Zirkularitätsbedingungen (Es hätte Licht
„Modalities of Becoming: On Temporality and Form“
Conversation with Professor Namsee Kim (Ewha Womans University, Seoul, Ph.D. Humboldt University, Berlin)
Translation: Jaeyong Park (curator/researcher)
Thursday, 30 August 2018 – 14:00-16:00
Lounge, Digital Archives & Library,
National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul
Presentation: “modalities of becoming: on temporality and form”
Michael Just: Hello, everybody. I am very glad to be here to see you this afternoon. I should maybe just start by saying that I am very glad that MMCA has made it possible for me and for us to be here. So, thank you very much for that, and also a big thank you to our great team at Changdong: Hee-jung and Lisa. I should also thank the Goethe-Institut, as they are in part sponsoring my fellowship here. Also, thank you to Professor Kim, I am very glad that you are here, and also of course for having great translation, I’m very thankful for that.
Let us then maybe get into the subject. I called this presentation Modalities of Becoming: On Temporality and Form. Maybe it sounds a little bit abstract but I suppose that my job would be to show you as to why it’s not abstract and what kind of forms literally it takes on in my practice.
What I will be doing is I will basically be talking about a selection of works from the last couple of years, then my current research and also what I have been working on here in Seoul at the end. I should start by saying that I’m not a medium-specific artist in any way. I work in a more conceptual way, I have a studio practice but also I work let’s say on site-specific projects, installation and also more process-based, performative works. So, I’m basically in between the studio practice and projects which are more let’s say tied to a certain cultural and spatial context.
I want to start with this very early work. It is the one exception from the rule. It is a little drawing from 18 years ago and I thought that I was just going to establish some conceptual basis for this talk and this comes in in a nice way. It’s called Square with Disorder, and let me show you as to how it conceptually connects to what I have in mind. So the next two slides are going to be a little bit sciency but only briefly so allow me the slight detour into science.
In physics, there is what is called the second law of thermodynamics. I’m not going to get into it in any complicated way but what I’m interested in is the first line (in the image), it identifies the direction of a process: so there’s a sense of how things unfold, what direction certain things or processes take, and also towards the end (in the image) “used to introduce concepts of reversible processes and irreversibilities”. So, that’s something I’m very interested in, this idea of temporality and how form unfolds over time both in a more abstract way but also in a political sense, this idea of let’s say societies being able to construct or to give form to their own construction, in a way.
Closely connected to that law is the idea of the so-called arrow of time, which means that time is going in a certain direction and basically that process is irreversible and there’s nothing we can do about it. So, therefore, if you look at the slide, it’s like there is what is supposed to be the Big Bang, 14 billion years in, that’s where we are now, and presumably at a certain point, 10 to the 100 years, the system of the universe is going to reach what’s called equilibrium and presumably at that point everything is going to be in a state where, it’s an end, so to speak; like there’s a certain determinism in that way to the course that the universe takes. This idea of things coming to an end, you know basically historically, is something that I refer to a lot in my work, not so much actually in terms of science but more so in terms of ideas of history, of our history coming to an end, and I will be referring to that throughout the talk. And I should give credit to the great cosmologist Sean Carroll for this slide that I’ve borrowed.
Let’s get back into art. I just chose this because it’s kind of poignant right now. This is, for example, one consequence of this process. This is a piece from ’15, Untitled (What’s done) and basically it says “What’s done cannot be undone”. It’s a laser-cut steel piece that was in a show that had a larger – that was the title of the show – so that was three years ago. This actually was taken from a reference to Shakespeare, where Lady Macbeth at some point says, “What’s done cannot be undone.”, as you know Lady Macbeth is this tragic character that descends into death basically by her actions. Also, there is something that leads her I guess, like in Macbeth there is a sense that she can’t escape from that which makes her do these things. Anyway, so obviously the piece doesn’t necessarily connect to that but it’s in the background.
Everything that follows now is in a more chronological order.
