Funny Heterogeneous
Jonathan Dronsfield

An essay from the catalogue, It's nice to be nice, try it, 2008

Gregory Maass & Nayoungim:
We developed a series of slogans which we applied as part of our sculptures for the "Don’t hassle the Hof" installation, where we spelled the letters of the word "HASSELHOF" using slogans; the origins are not coherent or essentially relevant. We would like to know what you think about the slogans, or what you have to say about them and our use of these forms. (you may shape this question into a more elegant form)

The slogans for the "Two Million Years Of Art" and "Don’t Hassel the Hof"(one "f", Hasselhoff 2) in situ installations, which are essentially the same, are the following (in alphabetical order):

The book’s title IT’S NICE TO BE NICE, TRY IT is another slogan, which we would like you to examine. (maybe this is too scholarly for you, please change it if it feels uncomfortable)

Jonathan Lahey Dronsfield:
What do I think of them? Well, as usual when I first look at a work of art I don’t think anything. It’s as if my thinking migrates to somewhere else, to somewhere called seeing, and to what is to be seen, the 'what is' being less on the side of thinking than of seeing. Works of art draw out the seeing in thinking, they foreground the seeing in thinking, pushing the thought aside in favour of the sense of seeing. And if what I see thinks then it shows its thinking, puts it up to be viewed, and thinks in the first instance in terms of how it can be seen. And what I see are spreads of heterogeneous things: reflections of thinking if we take thinking to be made up not of propositions or even sentences but of heterogeneous elements, series of snapshots or explosions, stops to the endless circulation of words or the cause of their fall-out. It is in this sense that artworks show thinking, by capturing the fall-out and the stopping.

What things? I see words cut out of green felt, words reflected back from underneath by silver foil. And between these two, the felt and the foil, another surface given by words. The words comprise another surface of the work. And between these surfaces words play. There is the play of surfaces, at least three, and there is the play of words. What the words say is nothing but play. Rather than say something these words play. The words are not there to be read. They are there to take part in my seeing, to play with my seeing and to allow their play to be seen. If they say anything it is 'there is play'. Beyond that, the words do not ask to be made sense of. They are visible without being legible.

Insofar as they do not say anything which makes sense, insofar as they play without speaking, the slogans are closer to things which speak rather than words saying something, they are things which show words rather than words which refer us to things. A disjunction is taking place, between the slogans and what they refer to. There are different slogans, but they are the same thing. They are the same thing in two senses which belong together. First they are repetitions of one form, the indefinite iteration of the form of the slogan; second they repeat the sameness of that same thing each time a different slogan is uttered, a sameness reflected and presented by the look of the words, or the letters they spell, given by the way the materials of which they are made are shared across the letters the slogans spell. These two senses, then, are kept apart within one thing which is the work. And we might say that the work of the work is to reverse the relation between visibility and legibility. Here visibility is not simply the means to an end, something to be effaced in favour of what the words say. Rather, visibility is the end, but an indefinite end, an end without end, deferring and holding off a legibility which would efface by writing the visibility of what is to be said. The work achieves this by enacting the reversal of the relation of letter to word; here words spell letters.

And the slogans are the same thing in being components of the one proper name, Hasselhof. The worded letters form the community of the peaceful and ordered province of Hasselhof, most of whom find work in the rehab farm there, the place where stars go to feel good again, good about their name, free of the hassle of their name. The slogans are the verses the star must learn to incant authoritatively if he is to rehabilitate the former privilege his name granted him to himself and bring it back into his own possession; to reconstruct, or to construct for the first time what was missing from the beginning, the relationship of propriety over his own name, he must learn not to see the starry reproduction of it. The peaceful province of the verse farm that is this piece is the site of an oscillation, between the shiny blinding name that must not be seen, and the slogans that must be learnt in order not to see it and not to be blinded by it.

