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Kunstverein am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz, Berlin, July 2017



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POSTER bruise the floorplan 2017


score for a future discussion03-extract-score-for-a-prepared-voice-2016

score for a future discussion04-exit-text-no-1-2016



Prelude: in the fullness of voice

From this land that suffers a melancholy of suppressed cruelty, we know that you urge us, after so many years of silence, to write you details of our discoveries on this island, which you will say we were fortunate to find again. But our narrative is a drama of backwardness. There is nothing left of what was once related to you, only an exhaustion full of the deep dark mud of the streets. Crowded with ancient dismal darkness, the damp and filthy houses where we dwell are full of the hunger of those broke and ruined here, on Utopia.

It is perhaps a solace that nothing is clearly understood here. We find on this island – we cannot with any conviction use its name – the remains of what were once proud cities. What befell them is unknown to us, except that each of them discovered their own path to ruin. And it is these ruins, not explanations that we send back to you.

Thomas More’s utopia 1516 and 2016

Those that wander among the broken stones of this place, speak of things of which we know nothing. They talk loudly of past and future moments. It is as if they seek to find cracks in history, to uncover other days when a better world seemed less distant. But the island grinds their hope to despair. Each of them is an oracle, possessed by prophecies and impossible wonders. They mutter and shout of great leaders and divine beings, of laws and deeds, of how we will lead the lost, the poor and the hungry to plenty. Each is cursed by promises of redemption, of a better world to come. It is this that brings most pain to us.

Crawling through dust and clutching torn and blackened pages, a husk of a man beseeches us to listen to ‘The Revolution in the Mind and Practice of the Human Race[1]. Speaking in an air thick with ash, he recites without pause a Universal Constitution. He places great emphasis on Law 33. Eyes wet with tears he declares

‘All individuals, trained, educated, and placed, in conformity with the laws of their nature, must, of necessity, at all times, think and act rationally, unless they shall become physically, intellectually, or morally diseased; in which case the council shall remove them into the hospital for bodily, mental, or moral invalids, where they shall remain until they have been recovered by the mildest treatment that can affect their cure’.

As he speaks, his face is struck with a wonder that we do not hear in his words.

We learn that language is dangerous here. Words are riddled and infectious with a strange affliction. To glance at a page brings ruin. A lucid few burn what books, pamphlets and scraps of writing linger among the ruins. Huddled around these fires are wretches of men who seldom speak. A bandaged face tells us that on the west of the island those who admit to literacy are herded up and blindfolded. Another speaks of less gentle treatment, eyes gouged out and tongues removed, as if the speech of someone who can read is itself a carrier of corruption . . . perhaps those who carry out these measures are right. In this time of the impossible nothing can be discounted, every rumour has a grain of plausibility and that is enough for the frightened.

In a field choked by brambles the remains of a building completely cast in glass is discovered. In its endless reflections a voice murmurs;

You will subjugate the unknown beings on other planets, who may still be living in the primitive condition of freedom, to the beneficent yoke of reason. If they fail to understand that we bring them mathematically infallible happiness, it will be our duty to compel them to be happy. But before resorting to arms, we shall try the power of words. In the name of the Benefactor, therefore, we proclaim to all the numbers of the One State: Everyone who feels capable of doing so must compose tracts, odes, manifestoes, poems, or other works extolling the beauty and the grandeur of the One State.”[2]

In the middle of the night, candles are lit so we can see. A cruel insomnia afflicts us in this long season of suffering . . . the inside of the two bedroom fourth floor flat is covered in fragments of propaganda posters, torn out pages of political philosophy, demo flyers and party manifestoes. Printed, scribbled and drawn on the walls and furniture is a dictionary of doubles, doppelgangers and demonic possessions. At the end of a long arrow that runs down a rear wall of a living room and terminates on the veneer of a sideboard is a photocopy of the Frontispiece of Edmund Hobbes Leviathan. On a dining table is a cracked television screen covered by arrows made of coloured electrical insulation tape. On a kitchen window is an over exposed photograph, a post it note alongside it reads “the Greek theatre at Epidaurus”. On a bookshelf is a brown manila envelope. It is sealed and unaddressed. Inside on a yellowed sheet of A4 the following is typed:

“churning pseudo-temporality of matter ceaselessly mutating”[3] “kindergarten grotesque”[4] “seamless patchwork of the permanently disjointed”[5] “kingdom of morphing”[6] “toilet groups mutate into Disney stores then morph to become meditation centers”[7] “transitional moments are defined by stapling and taping”[8] “transient couplings, waiting to be undone, unscrewed”[9] “new language that straddles unbridgeable divides”[10] “new oxymorons to suspend former incompatibility life/style, reality/TV, world/music, museum/store, food/court”[11] “Language is no longer used to explore, define, express, or to confront but to fudge and blur”[12] “Narrative reflexes that have enabled us from the beginning of time to connect dots, fill in blanks, are now turned against us”[13]  “retrofitting of language”[14] “Our most creative hypotheses will never be formulated, discoveries will remain unmade, concepts unlaunched, philosophies muffled, nuances miscarried”[15] “momentous spell bound totality of everything that is”[16] “crypto-pixels”[17] “orphaned particles in search of a framework or pattern”[18] “performs its task in negotiated isolation”[19] “temporary embrace with a high probability of separation”[20]

In the kitchen bin among crumpled and water damaged brochures for housing developments is a notebook. It is blank apart from a text handwritten on the inside of the back cover:

“the brilliant fragments of a splintered utopia in which we would like to believe”[21] “Homo luden”[22] “acres of organization to support drunkenness, disarray and disorder”[23] “a form of distraction at the intellectual, political and aesthetic level of the nursery”[24] “instantaneous community of emotion”[25] “communism of public emotion”[26] “ones ability to be someone else”[27], “improvising with continually re-programmed memories” “hold onto yesterday’s clothes and mobile phones spells catastrophe”[28] “readymade doll with a human face”[29] “into a never ending series of egotistical measures”[30]

