An Exchange Regarding
100 Notes—100 Thoughts
Bettina Funcke and Andrew Stefan Weiner
As Head of Publications for dOCUMENTA (13) from 2009 to 2012, Bettina Funcke edited, together with Artistic Director Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev and Head of Department Chus Martínez, the publication series 100 Notes—100 Thoughts, the exhibition’s catalogue volumes and artists’ books. Here she speaks with Andrew Stefan Weiner, who is currently editing a collection of texts concerning the emergence of discursive exhibitions.
Andrew Stefan Weiner – Let’s begin by clarifying what sort of project 100 Notes—100 Thoughts was, or is. Since these texts were published in conjunction with dOCUMENTA (13), it’s plausible to consider 100 Notes a kind of exhibition. Framing the project in this way would ask us to think about its specific modes of public address and would recall earlier exhibitions that experimented with dematerialization, virtuality, or textuality (e.g., Marcel Broodthaers’s Museum of Modern Art, Department of Eagles , Lucy Lippard’s “numbers shows” [1969–74], and the Martha Rosler Library project [2005–06]). Given that many of the authors in the project were artists, we could take things even further and ask whether 100 Notes was in some sense a collective artwork. Would such a view broaden our sense of how the project worked or change our responses to it?
Bettina Funcke – The 100 Notes—100 Thoughts series was published as a prelude to dOCUMENTA (13) as a way to share the research, encounters, and thinking that led to the exhibition, which opened in the summer of 2012, and as a way to extend these conversations. The first notebooks in the 100 Notes series appeared in early 2011, when many of the projects, formats, artworks, and even overall concepts were still open-ended or even quite unresolved.1 The 100 Notes project was thus also a way to extend dOCUMENTA (13) spatially and temporally, beyond one summer in Kassel and the other sites, such as Kabul, Cairo, and Banff, where additional seminars, exhibitions, and workshops took place. The notebooks will be around forever; they’re dispersed all over the world in an uncontrollable way. This sort of dissemination, which we might associate with books more generally and with language or even art to a certain degree, is at the conceptual core of the notebook project.
I don’t exactly think of the notebooks as a collective artwork, but they were an integral part of dOCUMENTA (13). Every notebook contributor became a dOCUMENTA (13) participant and was listed as such in the catalogue. However, this documenta did emphasize the politics and practice of artistic research as a kind of ongoing convergence. Its physical manifestation was just one moment of this larger process, and in a way was thus almost incidental, since the thinking and experimenting by all the contributors will continue. These conversations around the artworks were as important as the works themselves, and they took on further relevance by de-emphasizing our culture’s obsession with art as material objects. This discursive objective becomes clear when one looks at the extensive publication program and the many other activation formats—all the workshops, seminars, discussions, lectures, performances, and concerts—that were part of dOCUMENTA (13). This was a deliberate decision to accentuate a more fragmentary kind of experience—this sense of overwhelming multiplicity and simultaneity resulting from there being so many different sites in different continents, and our helplessness in realizing we can only be in one place at a time and just have to miss a lot.
However, I do think we should hold on to the distinctions of different disciplines or formats—even if some of these choreographed encounters seem to blur those lines. A quantum physicist is a scientist and not an artist. Ecologists, historians, philosophers, literary figures, and anthropologists each have their own field of inquiry, and so do artists; they all work within the methodologies, materials, and histories of a given discipline. Having said this, a lot of radical work comes from people with a curiosity for other disciplines, which may also be a form of self-questioning. While art is a uniquely productive space for the interrelation of knowledges that would never otherwise intersect, this does not turn everything into art. Only about one-third of the contributors to 100 Notes—100 Thoughts were artists. Their notebooks usually referred to their works in the exhibition or were an extension of them. In that case, I think you could consider their notebooks artworks. But the series overall—or the notebooks by philosophers, art historians, or other scholars and writers—these are not art in that sense.
Weiner – I’m glad you’ve related 100 Notes to the other aspects of documenta: the exhibitions and public programs in Kassel (which themselves took place in many forms and sites) and also the seminars outside Europe. This extension raises questions concerning the specific connections between these formats and sites, particularly ones that might have been unexpected. I’m also curious as to how we might conceive these relations more abstractly. Does it make sense to think of the 100 Notes project as possessing something like a quasi-autonomy? How, if at all, do you think the notebooks may have influenced the reception of the exhibition or of actual artworks?
Funcke – You’re right. The notebooks possess a quasi-autonomy—they augment or modify the exhibition, while they could also exist on their own. As a whole, the notebook project feels open-ended, idiosyncratic, and at times disparate while also being committed—much like dOCUMENTA (13) itself.
