© giovanni casu, 2016
The Void. Le Vide (The Void) displayed at the Iris Clert Gallery. For his next exhibition at the Iris Clert Gallery (April 1958), Klein chose to show nothing whatsoever, called La spécialisation de la sensibilité à l’état matière première en sensibilité picturale stabilisée, Le Vide (The Specialization of Sensibility in the Raw Material State into Stabilized Pictorial Sensibility, The Void): he removed everything in the gallery space except a large cabinet, painted every surface white, and then staged an elaborate entrance procedure for the opening night; The gallery's window was painted blue, and a blue curtain was hung in the entrance lobby, accompanied by republican guards and blue cocktails. Thanks to an enormous publicity drive, 3000 people were forced to queue up, waiting to be let into an empty room.
In undertaking my research ("the greys´s move"), my aim has been to test the possibility of the existence of an artwork outside of the frame of meaning provided by the “artworld”(2). The motivation for my inquiry lies in the acknowledgement of the fact that by framing a work of art in the context of the artworld we come to a definition of what-an-artwork-is from a sociological-institutional perspective.
The perspective indicated by all conventionalist or procedural attempts to define a work of art seems to me to be incorrect (see extract_I), including the version advocated by A. Danto. While the influence of Wittgenstein on American philosophy in the XX century lead several authors to contend that "art" or "the artwork" are indefinable (see extract V), I believe that the attempt to better clarify the very nature of the artwork is an endeavour that is worth pursuing, and this for several reasons (Extract IV). It is implicit in A. Danto´s Institutional Theory of art that by defining oneself as “an artist” one causes her/his work to be regarded as an “artwork” and to be inscribed into the frame of meaning of the artworld. For Danto, a “work” becomes an artwork because it belongs to this frame of meaning and can thus be related to art theories (see extract_II). Danto's soft version of the Institutional Theory of art (as opposed to Dickie´s strong version) still has a huge influence on contemporary art theories (e.g. see Davies) and practices.
In trying to contest Danto´s Institutional Theory of art, the main challenge for me is to be able to demonstrate that an artwork can have an independent existence from the social practices operating in the artworld. The reader who is kind enough to continue reading will find a more detailed explanation below (see "the greys´s move"). After this research was clear to me that the results were founded in a incorrect basis.
Expounding "the greys´s move"
Works like “le Vide” by Yves Klein (1959) or Martin Creed’s “Work No. 79. Some Blu-Tack kneaded, rolled into a ball, and depressed against a wall.1993” are effective also because they enact a process of subtraction: an absence in the familiar aspect and setup of the piece of art compels the viewer to rethink her/his notion of the artwork and its constituents, and this shift creates new patters of communication. Both Klein’s and Creed’s works use the frames of meaning of the white-cube " ( see 8. Brian O´Doherty. Inside the White Cube.) and the art-world, but they also provide us with a helpful strategy: we can remove the context of the artworld and verify what happens to the artwork. Is it still an artwork? Or does it lose its status?
I am aware of the fact that I should provide an alternative hypothesis of definition of a work of art, one able to withstand and survive this type of experiment. I also take into account the risk that in the end we are left with a mere object (without any intrinsic value or without any particular status).
How to reduce such a risk and fulfil such a requirement? It seems to me that in order to better identify the core features of a work of art (instead of framing it into the context of the artworld) the most promising path is to try to harmonize the philosophical and the scientific approach. Therefore, a review of the theories and concepts already provided by the two research fields is an essential preliminary step. Trying to elaborate a definition of what-an-artwork-is by resorting to Philosophy of Art and Art Theories(1-11) is a real headache; moreover, having analysed different philosophical approaches (Bell, Dickie, Greenberg, Wolfe, Collingwood, see (7) Davies) and more recent approaches in cognitive science (Changeux, Damasio, Ramachadran, Semir Zeki, see 12-16), I find the arguments on both sides unsatisfactory. The inadequacy of the former approaches becomes evident when we try to verify whether they can successfully account for the “conceptual turn” in arts (D.Davies´s (7) critics and (11)).
On the other hand, the cognitive approach also proves unsatisfactory because its proponents (12-16) developed their researches and experiments without even clarifying what they mean by "art". This fact betrays their approximate understanding of a crucial problem: how is it possible to test something scientifically, to establish certain correlations and draw conclusions on what-art-is without even mentioning and carefully weighing the extreme complexity of the definition issue? Nonetheless, the evolutionary and cognitive approach has provided and continues to provide a valuable contribution, and it can yield much more satisfactory results when integrated with the philosophical approach.