Wedged behind a washing machine is a black bin liner containing torn up and shredded paperback books. Clogging up a kitchen sink are the ashes and burnt pages of hardback books. The toilet is blocked with excrement and library books. On a blue, red and yellow rug in front of a sofa, crumpled magazines are covered in vomit. On a dining table below a narrow window is a single leather bound volume. Every word on every page is obscured by thick black lines from a marker pen.  A drawer in a sideboard is crammed with receipts. Under a waste pipe leaking stagnant water are hundreds of photographs bundled together with plastic bands. In a cardboard box full of stained blankets is a leather-bound book on anatomy. Taped to a drawing of a dissected human skull is a Polaroid. In a box file on top of a wardrobe is a large A3 scrap book of best before date labels cut from food packaging. In a shopping bag is an unused diary. You pass by outside. We speak at you;

Flesh, suspended in a tree, nailed to a cross or locked in an iron cage, is a public spectacle. In your rituals and ceremonies, the display of our dead flesh is an expression of your power. Flayed and quartered our bodies are possessed by your voice that speaks of your rights and wrongs.

With scalpels you, when the first anatomical theatres came, opened our bodies. Undisturbed by the violence of the battlefield and the pain of torture, our body is your scholarly knowledge. Skin parted and lifted our corpse is a cold confessing spectacle. The ‘confession’ you draw with veins and organs is not an account of only one of us. Your scalpel and steady hand make one anonymous body confess for all of us. On this anonymity you incise texts, and mark diagrams of your knowledge. A corpse of footnotes becomes the truth against which you observe and judge. A secondary literature of bodies, our measure is drawn by your scalpel.

Like priests you are possessed of words, we are possessed by winged devils that spew from our mouth when you speak from your book. You cast out our voice naming it diabolical; you bind us with oaths to a higher power. You tell us we are possessed of a lies and cunning, but that your voice is a sovereign and eternal power. Confronted by your order and reason, we are darkness, disorder and madness. And so we the demonic face your exorcisms, lured by offers of redemption and eternal life.

Secretly and maliciously you use witchcraft to bring suffering to us. From paper, wax, clay, string and twigs, you make effigies of us. And these you poke, stab and stick with pins. We are numb to your cutting and stabbing. Your dolls do not give you power over us and they do not bind us to your desires.

Under a bath are seven cloth figures. Each is different but all are full of pins and exude a pungent odour.  A bathroom cabinet is full of plastic flowers. A toilet cistern contains a black wig. The insides of a cupboard under the stairs are covered in drawings. In a crushed cardboard box in a cutlery drawer is a bell. You come to the door. The sun is bright. You try to remember us by drawing lines around shadows. From your charcoal sketch you model our face in clay[31]. But we are not golems made of earth[32]. Mud and burnt wood are too fugitive[33] and dissident to capture our likeness.  You try to be political with us; but your words are a river of mud. We are not your people[34] or your agreements or declarations; they are illegible and unrepresentative to us[35].  We are not your demos, your polis or your citizenry. Your democracies only represent yourself, they do not name us[36]. You tell us we are unique among animals for possessing language. But we do not possess language, language possesses us[37]. And the meanings of language belong to you[38]. You lead us outside where we fall into a labyrinth[39] of amphitheatres, archives and coffee houses.

You tell us you made space for us. You show us an area of flat ground paved with stone. It is a place made for us to gather and talk. A place made for us to be seen and heard by you. And it is our words you covet most. You reveal large bronze jars in walls, as you talk about the acoustic properties of numerous curves and cornices[40];

The amplification of your voice is a crucial principle in the construction of this public space, as it is here you will gather to speak and hear others. It is important that you can hear yourselves, not as a rabble or mob, but as embodied reason engaged in a dialogue with your peers. This is when your breath counts, when your words call for a response, a challenge or agreement. This space of bronze and stone is your instrument. You will find as you talk amongst yourselves, an increased clearness of sound. The very fabric of this space will resonate with your words. You will be in harmony with your speech[41].

We are silent; any words that fell from our lips resent the harmonies orchestrated by you. We already see each other, hear each other. We do not need to enter a place of stone to speak to ourselves. You give us an instrument that only plays music composed by you[42]. This space speaks instead of us, yet you say it speaks for us. But we know it does not speak to us and that we have been spoken for[43]. You talk of representation, of delegates and proxies. You direct us to choose one of us to speak for all, for one of us to stand as an example of all of us. We come to a street, where everything shines and smells of fruit. An expectant hum fills the air as electric lights flicker into full brightness. Sparkling glass doors slide apart and we enter a vast air conditioned space. Strolling among benches and information displays you hand out balloons and free food. Under the shade of a plastic tree you tune an instrument and clear your throat.

The National Archives Building in Washington, DC that displays as permanent exhibits, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence, is an imposing neo-classical structure finished in 1935. Ceremoniously laying the cornerstone of the building in 1933, President Herbert Hoover dedicated it to the people of the United States; “This temple of our history will appropriately be one of the most beautiful buildings in America, an expression of the American soul. It will be one of the most durable, an expression of the American character.”[44] Hoover is making explicit that the building is a representation of ‘the people’ it serves, but underlying this claim is the positioning of the National Archives Building as a repository or secular reliquary of an image of ‘the people’. Hoover’s use of words such as temple and soul allude to a religious or mystical aura projected onto the building, with its contents the original documents of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence, cast in the role of sacred texts.

In this context the National Archives Building[45] acts as a ritual site, whose key function is to maintain and reproduce an ideal representation of a contingent political reality. The medium of this practice of representation permeates the architecture of the building, its contents, their display cases and how the public itself is choreographed in its use and approach to the site.  A key moment in the practice of the latter occurred on December 15 1952, when the original documents of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence, named as the Charters of Freedom, were formally enshrined. The event attended by President Harry Truman and other dignitaries witnessed the placing of the Charters into hermetically sealed display cases. Immersed in helium gas the documents and thus an idealised representation of ‘We, the people’ were symbolically situated outside the vicissitudes of the profane. This practice of secular veneration of textual objects continues to this day, albeit in a perhaps less formal mode, a recent example of a contemporary mode of adoration is articulated in a sleepover for kids in the Rotunda of the Charters of Freedom in 2014[46].