This installation view from 2011 that was at the degree show so to speak of a program that I did in New York. That was a space on Bowery where we were all exhibiting. So, it’s a bit tricky to explain as it’s a process-based participatory work. So it’s for me a little bit hard to figure out how to convey it, but the basic rule was basically, yes, let me try to give you the background. At this program I was given this armband called The Searcher. What is the purpose of it is that in the case of an emergency one would put on this armband and take on this identity of the Searcher and look for people who may have missed out on the alarm signal. There is an interesting sense of I guess of taking on a certain identity in case of an emergency, which I guess has to do you could say with messianism in a way. What I did was I put together this short let’s say concept of what the Searcher could be, this imaginary figure that I would become had there been an emergency. And I put this up and, you don’t have to necessarily read all of it, but this was just the background of the piece. I put this up in the show and I invited people to respond to my initial proposal and then every participant – it was a chain basically – every participant would then respond to the contribution of the previous one. So, please ask questions if I’m not being clear as it’s a little tricky to explain.
Basically, the production process was happening within the exhibition, so it was let’s say like the studio so to speak if you want to call it that was transferred into the show. Every visitor/participant was invited to contribute in written form. Let me show you what this first person, for example, you won’t be able to read it but I’m just trying to show you the concept. This was in response to my initial proposal, it was no. 2. So for example here you can see what happened: This was no. 26, so already things are kind of disintegrating, in a way. This person thought that it’s interesting to kind of dissect the previous contribution in an interesting way. Basically, I put together 66 contributions. You can see, this is one person taking part, here’s someone else. So, basically, a text was produced over the course of the exhibition, or let’s say a form, that didn’t even know exactly what to do with it. But that in a way was the end result of the project, which was quite interesting to me at the time. And I have done a couple other projects like that but that was the initial one and it went really well. Here you can see an older generation. Also, you see the coffee machine. I wanted to establish kind of micro economy in a way. I wanted to ask people to take part and I wanted to offer something in return, so I was basically in that show for one week offering people coffee in return for their written contribution.
Let me come back to it real quick is that this idea of let’s say time and the interruption of time on the occasion of an emergency that was really important, so that was the starting point. That is I guess what also connects this, it’s why I have included this in the talk here because it definitely connects to this idea of temporality and what happens when there’s a rupture within that process.
Let’s briefly talk about this other piece that I’m sure you have seen, that was right next to it with three turntables with custom-made records. Basically the idea was a conversation, and I put together like an imaginary conversation between Walter Benjamin and Félix Guattari. I put together quotations from them that would kind of match and that would sort of make sense. On one record was Benjamin, on the other was Guattari and in the middle was a sound sequence that was in the background. I had read the text, so there’s my voice, different pitches so you could distinguish it.
Benjamin’s was largely taken from On the Concept of History, which I’m sure many of you know and Guattari’s was a little bit more erratic, I should say, but the basic rule was to find quotations that would somehow make sense together. That would seem like a conversation in a way that could be real in a sense.
And of course, I’ll show you, this is for example – this was a part of the script. So, it’s like a back and forth, just so you get a sense of it.
Just to say quickly, of course, the idea was that people were invited to interact with the turntables, so as in if you were to start all of them at the same time they would be in sync and there would be a conversation that make sense, kind of. But of course once you play with them, they would quickly become out of sync. So the voices would overlap and this idea of, again of time in sync would be undermined through your own interactions with the turntables.
(I realize the arrow of time goes fast. Let’s fast forward a little bit.) This is a work from 2012-2013 that was made as part of a residency in Los Angeles. And at the time my project was to look into let’s say the history of LA pop culture and, of course, the idea of what is behind that surface. So, baseball became one signifier that I was interested in and certain points in time – ’65. ’65 is an important year in LA history, of course, because it was the time of the first riots. In my research I found out that the LA Dodgers also won the World Series in ’65. So, already there were some dynamic there.
