Reality Manifestos - Can Dialectics Break Bricks?

A study of détournement as Art Forms


Kunsthalle Exnergasse, Währinger Straße 59, 2nd Staircase, 1st Floor, 1090 Wien

19 January - 3 March 2012. Opening on 18 January, 19h. |

Curatorial Input

Ideology can only shatter to pieces on contact with radical subjectivity.

From: René Viénet, Can Dialectics Break Bricks?

For the tasks which face the human apparatus of perception at the turning points of history cannot be solved by optical means, that is, by contemplation, alone. They are mastered gradually by habit, under the guidance of tactile appropriation.

Walter Benjamin

Indeed, as a medium of motion, film has frequently displayed its superiority over other media, whose greatest accomplishments are preserved in the form of immobile cultural treasures and monuments, by staging and celebrating the destruction of these monuments.

Boris Groys

The project takes as its point of departure the "first entirely detourned film in the history of cinema": Can Dialectics Break Bricks? (1973) by René Viénet, which adapts a spectacular film to a radical critique of cultural hegemony. The French word détournement is employed here for stealing, derailing, appropriating, misusing, re-enacting, rather than the specific term of appropriation that has acquired a special aura in an art-historical context, following John Stezaker's recognition that "appropriation is actually a misleading term, because it suggests mastery."

If in the principles of appropriation it is still largely the signifier symbol that is carried over, détournement through subversive "more direct reuse or faithful mimicry" hijacks the very signifier turning it into an object, from the Situationist films to the rebellion of the pioneering found-footage films of Bruce Conner, the Ready-Made remake or art-research practices, visual analyses, passion for subtraction and non-reflective mirroring, assemblages having their own value, which can hardly be incorporated by the commercial system.

Comprised of an international group exhibition and a two-day symposium, the project develops in the field of inquiry and investigation of hijacking and ready-made in contemporary art in relation to the cinema industry, and the possible transmission of properties between them. It investigates the space and the confusion of the border between image and representation, and specially focuses on the ruins of representation, what are the possibilities for translation, and where the idea of original and copy is lost. It follows the social, political and aesthetic content created as a dialectic clash between invisible and visible, or shifts between the notions of production and consumption, reality and fiction, creating temporalities in-between, bringing together a diversity of art practices that offer singular tactics of speculative misuse, repetition, faithful mimicry and détournement of existing images, visual icons, narrative patterns – re-enacting, rewriting and translating them. It marks a shift from knowledge to fight and from fight to passion and dance, involving the audience in the complicity in a crime of détournement, making them "committed spectators."

The project serves as a platform for investigating the structure and institutions of commercial cinema in relation to the institutions of art and images and the process of projection both in the most mechanical sense as a cinema camera and projector and their similarity to the function of human perception, as well as how psychoanalysis looks at the same principles of projection in the subjective and social field, as in how we project our fears and desires onto others, and how the norms of the psycho-symbolic formation of race, class and sexuality are repetitively performed. The works on display investigate the machine of cinema with its narrative structures, mythologies, representations, reproducibility, looking more generally at how these structures, institutions and borders are created, how value is created, how truth is imposed by the symbolic and economic conditions of a speculative industry. If the artist disrupts the surface of cinema, is there a possibility for upholding the claim for the autonomy of art as an institution? Ultimately, the project is about the spectacle, and what possibilities we have for subverting it, waking the viewer's gaze from its torpid contemplation while still getting jouissance from the images' seductive power.

Text: Dimitrina Sevova