The National Archives Building as a practice of representation, demonstrates how the state generates legitimacy and authority through the architectural ‘prefacing’ of documents. Echoing the practice of the title page in a printed book, both seek to speak for and to a specific image of the people and bind this idealised social group to a particular representation. But an argument mounted by Thomas Paine, a figure instrumental to both American Independence and the French Revolution, poses a critical question to the practices of representation inscribed in the National Archives Building, that is increasingly more relevant today than when Paine first stated it in the late eighteenth century.

Responding to Edmund Burke’s criticism of the Declaration of the Rights of Man by the National Assembly of France, which Burke called “paltry and blurred sheets of paper”[47] Paine, in one of the key passages of his influential text The Rights of Man asks from where do the rights of man come. The intention of Paine’s argument is to rebuke Burke’s insistence that authority comes from Divine Right. Identifying three forms of government; by priests, conquerors and by reason, Paine argues that governments arise “either out of the people, or over the people”[48] and that a constitution is not an act of government, but a people constituting a government through the exercise of sovereign reason. The constitution for Paine is always antecedent to government, meaning that “a government is only a creature of a constitution”[49]. In this context, sovereignty lays with those who constitute the government; the people and not the government itself. In this arrangement sovereignty always resides with the living and is thus embedded within the contingencies of the everyday; the immediate site of the political.

But this is reversed in the National Archives Building. Preserved under glass and behind colonnades, the textual traces of an act of constituting a government define the horizon of the political. Instead of being declared and claimed in a public act, sovereignty is removed from the contingent demands of the living. Rather than being exercised as a living act or deed, sovereignty exists as a statute, a convention, a set of terms and conditions; the political is prefaced and determined by the text. And it is then to use Burke’s words once more, these “paltry and blurred sheets of paper”, that hold judgement on the legitimacy and validity of future political acts and deeds.

From the National Archives Building, the political or the ‘space of appearance’ to use Hannah Arendt’s famous description, is subject to and qualified by a particular genre of political philosophy whose paradigm is the declaration and the constitution. With these written documents preserved under glass, the political is transformed into a ritual spectacle of anniversaries, display cabinets and neo-classical architecture.

We tire of your voice. We stand in the street. It is full of smoke and noise. You offer us coffee, as you set fire to effigies[50]. After a while you take us to court. Everything is evidence. The street, the square, the amphitheatre, the declarations, the constitutions and the agreements, each is taken as evidence of us. Your works, whether stone or ink speak instead of us. And they act against us[51]. You ask us ‘what are we’, ‘what have we been until now’ and ‘what do we ask?’ You answer for us by calling out ‘everything’, ‘nothing’ and ‘to become something’[52]. But then in a murmur you tell us we are anonymous. You take us to another building. Here you say we will be seen, here we can become something[53]. We sit simultaneously inside two buildings. In one we watch and are watched by you, in the other we cannot see you watching us. Both are theatres[54]. Everything here is rehearsed over and over. It is speculative and derivative, a bare life awash with fantasies and extractive economies. We stand as the residue, a material reminder of your fantasies. As we walk, concrete and glass crunch underfoot. We follow a passage that navigates different committee rooms and planning offices. We turn back as the rooms multiply to an opaque depth. In the distance we see mirrors that reflect what hasn’t and never will appear in your labyrinth. In front of a billboard you grab us and put us in windowless vans. You take pictures on your phone. A thousand television screens show where we have been. Your labyrinth flickers into sight[55]. You call it CCTV[56]. We see ourselves being recorded.  It is narcissistically seductive. Much later we stand on a muddy shore. Across the water are more of your buildings, layered like geological strata[57].  And we, you tell us, are its content[58].  You imagine us outside of history[59]. We turn away from the river to watch explosions in your labyrinth. You distract us with moving mannequins and robotic sculptures[60]. At the end we feel loss, exclusion and diminishment. You talk to us;

You wander the earth, returning always in the end to what is left of yourselves, the places and people that were familiar. And it is your own likeness, the face you saw but often didn’t see, that is the most familiar among all that you once knew[61].

You hand out masks. We stare at our own face. It speaks to us[62].

Your death is not private. Given and withheld by me, your anonymity is a grace. With your face forever visible, we know where you live, what you do and whom you know, and we know what you want and what you can do. You are transparent to me.

We break up the furniture in a flat and drag it, along with everything else down the stairs and pile it in a playground next to a swing. When we return to a flat a group of children set fire to it all.

The remainder of the day we will spend brushing away the loose dirt of recent events, we shall start by going through the 1990’s until we find the happiness of the second summer of love, then we will be push into the fires and sirens of the early 1980’s. To avoid a discontent piled up at the top of the 1970’s we will dig sideways into a television studio filming apocalyptic myths of the near future[63]. Fleeing a mob of bandaged extras, we will mistakenly dig into an early 1970’s free festival where an amplified voice will echo across an empty summer meadow;

Welcome to the oceans in a labelled can,

Welcome to the dehydrated lands,

Welcome to the self police parade,

Welcome to the neo-golden age,

Welcome to the days you’ve made

You are welcome

You are welcome[64].

