The influences of D&G on contemporary art


In the late 1980s, two remarkable thinkers Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari published a book titled A Thousand Plateaus. It is a philosophical treatise that became one of the most influential books of the 20th Century, which provides numerous tools for reflection. Their work had an enormous impact on many subsequent thinkers, as well as an Italian fugitive and Guattari's flatmate in Paris then, Antonio Negri. His collaborative work with an American scholar Michael Hartd, Empire also became an important book on political and social sciences in the last decade. In recent years, it seems that contemporary artists and curators cross over the boundary between each other's territories. This oscillation of becoming a curator and an artist mirrors a certain aspect of globalisation and how it has impaced on the once rigidly defined framework of national states. Deleuze and Guattari refer to this blurring of the border as deterritorialisation. Emergence of artists working in multi-media is the reasult of the widely availabile digital devices that technological advancement has made possible, and its procss has accelerated due to the rapid expansion of global capitalism. Curation of contemporary exhibitions has become the crucial component of the international art scene insofar as curators play multiple roles in todya's art world. They act and pose as art historians, exhibition organisers, fundraisers, writers, publicists, PRs, and even sometimes artist psychologist and counsellor. Artists also play as many roles as curators. This seems to be rooted in our urban social dynamics which enfolds multiplicity with an emphasis upon connectivity. In early 2011, Tunisia and Egypt experienced an upsurge in a domestic political tension, which resulted in riots and the exploding number of marching protesters. The protest movements erupted one after another as if they were all somehow related. In fact, they were all related, not necessarily in a conventional manner, but with the help of the advanced technology. Protesters were made up with not only young people and students, but also the elderly and the middle aged (Todd. 2011). Most of the protests were organised on the Internet using even growing social networking sites (Copnall. 2011). This seems to suggest a new way of connectivity which does not only serve as merely a hidden meeting spot for introverted computer nerds but also a widely opened communal space with serious practical functionality. While there are still restrictions and censorship issues remain unresolved in some countries, social networking sites so-called SNSs, and other online services, such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, Amazon, Wikipedia, and Youtube have revolutionised the ways in which we shop, make friends, read and write, research, and more importantly express ourselves. There was a twist to the story above. The majority of protesters from the street in fact, did not have access to the internet or Facebook, but there were political messages freely written online by anonymous writers including local residents, which triggered people's desire for independence and democracy. A significant point here is that in the psyche of the general public in those tyrannical and totalitarian states, the notion of the freedom of speech was planted, which had been strictly prohibited. Our life is now surrounded by cybernetic apparatuses and highly sophisticated mechanical devices that allow us easy and convenient access to the parallel world of the World Wide Web. The way in which we expand our network and social territory is done through those highly advanced technological devices. Facebook, Myspace and Twitter are only the tip of the iceberg of this fast moving phenomenon and many other social networking sites and web-based resources distribute information, services and a wide variety of opportunities for people to get connected and exercise their right to express. These online platforms can be accessed through mobile gadgetry like an I-phone or a Blackberry. Deleuze and Guatarri's metaphorically coined the term, 'rhizome' referring to the way in which the structure within the mode of our thought particularly in the realm of cultural studies expands horizontally as opposed to vertically. In other words, there is no hierarchical relationship like tree and root, and the rhizomatic network allows foreign ideas to become connected easily, embracing multiplicity and heterogeneity in the model of cultural and social engagement. Therefore, tendency towards rhizomatic connectivity has become even more apparent in recent years than when A Thousand of Plateaus was written in the 1980s. Now rhizomatic structures can be found everywhere. As mentioned above, the ways of communication in which highly sophisticated cybernetic technology is based and the information is distributed via mobile devices like an I-phone are also rhizomatic. Permeation of this social dynamics has eroded the old systems where allegories, allusions and symbols are the main targets of consumption. This semiotic consumption exemplified in Warhol's screen prints with cultural icons. This valorisation of semiotic structures has been replaced with more functional aims and consumption of connections and interaction. This inevitably has had a profound impact upon the praxis of contemporary artists. A British-German artist with a background in dance, Tino Sehgal staged an exhibition in 2010 at the Guggenheim Museum, which unveiled his recurring strategy of constructing a social situation where the artwork plays a role of filling a social interstice. The unconventional installation called 'The Progress' involved people from different age groups standing at different levels of Frank Lloyd Wright's iconic building, while they were giving visitors some unique and sometimes philosophical instructions. The highly innovative and experimental piece was aimed to forge a new relationship to visitors by inviting them to participate in a kind of telephone game that the artist conceived for a specific purpose. The significant part of this piece was that the audiences themselves played a crucial part of creating a participatory and collaborative aesthetic experience, which they encountered while engaging in it (Juan 2010).

