No Wall Only Dreamers: Revisions and Visions

“The Wall is the Wall, it has never changed or evolved from the first day I conceived of it.”

Sure, the idiotic idea of your never-to-be-built-wall may have emerged, fully-formed, from your head, like some phantom Athena (the “Wall”). But this Wall remains a figment of your limited imagination no matter how many real-time revisions your original concept suffers. (There is no “Wall”). Or, to put it another way, what you tweet now, even if only to repeat the bluster of your ridiculous campaign promise, is merely proof of the forgetting and implicit transformation/evolution/dilution/gutting of your original idea (The Wall is not the “Wall). What remains of the shell of the Wall, however, is the ghostly figure of a lonely, forgetful old man, possessed by a bitter nostalgia for when he ‘won’, tweeting to remember. (“….”).

In all of this, while your Wall is just a “Wall”, DACA and the Dreamers and the vision of safeguarding their rights and future path to citizenship are real. So while you have shut down the government to make a deal (Dreamers for Wall), no matter how many prototypes are made, how many times you rant about Mexico paying for it, your Wall will never be more than a concept, your nightmarish concept of crystallized xenophobia, racism and fear.

We are reminded of your desperate need for repetition (revision) as reaffirmation of your “Wall” when we returned to a post from last year that engages with Phillipe Parreno and Pierre Huyghe’s project No Ghost Only Shell (Jan. 6). Flicking through the book of the project, we turned to the excerpt of an essay called Of Lucidity by Pierre Joseph and Mehdi Belhaj-Kacem:

The art of repeating succeeds when it forgets what it means to repeat, in the deepest amnesia of what it will have managed to resuscitate. The art of repetition, and thus, the art of re-presentation, is the art of heightening of the event, of presentation: the art of intensifying what takes place. Which means that this art fails, remaining, as it does, in nostalgia, commemoration, repetition of whatever magic has taken place. Strictly speaking, it only succeeds with the traumatic reappearance of what it has forgotten, whenever that takes place. Yet, those who are given this art, and this experience, do not own it…since what they aim for is the most extreme state of dispossession, or what is also paradoxically called: being possessed.

Compare this figure’s opposite. Neither the J20 Art Strike nor the Women’s March of this time last year are committed to simple repetition. Art Action Day replaced the ‘no work’ protest, while the upcoming midterms, through the message of March to the Polls, was at the heart the Women’s March. These returns were self-consciously aware of how, one year on, there was no going back to some original idea of protest. Yet at the same time, their ability to shift and adapt ensures their visionary ambitions. The same may be said for the Dreamers and the defenders of the DACA program. There is no going back to the original Obama act, the former president’s signature immigration policy (hence Trump’s determination for it to end) as a means to defend it. This means that Democrats have to find new ways to ensure its survival. If that means making a deal that involves a Wall, so be it. Even if a Wall is built, it will always be a revision of the “Wall” and will never measure up to the conceptual “Wall” of the white-nationalist’s dark vision.

Our book to come No Philosopher King must also learn from this lesson and appreciate the difference between Trump’s revision and the visions of the Women’s march and the DACA. There is no turning back, only pivoting. For example, looking over our posts from last year in writing our book, we appreciate more than ever their provisional nature. There are a steady stream of posts about the everyday and the process of slow accumulation (e.g. Seth Price’s communist advertising New Year poster – Dec. 31; Cory Arcangel’s Data Diaries Jan. 2; Maurizio Cattelan’s rambling wall-text – Dec. 29). We found ourselves engaged with the way different media deals with the provisional nature of drafts and proposals (e.g. Kara Walker’s Sphinx sketches – Jan. 3; Ed Atkin’s image of Marsyas and digital decay – Dec. 30). Sure we would look back (e.g. to a performance about Black Mountain College – Jan. 5, or to the Manifesto Library – which reproduces the J20 manifesto – Jan. 7), but at the same time, we sowed seeds for future encounters to come (e.g. writing about Ian Cheng’s work before visiting his PS1 exhibition – Jan. 4 – or looking into Amy Sillman’s Ovid before reading her zine The OG #11Jan. 8). In short, unlike Trump and his Wall, we were prepared to embrace the detachment of anachronism as we searched  for new ways of articulating the dynamic between the Classical and Contemporary (cf. Kasper Bosmans’ statement about his work: The veil of anachronism installs a detachment that makes one able to see connections across past and present – Jan. 1.)

Perhaps the most clear manifestation of this impulse to accept the provisional nature of our investigations occurred across our first serial-posts of the ‘Minus Plato Today’ project. As we were researching the work of Simone Weil, we aligned our focus on mourning with her reading of Electra, revisited her presence in two films by Chris Marker and Jean-Luc Godard, and an implicit extension of her ideas about retribution from her famous Iliad essay to the the fall of Carthage in the installation in Tunisia by Italian artist Lara Favaretto (Dec. 25, Dec. 26, Dec. 27, Dec. 28).

Little did we know back then that these four sequential posts about Weil would become the basis for other serial-posts throughout the year. In many ways, and we have yet to fully articulate this idea to ourselves (but this is what the tenth chapter of our book (‘SERIALS’) will aim to do) these serial-posts acted not only as a counterpoint to the daily process of mourning, but also to the formation of our collective practice and move away from individual authorship. Looking back at these posts now, we realize that Simone Weil had already written about Trump’s Wall as tweeted language, compared to the Dreamers and their supporters as real activists. Weil writes:

We can, thanks to language, call to mind anything we please; it is language that changes us into people who act.

When Peter Finch quotes this passage in his book Simone Weil: “The Just Balance”, he uses the analogy of the sun to further explain Weil’s idea:

The immediate point is that the production of words is something over which we have far greater control than we have over most of the things words stand for. I can make the word “sun” present to myself any time I wish, I cannot do that with the “sun” itself.

As if growing out of the delay between us encountering Weil’s idea and our original posts on her work’s extension in cinematic narratives, we are now thinking about The Otolith Group (who have directly engaged with and re-presented the work of both Marker and Godard) and their 2009 exhibition and book A Long Time Between Suns. The exhibition, split between two London locations (Gasworks and The Showroom), also divided the group’s two earlier films Otolith I (2003) and Otolith II (2007) in one location, with the premiere of their new film Otolith III (2009) in the other.

The book then brings together the voiceover scripts of three exhibited films with newly commissioned texts, designed by Will Holder.

Here, on the book cover, the circular symbol of the sun (which was also used as part of the exhibition installation) mutates into the logo for the Otolith Group:

Here the sun becomes more than the endlessly repeatable “sun” as word but not yet “sun”  as un-presentable object. The Otolith Group, by going back, find a way to create a vision and like the defenders of DACA in congress, the March to Office and Art Action Day, it is this vision that we at Minus Plato are hoping shines forth from our current work.

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