Made up of the most normal objects, furniture, petrol station, mountains, this installation is the most unusual and abnormal of places, a displacement from the usual and the everyday as the condition of possibility of returning to normal. The peaceful province of Hasselhof is the place where the unusual and the abnormal in the everyday and the normal is covered over by the abnormal use of words, a realm where thinking is reduced to slogans, and where language becomes no longer a picture but something simply seen. Be nice to yourself, stop beating yourself up, or beating up on yourself rather. See the rabbit in yourself, not the duck. Forget the duck, ignore the duck-rabbit, go with the rabbit. No perception, ignore what you see, no moral ambiguity there, try it, be brave be nice, go upbeat, it's nice, you'll see.

So what do I have to say about these slogans? As you can see, very little. The words get on perfectly well without me. They just as little need what I say about them as I do what they show me. And doubtless they will confound whatever I do say about them, for they seem to me to show that, to know it in advance. And this indifference is perhaps the opening that allows me to say something about them, an opening given by the works themselves. This reciprocal semi-autonomy shown by the works is precisely the space in which I am invited to become the apt respondent to what I see. And what do I see? I see the funny.

G.M. & N.:
The subtitle slogan is from quite a different field.
Borrowed from the novel "Valis" by Phillip K. Dick.
Matter is plastic in the face of mind. (the original is also printed in bold font)

On February 20, 1974, Dick was recovering from the effects of sodium pentothal administered for the extraction of an impacted wisdom tooth. Answering the door to receive delivery of extra analgesic, he noticed that the delivery woman was wearing a pendant with a symbol that he called the "vesicle pisces". This name seems to have been based on his confusion of two related symbols, the ichthys (two intersecting arcs delineating a fish in profile) that early Christians used as a secret symbol, and the vesica piscis. After the delivery woman's departure, Dick began experiencing strange visions. Although they may have been initially attributable to the medication, after weeks of visions he considered this explanation implausible. "I experienced an invasion of my mind by a transcendentally rational mind, as if I had been insane all my life and suddenly I had become sane," Dick told Charles Platt.

Throughout February and March of 1974, he received a series of visions, which he referred to as "two-three-seventy four" (2-3-74), shorthand for February-March 1974. He described the initial visions as pink laser beams and geometric patterns, and, occasionally, brief pictures of Jesus and of ancient Rome. As the visions increased in length and frequency, Dick claimed he began to live a double life, one as himself, "Philip K. Dick", and one as "Thomas", a Christian persecuted by Romans in the 1st century A.D. Despite his history of drug use and elevated stroke risk, Dick began seeking other rationalist and religious explanations for these experiences. He referred to the "transcendentally rational mind" as "Zebra", "God" and, most often, "VALIS" (Vast Alien Living Intelligence Satellite). Dick wrote about the experiences in the semi-autobiographical novels VALIS and Radio Free Albemuth.

[the underlined parts are by me]
(maybe we could cut this wikipedia quotation a little, the christian-hallucination part is not so thrilling to me (he had many more, which are more interesting, like his son being gravely ill, which may have saved his son’s life because his son actually was diagnosed as gravely ill), I am more interested in the medical aspect and the blurring of reality and superreality as a result, but never mind that (Dostoyevsky seemed to have had a similar medical condition in his frontal lobe))

We would like you to analyze the subtitle/slogan in the twin light of a phrase of PKD and as a subtitle to our book. (please change the question’s construction to your needs)