Disoriented we shall excavate upwards. The roof of the tunnel will fall away to expose late 1960’s dystopian fiction[65]. An unstable image of the future, it will immediately collapse around us. We wake in the days you thought were the end of history…but which will become known as ‘the contemporary’. Your buildings remain, but your politics is composed as speculation on abstractions of what could be. We are immaterial and anywhere. We observe that economically and politically crucial in the functioning of your present age is the transnational circulation of human and material resources. Driven by the algorithms of your international finance, it is largely an immaterial infrastructure. But your new buildings embody the qualities of your opaque infrastructural apparatus. We stand before three of them[66]. Each is an illustration of claustrophobia[67]. Underscoring the fabric of your world are practices of containment. You are forever holding territory. You are not securing or defending geographical space, but numbers[68]. In your endlessly dissimulating labyrinth of financial arrangements, algorithms and black boxes, you number time as a commodity. You produce stasis[69], an indefinite continuation of the same. You speak of mobility. Of unhindered free movement through your compartmentalised array of economic and political geographies. We follow a passage through opaque states determined by your financial worth and cultural legibility. Waving some through and halting others of us, your free passage is an act of dissimulation, a rhetorical sleight of hand[70]. The only thing we see everywhere is your apparatus of selection, swarming about us[71]. It reproduces us in its own image. It sees our only enduring common experience to be of consuming material and immaterial commodities. We appear in your labyrinth as a multitude of solitudes. Indefinitely stalled we become moribund[72]. A sound arises as if from nowhere. You tell us it is a necessary noise for your rhetorical devices. It is an amplification of the stresses and strains of your world. Resounding everywhere this noise transforms into speech. You lose interest in us and wave us away muttering the word addendums[73].

Postscript: in the fullness of time

Rolling and pitching amongst endless bodies are fragments of grand public buildings. Tossed from hand to hand these crumbs of monuments and parliaments are now your world. You gather a mob and let it prosper without disturbance. The timbre of your voice is changed. Your face grins and spits as you roar and prowl in your own vast night.


Owen, R (1850) The revolution in the mind and practice of the human race; or, the coming change from irrationality to rationality. London, Effingham Wilson, Royal Exchange.

[2] Zamyatin, Y (1924) We. London, Penguin Books (1972), pp. 19.

[3] Jameson, F (2003) Future city.  New Left Review 21, pp. 11.

[4] Koolhaas, R (2002) Junkspace, October Magazine, MIT Press, pp. 177.

[5] Ibid pp. 176.

[6] Ibid pp. 177.

[7] Ibid pp. 182.

[8] Ibid pp. 182.

[9] Ibid pp. 178.

[10] Ibid pp. 183.

[11] Ibid pp. 183.

[12] Ibid pp. 186.

[13] Ibid pp. 188.

[14] Ibid pp.188.

[15] Ibid pp. 186.

[16] Jameson, F (2009) The Cultural Turn. London, Verso Books, pp. 59.

[17] Koolhaas, R (2002) Junkspace, October Magazine, MIT Press, pp. 178.

[18] Ibid pp. 178.

[19] Ibid pp. 178.

[20] Ibid pp. 178.

[21] Augé, M (1992) Non-Places, an introduction to supermodernity. London: Verso, pp. xvii.

[22] Flusser, V (1985) Into the Universe of Technical Images. Translated from German by Nancy Ann Roth., 2011. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, pp. 166.

[23] Koolhaas, R (2002) Junkspace, October Magazine, MIT Press, pp. 179.

[24] Flusser, V (1985) op, cit., pp. 81.

[25] Virilio, P (2005) Art as far as the eye can see. Translated from the French by Julie Rose., 2007. New York: Berg, pp. 84.

[26] Ibid pp. 86.

[27] Bauman, Z (2011) Culture in a Liquid Modern World. Translated from Polish by Lydia Bauman. Cambridge: Polity Press, pp. 24.

[28] Bauman, Z (2011) op, cit., pp. 25.

[29] Flusser, V (1985) op, cit., pp. 162.

[30] Bauman, Z (2011) op, cit., pp. 30.

[31] Pliny the Elder (AD 23 – AD 79) in his Natural History (77 – 79AD) relates the myth of the origin of representation in which Butades of Sicyon draws a charcoal line around the shadow cast on a wall by a young man whom his daughter Kora loves. From this outline Butades models a face in clay.

[32] The portrait modelled in clay by Butades is distant from the materiality of the body and even more distant from the experience of being that body. The representation or likeness of an embodied subjectivity is a series of abstractions; the body casts a shadow, a line is drawn around the shadow, the line serves as a sketch for a sculpted object. These moves and transformations is masked by the final manufactured clay object, which is taken and used as a direct likeness of an individual.

[33] In the terminology of printing a ‘fugitive pigment’ is an ink that fades or under exposure to light, loses colour and blackens. It is an ink that soon flees the realms of legibility. A ‘fugitive discourse’ exhibits and suffers a similar condition. In the moment of its initial appearance, a fugitive discourse will seem cogent and meaningful. But the longer its words hang in the air or repose upon a page, the less sense it offers to a listener or reader. For a ‘fugitive pigment’ it is a matter of simple chemical reactions that cause it to change in form and appearance, but the flight from sense and meaning that characterise a ‘fugitive discourse’ is not governed by the printed words or voices in which it resides. It is in the mind of the reader or listener that a discourse becomes fugitive.

[34] The ‘we’ of the American Constitution is not a description of actual individuals as such; it is instead a textual representation of an idealised entity without an experiential or actual social basis. This ‘we’ presupposes what it represents and this presupposition only exists within the realms of political philosophy. We, the people and ‘the public’ are abstract terms that denote elements necessary to the functioning of a political system. They can be thought of as “imagined communities”, a phrase coined by Benedict Anderson in the early 1980’s, or in the words of ‘the contemporary’ theorist Peter Osborne they can be framed as “speculative collectivities”.

[35] In the realm of the political, representation refers to two discreetly separate but interrelated practices. Firstly the selection through voting of a representative, who acts and speaks on behalf of a group of individuals, running in parallel to this enduring aspect of representative democracies is the practice of defining social groups as ‘the people’ for instance in the Agreement of the Free People of England in 1649, as a ‘We’ for example in the American constitution or as citizens in the Declaration of the rights of Man and of the Citizen in the French Revolution of 1789. The intention of these acts of representation is to produce a form of equivalence among different subjectivities, to produce a similarity and perhaps a fraternity grounded on a common relation to a governing state power. With the story of Butades and Kora as its archetype, this second practice of representation that produces peoples and publics is, like the drawing made by Kora, only an outline of a shadow, a faint trace of a body only momentarily and partially captured without substantial detail. Representations of the many and of ‘the public’ can only then be a discourse of shadows. But instead of mortality and desire acting as its determining conditions, as they did for Kora, the representations of the many are determined by more politically instrumental imperatives.

