An Invention, Not a Container

An art system is a means by which art becomes manifest. It can be as simple as an idea or a photograph or as massive a set of things as a museum, an art ‘scene’, or a biennale and all the tens of thousands of instruments, roles and ephemera around it.

An art system is a network of publication, reception, storage and dissemination of art entities, objects, ideas, blurbs, names. It is also the ecology of media, the telephones, the faxes, the press releases, reviews, books, puff pieces, critical essays surrounding and forging an art entity. Within a museum, these may also involves archives, storage spaces, chambers for the repair or artifacts, places where the necessary skills are learned and taught, tools, manuals, materials. databases, subscriptions to journals and magazines, mailing lists of visitors, supporters and artists. There is a set of legal apparatus, contracts, verbal agreements, for transport, commission of work, the moment at which an idea or a suggestion passes a threshold into a legal relation. Such stuff is the ‘everyday’ of an art system, that which goes without saying. What is said, what becomes visible, the stuff of display, is intimately connected with all these things and processes.

A museum also involves dispositions in space, connections to transport systems, catering, the ability to aggregate a public and the system of tills and tickets with which to address them before entry. When it comes to space, art systems must also include those infrastructural systems that are understood to be implicit in ‘normal’ urban existence. That is to say, a press release implies a letter box. An audience implies toilets.

Alongside all these things, there is the work that goes on around and through them. Schmoozing, study, cooking, flirting, painting, filming, construction, repair, cleaning, securing, explaining, bullying, researching, pouring drinks, looking, whether or not these are organized into specific job structures or roles, whether or not the more prestigious amongst them are owned by certain classes of people – all this work must be done.

Can we imagine an art system in which the relations between these entities are somehow loosened, not taken as a pregiven? If the stereotypical form of the gallery is the white cube, can we also recognise the way we see it as a black box, a standard object which can be plugged in the same, anywhere in the world without the need to open up its lid, to take it apart and examine the pieces?

An art space that thinks of itself as an art system should start by fundamentally disaggregating the functions of such a space. The museum should act as an invention, not as a container.

Make an art space that is composed entirely of monads. Each component of the art system would be reconfigured as an independent entity in a state of a plenitude of possible configurations. From the name of the artist, the title of the work, the components of the sewage system, the name of the space, walls, ceilings, phone numbers, locations, personnel, movements of body language, composting and recycling, archive entities, lighting devices, press release modes, ventilation, sources of food, informational systems, energy generation: each project, each show, each event, would be a new ‘throw of the dice’ a new coming together of some, one, all or a few of the pieces, that would converge, mass, reconfigure and then shift, disintegrate, attach themselves to other currents and move on, or, from elsewhere, create relays back to the original space. Sometimes, there would only need to be one or two things, already an overload.

What such a space wants first and foremost is to set up a condition of absolute sovereignty for a work shown there, and secondly, to make possible any connection necessary, to fill the space with absolutely everything, not just with a material, but with a cornucopia of stuff, ideas, tools, behaviours, languages, goo, committees, all that is made invisible by the museum as standard object. A fluctuation between absolute emptiness and lightness and massive fullness must be present as a possibility in the space. Only this possibility, that art exists as the capacity for the ultimate chain of association, the implicit recognition that everything in the world could in principle be there, gives power to the reasons that, ultimately, for each project, only one or a few things are there.

What would such a thing look like? A neat tool kit air-dropped in a crate ready to go, ready to be assembled and plugged in with multiple stacks of adaptors to global art circuits and local configurations? A set of a billion entities selectable from a series of endlessly permutating menus? A pile of rubble, ready for salvage? A society?