In contrast, the notebooks’ connections to other sites, such as Kabul or Alexandria/Cairo, were more specific. For example, there are four notebooks relating to Afghanistan that mobilize an impressive amount of knowledge about the country and the region, working against its typical representations in the media. Some of these refer to specific projects: Annemarie Sauzeau’s personal account of Alighiero Boetti’s One Hotel, Kabul, Afghanistan (1971–77);2 or Mario Garcia Torres’s response to that notebook in the form of another notebook,3 which considers hospitality as an artistic format and as a way to subtly undermine the relationship between curator (host) and artist (guest). The artist Mariam Ghani and her father, Ashraf Ghani, prepared an extensive lexicon of Afghanistan’s history over the last century.4 And Jolyon Leslie, an architect who has lived in Afghanistan for fifteen years, tells the century-old tale of a garden named Qal’a-ye Fatuh at the outskirts of Kabul.5
We also commissioned notebooks in preparation for a workshop in Egypt. One was by Sarah Rifky,6 who works in Cairo and mused on the difficulty of writing in revolutionary times, when writing takes away time from direct action. Sonallah Ibrahim and Nawal El Saadawi, two outstanding figures of experimental, politically engaged literature, contributed mind-blowing pieces that for me opened a new world of reading and thinking about Egypt.7 And Suely Rolnik and Alexei Penzin, who were key participants in the workshops in Egypt, also contributed theoretical reflections in the notebooks.8
One location that doesn’t appear directly in the notebooks is Banff, an exhibition, residency, and research centre in the Canadian Rockies that served as a retreat for some of the central thinkers involved with dOCUMENTA (13). Halfway through the exhibition, in summer 2012, this group met to reflect on how key ideas behind the project were evolving with respect to their public reception. Along with dOCUMENTA (13)’s Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev and Chus Martinez, some of the notebook authors took part, like Franco Berardi, Bruno Bosteels, and Claire Pentecost.
It is difficult to know exactly how the notebooks influenced the perception of dOCUMENTA (13), whether in part or as a whole. One key advantage of the publication series was that its entire content became part of the main catalogue, which in turn has entered countless universities, museums, and public libraries. Over the three years during which we prepared the notebooks—such publications usually take only half this much time—we were able to generate exceptionally substantial, broad, and thoughtful material. By commissioning the notebooks continuously, as the initial ones were being read and commented on, we were able to adjust the overall balance of voices so as to accompany the exhibition.
Weiner – What you’re saying here leads me to wonder how we might clarify the relationships between art and the discourse that surrounds it—not only aesthetic theory, but experimental literature, speculative philosophy, leftist critique, and other modes that tend to circulate within the so-called art world. The point isn’t that these relationships should or even can somehow be summarized, but rather that they often go unexamined. Even those of us who gladly participate in these discourses can’t always say how they might be transforming our engagement with art, or vice versa.
Funcke – These are questions close to both of us, and they are not easy to answer. In fact, that difficulty may already be the reason these different modes of experimentation and thinking have found such interest in each other. I touched on this recently in a discussion with the Cairo-based philosopher Graham Harman, and he proposed that philosophy is the love of wisdom, while art is the love of the thing. I would add then that we don’t want dumb things, but complex, mysterious, and wise things. When dealing with philosophy or radical literature, we are quite aware of these matters being abstract—we are aware of their remoteness, which can feel necessary or comforting but can also be perceived as a kind of lack. The attraction here may lie in this tension between immateriality and materiality, or withdrawal and exposure.
As I said earlier, the art world provides a unique space for such encounters between different knowledges that would otherwise not meet. The nature of art itself seems to have changed over the last decades, during which it shifted its focus from the object to a larger set of discussions, thus creating a stage for a broader public that seems to be quite willing to participate in such conversations. It remains a puzzle, though, how contemporary art could have become as popular as it has today, given its reorientation toward radical, discursive, and highly specialized kinds of research.
Weiner – Yes, I think these various changes are sometimes linked and sometimes contradict each other. Art discourse has become ubiquitous, but I wonder how well it represents art’s various publics. Art theory has its partisans, fans, and merchandisers, but it also has its avowed enemies. Here in the US, this opposition has existed at least since the 1980s; it has sometimes come from neoconservative critics like Hilton Kramer but at other times from liberals like Peter Schjeldahl or Roberta Smith. For some the problem with theory is its politics, while for others theory allegedly contaminates our experience of the work or perpetuates elitism. Some of these criticisms were in fact voiced regarding the Kassel exhibition, and I want to ask whether they also might apply to the 100 Notes project. What steps did you, Carolyn, and Chus take to engage readers with varying levels of education or expertise? To what extent were you concerned about being perceived as didactic or eclectic? Was it a problem that few readers were likely to read all or even many of the notebooks? Finally, did you consider distributing the notebooks free of charge or making them available online to enable a more public discussion?
Funcke – The 100 Notes series is not at all meant as some sort of theory reader—it amounts more to an anti-curriculum. It is, as you mention, highly eclectic, but while it does include some theoretical contributions, these don’t dominate. Overall the series is meant to feel idiosyncratic and to bring together a broad range of ideas that are loosely held together by what appeared particularly urgent for our times. The notebook format is in this sense a common starting point from which participants can then share the process of documenting an evolving thought, taking record of a particular moment. Of course, one does not have to read them all. The process of selecting a few that resonate with one’s own interests is an important part of their effect.
