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Playground Hale House BostonKunsthof Zürich 2013

Opportunities for Outdoor Play? Playgrounds – New Spaces of Liberty (The Question of Form). A transdisciplinary research and production project curated by Dimitrina Sevova at Kunsthof Zürich in cooperation with Prof. Elke Bippus, Franziska Koch and the Bachelor Medien & Kunst, Vertiefung Bildende Kunst of the Zurich University of the Arts.

Isamu Noguchi, Model for Playground Equipment for Ala Moana Park (sculpture) (unrealized design), 1939-1940. Photo: Grove, Nancy & Diane Botnick, The Sculpture of Isamu Noguchi, 1924-1979 (New York: Garland Pub., 1980), Plate 167.

Preliminary Research

“Art’s situation today might actually constitute one specific form of a much more general relationship that exists between the autonomy of the spaces reserved for art and its apparent contrary: art’s involvement in constituting forms of common life.” (Rancière) [1]

A transdisciplinary collective will be formed to work on specific archive and experimental research regarding the history of playgrounds, and of spaces temporarily used for alternative leisure activities in the city of Zurich, and contextualize the results between the discursive fields of history, economics, sociology, aesthetics, architecture, design and art. The research will look at playground structures, equipment and toys from a critical historical perspective into the present day, in order to apply this knowledge in re-constructing a playground structure, creating an arena oriented to creative action and art production in a complex space where theoretical reflection and performative practices involve various agents and actors. Drawing on arguments from the realm of ecology, recycling, the commons, and radical leisure, the arena is to function as an open-field experiment for the aesthetic production of an art object with a dysfunctional structure, open to participation by the broad audience and the inhabitants of the city.

The project will proceed in phases:

1) Form the research group

2) Build up the dysfunctional playground

3) Theoretical symposium, performances, screenings and actions, speeches

4) Publication reflecting the different stages of the project, including the documentation, giving space for expanded theoretical and practical reflections and artistic commentaries, notes and interventions.

The project will start with screenings, public readings, performances, and an art guided walk through some of the playground places in the city of Zurich. It will end with a discussion, DJ party and barbecue, drawing on the party as a dispositif.


The project Opportunities for Outdoor Play? Playgrounds – New Spaces of Liberty (The Question of Form) is looking for a new materialism, because the current financial crisis and the radical dematerialization, digitalization and financialization of human relations calls for it. This materialism is not a question of realism or of representation, but of reality and truth, of an ontology of the work of art, an aesthetic science. This is why the project is informed by epistemological reality and the empirical gathering of data, combined with a historical analysis and intellectual effort to re-translate and re-compose this data in order to construct an art object, a formal dysfunctional playground structure whose form will perform through its dysfunctionality a given meaning, and realize a temporary autonomous space in-between, as a middle ground where freedom of play can take place.

It takes as its starting points Bourdieu’s concept of a science of the work of art, in which he reactivates the notion of the agent, which in its long history has rather been discriminated in favor of the structure. Bourdieu argues, drawing on Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach, that it is essential “to take back from idealism […] the ‘active aspect’ of practical knowledge which the materialist tradition had left to it,” and thus to “break with the canonical opposition between theory and practice, so profoundly inscribed in the division of labor.” In his approach he draws on “a practical knowledge or a knowledgeable practice” [2] as he takes practice as the first object of his research.

The method of the project indeed takes its inspiration from Bourdieu, who is simultaneously sociological and aesthetical and whose method of work can be applied to art practice, to ecological analysis, and a transdisciplinary research into the social and political microclimate and the history of the playground, its environment and spaces for outdoor play in the city of Zurich. In this analysis the social dynamic of the neighborhood of Kunsthof will find itself embedded in macro aspects of globalization with its re-territorialization and expansion in the territory of the global creative city, reflecting on the generalized economic and ecological crisis and on the unstable situation in which notions of labor and free time change under the pressure of flexibilization and precarization, with the destruction of the working day and free time and the demise of the living wage, leading to the earthquake of the re-composition of all spheres of life.

The project draws not only on scientific method, but as well on the pleasure principle embodied in the real and its realizations, and on second-order aesthetic sensualism to go beyond bipolar principles in the act of creation in art, such as active and passive, and production and consumption.

The project is interested not in universal criteria legitimizing aesthetic judgment, but in provoking aesthetic experience through creative joy and practical knowledge. How can it be experienced combined with theoretical knowledge, intertwining theory and practice to deal with the problem of distance, taking into critical consideration the historical conditions of appearance of the detachment and disinterestedness of high culture aesthetics?

All objects on display will be touchable, demand and offer close bodily relations with this ‘concrete’ object derived from the reality of the abstraction of social life, mobilizing “a form of both political and aesthetical sensualism […] capable of critically re-working those abstractions.” (Virno) [3]

Action and Play – coming from work in art, where art labor meets the productive labor of the spectator

The project concerns how emancipatory art practices need to take account not only of the act of creation of art and its dissemination, but also of the act of perceiving the work of art, as the mode of viewing or reading the work is in itself productive and creative.

The project seeks to contribute to the distribution of the sensual and cognitive, of the textual and visual in an objective social terrain in which aesthetic relations are to be shared equally between art labor and the labor of its public as a collective action of the productive aesthetic labor power, creating new alliances, a new social organization and form of common, new aesthetic perspectives.

Let us not forget that the work of art truly works only when it is infused by the vital energy of its spectators and becomes living form. The real act of reading and viewing, both singular and being-in-common, is an inherent part of the art production process. The project intends to contribute to discussions of emancipatory politics of the public, and look at how art must mediate its object to articulate a creative audience or an audience of creators, an audience of lovers characterized by an inexpressible singularity and liberty when they meet the object of art in real time in the space, since play and love are spatial practices. Let us argue here with Deleuze and Guattari that subjectivity produces reality as a realization of these connected realities.

The division of labor which remains the main characteristic of the field of art, the artist, the curator, the theoretician, the critic and the public, can be overcome through the expression of labor as desire. According to Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri labor remains “beyond measure” due to “the vitality of the productive context, the expression of labor as desire, and its capacities to constitute the biopolitical fabric of Empire from below.” [4] The public can be seen as labor of desire, which takes an active part in the field of art. This labor of desire operates between work and play, between work and love.

The importance of the labor of desire, the affective labor of a creative and productive public can be better grasped if we bear in mind the way Foucault in The Birth of Biopolitics articulates how in neoliberal society labor power is transformed into subjectivity. “Marx makes labor the linchpin […] of his analysis. […] What is it that he shows the worker sells? Not his labor, but his labor power. He sells his labor power for a certain time against a wage established on the basis of a given situation of the market corresponding to the balance between the supply and demand of labor power.” [5] Neoliberalism changes this. On the one hand this is due to the installing in social production and reproduction of the principle of strategic rationality previously applied only to work, on the other to the decline of the wage system, the flexibilization of working processes in which “the worker is not present in the economic analysis as an object – the object of supply and demand in the form of labor power – but as an active economic subject.” [6]

Therefore labor is no longer an abstraction, but becomes a biological entity, measured and defined, which sells its power on the market one by one, as an entrepreneur of itself, performing itself as a subjectivity rather than offering its labor power.

Work and Play – Leisure as the Freedom of the Common

The project Opportunities for Outdoor Play? Playgrounds – New Spaces of Liberty (The Question of Form) pursues to confront its public with the everyday aesthetic experience of ‘leisure’ and ‘play,’ not in the sense of the feast or the way Bakhtin theorizes the carnival, where a temporary situation is created artificially to celebrate inventive freedom as a liberation from established power structures, [7] where everything can be turned on its head so that the social contract is signed anew and the existing dominant power is confirmed. Rather, it aims to empower the ordinary liberal arts and the aesthetics of daily life, the small practical actions in their everyday repetition, which often have no end but themselves.

In this, it takes under consideration Plato’s understanding of ‘leisure’ as the freedom of the common. This should not be mistaken with a theory of the leisure class. It is not a matter of privilege. This leisure consists of small portions of everyday freedom, dreams and affects, everyday conversations and social relations, language in the vernacular responsible for the formation of the social bond, “the everyday bits and pieces of freedom nearly everyone has” [8] which are the new frontier of conquest of the post-Fordist economy and techno-cognitive financial capitalism, to be commercialized and turned into new areas of profitability where they are alienated from their own ends.

If leisure time in Fordism, based on the construction of the living wage and normalized working time, was already possessed by the spectacle of the cultural industry or the industry of tourism, and mediated by the technologies of the spectacle aimed at controlling human abilities to communicate outside the economic production process, now we are faced with an accelerated extension of this regime into all spheres of life that craves to co-opt every bit of free time and freeplay.

Play, Leisure and Education

The conception of freedom and the creation of an autonomous space outside official power structures where this freedom can thrive is not new. It is of great importance to Plato’s understanding of education and learning. For him, “the proper place to search for Truth was in half-civil places, where humans were not totally in charge.” [9] He considers most appropriate to this the meadows somewhat outside the town, where he can create a field in which knowledge can be sought in a playful and sharing way, and find common ground outside the reach of the state, business or distracting activities such as preparing for the Olympic games.

