We are the heirs to multiplicity. This was my chief take-away when I left the 1-day exhibit Pause and Play, hosted by students of the research master programme Artistic Research from the University of Amsterdam. I was excited to seek the seeds of process in these final artistic products born from the less than conventional marriage of artistic practice with academic knowledge production. To see the fruits of research manifest and therein find the trace of its commitments. Insofar processes and practices eschew finality, the artists were adamant that this minute instance of exhibition stands as a mere pause in their ongoing construction. The artists invited the audience to engage and interact, think with the pieces, become instrumental in their evolution.
Cast in the shade of trains passing by, the gallery’s trackside locale reinforced the exhibit’s titular transitory thematic. The works were all permeated by lines, borders, rhythms. By collisions as a precursor to form. Plasticized landscapes that merely residue textural contrast; a contorting body being drawn and undrawn to a disassembled saxophone – its sonic counterpoint; unaccounted-for authorship in chimerically poetic vignettes of sex and drugs as well as governmental authorship that does not account. Transition then, for the self has become at the very least untenable, if not wholly uncomfortable, as unitary.
While the artists’ presentations/performances were not acutely theoretical, the works themselves were all the more keen to show their inheritances: Anna Tsing’s mushroom portrayed, Deleuze’s emergent in-between in the becoming-intelligible of forms as well as questions of authorial and discursive normativity continually posed by most artists. Naturally, the echoes of poststructural and (new-)materialist voices resound with these scholar-artists, since these voices continue to unfix the very foundations of classical epistemic grounds. The discipline of Artistic Research sits in that very void, in that openness, labouring in the pervasive question of that torn-apart soil.
And as such, when you see these mostly very young and mindful scholar-artists commit to the virtue of multiplicity, you see its obverse too: a lack of decisiveness, a punch in no particular direction. One artist endeavoured to articulate multiplicity, her irreducibility from her art, but did so rather ironically in the continual re-insertion of the self, repeating the subject-predicate form of “I am …” time and again, with the object of that predicate altering at every turn. Another artist levitated procedural integration forms from the Dutch government, which are officially and problematically only offered in the Dutch language. The sheets of paper hung from the ceiling on lines, yet the question of where those lines were going, where accountability is situated, remains unexcavated.
When I say we are the heirs of multiplicity, I mean it insofar the entirely serious commitment to multiplicity also reaffirms the very problematic that its call so urgently aims to resolve: the issue of (political) accountability. These artists, alongside scores of Humanities scholars, alongside myself to be sure, champion the cause for alternative knowledge production and interdisciplinarity. A cause wherein art may become theoretical and vice versa. But in this complicating conflation, where epistemological and ontological intelligibility become inextricable, does the very act of accounting for oneself, others, for things, not equally evade tangible clarification? Is responsibility not in danger of becoming diffuse? How to ascribe/take responsibility when definition and norms are unfashionable? This awkward double-bind was there throughout the exhibition, but that’s also the point: it’s about the exploration of this friction. This is the space at stake for the scholar-artist, the space she/he habituates: an episteme in motion. And it is on this perilous and unstable horizon of collision and transgression that the heirs to multiplicity seek out the resolutely compassionate.
You can visit NEVERNEVERLAND Foundation’s website here.