The debate about the elitism of the art world sometimes seems endless, and it’s rare to see such issues discussed thoughtfully. dOCUMENTA (13) provided all kinds of entry points, so many that it overwhelmed on many levels; there were too many books, too many sites, too many artworks, too many things to miss, too much to read, too far to walk. But this doesn’t mean it was elitist. You could walk in Kassel’s Auepark, hang out at the Doing Nothing Garden, pick up some Western Saharan food, watch a film, let your dog run on a dog playground....9 At the same time, it made room for all kinds of specialized discussions. It’s the same with the notebooks, where readers are free to move between philosophical reflections, stories, photo essays, artists’ notes and drawings, conversations, poems, and even instructions on how to exit capitalist society (concerning everything from compost toilets, wind turbines, and pottery workshops to sun collectors and handmade shoes).10
We did originally want to make all the notebooks available online for free, but Hatje Cantz, the publisher, would not agree to this, for budget reasons—it was a long discussion, and the investment required to get one hundred small books off the ground was substantial. It is one of the sad failures of the project that this didn’t happen. But I do hope that the notebooks will be passed around and that they will eventually circulate online.
Weiner – We’ve not yet spoken of the precedents for the 100 Notes project. Some of the more well-known models for this approach come from the history of documenta, an institution that is famously conscious of its own relation to history. One thinks first of the Platforms that Okwui Enwezor coordinated for documenta 11, which marked the first sustained attempt to move the exhibition out of the global North and drew explicit connections between contemporary art and discourses including postcolonial theory, transitional justice, urbanism, and nongovernmental politics. Such a comprehensive reorientation was possible in part because of the interventions Catherine David had made in documenta X: the 100 Days—100 Guests presentation program, the book Politics/Poetics: documenta X—The Book, and the Hybrid Workspace, a digital mediatheque built for the exhibition. documenta 12 acknowledged these precedents with the Magazines project, which was more modest in some respects but still encompassed nearly a hundred publications. How did this history inform 100 Notes? Were there specific conversations that you and the other editors wanted to continue? What sorts of failures or conflicts did you see in these projects, and how did you respond to them? And are there ways in which the institutionalization of this sort of project might blunt its critical edge or generate new problems?11
Funcke – Let me first speak to documenta’s particular historical consciousness. documenta has a different backstory from other international contemporary art exhibitions, mainly because it did not emerge from the nineteenth-century World’s Fairs or the trade fairs of the colonial period. Instead, it arose after World War II, out of widespread trauma and in a cultural vacuum or even wasteland. In Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev’s words: It emerged at the juncture where art is felt to be of the utmost importance as an international language and world of shared ideals and hopes, as well as the most useless of all possible activities, in a state of autonomy, as was argued during modernism.12 From the outset, the language of documenta was thus one that spoke with multiple objectives and across different disciplines. documenta is also the only exhibition that occurs at a five-year interval. This allows for higher ambitions, enabling more research-intensive and discursively engaged explorations than the typical two-year cycle can sustain. documenta is thus an exhibition that crystallizes a moment in history—it reflects where we are historically while making history.
You can see the different traces of this aspiration in the publications, platforms, lectures, and exhibition formats of the last three documenta exhibitions you mentioned. These shows occurred during a period of “biennialization” and alongside a more general pedagogical or discursive turn in contemporary art. These contexts clearly inform the examples of the documenta publications you mentioned. While these precedents were important, Harald Szeemann’s documenta 5, from 1972, was also a major influence for Carolyn. It was broad, ambitious, and artist driven, with a catalogue consisting of a nine-hundred-page binder that brought together myriad materials from the exhibition and its research process.13 The 100 Notes project thrived on what all these earlier exhibitions had put into motion. However, 2012 is a different moment, historically speaking. Putting it broadly, postcolonial theory, debates around art and activism, democratization, and global movements of all kinds are in a different place today from where they were in, say, 1997. Technology has evolved tremendously, producing faster and more global ways to connect and exchange ideas; we have also come to know new forms of political control and injustice, with a looming ecological catastrophe and religious fundamentalism on the rise.
The notebooks are meant to respond to these changes with a sense of urgency, in a way that is both direct and fragmentary. They form an intimate cacophony, speaking in a multitude of voices, but with a sense of also being one on one, as artist/author and reader. A similar polarity exists on the level of their form, which combines modest design and poor materials (in the tradition of Xeroxed zines or political pamphlets) with high-calibre contributors, careful editing, and very beautiful printing. This approach distinguishes the series from the previous documenta books and many other like-minded publications, which usually don’t pay that much attention to the material execution of publications. Here, the books are sensual objects, and it matters quite a bit how they feel in your hands. It matters that everything has been put together carefully and yet with a feeling of timeliness and urgency. I don’t really see any problem with institutionalization in this kind of project. For documenta to produce a radical series like this is a fantastic way to invest some of its generous budget—and also to make use of the high visibility of an exhibition like this.
