LARS BANG LARSEN AND N55 EXCHANGING


Lars Bang Larsen is a theorist and curator who is based in Copenhagen. Lars and N55 have worked together on several occasions.
December 1999.


Lars Bang Larsen:
In many respects your project is on the same wavelength as the Danish artist Poul Gernesí ideas about artistic practice, communication of art, and the role of art in the social sphere. Similar to Gernes, one could say, you wish to go over and beyond the singular object towards a greater totality. In his paper collage work with geometric elements of form Gernes inserted what he called "friendly, built-in mistakes" in the paper: folds and holes that disturbed the strict geometry. These friendly mistakes may be interpreted as existential correlates to the discipline of form. Where are the friendly, built-in mistakes in N55?

N55:
At the moment your only option as an art historian is to concern yourself with facts, if you want to propose right assertions about art. You can establish the fact that this person did this and that, made this assertion and that object had those dimensions. You have no options to make assertions that you know represent objective knowledge beyond facts, as art historians have no objective founding to talk about art beyond facts. Art historians repeat and repeat habitual conceptions about art. They assume that there are no other conditions to decide whether something is right or wrong, except that one does not contradict oneself nor is inconsistent with facts. Beyond this there exists only more or less thoroughly grounded subjective opinions. Art historians make their living by making assertions about art. Art historians represent science, which is a concentration of power. This is a fact. This is a problem since those assertions made in art history that go beyond facts, rest on subjective opinions, which can be more or less thoroughly grounded. These assertions have influence on art and thus on the persons which have to do with art. This is of course completely absurd. Therefore, we would like to introduce a possibility to talk objectively about art beyond pure facts. As demonstrated earlier (see "ART AND REALITY" by N55), it is objective knowledge that when we talk about art, we must always talk about: Persons and their meaningful behaviour with other persons and things in concrete situations, or about corresponding factors with the same significance and the same necessary relations. If we talk about art in such a way that we say, for example, that art has nothing to do with persons, it makes no sense because we cannot talk about art without talking about persons. There is a logical relation between persons and art. Furthermore, we can show that what characterizes a situation that has to do with art is that there is a consciousness that this situation has to do with art. If we say: "Here is a situation that has to do with art, but nobody is conscious that this situation has to do with art", it makes no sense. This also means that we have no possibility to deny meaningfully that something has to do with art, if there is a consciousness that something has to do with art. We also know that there is a logical relation between ethics and aesthetics. We know that persons should be treated as persons and therefore as having rights. We know that art has to do with persons. We know that the fundamental ethical norm is that persons have rights. Therefore, we also know that aesthetics, which has to do with persons, also must be concerned with protecting the rights of persons. That means, be concerned with the way we should act. Naturally, this does not mean that ethics and aesthetics are identical. Aesthetics can be concerned with other factors as well. However, it is clear that ethics are of decisive significance for aesthetics.
Let us sum up. We have the option of talking rationally about art by means of facts and logical relations. Furthermore we know that the logical relation between aesthetics and ethics is decisive. Thus, it should be possible by now to make right assertions about art, beyond assertions about pure facts. This is a completely new possibility for talking about art.

Let us try to look at your assertion: "In many respects your project is on the same wavelength as Poul Gernesí ideas about artistic practice, the communication of art, and the role of art in the social sphere". It is not a fact that N55ís practice is on the same wavelength as Poul Gernesí ideas about artistic practice, communication of art, and the role of art in the social sphere. Using the term "wavelength" is very poetic, but it makes no sense talking about wavelengths in a comparison between Gernes and N55.
It is clear that there are decisive differences between the way Gernes could talk about art and the way we can talk about art. Gernes had, for example, no possibilities to make assertions about art, which he knew represented objective knowledge, beyond facts. This must also be decisive for artistic practice, the communication of art, and the role of art in the social sphere, as we by artistic practice, the communication of art, and the role of art in the social sphere, understand something that has to do with art. The way we can talk about art and the way we understand art has influence on art. If we say: ďHere are some persons and their meaningful behaviour with other persons and things in concrete situations, but these personsí way of talking about art and understanding art, has no influence on art whatsoever, it makes no sense.Ē Further: "Similar to Gernes, one could say, you wish to go over and beyond the singular object towards a greater totality". We would never say that we wish to go over and beyond the singular object towards a greater totality. We would say, for instance, that we work with persons and their meaningful behaviour with other persons and things in concrete situations. Further: "In his paper collage work.... Where are the friendly, built-in mistakes in N55?" Since it is of decisive importance for us to try to respect the rights of persons, of course we should try to act right in the situations in which we find ourselves. Presumably this is also a kind of friendliness.
In answering your questions, we have made an effort to talk rationally. Of course we may be wrong at times, but we can see no reason to endeavour to be wrong. What do you endeavour to do as an art historian and an art critic, and thus as a person who has influence on art situations?

