Transpositionality (10 January 2012)


The Research Catalogue (RC) was less than two years old when we first joined its community in the Autumn of 2011 and understood what it could do for us. We soon recognised it provided us with the means of reviving an old project, that we both had started and abandoned separately and in different times. The following January we began our non-collaboration to publish on the RC Signor Olivieri’s Trattato per il bocchino del clarinetto and Studi di ricerca. The “inclusive, bottom-up open-end” platform (Borgdorff 2012: 222) offered a safe and hospitable archive, as well as a free and diffuse publication channel of their content, rescuing his work from loss and oblivion. On the other hand, the infinite canvas and multimedia tools of the RC enabled us to represent more closely the raw materiality and unfinished character of his writings.

Our unambitious self-publication required us to scan each, enhance and format the images, organise and present them on a web page. Seemingly trivial, these operations nonetheless transformed Signor Olivieri’s material from analogue into digital, from singular typescripts and manuscripts into endlessly reproducible and changeable images. His writings had been transplanted from their private and outdated milieu into a global and contemporary medium, diverted from their technical and didactic scope into the field of artistic research. Remediation and recontextualization had crossed a threshold beyond which our initial model of publication, based on mechanical reproduction, ceased to function. Moreover, we realised that the unfinished, private, failed condition of Signor Olivieri’s writings did not have, prior to our first exposition, the “coherent unity of meaning” required to be a “work” (Schwab 2012: 94), and conversely, that without it, our exposition would be utterly meaningless without it.

Transpositionality, a collective term for the hypo-critical operations we described above, is not just a requirement meeting the RC technical conditions, but a general characteristic of artistic research (Schwab 2017). However, Signor Olivieri’s writings might not be easily accommodated even within this broad concept, as they lack an ontological and epistemic unity that can meaningfully be transposed, except for the yellow folder that bundled them together and the life-practice within which they were written. This led us to regard our exposition as a new work of artistic research, created in an electronic medium from pre-existing textual and musical material, and the RC as a “nonsite”, in which our encounter could happen again for the first time.

Exposing Non-site #1 (1968) in the short essay “A Provisional Theory of Non-Sites,” Robert Smithson describes the “dialectical relationship” between his sculpture and the actual site it refers to, The Pine Barrens Plane in New Jersey. Nonsite is “a three-dimensional metaphor” of the site and between the two “exists a space of metaphoric significance. It could be that "travel" in this space is a vast metaphor. Everything between the two sites could become physical metaphorical material devoid of natural meanings and realistic assumptions. Let us say that one goes on a fictitious trip if one decides to go to the site of the Non-Site. The “trip” becomes invented, devised, artificial; therefore, one might call it a non-trip to a site from a Non-site.” (1996: 364) If one can still accept Aristotle’s definition of metaphor as a kind of transposition (Ricoeur 2003: 17), then Smithson’s site-nonsite dialectic enables to think of this exposition as a metaphoric space extending between the nonsite of the Trattato and the Studi to the site of Signor Olivieri’s life practice. However, unlike Smithson’s dialectic in which both terms are given, this exposition recreates them both from writing and memory, and instead of an aesthetic travel from one to the other, it offers to the hermeneut a mere simulacrum of it.



Expositionality (10 September 2014)


            The Journal for Artistic Research programmatically introduced the concept of exposition in its first Editorial (Schwab 2011):


what is commonly known elsewhere as a ‘journal article’ […]. This choice of words indicates that a contribution to the journal must expose as research what it presents using the technological framework offered by the Research Catalogue. Depending on your field, ‘exposition’ might not always be a suitable word. For this reason, we encourage you to believe that instead of exposing practice as research, you could also stage, perform, curate, translate, unfold or reflect practice as research. Your chosen descriptor here is less important than the doubling it entails, which creates distance within practice through which understanding can operate.’


For us, however, the problem appeared to be the reverse, not so much the doubling within a practice, as the reconstruction of a practice out of many “things” not always belonging together. First, we had Signor Olivieri’s writings (four versions of the Trattato typescript with drawings, and two manuscripts of the Studi) and a narrating voice. Second, or rather first, we didn’t have the tools that he used and describes in the Trattato, nor the mouthpieces he repaired, refaced or revoiced in the course of his practice, all dispersed except for the one shown in the Dedication. Third, or rather first again, there had been his profession, his artistic epistemic practice, his teaching, his life.

