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Superconversations Day 22: Christina McPhee responds to Matteo Pasquinelli, "On Solar Databases and the Exogenesis of Light"



Take a Walk on the Dark Side

detail, Hermes Payrhuber, THINGUMMY, series NO COMMENT

Drawings and reliefs are prone to erasure. Humans are ‘sublime’ relative to machine space and machine consciousness. Video will leave things out. Software fails. An aggressive electronic image-world suggests a transport membrane, the shiny surface of media-skin. Shine is a metaphor. The dark image has ‘ex-cess’ or largesse, or even luxury— abundant, generous. Why?

Smelling as much as looking like an oil slick building from the wall, the underbelly of material progress as toxic excess comes to mined. Puddles of oil, of gas or tar, the series forces one to remember, however unconsciously— under the threshold— a sense of our world as the articulation of petroleum, a horizon of global crisis that might be expressed as one problem: in inextricable labyrinth between meaning, data and value. In short surveillance, carbon, and the circulation of wealth… A prototype object, a proposition situ-ated within the history of abstract art practice, a form of non-transparent communication presents itself. Int its tactility opening onto a strange and perverse luxuriance, it evokes the black box. (Jaleh Mansoor, on Hermes Payruber’s series No Comment)

A recurring dream: I am looking for my paintings in a dark tunnel under a city, in a place that looks like Underground drawings Henry Moore made during the London Blitz. Inside the dream I awake to the fact that the paintings have gone missing. I worry they are dead. An energy in excess of the missing objects propels my search. If I find them bound together inside the tunnel I will be sure of their death. I continue to fail to find them. They leave an energy trail, like a scent, to follow. The paintings are negentropic. Their dark energy exceeds them. I arrive at the station. “Stations and positions are not sources of power, they are what are parasitized to produce power.” (Brown, after Michel Serres). The station is a white cu-be. Here are sculptural installations of various objects, among them black latex balls and crystalline flasks. Louise Bourgeois: “In the desolation of human relationships, I group them together, and see that they touch each other. The problem is to put every body in place, to give them a place, and especially to be sure that they are together.” (Donald Kuspit, Bourgeois: An Interview) The artist is arranger, curator, administrator. She carried this stuff in here. Now she has left the building. Her trajectory is into an infinite future time of possibility where she, the artist, continues to live. Her action of leaving has triggered a new state around the sculptural objects, whose instantiation in the station is like that of a morgue. This new state accrues potentiality of desire and energy as long as I am still in the station. I await, I watch, I feel aggression: I want to break her vials. I want to tear into the latex.I am beside myself. I am by proximity approaching the event horizon of the black box. “This darkness should continue for as long as is needful in order to expel and annihilate the habit which the soul has long since formed its manner of understand-ing . . .” (St John of the Cross). The system is non-functional: these dead objects do not resurrect. Yet I am held here, my attention is caught, at the station, at the site of power. “Systems work because they do not work. Nonfunctioning remains essential to functioning” (Michel Serres). Let the play begin.

Mira Schendel, PASSE

This darkness, blackness is. “Black study—which is to say blackness: the preoccupied breath of the ones who have been taken, who have been made to leave—is the para-ontological meditation of things, of ma-terial, as they emerge from and fade into the absolute nothingness of their sociality . . . It’s not about things beside one another; it’s about the very idea of the thing being beside itself in the radical hapticality of an absolute and en-formational nothingness: consent not to be a single being. Insofar as blackness is not just one name among others for this condition, and precisely to that extent, blackness is the subject of every artwork.”(Fred Moten).

I am pushing back and trying to make something in a clearing in the tunnel. I am in search of a way to make an elliptical mechanism to seduce the paintings back into view. I believe that they could come into being if I elect certain glitches in my drawings as algorithm-generators. If I observe very carefully, a line or lines will start a new series of relations. If I double these relations back on themselves I self-sow or sew them: they seed and exceed themselves: a third space, but of what kind? “In the Republic (VI-VII), before and after the Line which presents ontology according to the analogies of proportionality, the sun appears. In order to disappear. It is there, but as the invisible source of light, in a kind of insistent eclipse, more than essential, producing the essence—Being and Appearance— of what is. One can look directly at it only under the pain of blinding and death . . .”

Christina McPhee, DOUBLE BLIND STUDY 32

“To cast forth seed corn is called ‘sowing (speirein), but to cast forth its light, as said of the sun, has no special name….There is only one soon in this system. The proper name, here is the non-metaphorical prime mover of metaphor, the father of al figures. Everything turns around it, everything turns towards it.” (Jacques Derrida, White Mythologies, translation A. S. Byatt). If my line turns towards and ricochets in all relations back from the sun, then it might be well to bend paintings into masks; masks for the sentries of the Sun, with small seed pod holes for eyes.

detail, MASKS FOR DEPUTIES OF THE SUN FATHER, Zuni Pueblo (M. C. Stevenson)

