lunes, abril 28, 2008

[AP] Maps for the Outside / the Work of Bureau d'études

Maps for the Outside
“Conceptualism” in the Work of Bureau d'études

Los sistemas de representacion dejaron ser solo un aparato de registro para convertirse en un sistema de accion, es decir en un tipo de lectura muticultural que se define no por la especialidad del sistema sino por una concepcion sobre la practica intima del sujeto, la colaboracion pasa a covertirse en el proceso contextual mas claro, la subjetividad en su tectonica operativa. La revolucion de los sistemas de informacion junto con las nuevas situaciones urbanas a traidas por los proceso de globalizacion desde call centers hasta proceso de lectura metropolitana a traves de la ocasionalidad como el ejercicio POST IT CITY, solo indica que el proceso colaborativo y el ejercicio de critica, ubica a las practicas urbanas como una fuente de objetos de estudios sobre las relaciones interpersonales del individuo y el desarrollo epostemologico contemporaneo.

Si en un momento las huellas o las ruinas formaron una especie de reflexion sobre nuestra memoria, hoy en dia el ARCHIVO y la DOCUMENTACION genera un proceso contextual sobre la experiencia de lecturas posibles, UTOPIAS? quien sabe...

Un ejemplo de sobre lo anterior es el trabajo de Bureau d'études estudio frances que ubica las practicas urbanas y los sistemas de poder como un vector de conformacion de espacios "urbanos" y espacios capaces de re-mirar nuestras experiencia situacionista.

A continuacion un texto de Brian Holmes que desarrolla parte del TRABAJO de Bureau d'études

texto de Brian Holmes

The closure of the gallery space is a classic conceptual gesture. Witness this proposal by Robert Barry: "My exhibition at the Art & Project Gallery in Amsterdam in December, '69, will last two weeks. I asked them to lock the door and nail my announcement to it, reading: 'For the exhibition the gallery will be closed.'"1 Conceptual art can be defined, not simply as the refusal of the commodified object and the specialized art system, but as an active signage pointing to the outside world, conceived as an expanded field for experimental practices of intimacy, expression and collaboration – indeed, for the transformation of social reality.2

Thirty-two years later, in October-December 2001, the French group Bureau d'études reiterated the gesture, sealing off the exhibition space of Le Spot, a converted industrial building in the port city of Le Havre. Instead of a simple sign, they confronted the visitor with a book, Juridic Park, which upon closer inspection proved to be a detailed set of maps to the "legal subsoil" of the city. But these maps, like the more recent cartographic projects, do not simply embrace the outside of one of modernity's specialized subsystems. Rather they detail the proliferating closures of a totally administered society, where almost every square inch of terrain is strictly codified for exclusive, proprietary uses.
The name of the group, "Bureau d'études," denotes an expert consultancy, a study office for technical research. Theirs is an intensely precise apprehension of the world, shot through with flashes of dark humor. But their work in its broadest dimensions is also the foundation, or perhaps the springboard, for an antagonistic utopia.

In 1998, with the exhibition Archives du Capitalisme, Bureau d'études started producing organizational charts showing the proprietary relations between financial funds, government agencies, banks and industrial firms. A number of these graphic charts, or "organigrams," were deployed as part of an installation including black-and-white photographs of heads propped up on wooden pickets (presumably CEOs), as well as a scale model of a proposed new parliament building, to articulate the voting rights of those with real power in today's society. The exhibition was an autonomous project in an artist-run space, at the time called the "Faubourg," in the city of Strasbourg. For a subsequent show entitled Le Capital, mounted by Nicolas Bourriaud in the city of Sète, an organigram detailing the relations between the French state and a panoply of major transnational corporations was blown up to wall size. Squares and rectangles of varying proportions, each identified with a name (Société Générale, Dresdner Bank, Mitsubishi, Pirelli, etc.) were connected with a labyrinth of elaborately traced channels, printed in black against a white ground. The result was something like an all-over painting for the computer and finance-obsessed 1990s: an aesthetics of information. In other words, one of the historical failure-points of what has been called "conceptual art."

