The perspective of Events: (Dalibor Martinis, Eternal Flame of Rage)

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1. The arriving – art as the vibration of chaos

If we remove the tone of the vatic dimension of speech and the tone of the apocalyptic in speech about what is to come in the arriving, it would seem that contemporary art immersed only in the dark shadows of the present would lose any kind of sense of his own sovereign right to the destruction of everything in existence, including itself. Did not the watershed thinkers and artist of the modern period demand that it be overcome and superseded in the immanent transcendence of the world, from Nietzsche to Artaud, from Duchamp to Debord? What is left to us of their un-realised programme without an insight into the future on the far side of the mere fulfilment of the present with a greater intensity of the power of the engineering and scientific  code and the forces of the control mechanisms of the social reproduction of life? Were art just a representation, a history and social intervention in the current state of the world, then its imaginary power would be reduced to a mere aesthetic sign with, it is true, critical social resources of revolt against the perversion of the world and its dominant symbolic forms. But there are moments in which something that corresponds to the fatal embrace of the current and its immanent criticism will flare up. Perhaps the time has finally matured for us to free ourselves of the temptation of cutting art down to a profane commentary on philosophical and scientific interpretations of the world and to being used to further social change and awareness of some change of the actual world. All these are superficial and external definitions of that with which contemporary art confronts us, retaining still the primordial understanding of creating something new-in-the-world. The arriving is that possibly imaginable and thinkable in language-script-images of the radical perspective of events.

          Elementary powers in the chaotic dance of human and inhuman life join the threads of a woven net. In it the infinite can be seen in the finite, eternity in the truly temporal, and images of the unrepresentable in the conceptual purity of the world as event. Art streams through worlds of iconically different epochs, leaving a trace of presence of that one and singular event of time in its epochal boundaries.These powers flare and burn out in language, language and visual codes of art, philosophy and science. Deleuze defines these three great forms of thinking as elementary powers of joint play in the understanding of the primary state of chaos. From its magma and ash derives every possible creation of worlds.The relation of finitude and infinitude, the domiciliary and the de-territorialised, nature and the cosmos, man and the inhuman takes place through three forms of relation to chaos in general.  The thinking of art is opened via sensation and the construction of monuments, material traces of the work.  And so architecture is the primary art of the relation of the finite and the infinite, earth and cosmos. The thinking of science operates with functions and constructions, the thinking of philosophy with conceptual language. But all three forms are immediately creative operations of production of the event of the new.                   

Art, however, appears, unlike science and philosophy, as that elementary power of the creation of the new closest to the primary state of chaos in the creation of the work of art. The whole of the temporality of the work of art is shown in the mode of the possibility of the event of the arriving.  Time builds and dissolves, as one of the Heraclitean fragments says about the play of a child with pebbles without any other purpose except the act of creative play. Art and philosophy and science relate towards the oceanic chaos by not passing in their symbolic games the set borders of feeling, function/construction and conceptual language. Contemporary art can then be defined only negatively. It is a frenzied search for the lost space of reconciliation (space), deterritorialisation and (the time of) singularisation. The time of its indeterminacy is irreducible to philosophy and science. but at the same time, it is the Promethean dream of the rule of the image that joins conceptual script-language with the functions and constructions of the world. And there remains its irreducible remainder on the far side of every image as perspective of event. This remainder is not just in the sensation of the oscillation of chaos. At issue is a whole experience that the work of art opens with its entry into the world and its exit from the material structure of the work itself. Deleuze called the issue of the subject of the artistic world in the event of the openness the existing/being of the world singularity. In it the movement of finitude and infinitude appear through the subject-artist. But this does not happen by the artist being the centre, rather the surrogate, of the event The subject of contemporary art in the arriving time of the fulfilled emptiness of works, artefacts, performative actions, interventions and provocations (provoking experience and the interactive communication of the participants of the event) is singularity without the modern subject as actor of the work of art.

The artist is nothing but the link between singularity and deterritorialisation. So, the art is the arriving elementary power of the contemporary age. The conceptual language constructs the world as a network of functions with sensation and experience of the world this side of transcendence. Everything is here and there. Everything has its place in the chaos of the universal creative game only when the world is placed into the horizon of the engineering and scientific game with objects in the space of the social, political and cultural network of events. For the event to have its own perspective, clearly it has to produce a double effect. It has to be put in some relationship with the history of the mediality of perspective as illusion with which the participant (perceiver) takes part in the act of artistic production and must have a surplus of the imaginary in the act of placing the work in the deterritorialised space. Here it should be said clearly that the concept of perspective of the event is aimed at something different than the media presumptions of contemporary art. Firstly, by perspective, the optical effect of the illusion of the view in the new world is defined. With Renaissance art the body in space becomes subject as figure thanks to the technical invention of geometrical and linear perspective. It is a kind of Western symbolic form.