So me doing research, I found this souvenir yearbook from ’65 of the Dodgers. What I did, in it were 32 basically formally speaking similar images of the team. So, what I did is I took two, I superimposed them and basically made them into 16. So, it’s not even that obvious but they are all like two players. So, they are not individuals anymore, they become something else, I guess. You see it in the hat which always says LA twice. Also, that’s why the title I’ve given to it was LA-LA, which also refers to this idea of “La La Land,” which many Californians call Los Angeles.
The basic rule in how they were put together was actually so to, they had to have a similar orientation in terms of facial features so as to not make it too distorted. People have asked me if, let’s say skin color played a role. Not at all. Basically it was just a formal exercise of how to get them together, undermine the identity of the players so that they coulldn’t be identified, “Oh, this is him. This is him,” and so that the piece would be more about a cultural phenomenon more so than individual players. Also, of course, some of you may not know the history of the LA Dodgers, which is quite interesting, they were in Brooklyn before in the ‘40s. Then they moved over to LA I think in the early ‘50s and Jackie Robinson, who is an American iconic figure, was the first black player in the Major League. So, that’s in the background, it’s not what the piece is about but it definitely is in the background.
This is just two installation views, that was in the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle in Berlin. This is a group show obviously. This was me and this, as I just showed you.
So, here’s the artist Sabine Horning, in the background is artist Rosa Barba and, yes, it’s quite a big piece if it’s installed like that.
This is an installation view from 2015, that was abc Berlin Art Fair: four large-scale silk screens, basically modified silk screen prints, basically 2x3m on aluminum panels. I produce them in the studio basically and then I printed on these. I’ll show you more about the technique which I’m sure you may have questions about in a moment; I’d rather maybe speak about them conceptually first and then I’ll get into how they are done.
These are actually based on photographs I took myself even before art school back in ’99, so a long time ago. They were in my archive for years. Two of them were taken in a forest. Two, the galaxies, actually I photographed them out of a book. So, that’s how they were made. They are called, so this one’s called Clearing, this one’s called Arrival and the other two it’s not so important at this point. Well, they have let’s say more contingent titles as opposed to more determined titles, as that’s also what the works refer to. So this idea of the Clearing, maybe this refers actually also back to German fairytales or something, which is the idea that the clearing in the forest, it’s always like a goal, like somewhere where things come to an end presumably or where some kind of truth is revealed, so to speak. So this idea of a determinism so to speak versus a more contingent unfolding of things – which these other two refer to – was somewhat in the background conceptually speaking.
(I’ll try to move quicker as I’m not doing too well time-wise. We can always come back to the works in the questions.) So this is the studio I was using at the time studio as you can see the works lined up here, just to give you a sense of the dimensions.
Here’s two more that I was going to talk about. Two landscapes and the photographs that they are based I also took in 2012 during the LA residency. This was north of LA in Carrizo Plain National Park where you can actually see the physical manifestation of the San Andreas Fault. So, they are literally cracks and gaps in the surface of the landscape. You’ll see it better in the other one. So my idea, at that time I thought that if I’m interested in let’s say the tensions below the surface in a more political way, I might as well look also into plate tectonics where the same phenomenon is actually at work. So, I extended my research into that field.
You can see it’s full of these cracks, it’s very interesting. So, this should be a series of ten, there’s only two at this point. They are not so easy to make, but I will show you. And of course it’s also a modified printing technique, which I will go into right now briefly. This is the outside of the studio, this is how we produce the screens. They have to be self-made, because screens that size they don’t exist. So I had to figure out how to make screens, and here you can see one of the pieces that I showed, as it was getting ready, next to the screen. This is inside where the metal work is done. Here’s one panel actually after the printing and the printing is done with an acrylic-based glue, not with ink, so it’s like a sticky transparent print. What we did was apply these square-shaped pieces of metal leaf, which will stick to the print. I will show you a quick video.
So, here, you can you take a sponge rub off the metal leaf and it will stick to the print, so to speak, and everything is going to come off. Okay, that’s enough.