In this field, knowledge can be measured in and for itself, and not by the measuring system of rivalry of the society of athletes and merchants. Derrida, in his essay “Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences,” takes a critical stance towards structuralism and Claude Lévi-Strauss with his nostalgic idea of freeplay before the advent of the Law and God, and despite the general post-structuralist desire to find a way of departing from Plato, he is not so far from him when he says that freeplay can start only after the end of the game, which is not only after the death of God but also after the demise of the Law. In human science, a spatial and temporal practice where there is no longer one center or source, the field can be created from many centers, many sources, through its own discursivity in the freeplay of many signifiers that creates difference in the structures. [10]

The project’s approach is not to pit ‘leisure’ against ‘work.’ Leisure and play are as productive for the social tissue as work and labor. We are in a constant mode of production, which is why the project looks rather at ‘play’ as opposed to the ‘game,’ play as an orienting and organizing principle, an environmental and spatial practice, and at freedom of play as a micropolitical practice related to everyday life and aesthetic production.

Since ancient times play has shown emancipatory potential. This brings us to some questions raised by Plato in the context of leisure and its field: “What does it mean to do something freely?” – “Where does freedom lead to, ultimately?” Turning them around to the contemporary context, the project asks whether there is still a possibility to do something freely, and where we end up if there is no space left in which something can be done freely, something that leaves the premises of disciplinary and regulatory power, the commands of consumption and the biopolitical embedding of our entire lives as a stake in the game.

Plato in his Dialogs makes constant references to ‘play ‘and ‘leisure.’ He sees writing as a ‘leisure behavior,’ because it is an activity and labor providing a practical opportunity or freedom to do something unrelated to state duties or economic endless ends. In Plato’s understanding of the higher form of freedom leisure is “activity, not passiveness; a mind and body in action, not frozen contemplation.” The interplay between leisure and play in his writings is central to his ideas about education. ‘Play’ is not the equal of ‘leisure,’ but the two are interlinked in the field of knowledge.

In Plato’s understanding education is a lifelong communication and social process of scholé, the Greek word for leisure which is the origin of the modern words for ‘school,’ ‘scholar,’ an etymological tie that is endangered by the split into commercialized leisure provided by an industry of entertainment, and the disciplining role of the modern school system. The contemporary notion of lifelong learning is turned into a profitable territory of knowledge economy and cognitive capitalism, in which technologies impose the continuous acquisition of new skills at an ever faster pace in all spheres of life.

Practical Knowledge as an Aesthetic Form of Daily Life

The quest for linking practical and theoretical knowledge is not new. The difference is that today, this link has been commercialized, and is no longer related to creating social forms but is rather used as fuel for commercial and market processes. The project to link practical and theoretical knowledge was a cornerstone of the Enlightenment, along with the effort to overcome the bipolar distinction between nature and culture. Different scientists and writers, following ethical and aesthetic patterns discovered the role of the human agent as an active force engaging with social structures and the historical process.

Voltaire reflects on this in Candide: or, Optimism, where the main protagonist must learn the lessons of life in order to overcome the shortcomings of his scholarly education and understand life as an ethical form, and exclaims at last: “Let us cultivate our garden.” [11] Which may be translated as: “Let us cultivate our field” as human agents who must act and struggle in our life, making choices and taking responsibility for our actions.

Schiller on his part investigates the aesthetics of life, the drives that give rise to aesthetic objects and the art of life, the self and its determination and environment, and its political, social and historical being and becoming, which composes social reality in heterogeneous social assemblages. For him, aesthetic education is essential to the realization of human potential. In one of his letters On the Aesthetic Education of Man he asserts that “man only plays when he is in the fullest sense of the word a human being, and he is only fully a human being when he plays.” [12]

Writing a century later, Flaubert adds to these concerns the dimension of affects. For him writing is the production of material objects, a material as well as spatial practice. He places his subjects, constructed as formalized prototypes of social strata based on collected data, on the real map of Paris. In Sentimental Education,[13] Frederick learns to live, acquires the power to act in the field of affects and the field of the economy, in the field of the political and the social. What animates his actions in these fields is the aesthetics of life – the love of life, that same love that drives Flaubert himself to write, a creative and productive love with its recomposing power continuously producing heterogeneous social relations and differences within the social tissue and his writing as an aesthetic practice.

For Bourdieu, Flaubert’s writing is a space in which art and science share common epistemic realities, from which the autonomous fields of both emerge. Flaubert in his writing follows not only the historical conditions. It is an ontological appearance in the field of knowledge and the field of aesthetics. [14]

Play Is Productive

If Marx described the commodification of space, we are now faced in addition with a commodification of time. The project therefore takes under critical consideration and experiments with the notion of temporality with its inherent ambiguity, emphasizing through the temporality of the exhibition itself and exhibition making, the temporal realization in the space of an aesthetic object and the social relations involved.

While Marx recognized that the worker’s production can be described as consumption, speaking as productive consumption of the process by which “while producing he consumes by his labour the means of production, and converts them into products with a higher value than that of the capital advanced,” [15] Jon Beasley-Murray argues that “what Marx did not recognize […] was that what he called the worker’s ‘individual consumption,’ outside the labor process, should also be seen as productive.” [16]

In the post-Fordist economy the automation of labor processes and re-composition of labor leads to exiting the factory model. A new technological and economic model imposes flexibilized and precarized labor and blurs the boundaries between work-time and leisure-time. The system of the living wage dissolves, even if time remains the main factor in measuring productivity.

Play creates temporalities, which tend to be regulated by the game in all spheres of life. Indeed it would be difficult to imagine a system or regime in history that has not attempted to regulate, tame, put under its control the vitality of freeplay of the social field of mediation, enclosing it in rules in an effort to put it to work for its own purposes.

The play of the formless forms of contingence, which operates in-between conscious and unconscious as meta-structure and meta-grammar, and from which the social tissue is woven, cultivated and shaped are exploited to install right there invisible power relations (disguised as natural) and unspoken rules which do not directly belong to the system of the law, various institutions to regulate it, such as patriarchy, the church, or the family that complement the system of the law. Cognitive capitalism seeks to appropriate affects precisely where they are formed, at the contingences, and take control of knowledge at a meta-level by modulating the meta-grammar through which science and knowledge constitute themselves.

The field of mediation is perceived as a playground for precarious and affective labor where play and free time are put to work as never before. This becomes possible, according to Paolo Virno, “partly because human labour nowadays is situated outside the machinery, accomplishing regulative, controlling, and co-ordinating tasks. But above all because the ‘raw material’ of the labour process is knowledge, information, culture, and social relations.” [17] This process must not be mistaken with ‘creative destruction’ and the crisis state through which capitalism at intervals attempts to escape blocked accumulation in successive molts.

An increasingly limited space is left to freeplay and its playgrounds to invent and cultivate new social forms and autonomous zones in which circulation can be organized in different ways from those of the market economy. “To treat the rules as ends (or as laws or truths) is to destroy both the game and its stakes,” notes Baudrillard. [18]

Freeplay is involved in social productivity, including affect and communication, all that is productive and relates to exuberance, proliferation, multiplicity in the social production as opposed to scarcity, austerity and limitations. The process of the reproduction of labor becomes all the more complicated, as capitalism becomes increasingly dependent on the social and communication skills and vitality of living labor that can thrive only in freeplay, while at the same time it strives to subject them to the rules of its biopolitical and market economy games.

Starting from Play

The project does not intend to provide a closed theory or a fixed notion of play, but rather relies on its inherent ambiguity and ambivalence, and draws on its rhizomatic history, on those moments and movements of the theory and practice of play that repeat themselves while creating difference from which proliferate the knowledge, experience and aesthetics of play, and introducing the potentiality of change.

The richness of theories in which play resonates shows that play is not a particular, and cannot be restricted to a system. Let us not forget that the original meaning of Spiel (the German word for play) is dance, as Gadamer points out. Play takes part in the aesthetic domain of the appearance of form and its evolution, where form performs its function and meaning, and play constitutes the dynamic and struggles of the inherent devices of form. In Gadamer’s conception play “what characterizes this movement back and forth is that neither pole of the movement represents the goal in which it would come to rest.” [19]

Play involves ephemeral and arbitrary rather than consistent and purposeful rules. Play excludes totalization, says Derrida, who understands it as a tension inherent in every structure artificial or natural, as a dynamic principle. Play enables deconstruction, the freeplay between signifiers that liberates meaning from the trap of the language of dominant power structures and multiplies meanings, unleashing rhythm and returning the vital breath to language, breaking with Wittgenstein’s language games. From the depths of this play then emerges the figure of the ‘uncanny’ other, the barbarian, the uncivilized. Play is a manifestation of the love to the stranger, of solidarity in the social bond, the romantic dream for a better society. The historical notion of play is inscribed in freedom. Or: freedom is constituted by play.

