Anthony Green

The work is a problematic object which poses the problem of how to enter or rather how to engage or experiment with it. It is an object of encounter rather than an object of recognition, the latter being a reconfirmation of our knowledge, beliefs and values. It is a work of pure surface. There are no hidden depths to be interpreted, no mystery or story to tell.

The material of the work is representation. The smooth shallow depth of this representation is evacuated of all content but animated by a flow of desire. A capture of code – a surface flow of organs and senses, lines of hair, eyes, teeth, money, food, clothes, paint... Always the conjunction and... and... and... In this haptic sense the image machine of representation works not as a mirror but as a clock running fast. Like the Cheshire cats grin, this captured code functions as impersonal traits that escape the organisation of the organism. Representation is proliferated, intensified, made worse – pushed down a line of it's own dismantling.

This practice is the attempt to become a foreigner in ones own language – to make the language of representation stutter. Such a practice is a becoming – a desire to become molecular, imperceptible. As the practice has no fixed organised whole or identity to present it proceeds by measures that are not very reasonable or rational, by breaking down, by blind leaps and bounds, always by breaking down. These measures of experimentation belong to the order of dreams, pathological processes, esoteric experiences, altered states, excess.

The concrete motor of this experimentation – the means of repeating and varying these imagined machines of representation/flows of desire – is drawing. A form of drawing painting that picks up a long line of tradition in painting. The problem of producing a fact beyond the substitutive or vicarious function of representation. This drawing painting is the means we use to introduce chance or the manual into thought. A process in the service of our desire to connect sense to non sense, thought to non thought.

The residue of this process is a block of sensation. The work is composed of forces and intensities, a dynamic of territories, thresholds, levels, gradients – an inorganic life. And this is the task or problem of the work – the treatment of the material of representation – not to render the visible but to render forces visible.

Anthony Green

Map 21/review by Oliver Basciano

Limoncello pdf

Artvehicle 46/Review By Ed Atkins

Artvehicle 46/Review
19 November 2009 – 19 December 2009

For his first solo show in London, Anthony Green's work extends and clings to the walls of Limoncello like the rhizomatic tendrils of some Deleuzean triffid. In fact, though never named, Deleuze is alluded to so conspicuously in the press release – peppered as it is with the philosopher's distinctive jargon – one might be tempted to interpret the work through a wholly Deleuzean lens – to commit the work, as it were, to a Deleuzean agenda. The 'report' of the exhibition title too seems to back up this sense of lurking didacticism. However, the work itself – despite the apparent ease with which one might affix Deleuzean tropes to it (or any other philosopher for that matter) – resolutely resists any partisanship of meaning or demonstration. Rather, it seems that Green's exhibition might actually be critiquing the very risk of a hermeneutics of art.

Bits of familiar stuff (a flattened paper lantern, a record sleeve, badges, bulldog clips, jay-cloths, magazine pages) gather in crowds around familiarly shaped and processed materials (wood, foam, denim, rubber, card, plastic, plaster) which in turn give way to clearly art-like objects: expressionistic shapes and weird, protuberant pebbles, decorated in a variety of ways. These pebbles (an awkward term, but the most formally faithful I can think of) – turned and rounded by a tide somewhere – are the most singular aesthetic forms in the show, providing something of a precedent for the rest of the work; nodes to the other component's shoots. Sometimes studded with slightly raised images of noses, mouths, folded flesh; other times tightly tailored into blue-jean denim or hemmed cotton – these pebbles sit in an ambiguous space between sugar-coated pharmacological lozenge, and that more theoretical and inverted object of capitalist desire, 'organs without bodies'.

In the piece, 'A Report: The Face. A Room. Heating Up', a sordid little cluster of these liminal, libidinal objects float above a vertical layout of stuff – formally rhymed and positioned with a seemingly arbitrary 'rightness'. A familiarity of material bleeds uncomfortably into a foreignness of form, forms that are shaped by their position amongst many, rather than by their singular material content. A triangular slice of what could be the foam-lined wall of a sound studio abuts a square chunk of concrete incised with a pattern of deep furrows, and a piece of deliberately cut newspaper gridded in black ink. Individually, each component is manufactured via discrete, albeit parallel, processes that might demonstrate – through sheer ubiquity, perhaps – a particular industry, complete with its own histories, cultures and associations. In this state, however, an overview of these fragments is far more feasible than an isolated focus, the different elements becoming homogeneous in their singularity. At this height – because the half-depressed plans of Green's work might be most basically understood as somehow topographic – a pattern emerges, however convoluted. Noticing that this pattern exists seems tantamount to the ascription of meaning; interpreting that meaning however, is another matter. Like the irony of ironies that Walter Benjamin describes in 'The Concept of Criticism in German Romanticism', the recognition of a pattern or a plan or a coherent 'report' within Green's work serves to entrench the sense of mystification that, according to Benjamin, serves as a fundamental facet of art. Any systemic allusion within Green's work serves to affirm itself, over and over again – but as a form of mystification rather than elucidation.

