
Now it turns out Martin’s not alone; he wasn’t just talking to himself. Turning off camera, he calls out to his companionI’m assuming that this other tourist, this spectator (they could be in an art gallery or museum for all I know) is an acquaintance, perhaps even a friendto come on over and look at this deal. So this companionBill Murraysaunters over only to confirm Martin’s perplexity before this thing: What the hell is that?
Well, to cut short this ever so brief exchange between Martin and Murray, I’d like to call your attention to a number of points that I think bear on your schema: 1) between the two of them, they don’t seem to be capable of naming the thing; 2) in spite of the fact that on more than one occasion they consider the thing might be dangerous, one of them feels the need to have his photograph taken alongside it; and 3) each of them takes it upon himself to proclaim that even though he has no name for it he knows what it is.
I’m familiar with the skit. And as you have suggested, theythese two companionscould be spectators, a couple of artgoers; they could be tourists but they could just as well be art lovers or, if I may put it another way, likers of art.
Yesfor example: Likers. Likers will suffice as my example. As you may well know, Likers (Resemblances in French) is the title of a work by Robin Collyer. It has two components, elements that have been referred to as resembling a quasi-human couple, a kind of Mutt and Jeff of the object world.2
Estragon and Vladimir or, perhaps, Martin and Murray. But for youwouldn’t such personifications be pushing things a bit too far?
Perhaps, but for now I’m interested in the name, the name or title L I K E R S.
All caps and spaced out.
Indeed. But I prefer to have it set as follows:
E I K L R S
I’m not sure I understand. You’ve simply reordered the letters alphabetically: a surely arbitrary if not unremarkable arrangement. However, the title is now, at first glance, difficult to decipher. Why prolong the inevitable? Why make a game of it?
Well, Collyer has an abiding interest in translationto be more specific: in translation programmes that often produce some rather uncalled for, if not quite humorous, results. When Googled, one of the first results for the word likers, if we disregard the so-called image results (another of Collyer’s interests), is a page called More Words. There, likers isn’t definedfor a definition one is directed to search for likers on a number of online resources, all of which come up empty; rather, the word is simply described as if it were a thing, the first entry being: The word likers uses 6 letters: E I K L R S.3
In effect, then, you’re saying that your detour through the worldwide web has, by chance and, of course, by programme, rendered, if only for a moment, the word, and it follows, the name Likers, unintelligible, that the very thing that names things that resemble one another now no longer resembles itself.
That’s one way of putting it. Likers, as a name, is what Kripke, in Naming and Necessity, refers to as a rigid designator.4 The proper name is invariable, it’s functionwhich is purely designativeis considered to be independent of the phrase universe in which it happens to be deployed. Here, for the purpose of my demonstration, I’ve simply renamed them, these things that go by the name Likers.
Here and now, in your so-called universe, Likers is Eiklrs.
Precisely. And since I don’t have the objectsthe likers themselvesat hand, I’m reduced to constructing, through my peculiar way of phrasingand linking as Lyotard would sayan alternative universe.5
For the purpose of demonstration you say. But according to Lyotard naming is not showing.
But I do have a picture. Like Martin, the tourists in the SNL skit who, regardless of the risk involved, thought it necessary to secure a picturesome photographic proofof the thing encountered, I too have some hard evidence.
Yes. In fact it consists of three images, which, I take it, were arranged by Collyer himself: a triptych of sorts whose outer panels isolate each of the likers.6 Spatially separated, the units are also shown disassembled. Thus the components of each unit, each liker, appear to hover above one another as if to form an ostensive schema. Between these two improbable views, these two syntactical stagings, Collyer has inserted a conventional photographic representation of the piece, albeit from one that has been severely cropped so that the space between the units is emphasized. And as if to dimension and thus underscore this emphasis, the artist has superimposed a two-headed arrow that bridges this spacing as it were.
As you describe it, everything has been spaced out; but unlike your name for the things, they haven’t been rephrased or jumbled up.
No, they haven’t. But there’s nothingno lawpreventing me from linking Collyer’s phrasing otherwise. As for my demonstration, I want to re-picture his scenario, one that I think leaves itself open to a certain manipulation.
