On some differences

Tomo Stanič: On some differences

“Ideas are non-material forms, yet forms are also ideas that have found their material form.”1

I shall establish a defining difference between VSSD and AO – the diction to “start from a certain difference” would suggest a far greater discontinuity of artistic practice than the verb “to establish”, which shifts the weight onto the theoretical category. VSSD features scenographic installations, spatial images, total ambiences-installations, Gesamtkunstwerk – comprehensive artworks that attack the spectator with a broad array of tools from an artistic store room. This is not simply about provoking the eyes and refreshing their sharpness, because one enters these images-ambiences with the entire body; one enters the scent, the time, the sound … At this point, the difference between the installation-work on the one hand and the document-photography on the other is clearly revealed. Unlike AO’s practice, which I have for the most part had the opportunity to see in person, VSSD only offers photographs of works from catalogues. Some works communicate, expand, polemicize, even come to life through these documents, while others demand presence and an experience, which is why I’ve written “establish” and not “start from”.

The reason I insist on the notion of difference lies foremost in the fact that AO’s practice does not present itself as flashy, noisy and luxurious, but is often compressed from a spatial ambience into an object – elements are not added, but removed and abstracted. Some exhibitions undoubtedly distance themselves from colors and only present white forms-objects, as if picturesqueness stepped back and let form take the stand, even though in a way liveliness and diversity have been preserved through AO’s objects as well. In any case, we are dealing with a shift from a person that comprehensively participates in spatial installations to a spectator who touches the object, establishes an intimate contact with it and observes it, so to speak, on his own, unlike previous spaces that swallowed spectators up. Perhaps we’re dealing with a gesture of delimitation, of drawing a dividing line between VSSD and AO with a new independent artistic practice. It is not my intention to offer this difference as evidence of complete discontinuity or relinquishment, even elimination or repression of a certain practice, even though it often seems that it is not an other author who is behind the most recent practice, but a different one. Some elements resonate in AO’s posterior practice – as the famous adage goes: “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.” In this sense, a common reading is quite interesting – as a rhyme, reply and objection of one work to the other.

The first difference relates to the spectator and I shall, for the time being, leave that aside and only use it as a springboard … After all, plenty of ink has already been spilled on the matter. At this point I wish to think one thing and one thing only: objects. I intentionally won’t call them sculptures, installations, plastics or anything similar, not because I would object to it – they are undoubtedly part of this family – but because the focal thought of the discussion must take place before all the “art classification rubbish,” if I may use a somewhat provocative term. I am interested in objects before we enter the world of art, before the questions on installation, on the relation between plastic and space, on the distance of observation or touch, and before we label them with the signifier sculpture, installation, piece … In short, prior to asking the questions that fall within the context of art, I am interested to know why someone creates certain objects, I am interested in the dialogue with objects. AO’s practice is perfect for such an undertaking, and I believe that it is also particularly challenging for thought. It is for this reason that I shall attempt to tackle it at the most abstract level.

One final comment needs to be made before we begin: many of Ožbolt’s objects are accompanied by texts. These are not interpretations, but parallels that put artistic objects in a certain context, even though they never reply to it. I wonder whether it makes sense to go through these works in search of a hermeneutic explanation that would uncover the artist’s hidden narrative. In such a case, words would quickly hit a blank wall (sometimes quite literally) or a blank object, even if this has never deterred thought from examining the issue. In no way do I advocate silence or wordless admiration. I believe this is where a new thought is emerging, and if nothing else, at least the desire to enunciate … Then again, that’s enough, if not too much already.


Cast: Various things or objects. Author: Martin Heidegger. Subject: To outline the difference between embeddedness and the presence of things in the world. Hypothesis: The primary and most common contact with things (in our case, objects) is not “mere perceptual cognition”,2 but the possibility of handling and using them – not to observe them but in order to deal with them. In this way a different “knowledge” of the object is constituted, such as could be introduced by an analytic view.3 Heidegger adds: “This being is not the object of a theoretical ‘world’-cognition; it is what is used, produced, and so on.”4 It follows that we come to know things foremost by using them, which is why various descriptions of their qualities (such as materiality, dimensions, color) will not get us very far; instead, we must come to know the way in which they are embedded in the world.