Weiner – What you say here about the aesthetics of the notebooks is very important. For the moment, though, I’d like to stay with the question of the project’s rhetorical dimension—the many modes of address it uses to engage its various audiences (whether real or imagined, present or future). I’m intrigued by this figure of “intimate cacophony,” in part because it suggests an important break with the precedents we’ve discussed, which tended to eschew a more personal or affective mode. (This aversion might not apply to Szeemann, however, whose notion of “individual mythology” could well be relevant here.) I wonder, though, if it also speaks to larger, more structural transformations in the status of the public sphere itself. Perhaps this is a reach, but “intimate cacophony” seems also to describe the effects of the new technologies that determine so much of our situation, in ways that might often leave us highly ambivalent. The same social networks that enable friendships or solidarities can also feel like a grotesque echo chamber, in which we are all solicited to constantly stream our personal lives for the potential profit of advertisers. One thinks also of “narrowcasting”—the way in which ever more personalized channels of information leave us with less in common to talk about. Could you explain how our contemporary media ecology might inform the rhetoric of the notebooks? This relation could have to do with voice or tone, but also with the sensuous qualities you just alluded to and the type of encounter with the reader that these might enable.
Funcke – I have several things to say about the media ecology you’re describing and its effect on these books. We are not simply a product of our time, of course. We look at it and see its weaknesses, but we also want to see its potential. The question is how to counter the homogenizing effects of these technologies and instead find a tone that is singular, personal, and connected in a different way. For example, as dOCUMENTA (13)’s first statement to the press, Carolyn decided to write Letter to a Friend (notebook no. 003), which is thirty pages long and was sent to hundreds of journalists, most of whom were puzzled.14
A series like this couldn’t have been made without our current ways of communicating, network-building, and travelling. At one point I was in touch with almost two hundred people simultaneously, which would have been unimaginable without e-mail. But most notebook commissions were preceded by in-person meetings. Carolyn and Chus together travelled the world in order to sit down with most of the contributors and these conversations focused on what each of them considered to be the most urgent issues of our time.15 The responses became the starting point for the notebooks, which were published continuously over the two years preceding the exhibition, when we commissioned and published one notebook a week, on average. This entailed an incredible amount of communication and was a kind of gamble, an experiment in forming a community (of both readers and producers) by continuously sending notebooks out into the world. There is a sense of both porousness and urgency, and one could even propose that the series as a whole is a kind of response to questions it doesn’t even know yet how to ask—there is a need to reimagine, to invent, and to move forward. We were at the same time tracing and disrupting a curatorial research itinerary by inviting one hundred voices. All of this was, of course, very much a product of our time, technologically speaking and otherwise. But we were also working with these modes of writing, reading, and thinking as a way to slow everything down, so in this sense the series embraced both speed and deceleration.
The effects of immediacy and intimacy largely derive from the notebook format, as well as from the personality and manner of Carolyn herself. Authors responded to the notebook format positively, and it made many of them contribute texts or materials they had never before considered for publication. Note-taking, as a formal proposal, allowed for a different kind of tone.
Weiner – Keeping with the question of context, if only briefly, we could also situate 100 Notes within a broader set of developments in curatorial practice in which exhibitions have increasingly concerned themselves with discursivity, seeing discourse not only as a social phenomenon to be represented, but also as an organizing principle and as an effect of curatorial mediation. Such exhibitions do not just aim to catalyze conversations; rather, they understand themselves as conversations—as forms of dialogue, research, and debate. This involves a radical shift in the conceptual horizon of the exhibition form: a displacement from representation to intervention, or from autonomy to heteronomy.
However, there is a larger question looming here regarding the way we conceptualize and historicize the heteronomy of contemporary art, but to get at it we need to understand this heteronomy in two senses. The first is the well-documented movement away from medium specificity and the white cube toward intermedia, “post-medium,” anti-art, non-art, and so on. The second has to do with changes in the political economy of the aesthetic sphere, and more specifically with art’s exposure to these changes (i.e., not only of the expansion of the global art market, but also of the degree to which everyday life has become aestheticized in an expanded image-sphere). To be perhaps overly schematic, the first kind of heteronomy tends to be initiated by artists or curators, whereas the second is something over which they have far less control. Despite their differences, these two types of heteronomy are deeply related, if in ways that are often contradictory and not always predictable. Now more than ever, art is free to don new guises and discard the (negative) freedoms it used to enjoy as Art, but this often comes at the cost of greater exposure to recuperation, complicity, or instrumentalization. The promise and interest of projects like 100 Notes lie in their ability to register these contradictions, and to do so using hybridized or improvised means. It seems you speak to such tensions when you position the project as a response to questions it can’t quite yet ask. I’m struck also by your pairing of “urgency” and “porousness”—it would seem that art’s increasingly porous status is both an opportunity and a liability, and I wonder how we might tell these apart.
