The second column*
The schizophrenic quotient

I once curated an exhibition in public space (Transfert, Biel/Bienne, 2000). The motto given to the artists was: “If it looks like art, it’s not good enough”. If the viewer knows at first sight he is face to face with an artwork, the dialogue with its setting (in this case, the urban space), and the suspense this engenders, disappears. What interests me is this precise moment of suspense when we suspect that the work could be something else, like the feeling we have when watching Blade Runner and are never sure if we are dealing with humans or replicants. No visible features, no reliable criteria can help us decide. There is a permanent oscillation between the possible and the impossible, between what is true and what is probable, and this oscillation creates tension, a constant interchange between opposite poles, which gives the artwork its density, its pertinence.

Gianni Motti, for example, is an artist who knows how to maintain this state of indecision, of indeterminacy, very well. He found out one day that Berlusconi was going to have liposuction done at a private clinic in Lugano, Switzerland. He knew a nurse at the facility and was able to procure Berlusconi’s fat tissue, which he made into a bar of soap and called "Mani Pulite" (Clean Hands). Of course this caused a scandal in the Italian press; Gianni Motti was accused of fraud, so he challenged his critics to do a DNA test on the soap. There the matter rests, since the situation had become decidedly awkward; it would have been necessary to ask Berlusconi for a hair or some other sample with which to compare the test results… At this point, we do not know if it is the real thing or not; there is no proof and we can take it no further. It is this power of potentiality that is interesting in a work of art, this paradox between the openly spectacular and the furtively concealed, where the importance of what I call “the schizophrenic quotient” of a work of art emerges.

Schizophrenia, in the purest sense of the term, is a kind of split mind, when the brain cannot settle on any precise point. The brain is thus constantly slipping from one vision of the world to another; it cannot stop. The brain in its raw state is like an immense field of permanent connections; and culturally, through systems of belief and categories, it learns how to settle on one point. Admittedly, this enables it to learn how to function and, simply, how to survive. But when viewing an exhibition, we are obliged to activate our own particular mode of schizophrenic vision. Although we have tried for more than five centuries to educate ourselves by isolating images within a frame and fashioning a reassuring “window vision” (in the XIXth century, we even managed to exhibit fifty or so paintings hung from floor to ceiling on the same wall and were able to pass from one painting to the next by concentrating and forgetting the rest), this is today impossible, as it has been more than fifty years since artists compelled us to sharpen our schizophrenic process. In minimal art for example, an artist may present an insignificant object, which obliges us to look at other things, mainly because there is nothing much to do other than to shift our eyes from the object to the floor, from the floor to the ceiling, from the ceiling to the air, from the air to the visitors themselves, etc… Today, when we visit an exhibition, we can no longer focus on a single isolated point; instead, we slip from one point to another; and I believe that this gliding, this dynamic process of looking is today a key factor in our approach to an artwork. The interpretative system necessary to judge a work of art at an emotional, psychological and intellectual level must adequately conform to the way we physically view the work at an exhibition.

What has become interesting today is this coherence. We are obliged to physically traverse an exhibition, to walk through it, to wander around it, in order to activate, at a purely kinaesthetic level, our system of connections. The exhibition activates a certain type of connective link; and that is why the exhibition is a unique medium, with its own physical qualities, and not only an arrangement of works. An exhibition has specific qualities: it is the space through which visitors pass, enabling them to make both intellectual and physical connections.
Marc-Olivier Wahler
November 2008

* At irregular intervals the Kunsthalle Fridericianum is publishing a web column. This second column was written by Marc-Olivier Wahler the director of the Palais de Tokyo in Paris.

Marc-Oliver Wahler
Photo: Francis Vernhet

Marc-Olivier Wahler

Marc-Olivier Wahler is the director and curator of the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, where he curated group shows such as Five Billion Years in 2006 and numerous solo shows, among others: Tatiana Trouvé, Peter Coffin and Steven Parrino in 2007, Loris Gréaud, Jonathan Monk and Christoph Büchel in 2008.

From 2000 to 2006, he ran the SI (Swiss Institute – Contemporary Art) in New York. In 1994, he co-founded the CAN (Centre d'art Neuchâtel) which he headed until 2000. For around 15 years, he has organised more than 200 shows, notably Transfert (art in public space) in Biel/Bienne in 2000; Liquid Sky at FRAC Bourgogne in 2003; Extra, Space Boomerang and OK at the SI and OKAY at the NYU Grey Art Gallery in New York in 2005. As an art critic he writes regularly on contemporary art, but also on Mike Tyson, stealth bombers, Hells Angels, quantum physics and zombies.

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