– Summer 2014

The Artist as Double Agent

Zachary Cahill, Philip von Zweck

Daniel Newman, John Candy Firing Range, 2012, mixed media, 53 × 47cm (framed). Courtesy the artist and INVISIBLE- EXPORTS, New York

double agent. A spy who works on behalf of mutually hostile countries, usually with actual allegiance only to one.
— Oxford English Dictionary

One has heard of double and triple agents who themselves in the end no longer exactly know for whom they were really working and what they were seeking for themselves in this double and triple role playing... On which side do our loyalties lie? Are we agents of the state and of institutions? Or agents of enlightenment?

Or agents of monopoly capital? Or agents of our own vital interests that secretly cooperate in constant changing double binds with the state institutions, enlightenment, counter-enlightenment, monopoly capital, socialism, etc., and, in so doing, we forget more and more what we our ‘selves’ sought in the whole business?
— Peter Sloterdijk1

Zachary Cahill: It is well worth pondering the idea that the ever-greater erosion of the romantic conception of the artist that we have seen over the last few decades has appeared in tandem with the rise of a hybridised notion of artistic agency that moves within and between the various institutions that comprise the art world. In some instances this erosion may be lamentable. No doubt weighed down

  1. Peter Sloterdijk, quoted in Nicolas Guilhot, The Democracy Makers: Human Rights and International Order, New York: Columbia University Press, 2005, p.1. For Guilhot’s notion of the double agent, see also pp.10—14.

  2. See Boris Groys, ‘Multiple Authorship’, Art Power, Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2008, pp.96—97.

  3. Caspar David Friedrich, quoted by Werner Herzog in Elizabeth Sussman and Jay Sanders (ed.), Whitney Biennial 2012 (exh. cat.), New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 2012, p.139.

  4. David Robbins, for example, has argued that owing to the long preparation time required to make an exhibition, writing can circulate much faster and in many instances reach a much wider audience than a traditional show in a gallery can. See D. Robbins, ‘Alternatives to Art’, lecture given at the Open Practice Committee, Department of Visual Arts at the University of Chicago, 26 March 2012, available at http://lucian.uchicago.edu/blogs/opc/video/2012/03/david-robbins-2 (last accessed 
on 21 January 2014). Dan Graham also realised the importance of the relationship between art
and publishing: ‘I learned that if a work of art wasn’t written about and reproduced in a magazine it would have difficulty attaining the status of “art”. It seemed that in order to be defined as having value — that is, as “art” — a work only had to be exhibited in a gallery and then to be written about and reproduced as a photograph in an art magazine.’ D. Graham, quoted in Gwen Allen, Artists’ Magazines: An Alternative Space for Art, Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2011, p.24.

  5. Elena Filipovic, ‘When Exhibitions Become Form: On the History of the Artist as Curator’, The Artist as Curator, issue no.0, periodical publication distributed with Mousse, issue 41, December 2013— January 2014, p.5. An earlier version of this text was delivered as the keynote presentation at the symposium ‘Artist as Curator’, organised by Afterall at Central Saint Martins, London, 10 November 2012, available at http://afterall.org/online/artist-as-curator-symposium-keynote-by-elena-filipovic (last accessed on 21 January 2014).

  6. For specific e-flux journal issues, see http://www.e-flux.com/journals/; for the Time/Bank project, see http://e-flux.com/timebank/ (both last accessed on 26 March 2014).

  7. See Lane Relyea, Your Everyday Art World, Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2013.

  8. See INVISIBLE-EXPORTS, ‘How I Wrote “Elastic Man”’ [press release], 2013, available at http://www.invisible-exports.com/exhibitions/48_howiwrote/howiwrote.html (last accessed on 21 January 2014).

  9. Michelle Grabner co-curated the 2014 Whitney Biennial alongside artist and curator Anthony Elms and curator Stuart Comer.

  10. Zachary Cahill, ‘Hand’s Tide’, Artforum.com [online magazine], 26 September 2010, available at http://artforum.com/archive/id=26475 (last accessed on 21 January 2014).

  11. The group is sometimes referred to as ‘Our Literal Speed: Events in the Vicinity of Art and Art History’ in the promotional materials accompanying the group’s activities. This was the case, for example,
in ‘A Live Pedagogical Concept Album’, which took place at The University of Chicago, Art Chicago,
the Art Institute of Chicago, University of Illinois at Chicago, the Renaissance Society and Smart Museum of Art, all in Chicago, on 30 April—2 May 2009.

  12. See Our Literal Speed, ‘Our Literal Speed’, October, no.129, Summer 2009, pp.143—47; and Our Literal Speed, ‘Words, Gestures, Complicities, or The Fusion of Entertainment and Englightment’, Oxford Art Journal, vol.33, no.3, November 2010, pp.385—409.

  13. See Hal Foster, Rosalind Krauss, Yve-Alain Bois, Benjamin H.D. Buchloh and David Joselit (ed.), Art Since 1900: Modernism, Antimodernism, Postmodernism, vol.2, London: Thames & Hudson, 2011, pp.738—39.

  14. Slavoj Žižek has made reference to this idea on a number of occasions, including in the seminar ‘Jacques Lacan: A Lateral Introduction’, University of Chicago, Spring 2006, as well as in an interview with Rosanna Greenstreet for The Guardian, 9 August 2008, available at http://www.theguardian.com/ lifeandstyle/2008/aug/09/slavoj.zizek (last accessed on 21 January 2014).

  15. These expressions were used, for example, in the description of Our Literal Speed’s programme at the Banff Centre, Alberta, 7 January—22 February 2013, available at http://www.banffcentre.ca/programs/ program.aspx?id=1277 (last accessed on 21 January 2014).

  16. Joseph Leo Koerner, Caspar David Friedrich and the Subject of Landscape, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009, p.31.

  17. Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi’s book of the same title is an argument against what Jonathan Crary has called
 the ‘24/7’ temporality of neoliberal capitalism. Both authors make convincing cases for neoliberalism’s repercussions on the nervous system (Berardi) and sleep (Crary). See F. Berardi, The Soul at Work: From Alienation to Autonomy (trans. Francesca Cadel and Giuseppina Mecchia), Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2009; and J. Crary, 24/7: Terminal Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep, London: Verso, 2013.