“[The term of play-drive] is fully justified by linguistic usage, which is wont to designate as ‘play’ everything that is neither subjectively nor objectively contingent, and yet imposes no kind of constraint either from within or from without.” [20] Play is in-between, in a ‘middle condition’ in which Schiller locates a ‘third state’ (the ‘aesthetic state’) a ‘third character.’ The ‘third thing’ as a non-dialectical form is always of twofold nature, like the Deleuzian Baroque grotesque forms which are in constant flow as they metamorphose into one another. Play is the double-faced emanation of the exultation of bodies dancing in unison, which breathes a ‘free spirit’ celebrated by Nietzsche in Gay Science as “an exuberant dancing song in which […] one dances right over morality.” [21]

Play as a formless forming principle giving form to the function of society and its aesthetical forms can be read through negativity – an antithesis without synthesis –, excess, exuberance, transgressivity, grotesque, Derridean deconstruction in différance, the Baudrillardian play of seduction in appearances and disappearances where “every ethics must resolve itself into an aesthetics” which “is not divine and transcendent, but ironic and diabolical,” [22] Nietzschean gaya scienza, Bakhtinian grotesque forms of the carnivalesque, Rabelaisian outrageous language where the collision between the tectonic plates of civilizations engenders the new languages, the liberating public speech act on the medieval town square. In all these, language is liberated through the play of inverted grammar. Play is also productive in Bataille’s theorizing of the economics of expenditure and the power of ecstasy as a surplus energy to be burned in painful pleasure and sinful play, which he bases on the French structuralists and anthropologists Marcel Mauss and Claude Lévi-Strauss’s research into the gift economy of primitive societies before the advent of the market. Roger Caillois, in his critical reading of Johan Huizinga’s Homo Ludens, [23] carefully distinguishes between freeplay and the rules of the game, [24] something that had escaped Huizinga’s attention, and between the ecstasy of the dancing rhythm and its restoration in the intoxication by the manipulated ecstatic crisis for the purpose of repression and intimidation where “the aesthetic voyage is no longer a shamanistic odyssey,” and emphasizes the role of rituals and games as instruments of the control of bodies.

For Gadamer, play is not a matter of disengaged, disinterested subjectivity, in contrast to Kant’s understanding of it. Play is the key to understanding “the truth of art.” While the Situationists with their militant art tactics taken from potlatch against bourgeois culture and its habitus seek liberate “truth in play.” Play remains one of the underlying problems in philosophy and aesthetic theory and art and life.

“Schiller’s paradigmatic play chiasm [25] is [that] the form drive achieves its fulfillment only through the sense drive, the sense drive through the form drive; […] the chiasm that conjoins the form and sense drives is the play drive; chiasm is itself a ‘third thing,’” [26] a realization of play. Through the re-composing power of play the concept of substitution can be introduced, through which play confronts and replaces the transcendent, the sacred, symbolism and metaphors, as a means of transport of meaning in the structure of the text, simultaneously effecting the form. Play can therefore be understood as a material practice, as autonomous form rather than as representation.

Schiller’s writing itself embodies these principles, as he structures his letters on aesthetics around repetition, and through spiral repetitive substitution of terms creates antitheses rather than syntheses. This allows him to make the movement of the text evolve alongside the form and subject matter in complete dependency, as in the movement of a machine or a living organism. Schiller’s text is a machinic text. He thus introduces in the text the principle by which “aesthetics is a true science.” [27]

“Play designates the vitality, the movement that arises in difference,” [28] an animating principle that traverses dead and live matter and the socius with its force of re-composition. Play is not only a human activity, but is found in the interplay between material and immaterial, between living and non-living forms, leading to a movement of forms and the production of meaning. Play operates as an aesthetic principle in both nature and culture, as a repetition of patterns that always produces difference, from one living form to the other within a species, where no two beings are the same. The mutations of form involve first the appearance of form, of formless form searching for its meaning and function in the machinic assemblage.

There is a paradoxical relationship between repetition and creativity. Derrida appropriates the principles of substitution through repetition as a dynamical principle, and the play of re-composition in his theoretical concepts but also in his writing. The notion of repetition is key for Walter Benjamin’s understanding of play as both a social and aesthetic phenomenon, as for the Deleuzian concept of repetition and its primacy over repression. Play creates difference through repetition, operates retro-actively in psychoanalytic theory creating its own temporality of desire and its ‘freedom’ to re-compose the incident and trauma. For Freud, play is situated in the middle ground between conscious and unconscious as an aesthetic and energetic phenomenon in a complex relationship with mental processes and the condition of the body as a whole. From its very appearance play “the first time is already repetition.” [29] Play is not about the ‘original,’ which is not to say that play is a question of reproduction.

Repetition is the basis for the realization of the reality principle. Freud, well aware of the social value of play in primitive societies for their social productivity, analyzes the pleasure of play in the “fort/da” section of Beyond the Pleasure Principle, where it transforms real helplessness into imaginary mastery in a substitution that restores power to a signifier, creating a condition in which the subject can be reconstituted. Play is thus a key term for the understanding of psychoanalytic theory.

Inside-Outside the White Cube – the shades of space – on the autonomy of space between institution and public as a common ground for play

Wittgenstein compares, in a famous paragraph of his Philosophical Investigations, our language to an old town: its development can be traced back both to spontaneous generation and, though limited, to conscious planning. Wittgenstein writes of a labyrinth of narrow lanes and places, old and new houses, some of which have annexes from different times; and all this is surrounded by new suburbs where streets are symmetric and houses are uniform. It seems suitable to invert Wittgenstein’s comparison: rather it is the contemporary metropolis that is built on the model of language. The metropolis appears as a labyrinth of expressions, metaphors, proper names, and propositions, of tenses and moods of the verb; and saying this is no simple analogy. The metropolis actually is a linguistic formation, an environment that is above all constituted by objectivized discourse, by preconstructed code, and by materialized grammar. To find one’s bearings in a metropolis is gaining linguistic experience. (Virno) [30]

If we hope that by exhibiting art outdoors we can directly avoid the trap of the spatio-temporal relations of exhibition spaces which produce the specific temporality of the simulacra and its illusio, escape the apparatus of walls and sidestep metaphors of penetration, integration and absorption and be able to reach the reality of daily life, liberate art practices and their objects, and create action and events instead, we had better take into consideration Lawrence Weiner’s sober statement regarding the privileged position of the White Cube:

“Living outside the White Cube as you call it is a very romantic but very silly concept. Anything with a roof on it is a White Cube & in order to exist it has to have outside walls. I guess my response is that there is no imagination required to accept the lack of hierarchy of an inside or outside space.” [31]

To speak today of an opposition between the White Cube and public space is becoming increasingly problematic as the boundary between public and private space is becoming thinner. On the contrary, one could say that the White Cube is becoming a paradigm for public space. It is not entirely clear which of the two is disappearing in the endless economic restructuring and de-composition and re-composition of the social formation: private or public space?

In reality the thwarted opportunities of developing autonomy, heterogeneity and alternative forms of life are the most striking effect of this process in which institutional apparatuses penetrate all spheres of material life, producing “the ontological fabric in which all the relations of power are woven together – political and economic relations as well as social and personal relations.” [32] In fact there is no longer such a contrast between institutional space and outdoor space, as both appear as normative spaces, strictly regulated as “sovereignty transforms into governmentality” [33] toward the rational normalization of social life, where radical forms of subjectivities can no longer be practiced due to “the general equalization or smoothing of social space” [34] and the purification and cleaning going hand in hand with a discourse of protection and safety, and the pressure to adjust and integrate.

Is there anything left outside the White Cube? – valorization and shortage of physical space, private and public

It is not only office space that takes over the place of the factory in the process of de-industrialization in the global city, but also the concept of the loft intervenes in the understanding of private space as a symbol of the modern way of life and new comfort, the idea of a bright and white home which underpins the efforts of renovating and adapting to new standards entire neighborhoods in a process known as gentrification.

The effect of this urban regeneration is to raise the cost of real estate, leading to an artificial valorization of entire parts of the city and to economic exclusion. But even in the lower segments of real estate architectural standards have imposed as a universal signifier of modernity the aesthetic of the White Cube, which some fifty years ago was reserved for objects of architectural luxury.

In his essay “Inside the White Cube: The Ideology of the Gallery Space,” originally published in Art Forum in 1976 in the socio-economic context of the post-war crises, Brian O’Doherty looks at how the technology of the White Cube developed to neutralize and insulate the space in which art receives its own legitimacy through its distance to the things of everyday life. Thus “the gallery space is not a neutral container, but a historical construct”: [35]

With postmodernism the gallery space is no longer “neutral.” The wall becomes a membrane through which esthetic and commercial values osmotically exchange. As this molecular shudder in the white walls becomes perceptible, there is a further inversion of context. The walls assimilate; the art discharges. How much can the art do without? This calibrates the degree of the gallery’s mythification. How much of the object’s eliminated content can the white wall replace? […] The development of the pristine, placeless white cube is one of modernism’s triumphs – a development commercial, esthetic, and technological. In an extraordinary strip-tease the art within bares itself more and more, until it presents formalist end-products and bits of reality from outside – “collaging” the gallery space. [36]

The outside is not allowed in, so that windows need to be sealed off, underlining the importance of the walls where the art works remain untouched and distant from the public – a public that is selected by a socially constructed selective access. The dichotomy between inside and outside is a cornerstone of art movements for social change. Fluxus already noted how the urban space undergoes the same processes of radical interiorization, and tried to invent a new approach to both the inside and outside, in-between.