Prior to this, the 90s saw the prevalence of a type of art that attempted to fill social interstice, which was eloquently archived in Documents sur l'Art, first in 1992. Emergence of Nicholas Bourriaud's 'Relational Aesthetics' was certainly a self-evident consequence in respect of art providing a platform for social engagement. An endeavour to cater for social interstice is motivated by a lack of direct social interaction in everyday life, as rapid advancing technologies brought drastic social changes in the way people interact with one another. As a result, it accelerated the expansion of the online social network systems. Anther example was witnessed in Rirkrit Tiravanija's installation in which a new social engagement within a gallery space was introduced with culinary involvement and distribution of Thai food, catered a new type of aesthetic experiences as a way of overcoming the interstices of social connectivity. Felix Gonzalez-Torres' homosexual aesthetics fulfilled post-modern pursuit of 'Other', while raising issues of sexuality, race and identity. Particularly, a piece containing thousands of colourful sweets commemorating the death of his partner, Ross, highlighted heterogeneous realities while touching upon fundamental issues of human existence such as love and death, as well as more recent subjects such as sexuality and AIDs. Relational art emerged after everything was replaced with representation which consequently created hyperreality in the world of Simulacra, as Jean Baudrillard once said during the long perpetuated post-modern era. Pop art was build upon the consumption of tokens. During the 80s, Barbara Kruger, a former graphic designer satirically manipulated texts and imagery found in advertisements questioning feminism and a lack of individuality within the capitalist system. Her concern was that in the capitalist system mass production exercises power while reducing one's autonomy and choice to mutually create mass consumption that feeds into the former cyclically.
Another crucial aspect underlies Felix Gonzalez-Torres' work is the engendered presence of Other, therefore together the unresolved post-colonial debates. What this means is that casting a spotlight on Other, whether be a gay artist or a non-Western artist symbolises the rhizomatic expansion and what has enabled the rhizome to reach, which was not possible when the society was primarily posited on the arborescent structure.   