Your notion of an alternative universe, one that Collyer himself might authorize.
One that he has, perhaps, already authorized. Collyer’s simples, his likers, seem to call out to be propositionalized, that is to say, reordered as quasi-propositions or as a quasi-propositionin a word, as a picture.
Here it is
But one can argue that this pictureyour form of presentationin no way corresponds to reality, to say nothing of predicative logic. You appear to picture things as a couple of propositions: on the one hand the likerlet’s call it E for Estragoncould be written as if E, then not-V while, on the other, the liker Vfor Vladimir of courseas if V, then not-E. In each case, the not-E and the not-V have been pictured literally as voids. Collyer’s left-right arrow could also mean that E and V are materially equivalent if, and only if: E is true if V is true or, conversely, E is false if V is false. If they are equivalent or exchangeable, do they not, as propositionsif that’s what they arecancel themselves out?
In each case, they are pictured as having their own universe even though we know that they are sharing the same space. I suppose that what I’m trying to say here is that this communal spacethe space (and the temporality) in which they are shown to be on displayis never given. In other words, the contextwhich is not reducible to say the Carmen Lamanna Gallery sometime in 1972was not in place prior to these things being themselves placed.
Placed or phrased on a case-by-case basis.
Absolutely, you could say that, in this case, position, as a phrasing, precedes whatever the thing might be saying or showing. Each liker is a singularity, one that carries with it the pragmatics of its materiality, a condition that I think characterizes Collyer’s entire oeuvre. His approach to things is nothing if not pragmatic. Each of his phrasings has its universes; which amounts to saying that what we call context is to be found within their phrasing.7 So, to answer your question Are these things equivalent and thus exchangeable?, we must go back to my schema in which, in each case, each repetition of the same case, a liker’s companion has been replaced with a blank
I take it that these voids, these blanks, are to be considered, following Lyotard, as phrases?
The blanks must be considered as possible linkages so we could say that an absence, a void spacing, is linked or added to each of the elements. Each of these things, and its universe, is at once paratactically marked by nothing.
Now in each case this absence takes the shape of the thing it repeats or replaceslike a doppelganger.
Each, insofar as it stands forth, is marked by what it is not, internally spaced out so that if one were to superpose one case onto the other, each unit would see itself imposed upon by this lackits doppelganger as you put it. The actual space between the units that Collyer emphasizes by cropping and the addition of the symbol becomes the representative of their having been re-marked.
Their self-identity, their likeness to themselves, rests with a relation to what they are not: E, such as it is, is also not-E.8
These likers as we’re calling them, don’t resemble themselves and for that they can always be repeated or replaced. Each is marked by a certain vicariousness, a condition that Collyer seems to have countenanced, having thought it necessary, to make a point no doubt concerning their relation to one another, to supplement the entire scene with one in which E becomes a Volvo sedan and V a panel van of one sort or another.
They resemble the name, which being a rigid designator, functions like an empty place but remains the same across any number of scenes, any number of placings. Viewing the empty spaces or holes in your scenario I am led to recall a comment made by Wittgenstein:
216. A thing is identical with itself. There is no ner example of a useless proposition, which yet is connected with a certain play of the imagination. It is as if in the imagination we put a thing into its own shape and saw that it tted.
We might also say: Every thing ts into itself. Or again: Every thing ts into its own shape. At the same time we look at a thing and imagine that there was a blank left for it, and that now it ts into it exactly.