[36] Since the 18th century democracy has been predominantly understood, as a form of government in which the many, either directly or through representation have voice and agency in the political. Ignoring the complexities brushed aside by this simple description, democracy has been and remains a category of political philosophy that produces as its content multiple voices. The crucial character of this content is that it must be repeatable and it must bear a name. In antiquity the ‘content’ of the political took a variety of names, including plebeians, citizens and the polis. Each of these names identifies and demarcates a structure composed of divisions, a typology. Distinct to the innumerable names of specific individuals, which often designate paternal heritage or profession, are the names given to the singular roles in different forms of government; monarch, president, consul, MP for example. In this typology the singular is invested with varying degrees of sovereignty, from the ‘god’ given absolute to the delegated or representational mode of sovereignty.

[37] It is a commonplace to identify Homo sapiens as the animal that uniquely possesses language, discourse and thus reason. This distinctive trait which finds its ideal expression in the faculty of voice, of being able to speak to others and engage in discourse, defines and sets in motion the political. Yet this enduring trope of what it means to be human evades and masks a crucial detail. Exploring the relationship between experience and language the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben on page 65 of Infancy and History, develops the argument that “man is not the animal possessing language, but instead is the animal deprived of language and obliged therefore to receive it from outside himself”. Instead of being a natural faculty, language for humanity is a culturally instituted practice that requires social interaction with others from an early age for language to be acquired. Agamben makes this deftly evident by drawing upon the observation that birds deprived of hearing the song of their own species will still develop the same song, but for a human infant deprived of contact with others, language will not autonomously develop.

[38] Coming from others, language and more importantly discourse and thus the semantic; the ability to understand meaning, is therefore a mode of praxis that is inherently social. Gained through being public, voice is a not an expression of the singularity of a subjectivity, it is instead the expression, through an embodied subject of a historically contingent set of meanings. From this perspective it follows that the voice of the individual is preceded by and is a mediation of the voice of the many. This observation poses a question for Aristotle’s reflection in De anima (On the Soul) in which he states that “voice is a kind of sound characteristic of what has soul in it; nothing that is without soul utters voice”. If language, the means of having a voice is socially derived, then what is the character and ground of the soul which is revealed through the faculty of the voice? Bearing in mind that language is a culturally determined faculty and not a natural possession, an answer to this question can be traced through looking at the different technological practices that have facilitated and enabled voice as a public medium.

[39] “Then it seemed like falling into a labyrinth: we thought we were at the finish, but our way bent round and we found ourselves as it were back at the beginning” Plato, Euthydemus.

[40] Writing in 15 BC the Roman architect Vitruvius provides advice on how architecture can amplify the voice; “The walls, moreover, at half their height, are to have cornices run round them of wood or plaster. For if such be not provided, the voices of the disputants meeting with no check in their ascent, will not be intelligible to the audience. But when the walls are encircled round with cornices, the voice, being thereby impeded, will reach the ear before its ascent and dissipation in the air”, chapter 2, Book V, Vitruvius, Ten Books on Architecture 15 BC.

[41] Described by Vitruvius in his Ten Books on Architecture the resonating jars enable the voice to “spread from the stage as from a centre and striking by its contact the hollows of the several vases, will arouse an increased clearness of sound, and, by the concord, a consonance harmonising with itself”.

[42] The use of acoustic technologies in the architecture of the ancient world reveals a crucial tension at the heart of ‘the public’ as a discourse. Whilst Vitruvius seeks to utilise architecture as a means of enabling an immediate dialogic relation between speaking individuals, he also sets in motion the mediation of this audible relation in which one can hear and respond to the other. The resonating jar brings the spoken voice into the realm of mathematical theories of sound, in which questions of tone, harmony and dissonance come to the fore. In this shift, architecture becomes an apparatus for a ‘performance’ which privileges an authorial and amplified voice over the murmuring many who can only listen.

[43] In English to say that something or less commonly, someone is ‘spoken for’ implies a claim has already been made. The use of ‘spoken for’ removes the object or persons in question from discussion, it is rendered non-negotiable. With the connotation of ownership and property, ‘spoken for’ is perhaps a brutal phrase to use in relation to the many, yet this is the mode of address that runs throughout the relationship of political philosophy to its primary object, ourselves.

[44] Accessed 06.01.17.

[45] A common characteristic in the founding of a new state is the construction of a national archive. The French Archives nationales created during the French Revolution in 1790 is a defining model of this practice. Established through a series of state decrees and laws passed during the final years of the eighteenth century, the Archives Nationales in Paris contain an estimated 252 miles of documents, which stretch back to AD 625, this universe of paperwork is a systematic act of representation. But this practice of representation is not concerned with history. What is represented in its medium and content is the state retrospectively defining and thus representing itself. The crucial dimension in this monumental state collage is how its myriad elements appear to the viewer, how they are publicly presented. In works of political philosophy it is the title page that announces legitimacy and the right of the author to speak. For the miles of documents in the Archives nationales it is architecture that acts as a title page. Primarily housed in the Hôtel de Soubise (Paris) and the Hôtel de Rohan (Strasbourg), the Archives nationales derives legitimacy and authority from architectural spaces that are emblematic of power and the history of the Hôtel de Rohan provides an enlightening example of this power. Commissioned by Cardinal Armand Gaston Maximilien de Rohan, the Bishop of Strasbourg in 1731, the Hôtel de Rohan was built on the site of the Bishop’s previous residence, a building called the Palatium which dated back to 1262. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the building was occupied by Louis XV, Marie Antoinette, Napoleon Bonaparte and Charles X. In the later nineteenth century the Hôtel de Rohan was the imperial German Universität Straßburg and then the imperial museum of Strasbourg. The Hôtel de Soubise shares in this illustriousness, being the birth place and residence of numerous French Dukes and Princes since 1375. Embedded in this architectural and political context, the Archives nationales by assuming the prestige of a location that for centuries has been a seat of the governing class projects a narrative of legitimacy and authority upon the viewer. In this tactical positioning the heterogeneous documents gathered together as the Archives nationales cohere into a systematic representation in which the image of the state, to quote Walter Benjamin, “needn’t say anything. Merely show”. Whilst the practice of representation illuminated by the Archives nationales could be read as a pragmatic appropriation and utilisation of existing structures to infer legitimacy, a necessity for the new French Republic forged in revolution, architecture is also a key determinant in the framing of the original documents that founded the United States of America.