Then, but on a plane that one might call transcendental, there is the medium of this exposition and the apparatus of artistic research. And finally, two principles, friendship that held us and that multiplicity together, and failure that pushed us to find a precarious, often disadvantageous equilibrium between Signor Olivieri’s practice and this exposition, beyond (small) catastrophes, accretions, changes of heart or direction that befell the exposition during the seven years span of its making. However, it might be easy to mistake failure for an intimation to persistence “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” (Beckett 1989: 101) or to transfigure it into creative failure: “To be an artist is to fail as no other dare fail.” (Beckett 1965: 125). Of itself, failure meant nothing to us, just a necessary component of practice that did not need to be conceptualised, and yet it was so conspicuous and unavoidable that it acted as a sobering principle, keeping theory “low.” (Halberstam 2011: 15-8)

Effectively, the assemblage isn’t just a metaphoric space (or a synecdoche?), but the extension and continuation of Signor Olivieri’s practice, much as site and nonsite are also places, and the travel in between is another story. The assemblage of our exposition displays the same heterogeneity (the clarinet is the typewriter is the dough sheeter …), non-hierarchy (the content of the text, the writing style and the documents materiality all flattened out into an epistemic practice), antinormativity (except for friendship), and relative openness of the practice it reconstructs. It replicates its tortuous connections and divisions, gaps and entanglements, overgrowths and breaks as much as medium and purpose would allow. Nevertheless, though metaphor has the structure the rhizome (we wallow in this dirty word), our exposition is not entirely a rhizome as it can neither generate, fixed to a lost individual past, nor propagate, in its embedded and embodied sub-disciplinarity. (Alliez 2011) This imposes to our exposition two limitations.

The way we conceived our archaeology of practice seemed to impose a heavy limitation on expositionality, leaving only two operations viable, backgrounding and foregrounding. We backgrounded, for instance, the content of the text to expose its materials, gestural qualities and the zero degree of its writing. At the same time, we foregrounded the indicators of epistemic practice, compiling a symptomatology of research: the realisation of the ideal sound of the classic clarinet (problem), the professional and artistic advancement of the performer through the enhancement of the instrument sound resources (aim); the publication of a didactic method and technical manual (goal) for the benefit of conservatory teachers, clarinet students and early career clarinettists (scope), motivated by lack of specific literature and training (background and context) and finally, a methodology that is empirical in the diagnostics of sound and manual in the application of the techniques described.

We tried to move further, asking whether Signor Olivieri’s artistic epistemic practice of mouthpiece refacing is also artistic research. His practice seems to fall neatly into Christopher Frayling’s classic category of “research for art”, “where the end product is an artefact – where the thinking is, so to speak, embodied in the artefact.” (1994: 5) Thus, a collection of the mouthpieces refaced by Signor Olivieri during his forty years practice would form a series of artefacts sufficient to embody and evidence not only his technical knowledge but also the kind of artistic empirical enquiry that he developed. Although such a series cannot, strictly speaking, be considered a “formal sequence”, as all interventions are limited to individual mouthpieces and determined by their initial conditions, “the chain of solutions nevertheless discloses the problem.” (Kubler 2008: 30) Signor Olivieri’s entirely musical problem of realising an ideal sound for classic clarinet performance, is clearly stated in the Trattato and in the Studi, and would, more significantly, be embodied in his series of refaced mouthpieces.  Unfortunately, that material series remains only virtual, as all mouthpieces he refaced are all lost except for one, which leaves our claim entirely speculative.



Criticality (15 January 2019)


            When we first discovered the call for contributions to Ruukku #13: Peripheries, we were struggling with the English translations of the typescripts and the transcription of the music manuscripts that are now part of the exposition. These tedious and time-consuming operations seemed nonetheless necessary if we wanted our exposition to have the slightest chance of being noticed on the web. At the same time, we felt that were confronting once more the issues of transpositionality we thought we had left behind, and were concerned that translating had pulled us away from our vernacular and our peripheries. Our landscape, where the A13 motorway and the railway clumsily stitch the two sides of the Po plain together, between Signor Olivieri’s adopted city Bologna, and my home town Padua, where he retired and taught me to play the clarinet, our landscape was already out of sight. We soon forgot in our exposition to refer back to the Italian texts, and soon gave up thinking in our vernacular all together.