The End of the Outside – a supervised public cube, new enclosures – indirect and non-strategic bio-control

Already Marx foresaw the fetishization of public space, its commodification for the needs of capital. It is capital that capitalizes and territorializes the space. Ever since the 19th century the ideal of moral architecture reforms has sought to address social problems by means of physical spatial reorganization, urban planning and architectural solutions. Indeed “the production of space is a central aspect of capitalist economy,” [37] and there is an intricate relationship between capital and territory.

Nowadays, and starting with the ‘corporate turn,’ it becomes increasingly visible that the urban public space is exposed to an ongoing accelerated process of infiltration by corporations and their competition of branding, as a result of which the entire public space (which is supposed to be neutral and plural) is becoming a market place – a public showcase characterized by consumerism as ‘holy consumption’ regulated and encouraged by local and state administration. These processes lead to restructuring and new segregations, enclosures and segmentations.

The new management of public space is realized directly under the command of powerful apparatuses in view of an increased control, along with immaterial measures and instruments of surveillance and scanning systems directly installed in the middle of our everyday life to grasp and recognize and distinguish biological bodies and subjects. The commands are no longer expressed in the disciplinary modalities that characterized modernity but rather in a concentration of indirect and non-strategic bio-control channeled through the administration of social singularities, through flexible administrative procedures based on distinction and singularization that treat each element of social reality one by one as mathematical units. This contrasts with the earlier creation of a mass and the regulation of the participation in the economic game.

And yet, as Foucault emphasizes, social inequalities have not disappeared. The subject organized by the system of commands in flexible forms of labor is subjected to a perpetual distinction as a productive element. Through these distinctions new forms of labor division and stigmatization appear, marking the economization of the entire social field.

The “tendency [towards ‘fortress architecture’] in urban planning and architecture has established in concrete, physical terms what we called earlier the end of the outside, or rather the decline of public space that had allowed for open and unprogrammed social interaction.” [38] The urban public space is thus turned into a supervised public cube in which the distant and hedonistic gaze automatically reprehends and creates social contradictions while “architecture appears as a backdrop to the performance of citizenship and gender” (and class, race). [39]

The Shades of Space as a Device for Producing an Autonomous Space

Starting out from the specificity and conditions of the place itself, Opportunities for Outdoor Play? Playgrounds – New Spaces of Liberty (The Question of Form) will take into consideration, much like architects do in planning a new building, the specificity of the terrain, the surrounding environment and systems of supply. The aim of the project is not to build a new building, but to create a temporary space within the existing architecture of Kunsthof, to construct a playground structure, a platform for diverse parallel activities within the largely imposed and determined existing spatial parameters in which the project will unfold. This will involve a re-reading and translation of the space itself, exhibiting or displaying texture, text written with objects and images, which creates a field of action and movement for the viewers.

The project will reflect on its location and the socio-economic and cultural map of the city, taking into consideration its historical and economic context in order to approach the discursive aspect of its topic and the forming principles of creating a temporary space, with an emphasis on the crises of “social temporality” on the background of the present spatial collapse and privatization of the city’s geography.

Kunsthof as a ‘vacant lot’ – organizing new aesthetic forms of common life

Kunsthof as a remaining “vacant lot” between buildings of the city, which is neither a fully public nor a fully private place, neither fully exterior nor fully interior, as a non-commercial space of art that has remained in the midst of the commercialization of public space, contains elements both of everyday life and of the artificially generated and defined environment of the White Cube as a legitimizing agent of the autonomy of this space within its institutional context, which in fact secures it the status of a non-commercial space. This condition makes it difficult to categorize, a space with its own autonomy which allows us to consider how to insert in the gap in-between art practices constituting forms of common life, artistic forms capable of creating a situation of being-in-common, to organize new aesthetic forms of common life, which means to bring artistic forms directly back to social formation.

The organizational principle of the production of space within an existing space are especially important to the project, because outdoor play is a spatial practice, because play is a transversal operation across space which can circulate freely in a politically motivated dysfunctionality, creating its own space traversed by freedom.

Re-activating the space

Re-constructive objectivity serves as a critique not only of the White Cube as institutional space, but also a critique of urban space which treats human subjects in similar ways. The valorization and control of the space regulates who has access to and who enjoys visibility in this space, and which forms of labor remain hidden and marginalized. Let us not forget that the concept of the White Cube was developed as a means both of controlling the behavior of the public and to allow easy classification and taxonomy of art works and practices.

This is why the project aims at re-activating space, an open and accessible space characterized by participation and collective agency – part laboratory, part community meeting place and place for critical discussions and reflections, sometimes open air cinema, recognizing different practices and social relations from which an open field emerges for aesthetical experiments and knowledge production.

Through mediated access a micro-experimental environment of transmediality is created, a productive open field, a playground as an open and accessible platform. Besides spatial parameters such as the architecture, this involves a network of relations to restore and make visible the productive drift of meaning by means of rules, regulations, surveillance and plans for the future of this place.

A Place Without a Roof: between any urban constructions – public or private – is air (the main common)

Museums could say at their gates – but they do not need to, since it so goes without saying – ‘Let no one enter here unless they are lovers of art.’ (Bourdieu) [40]

Kunsthof is an exhibition space without a roof. This condition in itself eliminates the finest of art and its “church-like” exhibition setting, and is conducive to polyphonic transdisciplinary practices and the invention of new forms of display, which break out from the comfort of the interiorized forms of art. These are practices and their objects that might open envelopes containing multiple elements that operate beyond the purified White Cube and its institutionalized system, but at the same time escape the practices of so-called land art, or garden sculpture display or some of the forms of public art that have become conventional, adapted to the laws of a restructured urban environment.

The project intensifies this aspect of the potential of the space as a courtyard, taking advantage of all possible disadvantages stemming from its shady status and its social, cultural and political nature as a space between an institutionalized White Cube as an autonomous but self-limiting environment for art and everyday life, a place in-between exhibition space and the city as the arena of life – the direct contact of Kunsthof with the street where the sounds of everyday life cannot be isolated away, its dependency on the weather forecast and the play of chance with good weather.

Between any urban constructions – private or public – is air. I find that the weather is the most important factor in contemporary urban life. Urban populations are collectively subjected to influence by weather in a much more radical way than rural populations because weather is fundamentally dysfunctional in the urban space: it is no more connected to agricultural needs. That is why weather has come to be the symbolic power that, in many ways, defines collective psychology—the collective sensibility of a city. Weather is usually also the most important topic of public conversation. It allows us to experience a city as a totality, connects a city dweller to the heavens, to fate, to the universe. (Boris Groys) [41]

Along with the situation that every stroller passing by can step into the space, all of this allows the space to be easily re-connected to the everyday world of production, to the social fabric. In order to create a situation in which the relation between art practices and everyday practices are re-activated (a relation that has been much criticized, decried as the devalued and foiled desire of artistic avant-gardes and art movements), the project takes a rather optimistic stance regarding this relation and its productive potentialities so that once again the art labor of aesthetic production and labor as social production – traditionally set in opposition to each other – may meet in order to provoke the invention of new forms of subjectivity and new forms of collective practices.

Taking advantage of the spatial shades of the place itself the project will raise critical questions on inclusion and exclusion and their historical and political implications and social dynamics. In this we refer to Bourdieu who criticizes the gallery and the museum as institutions that legitimize the aesthetics of the “ideology of the gift,” i.e., the aesthetics of “good eyes” building on the “social genesis of the eye” (Bourdieu), [42] or what Irit Rogoff calls “trained eyes,” which immediately grasp codes of recognition that constitute both quality and value, “a historically constituted regime of perception and intelligibility.” [43] Making use of the fact that Kunsthof is both inside and outside the system of the White Cube, a space in-between the institutionalized, historically determined space in which art practices as such are legitimized, and the public urban space in which the art codes are displaced and unstable, the project will create a dysfunctional playground, a non-commercial open space for free play, both for true lovers and connoisseurs of art and for the “common” inhabitants of the city.

Care will be taken not to make them “feel” out of place, but to contribute to the availability of free, non-commercial alternative places for spending one’s free time outdoors, a place for play but also for just spending time together for those who love art just like for those who for one reason or another have not stepped into an exhibition before.

Dimensions of Collective Play with Aesthetic Objects and Objects of Knowledge

On Method: Coming from Research – dia-grammatical figure (concrete figure – the figure of truth)

A dysfunctional playground, a dia-grammatical figure will be built on the basis of collective transdisciplinary micro research on the origins of the playground as a social technological apparatus and its forms, reflecting the social conditions of the possibilities of play in public spaces. The idea is not only to turn the research into an object as a spatial metaphor of apparatuses, but to build a dysfunctional machinic form, an antithesis or negation of the apparatus, a common or shared ‘concrete’ object – both object of knowledge and aesthetic object – through historicization, ethnographicization, formalization and reconstruction.

