Organised by Katherine Waugh, the weekend event will be celebrating the English translation of the LA-based semiotext(e) publisher’s book Mad Like Artaud. The afternoon session will feature a “dramatic reading” of the central part of the “schizoanalytic docufiction” —a 1980s interview with the founder of the ‘Theatre of Cruelty’ and avant-garde philosopher’s Rodez asylum psychiatrist Dr. Jacques Latrémolière.
The announcement of the event, which will be interspersed with performances and interventions, comes accompanied by an excerpt from philosopher and semiotext(e)/Foreign Agents series contributor Gilles Deleuze’s ‘The Logic of Sense’, questioning the madness of abstract thought and a philosopher’s responsibility as its inheritor: “Are we to become the professionals who give talks on these topics?”
Before Kraus’ I Love Dick (a confessional epistolary novel detailing her relationship with Lotringer and her obsession with a man named ‘Dick’), she organized a “three-day philosophy rave in the Nevada desert called Chance Event that became known as “the Burning Man of French theory”.
Kraus joins her former partner and Semiotext(e) general editor Lotringer and artist Flannery (who is currently writing a book on the Chance Event) for a timely discussion on Baudrillard’s lecture for Chance and as part of the Hotel Theory exhibition running October 3 to December 20.
Hosted by 186f Kepler, the screening will open with ‘Violent Femmes’ (1998), followed by a conversation between French actress and BDSM writer Catherine Robbe-Grillet and her United States equivalent Mademoiselle Victoire. A docu-fiction about French avant-garde writer and icon Antonin Artaud, ‘The Man Who Disappeared’ (2015), will also screen, along with other shorts films and a talk by Lotringer himself.
The weekend kicks off on Friday with an afternoon discussion with Sidsel Meineche Hansen and Josephine Wikstrøm, followed by an evening film screening and talk with artist Imogen Stidworthy about her own practice and that of Fernand Deligny.
Saturday brings a stacked day, with discussions, performances, interventions, screenings and workshops happening throughout by various participants, including Plastique Fantastique (David Burrows & Simon O’Sullivan and collaborators), Anna Hickey Moody, and Mischa Twitchin.
I think “schizo-culture” here is being used rather in a special sense. Not referring to clinical schizophrenia, but to the fact that the culture is divided up into all sorts of classes and groups etc., and that some of the old lines are breaking down. And that this is a healthy sign.
In November of 1975 philosopher and founder for the semiotext(e) Sylvere Lotringer organised a conference titled Schizo-Culture which took place at Columbia University, New York. It was a melting pot of radicalism and philosophical workshops that brought together, for the first time, an explosive mixture of French and American theorists whose writings and lectures have since become an integral component of any Western visual art education. Participants included, among others, William S. Burroughs, Michel Foucault, John Cage, Gilles Deleuze, Felix Guattari, Arthur Danto and Jean-Francois Lyotard. While the colloquium focused on the interrelated topics of prisons and madness, Lotringer was impactful in bringing together thinkers from two different continents; bridging a philosophical gap between French and US thinkers while proving the influence of semiotext(e) publishing.
Schizo-Culture: Cracks in the Streetat [ space ] takes mid-70s event as a starting point for a small but indulgent exhibition that skillfully weaves both a rare collection of archival material related to the original conference with related artworks and commissions by contemporary artists. The event is used as a springboard to reflect on affiliated movements such as no-wave and the anti-capitalist attitudinal relationships that existed in the late 1970s in Manhattan and Paris: a DIY creative culture still mostly uncontaminated by the present day co-terminus relationship between art and its marketability. It’s a space set up like a workshop with pencils and factsheets outlining the agenda and backgrounds of panelists from the original event. Although no video footage can be found from the symposium itself, there is audio recorded from Lyotard’s speech played from a nearby stairwell,as well as well as footage from Deleuze’s courses at Vincennes in Paris where he taught for the majority of his career, and an interview conducted by Dutch philosopher Fons Elders with Foucault in 1971.
The vast collection of pamphlets and posters are well-complemented by a series of pared-down and un-elaborate visual specimens, that appear, fittingly, as if they were executed by the psychologically impaired. On entering the main exhibition room, one is confronted by Burroughs’ disturbing, Paul Klee-esque painted portrait Shot Sheriff (black eyes) (1989) is hung alongside his Circle (1988) – a visual representation of Deleuze’s conception of the rhizome which he explains in a video clip beside the painting. The lecture is played through 70s tube televisions, with pillows to relax on and pencils to take notes with across original timetables from the symposium and other printed memorabilia. Throughout the space there is a breadth of letters, flyers, and posters either wall mounted or under vitrines creating a cross between a university classroom and participative exhibition space.