Despite the negative outcome of this comparative verification, the work of different thinkers remains valid and we can still borrow plenty of valuable and helpful concepts from them. I am mainly indebted to N. Goodman, A. Danto, J. Levinson, and David Davies for the concepts that build my theoretical hypothesis.
In my hypothesis (see Extract III), an artwork has a first Level of meaning (see G. Harman Three Level of Meaning.1968.) insofar as it is an effective example of a patterns of communication not yet assimilated into a standard communication system (compared to the already existent examples). Such a work is able to meta-communicate, i.e. to communicate how humans can communicate something to each other. A good candidate to be a work of art should furnish new or improved ways. A work of art is both a statement about what is involved in the process of communication of conceptual contents and an example of how this communication can take place. The “proposition” offered by an artwork includes manifest and non-manifest relations and does not need the frame of meaning of the artworld to function or to be effective.
The historical, comparative, and relativistic nature of an artwork (typical of the theories of LEVEL 3 in G. Harman) postulates that the viewer has some knowledge of the history of art and art theories. Only the communities specialized in the arts, it is said, can evaluate work-of-art-candidates in borderline cases (see extract TEXT IV). In other words, only arts specialists can gauge whether a “work” is art or not. If this is true, how can an artwork exist independently from the artworld (or better from communities of arts specialists)? The difficulty with this question derives from the circular definition of the artwork proper to Institutional Theories.
I suggest we set aside this difficult question for the time being and try to undermine the problem by tackling it from a different angle: first of all, we (as hypothetical agents) must stop defining ourselves as “artist(s)”; if I define myself as an “artist” I am already falling into the field of action of the artworld (and of Institutional theory) as conceived by Danto, whatever I did or want to do with my practices.
Indeed, I must place myself and my actions into a different context. This move cannot be merely simulated: it must really take place. It means that the role of the agent should be negotiated within an “x-world” other than the art-world. This simple move is the first requirement: the agent who creates the work is not an artist, irrespective of whether he/she has ever defined him/herself as an artist in the past or will do so in the future. According to my hypothesis, we now need to identify a (strong enough) x-world candidate (or community) within which the agent can operate coherently. The appropriate candidate (a community) must be selected within the range of institutionalized activities that deal with problems of meaning, communication, and knowledge. The scope of our quest is defined by an understanding of the artwork as something that interfaces human cognition efficiently and offers preferably new or better embedded patterns of communication. In this search for alternative candidates, the contexts of epistemology and semiotics (in the broader sense of the term advocated by U. Eco) seem to be the most promising (see extract TEXT IV).
One strategy I can adopt at this point is to collaborate with academics in the fields of epistemology* and semiotics (as defined by U. Eco).
This collaboration has to be negotiated successfully with the agents of the specific x- world/community in the following way: a) I do not define myself as an artist (but as an agent that wants to undertake an experience/experiment in that field); b) I will work inside an already existing context/community and my activity will be not connected to the artworld.
The experiment consists in formulating works-theses that represent preferably new or better patterns of communication without adopting the label “art”. A context that is centred on issues of meaning and communication will allow us to decide whether the proposed work effectively provides a new or improved pattern of communication from a comparative perspective, and within this new context the identity of the work can be defined and negotiated.
While the contexts of epistemology and semiotics seem to be the most fitting for our purpose, we can also focus on a number of sub-contexts to analyse how different patterns of communication work. With this goal in mind, we can use other, more specific contexts, such as the context of gaming or the Museum of Objects.
My artistic practices: In order to verify my hypothesis empirically, I built the multi-piece installation “The greys´s move”. “The greys´s move” is a body of works that includes, at present, the game box “Kant Reloaded”, the installation “BulB”, the painting and sculpture “Greys”, the series of prints “Colours explained” and the collection of objects “7 ways to lose identity”, plus several pieces that have been left as projects on paper. Each piece employs different strategies of meaning and combines various conceptual schemes with several contexts other than the artworld.
*en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epistemology: “Epistemology is the branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and scope of knowledge and is also referred to as "theory of knowledge". It questions what knowledge is and how it can be acquired, and the extent to which knowledge pertinent to any given subject or entity can be acquired”.
Giovanni Casu was born in Sardinia. He moved to Paris in 2002 where he lived and exhibited his artworks for the next 7 years. In 2007 he participate to Nuit Blanche Paris with the "Le Puit". After Culturia.de residency in 2009 he relocated to Berlin where, along with producing solo and collective exhibitions , he has developed a work based on verification procedures typical of empirical discourse. The Ecke Project (2010-2012) is based on the relationship between art and neuroscience and Empirical Survey on a heritage (2010-2014) is a project on the consistency of Sardinian cultural identity verified through contemporary art practices.