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“The Dialectic of the Stars” launch at the Sowden House

Fabien Danesi introduced his series The Dialectic of the Stars at the Sowden House last night. Some pictures of the event and the text of his lecture introducing his program.

“ Let me tell you a story. Once upon a time in Paris, during the fifties and sixties, there was an avant-garde movement called International Situationist. The members of the group wanted to transform their boredom into adventures and so invented an urban practice, the derive. At that time, the derive – or drift- was understood as a way to resist the functionalist circulation in the city. It was a critical means for appropriating urban spaces, a “technique of rapid passage through different ambiences” as they defined it. This technique was based on the idea that you could rediscover familiar environments if you change your attitude. The derive was linked to the notion of psycho-geography defined as “the study of the specific effects of the geographical environment (whether consciously organized or not) on the emotions and behavior of individuals”. In these circumstances, the derive was an attempt to reverse conditioning in order to affirm freedom. Reality and allegory crossed to intensify the day-to-day life, much as the repetition of the figure of the Northwest passage that the English writer Thomas de Quincey used during the XIXe century for explaining his ambition in London. The Northwest passage is the sea route to the Pacific Ocean through the Arctic Ocean. Transposed onto the city, it becomes something which metamorphoses the members of IS into sailors. Sailors like those of the modern times who used the stars to guide their way across the seas.

Of course, Los Angeles is THE city of stars. Los Angeles has even transformed its reality under the roof of the Hollywood studios for the rest of the world. In a way, stars on screen tirelessly try to preserve their aura, in a way similar to the sense espoused by the philosopher Walter Benjamin as the “unique appearance of a distance – however near it may be”. It seems clear that this metaphor of the stars for identifying celebrities is linked inextricably to the attraction of Los Angeles and is the first expression of its power. But of course, we don’t want to reduce the cultural, social, economic and political complexity of the city to this univocal aspect. The image of the stars interests us for another reason – more methodological. And it has to do with dialectic. Today dialectic philosophy is out of date and arouses a kind of rejection, due to its understanding as a binary philosophy which restrains reality to simplified oppositions. If we put it in a very unsophisticated way, we could say that dialectic is a cheap articulation of antagonist concepts. Understood like this, the dialectic cannot embrace our multilayered world and its fluidity. When we think about dialectic, we think about rigidity and we think about the old-fashioned fantasy of there being reason to resolve everything.

But if we are talking here about The Dialectic of the Stars, we need to underline first what Hegel wrote about the vastness of universe which appears “of no significance to reason” for him; “it is externality, emptiness, negative infinity. The philosopher explains that reason knows itself to be above this, for the wonder of is merely negative, an uplifting of the mind which remains strictly limited. The rationality of the stars is to be grasped in the figurations in which they are reciprocally disposed. The eruption of space into abstract matter proceeds according to an inner law, so that the stars present crystalline effects which could have an inner connection, although interest in these matters can be no more than an empty curiosity. Little can be said about the necessity of these figurations.” In this perspective, the infinite nature of stars is in contradiction with man’s desire to build the world to his image. It would appear more like a disfiguration.

So talking about The Dialectic of the Stars is a way to distort the initial ideal of controlling our natural and cultural environment. We are engaged in an endless chain of interpretations which cannot be overcome. On the contrary: we just need to follow the flow and to surf on the waves of meaning. In other words, we need to be engaged in the process of creating productive associations. And for that, rationality isn’t the only tool at our disposal. We need directions in our life just as ships need to navigate. But it doesn’t mean that we have to specify a destination. In this logic, curating is really a way to play with associations. And if artworks are understood as stars, it means creating constellations. To curate is a way of making connections. It’s based on relationality. It has to open widely the range of possibilities. That’s why for example, The Dialectic of the Stars doesn’t call for a subject. Artworks don’t have to illustrate a topic. In that sense, they keep their autonomy and their mobility. We are reminded of Adorno’s thoughts: « as a constellation, theoretical though circles the concept it would like to unseal, hoping that it may fly open like the lock of a well-guarded safe-deposit box: in response not to a single key or a single number, but to a combination of numbers ». Consequently, this festival wants to be one combination of numbers among others.

To introduce this combination, I would like to present a movie which is based on détournement. Like derive, it is a situationist practice that the group developed in the fifties. It means “rerouting, hijacking” and in its first use, it was really a way to create a meaning antagonistic to the original. In a Marxist approach, the SI wanted to subvert capitalist expression and employed media culture against itself. At a time of postproduction, where samples and mashups are generalized, I assume that my proposal is more like an homage to the American movie industry. For this project, I watched more than 150 movies set in Los Angeles but I couldn’t do what has already been done by Thom Andersen in Los Angeles Plays Itself (2004). What you are going to see isn’t a documentary about the city but a poetical drift. It allows the expression in an abstract way of several patterns that will pass through our different venues. It’s also a way to express that a curator isn’t necessarily the person who turns everything into concepts and ideas. He’s not Mister Reason. And with Alexander Kluge, I could mention that the modern expression “rationality” could be derived from the French word, L’arraisonnement. This old expression means “inspecting cargo for its hygienic conditions”. From my point of view, I will leave the boat a little bit unclean, I mean, without everything clear and justified. Because I wouldn’t wash what keeps art alive and strong: emotions.”

Fabien Danesi, Los Angeles, February 11