Funcke – This conflict is exactly where I see contemporary art’s double bind, or art’s double heteronomy, as you call it, and herein lie the reasons that theorists like Jacques Rancière are searching for a “third way” that mediates the usual opposition between interventionist and formalist logics of critical art. We’re still catching up with the effects of the last half century: the increased self-questioning of art and its movement into larger spheres of public life, and alongside this the phenomenal parallel expansion of what you call the political economy of the aesthetic sphere. This is very fertile, but also uncomfortable, ground. But, as we’ve discussed, the discursive turn of art is always bound to consider art’s physical manifestation, its sensual mysteries and embodiments that mere words can’t articulate. For our purposes, this entails the object-character of the notebooks and the sensual, one-on-one elements of their rhetoric, which they “learned” from art. I wonder if it may be a good moment to turn to individual notebooks, now that we’ve dealt with the project’s conceptualization and its larger context.
Weiner – I agree that the discursive turn can never entirely sever its connection to the aesthetic—it always prefigures some sort of return to art, even if it seeks to change our sense of what that art might be. Perhaps we could start by considering the extraordinary range of forms and practices with which note-taking is affiliated in the project. There are numerous ways we could schematize these, but in keeping with our discussion thus far, we might start by mapping their proximity to art in some of its more recognizable modes.
Near the centre of this chart would be notebooks like Lawrence Weiner’s,16 in which we find an interplay among diagrams, signs, drawings, graphic design, and poetry, as well as reflections on sculpture, perception, and the ontology of art. Recalling his famous statement, “the work need not be built,” one can read the book as a kind of conceptual artwork that puts the concepts of art, work, and authorship into question. Similar issues assume a different valence in Song Dong’s Doing Nothing, an experiment in which the artist wrote a brief Chinese text and had it translated into English by some twenty different translators, with wildly varying results.17 Song’s book assumes the familiar model of project documentation, even as it also critiques the hegemony of Western language and form—a problem within which it implicates 100 Notes.
Further out toward the periphery we might locate notebooks like Nawal El Saadawi’s The Day Mubarak Was Tried, which moves between criticism and memoir as it recounts the recent prosecution of Egypt’s former president. Although the notebook shows us some of the ways in which politics and aesthetics intersect in that conjuncture, its own mode of address is much closer to literature than to visual or time-based art. Something similar is true of the contributions from the philosophers Judith Butler (To Sense What Is Living in the Other: Hegel’s Early Love), Michael Hardt (The Procedures of Love), and Graham Harman (The Third Table).18 Though these texts have some bearing on aesthetic questions, this relationship remains oblique and is not made explicit in the sensuous form of the texts themselves.
My intent here is not at all to set up some standard by which we might judge different notebooks as somehow more or less worthy as art. Rather, it’s to suggest that these examples are actually the exception and that many of the notebooks operate within an open, unstable field demarcated by these polarities between art and its many complements (literature, testimony, philosophy, and so forth). One of the most fascinating things about the project is the extent to which it explores and activates the vast potential of this discursive, heteronomous terrain. We can see this, for example, in the diverse forms that notes take in the overall publishing project: marginalia, fragments, scrapbooks, parables, open letters, speculations, manifestos, archives, shooting scripts, and many more. To what extent was this diversity an explicit goal of the selection process, and what sorts of steps did you take toward this end? More concretely, are there other specific notebooks you think we should be speaking about here—ones that surprised you, that make particularly interesting use of the format, or that might change our sense of what note-taking can mean or do?
Funcke – Our starting point with all the notebook authors was to ask them to merely consider note-taking, and this naturally produced the diverse voices and formats that the project comprises, which we roughly grouped as artist notebooks, collaborations, facsimile-reproduced material with introductions, or commissioned essays. We did not think so much about how to generate this range, but more about specific issues that arose: what Carolyn and Chus thought might come out of an artist’s research process; questions about what kinds of conversations had happened and how to capture these moments of shared thinking; ways to represent archival, more personal, or what is usually considered pre-publishable material. Sometimes we simply wished to invite a thinker who seemed exciting. But it was at least as much the contributors’ responses as our own vision that produced the wide range of note-taking formats. The way the individual notebooks seemed to evolve so easily out of the inner logic of the series was a powerful element of the commissioning and editing process. That’s how we took advantage of the extent to which the series could explore and activate the vast potential of art’s discursive, heteronomous terrain.