[46] Accessed 06.01.17.

[47] Paine, T (1791-2) The Rights of Man, The Thomas Paine Reader, London, Penguin Books (1987). pp. 214.

[48] Ibid pp. 220

[49] Ibid pp. 220

[50] From at least the 17th century onwards there is records of life size effigies made of stuffed clothes being publicly hung or burned. Originally carried out by judicial authorities as a form of symbolic punishment of criminals who had escaped their jurisdiction, it later became a popular and public expression against individuals held in contempt or loathed by a social group or community. It is interesting to note that this practice is attested from the 17th century, the period of the English Civil War and also a remarkably rich time of theoretical political writing. But one of the most common acts made on an effigy consists of sticking pins in it. In Old English this practice was known as stacung, meaning literally piercing of an effigy by a pin or stake. Its etymological relationship with the word stake is particularly interesting in these thoughts on ‘the public’ as a practice of representation. In the contemporary sense stake is used in two ways; to denote making a claim of ownership upon an area of land by marking it out with stakes planted in the ground and secondly in the form of ‘to stake out’, which means to undertake and maintain surveillance upon someone. To define a space and to undertake an act of looking are important to practices of representation, and in understanding the semantic content lurking in the discourse of ‘the public’ and public space.

[51] In the seventeenth century and particularly during the English Civil War (1642–1651) written works of political philosophy proliferated. Seminal examples include Hobbes’ Leviathan (1651) and Locke’s Two Treatises of Government (1689). This period also saw many forms of constitutional documents, including The Petition of Right (1628), the Agreement of the People (1647-49) proclaimed by the Levellers and the English Bill of Rights of 1689. Alongside these texts and constitutional documents the seventeenth century was also characterised by the emergence of the printed political tract and pamphlet, which were widely distributed and read. Against a backdrop of war, civil unrest and political agitation, the seventeenth century was the historical moment in which the written and printed word became crucial as a new public medium and more importantly as a catalyst for social and political change. To write had become to act and this transition in the agency of the text is exemplified in the fate of Algernon Sidney. Born in 1623, Sidney was a noted political theorist whose allegiance lay with Republicanism. A member of the Long Parliament summoned in 1640 Sidney was a commissioner of the trial of Charles I. Although initially opposing the execution of the King, by 1659 he supported it. Living as an exile in Europe from 1660, after the restoration of the Monarchy, Sidney didn’t return to England until 1677. His political career came to an end in 1683 when he was arrested on suspicion of plotting to assassinate Charles II. Sidney was tried, found guilty and executed by beheading and it is in his trial that a distinctive and unsettling event occurred. As noted Sidney was a staunch and public supporter of Republicanism and the best expression of his views is found in a posthumous text published in 1698; Discourses Concerning Government. Finished in 1680, the Discourses was a response to Patriarcha or The Natural Power of Kings written by Robert Filmer (1688-1653). Filmer’s text like Sidney’s was also posthumously published in 1680, the year that Sidney wrote his rebuttal. The key point of contention for Sidney was Filmer’s support of the divine right of Monarchy. Written before the English Civil War, Filmer’s Patriarcha summoned up the conservative political views of the Royalists, to which Sidney was vociferously opposed and it was this opposition, in the form of a written text that condemned him during his trail of 1683. But the text wasn’t used as evidence, as would have been expected, instead his Discourses Concerning Government was used as a witness against him.

A witness is commonly used to describe a person who was present at an event or act. In this meaning it is expected that the witness would have knowledge of what occurred or be able to provide information on the context of an act and that they would be able to testify that something took place. Witness means then to be able to bear testimony, to be able to speak of something. How then could a text, an inanimate object be considered as a witness? With this in mind the logical step would be to use Sidney’s Discourses Concerning Government as evidence against him during his trial. Yet Lord Chief Justice Jeffreys, the judge at Sidney’s trail, in response to having only one witness when the law required two nominated the Discourses as a witness with the words “to write is to act”. Although this act was much criticised an earlier meaning of witness in use in the fourteenth century could provide a clue to the Judge’s thinking.

To bear testimony requires proof of the identity of the one who speaks. This is the origin of the signing of legal documents, in which the signature acts as an authentic sign of that individual being present at the event that the document legalises; consider the contemporary wedding ceremony which requires both parties to sign a register. In this sense Sidney’s text, which at this point was in handwritten form, could be understood as an indelible signature of his thought; the ink on paper is literally a witness to himself. This curious legal event, captured in the chilling words of the Judge ‘to write is to act’, defines how political writing was regarded during the seventeenth century. In distinction to Plato’s Republic (380 BC) which was a philosophical dialogue and More’s Utopia (1516) which announced itself through the name of its narrator (Hythloday) as nonsense, the political text in the seventeenth century took on a fundamentally different register and form of address. Given the incessant civil unrest and political agitation this change in register is unsurprising. In one sense this shift also marks the end of political philosophy in its speculative or fantastical mode. No longer dreaming of ideal cities lost upon distant oceans, political writing now addressed and contested the conditions in which it was wrote. It could be argued that the judge at Sidney’s trial fully understood the agency of political writing and its ability to cast discord and a desire for change in the minds of its readers; to write had indeed become a political act.

[52] In Emmanuel Joseph Sieyes ‘What is the Third Estate’ written in January 1789, shortly before the start of the French Revolution, Sieyès asked three questions: ‘what is the Third Estate?’, ‘what has it been until now in the political order?’ and lastly ‘what does it ask?’ Sieyes answered these rousing questions with; ‘everything’, ‘nothing’ and ‘to become something’.