This critique aims at the presence of things (Vorhandenheit), which purports to ignore the very essence of things. Things are not “objectively given” to us – that is, entirely measurable through their physical qualities – but are objects that open up and intertwine into a network of relations, purposes, uses, contacts etc. To view an object solely from the standpoint of its qualities would mean that we strip it of all life (use, unexpectedness, relations) – that is, we distance it from experience, events and changes – of what is abstracted, ripped away from the context of space and time and tailored or, better yet, subjugated to measurements. This is why Heidegger uses the term useful things or tools (die Zeuge), to further accentuate their use, and then continues: “Strictly speaking, there ‘is’ no such thing as a useful thing. There always belongs to the being of a useful thing a totality of useful things in which this useful thing can be what it is. A useful thing is essentially ‘something in order to …’”5 And this “in order to” is a linking element that opens up a reference to other things: a useful thing for writing, viewing, driving etc. Useful things refer to other objects, they establish a relation to them – to be useful means to be in relation to something, to be for something. A useful object does not close in on itself, but opens up to something – we never see useful tools on their own, in the same way we never understand them individually first (as a table, light, pen) and only subsequently piece together the living space; on the contrary, they fundamentally reveal themselves as useful things for living, and we only subsequently see a room, table, pen etc. In short, the totality of useful things reveals itself before the individual useful thing.

The next step: not only that a useful thing most authentically expresses itself through relation and use (a hammer through hammering), but a reverse effect is also established, where use itself consciously adapts the tool – a useful thing originates from handling, a tool adapts itself to work. Hammering with a hammer reveals the handiness of a hammer, which is, in turn, supposedly its very own specific way of being, through which a hammer reveals itself and adapts to it. It is precisely because a tool’s handiness is inscribed in its very essence that we cannot consider it a contingent appendage that is pinned to the tool. A useful thing is at our disposal for a certain use, and its handiness is therefore not conceived as a consequence of interpretation or complementary ability, but of the useful thing’s core, its virtual side so to speak, which is necessarily its component. Useful things are never “merely present”, whereby we would only subsequently attribute select aspects of use to them.6 What is more, this “in order to”, that is, their purpose or use, is not the only thing that we encounter in useful things, for the manufacturer and user inscribe themselves in them as well. Consequently, useful things mirror the context from which they come and their own relations to the world.

Now we can better understand the struggle against the so-called “objectivity” and the criticism of the “theoretical observation” of useful things – even though we must not sing praises to practice and push theories aside too hastily; practicality is not thought atheoretically. At this point we must not give in to temptation and sever contemplation‑thinking from action, for a thought is already part of an action. Just as a practice has its own perception, thought and action, so does a theory. The intention behind Heidegger’s delimitation is hidden foremost in highlighting something special, even seemingly contradictory – that is, the very fact that a useful thing in its handiness withdraws from being truly present. Withdrawal means that a thing is not present as appearance or a quality, but a useful thing‑tool in a way dissipates and merges with work.7 Harman’s example of a bridge speaks volumes: the reality of a bridge is not the amalgamation of asphalt and the steel construction, but the bridging of a gap: “The bridge is a bridge-effect.”8 A useful thing necessarily resides from itself for something else, it is inevitably in relation to something, even if its use is never actualized. An object‑useful thing withdraws from presence in order to become a tool for something – a task or work come first, and one reaches for a tool only as a consequence of this task. It is worth recalling the famous example of a jug: a jug is made only to provide support to emptiness. A jug is empty for being filled with water. And this leads us to Heidegger’s central division into Zuhanden and Vorhanden, translated as handiness and presence.9

Zuhandenheit is a useful thing-tool’s way of being that makes itself evident foremost through embeddedness and use: “The act of hammering itself discovers the specific ‘handiness’ of the hammer.”10 A useful thing is realized, or rather, it comes to itself through being used. What is most important, however, is that a useful thing functions smoothly only when it is practically invisible. What we primarily perceive is a network of automatized functioning, where, if it truly functions, useful things are invisible – they withdraw from presence to merge without disturbance with the flow of activity. Heidegger’s hypothesis postulates that excessive commitment to “objective presence” would miss the object’s core – an explanation of a useful thing’s specific way of being cannot follow from it.