In a way, it’s like a bit of a filter compared to a straightforward printing process. You see all these traces of the printing, and for me it connects the work somewhat more to let’s say painting in a way rather than this idea of silk screen being a process where you do 10, 100, 1,000 – it doesn’t really matter. So, in that way, they are more unique pieces and the process is somewhat out of my control, which I was aiming for. So that technique, for me it works well conceptually because it also introduces this dimension of uncertainty that the technique doesn’t necessarily have in its more traditional form.
This is an installation from 2016. I will actually show you a video which I think is going to make it a little bit more clear. It was a 100-meter, roughly speaking, hallway, which I was invited to do something with. I came up with this text piece that I’ll try to explain to you. I mean, it’s big so it’s a bit difficult to give you an overview but the video I think will do it. I’m just going to go through it in a couple of images and then I’ll show you a video, and talk while I’m playing the video. So, we have five minutes.
This is around the middle now. it’s all steel, powder-coated and galvanized. This is towards the end, and we started from the other side so you get somewhat of an idea of the space.
This is the text. I will talk about it little bit more in the video, but you don’t need to necessarily read all of it. The background is – the yellow part was taken from Saul Kripke, a philosopher, and then all the rest is taken from Nietzsche’s Zarathustra. So, you may know that Nietzsche had this idea of the eternal return. Actually, he was quite influenced by Asian philosophy in that way. This idea that things eternally return, and that was one of my anchor points. The work itself is called – I’ll get back to the title once we go into the video. Let me just say that the sources, you know the sources and my idea of the eternal return in Nietzsche was my first anchor point and then I found this passage in Zarathustra, where he introduces the hallway and eternity and this idea that everything will come back. In a way, this connected to this idea of Possible Worlds, which you see in the beginning, and identity and the counterfactual course of history. In the end, conceptually, that was one anchor point, the other one being the idea of how to work with the text, how to work with typography, and how to work with this idea of text being – again, let me go into the video.
Yes, that’s the title, and it was in Berlin. So, here’s a view just sliding through it basically, and one thing I would like to say is that it’s not so easy to talk about it, because it’s easy to get hung up in these philosophical concepts which is not what the work is about – it’s more about the idea of the integrity of let’s say of writing. There is the dimension of subject matter, of course, which is important too, but when you see the text, every piece is kind of slightly distorted and in the middle you see it completely falls apart. So this idea was, I had this idea of the acceleration of meaning in a sense, or how let’s say like the fragility of the integrity of meaning and language, so to speak. So, every piece is actually somewhat distorted. There is no, it’s somewhat unstable, so to speak. And it’s designed down to the millimeter according to the structure of the space.
So here’s basically where the text really falls apart and I had this idea of working with the elementary particle of meaning, so to speak. And then, it kind of comes back together towards the end of this section here and then goes all the way to the end. I was using German language, of course, according to the context. If I was to do something let’s say here then I would be interested in using Hangeul. So, it’s also a matter of the context within which these works are made or conceived of.
(Okay, I will stop here as again I’m doing not well time-wise.) This is just a quick background. This is a studio view, as we were producing these, just so you get a sense of how they are made. They all had this bar welded to the back side and then they’re attached onto the wall with magnets, so they’re flexible in a way; which they are not supposed to be moved but this was the easiest way to attach them to the wall.
Quickly, this is a work in progress, which I started last year in Beijing together with the Goethe-Institut Beijing and another German institution. Again, it has not yet been realized. Working in Beijing in public space is kind of complicated, so we’ll see what happens.
The project is called Reflections on the Flow of Things. I will get into the background of that title in a moment.
For those of you who know Beijing, this is Tiananmen Square. This is where I was working, where you see the red dot, just so you get a sense of the location.
This was very early collage, one of my first ideas. Again, above you see the location. It’s this kind of grid-shaped structure, sort of like bench height. It’s not so small, I suppose it’s like 50 x 20 m, like rectangular size. I’ll come back to what you’re seeing below. My idea was to cover this rectangle, this rectangular space, in basically a wave-shaped pattern which refers to the context of the site as there used to be a river that went through, well, exactly here, so you can trace that back according to documents.
So, I wanted to make about the idea of flow, so we produced this wave pattern that you’ll see here more precisely.