Dalibor Martinis

Power comes out of the formal conditions of acting in space and time. Without perspective there can be no technical visualisation of the world. But in the concept of perspective, it is not just about the possibilities of observing things and objects in a constructed space. Perspective is not just a human weapon in the articulation of visual power. The horizon of the future, the arriving, is always thought of from some perspective in time. This is the possibility of deploying the subject or actor of the view into deterritorialized zones of arriving uncertainty of life shot through with networks of inhuman social relations, ideological conflicts about the occupation of the empty place of power and appropriating the same symbolic forms for other purposes. Hence contemporary art has to be first of all interpreted as deconstruction of symbolic forms of the contemporary world. Inherent in the perspective of the event is the dimension of the ability for the actual perspective to be turned round. When Paul Virilio quotes the words of Paul Klee that now objects notice him, and not he them, it is not about a revolution of objects, but about the objects of a revolution in the actual concept of event. The view of the subject no longer enters into the body of the world. Now the actual secularity of the world in its corporeal immanence is objectified in the body of the eccentric subject. Contemporary art is the scene of this revolution of the world as perspective of the event of the arriving. It can be said with justice that there is no event without this turn of art in the being of the contemporary world.

The language of art is the iconic language of the elementary powers of chaos. From the contingency of life that the world is and is just this way comes the wish for intellectual understanding of chaos itself and the desire for its restraint in the crystal bars of models, systems, orders. The whole of history has gone on in the signs of the domination of one by the other. Art in the mythic world preceded philosophy, and from the new age to what we call the contemporary age science has established its absolute rule over every other language of thinking. It is not then strange that the paradox of our time is seen in contemporary sciences in the exploration of the ultimate secrets of the creation of the universe and the origin of life not using mathematical symbols and formulae, rather hybrid language-script of art and philosophy in the explanation of its premises and theoretical solutions.  Analogy and metaphor are used for the intellectual operation of structural play with the mythical language of indicating and marking the last and the first, the covert and yet at the same time overt, what no longer stands behind in the mysterium tremendum of the divine feast. What is behind is always “here”. In the event of openness of the world as work of art with time marker of the apocalyptic power of the eternally new there is no longer any elevated Thing that regulates social relations. Capital is neither a sublime nor an immanent manifestation of that radical turn. The concept and essence of capital structurally develops in the network of its commodified artefacts as visual representation of that emptiness between elevated Thing and banal reality of the material reproduction of life. Gilles Deleuze was able hence to leave the following explanation in the document Proust and Signs with the additional explanation, along the lines of the Romantic dream of the artist-philosopher and the merging of art with the conceptual language of philosophy. For in spite of the criticism of philosophy with artistic means the weapons of the critic can be nothing but philosophy.

“Philosophy with all its methods and its good will is nothing compared to the cryptic forces of the work of art.”

When the contemporary world opens up in it’s a-rythmic pulsation of earth and vibrations of the non-human technical sphere in all that still belongs to the classical determination of man and his being, then the first to be sensed will be the coming of something that is elevatedly unutterable and awfully dark. That is what is hidden behind the veil of the current  that devours itself. The possibility of breaking through this border on which contemporary art rests with all its  agitation, repetition of gestures and strategies of its ancient predecessors of the historical avant-gardes of the first half of the 20th century (including Dadaism, Constructivism, the Surrealist fascination with the image of dreams and mirages of reality), is submitted by Deleuze’s thinking of the event as an always new becoming/being different in the identity of being and time. Art thus surpasses the artist (the personal identity) with the creative chaos of becoming/being eternally different`. Repetition will not eliminate difference. What is more, it can be seen as a difference only by constant variations of the same. Difference cannot be thought without identity in time. Becoming /being eternally other in sameness contemporary art creates  apparent changes of form in a setting of the essential event of the temporality of life. Technological innovations have contributed to formal and material changes in the status of art as new-media practice of acting.  Video art is in its technical structure an obsolescent medium.  But in the age of digital integral media it continues within the new technological matrix.This holds true for all forms of contemporary art, including photography, film, performance and installation. the intellectual image corresponds at once to conceptual art. Conceptualism in all its versions, including political and social interventions, is a pure symbolic form of a non-human/human constellation in real time. Language-script-text takes the iconic unutterabilty of the event under its aegis.

