adrian buchster on Tue, 4 Dec 2001 02:25:00 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> FWD: A few words regarding freedom of expression

Maybe this can be of interest (sorry if you already know about the ongoing 


Subject: A few words regarding freedom of expression
Date: Mon, 3 Dec 2001 11:28:15 -0500
From: sawad <>
Organization: utensil
References: 1

I don't claim to have at hand a motivation for's hacking of the 
Korean Web Art exhibition, but I would like to say a few words.

As Marc has already suggested, the action exhibits a clear disrespect for 
the work of fellow participants. Supposing (perhaps wrongly) that in an 
exhibition such as this one each work and its artist(s) participates 
implicitly in an agreement to respect the principle of freedom of 
expression,'s aggression indicates a disregard for this principle. 
One may argue that's misprision carries "freedom of expression" to 
its logical conclusion. This is indeed the sort of quandary within which 
legal systems aware of democratic ideals often find themselves. However, it 
would help sort some if this entanglement -- or at least help us see why it 
is we are so entangled -- if we are more attentive to some distinctions (and 
confusions) between actions and representations.

While it has been argued (for example, by the late British philosopher J.L. 
Austin, and, subsequently, by a number of "postmodern" writers) that 
representations "do things," that they affect us, they incite, and so forth, 
no one can really furnish an explanation of HOW a representation actually 
carries out such work. At least in the case of a computer program there is 
an algebraic representation of a machine made of language designed to be 
"interpreted" (through a system of physical or electronic triggers) by a 
machine made of physical parts -- however small these days. Since before 
Shelley's Frankenstein and Babbage's Difference Engine, including latter-day 
postmodern theories of representation, we have effectively confused action 
and representation. This confusion has been productive, but I have chosen to 
argue that the confusion has been built upon a metaphorical agency 
(mis)taken for an actual one. In other words, the proposition that 
representations have agency attempts! to explain something that we probably 
don't understand very well - how "knowledge" is acquired and made "useful," 
how we are "affected" by representations. Our language about what language 
"does" -- if anything at all -- is really quite limited. Instead, we 
habitually say that it "affects" us, that it "does" things, and so forth, 
drawing on metaphors of physicality and causality which we imagine we 
understand simply because our bodies seemingly operate upon, as well as are 
affected by physical substances. In other words, to accord agency to 
language is to project a physical model onto a symbolic artifact which is 
not properly material and yet is seemingly "sensible" everywhere. Perhaps 
there is something valuable to be gained by listening to those writers who 
argue that language is "nothing," alluding to a non-beingness that is all 
the more valuable as "it" seems so elusiveness, difficult to "grasp."

By drawing attention to the metaphorical agency of representation, I wish to 
point out its distinction from other forms of action, or from the 
representation of action. To be sure, to do something, to effect the 
physical world, we may actually invoke representations, but it is not 
necessarily the case that representations do things on their own. Even 
theater is not simply action, as Artaud understood. To represent a murder is 
not necessarily to murder someone. This difference suggests with regard to a 
theory about expressive freedom that "expression" -- which is itself a 
metaphorical representation of substance ejected from within our bodies -- 
is that which remains metaphorical and precisely short of action beyond the 
work necessary for its production. It doesn't mean that action cannot and 
does not accompany expression, but that whenever such excess action 
accompanies expression it must be entertained differently from metaphoricity 
or expressivity. It cannot be described as "free" or "nothing."

A relevant example from art history comes to mind which may help illustrate 
the points I've tried to make above about action and representation, as well 
as to further reflect upon our being hacked by When bad boy 
Rauschenberg's erased de Kooning's drawing to produce his own Erased de 
Kooning he asked de Kooning for a drawing and proceeded to erase it, leaving 
the sort of smeared marks one associates with pencil being rubbed out with a 
rubber eraser. One can still identify the paths of faint and distorted 
markings characteristic of certain other drawings by de Kooning. 
Rauschenberg's negative gesture sheds light on originality and creativity, 
as well as on productivity, appropriation, and value. But it seems 
particularly relevant for us to note that it also very much respects 
(artistic) work and identity. The fact that he asked de Kooning for one of 
his drawings is already evidence of a willingness on the part of 
Rauschenberg to engage the senior action painter on the level of 
representation rather than simply in terms of actions. Furthermore, 
Rauschenberg chose to solicit a work from an artist with repute -- I know of 
no existence of an erased "Jasper Johns." Indeed, Johns, like Rauschenberg, 
was a figure whose prominence, not to mention significance, was still 
emerging when Rauschenberg performed his "destructive" deed. But in erasing 
the de Kooning drawing he did not simply destroy it. The material of the 
drawing became Rauschenberg's, but the work became an homage to de Kooning, 
bearing the latter's name (as well as ghostly markings), even in the wake of 
the younger artist's bombastic appropriative gesture. Rauschenberg's 
artifact remains in effect a seal of respect (in all senses), signed (by de 
Kooning) and countersigned (by Rauschenberg), perhaps even of admiration, he 
had for the work and identity of the other artist. Like all art, the Erased 
de Kooning gestures toward negating representation, but it is also 
affirmative of as well as responsive to the work of others.

Best regards,

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