So, again, I just imagined the location being covered basically as if in water or some virtual wave shaped pattern – that is foil was supposed to symbolize. Then you’ll see little squares here, you’ll see them more accurately here. The actual piece would then be square-shaped cutouts of the wave pattern. So, this is what this is supposed to show. And they would all be at the exact what height between let’s say around this size and, again, they would be cutouts of the wave pattern at that specific location.
So and they would be cast from steel basically, upper surface polished and the rest left just raw steel.
For me, I’m interested in this idea of course of them all being interconnected by this sort of invisible entangledness, so to speak; like, every piece is being dependent on the others. And conceptually I was working with the I Ching (Book of Changes) that I’m sure most of you know. Also, I’m not going to get into it right now because I’m really lacking the time, but also this is where you can see what the title refers to: German playwright Bertolt Brecht’s Me-Ti, where he was refering of course to the I Ching, too. It’s a bit of a language game that I have a hard time translating into English. I mean it’s called, Interventions in the Flow of Things. He was using an identity to actually make critical comments on politics at the time of the 1940s, 50s. He was heavily influenced also by Chinese culture and philosophy, and of course he was also interested in the I Ching (Book of Changes) and this idea of change. From Brecht’s perspective, as he was also an activist, he wanted to actively intervene and not just accept continent change, so to speak. So, that’s why it’s called Interventions in the Flow of Things, this idea that you can actively change the way things unfold. I actually then sort of, I couldn’t justify that title for my piece. So, I actually kind of flipped it back to Reflections, because I thought, “It’s in Beijing, it’s in public space. I’m not going to be much of an activist here.”
This is just a view of my studio, for anyone interested, at this point it’s covered in papers and text and whatnot. I guess the reason why I included is that just to show you a sense of how I develop research and ideas, and I usually try to put as many contingent signifiers together and just see what happens. So, at this point, it’s like a brain basically from my point, in my conception, I always hope that at some point there’s going to be like a short circuit and then an idea pops up suddenly.
(We are actually approaching the end, which is good, because it’s about time.) I was going to show you, just talk about some research I’m doing right now and what my source material is for that. I will go into this only briefly otherwise it would become too long, but these are important books for me right now, which is Jeremy Glick’s The Black Radical Tragic and lots of books by Judith Butler and Catherine Malabou. I’ll try to narrow it down. What Glick is doing, he’s referring back to the Haitian Revolution and colonialism, of course, and he traces that back in repetitions. He’s using Eisenstein and Glissant and Malcolm X and so on, and he’s using their work to reenact sort of the resonance of the revolution. Which I think is a very interesting idea, his idea of repetition, that things do not … it’s about how not to forget, in a way. My point I guess is that using concepts of Catherine Malabou and Judith Butler in terms of the brain and the body and neuroscience and how that is going to change under AI and developments of the future, which I think it is going to and of course it’s all speculative right now, but I think this idea of how the body and the brain is going to be extended and how our perceptions of our let’s say identity is going to change under that. And how to think about the future in a way without forgetting the past, so to speak. So, that connection is important to me and I suppose that’s kind of symbolized through that source material, in a way. I don’t have the time to get into it in any depth right now, it’s too bad.
(For the sake of time, maybe it’s better if I speed this up a little bit. We can maybe come back to it in the questions if there’s interest.) Finally, and also briefly, this is what I have been looking into; in the short time that I had to do some stuff here. Of course, I’m sure most of you know this reference. This is referring to the game of Go (Baduk), and this is the title of the project, whenever it will be completed I don’t know. This was DeepMind’s first paper in Nature in early 2016 on AlphaGo. These are just a couple of numbers pointing out how basically there are almost infinite possibilities for possible games, I’d say possibilities within the field that is kind of mapped out by the Go board. This I’m sure you’ve all seen. In fact, it was 10 minutes from here – the Four Seasons – around the corner basically. In March 16th 2016, Lee Sedol against AlphaGo, this is DeepMind’s Aja Huang and Fan Hui, the European Go Champion.