Though I am not exactly sure how much the notebooks by Butler, Harman, or Hardt relate to art, I agree that they relate to literature as a way to transcend theory or philosophy—which makes them a welcome hybrid model for an art context. In all three cases the writers went back to their longstanding research to present it in much shorter and more accessible form. That is usually a challenging exercise, but I think in these cases they succeeded. Other notebooks in that vein that come to mind include those by Christoph Menke (Aesthetics of Equality), G. M. Tamas (Innocent Power), Etel Adnan (The Cost of Love We Are Not Willing to Pay), Franco Berardi (Ironic Ethics), and Eduardo Viveiros de Castro (Radical Dualism: A Meta-fantasy on the Square Root of Dual Organization, or a Savage Homage to Lévi-Strauss).19 Viveiros de Castro, a Brazilian anthropologist, didn’t aim so much to translate his work into a more popular form but rather to capitalize on a new publication context. In this way his text forms a bridge to notebooks of republished material by more historical thinkers like Furio Jesi (The Suspension of Historical Time)—or Cornelius Castoriadis (untitled),20 one of my favourites. Castoriadis reproduces the notes he usually took on whatever scraps of paper were at hand, which produced a second narrative of found material.
Weiner – Some of those notes by Castoriadis are amazing as artifacts: his letter to Lacan in classical Greek; an outline of a research project on bureaucratized barbarism, sketched on the back of a sheet of Red Cross food ration tickets; philosophical speculations on hospital letterhead. I think he might have appreciated this reminder that even theories of imagination take material form under concrete historical conditions.
In regards to Butler et al., what I had in mind was something from outside these texts, namely their relation to certain curatorial strategies within the Kassel exhibition. Both Butler and Hardt write on love, which served as a kind of leitmotif in 100 Notes, cropping up in other notebooks like Etel Adnan’s The Cost for Love We Are Not Willing to Pay. These reflections resonated with the show’s concern for the ways in which art might assume a kind of therapeutic vocation, mitigating conflict or alleviating trauma. In the case of Harman, I wondered whether his project of an “object-oriented ontology” informed Christov-Bakargiev’s decisions to display and speak of objects as having a sort of autonomy, most conspicuously in the display entitled “The Brain,” a collection of objects meant to encapsulate the larger objectives of the exhibition as a whole.
Funcke – To commission this trio of notebooks on love by Butler, Hardt, and Adnan was a leap typical of Carolyn, one that embodies her spirit and stubborn rejection or transcendence of conventions. Such an attitude was certainly at the core of this documenta’s character, which emphasized affect, the irrational, the intense, and the romantic.
Weiner – One notebook that stands out for me is the one produced by Ayreen Anastas and Rene Gabri (Ecce Occupy...),21 which nominally concerns the Occupy movement but heads into territories that are historical, theoretical, affective, and poetic. Much of it takes the form of a kind of conceptual mapping, looking something like Mark Lombardi’s diagrams but functioning in a different mode. There are references to the history of feminism and labour, to Chernobyl and Fukushima, to the theory of general intellect, to the procedures of direct democracy—all arranged in interconnected clusters. Just as the logic of these groupings seems evident, this order is disrupted by slogans, or strangely poetic fragments, or collaged designs. Aesthetics and politics aren’t superimposed on each other, as sometimes happens; rather, they’re subjected to repeated collisions under intense pressure.
Funcke – It’s a really dense and complex notebook, something like a cartography of its moment, or even a portal into it. The pages reproduced there document the emergence and crisis of the Occupy movement, from its formation to its eviction from Zucotti Park, and its subsequent attempts to define (or not define) its new strategy. The notebook not only asks what constitutes a political activity today; it also questions what comes after such discussions. You can spend hours with it. The miniscule writing reproduced in facsimile in the notebook, jutting in various directions, significantly slows the reading process and plays with the dialectic of appearance and concealment. Here, if you find something, it feels like you discovered it. This notebook is also an example of note-taking as a form of organizing your thoughts, and it certainly takes advantage of art as a connector or conjunction.
Weiner – This idea of art as conjunction raises the question of how specific artworks can articulate modes of experience that might otherwise appear distinct—between aesthetics and politics, ecology, research, or any of the other domains of which we’ve been speaking. Often we think of these connections as additions or bridges. But I wonder how it might change things to also think in terms of recombinations, disagreements, and experiments. Or something on the order of an encounter: a contingent event whose consequences can’t be anticipated in advance and for which we cannot fully prepare?
Funcke – I’m tempted to say “all of the above,” and dOCUMENTA (13) was largely made up of this kind of connective work. Sometimes an artwork or notebook acted as a bridge, a disagreement, and an experiment all at the same time. Maybe this is a key to what has changed for art in its more recent, discursive engagements—conjunctions have moved to art’s inner workings; they are its primary impulses.
Weiner – We might not be inclined to think that a notebook could operate within such an ambitious rethinking of what art is and does. Notes are typically thought to be preliminary or cursory; they are supplements to the finished work, which ostensibly stands on its own. And yet notes allow us to draw connections that might not otherwise seem permissible or plausible. They give us the freedom to swerve, or even change the rules in the middle of the game.