In order to avoid any confusion, I repeat: the world is not given to us as mere presence, we always enter it by way of handiness (Zuhandenheit) – things appear within our (biased) perception and use. To reach the so-called “objective” presence we must pass through handiness. Things are therefore “objectively” given first and it is only with use that they are deformed and reshaped into anthropomorphic tools. Mere presence (Vorhandenheit) means that the process of abstraction has already taken place – useful things have already been ripped away from the embeddedness of self-evident relations. Vorhandenheit is therefore a thing of factual presence, of categories, measurability and immutable presence. To oversimplify, the difference between zu– and vor– is parallel to the difference between relation and substance, or between a useful thing embedded into the network of human use and its supposed independence from man. To lose handiness, however, does not mean to lose legibility; the change is not symbolic, but real. Even though abandoned or useless objects sever some relations they always carry within them the memory of the previous function, they come from a known context, they carry their history with them etc.11 Handiness is never completely lost, it can be brought back to life.

In our case, the composition of the two opposing sides is not as significant as the passage from one to another (from Zuhanden to Vorhanden), which is actually not an outline of a smooth passage but the appearance of some kind of stuttering, faltering or stuckness. Stuttering retroactively reveals the true meaning and operation of handiness: an inappropriate and malfunctioning tool or unsuitability of a material for a certain use only becomes evident because the flow of use is disrupted. Stuttering makes things visible. Only when objects-useful things are taken out of the flow of mutual reference and operation do they acquire a visible presence. A malfunctioned tool therefore does not only change physically (if at all); what changes is the way in which it is embedded, its relations and how it is handled. In other words, the visibility and presence of useful tools implies that something went wrong. Stuttering gives visibility to things, objects catch our eye, they come to a standstill, become noticeable – the hammer falls from the hand and catches the eye. Heidegger even claims that such objects become disturbing and obtrusive. In such cases, some kind of a fall from the established occurs – something did not go smoothly or was inappropriate or useless, it lost the/its right place. He goes on to say that the disturbing, useless and unhandy must be removed or pushed back into action, into handiness – stifling presence must be eliminated, it must withdraw from visibility once again and merge with a place inside the whole.

We, however, are interested in the exact opposite path, not in the withdrawal within automatic and self‑evident work, but in stuttering – things that are in the way, the excessive things that acquire a visible presence. There’s nothing to be seen in automatized operation. Present objects are useless, but they further burden the spectator with their perceptual characteristics – they are more present as material objects than they are dispersed in work. These are objects for‑nothing, and only as such do they fall from self‑evidence and open up to the possibility of a different being and experience. Isn’t presence (Vorhandenheit) therefore much deeper than what is first put to “direct” use? What Heidegger calls impoverishment of the object, that which supposedly objectifies it the most, is, surprisingly, what enriches it.