There are different ways of being “like a foreigner in one’s own language” (Deleuze and Guattari 1986: 48). One might speak one’s own native language badly (Artaud, Carroll, Cummings, Kerouac, Signor Olivieri), or come to inhabit a foreign language (Beckett), or even make the language one inhabits into a strange kind of foreign language (Kafka, Proust, Jarry, ourselves). (Lambert 2006: 49) Truth is, minor language is only an effect on the outside, because what in writer’s parlance is called “voice”, is already lost in inner translation. It leaves an echo behind, though, as Walter Benjamin wrote (1996: 258) and this remains a cruel punishment even today. Stripped of a voice, we adopted our impossible impersonal ‘us’ that includes neither us nor you, the reader, and that is familiar or academic depending on the circumstances.

Thus, the topic of periphery of the call resonated immediately with our experience of writing and at the same time, raised a general problem. The marginality of our vernacular in relation to standard Italian, or that of our English translation in relation to proper academic International English, was mirrored by other relative positions in the exposition: the knowledge of the Trattato in relation to research, the Studi in relation to artistic compositions, the practice of mouthpiece refacing in relation to playing the clarinet, life writing in relation to literature, etc.

To contrast how our epistemological position would be precisely triangulated, we thought of presenting in this Postscript the story of our exposition. It does not feel as if we are imposing a theory on its actual development by dividing it into three stages, each characterised by a basic operation of artistic research. In the previous sections, we used two concepts first introduced in artistic research by Michael Schwab (2011; 2018): transpositionality, as a material-aesthetic (meta)operation performed on a work, and expositionality as an artistic-epistemic (meta)operation performed within an artistic practice. Transpositionality enabled us to construct a metaphoric space, dialectic between Signor Olivieri’s life practice (site) and the Research Catalogue (nonsite), that we populated by different kinds of texts (reproductions, transcriptions, translations, annotations, paratexts, metatexts) and audiovisual materials (images, audio recordings, video excerpts) which expand (again, rhizomatically) from the Yellow Folder at different levels and with varying degrees of separation.

Following our restrictive interpretation of expositionality, the complementary operations of foregrounding and backgrounding enabled us to modulate relevant aspects of Signor Olivieri’s practice and make the case that it is an artistic epistemic practice. At the same time, this result showed a split between artistic epistemic practices in general and artistic research as it came to be socio-historically instituted by the Bologna Process under the conditions of the new knowledge economy (Ward 2005). At the juncture of these two different practices, we identified the need for a political epistemic operation performed on the field artistic research. We call this operation criticality, appropriating a concept introduced by Irit Rogoff in a passage worth quoting in full:


What interests me in ‘criticality’ (and I am aware that this is a contingent and not entirely satisfactory term, not least because it is already occupied with various meanings I am not much interested in – but at the moment it is the best that I have at my disposal) is that it brings together that being studied and those doing the studying, in an indelible unity. Within what I am calling ‘criticality’ it is not possible to stand outside of the problematic and objectify it as a disinterested mode of learning. Criticality is then a recognition that we may be fully armed with theoretical knowledge, we may be capable of the most sophisticated modes of analysis but we nevertheless are also living out the very conditions we are trying to analyse and come to terms with. Therefore, criticality, is a state of duality in which one is at one and the same time, both empowered and disempowered, knowing and unknowing, thus giving a slightly different meaning to Hannah Arendt’s notion of ‘we, fellow sufferers.’ So it would seem that criticality is in itself a mode of embodiment, a state from which one cannot exit or gain a critical distance but which rather marries our knowledge and our experience in ways that are not complimentary. Unlike ‘wisdom’ in which we supposedly learn from our experience, criticality is a state of profound frustration in which the knowledge and insights we have amassed do very little to alleviate the conditions we live through. So, you might well ask, what is the point then? Well, I would answer, the point of any form of critical, theoretical activity was never resolution but rather heightened awareness and the point of criticality is not to find an answer but rather to access a different mode of inhabitation. Philosophically we might say that it is a form of ontology that is being advocated, a ‘living things out’ which has a hugely transformative power as opposed to pronouncing on them. In the duration of this activity, in the actual inhabitation, a shift might occur that we generate through the modalities of that occupation rather than through a judgement upon it. That is what I am trying to intimate by ‘embodied criticality’. (Rogoff 2003)


What interests us in ‘criticality’ are, instead, the potentials of this underdeveloped and rather neglected concept. In particular, we are interested in the duality of grounding and ungrounding, in the unity of “that being studied and those doing the studying”, and in the “inhabitation” of a practice as condition of its transformation.  Where foregrounding and backgrounding are complementary operations that modulate the work and, for instance, allowed us to transform the Trattato from document into “humument”, grounding and ungrounding are contrary operations that lay down the very conditions of possibility of the work. The domain of grounding can be identified with the task of criticism since Kant. Inseparable from its immanent workings, criticism belongs to the moment when the work becomes what it is, when “it stands up on its own” (Deleuze and Guattari 1994: 164). “Criticism is the search for and the experience of its possibility.” (Blanchot 2004: 5). Ungrounding, on the other hand, summarises the negative task of critical theory, that exposes those critical grounds as being in turn conditioned by hegemonic structures of capitalist production and power-knowledge.

