Title: ‘What Is Thought To Be Visible Will Never Appear’

It is a fragment on Lacan from the book The Optical Uncoscious by Rosalind E. Kraus. The book was first published in 1993, read by me.

About the book:

The Optical Unconscious is a pointed protest against the official story of modernism and against the critical tradition that attempted to define modern art according to certain sacred commandments and self-fulfilling truths. The account of modernism presented here challenges the vaunted principle of “vision itself.” And it is a very different story than we have ever read, not only because its insurgent plot and characters rise from below the calm surface of the known and law-like field of modernist painting, but because the voice is unlike anything we have heard before. Just as the artists of the optical unconscious assaulted the idea of autonomy and visual mastery, Rosalind Krauss abandons the historian’s voice of objective detachment and forges a new style of writing in this book: art history that insinuates diary and art theory, and that has the gait and tone of fiction.

For me it has very much to do with today’s repression of the unconscious in main  areas of the field of contemporary art. In 2006 Jeff Wall stated:

‘there are now no binding technical or formal criteria or even physical characteristics that could exclude this or that object or process from consideration as art’. And I couldn’t agree more. I see two different responses, like two paths that seem to be diverging farther and farther apart, to this statement of Wall. On the one hand, there is a reaction based on fear and aimed towards control, an attempt to establish binding criteria and guidelines in any way possible. As I see it, this is motivated by the broad-based call for a means of legitimizing art, the ever-recurring issue of its significance – for the town square, neighborhood, city, student, citizen and ultimately society as a whole.

This societal pressure has translated itself into a far-reaching rise in bureaucracy, rapidly expanding formatting and the obligation to justify things at every level. This ‘compulsory justification’ has more or less infected everything, from ‘transparency’ and ‘client-ship’ to a kind of ‘rebus art’ that is popping up everywhere, in which ‘research’ results in ‘works’ whose 1+1=2 clarity leaves nothing to the imagination.

For as long as memory has served us, this attitude, aimed at control, has been based on what Adorno referred to as ‘bourgeois anxiety’. The fewer binding criteria there are (in society or in art), the greater the cry for rules and regulations. In the case of art, this anxiety evolves from what is viewed as its intangibility, its subjective and arbitrary character, its incomprehensible vagueness. The lack of criteria has declared art to be an outlaw – ‘Fenceless, don’t get us started!’ as a rap by Boef and the Gelogeerde Aap from the Dutch town of Tilburg would have it. In order to capture and contain it, anything goes.

On the other hand, I see how some artists try to relate to this absence of binding criteria – especially young artists who no longer count on a place in the social arena, on understanding, on support, on anything whatsoever. These artists have returned to the kind of homelessness in society that always used to be the natural habitat of art, or to put it more positively, to an independence from social, societal and religious criteria. Free as a bird and autonomous, fenceless and uncontained, they can establish their own rules and laws, both in and beyond art. This does not mean they stand outside society, as is so often claimed, but they are the ones who form the necessary antidote to a world that is increasingly choking itself with the sludge of more and more rules and regulations, a world in which the air is slowly being squeezed out.