… digression

Heidegger uses the analysis of useful things as the basis for his critique of presence, in which he sees no possibility for a different understanding or interpretation, and points out the fundamental role that handiness plays in man’s being‑in‑the‑world. Graham Harman follows the same reading, only he places the moment of withdrawal outside the human viewpoint. His initial thought in relation to which he wishes to establish delimitation is condensed in the following quote: “When I stare at a river, wolf, government, machine, or army, I do not grasp the whole of their reality. This reality slips from view into a perpetually veiled underworld, leaving me with only the most frivolous simulacra of these entities. In short, the phenomenal reality of things for consciousness does not use up their being.”12 More, apparently, is hidden in things than we perceive. Another example: “No sensual profile of these things will ever exhaust its full reality, which withdraws into the dusk of a shadowy underworld. But if something hides behind the many profiles of apples, what hides from view is not our use of the apple, but rather the apple itself. After all, using a thing distorts its reality no less than making theories about it does.”13 In Harman’s theoretical opus, withdrawal, which was strictly tied to human attachment‑relation to the world (as experience, acting and use) in contrast to tedious objectivity (quality, measurability, appearance), acquired serious ontological consequences – withdrawal or withholding designate inaccessible things that supposedly reside in the “hidden underworld”. In short, something truthful “in itself” lies in the darkness, and we do not have direct access to it.14 And the deduction that follows is quite interesting: “The thing-in-itself escapes us not because we are humans who think, but because we are entities that relate, just like fire relating to cotton or raindrops to a tin roof.”15 It is not simply about the inability to understand, but also about the problem of the one-sidedness of joint effect and practice, both of which fail to grasp a large part of the object itself – rain touches the roof in a specific way, and its touch is different from that of a fire or a human touch.16 Things do not elude us because we are always biased and limited to anthropomorphism, but because we are necessarily in a relation with them; what reveals itself also conceals itself, observation from one point of view means we miss a different one. Harman takes us one step further: “But what if we had kept the things-in-themselves and eliminated instead the privilege of the human-world relation over all others?”17 OOO’s epistemological stake is that objects and relations between them are thinkable precisely because they are real, out there, so to speak, even though (and here’s the retroactive punch once again) they are withdrawn and unknowable. This hypothesis is extremely seductive, but somewhat risky, as that which was supressed returns to the surface with each subsequent step: From what position can we make such a statement? How can it be possible to know something external to our register? Harman replies that the unthinkable can only be thought insofar as we think it indirectly by means of an innuendo, allusion or metaphor. He believes that philosophy as well should not use clear language, but “vivid language”. It is contradictory, as Cole points out, that such a philosophical position wants “to decenter the human, but as a language – and perforce as a way of thinking – it expands the human into all relations.”18 But what else can we do if we know that any neutrally constructed language will also sooner or later lead to contradictions and coincidences? The latter might actually be the answer: to not move away from language nor limit it, but to go through it in a sense – that is, by using contradictions, polysemy and coincidences, by crossing the boundaries or conundrums of a language.19 We’ll leave that question open for now…

Allow me to provide another, somewhat more figurative example: “Our use of the floor as ‘equipment for standing’ makes no contact with the abundance of extra qualities that dogs or mosquitoes might be able to detect.”20 Second thoughts: Where, in fact, is this abundance of qualities located? Would the argumentation change in any way if we substituted the floor with a window and insects that most likely don’t even sense it? To think a window already means to be subordinated to abstraction and separation of a part from the whole, it means to think a unit and unity. Is a window (un)perceived by a fly still a window – where does it, in fact, begin and end? Is there one window … does it even have a frame? … And if the fly’s window is completely different, what is the supposed window “in itself” like? Window glass of course has some real effects – even if a fly does not see the glass, it will undoubtedly fly right into it (as we often see) – but what I’m trying to hint at is not that relations or joint effects do not exist, but rather that all these statements tell much more about how we see/perceive things than they do about how things are “in themselves”. We cannot simply “rise above ourselves” as neutral and uninvolved spectators, and henceforth think all flies, floors and, indeed, relations as if they remain completely identical. In this case, consistency would also question the very notion of unity (of the window), consistency of perception, notion of the object etc. I only attempt to address the fact that if we step behind the curtain of humanity, there’s a danger that we’ll be left empty-handed.