The press release goes so far as to describe the work as 'devoid of any hidden depths or mystery'; that 'the work exists as pure surface generated from a set of contingent irrational rules informed by Green's rigorous conceptual practice'. The idea of 'contingent irrational rules' is strikingly oxymoronic, belying something perhaps deliberately ironic within Green's work. The revelation of a system of rules at work, tantalisingly glimpsed through Green's conceptual veil, is surely an example of an ironisation of the form itself: the genuine order that is at play within Green's work is that of the idea of art – the remit of art – and a belief in art's 'indestructible sublation in that idea' (Benjamin). The denial of depth within the work might then describe merely the physical shallowness of the pieces that hug the wall, daring only to protrude a little – just enough to resist the categorical ease of sculpture (an inch further), or of the drawings that are also in the show (an inch back). We might then also understand Green's latent commitment to Deleuze as a similarly ironic gesture, at least in part. Green's apparent insistence that what we are seeing in and of the work is a collection of movements rather than objects (or 'becomings', to use Deleuzean parlance) that are unceasing in their intense and sensational, positive progression – meets its determined critique in the immobility of the work itself – its clear ossification as art.

The failure of the work to actually become a diagrammatic representation of these ideas, or to enact their key tenets, is, ironically, what returns the work to its status as art – uncommitted and equivocal; whilst also alluding to some of the contrary and problematic aspects around notions of 'becoming'. It's what serves to maintain the work's position as in-between; promises of recognition and of interpretation are returned spurned, disassembled and insoluble.

Ed Atkins

One-Dimensional Man:
The Possibility of Triumph Over the Disaster of Capitalism

Having been asked to refamiliarize with Herbert Marcuse’s famous mid-sixties polemic, One-Dimensional Man (1964), I’ve been pleasantly surprised as to what a productive book it is. Much of this surprise was derived from becoming reacquainted with the unusual texture and generosity of Marcuse’s philosophy. And whilst this acclaimed book is the product of its location in time, it charts a seemingly eccentric course between various poles of thought that make it an altogether fascinating and unconventional work. In retrospect, he seems to stand at some distance to the other Frankfurt School social theorists and it is easy to determine why he engendered a cross-generational appeal to his students, including the radical Angela Davis, on the Columbia campus in San Diego where he taught during the turbulent Sixties – a campus that was heavily involved in scientific research for the military industrial complex during the abhorrent Vietnam War.

The seeming novelty of One-Dimensional Man is that its sociological import is based on a curious understanding of technological rationality and instrumentalization within affluent Western societies, which Marcuse contrasts with the bureaucratic rationality of the Soviet mega-machine. Here he offers a dual-critique of the ever-increasing totalization of the capitalist space and the faltering teleology of Soviet communism (which we can now better characterise as state capitalism/war communism). Shortly after One-Dimensional Man was published this bi-polar stasis was made manifest on either side of the Iron Curtain in the student/worker uprisings of both Paris and Prague in 1968.

The curious complexion of Marcuse’s thought comes to the fore in this work: a thought-world composed of Hegelian Reason, a profound understanding of Heidegger’s conception of technology and tool-being, which is then put to work alongside Marx’s ‘Fragments on Machines’ from Grundrisse. Broadly, Marcuse fits into the unusual category of being a 'communist individualist' and whilst he is concerned with labour, social alienation, technology and their relations, he has an idiosyncratic reading of Marxian theory that is both radically individualist and humanist. Althusser admonished Marcuse for this 'radical individualism', which in Marxist terms is putative paradox, due to the transindividual/collective emphasis of Marxist thought. However, Marcuse’s social entity appears to be closer to Hegel and Feuerbach’s, a curious admixture of subjective empiricism and sensuous idealist human essence.

Marcuse also draws heavily on Gilbert Simondon’s understanding of technical objects, an insight that gets to the heart of where social alienation emanates; that is to say from the 'invisible' hidden abode of production. This conception of the technical ensemble is veridical to Marx’s identification of the factory as the source of the mystification of production. Marcuse borrows Simondon’s description of social alienation to support his idea of totalitarian rationality, a variety of technofascism or ‘autocratic philosophy of technics’ and it is Simondon who is also a crucial influence on the machinic-hyletic constructivism of Delueze and Guattari. Accordingly, Marcuse foreshadows Anti-Oedipus, alongside Wilhelm Reich, as perhaps one of the first thinkers of ‘libidinal economy’, merging Freudianism and Marxism in Eros and Civilization, by connecting libido to labour-power.