Rogoff’s criticality retains the positive emancipatory task of critical theory that “has for its object men as producers of their own historical way of life in its totality”, to quote from another Postscript (Horkheimer 1972: 244), but goes beyond the dialectic strategy of exposing immanent contradictions deployed by critical theory to achieve its goal (Horkheimer 1972: 265). It suggests instead, an embodied and embedded epistemology constituted by inhabiting the unity of life and artistic epistemic practice. Thus, the limitation of Signor Olivieri’s artistic epistemic practice that led us to criticality receives from it a new meaning.

There is a difference, one that Rogoff’s text might have made clearer, between a research that occupies a scientist’s life (Higgs Mechanism in Peter Higgs’ life, to name an example), and occupying an epistemic practice with one’s life (inhabiting). Rather than a simple matter of biography and duration, the split between Signor Olivieri’s artistic epistemic practice and artistic research amounts to this ontological difference (Deleuze 2001: 31). Further, this difference accounts for the way in which we chose to present his work and is the reason why we are convinced that this exposition is politically relevant to artistic research today. Situated as close to research as possible and as far from life as necessary, Signor Olivieri’s artistic epistemic practice resists both epistemological exclusion and assimilation by artistic research, a political function not unlike that which Pier Paolo Pasolini attributed to his Roman periphery (Rhodes 2007).


Envoy (11 November 2019)


‘O my friends, there is no friend.’ (Derrida 2005: 1)


This is it, then? But what is this? It is this yellow folder we have here, collecting Signor Olivieri’s Trattato, Studi and sundry recollections, it is The Yellow Folder that transposes Signor Olivieri’s material, exposes his practice of refacing and writing, and opens up criticality by supplementing the ‘humument’ with literary non-fiction (Leavy 2015: 45-7), historical annotations and theoretical observations. How then is Rogoff’s criticality embodied in the assemblage we constructed and why is it politically affective? “After this, the next step would be a discussion of friendship.” (Aristotle 2004: 143, Eth. Nich. 7.1, 1155a1)

We used ‘we’ to mark somehow our relation, sometimes shrinking to an academic convention, sometimes delimiting the separation that was once our friendship, sometimes stretching to those whom The Yellow Folder may concern, our friends. In any case, ‘we’ does not refer to a generic co-authorship, as “we should not try, by means of artifice, pretend to carry on a dialogue” (Blanchot 1997: 292) rather, it is where criticality is embodied. For Aristotle, friendship “is a virtue or implies virtue” (Eth. Nich. 7.1, 1155a1) and for us it is an epistemic virtue that grounds this exposition and expresses that duality to which Rogoff refers rather vaguely quoting Hanna Arendt.

For Derrida, as the epigram from Politics of Friendship shows, friendship is a paradoxical concept owing to the mingling of its two contrasting models. On one side, “the Graeco-Roman model, which seems to be governed by the value of reciprocity, by homological, immanentist, finitist – and rather politist – concord” (2005: 290). An identity in which friends are similar, close, sharing, reciprocal that is represented by Aristotle, Cicero, Montaigne, and Kant. On the other side, a difference governed by “heterology, transcendence, dissymmetry and infinity, hence a Christian type of logic,” (291) in which friends are different from each other, separated by distance and sharing little, a model found in Nietzsche, Blanchot, Deleuze and us.