Thinking an object is not to be too hastily equated with an idealistic position that cannot really touch an object “out there”, which is also Hartman’s indirect reproach: “Today’s philosophical populace still favors the claim that we cannot think something without thinking it, thereby returning us to an inescapable closed circle of thought.”21 Concealed in this statement are a pre‑critical division that posits things as complete out there and a thought that is supposed to simply describe this fully finished out there. There might be no way out of this circle of thought, it might even be closed in a sense, but that does not mean that it is limited, much less transparent to itself – we do not observe the edges of thought from an all-seeing viewpoint, we stumble upon them. From this standpoint, thought is not‑all, it is ridden with antagonisms and ruptures within itself. Without advocating obscurantism, thought can proceed altogether rationally, yet sooner or later it will fold into itself and show its heterogeneity – thought itself restructures the thinkable. Neither are we dealing with pure coincidences or ramblings, but with necessity, only that this necessity is established retroactively. The problem is therefore reversed, not in the sense that “there are things that are completely unthinkable”, but that “the unthinkable itself is thinkable”. After all, thought also cultivates a certain degree of autonomy, a kind of autonomy; this is, in fact, some kind of participation in thought, where we do not know exactly where it will show its limit, fall into paradox or fold into itself – it is, so to speak, some “it is thought” in which we are not quite versed, nor do we choose it ourselves.

Scientific discourse could also be discussed in parallel with the above and as a reply to Harman’s scepsis: the difference between nature and science that Lacan builds on is not the difference between nature as a completely impermeable and non‑transparent thing in itself on the one hand, and an independent scientific discourse as an inventory of nature adapted to humans on the other; to the contrary, science opens a new space of “nature”, where this discourse has real consequences. What is important is that this is not an inventory of nature, but new content that allows us to “touch” nature, which consequently also means that science not only adds something to reality as such, but even changes it. In this respect, Lacan points out that “scientific discourse was able to bring about the moon landing, where thought becomes witness to a performance of the real”.22

This is precisely why Harman’s realism, which simultaneously constructs a whole universe of things in themselves external to our register and later brings them under a distinctly human conceptual apparatus of interpersonal relations and effects, is not a completely consistent way out of an idealistic position. We need to bear in mind that the very foundation of division (deceiving perception/real exterior) represents a transcendental precondition that is primarily a product of our comprehension.23 So, how do we move on? By including the ineffectiveness and failures of our own position. In other words, the escape from the predicament of “How to touch things with words?” is possible precisely through thought-motion itself, both of an object and a notion, for every approach to the supposed being-in-itself will sooner or later reshape it. Slogan: Through the deadlock of an interpretation that is always already an intervention. The position I wish to take is not exactly realism, but an attempt to move the very incommensurability of a pair (of object and notion) through the point where we inscribe ourselves into it. Even if it seems that we observe the world from the outside – as a permanently foreign spectator – we do not have a clear, self‑transparent view of the enclosed whole of the world, but a view of the inside from within, as a compound in a compound that folds, exceeds and dissolves itself. This means that we ourselves are immersed in the guts of the world and that we have the power to set off its pulse.

Now we can also answer the question of language: it is not about the problem of an innuendo or an allusion to something beyond our thought, but about proceeding through thought to arrive at something that was not thinkable before and that has real consequences. That is why the OOO theory is not reproached for being over‑objective, in the sense that the subjective aspect is completely omitted; on the contrary, the problem is that the foundation is set all too subjectively and does not take into consideration inability as the actual division of thought. It’s not that theory does not go far enough; in a sense, it goes too far describing and making presumptions about our knowledge. Why? Because it does not consider the fact that internal inconsistency and contradiction of our knowledge not only means that we are unable to get to what being-in-itself should supposedly be, but it shakes the whole foundation much sooner – the very constitution of our reality creates what in-itself supposedly is. We must not forget that the very essence of things appears precisely through the disposal of a false appearance – the essence resides only in the deceptiveness of the appearance of things. What appears in perception itself is the stratification of a phenomenon, which creates some kind of an in front and behind the phenomenon, the possibility of displacement and deception – nothing is actually concealed, all concealment comes from perception.24 The difficulty is not to project various ideas into the empty beyond, but to understand the emergence of this beyond in the first place. For this reason, movement of thought is possible precisely through self-differentiation of what is perceived, through its layers and even through its self-elimination. It’s therefore not about the substantialisation of this beyond, but about the disparity of the “within”.25 In Hegel’s terminology: substance needs to be thought as a subject.