[53] After being banished from Rome in the first century AD, Ovid in his five volume work Tristia (lamentations) wrote “Bene qui latuit bene vixit”. Used as a slogan by 17th century Libertines, Ovid’s phrase means he who has kept himself well hidden has lived well. To live a good life, a public life should be avoided. A good life from the perspective of Ovid who was exiled, is a life unheard and unseen, a life that attracts no attention.

[54] In the Greek theatre the audience sits in the theatron, the “watching place”. In a reversal of Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon (1791), instead of a guard watching prisoners ‘perform’ a penal code there is an ‘audience’ of citizens watching actors and a chorus perform different modes of drama. These forms embodied and affirmed the myths, ethics and histories that constituted ancient Greek and specifically Athenian, culture. In this sense the Greek theatre was a rival to the Agora as the central institution in their civic and public life. Although the Agora, which means “gathering place” or “assembly”, is commonly situated as the political hub of Greek life, it was also the central market or commercial area of the city. From the perspective of contemporary capitalist societies, the focus on the Agora is a productive one, as it validates and legitimises current forms of representative democracy, which have commercial activity as their defining motif. But it is the Greek theatre and its pivotal reversal in the work of Bentham that lays bare what underscores contemporary politics and public space. The half circle of the Greek theatron frames an abstracted and codified space in which myths, ethics and histories are subjected to practices of representation and mediation. Under the aegis of scripted acts, an image of an idealised society is performed and seen. The relationship of the citizen spectator to this spectacle is one of affective affirmation. With Bentham’s Panopticon this relationship is reversed, the citizen spectator becomes the spectacle that is watched. In the Greek theatron the role of the citizen is too witness, in the Panopticon the citizen becomes the performed subject, incarcerated and directed to obey a given script. In the theatron the citizen is an anonymous individual positioned on the edge of a performance, in the Panopticon they are named and numbered subjects held captive in an ordered and disciplinary performance of an idealised image of a society. It is this last sense that underwrites contemporary public space.

[55] Haunting the city is the critical question of what constitutes its image. It is a common place to define an image as an aesthetic assemblage of cultural sensibilities and technical practices realised in a single frame. But this definition doesn’t register the radicalised understanding of the image flowing through the practice of how a city represents itself. In each image, whether from CCTV or advertising and in the processes underpinning them, the apparatus involved in their production is part of the infrastructure that conditions how a city is experienced by its users, ourselves. It is only in the wider assemblage of these apparatus, the multiple screens in secure rooms or the billboards and hoardings covering and sectioning a city, does the actual image inhabiting the fabric of a city partially appear. These snapshots of an ‘urban life’ offer tantalisingly clues that reveal the city as a singular optical chamber, irrevocably caught up in a rhetorical politics. It this connective assemblage of architectural spaces, remote controlled cameras, advertising billboards, face and number plate recognition software that constitutes the actual but always masked image of the city as a totality.

[56][56] If the city is a fictional character it is Thomas Jerome Newton. With a ceaseless CCTV gaze the contemporary city continuously replays a pivotal scene in Nicolas Roeg’s film The Man Who Fell to Earth. Sitting in a cheap chair and drinking Thomas Jerome Newton, played by David Bowie, is transfixed by the flickering light of multiple television screens. In 1976 when the film was released, this cinematic image fulfilled a now unrealisable fantasy, the possibility of watching simultaneously everything that was ‘on air’. This desire to watch everything broadcast, answered a despotic hunger of the gaze to capture all that was being seen by others. 40 years later this particular fantasy of seeing is defunct, made obsolete by an accelerating proliferation of channels, content and online streaming. Yet this desire haunts the narcissistic CCTV gaze of the contemporary city. Using car parks, streets and public spaces as a single distributed optical chamber, the city like an inverted Thomas Jerome Newton feeds its own image to secure rooms filled with screens. Paid attendants watch the city engage in a 24 hour performance of self representation. Composed of oblique angles and slow pans this visual marathon never yields a single comprehensive image; only brief snapshots are caught and momentarily observed. The city never sees itself in its entirety.

[57] In an interview published in an issue of Architectural Review (1977) devoted entirely to the National Theatre, Denys Lasdun its architect said that the theatre was “architecture without facades but with layers of building, like geological strata” which “has at its heart an image, a generating idea, which must express itself through every part and every detail”. Lasdun with the National Theatre sought to move “towards an architecture of urban landscape”, in which the space of the theatre would merge seamlessly with the city. Crucial to this movement from the stage to the street are the interconnected foyer spaces which Lasdun likened to the “ancient hypostyle whose communal floors evoked a warm and lively participation by the members of the community”. With this reference to Classical architecture Lasdun made a claim for continuity between the National Theatre and the ‘public’ architecture of antiquity, specifically the ancient Greek theatre.

[58] In a comment that provides an insight to his understanding, Lasdun said “Form, space, structure and surface made manifest by the nature of concrete. People and events will be the decoration”. It is clear that Lasdun’s architectural concerns are primarily formal, in that the National Theatre is an orchestration of the common motifs of Modernist architecture; form and space. In this prioritising of structure, ‘the public’ becomes a form of content, a decorative feature roaming the concrete spaces of the National Theatre. This relationship offers a glimpse of the ‘generating idea’ expressed ‘through every part and every detail’ of the National Theatre.

[59] The National Theatre was designed as Trevor Nunn its director admitted in an interview published in the Guardian newspaper (2001) was built “to last a thousand years”. It is interesting to contrast this monumental temporality with the history of the Peoples Palace of the Republic in Berlin. Finished in 1976 a year before the National Theatre, the Peoples Palace closed to the public in 1990 and was demolished in 2008. The site of what was satirically called ‘Erich’s light shop’ by local Berliners is now the location for the Humboldt Forum, a reconstruction of the Stadtschloss (Berlin City Palace). The winter residence of the Prussian Monarchy during the 18th and 19th centuries, the Berlin City Palace was badly damaged during the Second World War and demolished in 1950. A victim of the profound political changes of 1989, the fate of the Peoples Palace provides a catastrophic example of the relationship between architecture and social transformations. But without the decisive political shift and its material effects upon the German capital – large scale regeneration and demolishing of German Democratic Republic architecture, the National Theatre may very well last the thousand years expressed by Trevor Nunn.