However, commenting on a passage of the Nichomachean Ethics (1170a 28—171b3), Giorgio Agamben folds the second model onto the first:


Friendship is the instance of this concurrent perception of the friendʼs existence in the awareness of oneʼs own existence. But this means that friendship also has an ontological and, at the same time, a political dimension. The perception of existing is, in fact, always already divided up and shared or con-divided. Friendship names this sharing or con-division. There is no trace here of any intersubjectivity—that chimera of the moderns—nor of any relation between subjects: rather, existing itself is divided, it is non-identical to itself: the I and the friend are the two faces—or the two poles—of this con-division. The friend is, for this reason, another self, a heteros autos. . . . The friend is not another I, but an otherness immanent in self-ness, a becoming other of the self. At the point at which I perceive my existence as pleasant, my perception is traversed by a concurrent perception that dislocates it and deports it towards the friend, towards the other self. Friendship is this de-subjectivization at the very heart of the most intimate perception of self. (Agamben 2004: 6)


In this de-subjectified friendship, without correspondence nor conformity one can recognise the duality of Rogoff’s criticality. It is an at-tension for the other’s different practice across the distance between the practitioners:


We must give up trying to know those to whom we are linked by something essential; by this I mean we must greet them in relation with the unknown in which they greet us as well, in our estrangement. Friendship, this relation without dependence, without episode, yet into which all of the simplicity of life enters, passes by way of the recognition of the common strangeness that does not allow us to speak of our friends, but only to speak to them, not to make of them a topic of conversations (or essays), but the movement of understanding in which, speaking to us, they reserve, even on the most familiar terms, an infinite distance, the fundamental separation on the basis of which what separates becomes relation. (Blanchot 1997: 291)


As (the) epistemic virtue of artistic research, friendship resists forms of semiotic capture and epistemic extraction. It prevented us from establishing a hierarchy between our respective practices (playing clarinet, refacing, writing) or from both submitting to a meta-position (theory, artistic research). Admittedly, this commitment to equality and autonomy provided an altogether frustrating experience to a reader who wishes to learn more about refacing a clarinet mouthpiece or gain theoretical insights into artistic research. How could this have been otherwise, though, if failures and shortcomings are constitutive of the Yellow Folder and expressive of its marginality, as we pointed out many times? At the same time, friendship hasn’t just the regulative function of holding the Yellow Folder together (and us through it), but also the productive function of forcing it to become other (and us through it), for instance this exposition. Friendship, as criticality, is not embodied, as claimed by Rogoff, but constitutes a virtuality, the virtue that propels a certain artistic and research practice towards change (Massumi 1998: 16), rather than informing its actual outcomes in one way or another. At last, we became friends with our Yellow Folder and cannot tell each other apart anymore.

In the Abécedaire, Gilles Deleuze states that “friendship is a matter of perception. What does it mean to have something in common with someone? Not ideas in common, but to have a language and even a pre-language in common. There are people that one can never understand or speak to even on the simplest matters, and others with whom one might disagree completely, but can understand deeply and profoundly even in the most abstract things, based on this indeterminate basis that is so mysterious.” (Deleuze 2012) Deleuze gives to friendship an aesthetic foundation and Agamben’s gloss on Aristotle’s becomes immediately graspable. On the other hand, friendship is now at odds with the universalising enterprise of artistic research and epistemology in general, suspending serious scrutiny, disregarding different conclusions and overstretching interpretative charity. (Stroud 2006; Kawall 2013; contra Goldberg 2019) It is for this reason that Deleuze counterbalances common perception with the mutual distrust for the friend. (Deleuze and Guattari 1997: 4; Deleuze 2012)

Is this distrust even possible? For our part, we were unable to exert it fully and the common perception that bridged the unknown between us, now weakens the epistemic virtue we discovered. Unless we accept the consequences of the opposite, as soon as our inclusive ‘we’ weaves the reader into the Yellow Folder, the logic of justification prevails. At the junction where friendship opens its duality to alterity, criticality breaks down and ethical aesthetics (at-tension, common perception) gives way to epistemo-politics (mutual distrust, exclusion): Politics revolves around what is seen and what can be said about it, around who has the ability to see and the talent to speak, around the properties of spaces and the possibilities of time.” (Rancière 2004: 13) Maybe Derrida was right after all, friendship is no foundation for politics and neither, we can add, is virtue any foundation for epistemology. Nevertheless, we would like to take leave from you, dear reader, dear friend, entertaining the thought that criticality operates beneath it on a molecular level (Guattari 1984) Here, where our exposition is situated, friendship is both epistemic virtue and micropolitical praxis, and thus, by way of example, affects artistic research politically.

Postscript (Seven Years on)

He was a bit like us. Franco Citti remebers his friend Pier Paolo Pasolini (excerpt from Barnabò Micheli 1986)

Monument to Pier Paolo Pasolini at the Idroscalo di Ostia, periphery of Rome. The sculpture marks the place where Pasolini was found murdered in the night between 1 and 2 November 1975. The photograph shows the monument after it was vandalised by an extreme-right group in 2016.

Photo: adnkronos