The project introduces a set of tools able to produce and unfold in the middle ground a collective field of sharing knowledge and aesthetic objects as common, enabling an inquiry into the forming principles and the re-configurations of the given forms in order to pry open, distress, and display dominant codes inscribed historically into this structure. The research will focus on the discursive treatment of the collected thematic and historical material and will aim at integrating thematic strata and data into a material ‘concrete’ object, building a dysfunctional ‘prototype’ of a playground structure in the space of Kunsthof. It will serve at the same time as a discursive platform, a kind of arena providing the stage and context to a program of parallel events such as performances, screenings, readings, and a theoretical symposium.

After Image – Playground – a dia-grammatical figure of a politics of dysfunctionality

Let us call it an After Image Playground – a dia-grammatical figure, following Pierre Bourdieu who conceptualizes the after image as the antithesis of the image, which is not a form of representation. The after image is not an ethnographic object, but rather results from an ethnographic investigation, [44] which always carries the possibility of creating a new object on the basis of its archetypal object, applying the principles of repetition (of form) and substitution, where difference can emerge to subvert the requirements of representation, where the distinction between original and copy, between authentic and imitation falls apart because in fact as a result we end up with two objects which are not the same.

The project borrows the concept of the after image from Bourdieu in order to appropriate and re-use it, transposing it from the field of sociology and science to that of art while maintaining a possible connection in a form of transdisciplinarity and intermediality between the fields, following the principles of the production of space and the creation of a field across them.

This transposition has speculative character and is a performative operation rather than one of drawing distinctions, and keeps up the freedom constituted by the autonomy of the field of art to manipulate it as a positive negation as it constructs a playground structure following deconstructive, but also re-constructive principles. The project creates a formal after image on the basis of preliminary research gathering data and analyzing the history of playgrounds in the city, their equipment in their socio-economic context and spatial and architectural relations.

Interdependency between Research and Practice – defamiliarizing the automation of perceptions

The collected research material will be critically re-worked, formalizing the results in order to elaborate a collective plan reflecting it. Informed by the conflict between the ethnographic and formalism, we want to take advantage of both. This is why in formalizing the results of our research we refer to the practices of the Russian formalists and their preoccupation with form, in which they are simultaneously scientific and aesthetic.

The Russian formalists rehabilitate the importance of aesthetics and the sensual in order to defamiliarize the automation of perception, while being firmly in the ontological with respect to the appearance of the form, and conscious, even rational, in their interrogation of the internal devices of the work of art in its formal field of action. They often engage in collective production, operating with materials subtracted from social reality. The formalist statement is that everything is form, and there is no distinction between subject matter and form. They are aesthetic as much as they are research and knowledge oriented, and use deliberate tactics to make visible immaterial social dynamics taken from the reality of abstractions in order to elaborate a collective working process with its own ends.

Following them, the project will also take into account the problem of forms, forming principles and their devices, and investigate the immanent law of forms and their possible play, in appropriation of various aspects of historical or currently existing playgrounds in order to test collectivity at “the geometric intersection of all perspectives.” [45] A formal dysfunctional dia-grammatical figure will be elaborated as a re-construction of material and immaterial forms, reflecting on the process of their formation.

Léa Lublin, Dissolution dans l’eau, Pont Marie - 17 heures, 1978. Performance at Seine River, Paris.

The Politics of Display

The project Opportunities for Outdoor Play? Playgrounds – New Spaces of Liberty (The Question of Form) refers to the etymological meaning of display, to deploy or unfold (related to the French déplier, unfold, or déployer, deploy), which not only does not exclude, but actually carries within itself the action, i.e., the manifestation, like the performative unfolding of a public statement, as in the unfolding of a flag, which combines within itself as a performative opening both the action and the display.

Regarding the display the project will take a critical view, and reconsider and rework the notions of the relation between proximity and distance and their relation to the viewers.

In the traditional exhibition or museum space the objects on display and the viewers must usually remain at a distance of one another – an instrument of domination and distinctions. How can these relations be turned upside-down to invite the viewers to direct physical experience and body contact with the re-constructed playground structure and its objects in such a way that they can examine it close up, and even play with them?

The creation of such an environment as a performative field that allows play between them follows an approach appropriated from the theater of ‘literal art,’ but not as the theater of objecthood in which the main actors are the objects and the aim is the subversive disintegration and degeneration of the subject. Bearing in mind the radical de-materialization of the world in which objects of material culture are vanishing and the subject is on the verge of disappearing, we want to rehabilitate the materiality of the object and of the body and the role of the human agents.

A display will be elaborated in acknowledgment of the spatial, historical and socio-economic relations and the way they constitute the environment of the space, critically reflecting on the system of art and of knowledge itself, and on the cultural biases of our perceptions. The material collected through the research will be treated as a ready-made, but not in the sense of Duchamp’s Fountain. Our purpose is not to transcend meaning and value in order to elevate the value of the authorial gesture at the expense of the object of art. These ready-made particles gathered in the process of research will be used as building material, in the sense of found material and immaterial fragments, extracted from social reality, which allows them to be reorganized following principles of assemblage without destroying their codes in the course of their re-composition, a kind of decoding practice which changes their meaning.

The project aims to make the decisions and approach of the transdisciplinary collective involved in the project as transparent as possible, laying bare the concrete mediating links between the structure of the artwork and the social structure, between the autonomous field of art and the field of the social space. What can we do to leave the codes visible so that they remain readable, leaving the control over them with the public, in order to constitute play as an object and make evident the nature of its rules, not only via observation but in direct play with the codes, to re-organize them into a non-signifying system?

Re-used construction materials, found on the street or remaining from torn-down buildings will be integrated in the re-construction of the playground, manipulating form through dysfunctionality, thus asserting the autonomy of the field of cultural production while generating a transdisciplinary space.

Collective Labor Is Conceivable in Art

The idea is not to fill the space temporarily with something that can be replaced by any other thing, but to let the social character of the playground speak, bringing together collective aspects as well as singular points such that “the construction of an unstable and ephemeral situation enjoins a displacement of perception, a passage from the status of spectator to that of actor, and a reconfiguration of place.” [46]

The project endeavors to bring together these singular perspectives in order to empower collective labor which can be considered a collective subject temporarily constituted from different singularities.

Adorno considers that “collective labor is conceivable in art,” [47] and indeed, there is a long history of collectivity in art. The project takes this as a political argument to engage in a practice that operates the subversion of signing and branding, in support of the singularity of the creator, which constitutes a singular point of view in space. Kunsthof will turn directly into a place of production of the collective object there on the spot, in order to contribute to a critical discourse on the discrepancy between “where art is made and where art is displayed,” [48] and at the same time destabilize the myth of the individual creator that positions him or her as a regulator of beliefs and fictions appearing in the social order as property governing the major part of the field of art “as proliferation of significations.” (Foucault) [49]

The project will interrogate how constitutive and forming processes can be reversed in order to disentangle how they are organized, and to put them to work for emphasizing the role of play that provides the universal principle of the element of freedom we enjoy.

A Middle Ground – the object of art in-between the political and the aesthetic

The project would like to underline the difference between replica and re-construction. Adorno proposed the concept of objectivated reality that is capable of serving as a middle term where art is not about representation or imitation because “art is not a replica any more than it is knowledge of an object.” [50] Re-construction includes the interrogation of the conditions of production of its archetypal object, following Deleuze who sees the object of art as inhabiting this middle ground, or Rancière, for whom it is in-between the political and the aesthetic.

Objectivated or mediated reality – the method and logic of practice – lies in-between theory and practice, the social and the aesthetic, and introduces the practice of play that allows new forms of alliances between the object of art and its public, and a re-composition of meaning in which the question is to make a difference between material and symbolic production, operating through a double historicization, the conscious application of rules of production and interpretation of the material researched, while taking to the fore the awareness of the means of translating and decoding by the potential public to empower them in their own situation on the one hand as a public, on the other, as participants in social structures.

How can this object mediate social action, giving visitors all the means and instruments for re-appropriating and mastering the codes as they play with them? What instruments are required for the public to follow the vocabulary of logic and the rules of its grammar to understand the ‘dispositions’ of axes and points affected by vectors in the game of distinctions as decisions are made and give rise to forms? How can these be used to recompose the hierarchies inherent to social forms in play and aesthetic sensualism?

In other words, this should be a structure combining analytical, aesthetic and critical principles, translating them to the formal language of self-restricted aesthetic production where the transparent grammar constituting the law of forms becomes as visible as possible, formalizing this re-construction into a generative formula in order to denaturalize it, by casting a spell, by inventing a decoding operation in order to provide the public with the opportunity of reading what is displayed. This is to be a decidedly material practice, being a negation of the technological dispositif.