According to Nicholas Bourriaud, relational art praxis that the 90s saw was not the revival of Performance art or happenings led by the likes of Fluxus from the previous era, but rather derived from a different cause. Bourriaud's recent attempt to manifest the rhizomatic expansion beyond globalisation and post-colonialism through a curatorial project was materialised in Altermodern exhibition in 2008. Bourriaud sought a modernity of the21st Century, arguing that the meaning of modernism needs to be reassessed and appropriated for the 21st Century because the current cultural engagement is beyond post-modernism (Art in America, 17, 03, 2009). He claims that socially we were at a different place now from the 60s, 70s even 80s. The manifestation of visual culture is no longer under the influence of geopolitical power relations. Altermodern was Bourriaud's challenge to provide a division to progression of ongoing contemporary art praxis, separating the present tendency from post-modernism. Post-modernism itself was not at all an autonomous entity, but rather dependent upon modernism. Altermodern was allegedly not a critical success, as the attempt to coin a new term for elusive time of continuously evolving contemporary art was perhaps overambitious. Irit Rogoff introduces a more appropriate mode of participating in cultural studies to the current affairs of Fine arts. He argues that the notion of creolization has a key answer to break the bilateral discussion of post-colonialism and globalisation. The application of binaries between colonisers and colonised to account for cultural traits and influences has become no longer sufficient (Rogoff. 2010). Creoles are those who with both European and black origins especially in the Caribbean and have lost their original identity. They are entangled mixings. This entangled nature of creoles differs from hybridised outcomes, much more complex in its mixing than the binary system. Irit's argument about an entanglement of cultures is intriguing in relation to passages in A Thousand Plateaus, “The Wasp is nevertheless deterritorialized, becoming a piece in the orchid's reproductive apparatus. It reterritorializes the orchid by transporting its pollen.” (p.11 pp4-6) The relationship between wasp and orchid deriving from the biological concept of mutualism is a symbiosis, in which a cyclical mutation of deterritorialization and reterriotorialization is occurring. The space occupied with a wasp becomes a part of orchid's territory and vice versa. If this cycle is rhizomatic, as Deleuze and Guattari claim, in light of Irit's creolization, the current state of the entangled cultures is a result of rhizomatic mutation of heterogeneous elements, rather than the production of the old binary system. Despite a failure to achieve a critical success, Bourriaud's Altermodern in the Deleuzian respect had a meaningful purpose to reflect on this social phenomenon. The way in which the exhibition was curated looked as if Bourridaud was trying to exhibit his own artwork. In other words, the curated exhibition itself was a work of art as a whole. It mirrors the web based social dynamics that we are currently in. Social networking sites vary in their kinds. There are numerous communities with different characters, purposes and members. Some might say in this vast ocean of rhizome where we are drowning, we need a guide. We need someone to navigate us through this maze like a web of rhizome which continues to grow and expand. In a similar vein, the existence of curators as a guide becomes more important than ever. In my opinion, the critical failure of Bourriaud's Altermodern stemmed from an ironical and paradoxical fact that he stepped out of the territory that curators traditionally occupy, and rather started expressing himself as an usher to guide through the complexity of contemporary art. While reflecting on the above mentioned tendency emerging in the world of SNSs, he expressed his view by curating the Altermodern exhibition as an usher of the complex rhizome of contemporary art. In my view, the role of a curator is usually to provide an appropriate context for artworks to be understood, seen and enjoyed in the best way possible in relation to the current socio-political dynamics and within the linear of art history. Needless to say, connotative signifieds of artworks can be altered dramatically depending on the context in which the artworks are presented and with what type of artworks it is grouped within a division of a particular exhibition. Signifieds of artworks in this respect are highly manipulatable, almost as if curators have the authority to grant different kinds of signifieds to artworks by having a control over contexts of artworks. Another point that I would like to make here is that what is rhizomatic in terms of reterriotorialization and deterritorialization recalling the relationship between wasp and orchid in A Thousand of Plateaus. The mutualism is applied to describe expansion and reduction of roles that both artists and curators play in recent years. Many artists nowadays give up engaging in the act of drawing and painting, which has traditionally been considered as disciplines of artists. The increasing number of artists are more involved in the act of organising exhibitions, managing fabricators and assistants, almost playing the role of a curator. As I mentioned above, more curators on the other hand, seem to step into the realm that used to belong to artists. By giving signifieds to artworks, contextualising, and even historicising and theorising, they mould the environment where artworks are presented. In the context of contemporary art, environments are often viewed as more important than the aesthetic contents of works. This crossover however, is mutually helping art to grow and expand on a large social