One can attempt to make sense of the relation between matter and appearance — if these are indeed the stakes of Dick's gnomic remark — in a manner which does not reduce the face to a metaphor, by turning to how the face is characterised by Levinas: “The other who manifests himself in the face as it were breaks through his own plastic essence, like someone who opens a window on which his figure is outlined. [1] It would be enough to end the citation here. But what Levinas says next establishes the link to art: "His presence consists in divesting himself of the form which, however, manifests him. His manifestation is a surplus over the inevitable paralysis of manifestation." Artworks divest themselves of the material form which nonetheless manifests them in that they transform their material, make it foreign to itself. The affectivity of art resides in its materiality but is not reducible to it. The otherness of artworks breaks material form and flows through it. Hence no artist can guarantee the affect of his art. To find the most appropriate plastic expression an artist is prepared to exchange one material form for another. To play with materials in this way is for the artist to take a chance with them. But chances are never taken by oneself — the viewer is being invited to take it along with the artist, the viewer is being asked to follow the materiality of art in its withdrawal from the everyday, from the normal and normative. But the artist issues the invitation promising, as it were, to show that chance to have been worthwhile, in the sense that the viewer glimpses something he may not otherwise have seen or thought existed. What the artist does with his materials is an action affecting others, but not in such a way that it brings with it moral consequence. This is the indifference of artworks, and the disinterestedness of our contemplation of them. Then in what way is the artist not taking a chance 'by himself'? Because by challenging the causal relation between doing and consequence the artist is playing with morality, he is sidestepping morality. But in sidestepping morality in this way he risks incoherence. The risk of the loss of coherence is not run by the artist as a decision, as if that risk were simply the outcome or function of deciding otherwise. The risk is inherent to the event of art in that art is itself the breaking of the causal link between intention and affect, precisely in the way that the materiality of art is made foreign to itself. In this is the materiality of art its face. The materiality of art is the face of the artist, it is the artist's outside, the outside of his intention, the outside of his concept, the threshold where the work is no longer his own, no longer his propriety, instead it is more properly his proper impropriety, and it is where the viewer too experiences an outside of himself. In short, it is the frontier where language is made possible. It is not surprising therefore if the first response is silence. On the contrary, silence is the proper response if language can only be spoken using the sense and the reference disturbed and interrupted and made alien by art.

G.M. & N.:
One last thing we would like you to clarify is, we would like to know what you make of our method and attitude towards themes and materials we often use in our work, in which we connect presumably unconnected themes and materials. So for instance the part of the installation "Don't Hassel the Hof" where the leg of David Hasselhoff is represented by a heating isolation tube, the hair on the leg is drawn with a liquid gold decoration pen, the foot and surf is realized in blue plasticine on a foot rest, the leg reaches out of a tunnel opening in a schematic Swiss mountain papier-mâché model standing in for a fictive island, the whole is installed on an stainless steel pole with a curtain hanging down from the rim of the island like a changing cabin on the beach, and Spongebob is represented as an actual sponge in its original packaging with a belt and eyes glued on, jumping from one leg of David Hasselhoff during body skiing-swimming to the other.

This part of the installation is inspired by a scene taken from "Spongebob the Movie" in which Spongebob is jumping from one leg to the other of David Hasselhoff who is helping Spongebob to get back to his hometown "Bikini Bottom".

(we are not really sure what part of this stimulating background information is neglectable)

I am. Ah, sorry... my leg... it's asleep. Wait... Ooh, that's better. Where was I? [2]

If only I could photograph that I would draw it! No, that's not where we were, not quite. I said I could see the funny. You're right, the themes and materials of your work are unconnected, disparate, heterogeneous, at odds with each other. Yet there is something into which these elements are gathered together if not into a homogeneous unity then at least into one thing. And that one thing I would call a stance, or a next step. Of course the heterogeneous elements are brought together because they can be made to play with each other.

But what is this play? Jacques Rancière calls it the joke. [3] Rather than purporting to be the detective revealing the "secret connection" between these elements, a connection which can only be political, and which is secret because it is political, the artist would bring these things together as if there were a secret, only to have the last laugh in showing that there is no secret to reveal. But this escapes neither the logic of revelation (the last sentence) nor the myth of the artist being master over his materials (the origin of meaning). The joke is on the artist. The supposition would be that because there is no more secret there is no more politics, hence art no longer need take on the task of social criticism or take a stand on social issues, which would amount to an acceptance that the means or procedures at art's disposal are no different from those available to the powers art would otherwise resist, and that its operations of delegitimisation or decoding are themselves forms of domination. But this schema still retains the opposition between art on the one hand, and 'the media', advertising and corporate, commercial entertainment on the other – as if art and the media can still be discerned beyond their indiscernible operations — as well as the logic of the telos and the myth of revelation.