The Love of Art as an aesthetic and political project

The project will work to create situations in which the “love of art” can be distributed equally among the potential audience of the project, irrespective of their background and real experience with art. In this way from the society of art lovers Bourdieu’s concept of the love of art as an ‘aesthetic disposition’ is turned to work in and for the community of art lovers being-in-common, following closely Michael Hardt’s concept of love as a social and political concept.

The action of love is also about interrogating the appearance of form and forming principles, and about how one can move from distinction to difference, because only through the love of difference and the creation of difference the concept of love can be turned into a political and aesthetic project and perspective.

Play Is Love – Play Creates Difference

The intensity of love in itself creates difference. “Intensity is the form of difference in so far as this is the reason of the sensible. Every intensity is differential, by itself a difference.” Hence, argues Deleuze, the expression “difference of intensity” is a tautology. [51] Love is capable of initiating liberating political possibilities, which is why love acts in the field of play, not in the field of the game – the latter being the kingdom of distinction and competition.

This shows the active character of love. This form of the love of art is not very different from the love of life. [52] It disrupts the relationship between the visible, the audible, the sayable, and the thinkable, and recomposes them. Schiller already, in his reflections on aesthetics, seems to have had doubts about the opposition between active understanding and passive sensibility. This is a bipolar, a sort of dialectical distinction, made by the sense of logic in the name of common sense – i.e., middle-class bourgeois ideology (Deleuze).

The action of love is not about active or passive, but about movement, material or immaterial, sometimes invisible as such but with an effect on the landscape of the visible. The love of art and the love of community have been segregated in the name of a repressive, divisive and alienating power that imposed its control over bodies and desires.

Bringing them back together can give rise to emancipatory practices, as love is a productive ontological force that can create and organize reality. The aesthetic and political experience of love based on its object, which is art (which organizes new forms of life and knowledge), or life itself, can be distributed equally, to demystify hidden social forces, immaterial and material hegemonic forms, referring to the concept of love as understood by Félix Guattari, Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt.

With Bourdieu’s The Love of Art – in search of a new concept of love

In their seminal study of European art museum audiences The Love of Art, Pierre Bourdieu, Alain Darbel and Dominique Schnapper argue that this love is not spontaneous. [53] In their empirical sociological analysis, this love functions as a source of social identification and differences as perceptual skills perpetuate social stratification. The love of art is a cultural habitus of those who try to understand the work of art thinking about themselves as individualists with their indescribable aesthetic experience which resists any analysis. However, Bourdieu shows that the cultivated taste of the art lover “is not a natural gift but a socially inculcated disposition which is distributed unevenly,” [54] the result of a signifying process involving many agents and institutions. If this love is an attainment, a historical and social practice with a direct cultural and economic effect, the question is how a new principle can be invented in order to redistribute it in such a way that it circulate freely in the milieu without privileging certain social strata or marginalizing others.

If for Bourdieu the question is how those who are excluded from this love, which generates cultural capital and makes some feel superior to others, can get access to it through knowledge and mediation without losing sensual pleasure, the idea here is to find ways to decapitalize and detach from economic relations the love of art and the play of art, careful not to produce surplus value. Because this love is a matter of the common, has to circulate freely, and cannot be measured on the scale of economic value, be it money or symbolic capital.

The notion of cultural capital, as open as it may be in Bourdieu’s intention, is trapped in the logic of political-economic capitalizing relations. The experience and distribution of art, like of knowledge, has to be a matter of the common. Can new relations of exchange with the public be invented? How can the regime of art between aesthetics and politics, in combination with analytical methods and discursive forms of knowledge, overcome the position of the privileged lover of art and redistribute the sensual equally through a politics of difference and of being-in-common. This love has to be learned, is a matter of training – an action-oriented and play-oriented form, a practice of knowledge. This is precisely why it can be oriented to a different and free circulation.

The sensual and the cognitive cannot be separated, since “a theoretical discourse is always simultaneously an aesthetic form, a sensible reconfiguration of the facts it is arguing about.” [55] Adorno in his Aesthetic Theory discusses the connection between textuality and visuality, contributing to a discourse in which the sensual and the cognitive-theoretical are not divided: “The experience of art becomes incomparably richer through undistracted knowledge of it. The intellectual study of a work reflects back on its sensual perception.” [56] In this train of thought, art not only shows but tells, and itself generates knowledge, but is also an embodiment of knowledge, and puts a philosophy of art and non-art theory into practice in the sensual.

The Love of Art not as cultural capital but as commons

If the project works towards an equal redistribution of the possibility of aesthetic experience, of the privileged love that is the experience of art, how can a situation be created through the very practices of art (and not through the mediation of the institutions of art) so that this love can circulate not as cultural capital but as commons?

If love is simultaneously aesthetic creativity and production of knowledge, how can this love be turned into a social practice as aesthetic and political action in the field of art in the social field? From the society of art lovers, how can we open and turn its concept to work in and for the community of art lovers. This works only if love is put to action. The concept of love in art and in the political combines this spontaneous and impulsive enjoyment with theoretical and educational approaches. Let us say, with Antonio Negri drawing on Spinoza, “that love, only love, can determine the relation between power and knowledge.” [57]

A crucial element of this is that such love of art is “neither capable of being fully rationalized, nor materially caused,” [58] being intermediate between the fields, transversally crossing them. This is why the notion of love can be seen not only as an aesthetic concept, since the negative conception of love of the art object has the potential of being used as a double negation, as a subversive affirmation of the ‘aesthetic disposition.’ This gives it the potentiality to be extended to a creative political, social and aesthetic project.

Here love functions as both Eros and Agape, but is at the same time a practice linked to a historical process and the production of knowledge. It is doubly exposed as sensual and cognitive. (In this respect one could reflect on the relation between Freud and Marx, desires, and the affect as a political notion, and with Deleuze and Guattari, on the role of desires and affects as a political terrain.) In art different concepts of love come together, and can be realized in “love as a proliferation of differences,” following Michael Hardt: we do not need to segregate the concept of love freely given by the sovereign subject and love as poverty based on need. Either can be elevated into a new political and social flow.

The lover of art pursues his/her own aesthetic pleasure following the principles of satisfaction. This sensual love of the work of art, like every love, is based in its object. For Bourdieu this relation is inscribed in the lexicon of love – there is something sexual about the relation between the art lover and the art object. This may look like lust, but it functions only when mediated through knowledge and cultural and social value, which means that this is a signifying process, and the art object is part of a signifying chain.

One could therefore perceive the art object as an object of desire (objet petit a), which is manipulatively put to work, appropriated by the apparatuses of the economy of commodity fetishism. Bourdieu here is not far from Marx, but considers that the “sensible love of the work can fulfil itself in a sort of amor intellectualis rei, the assimilation of the object to the subject and the immersion of the subject in the object.” [59] This amor intellectualis rei, or intellectual love of objects, based on intellectual effort, is the turning point from which a new concept of love can emerge.

If for Bourdieu the love of art requires training and knowledge, one can say that love is a technique which brings together the cognitive and the sensual. If this love of art carries within itself the code of forms of love different from most concepts of love, even if it looks like fetish-based love or catharsis, it always has the potential to escape this trap and be realized as a social and political practice.

This is why the love of art and its desires can be mobilized for liberating social action. If “all social action [is] like art, in that it is founded on illusio or belief in the game,” [60] the love of art can dissolve the illusio and its representational regime and break free from the belief in the game, into creative freeplay.

Another argument supporting this is that art is no longer about producing or supporting illusions and being part of their representational mechanisms, but about the real and its realizations. This is why the love of art and its object, which is art, is involved in organizing forms of common life and social action through the distribution of the visible and sensual, rather than working in symbolic structures and ideological regimes.

The question of the distribution of the love of art is a question that regards the notion of an immaterial common, the common of aesthetics and knowledge, which means that the love of art can be put to work for bringing about new political social relations.

Through a re-composition and re-distribution of this notion a new concept of love can be developed, not a love for the ‘same,’ but love for the different, as an emancipatory practice. How can a practice be developed in which this love is transported as an open social concept, as common, the formulation of a community of love?

Love is an active and autonomous concept that acts in the field of art and in the political community. It connects and composes fragmented realities, produces social relations, provides social alternatives, because its organizing principles go beyond the rationality of calculation. Love is not a completely unconscious process. In fact love in play brings together the rational subject, the sensual, affects, and the passion which ‘ordinary’ people invest in their ‘ordinary’ lives.

Love in Play

Love not only creates difference, love in itself can be perceived as difference. Love is intensity, and “intensity is difference.” Love as an entity cannot be measured by the standard system of measurement. This is not to say that it is not a physical phenomenon, but it lies in the in-between of the disparity between the sensible and visible. Even in love there exist some entirely rational components, linked to cognition for instance – but not as calculus. Love cannot be a matter of calculation, because then it would not be love. In this respect we can say about love that it is like solidarity. The two are even equivalent concepts, as love and solidarity are one practice. Neither can be precisely measured but their existence only conjectured. But they have concrete physical manifestations. Like the truth, they are concrete. Truth in play is love.