Does this spot t’ into its white surround? But that is just how it would look if there had been a hole in its place and it then tted into the hole. But when we say it ts we are not simply describing this appearance; not simply this situation.9
Looking at this from another angle, it might be said that the thing’s place, its hole in the scene, has been literally filled. Imagine if one were to take one or both of the likers to a fabricator and ordered a full-size copy of each in white polyethylene. Once in place it is conceivable that from a certain angle they would more or less match my scenario, as if the blank copies had filledor fitted intothe spots/holes I had prepared for them. Indeed, Collyer has already placed such an order; Megaphone from 1997, or more recently, Cell Door and Phantome, have been fabricated in just such a fashion. These objects, these non-discursive differends are at odds with the concept; it’s as if returning from the fabricator they come back phantomalized, ghosts of their former objecthood. Like Wittgenstein’s example of a useless proposition, one might well say the same about my picture. But then again, my picture has little to do with the concept and everything to do with art. For each of these cases, if and when presented, are not, as some might think, objects of cognition. Thus the taking place of what we are calling a liker or case calls out for a response. At which point each of us is alone in receiving its affects, affects or sensations that are acknowledged before we have anything like the facts, before we can say that something has happened, that yes, we now have a situation, something we can get our minds around. Likers like us know nothing of the thing’s coming about, the fitting-in-place of two incompossibles, Collyer’s two rather impossible, incalcitrant, likers.10
To which I will respond by saying that I like Martin and Murray as spectators, as artgoers, or as you suggested, art likers. In reviewing the SNL sketch, it would appear that they didn’t have a concept between them, and despite the fact that each of them at some point thought he knew what it was he was looking at, neither one of them passed judgment on the thing.
They never claimed to know what they liked. Just a couple of philistines at heart as some might be inclined to say, each having something of the idiot inside: an unbeliever of sorts, weak of spirit, inane.
Right. But if you recall they did come back for a second look, and were just as perplexed as when they left.
[Martin and Murray exit the stage. After a beat their heads reappear,
peering back into frame, more inquisitive than ever.]
Martin: What the hell was that?
* These remarks were of course written prior to the opening of Robin Collyer’s exhibition. Thus my conceit, my piece of fiction, has two (two-in-one) interlocutors who have an exchange within the context of what is given to be more or less an empty gallery. My approach, such as it is, attempts to narrate or negotiate a certain crossing of borders, borders or determinations that are always, it would seem, in the process of giving one the slip. The thing in question escapes: it escapes insofar as it resists or frustrates the arrival of narrative in the presentation. In short, we could say that it, in effect, defers judgment; it means then to aggravate the proceedings, to make (the) presentation suffer a bit.
(1) The comedy sketch What the hell is that? starring Steve Martin and Bill Murray, aired on NBC’s Saturday Night Live, October 13, 1979.
(2) Fry, Philip, Robin Collyer, Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, 1982, 28.
(3) More Words at www.morewords.com/word/likers/.
(4) Kripke, Saul A., Naming and Necessity, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1972, 415.
(5) Lyotard, Jean-Franois, The Differend: Phrases in Dispute, trans. Georges van Den Abbeele. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988, 3258.
(6) Fry, Robin Collyer, 28.
(7) See Lyotard, The Differend, no. 142, 82.
(8) The re-mark, or margin-mark-margin, is of course one of Derrida’s quasi-conceptual motifs whereby the mark (position and or inscription in this case) is also the marginal limit, the march (step, degree): a mark marks both the marked and the mark, the re-marked site of the mark. The [mark], at this moment, re-marks itself (something completely other than a representation of itself). Derrida, Jacques, Positions, trans. Alan Bass. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press and London: The Athlone Press, 1981, 46.
(9) Wittgenstein, Ludwig, Philosophical Investigations, trans. G.E.M. Anscombe. Oxford, UK: Basil Blackwell Ltd, 1953, 84e.
(10) See Lyotard, The Differend and Lessons on the Analytic of the Sublime, trans. Elizabeth Rottenberg. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1994, 149.
(11) Saturday Night Live, NBC Television, 1979.
GORDON LEBREDT is an artist and writer living in Toronto. Recently, he exhibited in Art in the Halls at 401 Richmond Street (September 11October 9, 2008) and at Convenience Gallery (October 28November 25, 2008). Recent publications include Afterthoughts: a monologue [to R.S.], YYZBOOKS, Toronto (2007), Notes from the Parergon: A few off-centre remarks concerning the artist-run facility as medium, Decentre: concerning artist-run culture/ propos de centres d’artistes, also from YYZBOOKS (2008), and Some Bad Timing: stance, stasis, and movement in the work of Tom Dean and Murray Favro, Espace Sculpture, Montral (2008).