Day 15 /// RESPONDING TO ARSENY ZHILYAEV — SECOND ADVENTS. ON THE ISSUE OF PLANNING IN CONTEMPORARY ART, by JESSIE BEIER
Abstract composition of the skin condition known as dermatographia. (source)
The Planning Itch
Planning makes me itchy.
From a survival perspective, my itchiness is perhaps a carryover from the animal instinct to remove those parasites from my skin that might otherwise limit my future capacities. I itch in order to discharge alterity, dulling sensation in the process, much like I plan in order to reduce the overwhelming potential of life’s inherent precarity. Or, perhaps another possible explanation is that both itch and pain engage many of the same areas of the brain, and thus when I itch I am able to cause myself enough pain to re-live dying sensations, at least temporarily. Like planning for the future, itching thrusts past experiences into the here and now, in turn arbitrating future possibilities.
Regardless of how and why this itchiness comes about, I have been told that itches are best left unscratched. We must learn to resign from itching (even as the humiliating welts and contusions grow) for the gesture of itching will only lead to further inflammation, irritation, and discomfort, or in severe cases, infection.
It is from a similar “humiliating resignation” that Arseny Zhilyaev launches us forth in a consideration of the role of planning in the realm of contemporary art. Zhilyaev asserts that although planning governs much of our everyday interaction, the issue of planning in contemporary art has been limited to discussions of utility (in terms of activists’ creative work) and consumption (in terms of relational aesthetics). Perhaps these limitations are a response to the way in which contemporary art itself has become reified under particular philosophical constraints. If contemporary art is conceived as an exceptional difference engine — a celebration of indeterminacy — then planning might be understood, albeit commonsensically, as an impedance to contemporary artistic creation. Planning with indeterminacy at the centre is like coping with an itch that just can’t be scratched.
In response to the limited discussions of planning in contemporary art, Zhilyaev asserts that we must endeavour to expose how planning itself might create opportunities for new political and philosophical demands. To this end, Zhilyaev launches us into space, dismantling our sense of gravity in the process. Speculating through the eyes of an astronaut orbiting Earth in the company of Newton and Galileo, among others, Zhilyaev fabulates a vision of contemporary artistic resurrection that positions planning as a particular commitment to restoring, reanimating, and resurrecting past and present artistic projects as a way of “bringing the hopes of this art to real life” (Zhilyaev, para. 14). Put otherwise, Zhilyaev provides a launch pad from which we might fabulate alternative treatments to otherwise untreatable itches.
How might we treat the itch?
One solution I have come across is to place a band-aid (or scotch tape for the frugally inclined) over the site of the itch. This coverage works physically, limiting access to the site of infection, but also psychologically, by codifying the area as that which is ‘off limits’. The band-aid offers a kind of contingency plan, a certain form of risk management, a stop-gap measure that provides coverage while never fully addressing the problem at/on hand.
I have also come across the little trick of x-ing out the itch with your fingernail, as if to refute its existence in the first place. This strategy of erasure is said to disperse the protein around the infected area, in turn stopping the itch, at least for a while. This tactic provides a sort of deferral; by negating the itch, the need to treat its symptoms dissolves and we are left to carry on in spite of its existence.
Yet another strategy, backed by “science” has been cited as a particularly useful tactic for those itches that seem impossible to scratch. ‘Mirror scratching’ requires looking in the mirror and scratching the opposite side of your body. Although not as effective as scratching the actual itch, this strategy is known to bring relief through the illusion of congruencies created between our intersensory perceptive signals. Here, we are able to ‘take control’ of the itch, even if that control is falsely attributed, by projecting our symptoms onto a mirrored Other.
Although each of these tactics responds to the itch in its own way, what they all have in common is that they avoid any actual itching. Perhaps these commonsense tactics are not too different to how planning is approached in contemporary art. As Zhilyaev points out, although abstention or “do(ing) nothing at all” (Zhilyaev, para. 4) is an option, it may not be enough to address the complexity of our current conditions. It is therefore necessary to treat our itches differently.
Scratching the itch.
Instead of resigning to perpetual itchiness, what if we were to indulge the desire to scratch? Perhaps this is what Zhilyaey has in mind in terms of planning. As Zhilyaey asserts, if we are to reimagine the site of contemporary art, or perhaps more importantly, what we want contemporary art to do, it is necessary to mutate the role of planning. It is not enough to recode existing contexts in order to create contingency plans (the band-aid solution), nor is it enough to actively refute or defer plans in spite of problematic symptoms (‘X’ marks the spot), nor is it enough to look to a projected Other as a model for how future possibilities might unfold (‘mirror scratching’). If an itch holds the capacity to reanimate past sensations, inflame current indignations, and infect surrounding areas, perhaps it is precisely through scratching that we might resurrect whole universes of potential. Put otherwise, and to echo Zhilyaey,
[p]erhaps uncovering the cosmos [the itch] as a space for restoring—or even inventing—order and the main goal of humankind’s efforts will give us another way to avoid the dark end of everyday contingencies (para. 7).
With this itch in mind, here are some questions we might consider further:
- What is the role of planning in the creation, distribution, and reception of contemporary art?
- How might we reformulate processes of planning in contemporary art towards new political and
- How might technological intervention aid in the recapitulation of processes of planning in contemporary art?
Jessie Beier holds a diploma in design and illustration, in addition to a Bachelor and Masters Degrees in Education from the University of Alberta, Canada.