Translation into Heideggerian language: the richness and inexhaustible attributes of handiness (Zuhandenheit) are foremost a retroactive effect of presence (Vorhandenheit). Which would, within the OOO interpretation, read as follows: it’s not about the limitless possibilities of a real object versus final and partial perception, but that infinity of the object is born from stutterings-deadlocks, from becoming present (particularly the ascent of notion as an effect of language). Immense sensual richness of the perceptible is nothing more than the retroactive effect of a word.26 Interestingly, this richness appears as always already lost or absent – as possibilities that haven’t been exhausted – which only further confirms that these are merely “word possibilities”. It follows that mere being‑in‑itself is the effect of a cut and not something that would be limited by both practice and theory; on the contrary, every contact enlivens (opens) and changes the object. A different path is now opening up before us, one that does not think objects as independent of humans, but rather objectness as a product of humans – and consequently also the reason we incessantly get stuck with (art) objects.


How to think an art object in relation to Heidegger’s handiness and presence? These two are not parallel to recognizability and unrecognizability: recognition implies a thing-object in a certain context, its placement, legibility and purpose; to be unrecognized on the other hand designates objects that we don’t know what to do with, objects that are not in-place or understandable. It seems that art objects move between these two positions, perhaps they even must be recognized in order to truly become unrecognizability or to cause it. This pair is of no help: in a way, art objects are passages from a recognizable structure into an unrecognizable one. They stem from a specific context and often have a certain purpose, and at the same time they are also an attempt to reach for something or open something unrecognizable. Some works take advantage of quick recognizability and self-evidence to strike back and even turn the situation from which they stem upside down.

Let’s give it another try with a different pair: handiness of artworks is often pre-determined and leaves little to coincidence – the work is created for a certain (gallery) space or the art market and for a chosen public, how the work is to be handled is carefully outlined and often expected, sometimes even the work’s status is ordained. We could claim that a work often enters an automatized mechanism of a cultural context, but that doesn’t get us anywhere. We’re still moving around within handiness and evident use, we’re at the level of the statement that a hammer is made for hammering. The very moment something goes awry and does not run smoothly we enter the terrain of presence, where things are anything but evident and where even a hammer would exit from its self‑evidence.

Let us return to the example of a jug, even if it is somewhat misleading. The jug’s emptiness is not all that different from the possibility of hammering with a hammer. The jug opens up a space that is strictly purposeful, much as a hammer opens the possibility to hammer nails and a typewriter the possibility to type. This emptiness, however, is not to be understood as openness, but as relationality, which is a crucial difference. There are objects which cause a different kind of emptiness: 1. Empty space – openness as the possibility of an interpretation outside the strictly limited useful specter. 2. Out-of-placement – objects drill a hole in a given context and function as a closure, blockade or unintelligibility. There is a difference between a missing object and a missing place, but we’re nevertheless dealing with disparity and stuttering in both cases. It needs to be stressed that an artwork is not an empty jug that one would fill, but an empty jug full of non-use – it opens up space that cannot be filled. Something must go wrong, be useless or redundant and bothersome in order to draw attention to itself, and an art object is often a synonym for disparity with itself, a useless object with no right place. It may be true that the majority of objects we deal with are anthropomorphized – from, for and suited to humans – they are at hand, or at foot, or whatever, but here we’re not standing before different objects trying to discern the traces of our comprehension and how dependent they are on our view; it is precisely presence (Vorhandenheit) that shows that disruption exists, as does the stuttering of objects, which are created (from and for culture) but always cause some kind of interruption, de-anthropomorphization of the object … something that causes them to be out-of-place, useless and unhandy. Presence testifies to a disruption, as if it were some kind of a counter-attack on handiness, it is an object and understanding in the making, but first and foremost it is the emergence of misunderstanding. Is it really a coincidence that paintings often had a frame, sculptures a base, galleries a clearly defined set of rules etc.? Are these not means that push handiness away only to outline as much as possible the presence of work and break the ties with the surroundings? Handiness is intentionally pushed away in order to put us before the wall of artistic presence.

