Towards a Non-Identity Art (2013)

Rory Harron

About this exposition

This exposition addresses the motivation behind the recent turn in contemporary art toward displaying non-art and the work of outsiders. It begins by providing an alternative interpretation of Marcel Duchamp's Fountain before tracing the historic roots of the vanguardist strategy of self-negation in art and its affinities with communal creativity. Developed from my research on artist exits, I then affirm an expanded creativity. I posit that an egalitarian art could be realised within exhibitions in which anyone can exhibit. Such a polemical outlook seeks to problematise the ownership of the identities within the field of artistic production. Ultimately it seeks to further the egalitarian drive in contemporary culture and encourage a reconsideration of set identities. However, these assumptions will in turn be problematised as the research is driven by Theodor Adorno’s non-identity thought. This involves a rejection of strong self–identification alongside a commitment to egalitarianism. Considering this, the worthwhile search for a non-identity art is forever elusive.
typeresearch exposition
affiliationGlasgow School of Art
published inJournal for Artistic Research

comments: 5 (last entry by Brett Jones - 10/08/2015 at 07:21)
Emma Shercliff 16/12/2013 at 11:50

The subject of the exposition – a proposal to expand and democratise the art world through the concept of ‘non-identity art’ - is interesting and timely, particularly as art made by non-initiates to the art world currently attracts critical attention, and especially because of the increased visibility of artworks made possible for many by the internet.
A definition of ‘non-identity art’ might prove precarious as, for instance found works made by unknown makers differ in intention from works exhibited in juryless exhibitions, and as the author rightly points out, a dogmatic over-identification with any one tendency in art is problematic. Harron makes a convincing argument for what he considers to be the role of ‘non-identity art’ informed in large part by Theodor Adorno’s non-identity thought, concluding that: “non-identity art can never be realised…. Ultimately, the theorisation of a non-identity art is a polemic to engender further thought and debate on the authorship and ownership of the field of art”. The reader is directed through a confident discussion of the political and art historical contexts of vanguardist strategies of self-negation in art, which is in turn situated within contemporary debates on curatorship.
The exposition has a largely theoretical foundation and the works presented appear to respond to a specific political and art historical context. However, it is refreshing to read the author proposing to centre this contribution on the artist and the artworks through his own practice of making, experiencing and curating artworks. To my mind this raises interesting questions for artistic research; placing emphasis on the processes of making, distributing and consuming art reveals the contribution of art practice to research as a method that, whilst attempting to conform to the academy, subjects itself to self-negation, yet in so doing can challenge and renew the field.

Matthew Bowman 18/12/2013 at 17:29

This essay addresses the continued and largely dominant division of the artworld into producers and consumers in the face of practices and theories that have sought to efface or problematize that very division. In that respect, the themes it examines are not only very much embedded within contemporary practice—as in, for example, Relational Aesthetics and its attendant critiques—but also dovetails with significant problems and conditions of art as such. While calling for an exodus from the traditional author-led conceptions of art and suggests that collaborative practices have, in general, been insufficient in breaking down the barriers between artist and audience. The overall aim of the essay is generate this non-identity thinking as a means for constructing a more egalitarian relationship between artist and audience, a relationship where these ascribed roles—”artist” and “audience”—begin to blur and a more radically democratic politics can be envisaged.


The notion of non-identity that animates this essay is introduced early on through reference to Duchamp’s alter-ego Rrose Selavy, however it is not defined until later on and so the initial stakes are not immediately clear. In essence, Adorno’s concept of “non-identity” is reformatted in this essay in order to think about the collective potential of art—here the author’s submission goes beyond Adorno per se and uses non-identity in a manner that arguably breaks from Adorno’s own intentions. While some might contend that this amounts to a misapplication of non-identity, my feeling is that the author’s general approach allows for new insights into this concept and another way of thinking politics and collectivity in art practice. However, there is also a strategic element to the category of non-identity, as is evinced by the author’s dialectical scepticism towards it, and there is a danger that the argument may undercut itself, collapse under the weight of its own contradictions. There is also a risk, perhaps, that non-identity or a step towards in that direction might be tantamount to or mirror the forms of alienation and de-identification in everyday life in consumer culture (Warhol worked this problematic in a fairly comprehensive manner, it might be contended and so might be a key example here). Finally, it might be worth exploring further how non-identity in art can be mapped onto notions of collectivity and the general intellect—both of which, at face value, often imply that they are dependent on forms of identification between individuals in order to produce collective formations. It would be intriguing to see how this research continues to explore and negotiate these possibilities.