Guiding the visitors eye away from the video lecture and interview is a ‘wander line’ drawing by the peculiar outsider Fernand Deligny. His experimental cartographic lines were foundational for Deleuze and Guattari’s conception of the rhizome, while being a significant early example of art therapy – Deligny had created an encampment/treatment centre for autistic children in France where making wander lines was encouraged as a means for patients to work through their difficulties. Beneath the line drawing is an oil on wood ‘Head’ painted by artist, writer and schizophrenia sufferer Mary Barnes. There is a welcoming sense of flow from one work to the next and between the archival content and drawings/paintings while breaking down cultural divisions. Terminal Beach’s video contribution ‘and so I’ll make myself believe it that this night will never go’(2014) is the most recent work in the show. Set in its own room next to the main gallery, the two-channel installation shows a man reading Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia accompanied by a rush of cars and streams of internet news acknowledging the longstanding influence of Schizo-Culture while embodying it (the writing, the conflux of movement, the music) in a contemporary milieu.
Cracks in the Street is a welcome reflection on an event and a testament to the interrelated initiatives of the thinkers and artists involved in semiotext(e) as a movement. The influential publishing house is celebrating its 40th year which has inspired celebrations at institutions such as MoMA PS1. While semiotext(e) and its founding members retain a high level of interest from academics – specifically in cultural studies and contemporary art history – their standing for post ‘net visual artists is waning. Other philosophers (i.e. Slavoj Zizek), technologists (i.e. Jaron Lanier), multidisciplinary academics/curators (i.e. Donatien Grau), not to mention radically different and digitally (re)configured systems of distribution for visual content, have in many ways unseated the longstanding formative post-structuralist thought in the context of contemporary art being produced today. Terminal Beach as a group being a welcome exception along-with practitioners from an older generation of makers including Peter Halley and Gary Indiana.
Cracks in the Street possesses a project-like atmosphere to examine a fading but not forgotten theoretical milieu. It possesses a pedagogic and experimental vibe that coalesces with visual specimens, ones that are not quite schizophrenic in the clinical sense but never stray far from the domain of madness.**
A legendary figure in publishing and theory in the US, the French-born Sylvère Lotringer isn’t only credited with bringing the ideas of French post-structuralism to the US through his Foreign Agents semiotext(e) series in 70s California. He could also be recognised as ambassador of a contemporary art aesthetic; Baudrillard’s ideas of simulacrum infiltrating postmodern design, from the pioneer digital media of April Greiman to the grafitti of Futura 2000, a baroque hyperreality trickling down to the decontextualised retrofuturism of the likes of LA-based Not Not Fun bands like Maria Minerva, Dylan Ettinger and beyond.
Lotringer’s influence as a taste-making medium is immeasurable: the Baudrillardian foundation of the Wachowski brother’s The Matrix at the turn of the century, Deleuze and Guattari’s effects on modern Western thought, their rhizomatic ideas pre-empting internet culture. He’s a man who had a friend in Leonard Woolf, learnt English through the writings of the latter’s late-wife, Virginia, and drew parallels between French post-structuralists and downtown New York’s Fluxus writers, leading to the Foreign Agents. It’s this disregard for distinctions and their transgression that makes Lotringer such an influential figure and fascinating character.
Come to South London Galleryto speak in front of an audience with multidisciplinary artist and film maker Katherine Waugh, a funny and profoundly intelligent 75-year-old thinker talks about Antonin Artaud and The Question Itself. A writer and theatre director who “never had a work” and whose letters to the editor of literary magazine La Nouvelle Revue reflects his function within the present, Lotringer proves Artaud as never more relevant than in this current era of immediacy. Accordingly, interest in the French founder of the ‘Theatre of Cruelty’ has been reignited, particularly in art circles, and as a long-time admirer whose own life and philosophy intersects is here to discuss him before inevitably turning to semiotext(e) and writing as art, within nearly two hours of discussion.
Echoing the thoughts of long time collaborator and Native Agents Series founder, Chris Kraus, who spoke at the RCA in March, Lotringer jokes “the problem is that the art world is eating everything up, and I’m not a big eater”. Interesting, considering the limitlessness of his critical engagement. Between organising the infamous “Schizo-Culture” conference in 1978 and screening his 14-minute video collaboration with Kraus, ‘Voyage to Rodez’ (1986), one is tempted to assume otherwise. Especially when reflecting on the transplanted articulations and contexts of the film, set at the French Rodez asylum, where Artaud was controversially administered electric shock treatment by Dr. Gaston Ferdière, shot on North America’s Rhode Island. And that’s not mentioning the combustive cultural and lexical antagonisms of the aforementioned Columbia University symposium that interrogated the prison system and psychiatry among eminent thinkers like Lyotard, Guattari and Burroughs (or as he puts it, “a collection of weirdos, you can’t imagine”).
That self-contradiction and tension is almost a necessary by-product of Lotringer’s philosophy. From the assertion of “all utopias as [being] inevitable dystopias”, to the truism that “to be aware that you’re alive, you have to be aware that you’re dying”, Lotringer shares Artaud’s compulsion of showing his audience the stark truth that his ‘impossible theatre’, in all its ambiguity couldn’t. Hence, Artaud’s resurgent significance as a 20th century thinker, echoing 21st century pseudomodernist ideas. It’s that of emergent meaning in a context continually in flux and always in progress; “the question itself” that underscores all life as always unfinished and forever incomplete: “You don’t embrace a philosopher, you just live with them… let people take what they want”. **
Header image: Photo by Pieternel Vermoortel. Image courtesy of SLG.