It might also be worth considering the ways in which note-taking allows for new articulations between the actual and the virtual or fictional. Among many other possible examples, I’ll mention Mario Bellatin’s notebook The Hundred Thousand Books of Bellatin,22 a short Borgesian fiction consisting mainly of topics for hypothetical books, which range from hospital reports and the history of cameras to the sleep of animals. Or we might think of Nanni Balestrini’s Carbonia,23 which sets up relays between multiple moments in postwar Italian history, reflecting the complex interactions among historical, social, and subjective time.
Funcke – You picked great examples for the freedom of notes, their unexpected and layered nature. It takes so many forces to narrow down an argument and to make a point; it takes one’s whole mind to translate thoughts into the terminology of a specialized field of research, such that many flickering thoughts from early sketches disappear in the finished work, even though these are possibly more interesting. Notes are often more poetic than finalized essays or book-length conclusions after long research. Bellatin clearly takes advantage of this in his notebook, which I read as a story in itself, in addition to being notes for future books.
Given these qualities, notebooks can also be accessible to a broader range of readers. There are many entry points and many ways to figure out what to do with these sketched-out ideas and thoughts. The blurred transitions between discursive and visual thought—between words and images—is another reason for the openness and particular texture of the publication series, especially in the context of art. It may come closest to how a thought actually evolves between the eye, the mind, and the word, and how the hand records the actual traces of this process.
Weiner – Taking a cue from Bellatin, I wonder if we might close by speaking briefly about the future of the 100 Notes project. Early on you described how the notebook format was meant to extend dOCUMENTA (13) temporally—could you say more about the potential of this archive you’ve assembled? What sort of interest might it hold for different audiences, and how might this change over time? Thinking back on the successes and failures of this experience, can you imagine other avenues that projects like this might pursue? And are there ways in which you think that ventures like 100 Notes might even be able to shift our sense of what kind of future is possible?
Funcke – I have previously worked on books on art, rather than on exhibitions; I am quite aware that they are what remains. We know this as scholars, too, more so if you add a hundred years, when the people who were involved are no longer around. With the 100 Notes—100 Thoughts project, the present dominated my sense of time. Given all the voices I came to know and the publications that had to continuously be produced and considered alongside the coalescing exhibition, there was not much time to think about the future life of the project. And after I had finished editing the series, it took me months to understand what it was that we’d made, and I’m still thinking about that.
Hopefully we brought new thinkers of all kinds to a larger public—made their work more known and thus more supported and more meaningful. I hope we inspired the contributors themselves, also through the other notebooks. I hope that editors, curators, writers, and artists will pick up ideas from the notebooks, be they from the material or from the format. I’m pretty sure it will be a fascinating document in the future, say in fifty or a hundred years. What will all our urgencies and tonalities mean then? It’s impossible to imagine. Some of it may be perceived as lucid; other aspects will have become obscure or even quaint.
Technologically speaking, the notebook represents the moment when the digital verges on replacing the analog in book-making. So the material traces that are almost fetishized here through the fine printing and editorial care will feel more and more historical, while the idea of distribution and fast and broad production, and of a globe-encircling conversation, may become more common. That’s the optimistic view, and that goes along with my belief that a lot of promise and visionary thought can be found in the notebooks, which, to answer your question, might shift our sense of what kind of future is possible.
- For a list of all 100 notebooks and summaries of their content see “dOCUMENTA (13): Information,” http://d13.documenta.de.
- Annemarie Sauzeau, Alighiero Boetti’s One Hotel, dOCUMENTA (13) notebook no. 025 (Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2011).
- Mario Garcia Torres, A Few Questions Regarding the Hesitance at Choosing between Bringing a Bottle of Wine or a Bouquet of Flowers, dOCUMENTA (13) notebook no. 026 (Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2011).
- Mariam Ghani and Ashraf Ghani, Afghanistan: A Lexicon, dOCUMENTA (13) notebook no. 029 (Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2011).
- Jolyon Leslie, The Garden of Exile, dOCUMENTA (13) notebook no. 058 (Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2012).
- Sarah Rifky, The Going Insurrection, dOCUMENTA (13) notebook no. 086 (Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2012).
- Sonallah Ibrahim, Two Novels and Two Women, dOCUMENTA (13) notebook no. 047 (Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2011); and Nawal El Saadawi, The Day Mubarak Was Tried, dOCUMENTA (13) notebook no. 048 (Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2011).
- Suely Rolnik, Archive Mania, dOCUMENTA (13) notebook no. 022 (Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2011); and Alexei Penzin, Rex Exsomnis: Sleep and Subjectivity in Capitalist Modernity, dOCUMENTA (13) notebook no. 097 (Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2012).
- Song Dong, Doing Nothing Garden, 2013; Robin Kahn and La Cooperativa Unidad Nacional Mujeres Saharauis, The Art of Sahrawi Cooking, 2012; Omer Fast, Continuity, 2012; Brian Jungen, Dog Run, 2012.