Seed and sunrays elide in the action of sewing / sowing. Mesa-America considers. “According to the Popol Vuh. . . creation of human kind fashioned from ground maize and water by a half male, half fe-male weaving God . . . Maize is an ancestor of wild Teosinte grass and was first cultivated in southern Mexico around 8000 years ago. The botanist Hugh Iltis has proposed . . . a “Catastrophic Sexual Trans-mutation Theory ‘ for the prehistory of maize based on the unique reproductive anomalies of the Teosinte grass which has female flowers with the potential to be male and male flowers with the potential to be female . . . in ancient Mayan . . . human blood . . . was synonymous with the fertilizing nature of water.” (Kathleen Rogers). How disturbing to suggest then that naming is to be a function of fertilization. Here the naming function meets its own blood-letting: words flow. Who makes this matter meet (meat)(meet)? If in the sacred space of Mayan ritual, a direct intervention by the otherworldly elementals is required. If in the world of Derrida’s white mythology, the very intervention of the philosopher, to cross-fertiilize ideas and ground, makes death. “Heliotropic metaphors are always imperfect metaphors. They provide us with too little knowledge because one of the terms directly implied in the substitution (the physical sun) cannot be known in tis physicality . . . Metaphor thus always carries its death within itself. And this death is undoubt-ably also the death of philosophy.” (Derrida/Byatt, ibid).

detail, Z Behl, JOKER”S SOLITAIRE, ed. 67/500

Now it becomes possible to imagine what can writing and the work of art do after the death of metaphor, and by whose thought, if the works of the gods, the elementals and the philosophers yield nothing more than an arrangement of corpses in a white cube. What is art-working in a situation in which the accumula-tion of the solar as a databank of infinite names is subject, not to the figure of the librarian, the archivist or any other servant of the philosophically sewn or sun, but rather to the figure of the derivatives trader, the uninvited guest, or the parasite? For Serres, in fact acting as a parasite on philosophy, the parasite is like the joker in a deck of cards— the one card that can assume any potential and whose presence alters production, making conditions for new responses— opening up the third space. “The ramification of the network depends on the number of jokers. But I suspect there is a limit to this. When there are too many, we are lost as if in a labyrinth. What would a series be if there were only jokers? What could be said of it?” (Serres) Maybe—nothing? The joker game changes: we thought that the data bank was the black box inside the white cube— those stacks of machines inside the tallest buildings, the holders of all the Twitter messages. Might the proliferation of jokers shifts our attention to another place, to a zone precessive of the sun-sewn-names? The parasite is not only actor, but also the place of deepest darkness, this third space, between the formerly-inorganic, and life?

In China red is lucky, how lucky we are to have red flowers, shall I get a vase? In China white is death and here black is death but ghosts are white of course, so a chessboard is death against death, and blood of course could be death but it’s lifeblood isn’t it, if you look at the flower it’s so astounding, yes.
(Caryl Churchill, Love and Information)

Christina McPhee is a visual and media artist based in California. Her work is in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art.


yes. This is what it seems only because we are living through a paradigm in which artists are conceived as librarians archivists and maybe curators. This is not how things used to be prior to this period and this is not hwo things will continue to be forever. The idea of artist as curator goes back to the emergence of perspectival image making when artists were greatly freed from the responsibility of creating original geometric worlds and were given a universal space to fill with things. Then came the photo camera, further reducing the role of the artist since a camera not only followed the same geometricity of the perspectival paintings, it was able to also render everything that fit in that space. With computers I think we are dealing with a device that has the potential to completely replace the artist.

And this is the way I can relate the significance of your response to Matteo’s original supercommunity text.


If the “artist is curator” is a sticking point, by means of a myth of origin such as “when artists were greatly freed from the responsibility of creating original geometric worlds and were given a universal space to fill with things,” we have not much advanced the discussion Pasquinelli’s text opens up around Serres, the parasite, actor theory, the origin of life and the possibilities of agency. Provocations, for me, around the ‘parasite’ in these texts of Serres and Pasquinelli, following him, in this text, has very little to do with a ‘role’ or ‘not-role’ for the artist-- the moves to make are not in oscillating binaries between ‘computer-human’ or between ‘original geometry-filled with things’. Please look again at the third space discussion around the joker and you’ll see what i mean.


In my response, “Take a Walk on the Dark Side,” a first aim is to stimulate thought around the possibility of the action-presence of the artist as ‘parasite’, following the suggestion Pasquinelli makes around Serres as applied to financial markets, capitalization of knowledge, and new theories about the origin of life as a structural swerve event. The second aim is contextual, to ask about this artist-as-parasite from within the frame Pasquinelli sketches around the myth of the solar power as the source of knowledge and the ‘databank’, or its absence (the black box). Pasquinelli opens up several through-lines. First, he throws up the Serresian “parasite” : and I catch it, to move it on, as a good joker will, into another territory, that is, a logic for the following set, ‘parasite = [activity of artists within systems]’. Perhaps a quote from one of Serres’ interpreters in English, Steve Brown, can illuminate: “Serres explains this by marking a distinction between production and information. Unlike predators, who consume their prey whole, the parasite does not exhaust production. It would be better to say that the parasite parasitizes reproduction, the propagation of production, rather than production per se. The parasite re-directs reproduction, it steers it in a new direction favourable to it. Serres likens this to the addition of information to energy. He tells the fable of ‘the blind man and the cripple’, where one has energy without information and theother has the converse capacities. When the paralyzed man is hoisted onto the blind man’s shoulders they make a new whole – a ‘crossed association of the material and the logical, and exchange of the solid for a voice’. The parasite is a selector, a point of decision where a new diagonal path is established that redirects the flow of production. To raw production, they add information, creating a new direction for a system.”


@naxsmash, I never said it was a sticking point. I Also don’t think al origins are mythical even if one subscribe to emergent theory, which I don’t. I really think there is a past, a particular one, to this mode of artistic production/dissemination that he has aptly identified as the archival mode, so I was trying to bring his thought into the conversation and extend your analysis or perhaps provide it a historical depth.