That there is nothing to be revealed does not mean that there is nothing to be shown. On the contrary, that there is nothing to be revealed means that everything can be shown. All the heterogeneous elements out of which this sculpture is fashioned can be brought together under the empirical. With the Don't hassle the hof installation you have set up a territory over which the empirical can freely roam in all its genius (as Deleuze might say), not some thing but the empirical itself, a movement which gives your set ups coherence and unity. Here the empirical roams free of politics, the order of politics does not hold, and politics has no special place, for art affords the empirical a liquidity which exceeds it. This is art's performativity, showing merely empirical objects and mute things walking the earth, inscribing themselves in nature and speaking freely, making us see or affording us the chance to glimpse something otherwise not visible to us. This is not the revelation of a secret, it is the realisation of potentialities of things, of nature, of ourselves.

Art lives outside of itself. To the extent that it takes its materials — tofu for instance (The Handsome Tofu, Tofu Shelf), or blankets (Snowman), or leaves (Mad Hatter) — from life its materials are not its own. Art is dependent on a world of things which are independent of it, ruled by their own laws, but this does not mean that it is helpless. It laughs. It laughs by descending to the level of groundlessness, to the level of there being no law or rule for how it gathers together its elements, a level with no height and no depth — or in other words, a surface. That art cannot live in itself is not a joke, it is something to be laughed at. Were it to try and re-enter itself through a claim to a materiality which is its alone it would kill itself. Instead it stages relations of propriety/impropriety, not as an opposition but as an exchange across a single surface, a surface without hierarchy, a surface without principles to distinguish what is proper from what is not.

"There just isn't anything funnier and more cheerful on the world's stage than the presumptuousness of those little worms called man." [4] Don't hassle the hof strides out into the light of this strange territory, the stage on which heterogeneous elements commingle and co-habit, a co-habitation which means more than that they share the same space, it means that things, nature, ourselves, co-emerge with that space, the surface given by the stride of art. But this striding out is also a step back. Don't hassle the hof is a work which, seeking to show something otherwise unseen or unfelt, at the very moment of succeeding steps back and withdraws from life, the opposite direction taken by politics, a moment which could not come to concreteness without that step back affirming the border between art and life. It is a kind of madness this step back, this interval between life and art (an interval the Mad Hatter piece captures beautifully). And it is in this interval between art and life set up by the work that we are afforded the moment and the space to become the apt respondents to what we see, and part of coming up with an apt response is to ask — and this is what for Nietzsche takes us beyond the joke of our presumptuousness — why and how oneself as an individual strides out, how one can become an individual in this alien territory to which we have been displaced.

You have sent me these questions as a way of getting me to say something about your work. Taken seriously, the questions themselves say something about what can be seen, they themselves show something of what can be seen, and as such the questions themselves are no less a part of what can be seen as are the works they refer to. The questions do not simply function to provide the conditions of saying something about specific aspects of the work, they are part of the work's legibility, and they are one of the conditions for the visibility of the works they raise questions about. But at the same time their own legibility threatens to over-write what they presume can be seen. Thus I see the function of my responses in part to hold off what is asked, and certainly not to concretise the questions by answering them on their own terms, in favour of allowing what is question-worthy of the works to emerge as, precisely, a question for us.

utterly yours
Greg. & Nayoungim

In admiration,

[1] Emmanuel Levinas, "The Trace of the Other" (1963), trans. A. Lingis, in Deconstruction in Context, ed. Mark C. Taylor, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986, p. 351.
[2] "...not to the point of losing the 'self' completely, because at a certain moment, you notice that your leg is asleep" Jean Genet, interview with Hubert Fichte (1975), Fragments of the Artwork, trans. Charlotte Mandell, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003, p. 119.
[3] Jacques Rancière, "The politics of aesthetics", (accessed 2006).
[4] Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Advantage and Disadvantage of History for Life (1874), trans. Peter Preuss, Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1980, p. 55.

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