It is a question why conceptual art is placed in the very centre of the philosophical debate about the new relation between image and language-script-text in the visual culture of contemporaneity. Although undoubtedly the performativness of the body is seemingly closer to what marks the concept of event – above all in Heidegger and then in Derrida, Deleuze and Badiou – conceptual art is philosophically oriented to pure, Mallarmé-style, silence of the concept-image as words without a transcendental referent.  In other words, conceptual art is a radical abolition of the art of the modern subject. It is text without language and language without text, sign without object, object without sign – the overwhelming immanence of form and content of art without a body.

Between concept and image, difference is abolished when the image does not precede the concept and when the concept does not precede the image. Image and concept in their productive unity correspond to the singularity of the event. This means that any kind of narrative structure, any kind of new iconology or narratolgy is for new media art not only an unsuitable tool for interpretation but an inappropriate manner of understanding  what image as concept or concept as image, irrespective of whether it is about film are or video art, non-discursively addresses to observers, watchers, listeners. This is at the same time a reason for art works no longer being able properly to be interpreted from some ruling theoretic Omega point (neo-Lacanian psychoanalysis, phenomenology, hermeneutics, relational aesthetics) but only immanently, from its own horizon.

For Deleuze the only true aesthetic problem at the time of the end of aesthetics in which contemporary art resides is a non-realised programme of the historical avant-garde: getting art into everyday life. The construction of such a life is hence not shielding the world of life from the influence of technical and scientific or ideological and political articulations of social relations in the form of capitalist control over the body of nature, the body of man. The iconoclastic path of contemporary art with respect to the non-human horizon of feeling/experience of the world without the ultimate secret is the historical event of the transition of image into language-script-text. Virtuality precedes actuality not only because life is not always a ready made. What is more, the life that by the artistic event is turned into the work of art is at the same time a virtual-actual act of intervention into its cracks, its furrows and chaotic structure of becoming/being different and other. Can hence the rebellion against structural violence and injustice of the world within the epochal boundaries of the secularity of the capitalist globalisation be thought at all artistically in image-concept as work/event of the perspective of the arriving if contemporary art from the utopian political-aesthetic programme of revolution of perspective is raised above the reality that it decodes with the action of the destruction of its universal global form? Instead of an oceanic chaos of the collective game of finite and infinite, earth and cosmos, the other face of chaos is the Promethean eternal flame of rage. Does every return to a state of stability in change, basic sign of contemporary art with its eternally new  circling in the nihilistic charmed circle of actuality burn up in it?

Dalibor Martinis – Eternal flame of rage

2. Objects in the flame – the end of the fetishism of desire?

Dalibor Martinis has with his previous highly radical artistic project of conceptual-media practice of intervention into the essence of the contemporary age raised the question of the point of change in the perspective of the event of life itself within the constructive frenzy of the post-global apocalypse of capitalism. The Eternal Flame of Rage takes as its object for artistic intervention the human/non-human state of the objectification of the idea of the modern freedom of private property and the eternal desire for the transformation of man into Thing. Not just any old thing. This thing is the Faceless as sublime object of the fetishism of desire.  It is about a paradigmatic object of modern industrial civilisation, the automobile. The very origin of this compound word in which the original Greek auto is mixed with the Latin mobile, that self and that moveable, suggest the realisation of the idea of the de-territorialised subject without its own time and place. The car is the object of the autonomy of freedom of the modern age and at the same time its space-time casting out into Nothing. To be an object means to become a different (still/dead) nature of life. The technical character of the secularity of the world does not affect only the fate of humanity, but that of all other beings. Art from the very beginning of the historical avant-garde was cast off into the non-human domain of the technical construction of the world.  And so, there is no essential ontological difference between the ready made of Duchamp and the perfect artefact of industrial civilisation such as the car. In the Manifesto of Futurism, Marinetti articulated this clearly. In front of the beauty of the speeding car the classical beauty of the Nike of Samothrace belongs to a bygone mythic world. Self-mobility and constant movement without object and purpose save in the actual movement of the fetishist object of desire, which exists only in communication with the Other, is the basic mark of the eccentric nature of the global consumer capitalism.

