– Summer 2012

Stone as Stone: An Essay About Jimmie Durham

Anders Kreuger

A Stone from Metternich’s House in Bohemia, 1996, production shot for action in Der Verführer und der steinerne Gast (The Libertine and the Stone Guest). Installation view, Wittgenstein House, Vienna. Photograph: Marco Fedele di Catrano. Courtesy the artist and M HKA, Antwerp

Some Beginnings

My work might be considered ‘interventionist’ because it works against the two foundations of the European tradition: belief and architecture. My work is against the connection of art to architecture, to the ‘statue’, to monumentality. I want it to be investigative, and therefore not ‘impressive’, not believable.1

Those of us who have been taught to never write ‘not’ and always use ‘and’ instead of ‘but’ might find this short statement by Jimmie Durham apprehensive or even negative. In fact it is profoundly affirmative. Why should we ‘believe’ when we can strive for knowledge through action and reflection? Why should we ‘build’ when there are more flexible and responsive ways to be in the world?

But I’m getting ahead of myself. In 1951 Martin Heidegger, who repeatedly spoke in favour of belief and architecture, wrote: ‘Most thought-provoking is that we are still not thinking.’2 In Heidegger’s text this becomes a stepping stone for interesting speculations about the future and cyclical time, but it immediately leads to other questions. Who are ‘we’? Western civilisation? The Germans? Philosophers who don’t wish to apologise for what they did before the War? And can I avoid identification with this crowd despite my enjoyment of Heidegger’s insistence on thinking about thinking?

Precise and necessary words wear out much too fast when they are taken over by policymakers, managers and communication

  1. Jimmie Durham, statement for the exhibition ‘A Shadow in Athens’ at Stigma Gallery, Athens, 2003.

  2. Martin Heidegger, What Is Called Thinking? (trans. J. Glenn Gray), New York: Perennial, 1976, p.4.

  3. Ibid.

  4. See J. Durham, A Certain Lack of Coherence (ed. Jean Fisher), London: Kala Press, 1993.

  5. During that period, his work was included in Documenta IX in Kassel in 1992.

  6. Conversation with the author, 27 September 2011. I am curating his retrospective, ‘Jimmie Durham: A Matter of Life and Death and Singing’, at M HKA, Antwerp, 24 May—18 November 2012.

  7. ‘Julie Talks with Jimmie Durham’, Kitsch, students’ journal published by the Trondheim Art Academy. Trondheim, 1996. Julie is the artist Julie Berthelsen.

  8. J. Durham, ‘Gilgamesh and Me: The True Story of the Wall’, in Jan Foncé (ed.), On taking a normal situation and retranslating it into overlapping and multiple readings of conditions past and present (exh. cat.), Antwerp: M HKA, 1993, unpaginated.

  9. Ibid.

  10. Ibid.

  11. Rudi Laermans, ‘Two Conversations with Jimmie Durham’, A Prior, no.9, 2004, p.173.

  12. J. Durham, Between the Furniture and the Building (Between the Rock and a Hard Place) (exh. cat.), Munich: Kunstverein München, 1998, p.93.

  13. ‘Julie Talks with Jimmie Durham’, op. cit.

  14. Jimmie Durham, ‘Ropa Vieja (Spring Collection)’, Nicole Klagsbrun Gallery, New York, 29 April—27 May 1995.

  15. Richard William Hill and Beverly Koski, ‘Jimmie Durham: The Center of the World Is Several Places’, FUSE, vol.21, no.3, 1999, p.27.

  16. The reference is to ‘The DNA Sequence and Analysis of Human Chromosome 14’, Nature, vol.421, 6 February 2003, pp.601—07 (by all the authors whose names are cited by Durham).

  17. ‘Look here, then: the area where intelligence is most easily observable is the area wherein we often think it does not exist. [We think that] we have there instead only skill and cleverness. So often, with, it seems, little consistency, we have a complex and subtle working definition of intelligence as having to do with only those areas of human life that are not normally seen as “endeavour”. Our “intellectual” or “artistic” side. Or, to put it another way, the side that has to do with “understanding” and the contemplation of the human condition.’ J. Durham, ‘Second Thoughts’, in Giorgia Kapatsoris and Charles Gute (ed.), Jimmie Durham, Milan and Como: Edizioni Charta and Fondazione Antonio Ratti, 2004, pp.21—22.

  18. Much in the same way that a philosopher, perhaps, does not presume to possess wisdom but agrees to be called a ‘friend of wisdom’.

  19. Wall text for Jimmie Durham, Maquette for a Museum of Switzerland (2011).

  20. See Jean-Jacques Lecercle, The Violence of Language, London: Routledge, 1990, pp.144—75.

  21. J. Durham, ‘A Shadow in Athens’, op. cit.: ‘Since moving back to Europe in 1994 I have been working with stone in various ways, trying to free it from the heavy weight of architecture and of metaphor.’

  22. Conversation with the author, 14 January 2012.

  23. Quoted from The Libertine and the Stone Guest, Durham’s English manuscript for Der Verführer und der steinerne Gast, the book that was published in German for the project at the Wittgenstein House. Ulli Lindmayr (ed.), Jimmie Durham: Der Verführer und der steinerne Gast, Vienna and New York: Springer-Verlag, 1996.

  24. J. Durham, ‘Stones Rejected by the Builder’, in G. Kapatsoris and C. Gute (ed.), Jimmie Durham, op. cit., p.121.

  25. This text is an integral part of the piece Prehistoric Stone Tool, 2004.

  26. J. Durham, The Second Particle Wave Theory (As Performed on the Banks of the River Wear, a Stone’s Throw from S’underland and the Durham Cathedral) (exh. cat.), Sunderland: Walter Phillips Gallery Editions, 2005, p.17.

  27. J. Durham, ‘A Shadow in Athens’, op. cit.

  28. J. Durham, The Second Particle Wave Theory, op. cit.