6th Lecture 2015/2016 »The Inter-Position of History«
The term History describes a single action or a continuity of actions which have the quality of a quantitative impact. Quantitative impact means the number of people which are influenced by this respective action. The nature of this influence can be physical, emotional or intellectual. The physical, emotional and intellectual aspects of any action are interwoven. Neither the one nor the other of these aspects has a significant priority. The priority depends on one of the following viewpoints: the viewpoint of History, the viewpoint of individual affection and the viewpoint of the History of Ideas.
Art and Design, as long as they build on a contract, have until today the task to give the History of Ideas an aesthetic dimension. For example: The task of advertising is not primarily to sell any product (this may be the aim of the respective company which has commissioned the task) but from the viewpoint of the History of Ideas and all the connected power of individual and political forces, the task is to transform the Idea of the Free Market Economy into social reality.
During the last decade of the 20th century, design itself turned into a concrete Idea; the Idea of Self-Design. This idea says that it does not matter under which circumstances someone is born or grows up, it is important to get the power and tools to turn your heteronomous life into a self-determined, fulfilled life. The only thing you have to do is to appropriate the skills.
To say it with the term we have used during the last lectures: The idea of designing a fulfilling life by ourself is based on the presumption that you just need the skills of “visual grammar”. The idea is, with these skills to get an individual volume, chosen by yourself. Besides the question, of whether it is possible at all to design your own life, the Idea of Self-Design has produced a lot of misunderstandings. First of all, with the Skills of Designing, you should be able to step out of history – your personal history as well as the common one – and start from point zero (from rags to riches).
To understand what it means to use visual grammar in this way, it is enlightening to have a closer look at what Andy Warhol hinted at with his popular motto “everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes”. “15 minutes of fame” is a phrase used to describe the short-lived media publicity or celebrity of an individual or phenomenon. The expression is credited to Andy Warhol, who included the words "In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes". “Being world-famous” is a metaphor for being recognized by the surrounding society (it may be your nearest peer-group or one-million-followers on the Internet) as someone who has reached an enviable, valuable life. The signs of this enviable value are shown by the material goods someone can afford (“Oh Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz? My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends...” Janis Joplin 1971). Now these goods are building the volume of a fulfilling life.
It is not necessary to give a deeper description of this idea which has become a global phenomenon. It is just important to understand and accept that the idea failed, although worldwide, the majority agrees. We see that if the final aim of a human life is the above named kind of values, the individual volume (i.e. the vivid living expansion) is just a visual surface and will, step by step, lose its vivid expansion. The result is a life without the possibility to make individual experiences, i.e. getting touched by a deeper sensitive volume because everything we do is ruled by the will to get a representative surface and with this will we involuntarily avoid all deeper experiences. Every deeper experience leads us deeper into the knowledge that the individual being is nothing but one of the borders of the “Area of Inter-Position”. This knowledge makes it impossible to keep up the illusion that the value of an individual life can be defined by an isolated volume, that means by a volume built from material goods.
As long as we stay with the Idea of Self-Design, we will avoid any real experiences. Everything that happens, then happens in relation to the question, of whether the event which happens is useful for the volume of material values that was sought. In fact, any real experience will immediately expose the Idea of Self-Design as an illusion.
If we overcome the illusion that everyone should be able to design his life as a materially fulfilled existence, history comes back and with it the question, of how the individual being and the continuity of actions (with its quantitative impact) are related. That means: the process of design is coming back to the awareness of historical impact; to be the subject of this impact and that designing itself is exerting an influence.
Camille Henrot "Grosse Fatigue"
Video (color, sound), 13 min, © Camille Henrot, Courtesy the artist, Silex Films and kamel mennour, Paris
The fragments of the beginning
„In the beginning there was no earth, no water – nothing. There was a single hill called Nunne Chaha.
In the beginning everything was dead.
In the beginning there was nothing; nothing at all. No light, no life, no movement no breath.
In the beginning there was an immense unit of energy.
In the beginning there was nothing but shadow and only darkness and water and the great god Bumba.
In the beginning were quantum fluctuations.“
Excerpt from “Grosse fatigue”
Camille Henrot about „Grosse Fatigue“
„It is important that the viewing of the film is a physical experience.
When I was doing research at the Smithsonian, I collected a great number of Creation myths: Sioux, Navajo, Inuit, Shinto.
I tried to compare them and to establish some sort of structure that would link them all together in a single story, even though things obviously do not happen in the same order in all the different myths of the creation of the world.
Sometimes God comes before the creation of the earth. Sometimes there is only water in the beginning. Sometimes there is nothing, and other times only light. Things do not come in the same order in the different versions, but I found it interesting to try to establish a large structure where sentences selected from these myths could be placed back to back, while still respecting the fact that sometimes it does not fit together and it does not work like a logical story. That is why it is actually a poem.
So I collected all these sentences that I liked and had an exchange with Jacob Bromberg, who is a poet as well as an editor for the very fine British journal, The White Review.
For me, there is no contradiction between myth and science. Science originates in faith and belief. What is more, mythological foundations have very often been used to elaborate theories that go on to be scientifically verified later.
Belief is often at the origin of an intuition that then becomes a physical or scientific law, so for me there is not really an contrast between the two.
There is, however, an opposition and an articulation that I found interesting; it is in the relationship between oral culture and written culture.
Western written culture has built its way of working on destruction. There is a need to kill things to conserve them, as opposed to a culture that does not set the things in stone, but sustains itself orally. Nowadays, we have the preconception that oral cultures are those that have experienced the greatest loss and alteration, but I am not sure that this is true in the long term. This concept was developed on the project Cities of Y's, which I undertook in New Orleans, and which clearly takes inspiration from the myth of Atlantis.
What is the meaning of this myth? It is one of an advanced civilization that does not survive a civilization that is more primitive, but as such, more dynamic and more in tune with the times.
In the case of Western culture as compared to traditional cultures, we can speak of violence particularly in the way that objects are gathered and collected.
This has clearly inspired one of the film’s perspectives: the fact of seeing, that the Museum of Natural History’s largest collection is its anthropological collection, and in particular the collection of Native American objects amassed during the two World Wars.
I am interested in anthropology for its unresolved questions and for the problems that it encounters. It is essentially the problems of ethics and human responsibility that interest me. In particular, I am thinking of ethology and the way that anthropological collections were formed in France during the colonial period. It is this aspect of guilt in anthropology that interests me. I do not identify myself with anthropologists and their scientific method in the least. I do not have that method and do not consider myself a scientist at all.
On the contrary, what interests me are the problems raised by the scientific approach when it engages with human nature and with Nature itself, which is another perspective of Grosse Fatigue."