Rory Harron 07/01/2014 at 14:21

Dear Emma and Matthew,

Greatly apprecaie your close reading and concise analysis - here is a film that I produced last year that addresses much of that which the paper and your comments discuss - http://vimeo.com/65688477

Interesting Matthew that you mention Warhol - he formed the beginning of the film - indeed he really sought and did negate authorship in his Factory days - before fully embracing the market and making money as art. The world of collections and auctions are of course deeply troubled by authentication of his and others work - whereas that deemed postmodern strove to problematise authenticity, genius and originality - the logical extension of which may be that we are all artists.


Following yet hopefully somewhat in tandem with the reflections upon self negation and fostering egalitarianism in and or through art is the discussion on Adorno, non-identity and the (im)possibility of  such an art. I concede that this is in danger of slipping down a rabbit hole of perpetual confusion but it was developed to push forward the project of self negation and held to as a general tool to avoid overidentification with one set belief or institution while holding to a general ethical foundation or principle - I will further reflect upon this in relation to the general intellect, collectivity, net production, juryless exhibitions, anonymous creativity and (un)democratic organization in art and society. The research will hopefully be developed upon throughout the year - I will send you both some info on it. Thanks again for your time and thoughtful comments.


Rory Harron 01/10/2014 at 13:10

No Jury No Prize 2013 London Street Gallery catalogue - https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/82172642/No%20Jury%20No%20Prize%20catalogue%202013.pdf


No Jury No Prize 2014 Artlink call:


Brett Jones 10/08/2015 at 07:21

This is indeed a thought provoking exposition. However, it overlooks some other fundamental arguments and positions. The question raised by the author—'If anything is potentially art and everyone is potentially an artist, what is art and who is the artist?'—may be off the mark when these are taken into consideration.


The underpinning assumption that somehow contemporary art (i.e the continuing avant-garde mythology) should be egalitarian and 'non-identity' based is curious given the values placed on specialized skills in any discipline. Why should artists not be recognised for the skills and knowledge they acquire in the same way as, for instance, architects, graphic designers or industrial designers?  Just as not anything can be architecture, nor everyone an architect, I do not see why artists should be subjugated to such a utopian specularisation. In one sense, we already have egalitarian and non-identity production in the form of everyday design, yet in another design is firmly embedded in symbolic exchange. But so is art, and this symbolic exchange is equally imbedded in the image-repertoire and fetishistic no matter if the objects are authored by industry recognized professionals, amateurs, outsiders etc.


What the people who theorized Duchamp taught us—commencing in the theoretical turn of the 1960s—was that the institution and the market determine our relation to the object, rather than the artist per se. The symbolic object is interchangeable in both form and authorship, but its symbolic currency is constructed by value systems that are woven through all the players and mechanisms of the art world.


It is illusory to imagine an object free of symbolic value just because it is made by an outsider or ‘non-artist’, or that somehow placing objects by such people in a gallery makes a radical statement or contests contemporary values and assumptions around art. These acts simply add to the mythology that searches for the next radical gesture; the latest being art that is not art (rather than anti-art).


It is notable that the author uses references for his argument that are gallery or museum based, engineered by curators and written by critics. Right here in this triumvirate—gallery/curator/critic—we have the machine of symbolic production churning out the image-repertoire. So it does not matter that what is fed into the machine are objects made or found by institutional outsiders, rather what matters is that the industry converts them into symbolic value. This is of course inevitable, and thus the question of ‘what is art and who is an artist?’ is simultaneously irrelevant and self-serving. Duchamp’s interlocutors have shown it to be irrelevant, while the question is necessary for those in the industry to sustain their voice—read authority—of relevance as they search for the next radical gesture (indeed Debord would turn in his grave). And those not searching for a new radical gesture but re-inscribing old gestures in utopian specular frames are simply justifying their roles as another kind of institutional-market gate keeper.


So lets bring it back to practice and research that generates the possibilities for writing the possibilities of the object as text; the object that we know is derived and without origin, the object woven by cultural, social and historical precedent, the object facilitated by an artist through particular and often specialised knowledge. Quite simply, a practice indifferent to galleries, curators and critics, and therefore a practice not even concerned with industry prescriptions of authorship.


What could such a practice look like? I have new exhibitions in my office everyday. My dining room table, the back of my car, my backyard are all exhibition spaces. This research practice is documented and written around the problems of the textualised object as it is rematerialized. These signifiers provide the grounds to which the subject attempts to dismantle the weave in the search for the object cause of desire. This search is for the lack, our impossible presence, yet one not concerned industry subject-identification, and certainly not whether it is art or otherwise.


So why does non-identity and egalitarian based art still require the gallery/museum, curator or critic? It seems like this exposition was in search for what it attempts to preclude.   

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