(Lebenswelt and catastrophe)


Manel Clot



Speak, you also,

speak as the last,

have your say.


Speak --

But keep yes and no unsplit.

Paul Celan


Il existe une sorte d’homme toujours en avance sur ses excréments. (There is a sort of man always in advance of his excrements.)

René Char


Seeking once again to get beyond the wretched conception of artistic activity as a process of material manufacture and formal virtuosity predestined to produce artefacts with recognizable and consensually agreed artistic properties, associable, then, to a renewed —and perverse— conception of work as redemption, and assimilable, in consequence, to the inclement contemporary machineries of consumerism, other kinds of artistic proposals and attitudes, more reflective and complex, less objectual and with a lower physicity, with a declared social consciousness and epochal commitment, from dynamics of the present, remote in large measure from the inescapable mechanisms and functions in the spheres of the market/regulator, commodity/fetishization, yield/added value and valuation/taste, and fully inserted in the historical ramifications that make the act of reading artistic also an individual political positioning, have been fundamental, since the early 1970s, in the construction and configuration of the art scene that is closest to us, in a kind of now-nowadays of history and of the time from which we contemplate the arrival and unfolding of events, some of which trace their origins directly back to the new artistic behaviours and to the fight for the dematerialization of art that took inaugural shape precisely here in Granollers in 1971, within the framework of a ‘1st Young Art Competition’ of signal memory and subsequent significance by virtue of the fact that the artists taking part inaugurally privileged research and reflection, personal attitudes and the consideration of the idea and the action as the real moments and places of the contemporary artistic experience —art as an activity, not as a product—, but that also, on the other hand —or perhaps above all— represented a new economic effort of (dis)simulatory making-up and covering up on the part of local late-Francoism (and it was not to be the last) in operations of imposture that were more or less sumptuous. Showy. And entirely delocalized, of course.

This year being the seventieth anniversary of the first publication of Walter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (1936), a fundamental text, even now, for its critical analyses and readings of the new links that art phenomena were irreversibly establishing with concepts that were to become crucial for the new times that were already announcing themselves, to do with the relationship between the work of art and authorship, the new challenges of mechanical reproduction and its incidence on consumption/consumerism, the mechanisms of alienation and their influence on mass culture, the auratic uniqueness of the work of art and the renunciation of essentiality, the impending bankruptcy of the authority and the traditional value of the work of art, social responsibility and the emancipation of the individual in historical consciousness, and in being, in short, a text no less remarkable for the —almost ill-fated— prescience of its intuitions and previsions of the future, this seemed to be an optimum moment to go back to the theoretical corpus of this German thinker and its truly essential role in the configuration of the cultural history of 20th-century Europe, and his tragic death at Portbou in 1940, in flight from the Gestapo and the Nazi barbarity (that death a no less terrible anticipation of the ‘Black milk of daybreak we drink it at evening / we drink it at midday and morning we drink it at night / we drink and we drink’ that Paul Celan formulated in 1952), [1] a posthumous witness, then, of a (another) world in extinction. Perhaps a (another) (last) Lebenswelt.

To all of this we must add a great interest in the special conception of (the) time and the specific function of the quote in the thought of Walter Benjamin, distilled in so manifest a form in his posthumously published Theses on the Philosophy of History [2] —and so repeatedly associated with a great many of the ethical, aesthetic and political positions in the extensive trajectory of an artist such as Francesc Abad— as if encoded in this kind of nominal abstraction there beat a perpetual, striking, vital pulse, in such a way that the particular conception of the time were immaculately to reflect the nature of a whole culture. At the same time, the functional mechanism of the quote is presented as comparable to that of the collector (gatherer) in manifesting an experience of shock and declaring its estranging function. [3] ‘Quoting a text includes an interruption of its context’, claimed Benjamin, for whom the supreme value of the quote was that of estrangement —cleaning out, taking out of context, destroying— rather than that of calling up the past, an aspect in which we can recognize a notable critical correspondence with the mechanisms of the readymade.[4] In his idea of history, then, we can discern some of the indices that most clearly identify his thinking: 1>the autonomy of the past (the past not as a fixed point but has a life of its own and is capable of assailing the present); 2> memory, not science, takes charges of this past (a past can have no material trace, making itself present only through the medium of recollection); 3>the primacy of the political over the merely historical consideration (the past, the historical, is of interest not as a reconstruction but as a construction, or rather, in terms of a change of the present. In this it is political).[5]

In the confluence and transversality of these various axes —and on the occasion of the recent addition of one of the artist’s most emblematic pieces, Spuren (1988), to the collection of the Museu de Granollers— this seemed to be an equally ideal opportunity to rethink, update and reread in the light of the present the notorious breadth and extension and the powerful complexity of the entire output —the work— of Francesc Abad, one of the most significant artists, from the 70s on, in the processes of transformation and reorientation of the Catalan scene, an early participant in the above-mentioned Granollers ‘Young Art’ events that disseminated some of the attitudes that came to be referred to here as conceptual, an active member of the Grup de Treball, with a notable part of his trajectory articulated around the work and the person of Walter Benjamin and the significance of his thought and, in consequence, the principal theoretical and historical axes that necessarily intersect there: the evolution of the (idea of) culture, the configuration of memory, the trace of pain, the recovery of experience, the philosophy of history, the discourse of power, the idea of exile, the work in process, the quote as an accumulation, the dialectical image, la pensée du dehors, aesthetics as ethics, the heroes and the catastrophe, le pas au-délà, language and the creation of private worlds, the rhetorics of fiction and the possible worlds, the practice of art as a political position, thought experiments and un-thought thoughts, the forms of life and the worlds in extinction and, globally, the fragment as discourse. And from these presuppositions, a veritable constellation of positionings, the project block W.B. has set about configuring itself as a hybrid curatorial proposal, as a fragmentary installation in process, and in permanent construction, as a de-specification of the instruments, mechanisms and materials proper to art, as an intervened-in and rethought museal space, as a specific website —[6] and in parallel, as an asystematic system of artistic work, re-semanticized, over the course of seven months (from December 2005 to June 2006), in the Museu de Granollers. To cite is to incite. For all these reasons it is political.[7]