Can an artwork even be called a useful thing any longer? Useful for what, exactly? In the case of the jug, the material from which it is made is not even as important as is the fact that it holds and transports water. Which brings us back to the question of a bridge made from matches: Does it really bridge anything? What is its handiness? Is its use or operation not intended (or even withdrawn, withheld) to become and display presence? However, there is some doubt whether this presence is authentic. Is it not merely handiness in disguise that immediately dissipates in the comfort-use of the eye? Nevertheless, it is also true that an artwork hides not only in work as such but is harnessed in an activity. An artwork can be a “tool” for something – for example to move something, maybe thought – but only indirectly, through the point of stuttering, of impassability. But – and this is essential – an artwork only operates through inoperability. A work does not bridge gaps but breaks connections. The less it is dissipated in use, the more it shows itself and becomes present … And if it really is a tool, it’s a tool for non‑operation.

Stuttering is therefore a point of an unusual passage – it is a metamorphosis or a transformation. And it is unusual because it designates impassability – that which gets stuck can no longer move forward, while that which passes is re-created. Something can continue on through its own being-other, through its own dispersal, because it wasn’t able to cross the point of passage. If a concept can truly be comprehended only through some kind of motion (towards itself), then what follows through the work of words or material realization – through the work being put into the world, being actualized – is that the (art) object is a condemnation of this same concept. Let me explain: a concept is sharpened through motion – the sharper it gets the less things stick to it, until the last phase where we finally lose the blade itself and the only thing we are left with is the shape of a cut. In a sense we’re dealing with what appears to be a contradiction: to get to itself, it must abandon itself. That is why it is also not necessary for an examination of a thought to stay in the pre-determined idea. To pass into being-other could therefore be read literally: to pass into some other being, to be re-shaped or dispersed, to be translated into a different thing. A concept or notion has no trouble with inflections through various shapes of thought, or, in fact, through various beings. When an understanding or a conception comes to a halt it simply uses a translation, it can slip into an object, a painterly gesture or musical notation. Why? So that thought can get going, that an object can take it over and push it forward, make a reply and cause undulation and mobilization of thought. A thought is thought in different registers. An art object is a revitalization of thought – it is something that pushes its own idea forward and is simultaneously a witness to and a place of thought’s stuttering, its (im)passability.

Any object could likely be explained from a human point of view, from the viewpoint of handiness, and it is true that even an art object is created with a certain purpose, with a presupposed problem‑idea, from a known material, with a certain context etc. Even though such an object is never fully reducible to the thinkable it is some kind of an object-answer, a break over unthinkableness, where it must transform itself into something else. This means that it replies precisely from a place that understanding or conception cannot reach. A work can come from what is already known and can also re‑merge and dissipate into the known, but it always crosses the point of deadlock, it marks the point of presence. This is why it might be somewhat rash to condemn it as a problem of “being doomed to the closed circle of thought” or to an “anthropocentric view”. We could say that each creation operates as a mirror to humans, with the exception of the very act of installing a mirror. That is why I’m interested in the opposite pole, not the individual object, independent of humans/perception. I do not attempt to think nor understand this “outside-the-human”, but on the contrary, to think or understand the practice that is strictly related to humans and is at times even very personal, which makes it non-transparent. The struggle for the art object is therefore not about the object communicating a message, but foremost about actualization of thought, about the part beyond the reach of an idea. It is therefore necessary to refute the outpouring of the great author that knows everything and would pour his heart out if only he had a piece of paper … That is why we must not forget another expression in which Heidegger himself did not see any true potential, which is presence. If handiness denotes motion – passing inside a network of effect – then presence is motionless; it denotes the break as a reshaping, a necessary passing into being-other. Presence is the making-present of motion’s stuttering. We don’t need to look for being-in-itself out there when we see that the main deadlock is already “in here” – in thought and work that are most fully our own. This is why Žižek writes: “It is not enough to insist on the non-transparency of objects, on how objects have a hidden core withdrawn from human reach: what is withdrawn is not just the hidden side of objects but above all the true dimension of the subject’s activity.”27 A change of optics is needed: it is not about the richness of the object in itself that necessarily slips away from the subject of perception, but the excess of the subject itself that is non‑transparent to itself and cannot see its own point of inscription in the object. That is why I insist that there is a certain “it is thought” that necessarily inflects, breaks and reshapes itself. An artwork is a presence, it is the torture of object‑material in order to give thought a new shape. The conclusion and reply to Harman’s dilemma mentioned above: not only are we always doomed to the closed circle of our thought, we’re not even its masters. And the latter is also the only possible point where works of art can emerge.


