Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev speaks with Chus Martinez - Documenta-files

Were we making fun of the art-world?

Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev and Chus Martinez talk about books, making notes and developing ideas from the chaos of thinking. Chus Martinez is a curator at MACBA in Barcelona, she will be the head of Documenta`s curatorial team as of March 2011.

(The beginning of the conversation has been shortened)

CCB: The end of the year – and the beginning of the new - is always a good opportunity to read the books, you always wanted to. What are you reading at the moment?

Martinez: I am finishing Mimesis and Alterity by Michael Taussig, the anthropologist, that I actually never read before. I read everything else, but not that one.

CCB: Michael Taussig, you never read that before? He is one of the members of our advisory board...

Martinez: Yes, and it is really nice. And then I am reading Luhmann. I am beginning with the last conference he gave. It is a compilation of conferences that he gave before he died; it is called observing modernity. They have been translated into English 10 years ago, they are really great. They are amazing.

CCB: What do you think in the thought of Luhmann is interesting for us on documenta and why do we want to think about a notebook in our 100 notebook series on Luhmann?

Martinez: There are two things. One, because the idea of the notebook was because of the Zettelkasten, which is very uncommon. The way he decided to structure it. Normally you take notes for the next paper, or book that you are going to publish on a conference, but he thought about this notebook or this card system as for life not as an independent system and he called it second memory. He knew the second memory of himself. So he tried to organize every thought, even the first thought was number one. So he continues as number 1slash 1and number 1slash 2 and number 1 slash 3, and then he draws a mark to the first thought, imagine that you are thinking about life, and the he would do number 1 slash 1 slash number 2 and then letter a and then letter b.

CCB: So they are trying to organize what might appear chaotic.

Martinez: Yes, because it is not a tree system of knowledge. It is continued to flow. And then if you try to give an order as it comes, as it appears in your mind and then when you finish your life, as he did, the whole thing is a strange recording machine of your thought flow.

CCB: Which brings me to think about how the first notebook of the notebook series, the hundred notes, hundred thoughts that we are doing as a publication prior to the documenta opening, is also dedicated to the notebooks and it is actually a text by Michael Taussig, again. He speaks about Walter Benjamin’s notebooks, entre autre chose. And I saw Walter Benjamin’s notebooks for real in Berlin and was really surprised by the way that he would use colour and colour coding to code certain kinds of thoughts, or certain kinds of emotions or thoughts, or elements, that would then get connected through this colour coding. Like, red through different pages, or yellow and using little dots, sometimes there where red dots and blue dots and green dots, so it seems like Benjamin was spending most of his time trying to keep order in what was an incredible flow of apparently unordered thoughts. Like when we read his famous post mortem publication, the Passagen-Werk. Do you think this has something to do with the documenta that we are doing and in what way? Because it connects to many aspects of his life, with Michel Audaire and so on. How do you think this might come together in documenta?

Martinez: That goes back to the things I was saying, that there are two reasons to go back to Luhmann and his life. It is connected to the documenta in the sense that he was saying we need to come to terms with one notion that he called cognitive uncertainty, or ecology of ignorance. For me it is very important that, like with the documenta, it appears very much that there is no system that you can put anything into nowadays, in which you can order. So the order comes in exactly the same velocity in which life is happening. This cognitive uncertainty is the key notion of how to deal with what you can call the future. And the future is nothing else but risk. So there is a sense of risk that you need to take and risk is not opposite of security, but opposite of danger. And this kind of thinking is really relevant today.

CCB: Risk is the opposite of danger. That reminds me of a chapter in Paolo Virno’s grammar of the multitude, actually, where he discusses the attitude of this subjectivity of multitude as resisting danger, not in the constitution of a sense of people, but in the constitution of the singularities, I think. And he also speaks of risk and danger.

CCB: But can I ask you, we put out a press release, which you already read before and it has an absurd list of what you basically called composite ontologies. And this list is much longer than what one would normally put as a subject or a theme, or a set of themes of an exhibition. It is almost like a parody, or almost like a re-performance. It is almost like re-performing the idea of a concept through a list that is too long. And each element of the list, like participation and withdrawal, simultaneous modes of existence today, embodiment and disembodiment and their mutual dependency, each time there is a duality and then there is a third element that somehow connects the dualities. And these dualities are also related, for example inclusion and exclusion, and their connectedness are not the same as access and inaccessibility and their coexistence, but it is connected and is somehow dependent on those. What do you think? Were we just making fun of the art world, do you think we were playing, was it only a game? Or was it something in this list that is too long.

