franck leibovici, '(some forms of life) – an ecology of artistic practices', book presentation, artist talk and Q & A
Recording of franck leibovici's presentation at 'Publishing & Performing Relationships. Caveat at Bâtard Festival', 30 October 2018
00:00 Introduction by RH
00:01 Introduction by Florence Cheval on 'Publishing and performing relationships. Caveat at Bâtard Festival'
04:30 Introduction by franck leibovici, who proposes “to start with questions from the audience and see where the discussion takes us.”
06:30 Loraine Furter asks how he chose the title of the book, (some forms of life) – an ecology of artistic practices fl discusses practice: an artwork cannot be reduced to an object. It has many characteristics. For example, there a many monochrome paintings in art history, but even if they have the same colour and the same dimensions, they are not the same artworks. There are many parameters, but institutions don't necessarily take into account the entirety of the practice. fl proposes to start at the beginning of the practice, not at the end result.
00:10 Making practices visible is a political decision. It also involves the institutional context of artistic production.
00:11 On ecosystems/ecology fl: One doesn't know in advance what art is. Each work needs to be investigated: where are its boundaries? There may be elements that lie in the past or in the future. The nice thing about is that the separation between the artist/producer and audience/receiver breaks down. If one follows the practice, all of a sudden one ends up in an institution.
00:15 Question from the audience: If you leave the institutional definition of art behind, there is a problem: how do you recognize the art work? fl: Nobody is in the position to define what is and what is not an artwork, but I'm in favour of a non-normative approach. For me, it's enough if someone considers some thing an artwork. The question for me is more: how do you recognize a practice? How do you know that this artwork is made within this and this practice? Quickly I realized that I don't really know how to define one. I could say something about mine, but it's difficult to discuss that in general. About the contributions gathered in des formes de vie/forms of life: As an investigation about artistic practice, to understand how we could look at them, we asked about a hundred artists to send a sample of action from their everyday artistic practice. Most responses were quite opaque. We wondered: why did they send us this sample? They could be a drawing, a video, an mp3, a text, but each time it was unclear why they had sent it as a contribution to this investigation. I started a working group to discuss some of the contributions, collectively trying to understand. "What I see in this, is this or that…" In order to stabilize our interpretations, we used keywords to categorize the interpretations. With this list of keywords, also the less convincing contributions became interesting, a lexicon of practices. After 50 discussed contributions, we were able to see the richness. Some people objected to the body of keywords as being contingent, they depend on the group of people involved in the working group. Which is true: with other people in the working group, we would have other interpretations, vocabularies, keywords. They aren’t describing fixed properties. A practice doesn't exist in itself. It’s always related to other practices. It is because there is a group of practices that we can make other practices visible. They don’t have an independent life. It’s always a network that produces each practice.
00:24 Ben Kinmont on identifying and developing syntaxes and lexicons to talk about practices. There can be a lagtime: it can take a while to leave behind the given, a priori sense that one has with these words, with what you’re seeing to identify it. Seeing, and then trying out new language. Once you have the new language, you see something else, and you try it out again: a constant back and forth. When reading artists’ first interviews, discussing their own practice (for instance, Bruce Nauman’s early interview in Avalanche), and comparing them with later interviews, there are huge evolutions, using the syntax that others have used to discuss that practice. When people object to the creation of a new syntax, all that they are objecting to, is that you've introduced something new to them. On an ontological side: how does one become aware of something that’s coming into being and the use of language to describe that thing. How does one become aware of the necessity of developing that language, or, in what direction to go with the language to develop to describe the thing? The moment just before the emergence of the language of the new syntax.
27:30 fl One doesn't produce a new syntax just for fun. It’s because you need it. Sometimes the artist feels trapped inside a vocabulary which isn’t their own.Sometimes, others needs such adjustments: a curator who wants to connect two artworks will need to bridge them producing new vocabulary. Sometimes it’s another kind of public from the handlers, registrars, visitors. These vocabularies are ephemeral. The book des formes de vie/forms of life is a series of micro-exercises. It can be used as a training to produce new vocabularies. Creating new exercises is never for free. You don’t do it for pleasure. Usually, we’re happy with the existing vocabulary. Each new word has a cost, a price. Last minute urgencies are more costly. This also goes for new vocabularies, but sometimes you have to do it: otherwise you’re trapped, or the situation is blocked.
