Prolégomènes

The question of modernity – its consequences and purpose, its comeback or hesitations – is one which, for many years, has confounded philosophers, art critics and historians. We do not intend to add yet another chapter to the theoretical discussion. Rather, we would like to take stock of the various brands of modernity that coexist today.

How are you modern? That is the question we will be putting to our guest artists and designers, not so much to get definite answers, but to explore its ramifications in various creative fields, as well as the challenges and issues it raises in this day and age. So what do we mean by “being modern”? In the – rather practical – context of our symposium, “being modern” as an artist or as a designer simply means being current, seeing art as an innovative force that can transform the present. The overarching theme of modernity breaks up into four questions that will be addressed in four moderated discussions over the two days of this symposium.

In order to document the relationship between the “how” and the “modern”, we would like to carry out a survey of the creative arts - their places and methods, the aesthetic and political challenges they face. For that purpose, we shall ask each speaker to submit a creative project that could serve as “food for thought” in one or more of our four workshops.

The speaking arrangements will make this symposium unique: each participant will be asked to present a creative project, in the form of a mock-up, a working assumption, a sketch, a diagram, etc... as a forward-looking medium for examining some of the questions raised in the discussion fora. Participants will be selected on the basis of the resonance between the symposium’s theme and their work. Each of them will be required to use and develop some of their previous work into a draft project which could help further discussions on one or more of the topics at hand. Over the course of two days, “Prolégomènes” will be an opportunity for participants to get together and think out loud about their projects, according to a sort of predefined “playbook”.

Prolégomènes” is a workshop session with presentations and discussions aimed at exploring the current state of creative arts. It brings together artists, industrial and fashion designers in a cross-disciplinary setting. The objective of the presentations is twofold. Based on current practices and draft projects submitted by the artists at the symposium, we shall investigate the material and intellectual conditions of contemporary creation, as it relates to technology, knowledge and know-how, aesthetics and politics. Issues will be looked at from both a historical and a prospective viewpoint, so as to revisit the past and explore possible future developments, rethink commonalities and differences between practices and disciplines over time, as well as identify new ways for the arts to share and exchange in this day and age.

The Rotor collective will devise a special system for presenting and reporting the outcomes of this two-day event, whose participants will all be expected to play by the rules of anticipation and creativity.

 “Prolégomènes” will also offer an opportunity to examine what a place like the future Lafayette Anticipation, Fondation d’entreprise Galeries Lafayette, specifically devoted to the creative arts, can produce. This raises several issues, such as how to fulfill the conditions of contemporary creation in the most appropriate way or as to the nature of the objects produced by contemporary artists.

No creation can happen in art, fashion or design without production or without objects. These two preconditions, in turn, have a series of implications of a technical, aesthetic and political nature. They can only be fully understood through an engagement with artists and their work, no matter how diverse their fields of endeavor, working methods, resources and production tools.

As a consequence, artists and designer will be encouraged to speak from experience, providing examples from their own practice and artistic work, in their intellectual as well as material dimensions. Furthermore, they will be asked to produce objects that may positively contribute to the discussion of these matters.

WORKSHOP n° 1 – « HOW DO WE SEE REALITY? » 

Led by Peter Szendy, with Anja Aronowsky CronbergJean-Marc ChapoulieBjorn Christiansen (Superflex)Ariane d’HoopDaniel McCleanRotor (Maarten Gielen & Renaud Haertlingen) Paula Gerbase and Dork Zabunyan.

« “How does one see things?” When asked that simple question, common sense would dictate the following answer: “With one’s own eyes”. To each his own outlook, to each his own viewpoint. Based on that premise, the ultimate dream, fantasy and ideal is to see reality through someone else’s eyes – to espouse or adopt their perspective, in a generous, empathetic effort to take part in a quite literal “exchange of views”.

But suppose we approached the question from a different angle. Suppose that, to start with, our own gaze was always haunted by, or interlaced with, that of other people. If that were true, the real challenge would not so much be for me to comprehend or appropriate a stranger’s point of view, but to bring to light this other perspective, inherent in mine, which influences the way I see reality and enables me to see it in the first place.

We may want to explore this hypothesis by referencing what Harun Farocki1 has called the “subjective phantom shot”, i.e. the person-centric equivalent of 1920’s cinema “phantom shots”. These shots, however, may not be unique to technical environments such as army camera crews or the video games designed by Farocki as part of his Serious Games, even though it is true that such devices, and related broadcasting technology, do have a deep influence on our visual perception.

But isn’t it possible that, even when using the naked eye, this “phantom view” is present or available to me? This is the question which this specific “Prolégomènes” workshop will try to examine in a number of ways – discursive, practical, demonstrative, playful, provocative, exploratory, aphoristic... One is reminded of a quote by Nietzsche, who wrote that “for the most part, the image is not made of impressions on the senses, but a product of the imagination” (Phantasie-Erzeugnis).

In fact, in this same posthumous fragment, dated autumn 1881, Nietzsche also remarked that “To hear well is continually to guess and to fill in”. Hence, the notion that human eyesight is endowed with Phantasie (often weakly rendered as “imagination”, forgetting that “fantasies” and “phantoms” too have fiction-creating powers) is analogous to the realization that there is a stranger’s ear, another ear, haunting ours: the phantom ear, from which we can hear. »

Peter Szendy

1. « Le point de vue de la guerre », dans Trafic, n° 50, 1991.

WORKSHOP N° 2 – « HOW ARE YOU MODERN? »

Led by Laurent Jeanpierre, with Bless (Désirée Heiss & Ines Kaag), Martin BoyceAlain BublexEmmanuel GuyEmmanuelle HuynhChristoph KellerAlexandre Laumonier and OMA/AMO.