Instead of the real actors of the system, people in their social roles and in the figuration of life styles – the technocrats, the political tyrant, the manager, the disempowered manual labourer – appear as character masks. The desire for wealth marks the possession of things. The difference between object and things is the difference between putting things into social relations of rule and obedience to power that needs its external objects of disposing with the Otters and the actual objectification of freedom as object of intellectual reflection. The object is the thing-in-itself in the condition of the end of the power of the modern subject. The thing is the enigmatic only that exists just when there is an epochal set of the world, nature, the human and the divine.  When this set or assemblage has been shattered, then each thing is just an object for other purposes, consumable commodity  that is valuable while there is a social order of the structural perversion of human relations and the world. Nature is either the essence of capitalism inthat it is the negation of everything primordial and natural, everything authentic and immediate, of authenticity and the being at home of the human being. It is the paradox of the modern idea of the subject and the social nature of capitalism that both of them – the individual and the collective unconscious of the monstrous system of the desire for death and for Nothing – objects of the self-presenting Thing as what is self and moveable. If anyone wants, then, to talk of the regal power of absolute freedom, then he must be quiet about the death of nature and human being as traditionally understood. Lacan defines the concept of the subject with a lovely sentence that resounds with Freud’s gloomy unheimlichkeit and Heidegger’s insight into the not-at-homeness of modern man: “L’homme n’est pas ice maitre chez lui / Man is not the master in his own house.”

Through virtual and actual burning of cars on the scorching streets of  world cities with photographs from the Reuters archives, with his own share of the public action of incinerating old cars on the peripheral industrial wastelands and in the isolation of the elevated platform of the shut-down mine in Labin, where the blue of the night sky, the spots and the burning conflagration impart to the lurid iconoclasm of the work of art/event a surplus of the mysterious in the emptiness of every direct reference, Dalibor Martinis in his Eternal Flame of Rage stokes up the flames of rebellion against – what? We have already said: contemporary art in its most reflective achievements cannot be reduced to social and still less to ideological and political intervention. Against what? This question must above all clear up what revolt is in general in the contemporary world of the reign of neoliberal capitalism with all its diverse hybrid forms of political system. The very title of this artistic project indicates the dedicated means / purpose of the result.  It is not a permanent revolution, as it is called, Trotsky’s version of the Leninist idea of permanence in the stability of change, which rests on ethical political principles of a civilised party dictatorship. Rebellion against the surveillance society of the western democracies, the hegemony of the neoliberal ideology, the suppression of media freedom, the transformation of civil activism into the post-modern narcissism of apathy and spectacles of fame, the condition of the general anomie of all legal, political and cultural institutions, a protest against the racism and xenophobia of Europe today – all these are phenomena in which rebellion is manifested as a public action of the articulated affect  of anger.

The outward form of such action is visible in the chaotic state of the global order in which the fight against injustice and the political dictatorships happens virtually and actually in the clashes of demonstrators and police and army on the streets. Rebellion always marks a turning point of anger from the latent condition of individual action into mass, collective forms of anarchic and political resistance, the main symptoms and tendencies of the internal overcoming of the structural crisis of neoliberal surveillance society. Anger is transmitted revolutionarily from the political and psychological anthropology of modernism to the subjects/actors of radical social action. The explosion of anger as political and psychological affect, however, is not a thing only of the revolt against the injustice of the world order. If this were all, then revolt would be of an exclusively abstract nature against an unknown case /result of the negation of the idea of justice, freedom and the point of human life.  This is a matter of a concrete subject-substance of a chaotic order that represents itself as the only and best of all worlds. Still more radically, it is to do with a rebellion against the social and psychological working of the abstract and concrete monstrous machine of the rational frenzy of global capitalism as the world, here and beyond, of the unjust division of riches and the power of disposing with people for the sake of turning them into an inhuman condition of objects and things.The most terrible social and psychological consequence of the chaos of the world order is the apathy and unhappy awareness of the impossibility of any kind of coherent change of the condition of things – the total nihilism of the “happy death” of the civic individual in the supermarket of nothingness.