And of course, as you know, Lee Sedol lost four games out of five. At that time, I remember being incredibly fascinated by that and it’s been in the back of my mind ever since. So having the chance to go to Seoul the idea was kind of obvious, to in a way work with that. I’m not going to be very precise right now, because I’m really in the middle of it. One of the challenges I think for me is to find ways of working with a formal, almost like formalist game, and finding entry points of how to connect that to potentially history, politics and culture. Culture, of course that’s obvious, but it’s not so obvious how it relates to politics, in a way. It’s like chess. It’s an abstract game. So, I’ve been trying to find these entry points and I guess all I can say to you right now is that I have been doing a lot of research, not even knowing what the medium will be. Sometimes I have a very precise idea what the medium will be for a work. Here, I’m at a total loss. I have no clue. But I have a couple of connections and entry points and I think that it will be very nice to collaborate with certain people on something, and we are about to figure that out. I was almost thinking of this Go board as a field also in terms of, no, as a stage, as a platform where certain things can happen and then use it as a platform for more performative piece or a more process-based piece or something. It refers so much back to Asian culture which I find quite fascinating. So, it has become a way for me to research also that aspect of it. The more I do the more complex and richer it gets, so here’s this idea of what happens if the board is warped and what does that mean and, again, I’m totally speculating right now but just to see, give you an idea of what happens when I’m in the middle of something and I have no clue where it’s going to go, as I am right now. So, maybe this is a good place also to end and, yes, let’s have a conversation.
Conversation with Artist: Michael Just
Moderator | Nam-See Kim: Given the time constraints, this session will be more about asking a few questions for the better understanding of the artist’s work rather than having a complex conversation.
The first question would be regarding Lichtung, the enormous silkscreen piece. The studio that is needed, the big studio that is needed to produce that large-scale work, how do you operate your studio, whether it is owned by you and how you proceeded.
Michael Just: I can answer that. For example, this was only temporary. The way I work is basically, I have space according to let’s say certain projects and certain immediate needs. For example, this other space I was showing you, this is permanent, this is also less big; I mean, yes, let’s say it’s project-based. So, for example, this I don’t have and I don’t need all the time, so it’s more of a project space I can rent whenever I need it.
Moderator | Nam-See Kim: The Searcher, which involves the armband with the word “The Searcher”, I think it’s been briefly mentioned during the presentation that the work is related with the idea of the Messiah. Also, the questions and texts right next to it are the pictures – one depicting Walter Benjamin and one depicting Félix Guattari – and I think maybe the work also has a relationship with those figures. But, anyway, the first question is that maybe could you elaborate a little bit more on the relationship between the piece or the existence of “Searcher” and the idea of Messiah, or Messianism?
Michael Just: I will try to answer that question. I think basically some of that I suppose I have tried to outline in this statement. I mean, I supposed the idea of Messianism is something that you would find in its most obvious sense in Christianity and Judaism, which of course Benjamin was heavily influenced by Judaism, for the most part. I would say that I don’t regard myself as a scholar of religions, so to speak. So, I’m not an expert in terms of Messianism, I should say that. But, from what I said, I think maybe it becomes somewhat obvious that this figure or this imaginary figure or even this concept of the Messiah, and of redemption, so to speak, or let’s say forgiveness is interesting to me in that it kind of tries to subvert this notion of temporality, as I was saying in the beginning of the talk, that there is in a way escape from; but then, again, the figure of Messiah in a way tells us that there is. So, there is a tension there, in a way. So, that’s I suppose, I wouldn’t say that the work is about it but it certainly is in the background.
Moderator | Nam-See Kim: In many works by the artist, as mentioned in while we were discussing the notion of cosmology where the concepts of something that’s reversible and something that’s irreversible, but it seems that you are trying to reverse some things that are considered irreversible and that’s maybe the point of connection between Messianism and your practice. There are certain elements, for example, regarding the piece The Searcher and also the piece with Benjamin and Guattari exchanging thoughts. For example, you make people continue the previous response by another person, because when someone is responding to the answer of the previous person, by doing so the certainty of the pervious response is disturbed, for example. So, in a way, I see that you are trying to reverse those irreversible elements in your work, I think.