Lars Bang Larsen:
I am very interested in the performative aspects of your argumentation and practice. That is, both in the sense that theory and practice arenít hierarchically organized in relation to each other, but rather supplement each other in the direction of agency in concrete situations; and in the sense that the performative is used as a way to make differences and conflicts come to a head and thereby make them appear in fundamental discussions about power relations, rather than oiling these with consensus ideology.
From the vantage point of my own practice, I perceive the art critic/curator as a person with an orientation that makes him/her able to convey artistic projects between different public spheres, for instance Danish/international, art sphere/non-professional audience, ethnic/Danish, cultural establishment/ "young art" etc. I see this as a way to further develop artistic ideas and discussions in a dynamic that stems from the direct interaction with the agents, art professionals as well as non-professionals. And to art, I wish to contribute a cultural perspective between different levels in the existing hegemony - whatever that may be at a given time - to frame and analyse singular aesthetic expressions and locations in culture.

A concept I really find problematic is "the art world", because it is excluding on several levels. "The art world" sounds to me like an elitist micro cosmos of aloof ideal consumers going around confirming codes and the state of the market between themselves. I canít help thinking of those persons who arenít "art world", and to whom I would like to communicate. "The art world" sounds like emphasizing economic and cultural privilege: in part because it suggests the art sphereís lack of transparency (in terms of poor conveyance and the economical and political power relations that deflect art); in part because "the art world" as idea denigrates artís possibility for exchange between different fields of knowledge. It is also a rather claustrophobic concept which does justice neither to the social diversity which the art sphere, in spite of all, also has space for (and which makes it fun to work with art), nor that sensibility to the specific cultural sign which the category of the aesthetic guarantees.

As a theoretical concept, "the art world" has been given a central role due to the common assumption that since Duchamp - in order to deliver another art historical average reflection - has been produced for "the art world" as its legitimising instance. Institutional critique can be said to be a result of the art-world art and is very interesting as such, because the experience of institutional critique is a form of discursive specialization in the direction of self-reflexivity, which one must be able to employ productively in connection with a way of relating to performativity not only in art matters, but also to overall social and cultural performativity. The thing is to have the experience of institutional critique directed towards a place where it is not only a matter of "the art world" and its institutions, because they are, in spite of all, just a part of the problem. Today it is difficult to conceive of a kind of art without an institutional critical component, but in your own words - we have to relate to concrete situations, also in a wider perspective. It must be possible to employ the cultural apparatus of legitimisation to something constructive also beyond the art institution. The bottom line in the orientation of my work as a critic/curator is, I think, to take the processes of democratisation seriously in a time when power is slipping out of the hands of representative democracy. And then my work is about collaborating with Pia, Palle and Poul. I would like to ask you to elaborate the political aspects of your project from the vantage point of your new project LAND.

N55:
LAND consists of pieces of land in different places in the world, where the formal owners guarantee that any person can stay and use the land. They use their ownership to claim that ownership is invalid. These plots of land of different size and location are chained into a new LAND. All persons have equal rights to deal with LAND. Anybody can extend LAND by incorporating their land in LAND. We are making a Manual for LAND at the moment. We hope that persons who have to do with LAND will respect that persons should be treated as persons and therefore as having rights; that persons will try to organize in as small concentrations of power as possible.
One could say that we use logic, and we know that logic is necessary relations between different factors, and factors are that which exist by the force of those relations, against the concentrations of power which influence our daily lives. The fundamental purpose of politics is to protect the rights of persons. If we deny this postulate we get: the fundamental purpose of politics is not to protect the rights of persons. This suggests that one of the basic tasks of politicians could be, for example, to renounce the rights of themselves and of others. This has no meaning; or that there is a more important purpose to politics that has nothing to do with persons and therefore also has nothing to do with the rights of persons. That is plain nonsense. Therefore, we now know that the basic purpose of politics is to protect the rights of persons. In other words, we cannot talk about politics in a way that makes sense without the assumption that the fundamental purpose of politics is to protect the rights of persons.
Concentrations of power do not always respect the rights of persons. If one denies this fact one gets: concentrations of power always respect the rights of persons. This does not correspond with our experiences. It is obvious that if we want to protect the rights of persons we have to organize in as small concentrations of power as possible.
Since the fundamental purpose of politics is to protect the rights of persons, it is of decisive importance to politics that we seek to organize in as small concentrations of power as possible. It is clear that we cannot leave it to others to protect the rights of persons. The notion that it is possible to elect a small number of people to protect the rights of a vast number of people is absurd, because here we are, by definition, talking about concentration of power, and thus about a concentration of power. And we know that concentrations of power do not always respect the rights of persons.
It is clear that if one is conscious of persons and the rights of persons, one must be concerned with politics. It is clear that if one is a person and thus concerned with politics and conscious of the rights of persons, it becomes of decisive importance to organize in as small concentrations of power as possible. It becomes of decisive importance to find ways to live and behave which correspond to our knowledge of persons, the rights of persons, etc. It is clear that this is our most important task as our whole existence is threatened.