30:30 Question from the audience: Practices need to come up with a new vocabulary, but it’s also often so that the language produces a practice. Pressure to not only create a practice, but also fabricate what a practice is. Defining the difference between doing a practice and training. Practices are forced into existing because of the language. What’s the problem with invisibility? To what degree does a practice need to be visible? fl: These are two questions, I think: The first: should all practices become visible? The second has to do with buzzwords made for communication, which do not necessarily fit with what we’re really doing. I’m very lucky, because in my book, Agency provides an answer to the first question with the cave painting case. fl discusses this work by Agency as a parable of sorts to show that a practice sometimes needs to remain in the dark. About the second question: Maybe there is a misunderstanding, because also without 'creating' a practice, one has one. We all have practices, routines, etc. The defining of a practice as an artistic one, isn't so relevant. Maybe there is a trend that forces people to talk about practice. That’s true, after two or three years, will will move to something else and be able to totally forget about it.
00:40 Question by Eric Schrijver: Practice in the artistic realm is very individualistic, and now seems to be replacing for example the phenomenon of the 'signature'. It’s spoken about as if only a certain artist has access to a certain practice. When you're speaking about practice, how can you make this into a conversation? fl: You're very right. Sometimes it looks like people have various drawers in their desks with various practices. A practice is always public, it has to be performed. Practice is more a course of action, of which many people are a part. That's why it's interesting to start from the artwork, not from the artist. Otherwise, you just reproduce the romantic idea of the lonely artist in his studio, but using other words.
00:42 On different relationships between practice and object. "Open field of answers." The museum narrative about history of modern art implies competition between major institutions. What if the narrative isn't chronological or thematic but in terms of practice? It would be very costly, because that would become too complex, and the aesthetic experience too vast to perceive for a visitor.
00:50 Q from Greg Nijs: How far do you think we can account for non-human aspects of practices? Does one always have to cut the practice somewhere? fl: It's the situation, the artwork, that decides where to stop. If the presence of loud wind changes the course of a conversation, it should be included. If it doesn't change anything, maybe not. It’s always contingent, you cannot decide in advance.
00:55 Ben Kinmont: This has to do with the creation of meaning, the way we understand or identify things. Stanley Brouwn's drawings would change meanings if they were done sitting down, or with a marker, on the computer, or if he made multiples of the drawings. All these things would redefine the meaning of the sketches that Brouwn made.
56:30 fl: That's an interesting answer. Because one doesn't have to be an artist to give such an answer. Someone working in the museum for instance, creating the work file (the documentation of the artwork). If you look into one, you’ll find that the description of the work is modified through time. For reasons of obsolete technology, for instance, or elements that were considered details become essential according to new descriptions. People working with the artworks have the same issues describing the artwork as an artist or a a philosopher. That shows again that practices depend on many people. How a practice is defined or counted depends on situation, perspective, and time.
1:01:00 On discussing the individuality of practices from a legal point of view A contract is a document with a series of actions and actors. You're not discussing only an object, but also the possible involvement of different people. It allows one to underline the different actions that are involved. A contract is like a score. You can decide how to play the score.
1:04:30 Question by Kobe Matthys: There’s something in a practice that obliges, which puts the practice back in the ecology as a being in itself. I was wondering what you think about that. fl: You’re totally right, and it’s connected to this notion of "forms of life", that we didn’t talk about so much yet. When you develop a practice, you develop a routine. Routine obliges you as much as it gives you pleasure. There are many things that aren’t fun, but just what you have to go through in order to do what you have to do. A set of practices that have been developed throughout the years produce a certain form of life, so that at some point you cannot take it anymore. You have to change your practices to change your form of life. The form of life is not an ethical choice that you could freely make. It’s the result of a set of practices that have been developed. Kobe: A practice is something to install, and while you’re installing it, it’s changing you as an artist. A mutually transformative being in relation with a practice. fl: Yes, it’s like a puppet master and the puppet. Not only monitoring, but because of the material apparatus he’s also obliged to do certain gestures that come from the puppet. It goes back and forth: of course, the artist is transformed by the practice. But is happens also outside art: researchers are affected by their object of study. When considered through the perspective of practice, artists and researchers are very similar.
1:12:00 Question by Florence Cheval: What would you say to people who would like to understand what artistic research is? fl: I'm not the right person to answer that question. Artistic research is an academic term, engendered by the political agenda of institutions, following the Bologna agreement. It’s just an umbrella term to develop some programmes. Some people would say that art is by definition research, and that any artist is researching. But on the other hand, the life of an academic researcher isn't about having ideas or reading a book, but rather about having research published, participating in the administrative life of the institution, applying for budgets for the next research, etc. That could also be the concrete life of the research, more than having ideas.
1:15:00 Florence announces rest of week's program.