Michael Just: I think that’s a very interesting observation. At that time, speaking of certainty, at that time, which was 2011, blockchain had just become a thing in a way for a year or two, and as some of you may know it‘s actually based on this idea of this chain that in fact is based on certainty. That’s why it’s such a strong concept. Anyway, at that time, this was somewhere in the background, I would say. Yes, the idea of reversing the irreversible, so to speak. I guess I should say that it is interesting to think about what is not reversible, at the same time, much of my work or at least my thinking is of course concerned with that which is reversible, like which we can give form to. So, it’s a political idea, basically, like politics is that which we, or like plasticity in a way that Catherine Malabou talks about. We can receive form from outside but also there is a sense that we are active agents and so I think it’s a very important idea to be aware of that fact and I’m always trying to point it out in my work. I’m not an activist artist necessarily speaking although some of my work is more community-based and concerned with these things. But this idea of politics and how to give form within a larger system that may be irreversible. Maybe I’m somewhat touching upon what you said in that way. Otherwise, it would sound to me like… I’m far from taking a too passive position as in like, “Okay, things just happen and what can we do about them?” So, it’s the opposite: we can do something about them.
Moderator | Nam-See Kim: In relation to which was presented by you, since we are not Messiahs nor gods, we cannot undone what’s been done. So, in the end, to reverse something it has to involve repetition. For example, when we write something and we want to nullify it, we have to repeat it to say that it’s written in a wrong way, or we have to deny it. So, I think there are certain traces of such gesture here and there in your work. For example, the two vinyl playing the conversation that the texts are superimposed and overlapped, so what’s being said now cancels out what’s been said before. So, it seems like your practice is kind of a worldly attempt to reverse the irreversible. But the possible problem is that to the eyes of the people, when something is superimposed and overlapped it connects to the reading that the texts becomes invisible or the text becomes unreadable, which might be deemed as somewhat meaningless to some people. So, that’s an irony, I think. So, maybe it would be good to hear from you about what you think about this possible irony of being seen as something that’s illegible or meaningless when trying to reverse the meaningless.
Michael Just: There’s a couple things for me to pick up on. So, this idea of – the most important one being the last that you said – but this idea of, well, maybe I should just pick up on that, because it’s the most important. I mean, I actually don’t, I’m not you’re implying this, but I basically never work with any concept of irony at all. I mean, for me, it’s really meaningless. It’s like, either I’m doing something somewhat serious or not, but the methodology of irony is useless for me. I’m not interested. But, that’s not what you are saying. You are saying there is an irony in that what is intended to have meaning may end up not having any, from what I understand. I’m not sure I’m completely certain as to what exactly you’re referring to, but I suppose that there is that danger in a way. Or, let’s say, I’ve been also asked by people and we had this brief discussion also, you know when I was saying that the result of this project, The Searcher project was this text. So, people asked me, “Okay, so now what are you going to do with it? Is the piece finished? Is it not?” I mean, from my perspective, I was asking that same question but at the end I was asking myself “What if I had done a sculpture? What if I had done a painting? Inviting people to take part in that.” We end up with a form. There is a form, whatever it is. So the text is also a form. It’s not for me to take it further necessarily; I just accept it for what it is. It’s just out there. No physical manifestation. And you can say doesn’t it just end up being a mess of signifiers, not really meaning anything. Potentially that’s true. I mean, also because it’s out of my control as to what people contribute. So, it could be nonsense. I mean, again, I’m not, that doesn’t make sense. It’s not for me to judge what they do. I accept anything, that’s the concept of the work. It could be meaningless, so to speak, you could say that. But, I’m less concerned with content because the content is none of my business. It’s more like method and how to produce something. Again, this idea of what I was getting at with my studio view was that you combine things, you combine lots of things. You combine things so that there’s like a critical mass, and something will pop up like in a particle accelerator. You accelerate things to the speed, whatever speed and something pops up, and you analyze it to see if it’s useful or not. It could be meaningless, right? I mean, lots of that which comes up is going to be meaningless, nothing. But then, all of a sudden, there’s something that you can make use of. So, I’m not sure if I answered your question but I would say I’m going have to work with meaningless also, specifically if I work with something that the production process of which is out of my control. It’s not ironic, I will say that.