Let us return to your perception of yourself, as a person who has influence on art situations. It is clear that your opinions about art are very likeable, and we interpret your position as fundamentally characterized by a political view that in all probability is in correspondence with our knowledge about the fundamental purpose of politics. At the same time, it is clear that your position is based on opinions. Our postulate is that by expressing subjective opinions only, one leaves everything to power games. If we do not make clear what is right and wrong we can say and do anything.
If one chooses to see your assertions as poetic/aesthetic assertions, as we for example do, one cannot make demands on the rationality and consistency of what you are saying. However, what one obviously can demand, is that you in your work try to respect personsí rights.
If one sees your assertions as assertions which contribute to the so-called discussion of art, as well as being a part of what you call the cultural apparatus of legitimisation, where you speak as art historian/art critic/art mediator, one must demand that what you say is right, meaning that it cannot be denied and that you constantly try to respect the rights of persons. Failing this, what you are doing is only participating in an ongoing game of power.

The question is: Is it possible to regard your work as parallel and overlapping work, which has no special authority in relation to other kinds of work with art?

Lars Bang Larsen:
My aesthetic work is fundamentally in continuation of the tendency towards re-socialization in art which has taken place after postmodernismsí revaluation of value. My practice is not founded on a logical premise. However, I am of the conviction that its bottom line is rationally founded and presumably coterminous with the conclusion of your rational argument (which is supplemented in your practice with, for instance, objects).

My goal is that my practice be experimental. This fundamentally means three things: a) to investigate what you can make the art institution answer for, b) to investigate what you can make the concept of art answer for, in relation to specific and concrete situations and the people who act in these situations (or in other words: what can art say about art while it develops as art?), c) to actively and consecutively revalidate my own role. This implies, what you aptly call the fundamental purpose of politics, to develop oneís liking for other peoplesí ideas and practice in concrete situations, and from this to produce meaningful aesthetic/cultural utterances.

This is a practice that in different ways involves collectivity, especially when I work as a curator, but also when I write articles, etcetera. I try to establish the situation of writing as an act of communication between those I write about, and me as a writer. It is a discussion, which hopefully can be expanded through publication. Writing in a communication with people and organizing exhibitions in collaboration with others is thereby a way to embody my work, making it a realized experience. In general, you could say that this understanding of practice has to do with an ethics derived from the meeting with the specific other in his/her/their concrete situation, in the perspective of an understanding of the folding-in of the common in the field where the communication takes place. From this follows that I perceive of my role as art critic/ curator/ art historian without any special authority in relation to other forms of aesthetic practice. What I would like to do is to go over and beyond my own authority as art critic/ curator/ art historian in the direction of establishing possibilities for cultural agency.

To be a cultural producer (to use that expression) seems to me to be an obvious thing to do at this point. Today, the social sphere is thoroughly aestheticised. The term "cultural society" is being used, and discussions abound about the way that mass media has stimulated, but not redeemed cultural need. The transition from a society of production to a society of service has conveyed individualization in the ways to act in the social, and in the ways to acquire (cultural) experience. It has also implied a subtle capitalization of human relations, due to the growth in the forms and scale of immaterial work. This creates new, advanced forms of power play. The aesthetic is currently being eaten up by the general aestheticisation of the market, and pseudo-aestheticism has become a substitute for content. For the cultural producer, this pushes certain ethical demands to their logical conclusion. The growing cultural field is developing at a tearing speed where it is in the process of becoming politically invested, something which on the other hand opens up for possibilities to affect and redefine the political as such. Among other things this means that art and the art circuit - at least the way that corner looks where we find ourselves - is a privileged place to instigate elementary and principal discussions about democracy and value.


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