A phenomenon that needs to be felt rather than named

“The expressionism of musical decadence is countered by an objective impressionism. Bringing it to light has nothing to do with words. A falsely explanatory language could not possibly exhaust a phenomenon that needs to be felt rather than named. If music is a language, then it is a specific language. There is no more a parallel between music and speech than between sound and light. Sound and light bring us different categories of information. Intelligence and heart open us up to complementary worlds, which are not opposed but cannot be dissociated. So music should remain within itself, like a fully current language in a classical period, and serve.”

(page 161)

Pierre Schaeffer. In Search of a Concrete Music. Trans. Christine North and John Dack. Berkeley: U of C P, 2012.

Found while browsing the stacks of the Belzer Library, SFU, Vancouver.

Theory creates new, necessary situations and emotions

“When theory happens outside of academia, it means something different. It’s more mobile, edgy, responsive to experienced conditions. When theory happens at home, right where life is most concentrated and messy, it’s bound to disrupt the banal and gendered dualism of public and private language. Its space is symbolic, not institutional. So theory is also transformational: “Theory, a story I tell so that the world changes in my favor, so that it swerves towards my own eyes” says Louise Cotnoir, who goes on to discuss how theory changes “the registers and forms of the real. To invent the language of a knowledge based on decategorized emotion.” So the work of theory is a work of and upon the imaginary, which is to say that it creates new, necessary situations and emotions. In this sense, theory is not a second order language; it doesn’t only speak about something else, it generates knowledge on its own terms. Theory is an agent, and it is a resistance.”

Lisa Robertson. Theory, A City: Introduction.

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All that is complicated, creative, vulnerable, intelligent, adventurous and critical

The task of articulating cultural value is now urgent in both the museum and the academy, where a tsunami of fiscal imperatives threatens to deluge all that is complicated, creative, vulnerable, intelligent, adventurous, and critical in the public sphere. Significantly, it is a question of temporality around which this struggle now takes place: authentic culture operates within a slower time frame than the accelerated abstractions of finance capital and the annual cycles of accounting (based on positivist data and requiring demonstrable impact). But it is precisely this lack of synchronicity that points to an alternative world of values in which museums – but also culture, education, and democracy – are not subject to the banalities of a spreadsheet or the statistical mystifications of an opinion poll, but enable us to access a rich and diverse history, to question the present, and to realize a different future. This future does not yet have a name, but we are standing on its brink. If the last forty years have been marked by ‘posts’ (post-war, post-colonialism, postmodernism, post-communism), then today, at last, we seem to be in a period of anticipation – an era that museums of contemporary art can help us collectively to sense and understand.”

(pages 62)

Claire Bishop, Radical Museology: Or What’s Contemporary in Museums of Contemporary Art? London: Koenig Books, 2013.


The study of a relationship

“As a result of a chain reaction going from the most sensory to the most spiritual and using the most material or muscular means of expression, the subject attunes to the object. Music is of particular interest because it is without a doubt one of the obly areas in which the chain reaction is so extensive and goes so far in linking together worlds that without it would be closed and sealed. What are we to make of musicians who are wholly occupied either with the object or with one or another of the subjects, and who thus refuse what is most exciting in the phenomenon of music?

So the object is at the centre of the chain, and it could be said that it raises a question about awareness rather than facture. How is the object made? How is it perceived? The second question again belongs to the how of science; an answer could be found by putting the various specialties to work: from the biologist to the psychologist, from the historian to the philologist, from the ethnologist to the acoustician, there is much to be done, and especially to ensure their work is not carried out in a vacuum, with no links between them. If the specialists are left to their own devices, there will be interesting studies about music – biological, psychological, historical, ethnological, etc – but as music is the very thing that links them, and as it is the thing that links them that should be the subject of a new field of study, there is every probability that the aforementioned specialists will miss the essential.

The study of music should therefore be first and foremost the study of a relationship, the double relationship between the object and the subject.”

(page 160)

Pierre Schaeffer. In Search of a Concrete Music. Trans. Christine North and John Dack. Berkeley: U of C P, 2012.

Found while browsing the stacks of the Belzer Library, SFU, Vancouver.

A space to reflect and debate our values

Others will say that the museum itself is a conservative institution and that it is more urgent to focus efforts on social change. But it is not a choice of either/or. Museums are a collective expression of what we consider important in culture, and offer a space to reflect and debate our values; without reflection, there can be no considered movement forwards.


Two systems of value hereby come into conflict: the museum as a space of cultural and historical reflection, and the museum as a repository of philanthropic narcissism. In the face of this impasse, the ability of the public museum to adequately represent the interests of the ninety-nine percent might seem ever bleaker. It is therefore crucial to consider the alternatives that do exist, working below the radar to devise energizing new missions for the museum of contemporary art.”

(pages 61)

Claire Bishop, Radical Museology: Or What’s Contemporary in Museums of Contemporary Art? London: Koenig Books, 2013.


Walking has a double, which is dance

“The prose-poetry distinction does not reside only in the two accepted meanings of one relationship. It also arises from two ways of using them, and the effectiveness of one or the other. Poetry first arose, it would seem, out of play. Man, who in order to live and subsist must have rapidly put together sign-alphabets, or simply manipulated objects, assembled solids, used his limbs, perceives they can be used gratuitously and with absolutely no apparent purpose. Prose and poetry then begin to be dissociated in many fields. Walking has a double, which is dance. Writing and drawing for utilitarian purposes also have doubles: the mystic sign, figurative drawing, which itself found a double in abstract art, etc…

(page 151)

Pierre Schaeffer. In Search of a Concrete Music. Trans. Christine North and John Dack. Berkeley: U of C P, 2012.

Found while browsing the stacks of the Belzer Library, SFU, Vancouver.

The contemporary becomes a method or practice

It is of course banal and predictable to invoke Benjamin at the end of an essay in 2013, but it is striking that his theories have been so influential on visual art yet have had so little impact upon the institutions in which it is shown and the histories they narrate. In his Theses on the Philosophy of History (1940), Benjamin draws a distinction between a history spoken in the name of power, which records the triumphs of the victors, and a history that names and identifies the problems of the present day, by scouring the past for the origins of this present historical moment; this, in turn, is the determining motivation for our interest in the past. Can a museum be anti-hegemonic? The three museums discussed in this book seem to answer the question in the affirmative. They work to connect current artistic practice to a broader field of visual experience, much as Benjamin’s own Arcades Project sought to reflect on Paris, capital of the nineteenth century, by juxtaposing texts, cartoons, prints, photographs, works of art, artifacts, and architecture in poetic constellations. This present-minded approach to history produces an understanding of today which sightlines on the future, and reimagines the museum as an active, historical agent that speaks in the name not of national pride or hegemony but of creative questioning and dissent. It suggests a spectator no longer focused on the auratic contemplation of individual works, but one who is aware of being presented with arguments and positions to read or contest. Finally, it defetishizes objects by continually juxtaposing works of art with documentary materials, copies, and reconstructions. The contemporary becomes less a question of periodization or discourse than a method or practice, potentially applicable to all historical periods.”

(pages 56-57)

Claire Bishop, Radical Museology: Or What’s Contemporary in Museums of Contemporary Art? London: Koenig Books, 2013.