On the first day of our Metabolic Museum-University, we gathered in a room around a large table. We had not met all together before, and this was our first exchange. We spoke about the radical changes taking place in the conception of the metabolic and its functions. What is health today? Where does the body end? How are diseases produced? How are patient and object histories falsified? How is medication politicised and how do all these dimensions reflect upon the activities, problematics and institutions of art and design? How can we to challenge normative presuppositions and critique the capitalization of difference?
The Metabolic Museum-University is about doing concept-work. It is a model. It is not built around a cosy set of events. But there have been problems nonetheless: for example, I have sensed an absence of any wish to anchor the MM-U, or of needing to build. There is the decision not to make an open call for participation; there is the absence of funding, and the fact that the MM-U sits within the cushioned ubiquity of biennials.
Today there exists a vicious circle within participation: in order for the acquisition of regulated and regulating funding to be ensured, one has to participate, to feature biennials in one’s biography. Then there is the increasing conservatism in curatorial practice, which is motored by types of academic curatorial education but equally by art fairs that prove more attractive to students than visiting galleries, and then finally, the lack of conceptual intimacy between artists and curators. You could call it a side-lining of subjectivity within curatorial practice. So I ask you:
A subjective institution: is it desired?
A subjective form of transmission: is it accepted?
A heteroclite (Bataille) referentiality without the gateposts of identity, race, and set standards?
A non-standardised transfer of knowledge?
A non-military form of discipline? (cf. Philipp Staab)
Communicational abstinence is a strategy: this was present in the performance of Neza Knez. Was this diffidence on Neza’s part, was it a political stance? Were they spamming the register? The problem of the addressee is raised by this performance. Incomprehensibility is directed to each of us. It shows that trust and transmission are lacking, and are an issue today.
So what to do?
Create and nurture “intentional complications”? (Spela Drnovsek Zorko).
Develop incommensurability (opacity)?
Do we face the antagonisms of a cryptic versus an illustrational turn?
Who filters this?
What “sieves” are used (Cécile Kobel).
Publishers, suggests Matthias Bruhn.
The professionalisation of artists, too.
And yet we see so many empty spaces, why? Because their functions today are either too entrenched or redundant. See for example the gallery versus the museum, Hauser and Wirth versus Tate Modern. All this comes back to communication and to which rhetoric, which tropes, and which idioms are deployed. This is not only language but space, visuality, and the metabolism of our current conditions. We witness a timorous adherence to various regimes of communication. For example, the rhetoric deployed in speaking within a transdisciplinary context urgently needs recoding. You can’t assume that a transdisciplinary moment will occur by simply being together. A bus full of people from different walks of life is not transdisciplinary, or even transcultural. Heterogeneity does not validate transdisciplinarity. Instead, speaker-interlocutor relations need to be consciously fine-tuned. Today we lack trusting transmissions.
I think that a new institution might include mnemonics as a transdisciplinary methodology. Or speech/orality/voice utterance as a transdisciplinary methodology. At the core of this is adjacency: not synthesis, not additive advancement, but the gentle act of being aware of the manifold and of multiplicity: of the option of never reading one text in isolation.
Each intervention, session and stimulus of the Metabolic Museum-University in Ljubljana raised the question of its homogeneity, its hermeticism, its wilful depersonalisation, de-subjectivization, and therefore the danger of reproducing rhetorical ubiquity in the areas within which we work. I would argue that artistic research is not about the reproduction of an academic mode of dialogue (e.g. YouTube lecturing), of representations and of mediation. It is – as concept-work – about engaging with extraneous, exogamous materials and re-investing them while acknowledging their source. In its worst formulation, artistic research is a grotesque version of citizen science. Aesthetic science made into populist culture, and therefore a capitalization of two concordant states of reflection.
Back to the model of the Metabolic Museum-University: what type of knowledge are we producing? Does it need to be generative beyond our time together? Should we have a target known ahead of our meeting so that we can retrace our steps, like a scientist works with an experiment? Should we accept the unforeseeable and the risk of social instability and, with it, an intellectual conceptual blur in order to work recursively toward the exit of the forest? Do we want to be under the radar? Can we be self-critical toward the metaphor of the organ? Have we delved deep enough? The organ is contingent on relations that are vital and necessary.
Is the Metabolic Museum-University necessary? Did we locate the right organs of the week? Have we been blind to other tissues and arteries? How do we contend with hierarchies in the Metabolic Museum-University? That osmosis that is generative but not equal (Matthias Bruhn). Was this a Temporary Organological Zone? The complexity of the Metabolic Museum-University is not dissimilar to the 70s work of Slovenian artist Endre Tot: it indicates the need for encoding, for greater precision regarding our interlocutors in today’s compromised art contexts. It is more than a wall label with an ability to be metonymic of our own condition (Toby Upson). We have become wall labels. Students expect wall-label-level-education!