Subscribing unreservedly to that positioning of T. W. Adorno’s with regard to the essay as a form,[8] as an ‘open intellectual experience’ in a field in which it is usually necessary to choose between science and art, the immense diary of work that is Francesc Abad’s oeuvre over the course of forty years —making very evident what Jacques Rancière calls le partage du sensible[9] is also fundamentally provisioned by the axes that articulate a territory of creation that is little-defined, and still less explored, in which the multiple interdisciplinary tensions supply vitally important elements to new reconsiderations of the idea and the concept, of the working method, of conjecture and experimentation, of epochal commitment, of the function of knowledge, of the incandescent aphorism, of the truth content and the presence of the process, the quote and the fragment as the great instruments that direct the culture of facts, the facts of history and the history of men: ‘To quote is to bear witness in the absence of any witness’.[10] If quoting is always a bid to ward off oblivion, if to quote is to invoke a fragment of memory, if every quote makes its instability, errancy and fragility the mechanisms of its anchoring in the present, then the quote and the quotational apparatus are not only the centre of a powerful machinery but are constituted as the definitive force unifying the lines of history they summon up, in a kind of perpetual re/collection. Just as Walter Benjamin did in his monumental, and unfinished, Passagenwerk,[11] and as Jean-Luc Godard made visible in constructing the Histoire(s) du cinéma, so Francesc Abad, too, now proposes with block W.B. the plausibility of an enormous theoretical and visual constellation —in the line of that network of stories constituent of culture as a horizon formed by human actions and the interactions,[12] to borrow Hannah Arendt’s image— in which an astounding diversity of materials, voices, images, thoughts, authorships, territories and sources does no more than strive to configure time and time again the essential processes of a terrible and historical —and, as such, inescapable— European cultural cartography, every time he takes on the task of the creator as an evolutive parti pris, and is simultaneously situated in the peripheral frameworks that invoke the presence of a critical thinking with which to analyse and be able to read the changing dialectical image that symptomizes our time, shunning any historicist temptation to make of the time a homogeneous sequence,[13] in the trace of another Angelus Novus, the angel of history whose wings are blown awry in the storm of progress: Nobody / witnesses for the / witness.[14]




1 Todesfuge / Fuga of the mort’, a Antoni Pous, Traductions of Paul Celan. Lumen. Barcelona, 1976.

2 In the project hem optat per the traduction that Antoni Pous in va fer in 1968, tant pel decidit forçly of the recursos linguistic like as per the evident gosadia of the innovations terminological that introduí in the restringit àmbit of the language Catalana, a version that tant the editorial like as the família ens have permès utilizar very gentilment: Walter Benjamin, Art and literatura. Eumo. Vic, 1984.

3 ‘The comprensionn benjaminiana of the experiencia moderna es neurológica. Tiene su centro in the shock: Susan Buck-Morss, ‘Estética y anestésica: a reconsiderationn of the ensayo on the work of arte’, a Walter Benjamin, escritor revolutionario. Interzona. Buenos Aires, 2005.

4 Giorgio Agamben, ‘The ángel melancólico’, to the hombre sin contenido. Áltera. Barcelona, 1998.

5Reyes Mate, ‘The tiempo como interruptionn of the historia’, a Reyes Mate (ed), Filosofía of the historia. Trotta. Madrid, 2005.

6 Without deixar of banda, but, the anterior, ni the perspectives very more most recents of

7 ‘Lo that liga the práctica of the arte to the cuestionn of lo común, es the constitutionn, to the vez material y simbólica, of a determinado espacio/tiempo, of a incertidumbre con relationn a las formas ordinarias of the experiencia sensible. The arte es político por the distancia misma that guarda con relationn a estas functiones, por the tipo of tiempo y of espacio that establece, por the way in that divide ese tiempo y puebla ese espacio’ (...) ‘The política consiste in reconfigurar the divisionn of lo sensible, in introducir sujetos y objetos nuevos, in hacer visible aquello that no lo era, in escuchar como a seres dotados of the palabra a aquellos that no eran considerados más that como animales ruidosos. Este proceso of creationn of disensos constituye a estética of the política.’: Jacques Rancière, On políticas estéticas. MACBA / UAB. Barcelona, 2005.

8 Theodor W. Adorno, The assaig like as a forma. PUV. Valence, 2004.

9 Jacques Rancière, Le partage du sensible. Esthétique et politique. The fabrique. Paris, 2000.

10 José M. Cuesta Abad, The palabra tardía. Hacia Paul Celan. Trotta. Madrid, 2001.

11 Walter Benjamin, Libro of los pasajes. Akal. Madrid, 2005.

12 Seyla Benhabib, Las reivindicationes of the culture. Kaz. Buenos Aires, 2006.

13 ‘In the work posterior of Benjamin, tomará the forma of the imagen dialéctica, the chocante confrontationn in the that the tiempo es detenido in a mónada compacta, spatializada in a campo trémulo of fuerza, of tal modo that the presente político pueda redimir a momento in peligro of the pasado arrancándolo hasta llevarlo to a correspondencia iluminadora con éste mismo’: Terry Eagleton, The estética como ideología. Trotta. Madrid, 2006.

14 Paul Celan, ‘Aschenglorie’, a Cambio of aliento. Cátedra. Madrid, 1983.

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