The most exciting moment of One-Dimensional Man comes in the analysis of the composition of technological rationality towards the end of the book, where Marcuse demonstrates an admirable grasp of Heidegger’s writing on technology – in which technical objects are simultaneously present-at-hand (Vorhandenheit) or ready-to-hand (Zuhandenheit) – as well as alluding to the liberatory paradigm of scientific enlightenment. Here he clearly delimits the pure reason of science from the technological instrumentalization of science via the ‘applied’ sciences, which create an irrational horizon for the positivist philosophy of science of his time. It is this circumscribed horizon that subordinates the reason of science to the irrationality of the capitalist mode of production (an irrational rationale, so to speak). This very instrumentalization of science – present in the capitalist implementation of machinery and all too evident in the US military industrial complex – transforms the web of reason into the web of domination. This vector of domination has miserable consequences for the subject, even within the most affluent societies, rendering reason opaque and mysterious. Marcuse then seeks to use the possibility of technological liberation against those self-same processes of domination, just as we are witnessing currently with the mobilisation of new technologies in the upheaval in Iran.

On a minor, but nonetheless elucidating biographical note, Marcuse was a keen collector of hippopotamus figurines, which apparently lined his office at Columbia. In this we can detect a certain creative playfulness in his identification with what for him was ‘an impossible animal’, an interspecies anomaly that traverses both land and water. Isn’t the best that we can say of Marcuse’s thought is that it is a curiously uncategorizable amphibian that fascinates us nonetheless? Unsurprisingly, Marcuse turned to aesthetics to find a trace of negativity capable of dislodging the positivist capitalist paradigm of his day, an urgent task, as capitalism is so adept at endlessly integrating its opposition. In aesthetics, particularly those of the avant-garde, Marcuse finds the possibility of an emerging Lebenswelt; a new mode of meta-political power and subjective experience. For him, aesthetics is a potentially liberating techne when incorporated into everyday sensation.

All of which dovetails neatly with the artistic presentations of the exhibition ‘One-Dimensional Man’ featuring the varied works of Edwin Burdis, Anthony Green and Barry MacGregor Johnston. In all three artists we can detect some of the themes that arise in Marcuse’s book. If we take art to be a form of techne of the self, the development of an artistic subjectivity, it is then it is easy identify art’s important political dimension and usefulness as an emancipatory paradigm.

In Edwin Burdiss’ performance, an almost Tati-esque entanglement, we encounter a dramatization of Heidegger’s tool analysis. In his restaging of an earlier performance the very technical objects designed to facilitate him end up ensnaring him. The liberatory and novel potential of the mechanical is transformed into a comedic blockage or obstacle; something that instills pathos in all of us, a performance of the problematic relationship we have with technical objects. Burdis can only possibly use the microphone when it recedes from his attention, highlighting how ‘…the object is torn asunder from itself in two directions’. Put more simply, when he attempts to use the microphone, the microphone withdraws from visibility; as soon he concentrates on the objective microphone as a microphone, it is made visible again, and losing its functionality. The two dimensions of the tool are then implicitly opposed – one face is present whilst the other withdraws from us. This philosophical conundrum in which the instrument becomes an obstructive object is an unlikely, yet remarkably productive riddle for Burdis – a problematic from which he derives an inventive physical comedy.

Anthony Green has adopted an energetic and processual mode of production, to engender an art that overflows to ordinary conceptual and discursive values. Here it is as if the diagram has become an auto-generational machine that manifests itself as material excess. We are not merely presented with the informational art-object, but the procedural act of construction is implicitly visible to us. As a result, the work teeters improbably like an array of impossible configurations, fragments and patterns of unthinkable blocks of affect and sensation. It is manifested not as a finite act of artistic production that ends with a mere commodity, but the infinite constructivism of a novel artistic subjectivity, which becomes inseparable from the work itself. The work is then articulated through the liberation of previously unimaginable of potentialities, in which all the vectors of sensation collide to overwhelm us, rupturing our hic et nunc. Within Green’s work we see the very mode of production revealed, no longer mystified as it is within the opaque web of instrumental technology of Marcuse’s critique, but laid-bare so that we can see the inner workings and excrescences of his non-alienating artistic abstract-machine.

In an almost contradictory manner to this productive techne Barry MacGregor Johnston wishes to exploit and exhalt the redundancy of objects and subordinate them to his artistic will; in his words he wants to ‘fire’ them. This maneuver liberates the object, stripped of its instrumentality, allowing him to reemploy them for his own deviant purposes. By destroying their worldly function and assigning them a new rationale objects become present-at-hand and visible to us – in the manner of broken tools, which become obtrusive to us once their functionality is destroyed, veritable corrupted junk-piles that strangely become for-us again. This is a radical reconfiguration and weaponization our object-worlds that Marcuse might approve of, the establishment of a ‘horizonal fringe’ that might point to a liberatory reordering of the world of banal instrumental usage under the auspices of art; an act of affirmative, destructive creation.

And does this not confirm to Marcuse’s idea of aesthetics as a ‘lightning-flash’, an unavoidable facet of being itself and para-technology that remakes the world in a communist sense, in order to rip it up and start over? It is an injunction our break our materialist fetters through performative acts of material, poetic and improvisational enquiry and begin to build an existing utopia in the present, beyond the system that produces merely for the sake of production. Why should we wait? We can do it better.

Andrew Osborne, June 2009