Another difference between VSSD and AO is hidden in an expression used by the author himself – so-called redundancy, redundant objects. The expression fragility also appears occasionally. AO’s works do not veil some inability, whether related to material and shape or the negligible and mute, but are instances of intentional uncovering of chosen fragilities. VSSD’s activity was often related to “soft” installations – to ephemeral spatial installations, unrepeatable installations that only lasted for a single exhibition in a chosen gallery. And even though from this point of view AO’s objects are more enduring, inert and not strictly bound to space, they always provoke some kind of fragility, in some cases even redundancy. What is more, VSSD was in a sense extroverted, energetic and powerful, while with AO we’re seeing marginal, redundant objects, even leftovers. Past practice was created by the Artist and those were Artworks – this is not meant to be a provocation, but it seems that these works intentionally dealt with the institution of art, its context, genre, and history of art – and in my view the rest is far more marked with someone that fights objects on their own – an introverted practice, and objects as leftovers of a life. I believe we’re dealing with an essential shift in the author’s/artist’s position: VSSD occupies the space within “to know‑to know” – the author knows and the object knows (this, of course, does not mean that there was no tension or fighting involved) – while the other position could be more easily delineated as between “to notknow‑to notknow” – the artist doesn’t know and neither does his object, which is precisely why AO’s objects are not loud and ostentatious. The difference therefore lies between making a statement and questioning something. In some cases, we can also observe the dichotomy between past works, which employ a motive, and the current works, which build on the so‑called missing motive. To be more precise: past practice is programmatic – it is the projecting of an artistic statement and its deployment, it is about fighting with objects, using them to wag a finger at the world. And AO most definitely is a struggle against objects, each work is a fight, and nobody knows who will come out the winner. VSSD fulfils what was set, realizes what was conceived, while AO is a fall from the initial position – it is not about approaching a goal, but about moving away from a certain point. Here we’re talking about the split between what is set and what is open, and the difference between the author with his creations, his rights and property on the one hand, and on the other a human lost in their midst (which is the reason letters, self‑titled texts, descriptions of meeting oneself exist). The initial practice was created by a life, while in the other life is, so to speak, tailored to artistic work – that is, life is reshaped through practice and is not “reflected” in the work. I believe these differences culminate in, or at least establish a parallel between handiness and presence, between operation and stuttering. It is from these viewpoints that redundancy and fragility must be read. The mentioned objects are not fragile in their materiality; structurally speaking, we’re dealing with the emergence or display of fragility in a certain place.

I’ve mentioned that the author’s notes are always parallels to a certain work. In some cases, they’re even personal stories, as Alen calls them, even if he immediately adds that he doesn’t like those. His objects never illustrate or reflect stories, nor do they narrate them; if anything, we could say that they come from them, just as thoughts or visions come from a given moment in life. And just as a notion truly becomes a notion only when it begins to make a passage or movement, when it moves from within itself and folds into itself, so these objects, their multiplication, accumulation, repetition and collection are always another attempt to formalize something – they are formalizations of a deadlock (sometimes even of divergence, struggle or searching for one’s own place). If we observe them a little more meticulously we also sense that they are a kind of attempt to stop, which is created and launched on special places – they are stutterings of time, of cultural changes, technology. AO’s works are not an attempt to answer these deadlocks but to make their places present.

Translated by Miha Šuštar

On some differences

On some differences

Alen Ožbolt