In order to articulate love as an ontologically productive action, we have to grasp it as a constant production of difference, as a formless forming principle that conducts the process of appearance in the milieu as a nomadic distribution. It creates a community of solidarity, a heterogeneous community beyond the power of the law, a community created from love (to be understood rather in the sense of the negative community of Georges Bataille or the community of dissent of Jean-Luc Nancy). Such a community is based on the distribution of love as creative commons, forming a being-in-common, because love is not a unifying principle. It is just the opposite, since it creates a multiplicity of difference and new subjectivities, both in the singularity of experience and by creating alliances and assemblages.

This is in contrast to the principle of the law of forms, which is realized by distinctions, where there is also appearance but accompanied by the de facto cancelation of difference in the milieu, replacing difference with the abstract profit of production of material or immaterial commodity through technologies, the game of interaction of surplus and demand. The flow of distinctions “distributes things,” [61] not love, distributes good sense and homogenizes.

Love is the only concept that can be thrown against the economic logic that penetrates all spheres of our lives, colonizing the sphere of affects and language, against game theory, against good sense, against the economic game of competition hidden behind the mask of false morals. Love gives power to collective labor, and demystifies the “collective belief in the game (illusio) and in the sacred value of its stakes.” [62]

The notion of love has a long history leading up to its emancipation as a concept of a guerilla practice of self and social defense. It has been understood as freely given to a sovereign subject, as in Hannah Arendt’s understanding of the social revolution, love immediately related to the family, or love with erotic connotations, seen exclusively as Eros, as it is viewed in Lacan’s psychoanalysis, or the broader Freudian concept of libido with its additional implications as the source of vitality. Then there is the theological love of God, for instance in Christian ethics in which this love turns into a spiritual love of one’s fellow men.

And yet in contrast to these, love as an artistic and political project is a concept sufficiently liberated from moral implications, which prepares the love of art for freeplay in those spheres that have remained unaffected by the logic of the market. The love of difference is not a moral judge. It is not a matter of the love of the mother for her child, which Foucault sees inscribed in the scheme of supply and demand, or the love of the same (humanity, race, nation, etc.), or some other form of game following the logic of the market. This is love applied to the non-economic domain, a non-self-identitarian cross communication based on limitation in a field, able to disrupt the game that modulates the construction of the social body and reality, and to provide an alternative to the conclusion that there is no outside of the game.

Love as a radicalized and free political concept applies to affective labor and its desires, which can be turned against the commodification and occupation of our entire life by the economy of the game. Love is the only concept opposed to competition that dissolves the unifying forces. Competition, in order to work, must be tied to a moral framework, such as the belief in one’s team, or one’s nation, to compensate “for what is cold, impassive, calculating, rational, and mechanical in the strictly economic game of competition.” Economic interests need to be masked as moral subjects of non-economic social beliefs and behavior and ensure “‘a community which is not fragmented,’ and guarantee cooperation between men who are ‘naturally rooted and socially integrated.’” [63]

A Critical Stance Towards the Game – to draw a distinction means to be in the game

The logic of distinctions is an operation that changes the subject-object orientation in the space. Indeed it operates to sanction the proliferation of difference “from the production of differences to their reduction.” For Deleuze, distinction is the productive flow and signifying technology of good sense: “it dreams less of acting than of constituting a natural milieu.” It cancels the proliferation and multiplicity of difference and produces the limited field of the game through calculation, measurement, austerity, installing a competitive market environment.

Both distinction and difference are a question of form – they are both forming principles. Distinction can be characterized as the law of forms, whereas play is the freedom of forms. Through marking, fixing and identifying, the endless process of drawing distinctions is a formless process of giving form, the automation of the field of production.

Following Wittgenstein’s language game, George Spencer-Brown in The Law of Forms, [64] a work of formal mathematics and philosophy, develops the self-referential calculus of indications and distinctions, a method he calls an ‘autopoietic system,’ working on the principle of self-observation and constant production of distinctions: “by calling it, you confirm it, by crossing it, you cancel it.” [65] In order for the process to start, it has to “draw a distinction in the first place.” [66] It is important to note that his method is doing, performing or creating the form, not representing, classifying or symbolizing, mimicking play as a simulacra of play. In the games of chance so dear to the Surrealists, from the outset chance is limited and manipulated, because it is not a matter of play but a matter of the game.

He for the first time in mathematics explicitly included the observer in the operations of calculus as a self-referential point, thus producing asymmetry. These operations are necessarily asymmetrical. To fix and give form, the first step to produce the process is the explicit inclusion of the observer in the operations she/he/it performs. In his/her/its system the observer is responsible for restriction and exposure, through self-observation, through self-reflection, affirming Frederick Winslow Taylor’s model of self-control.

It was Taylor already who had based his optimization of working processes in the factory on the symptoms of hysteria and their therapy, and transferred the concept of control from the schemes of the panopticon or the theatre of illness towards self-control as a disciplining mechanism installing a system of total control, only as “the observation of the observer,” which breaks with the historical construction of spectatorship and brings the completely new concept of compulsively being a spectator of yourself.

In Spencer-Brown’s law of forms, “the social realm is understood to be the realm of communications performing observation.” [67] This was to influence different fields of science from evolutionary biology to social system theory. As Luhmann states, social systems emerge on the level of second-order observation.

Even if games are played they are not of the domain of the freedom of play. They are coalitions between players with a fixed set of rules based on an unwritten contract between the players, usually requiring a specific game situation. A game is not play, even if it contains the potentiality of play. Its repetition does not produce difference. Play is that which remains unrealizable.

Text and research: Dimitrina Sevova


[1] Jacques Rancière, Aesthetics and its Discontents, trans. Steven Corcoran, Cambridge, Polity Press, 2009, p. 26.

[2] Pierre Bourdieu, The Rules of Art: Genesis and Structure of the Literary Field, trans. Susan Emanuel, Stanford University Press, 1996, p. 179.

[3] Paolo Virno on second-order observation and self-reflexivity: “I am convinced that these second-order sensations, which refer back to intellectual knowledge, can be seen as the privileged materials of political and aesthetical experience. Why? Because today the fundamental problem is not to oppose the abstraction of social life in the name of a supposedly ‘concrete’, but to derive a totally new ‘concrete’ precisely from the reality of abstraction. I refer to Marx, who talked of ‘real abstractions’ (like money, law, State institutions), and Marx talked also of the general intellect, that is the techno-scientific knowledge as the cornerstone of social production. The task is to develop a form of both political and aesthetical sensualism that takes the ‘real abstractions’ as its starting point, a sensualism capable of critically re-working those abstractions.” Paolo Virno, “Three Remarks Regarding the Multitude’s Subjectivity and Its Aesthetic Component,” in Daniel Birnbaum and Isabelle Graw (eds.), Under Pressure: Pictures, Subjects, and the New Spirit of Capitalism, Sternberg Press, 2008, p. 41.

[4] Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire, Harvard University Press, 2000, p. 357.

[5] Michel Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège de France 1978-1979, trans. Graham Burchell, Palgrave Macmillan, 2008, p. 221.

[6] Ibid., p. 223.

[7] “[There are] no ‘rituals of transgression.’ The very expression makes no sense, especially when applied to the festival. The latter has proved very problematic for our revolutionaries: is the festival a transgression or regeneration of the Law? An absurd question, for rituals, including the ritual liturgy of the festival, belong to neither the domain of the Law, nor its transgression, but to that of the Rule.” Jean Baudrillard, Seduction, St. Martin’s Press, 1990 (French original 1979), p. 138.

[8] Benjamin Kline Hunnicutt, “Plato on Leisure, Play, And Learning,” in Leisure Sciences, <> (accessed 2013-03-26).

[9] Hunnicutt, op. cit.

[10] Jacques Derrida, “Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences” in id., Writing and Difference, trans. Alan Bass, 1966, pp. 278-95.

[11] Voltaire, Candide: or, Optimism, Chapter 30 (Conclusion), 1759.

[12] J. C. Friedrich von Schiller, On the Aesthetic Education of Man, Letter XV, Paragraph 9, 1795.

[13] Gustave Flaubert, Sentimental Education, Dover, 2006 (French original 1869).

[14] Pierre Bourdieu, The Rules of Art: Genesis and Structure of the Literary Field, trans. Susan Emanuel, Stanford University Press, 1996.

[15] Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Vol. 1, Ch. 23 (Simple Reproduction) <> (accessed 2013-03-28).

[16] John Beasley-Murray, “Value and Capital in Bourdieu and Marx,” in Nicholas Brown and Imre Szeman (eds.), Pierre Bourdieu: Fieldwork in Culture, Rowman & Littlefield, 2000, p. 112.

[17] Paolo Virno, “Three Remarks Regarding the Multitude’s Subjectivity and Its Aesthetic Component,” in Daniel Birnbaum and Isabelle Graw (eds.), Under Pressure: Pictures, Subjects, and the New Spirit of Capitalism, Sternberg Press, 2008, p. 35.