Anger is used by the destruction of the means/purpose of the material reproduction of life as the aesthetically treated post-modern economy.  The elementary power of the apocalypse of the old world is revealed by the flame of the unquenchable fire. The visual code of revolt is media-conveyed by the burning of cars in the centres of Western globalitarian civilisation. It started with the action of the humiliated and excluded immigrant subcultures in the Parisian suburbs in 2005.  It was the anger of revolt against the hopelessness of life in the new zones of segregation and exclusion. It then spread worldwide as method with various ideological and political signs – from the radically left and antiglobalist to the radically rightist expressions of the revolt of subcultures in their clash with the repressive machinery of government. The career of this rebellious method has the same fate as the concept of criticism of ideology as cultural fight – kulturkampf. It was originally used by Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci in the 1920s, while in the new version it was adopted by the European metapolitical new right of the 1970s. The actual method of anger and rebellion was not aimed at the burning of cars in the sense of an irrational act of hatred against the wealth and a decadence of the haute bourgeoisie or merely as an iconoclastic act of  impotent rebellion against the symbol of technological monstrous power, like the Luddists in Britain at the start of the 19th century, who wrecked machines not thinking that they were depriving them of work but as a rational-irrational action of negative resistance against the economic and political rule of capitalism in general.  When today it is naively thought that the alternative to the consumer society of neoliberal capitalism is the figure of the enlightened no-logo purchaser, who refuses to buy unacceptable products of an economy based on creative product design, it is nothing but inverted Luddism by other means. It is not about the visible object of the monstrous and seductive rule. It is about the total rule of those things that  condition the possibility of transformation of the world into a corporate system of frenzy with no consolation. Burning cars as universal method of rebellion in the global world order is a metapolitical action of the transformation of ideology into a  new culture of  rebellion with a redefined ultimate objective.

In his conceptual actions / interventions / performative events of the project Eternal Flame of Rage Dalibor Martinis unites three mutually connected artistic strategies:

  • Deconstruction of the medial history of different political events in the world of the first decade of the 21st century by archiving photograph documentation of anger and rebellion in the streets of cities of the world (antiglobalist demonstrations, Palestinian revolt against Israeli occupation of Gaza, militant actions of nationalist subcultures in Belgrade against American hegemony and so on).  In this case the photograph meant for the media as authentic report about some event is no longer an original art product with the signature of author/artist.The original and the copy in the media world of  the reproduction of the image as visual language-text-script are not binary oppositions. It can even be stated that the return of the aura of art work in the digital age of integral media comes into being only when by endless repetition and reproduction of the image the difference between work and authorship is abrogated. It is not a matter of some collective, anonymous work, but of the change of status of artwork and author as subject of the artistic event. For Martinis it is undeniable that the artistic event as authentic work is product of media interaction of message without a primary signifier, subject with a sign and sign without a subject, since it is the media construction of reality that endows upon it the unique character of trace in time.
  • Openness to singularity of artistic event that binds the interactive community of networked subjects in the absent presence of actor of the artistic event. All is open: earth – Sky, picture with no world and world without an image, finite and infinite, oceanic chaos of the vibrations and rhythms of the contemporary world of abandonment and void (of objects) – the eternal fire of the angered history of the nature-cosmos in the iconoclastic act of the apocalypse of this world of frenzied fetishism of desire. And here the ecstatic event  of the gaze in the burning conflagration is seen through all the perspectives of the event of the arriving.

(3)The destruction of visual representation of the unrealised media world that precedes like an order of simulacra every possible reality. The paradox  of transmedia art lies in it not using material conditions of media for a criticism of the real world.  Exactly the opposite, just as for Deleuze the only real aesthetic problem is the still unrealised programme of the historical avantgarde about the entry of art into life, so for Martinis the only real problem of contemporary art is seen in the egress from the magma and ashes of life as art, for both life and art in the postglobal age are nothing but functions and constructions, codes and models, images and creations of a media-closed house in which humankind is not the master.The last riddle of this mystery is the unrepresentability in the combustion of the actual thing (to autó). That whence wells the power of thought and statement on the thing itself is the visual unrepresentability of chaos in the flare and ash of the thing.  Art after the end of fetishism of desire depicts nothing any more and does not represent. Unlike the philosophy and science it thinks in image-concepts, which evoke feeling/experience of calm in the revolt against the miraculous and terribly awesome beauty of chaos in the eternal flame of rage.

3. Continuation – sleep and fire

Nothing remains any more of the work of art. That nothing remains is the real time of the arriving in signs of contemporary art refined to the point of the crystal image that burns in dreams.

René Char, poet of the Heraclitean eternal movement, of being and becoming and change, in the Leaves of Hypnos wrote thuswise:

Hypnos seized hold of winter and clad it in granite. Winter turned into sleep and Hypnos became fire. What happened next belongs to men.

Author Profile
Žarko Paić

Žarko Paić is a Professor at the University of Zagreb, where he teaches courses in Aesthetics and Media Theory. He publishes frequently in philosophy, social sciences, and art theory. His publications include Theorizing Images, eds. with Krešimir Purgar (2016), and Technosphere Vol. 1-5 (2018-2019), White Holes and the Visualization of the Body, (2019), Neoliberalism, Oligarchy and Politics of the Event – At the Ege of Chaos (2020), Aesthetics and the Iconoclasm of Contemporary Art - Pictures Without a World (2021).