- Christian Kuhtz, Trash Hacks, dOCUMENTA (13) notebook no. 081 (Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2012).
- Okwui Enwezor, et al., eds., Democracy Unrealized: documenta11_Platform1 (Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2002); Enwezor et al., eds., Experiments with Truth: Documenta11_Platform2 (Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2002); Roger Buergel et al., eds., Documenta 12 Magazine Reader (Cologne: Taschen, 2007); Catherine David and Jean-François Chevrier, eds., Politics-Poetics: documenta X (Ostfildern: Cantz, 1997).
- Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, “The dance was very frenetic, lively, rattling, clanging, rolling, contorted, and lasted for a long time,” in The Book of Books, vol. 1, dOCUMENTA (13) catalogue (Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2012), 31.
- Harald Szeemann et al., documenta 5 catalogue/binder: Befragung der Realität—Bildwelten heute (Kassel: documenta and Bertelsmann Verlag, 1972).
- Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, Letter to a Friend, dOCUMENTA (13) notebook no. 003 (Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2011).
- While most notebook contributors are alive, the publication series also reproduced some older material in facsimile and with brief introductions, such as texts and written materials by György Lukàcs (notebook no. 005), Cornelius Castoriadis (notebook no. 021); Edouard Glissant (notebook no. 038); Salvador Dalí (notebook no. 039); Walter Benjamin (notebook no. 045); Thomas Mann and Theodor W. Adorno (notebook 050); Furio Jesi (notebook no. 069); Mark Lombardi (notebook no. 071); Melanie Klein (notebook no. 098); and Rudolf Arnheim (notebook no. 100).
- Lawrence Weiner, If in Fact There Is a Context, dOCUMENTA (13) notebook no. 008 (Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2011).
- Song Dong, Doing Nothing, dOCUMENTA (13) notebook no. 084 (Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2012).
- Judith Butler, To Sense What Is Living in the Other: Hegel’s Early Love, dOCUMENTA (13) notebook no. 066 (Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2011); Michael Hardt, The Procedures of Love, dOCUMENTA (13) notebook no. 068 (Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2012); Graham Harman, The Third Table, dOCUMENTA (13) notebook no. 085 (Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2012).
- Christoph Menke, Aesthetics of Equality, dOCUMENTA (13) notebook no. 010 (Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2011); G. M. Tamas, Innocent Power, dOCUMENTA (13) notebook no. 013 (Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2011); Etel Adnan, The Cost of Love We Are Not Willing to Pay, dOCUMENTA (13) notebook no. 006 (Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2011); Franco “Bifo” Berardi, Ironic Ethics, dOCUMENTA (13) notebook no. 027 (Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2011); Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, Radical Dualism: A Meta-fantasy on the Square Root of Dual Organization, or a Savage Homage to Lévi-Strauss, dOCUMENTA (13) notebook no. 056 (Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2012).
- Furio Jesi, The Suspension of Historical Time, dOCUMENTA (13) notebook no. 069, (Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2012); Cornelius Castoriadis, untitled, dOCUMENTA (13) notebook no. 021 (Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2011).
- Ayreen Anastas and Rene Gabri, Ecce occupy: Fragments from conversations between free persons and captive persons concerning the crisis of everything everywhere, the need for great fictions without proper names, the premise of the commons, the exploitation of our everyday communism…, dOCUMENTA (13) notebook no. 089 (Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2012).
- Mario Bellatin, The Hundred Thousand Books of Bellatin, dOCUMENTA (13) notebook no. 018 (Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2011).
- Nanni Balestrini, Carbonia (We Were All Communists), dOCUMENTA (13) notebook no. 070 (Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2012).
About the Authors
Bettina Funcke is an independent writer and teacher. In addition to her book, Pop or Populus: Art between High and Low (Sternberg Press, 2009), her writings on contemporary art and its production have been published widely, in both artist monographs and magazines, including Afterall, Artforum, Bookforum, Speculations, and Texte zur Kunst. Essays include texts on Sarah Morris, Wade Guyton, Gerard Byrne, and Jacques Rancière, as well as conversations with Kelley Walker, Carol Bove, Johanna Burton, Graham Harman, and Peter Sloterdijk. Currently a faculty member of the Critical Theory and the Arts Masters Program at the School of Visual Arts, New York, she has lectured widely on aesthetics, art theory, and art writing. She is a co-founder of the Leopard Press and the Continuous Project group.
Andrew Stefan Weiner teaches in the Curatorial Practice MA Program at California College of the Arts. He received his PhD in Rhetoric from University of California, Berkeley, where his dissertation tracked the changing relation between aesthetics and politics in Central Europe circa 1968, focusing on the category of the event. He has written on contemporary art for publications including ARTMargins, Grey Room, Afterall, and Journal of Visual Culture. He is currently editing Talk Shows, a collection of texts on discursive exhibition formats, which will be published in 2014.