Sooner or later, artists working on the analysis and transformation of social reality must face the obvious question: How to escape the formats, publics and modes of exchange that are offered by the gallery-magazine-museum system? The answer is a gradual process, a social and psychic experiment. Invited to a group exhibition for which, as usual, they would not be paid, Bureau d'études responded by creating a "zone de gratuité," Free Land, where treasures and all kinds of junk could be deposited and taken away without the intermediary of money. The experiment of the free zone was pursued in a gallery/living space in Paris, where theoretical curiosity and the more practical prospect of something-for-nothing drew a variegated public. Expanding on the question of the artist's real social status in an age of casual labor and mass intellectuality, Bureau d'études worked with Alejandra Riera, Andreas Fohr and Jorge Alyskewycz to launch the "Syndicat Potentiel" or "Potential Union," a proto-political association addressed to intellectual and cultural producers whose aspirations take them outside all professional categories. The key ideas here came from the French anarchist traditions, but also from theories of the gift economy, developed by the anthropologist Marcel Mauss and reworked by French social critics after the great strikes of 1995, in an era of structural unemployment.3 Among the first co-operators were the group Plus tôt te laat, from Brussels – jobless artists who had occupied an unemployment bureau, transforming it into a center of expression and reflection on the meanings of work in contemporary society. Such reflections in turn led to increasing proximity with the squatters' movements, whether in France, Italy or Germany. From these beginnings, Syndicat Potentiel grew into an open-ended frame for intimate and networked collaborations, with the explicit goal of producing autonomous counter-knowledge, oriented toward an economy of gratuité totale (in which basic services such as living space, water, electricity, access to communications media, etc. would be "totally free").4 The project continues today, giving its name to the self-managed space in Strasbourg where the art group had produced its earliest proposals.


It is against the almost invisible background of Syndicat Potentiel and a parallel project, "Université Tangente," that the recent cartographic projects deserve to be understood. They came as an unexpected, long-desired opportunity. The rupture of consensus brought by the Global Days of Action, beginning in May of 1998, served to galvanize the wider counter-globalization movement, through innovative uses of the Internet as a worldwide distribution system operated from below. A kind of autonomous, do-it-yourself conceptualism began to emerge, whereby "attitudes become forms": an idea or phrase arising in one locality (for instance, "Our Resistance is as Transnational as Capital") becomes a geographically distributed political performance (the "Global Street Parties" against the annual G8 reunions).5 In perfect accord with Lawrence Weiner's famous dictums, the work could be carried out by the initial authors of the ideas, realized by others, or not done at all – something like a taste of planetary exchange, where the "art" is "totally free."

Even as these protest forces emerged on a large scale – mapping out the power structures of globalization with their feet, as it were – the rise of the information society and the deregulating thrust of neoliberalism had made it possible for relatively small, highly mobile groups to appropriate and use advanced technologies, acting upon extremely sophisticated visions of the world, as the present exhibition shows. Yet these new possibilities for the application of specialized research were not immediately visible in France, due to language barriers, a pitifully conservative art scene, and critical discourses dominated by the aging communist professors of Attac. Perhaps it was as late as December 2001, with massive protests at the EU summit in nearby Brussels, that the potential for a more active distribution of the antagonistic maps became clear. Further institutional projects, at La Box in the city of Bourges, then at Kunst-Werk in Berlin, served as occasions for the initial production of graphic charts in large print runs, for broad distribution. These helped prepare the knowledge and the skill-sets needed for two autonomous, collaborative productions, both printed in thousands of copies for specific activist events: Refuse the Biopolice, for the No Border Camp in Strasbourg in July 2002, and European Norms of World-Production, for the meetings of the European Social Forum in Florence in November of that same year.

This delayed access to the counter-globalization movements meant that the antagonist maps, with their extraordinary complexity of analysis, have come at the right time – after the initial breakthroughs of the first period of dissent met their enforced pacification and partial neutralization, as a consequence of the violence unleashed by the police riot in Genoa. Both these maps present an excess of information, shattering subjective certainties and demanding reflection, demanding a new gaze on the world that we really live in. These are synoptic visions of the contemporary, transnational version of state capitalism, as constructed "by collusion between specific individuals, transnational corporations, governments, interstate agencies and 'civil society' groups."6 They make visible the institutional patterns that have structured themselves in an overarching, terrifyingly abstract space, almost totally beyond the grasp of the democratic counter-powers formerly exercised within the purview of the national states, and indeed, almost totally invisible – at least until recently when the communicative possibilities have allowed a certain measure of "cognitive mapping" to be performed by inhabitants.7

Refuse the Biopolice, focused on contemporary control systems, also offers more detailed readings of the way that surveillance and incarceration technologies are implemented for profit by private firms, in collaboration with national and interstate agencies. As for the map of European Norms, it specifically charts the vast administrative structure that has arisen around the bureaucratic European Commission, whose directorates, innervated by the demands of corporate lobbies, produce the "industrial standards, territorial models, ideological guidelines and truth criteria" that help structure the production of a life-world – a steel-and concrete form of continental integration, vying with its distorting mirror in North America. European Norms also presents the interlocking structures of so-called "organized civil society," which serves to legitimate the status quo; but at the same time, with the lighter traceries of its mysterious, biomorphic front cover, devoted to "inklings of autonomy," it presents the patterns and meshworks of worldwide potentials for resistance.