[18] Jean Baudrillard, op. cit., p. 140.

[19] Hans-Georg Gadamer, “The Relevance of the Beautiful,” in id., The Relevance of the Beautiful and Other Essays, ed. Robert Bernasconi, Cambridge University Press, 1986, p. 23.

[20] Friedrich Schiller, “Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man,” Letter XV, in Walter Hinderer and Daniel O. Dahlstrom (eds.), Essays: Friedrich Schiller (The German Library No. 17), Continuum, 1993, p. 129.

[21] Friedrich Nietzsche, Ecce Homo, commentary on The Gay Science, trans. Walter Kaufmann, in id., On the Genealogy of Morals & Ecce Homo, Vintage Books, 1989 (1967), p. 294.

[22] Jean Baudrillard, op. cit., p. 115.

[23] Johan Huizinga, Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture, Routledge, 1949.

[24] Roger Caillois, Man and the Sacred, trans. Meyer Barash, Free Press of Glencoe, 1960. Roger Caillois, Man, Play and Games, trans. Meyer Barash, Free Press of Glencoe, 1961.

[25] “Repetition of ideas in inverted order. In its classical application chiasmus [is] used for structures that do not repeat the same words and phrases […], but instead create a mirrored effect upon the ideas and thoughts in a portion or passage.” Gregory T. Howard, Dictionary of Rhetorical Terms, entry on Chiasmus, Xlibris Corporation, 2010, p. 64.

[26] Sam Gill, Dancing Culture Religion, Lexington Books, 2012, pp. 135-136.

[27] Nathan Haskell Dole, “Introduction,” in Friedrich Schiller, Aesthetical and Philosophical Essays, Dana Estes & Company, 1902, p. 1. <> (accessed 2013-03-30).

[28] Sam Gill, Syllabus for “Dancing Culture Religion”, Play 4: Derrida, <> (2013-03-29).

[29] Mladen Dolar, “At First Sight,” in Renata Salecl and Slavoj Žižek (eds), Gaze and Voice as Love Objects, Duke University Press, 1996, p. 133.

[30] Paolo Virno, “Three Remarks Regarding the Multitude’s Subjectivity and Its Aesthetic Component,” in Daniel Birnbaum and Isabelle Graw (eds.), Under Pressure: Pictures, Subjects, and the New Spirit of Capitalism, Sternberg Press, 2008, pp. 32-33.

[31] Lawrence Weiner, in “About Art in Public Space: 6 Questions to 6 Artists,” in Werner Fenz, Evelyn Kraus, Birgit Kulterer (eds.), Kunst im Öffentlichen Raum Steiermark / Art in Public Space Styria, SpringerWienNewYork, 2011, p. 41. Responding to the question: “Could you imagine living without the White Cube and working exclusively in public space?”

[32] Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire, Harvard University Press, 2000, p. 354.

[33] Ibid., p. 339.

[34] Ibid., p. 336.

[35] Simon Sheikh, “Positively White Cube Revisited,” in e-flux journal #3, February 2009 <> (accessed 2013-03-21).

[36] Brian O’Doherty, Inside the White Cube: The Ideology of the Gallery Space, The Lapis Press, 1986 (1976), p. 79.

[37] Cem Angeli (Cast Your Art), “Public Space: Consensus or Conflict?” (on Andrea Seidling’s curatorial exhibition Platz da! European Urban Public Space at Architekturzentrum Wien) <> (accessed 2012-12-15). The quote is a reference to Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space, trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith, Blackwell, Oxford, 1991. Another exhibition and conference which takes up the theme is On Capital and Territory III (On the nature of political economy… and the commons) at the Universidad Internacional de Andalucía, organized in the context of artandthinking, 2011 <> (accessed 2012-12-15).

[38] Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire, Harvard University Press, 2000, p. 337.

[39] Pablo Bronstein, Katrin Mayer, “Re-Reading Space,” in Displayer 03, July 2009 <> (accessed 2013-03-21).

[40] Pierre Bourdieu, The Rules of Art: Genesis and Structure of the Literary Field, trans. Susan Emanuel, Stanford University Press, 1996, p. 289.

[41] Boris Groys, in Kurt Mueller, “6 Questions for Boris Groys,” Art Lies, Issue 58, Summer 2008 <> (accessed 2013-03-18).

[42] Pierre Bourdieu, The Rules of Art: Genesis and Structure of the Literary Field, trans. Susan Emanuel, Stanford University Press, 1996, p. 313.

[43] Jacques Rancière, The Politics of Aesthetics, trans. Gabriel Rockhill, Continuum, 2006, p. 50.

[44] “[In the objectivist tradition] the ethnologist is someone who reconstitutes a kind of unwritten score which lies behind the actions of the agents, who think they are improvising their own melody when, in reality, whether in matrimonial exchanges or linguistic exchanges, they are acting out a system of transcendent rules, etc. On the opposite side, Sartre, in his Critique of Dialectical Reason, explicitly takes issue with Lévi-Strauss and with the reification effect that objectivism produces.” Pierre Bourdieu, Sociology in Question, Sage, 1993, p. 56.

[45] Pierre Bourdieu, The Rules of Art: Genesis and Structure of the Literary Field, trans. Susan Emanuel, Stanford University Press, 1996, p. 100.

[46] Jacques Rancière, Aesthetics and its Discontents, trans. Steven Corcoran, Cambridge, Polity Press, 2009, pp. 23-24.

[47] Theodor W. Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, trans. Robert Hullot-Kentor, Continuum, 2002 (1997), p. 42 (p. 53).

[48] Brian O’Doherty, Studio and Cube: On The Relationship Between Where Art is Made and Where Art is Displayed, Princeton Architectural Press, 2008.

[49] Michel Foucault, “What Is an Author?” in id., Essential Works of Foucault (1954-1984), Volume 2: Aesthetics, Method, and Epistemology, The New Press, 1998, p. 221.

[50] Theodor W. Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, trans. Robert Hullot-Kentor, Continuum, 2002 (1997), p. 285 (p. 366).

[51] Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, trans. Paul Patton, Continuum, 2004 (1994), p. 301 (p. 240).

[52] John Guillory, “Bourdieu’s Refusal,” Nicholas Brown, Imre Szeman (eds.), Pierre Bourdieu, Fieldwork in Culture, Rowman & Littlefield, 2000, p. 38. “Love of art is not so very different from love of life, or at least the willingness to live it.”

[53] Pierre Bourdieu, Alain Darbel and Dominique Schnapper, The Love of Art: European Art Museums and Their Public, trans. Caroline Beattie and Nick Merriman, Polity Press, 1997 (1991).

[54] Pierre Bourdieu, Alain Darbel and Dominique Schnapper, The Love of Art: European Art Museums and Their Public, trans. Caroline Beattie and Nick Merriman, Polity Press, 1997 (1991). Sleeve text.

[55] Jacques Rancière, The Politics of Aesthetics, trans. Gabriel Rockhill, Continuum, 2006, p. 65.

[56] Theodor W. Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, trans. Robert Hullot-Kentor, Continuum, 2002 (1997), p. 312 (p. 395).

[57] Antonio Negri, “Appendix Two: Archeological Letter. October 1984, Antonio Negri,” in Félix Guattari and Antonio Negri, New Lines of Alliance, New Spaces of Liberty, Autonomedia, 2010, p. 142.

[58] James Guillory, Cultural Capital: The Problem of Literary Canon Formation, University of Chicago Press, 2010, p. 332.

[59] Pierre Bourdieu, The Rules of Art: Genesis and Structure of the Literary Field, trans. Susan Emanuel, Stanford University Press, 1996, p. xix.

[60] John Guillory, “Bourdieu’s Refusal,” in Nicholas Brown and Imre Szeman (eds.), Pierre Bourdieu, Fieldwork in Culture, Rowman & Littlefield, 2000, p. 38.

[61] Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, trans. Paul Patton, Continuum, 2004 (1994), p. 283 (p. 224).

[62] Pierre Bourdieu, The Rules of Art: Genesis and Structure of the Literary Field, trans. Susan Emanuel, Stanford University Press, 1996, p. 230.

[63] Michel Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège de France 1978-1979, trans. Graham Burchell, Palgrave Macmillan, 2008, p. 243. Quoting Wilhelm Röpke, The Social Crisis of Our Times, Transaction Publishers, 1991, Part II, Ch. 2, p. 236.

[64] G[eorge] Spencer Brown, The Law of Forms, The Julian Press, 1972 (1969). “LoF became something of a cult classic, praised in the Whole Earth Catalog. Those who agree point to LoF as embodying an enigmatic “mathematics of consciousness,” its algebraic symbolism capturing an (perhaps even the) implicit root of cognition: the ability to distinguish. LoF argues that the pa (primary algebra) reveals striking connections among logic, Boolean algebra, and arithmetic, and the philosophy of language and mind.” (Wikipedia)

[65] Dirk Baecker (ed.), Problems of Form, Introduction, Stanford University Press, 1999, p. 3.

[66] Ibid.

[67] Ibid., p. 4.