“Untitled” (I was here) (Felix Gonzalez-Torres, part 8)

In explicating the significance of his work, Gonzalez-Torres had recourse more than once to Rilke’s concept of “blood-remembering” [Bluterinnerung], alluding to a passage in The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge wherein, as Spector recalls, “true aesthetic achievement is deemed impossible without a lifetime of accumulated experiences that have almost literally become a part of the artist – his lifeblood…. ‘Verses are not, as people imagine, simply feelings…. They are experiences.  For the sake of a single verse, one must see many cities, men and things, one must know the animals, one must feel how the birds fly.’  Accordingly, artistic expression should reflect the complexity of a life lived, take account of the myriad events – both significant and seemingly trivial – that occur and are then forgotten, only to be recalled in altered form….” [Spector, 42]

Such blood-remembering seems to saturate Gonzalez-Torres’ recollection of the initial impulse behind the 1993 series “Untitled” (Bloodwork – Steady Decline) and its precedents dating from 1987, in terms that are in the strict sense biographical, and in the event autobiographical:  “It was this that struck me when I first saw an extensive bloodwork done on Ross, in the form of numbers and codes.  I said to him, ‘Honey, this is your blood.  Right here.  This is it.’  There was not a drop of blood there.  There wasn’t anything red.  And it was even more frightening because all the numbers could be easily reversed.  It is a total abstraction; but it is the body.  It is your life” [quoted in Spector, 167; emphasis added].  In the context of the present, partial account of the artist’s body of work and the unfolding of its effects over time, the “right here” reinflects the “this place” reiterated in the aporetic enunciation of “Untitled” (1990) – “Somewhere Better Than This Place,” “Nowhere Better Than This Place” – as a site of decision, and the viewer’s experience of nonpassage as the condition of a certain responsibility.  Anyone who elects to participate in the collaboration that the giveaway paper stacks and candy spills seek to initiate does so in response to an appeal, and indeed a provocation:  As Gonzalez-Torres observed in 1993, “I need the viewer, I need the public interaction.  Without a public these works are nothing, nothing.  I need the public to complete the work.  I ask the public to help me, to take responsibility….” (Rollins, 23).  The stakes of the viewer’s decision to take part in the work by taking part of the work, partaking of its generosity, are in the artist’s own estimation high indeed.  And the outcome, whether reckoned in pragmatic or theoretical terms, is far from certain.


good conscience as subjective certainty is incompatible with the absolute risk that every promise, every engagement, and every responsible decision – if they are such – must run.  To protect the decision or the responsibility by knowledge, by some theoretical assurance, or by the certainty of being right, of being on the side of science, of consciousness or of reason, is to transform this experience into the deployment of a program, into a technical application of a rule or a norm or into the subsumption of a determined “case.”  All these are conditions that must never be abandoned, of course, but that, as such, are only the guardrail of a responsibility to whose calling they remain radically heterogeneous…. [Hence] the necessity of experience itself, the experience of the aporia…as endurance or as passion, as interminable resistance or remainder. [Derrida, Aporias, 19]

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Filed under Culture, Death, History and historiography, Media, Reading and writing

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