Sunday, May 5, 2013

The Medium of Contingency & Soft Dogma

From the upcoming AU discussion -- with enhancements regarding openness (which, per Negarastani, domesticates -- it's merely a form of soft dogma!?) vs. closure (which turns itself into a good meal). 

  "Why has the concept of contingency taken on a marked importance both in contemporary philosophy and in contemporary art practice? And if this simultaneity derives from parallel problems met with in the two different fields, what are their common roots?

  At its simplest 'contingency' refers to the attempt to think events that take place but need not take place: events that could be, or could have been, otherwise. Why does such an apparently simple concept lead us into a rich new vein of speculative thought?"  (R Mackay)

The Medium of Contingency was published by Urbanomic in 2011 around an art exhibition and discussion that occurred at the Thomas Dane Gallery in London. The exhibition was organized by Miguel Abreu Gallery and Urbanomic.

TMC includes four short talks and a discussion that engages political economics, philosophy and artistic production.  Video here.

I find Negarestani's notion of closure particularly provocative. Emphasis added below.

Complicity exhibits this necessary shift from the inhibitive role of commonalities to the role of closure as a focused engagement with contingency, its intrusions, twists and suspensions. Whilst openness domesticates the thought of contingency through affordable states of interaction, commonalities and other forms of soft dogma, closure, on the other hand, turns itself into a 'good meal' or a 'genuine prey' for the real expression of contingency and its unrestricted play: the more closed a work, the more radically it is subjected to the interventions of its contingent materials, the wider it is broadened and butchered opened to the outside. Therefore, we can say that closure realises openness in its radical sense: not as openness toward the possibility of contingencies from the outside, but as a 'being opened' by the contingent materials that form the work. This is why complicity is a twisted form of embracing contingency, because it has an inverse mechanism: through closure, complicity seeks to twist the soft dogma of 'openness toward contingent materials' into a 'being-opened by contingent materials'.
Complicity reformulates the rigorous closure of the work as a narrative plot where contingent events unfold, where unpredictable twists take shape and where the work becomes the subject of experimentation of its own materials. It is essential for the artist to see the artistic production as a conspiracy of contingent influences; as the work proceeds toward completion and coherency, the plot thickens. In this conspiracy, the plot twist is that so-called 'creative openness' turns out to have been a distraction all along: the closure of the work is the only way to participate with and uncover the conspiracy of contingent materials, by luring the forces of contingency to play their weirdest games, and in doing so, to reveal themselves. To this end, when it comes to the thought of contingency, the artist must recognise herself as the conspiracy theorist of her materials. But we must first realise that the work of contingency is neither horrific nor suspenseful; it is subtly twisted. In thinking the conspiracy of contingent materials, one can think of a continuum where everyday superficiality, horror, reason, comedy, suspense and seamless uneventfulness are all fuzzy gradients of the same contingent universe that might be brought in and out of focus without respect to any necessity whatsoever.

Introduction by Robin Mackay. Reza Negarestani: Contingency and Complicity.  Elie Ayache: In the Middle of the Event.  Matthew Poole: Art, Human Capital & The Medium of Contingency.

MORE Selected text from Robin Mackay's introduction:

"...contingency cannot be thought through neo-romantic concepts of openness, chance, and process: it demands instead a special sort of discipline. As Reza Negarestani argues ...this practice must dissolve certain cliches that have crystallised around the artistic engagement with contingency.  We always risk relapsing onto models that fail before contingency: models that return us to the metaphysics of chance and calculation; or which re-affirm the privilege of meaning-making over material contingencies. Negarestani... asks what sort of rigorous conceptual preparation is necessary in order to make one's work - or oneself - a 'good meal' for these anonymous [contingent] materials.

"Ayache argues that we must rethink our image of the market by understanding that, in practice, traders do not calculate price on the basis of probabilistic tools, but directly and effectively wnte price as the contingent reality of the market, now. The market is therefore not a set of probabilities, but the very medium of contingency.  ... Its events are effective without prevision or reason."

Ayache compares the act of writing options contracts with literary creation, as a material inscription of difference directly in the real, creating a future that is in principle unforeseeable.

These [artistic] works [can be] written in the hope and knowledge that the interaction of their anticipations will create in the now the reality of an exchange of art and thought. They can thus be considered, in Ayache's words, 'technologies of the future [ ... ] but only insofar as we wish that the difference they will make in the future may make a difference today'.

... Ayache's characterization of the market as the site of radical contingency will also be read alongside another claim: that contemporary art's coming to terms with its own implication in various forms of exchange can be read as a synecdoche for fundamental sociopolitical changes wrought by neo-liberal capitalism.  It is within this process of adjustment that Matthew Poole's work locates the figure of the curator.

Liberal economics enabled us, as an article of faith, to distinguish between our inalienable, sovereign self, and our 'labour capital', that part of ourselves exposed to the contingencies of the market, to trading and speculation. In neo-liberal capital, the distinction is being eroded, as the changing nature of work sees the performance of the self entirely integrated into Capitalist production - the notion of 'human capital', the monetization of social networks, the obligation to 'curate' and present the self, and the 'experience economy'. Submitted to exchange value, human 'assets' have now become subject to speculation and trading, so that the once sovereign values of self, experience and memory become subject to the contingencies of the market."