Martinez: Well there is a sense of contingency and the lists are infinite or let us say incomplete by nature. And if there is a game it is an interesting one that is going on which is trying to come to terms with the fact that there is as I said this case of not being able to oppose the rational and the irrational anymore. I think we can not think of the irrational as an opposite of the rational anymore. In that sense this list can not really point towards the necessity of a different imagination of categories of names, of feelings, of emotions of thinking versus the practice, versus the image, versus the writing, versus the reading. So, all that is interesting but it also refers to the necessity of trying to form the real in a different way.


CCB: Do you think we are still in some sort of Deleuzeian model of rhizomatic thinking? Or do you think that somehow Deleuze in his second big book mille plateaux is not useful? Or to what degree is it still useful?

Martinez: I can’t say, because I have not read that book.

CCB: A fantastic book.

Martinez: I am very interested in Deleuze, but I am very strange in what I read about him. My major interest in him has been this notion of immanence, where he tries to set through all in the logic of sense, which is my favourite book and he tries to come to terms with rewriting the history of philosophy, which I find so beautiful as an exercise and putting people an ideas and systems that are opposites together. So in that sense it is very similar to our list. I don’t know the resomatic, or the indexicalthat was used in the 90s. I actually never understood what it meant and it can not really refer to a game that has no ambition. The only thing that interests me about Deleuze is his use of imagination and his going back to Spinoza in order to bring this imagination back to life. I think this is interesting, because if you see imagination as coexisting with the rational, then it really makes sense and then the contingency, or let’s say the cognitive uncertainty that we are facing nowadays needs a system that is a very strange one, that needs to cope with that term, with imagination. I think Deleuze is very useful for these exercises that aren’t creating a movement. You don’t know which way he is going and I like that. His notion of thinking as a movement is just beautiful.

The relevance of Documenta

CCB: And what is our goal? I mean the documenta is also an exhibition and it is made by a number of people and participants who are mainly artists, because our DNA is somehow connected with that. And these people are in the process of elaborating this and that project and often they are somehow research based and sometimes absurd.

Martinez: You mean: Is documenta obsolete? So, it is really interesting to create or to do something in that frame in the particular context. The art world is a tendency. When we talk about the art world we have a tendency to create a small world to divide things in parts in order to handle them better. So the art world as a system is a system of organising and managing. You also said once that we talk too much about producing knowledge and too little about articulating knowledge. So in that sense one possible goal of the next documenta would be to not handle things. You can not handle life, so if art does something it is that art does simplify things in order for you as a viewer or a person to handle anything; that is good. Because to handle something is really an interesting word, because you can not manage something and that is good.

CCB: So in the age of this development of a society based on the exchange and production of creative goods there is an attempt to manage creativity. There is an attempt to manage it through art schools, residencies, work shops and exhibitions, biennales, art fairs, value systems and so on. This management of creativity, if that is an attempt in the 21st century that is currently being made to manage intellectuality would somehow be resisted? I don’t even know if resistance is an interesting word, I am not sure it is. Maybe it isn’t, but it certainly may be contrasted by, not mismanagement, but simply non-management.

Martinez: The very idea of not creating another knowledge gadget is interesting. So if you can not handle documenta, all the better. So you don’t even need to resist. You can avoid even this not pattering things, not ordering things, and it doesn’t even need this system, because it just happens, because in art it happens all the time. So to be submersed in documenta would be the best, rather than being on top of documenta. So working from the inside of documenta makes much more sense than working from an artificial outside handling the even the context that has been given to you, as a curator.

CCB: But what about the point of view of the artists or the participants that are not you and me and the other agents, or advisers? Or including the advisers who are acting as participants basically, what about their point of view? What are their reasons for participating, their expectations, considering it an occasion to exhibit to a large number of people, or a space of legitimating or presentation?

Martinez: It is funny, because you don’t get any impression of the artists in that way, or at least you don’t get the sense of them working with such considerations in their minds. They are probably there, of course. They are probably there in any context of life, but somehow they really immediately get into something into the substance, into what they want to do.

CCB: You mean their research. You mean every one of them is an island doing their own research.

Martinez: And considering the rest of the islands at the same time with a mind slightly open to the orders, but not observing, They consider you without observing and that is something that art can do and does do in a super productive good way.

End of the conversation has been shortened