These maps aspire to be cognitive tools, distributing as broadly as possible the kind of specialized information that was formerly confined to technical publications. Yet on another level they are meant to act as subjective shocks, energy potentials, informing the protest-performances as they are passed from hand to hand, deepening the resolve to resist are they are utilized in common or alone. In this sense it is the very closure of their intellectual discipline, the rigor of their conceptual effort to depict a totally administered world, that makes them maps for the outside, signs pointing to a territory that cannot yet be fully signified, and that will never be "represented" in the traditional ways. "Solidarity with extraterrestrials" reads one such indication, in an almost empty bubble at the lower left-hand corner of the cover of European Norms.


The acceleration of the last few years has been vertiginous, for everyone. Today, the accumulated knowledge of recent projects and the beginnings of a genuinely networked collaboration make it possible to envision more strategically focused mapping projects. Three recent studies – Info war, Bio war, Psychic war – respond to a need to grasp the fully military strategies of legitimation and population control that have emerged since 1989, with the end of the bipolar stasis predicated on the madness of mutual "overkill."8 Similarly, more limited and precise maps of transnational state capitalism can now be imagined, attuned more closely to the possibilities of the protest and direct-action movements. Another perspective is the possible invention of a computer database, with a visual interface allowing the user to situate specific power-players within a nexus of supporting and opposing relations. Much remains to be done.
In this light, the old dilemma of the relation to museum, magazine and gallery structures fades toward insignificance. For the tactical media underground in Europe, art shows offer useful research deadlines, a chance to share ideas and critiques, at best some production money – and at worst, a damaging distraction. The revenge of the concept has been to finally create parallel and alternative circuits of experimentation, production, distribution, use and interpretation. To be sure, these circuits are hardly consolidated – but the best way to do so is to maintain other urgencies, which cannot be treated within any of the specialized subsystems.
Perhaps one such urgency can be expressed as a question, for artists and activists who must now address increasing levels of confrontation in the world. The question runs like this: Is it still possible to sublimate antagonistic conflicts into the pacifying rituals of reasoned, agonistic debate?9 Or in other words: Can properly political relations be wrested from a totally administered world?

Brian Holmes

1. See Robert Barry, Gallery Closing, Amsterdam, Art & Project, December 17-31, Bulletin #17, in: Ursula Meyer, ed., Conceptual Art (New York: Dutton, 1972), p. 41.
2. Thanks to Andreas Broeckman for pointing my browser to a Howard Slater text that supports this definition. See the opening section of "The Spoiled Ideals of Lost Situations – Some Notes on Political Conceptual Art," at .
3. The journal M.A.U.S.S. ("Mouvement anti-utilitariste dans les sciences sociales") offers a look into some of the background ideas informing the debates over value in France after 1995.
4. See the Syndicat Potentiel website ( for a far more precise overview, with texts on gratuité totale among many other subjects.
5. Those wishing to piece together the history of the Days of Global Action may consult the websites of People's Global Action and London Reclaim the Streets, among others.
6. The quote, from Refuse the Biopolice, applies to all the recent maps.
7. I refer to the famous phrase by Frederic Jameson, who in 1984 called for "an aesthetics of cognitive mapping" to resolve "the incapacity of our minds, at least at present, to map the great global multinational and decentered communicational network in which we find ourselves caught as individual subjects." See his essay, "Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism," reprinted in a book under the same name.
8. Anyone with doubts about the epochal shift in military strategy after 1989 can consult John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt's books, such as Networks and Netwars: The Future of Terror, Crime, and Militancy, available as PDFs at .
9. The antagonistic/agonistic distinction comes from Chantal Mouffe and Ernesto Laclau, in Hegemony and Socialist Strategy; those who get bored reading dense books can listen to the video of Mouffe's talk at the recent "Dark Markets" conference, available at .

Jose Llano
Arquitecto Independiente
Arquitectura de Archivo & Diseñador de Delitos

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AMERICA has a rest, where you want to be

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