[60] Between its completion in 1977 and the millennium celebrations the roof of the National Theatre provided the architectural setting for a series of art works; Fall by Peter Logan (1979) and Heavenly Bodies by Jim Whiting (1981).

[61] Equally intent on securing wandering spirits, a curious correlate to the death mask is facial recognition software. Through scanning and recording the face of a living person, surveillance software is able to find and identify them at future points. Grounded in the vast amounts of personal data available through social media, business and government databases, this software holds us to account for our actions, beliefs and desires. Like the death mask, facial recognition software anchors a wandering spirit. In both cases this fixing in place is defined by a historicity, whose medium and method are claims for truth and knowledge about what has been.

[62] To appear in the ancient Greek polis was an action enthused with significance, constitutively public this act produced a relation with others. At the heart of this relation is the face. A public yet most intimate form of address, the face in its texture, weight and voice is a contested space. Literally marking the origin of speech, the face is the territory in which move multiple rhetorical economies. Figuring prominently is the rhetorical economy of the political. In this economy the face is a crucial but volatile commodity. Death masks and facial recognition software are orientated towards and draw their value from the past. They produce and hold histories; they are a settling of accounts. They speak only of what has been. In contrast the face in the rhetorical economy of the political is turned to the future. It is this that makes the face for the political a volatile commodity. Its value depends upon what happens now . . .

[63] British television during the 1970’s and early 1980’s was a regular venue for dystopias and apocalyptic dramas of the future. Notable examples include Z for Zachariah (1984), Threads (1984), and Survivors (1975).

[64] Song lyrics from Welcome to the Future by Hawkwind, a track released on Space Ritual (United Artists UAD60037/8) 1973.

[65] The British Science Fiction magazine New Worlds edited by Michael Moorcock is a classic example of this genre of literature.

[66] Google’s new Mountain View development, the GCHQ building in the UK and Amazon’s new head quarters in Seattle.

[67] Derived from the Latin claustrum which means a place shut in, a confined place and a frontier fortress, claustrophobia is a fitting psychological description of the relation between contemporary institutional spaces and a ‘globalised’ world.

[68] Emblematic of the 21st century, international finance and its antechamber politics, is the crucial ‘medium’ in which multiple social, cultural and economic realities are produced, deployed and circulated. But it is not a transparent medium, it is opaque. Echoing the visual grammar of the prison and the fortress, its interiority from an external observer is always hidden. All that is visible are its edges, its multiple virtual and physical, fortified boundaries.

[69] As a term stasis refers to two distinct but fundamentally related meanings. In the first instance stasis indicates a stoppage of circulation, a moment in which nothing moves progresses or changes. But behind this everyday usage lies a particular historical and political moment. In the history of Ancient Greece, stasis meant a period of civil strife. Often consisting of feuds between different aristocratic families, stasis for the Greeks described the moment in the life of a city when no one person or family had overall control. Stasis is then a description of unresolved and ongoing struggle. The direct consequence of this political situation is that a positive image of the future, in terms of assumptions about what will happen, is absent. The only future during times of stasis is a continuation of the immediate present, which for the Greeks meant strife, or in the terminology of Edmund Hobbes, ‘a war of all against all.’ These two meanings of stasis; a stoppage of circulation and internal strife, provide a means of gauging the character of ‘the contemporary’.

[70] The rhetorical claim of ‘transnational space’ is one of free mobility for the individual or the possibility for the individual to apply for permission to enter ‘transnational space’. The atomisation of collectivities, whether determined by ethnicity, experience or political persuasion, is the political fallout of a selective apparatus deployed to operate only upon the individual. In the perspectives of ‘transnational space’ collectivities are suspicious vectors of strife; they are, in the ancient Greek sense, embodiments of stasis. It is against these that ‘transnational space’ acts as a censorious medium. Although countries of ‘origin’, ethnicity and religious belief are admitted as identifiable ‘marks’ in the apparatus of ‘transnational space’, they are utilised as determining categories for individual identity, not as indications of a collective identity. Collective identity is seen as something to be overcome and discarded, it is an impediment to freedom.

[71] The only collectivity expressed by ‘the contemporary’ is swarms (Berardi) of precarious users and consumers, whose inter-subjectivity is mediated by the infrastructure of commercially exploitable digital media platforms. Moreover the forms of collectivity produced by ‘the contemporary’ rarely have any geographical proximity; they do not share or undergo simultaneous immediate experiences.

[72] It is not just a question of representations of ‘the public’ becoming inoperative, the 21st century is also characterised by the atrophy of social reality itself. Decimated and punctured by precariousness, the fabric of inter-subjectivity is overcome by lacunae, by absence. Yet the multiple images of the many that proliferated from the 17th century onwards persist, but transformed into convenient political fictions. The constituents of democratic politics are still endlessly categorised into speculative categories; ‘white van man’, ‘soccer mum’ and the ‘jams’, but these are only to use Walter Lippmann’s phrase ‘phantom publics’ materialising in the shadow of commodities, lifestyles and policy announcements. Operating as disposable rhetorical devices, these representations of ‘the many’ have become sound bites.

[73] Derived from the Latin phrase ‘addendum est’, which means ‘that which must be added’, addendum is used to denote additions, clarifications or corrections to an already published text. The primary ‘text’ of contemporary politics is the seamless circulation of capital and finance, orchestrated by Adam Smith’s ‘hidden hand’. The addenda to this authorial text are representations of the many, which are relegated to being supplementary additions or extras pencilled in after the text of the political is complete. In this context, representations of the many operate solely as a rhetorical gloss, airbrushed onto the opaque financial infrastructure that encompasses the world.


Previews of an expanded text that reads ‘the public’ as a practice of representation