Q1 | Floor: The three questions are: first is that, you studied at Düsseldorf Kunstakademie under Daniel Buren. He’s French? (MJ: Yes.) So, if I may ask, “What would be the influence from Buren on your practice?” is the first question.
Michael Just: Yes, you wouldn’t see, I suppose, that much of an aesthetic overlap, which I think is a good thing, in my more recent work and Buren’s. The influence of studying with Daniel was for me, I would say. two things: which is a notion of the importance of a specific site, location and context; and the other one is a notion of critical thinking, of how art can critically intervene, again, within a let’s say cultural, historical, political context. These two things were the most significant for me.
Q1 | Floor: The second question is that, regarding your research of Go (Baduk) here in Korea, maybe have you thought about Lewis Carroll’s Alice in the Wonderland in relation to that research?
Michael Just: Well, obviously, I have worked in the past with ideas of Carroll, but I would love to hear more about what you are referring to precisely.
Q1 | Floor: As you know, there are many references being made in Lewis Carroll’s piece about the game of chess and also the figure of the chessboard.
Michael Just: Yes, I was thinking as you were speaking, I was thinking that that must be the reference, but I honestly have, that’s a good point that I would like to look into but I have to say that I have not really taken that into consideration. So, I’m thankful for the reference.
Q1 | Floor: The last question is that if you ever had a religion and if you don’t have a religion, religious belief, maybe it would be good to hear from you about your idea of what is religion, religious beliefs.
Michael Just: I was basically brought up Christian but not necessarily religious. At this point, I’ve left the church and I refer to myself more as an agnostic atheist, so to speak. I have however a substantial interest in religion from a more materialist cultural perspective, but I myself am not religious.
Q2 | Floor: Hi. Just to continue the discussion on the text being meaningful or meaningless – so I just had a discussion before I’m here, right before you were coming here. What if someone writes in a different language, like what if someone writes in Arabic or Korean or Hindi? How you use, because you have also mentioned of text as a form, something which you don’t understand, let’s say. Someone writes in a language in Arabic or Korean. How do you think you can use the text which you do not understand the meaning of it?
Michael Just: That’s actually a good point. The tricky thing for me was I had to establish certain restrictions as to what people could or could not contribute, because I couldn’t accept drawings, for example, because I wouldn’t be able to process them digitally, so they wouldn’t fit into my scheme, so to say. I was thinking about what would happen if someone wanted to do what you just pointed towards. It actually didn’t happen, but it would have been acceptable as in we would’ve been able to integrate that within the flow of text that I was aiming to produce. But, there’s a larger point that you make that doesn’t refer only to the piece, that is interesting. I think I was talking about this briefly in terms of the text installation, which I was using German for as I was working in Germany and for other reasons. If I was to do this here, for example, and I already said this, I would probably be inclined to use Hangeul. But what would that mean? I do not speak that language, I wouldn’t understand necessarily. I wouldn’t have the same relationship to the language. Of course, I would get translation but it wouldn’t be the same thing. So, it’s a very interesting notion to work, as you pointed out, with different languages, and what do you make of the fact that most you’re not going to speak nor understand, they’re not going to be immediately accessible to you, and how to work within that context is a very interesting idea to me; because it refers to, it’s like working in different cultures. Then, it leads to the question, how can you actually speak for that culture as an outsider, and that may open something up and it may close down other things, and it’s a way of negotiation, to figure out what you can and cannot do. So, that’s a very interesting point. I guess that’s all I have to say right now. I didn’t have the problem that you were specifically alluding to, I mean, in that piece, but the larger point is very significant.
(The seminar recessed at 15:51.)
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