« There has long been much talk of modernity, and yet there is no agreed definition of it. Indeed, that word does not refer to any specific time period, but rather to a set of philosophical questions. Originally, it captured the belief that the future would always be better and freer than the present, indefinitely. Then – but this is only superficially paradoxical – there is the notion that there is nothing new under the sun, i.e. that “we have never been modern”. Over the past decades, this consciousness of the crisis of modernity has been variously referred to as “post-modern”, “second modernity”, “presentism” or “contemporary” (as in contemporary art). But no one can tell whether history is over; whether what we call “the crisis” is really our future; whether our post-modernity can remain futureless for all time. In fact, the discourse about modernity has never been homogeneous. It has always contained its inner contradictions and mirror images. Though always purporting to represent a clean break from the past, it has adduced many different criteria: industry and the market, technology and liberty, art and commodities, democracy and violence, repetition and acceleration, etc... Modernists believe that they know what modern means. Yet no one knows what is modern and what isn’t. That is the whole problem with modernity. This, however, did not stop the West from using it as a means of distinguishing itself from the rest of the world, justifying its conquests and, later on, its brutal hegemony.

The belated realization that modernity can also be used as a weapon has given rise to a moral and political debate: can we, and should we, be modern? This, in essence, is what the critics of modernity have been saying (e.g. the environmentalists). Others yet feel that it is important to recognize that there are multiple types of modernity, since each society has forged its own model for fostering human development and articulating historical eras. From that perspective, the lack of harmony across worlds and times, the internal differentiations, constitute the very essence of modern times. Hence the real question, for both individuals and civilizations, is no longer what is modern, but rather how we are modern, or how we can afford to be. It must be posed to artists and designers, since modern philosophy has long held them out as the scouts of modernity, the very cutting edge of modernity. Answering it will require them to explore, as modernists have always done, what the current image of modernity is, whether in Paris, Europe, or the rest of the world. »

Laurent Jeanpierre

WORKSHOP N° 3 - « KNOWLEDGE AND KNOW-HOW? »

Led by Mathieu Mercier, with Jean-Pierre BlancRémy HéritierMarjolaine LévyChristine PhungEmanuele Quinz and Jerszy Seymour

« Artistic practices: the interactions of knowledge and know-how -

To this day, a rigid distinction persists between knowledge and know-how, mirroring the historical separation of applied arts and fine arts. This persistent dichotomy keeps us from understanding or recognizing the various, specific types of knowledge and skills required by contemporary art and design.

For a fresh look at these issues, we may want to summon cultural anthropology and explore, as William Lhamon did (1), the kind of knowledge that would arise from multiple exchanges among places, conditions and individuals. This knowledge would, at its core, consist in disseminating techniques and gestures, images and signs, so that they might be produced in new territories, but also to share them with groups that may wish to use them for radically different or even contradictory purposes. Indeed, all knowledge implies a way of disseminating it, or passing it on. This, however, can only apply to contemporary art and design insofar as we throw off yet another straitjacket: the relegation of skill to a marginal role in art, in favor of the pure enjoyment of forms. Any creative artist does practical work, and his or her practices involve a community of techniques, gestures and persons, making any creative act a collective act.

Artistic work is thus more appropriately defined in terms of the network of heterogeneous knowledge and know-how – skills, craftsmanship, techniques and technology – which it helps create at all stages from the design and production to the manufacturing of objects. Empirically prioritizing the practical aspects of an artist’s work over formal considerations is not tantamount to rejecting aesthetic concerns, since art can only materialize through the inventiveness and achievements of such knowledge- and skills-based communities.  »

Mathieu Mercier

1. In Raising Cain, his book about Blackface.

WORKSHOP N° 4 - « PLACES FOR CREATING »

Led by Christophe Kihm, with Christophe Kihm, L’Atelier des Testeurs (Arnaud & Bertrand Dezoteux), OMA.

« The major 20th century institutions that have supported or initiated powerful paradigm shifts in art have always been associated to new venues. Historically, the places that have led to radical transformations or redefinitions of art, such as journals and schools from Acéphale and Grand Jeu to Vkhutemas and Bauhaus, have seemed to follow a pattern.

They have always been home to newly founded communities or collectives that expressed a common desire for change, in the form of a program, underpinned by aesthetic mottos that redefined the relation between art and life.

Of recent years, many creative venues have been established along the lines of these historic change- promoting institutions. These too found their raison d’être or line of research in innovation and technology (ZKM or Fresnoy) or art and science (Ircam or le Laboratoire).

And yet, the creative venue par excellence remains the workshop. Of course, it has been architecturally transformed over the years, and its current definition includes its mobile and virtual incarnations.

At this point, we would like to ask three questions:
What will we do with these large modern institutions ?
How can the most contemporary forms of the workshop help design a creative space?
How can you use contemporary art and design to outline an ideal space for artists and designers? »

Christophe Kihm


A forerunner to Lafayette Anticipation, Fondation d’entreprise Galeries Lafayette, this symposium has been held the 3th and 4th october 2013 at the 9 rue du Plâtre. Two days of closed meetings and discussions explore the current state of contemporary creation, as it relates to technology, aesthetics, knowledge and know-how.

As a creative venue for visual artists, performers, industrial and fashion designers, the soon-to-be Lafayette Anticipation will be keen to operate and evolve based on actual contemporary artistic practices, by giving pride of place to artists and designers from the very beginning. Hence, the vast majority of speakers at the symposium are themselves artists.

A survey of contemporary creation by Christophe Kihm, with four moderated workshops.