“General Theory” was installed in the entrance area and on the outside front of the Sculpture Center in Long Island City. The signage, speaker, and posters are mounted on existing walls that are part of the architecturethat separates the gallery from the offices and front receiving desk. I wanted to utilize and expand on the ambience of the commercial lobby, complete with large signage, piped in sound, advertisements and architectural display. The loud speaker outside is the type of object you would see in another kind ofpublic space such as a zoo or airport.
“General Theory” is built around a voice and musical audio track titled “General Theory: Lecture #1” that is emitted through a large PA cone speaker. Its visual presence is prominent while a female voice is reciting a speech that was given by Jacques Derrida in 1966 at the Johns Hopkins University during a symposium on the human sciences. The title of his lecture is “Structure Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences” which continues to this day, to be a very early and influential theoretical text expressing ideas that pertain to Metaphysics, Deconstruction, and the concept of ‘center’.
The anonymous style of her reading like an official delivery and is about one hour long. Imagine Jacques Tati and his use of the public address speaker and piped-in voices within public spaces for his films “Playtime” and “Traffic”
. One can easily associate the female voice to the maternal voice but also as the detached voice of technology and modernity. I am interested in how ideas that are related to theory and philosophy, how they are commodified and then enter into popular culture, architecture, style, or art.
The reading is bracketed by a 30 second musical introduction and second ending, both musical selections are of a canned variety, sounding quite corporate and highly manipulative. Derrida’s scholarly essay is a very complex paper introducing and discussing some of the main ideas that are associated with Deconstruction as it offers a rereading of Levi Strauss among others. It is a lecture, but is remarkably difficult to keep up with the subject matter as it is being spoken. The voice audio is continuous reflecting a ‘piped in’ quality or to suggest the idea of a ‘background’ narration, though the volume is slightly louder and perhaps more assaulting. There are many phrases, wordings, content formations that I believe are ’played’ with or referenced in the other elements of my project, the sculpture, the text, and the poster. I believe the inter-relationships between the pieces are very important and how they open up to each other as well and to the show itself. It could begin to challenge or disrupt the flow or cognition of the meaning and purpose of the exhibition itself. Derrida’s ideas pertaining to the ‘de-centering’ of the subject have over the last few decades been theoretically applied to many other genres of production including architecture and sculpture.
I wanted to create a mini-expo that gets in the way within the “Treble” exhibition, and that obliquely references the idea of the original symposium. My project for the Sculpture Center is hopefully a humorous play on the notion of ‘center’ and Deconstruction including the idea of the Sculpture Center itself as an institution basing itself on the subject of sculpture, whose notion of center has also been contested by art historians and theorists. But perhaps more relevant than the references I am offering, the audio component of the project may itself be considered a form of slapstick or even sculpture. The words, out of context from the scholarly event, become more of a parody of presence, and represents a general discourse of intellectualism in art and theory. It enters into the mainstream, or more literally the street, through cultural institutions and is disseminated.
The Sculpture Center, as its name states, is a center that brings together art that associates itself with the idea of sculpture and also uses the word center in it’s own title. The book that first published the lecture by Derrida is titled “The Structuralist Controversy” and here I am interested in the shared usage and the layering of the letters ‘S’ and ‘C’ as well as the usage or exchange of the words ‘center’ and ‘controversy’.
Another element of the installation is the wall graphic titled “General Theory: Expo Wall Graphic” comprised of vinyl lettering adhered to a tall narrow wall adjacent to the lobby or commercial area of the Sculpture Center. It is of a similar scale as that to the PA sound that is intending to speak to a large public mass. Its layout and application reinforce the designed exhibition style usually associated with expos and trade fairs. I am interested in the marketing or incorporation of ideas, philosophy, theory, and how they are disseminated into popular culture as architecture and spectacle.
The sculpture, “General Theory: Expo Column” an 18” high polished stainless steel structure resembling a base of a column or short tower is bolted to the floor. I was initially drawn to the refurbished aesthetic of the Sculpture Center building with its industrial raw brick, giant rusted steel columns and industrial factory look that projects honesty, strength, authenticity, and offers a fundamental context for the idea and presentation of sculpture. The “Expo Column” functions as a motif that might be associated with the optimism of Modernism and the future, or the beginning of another kind of architectural program. It is rather diminutive and finished compared to the rusted larger scaled structures.
The ‘physical’ site of the Sculpture Center itself is important as is its ‘ideological’ site pertaining to the subject of sculpture. Also the idea of (a) sculpture center as well as the idea of the (sculptures’) center–as discussed by Krauss. It is her post-structural attack or theorizing of modernist sculpture that also functions as a site here too. There is a play between, the sites of sculpture, notions of center, Curly, and Derrida. The poster, “General Theory: Lecture and Expo Poster” uses a portrait image of Curly from the Three Stooges comedy trio. His facial expression and gesture is one of the thinker, of contemplation and pondering, with his head resting on his closed fist. The Three Stooges and especially Curly can be seen as a kind of ‘other’ as well as an icon of slapstick comedy. Curly is an important participant in the play of sites and locations as he brings with him many other relationships. Curly can be seen as a representation of male hysteria, generating chaos as he traffics within the collapse of rationalism and into disorder. The stooges were not participating in the modern world as an architect might but at the same time are architects. One episode in particular titled “How High is Up?” from 1940, is where the Three Stooges were working as ironworkers and riveters on a 97 story skyscraper. They were working on the top floor and were left unsupervised, the stooges erected a very angular construction with I-beams that didn’t follow the rational Meisian style of the 30’s and 40’s like the rest of the building. The Stooges addition essentially resembled the kind of architectural projects from the mid 1980’s that were referencing Derrida and were marketed as Deconstruction. The Stooges project predicted the decline of Modernism and implicated the International style and its related agenda.
This project extends from my previous work that has dealt with the ordering of space and its structural relationship to language such as in my seating arrangement works. I am deeply interested in these relationships that exist between architecture and philosophy such as in the early writings by Martin Heidegger, where he appropriated the rhetoric of architecture from Kant. Jacques Derrida’s later reading of Heidegger offers a rereading of the critical dismantling or de-constructing and for Derrida, became Deconstruction. There are many other very useful elements to this discussion such as the philosophical usage of the terms; tower, abyss, edifice, ornament, “structure under pressure”, and “shake as a whole”.
“General Theory” is set up for numerous and potential misreading and slippages, ambiguous or layered relationships. There is perhaps the misreading that the poster could be a promotion ad for the entire show, or that the graphic type on the wall may be the title of the exhibition. The sculptural component may not have any obvious relationship to the speech and it may appear to be just an object out of place. Curly could also be construed as Derrida or me. This is playful in my mind, a kind of serious kidding around with the orders of presentation. I am interested the discussion and I am in a way, performing the audio or instructing the viewers to perform the audio.