And here is the third part and last part of my trilogy on Fluxus and the archive. In part one, I introduced two forms of being in the world, the ecological and the economical. In part two, I applied these notions to two works of art, Mieko Shiomi’s Spatial Poem No. 1, subtitled Word Event, and George Brecht’s Word Event and suggested that even though one of the works appears archival and the other anti-archival, they both carry elements of the archive, if displaced. This part specifies my claim and translates it in terms of directionality.
In an article about Gerhard Richter’ Atlas (in October, of course), Benjamin Buchloh experimented with the idea of an “a-nomic” archive, an archive without laws. He equated the word a-nomic with “heterogeneity, random order and arbitrary juxtapositions” and described it as governed by the “principle of random accumulation”. All his terms apply to the two Word Events I describe in my previous blog entry. Brecht’s Word Event collects all sorts of materials, from thoughts to photographs to signs. Shiomi’s Word Event juxtaposes words on the basis of an ordering principle that is completely extraneous to the words themselves. Both works accumulate and juxtapose material in a way that appears lawless. But Buchloh also speaks of “the archival organisation of materials according to the principles of an as yet unidentifiable discipline”. He wants appearances of the archive in art to be radically different from existing real world archives; and here, I think, my two Word Events behave differently from the archives Buchloh describes. They are hetero-nomic rather than a-nomic; they formulate and obey different laws, but evoke existing archives nevertheless.
According to Derrida, the archive domesticates: it locks events inside documents and collects those documents in one place. That place is the centre of two movements, one of them outwards, one of them inwards. The element of the archive that Derrida associates with the word “commencement”, beginning, claims that society begins with the archive; things are pulled into the archive from a projected originary point. The element he associates with the word “commandment”, law, on the other hand, projects outwards; it casts the net of archival law over everything out there. The archive is both a long way away, at an imaginary beginning, and everywhere around us; it is active both as an ideal and as its countless imperfect embodiments. These elements are also present in the two Word Events. Brecht’s Word Event has the word “EXIT” as its starting point, but because it only acquires an existence when people undertake action in relation to it, be it thought action or actual physical action, the work as such is always beyond reach. It reaches out to all real and imagined exits but is itself forever impossible to grasp. Shiomi’s Word Event first spread itself out to all corners of the world and then returned in the shape of documentary evidence. Unlike Brecht’s work it is tangible and finite, but a change occurs at the far point of the work’s boomerang movement that carries it from the world of possibilities and realisations to the world of impossibilities and sensations.
What this amounts to, is that although this type of work generates ecological knowledge, it shares certain features with the archive as well. I do not mean material features; even Shiomi’s Spatial Poem No. 1, that explicitly calls for the documentation of an event, is not an archival work of art in the sense in which Buchloh understands it, as the archival organisation of materials according to principles that are valid for a discipline outside the art world. What it does instead is explore the way the archive files, actively; not the materials but the act it performs; not the archive and the document, but the two directions it moves in, the outwards of commandment and the inwards of commencement. Works such as the ones I have discussed here understand the archive as performance and performance as archival. What we tend to notice about the archive is its solidity, its tangibility, but these works destabilise it and reveal its lack of balance by allowing you to experience what it cannot do, and therewith what it does, instead of what is and what it is not. They are both ecological and economical. They point the mind – the mind of the curator as well – in the direction of the archive because they make use of the mechanics of the archive even as they generate experiential knowledge. Their heteronomical character is indeed heterotopian, but not in the sense in which Foucault understands the term. It is not the evocation of different times and places that makes them heterotopian, but the way in which they activate the here and the now and the self of the spectator.