arena. Deterritorialization and reterritorialization between artists and curators are both contributors to the mutualism of social expansion of art, therefore rhizomatic. There are examples of the paradoxical tendency in which artists are treating their own exhibitions as a curatorial project, as if there were multiple artists involved in a show. This trend was quintessentially exemplified in a recent exhibition at White Cube gallery in Hoxton square. Friedrich Kunath's exhibition consisted of paintings, ready made objects and found objects, such as lamps, a sofa, plants, antique goods and so on. There was also incense burning and sending out an exotic, subtle aroma to the entire room. As he stated in his interview with Tim Marlow, scent seems to him like an invisible sculpture. He likes to make art that applies to different senses. As a stimulus for the auditory sense, mellow music with piano and strings were being played out with some featuring sounds corresponding to what was shown in a video piece in which the artist himself was hitting a tennis ball with the violin against the wall. The footage was overlapping the motion picture of an endless railway leading up to his hometown, East Berlin. The floor was carpeted with a matching colour to the wall which was painted in black. With minimal dimmed light in the entire room, only paintings were subtly lit with spot lights. His paintings testify that he is a well disciplined painter and skilled draftsman, with a colour palette of florescent hues reminding viewers of a pop dominant cultural climate of Los Angeles where he relocated over a decade ago. Peculiarly, his paintings obscure his faith in one medium, Greenbergian medium specificity. He is not confined to being a mere painter. All the elements in the installation play an integral part of the entire orchestra. It was not as if some components were subordinated to the other, or additives to paintings. There was a heterogeneous singularity and a lot of elements are dependent upon each other, very shallow, yet expansive and highly rhizomatic. Some would have presumed it was a curated group exhibition. The truth of the matter was that it was a curated solo show by the artist himself. This correspondingly bears witness to a recent tendency that curators are increasingly treating their curatorial projects as an aesthetic, theoretical and ideological expression. The gap between artists and curators has narrowed and the boundary between their engagements in art is increasingly obscure. Jacques Ranciere's interest in the politics of aesthetics confirms that within the discourses of aesthetics, the distribution of the sensible is important as much as in politics, but it defers depending on the social strata that one belongs to. What is common to different classes, races and cultures differ from each other. However, within the rhizomatic system even these polemical issues are dealt with in a more democratic way. Political conflicts within the rhizomatic system are fostered to embrace differences and it has an automated system to repair sudden ruptures (Deleuze. Guatarri. 1980). Having said that, there are constant collisions between what is under the ground and what is over the ground, if I borrow the Rhrizome metaphor. There are still tree like horizontally hierarchical ideological models, for instance, Islamic doctrine in the Middle East. Rhizome 's 5 and 6 principle suggests the new system, an expanding map as opposed to tracing. Some might argue that this still suggests the attitude towards Eurocentric ideology and incomplete democratization of the West. A linear growth like root and tree could refer to such an idea as indoctrination of some religious beliefs especially ubiquitous in the Middle East. The inflammatory complexity latent in the Middle East coupled with oil wars and geopolitics are certainly not taken into account in the Rhizomatic model. This seems to confirm, as it has been again and again that despite all the post-modernist condemnation of Western art being white male dominant and long pursuit of 'Other', a recurring dilemma of not being able to escape from the Eurocentric system has not yet been mitigated. On the back of the expansion of rhizome, there is also a growing tree above the ground and it seems to be growing even more vertically than in the past. Irit makes a point about a theory being merely a tool to invalidate a theory that once looked complete and utterly validated without any flaws. Ironically, his theory might be valid in assessing Rhizome and the political tension between the Western industrially developed countries and Islamic countries in the Middle East where totalitarian political systems are still exercised.


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Bourriaud, Nicola. (2002) Relational Aesthetics. Translated into English. Les presses du reel

Copnall, James. (2011) Analysis. BBC news.

Deleuze, Gilles. Guattari, Felix. (1980) A Thousand Plateaus. Translated by Brian Massumi. London and New York: Continuum, 2004 Vol. 2 of Capitalism and Schizophrenia. 2 Vols. 1972-1980. Trans. Of Mille Plateaux. Paris: Les Editions de Ninuit

Heartney, Eleanor (2001) Postmodernism (Movements in Modern Art). Cambridge University Press

Juan, Jovi (2010) Tino Sehgal's ”This Progress”: The Missing Children's Guide. The Wall Street Journal

Ranciere, Jacques (2004) The Politics of Aesthetics. Continuum

Rogoff, Irit. (18. 04 . 2006) What is a Theorist?

Ryan, Bartholomew. (17, 03, 2009) Altermodern: A Conversation with Nicolas Bourriaud. Art in America International Reviw. Todd, Rick. January 24, 2011.

Will the Tunisian revolution spread?. Expat Investing.

White Cube. 2011. Friedrich Kunath. Interview with Tim Marlow

Images Friedrich Kunath at White Cube (May. 2001)



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