Friday, November 30, 2007

My Dinner with Andre

I come here often just to ride the elevators.
– Marcel Duchamp on “Anonymous”

Some of them were where some others of them were. Some of them were where no others of them were. One of them was where not any other of them, of that kind of them, had been, and it was a thing that was important to any one to have seen that one, to have heard that one. – Gertrude Stein on “Anonymous”

When I returned from the summer pause, referred to in German-speaking countries as the “summer hole,” I found a note on my desk at the Ministry of Leisure instructing me to have dinner with Andre. Andre? Andre who? Oh yes, Andre Gregory. The theater fellow who is friends with the artists of the Anonymous show, the subject of our most recent investigations.

Over dinner, Andre told me all about the exhibition, the movement, the quake in our wake. In typical Andre over-the-top let’s-go-get-naked-in-the-forest kind of fashion, he told me that the exhibition planned was all about making Relevant art, about creating and instigating a dialogue that would usher in a moment of what he called “Accidental Anarchy,” leaving the Spectator alone with their very own thoughts about the Spectacle to be seen. It was a moment of philosophy made naked, a fearless feat in the face of a world where Googling had become substitute for further-thinking, where the gaze greedy for more information revealed a tendency towards less thought.

But that’s just my morning’s memory of our evening’s conversation, and it’s difficult to rely on my breakfast transcriptions, though I was hired, after all, because of my elephantine memory. What I remember best were the gesticulations he made with his hands as if he wished to give Gestalt to the Geist he was trying to express. I didn’t really follow him at first, and it was difficult to fathom what this “Accidental Anarchy” might entail, or what “Relevant Art” might be. But in my work for the Ministry, it is one of my primary duties to investigate matters that might give cause to an uprising or a disturbance of the status quo in the well-oiled Creatocracy machinery.

The investigation, you see, began many moons ago, after concern had been expressed by my supervisor, Mr Rainbow, after a number of press releases, e-flux-s, and briefs that had come in from a number of agents in the field about an exhibition scheduled to open in the winter of 2006, and, curiously enough, the pictures sent along to accompany the c.v. of the Anonymous curator were the faces very few would recognize from the past, the faces of Ludwig Wittgenstein, Comte de Lautréamont, Martin Heidegger, Leila Khaled, and Hakim Bey, among others. A trickster was amongst us. Was there a real person behind this ever-changing façade or was this truly a movement of a group of artists who wished to play havoc with the marketing mechanisms of the Leisure sector?

It took me quite some time to figure out who these “Anonymouses” might be. The project smelled like a leftover from the leftist-neo-Marxist generation, those engaged in a struggle against the encroachment of neo-liberalists, and though Andre was willing to talk to me about the show, at first he was unwilling to tell me about the artists involved. Based on a few slips he made over schnapps – Merlin or Mirwin, it seemed he slurred – eventually it dawned on me that the authors who once published with Merve might be a good place to begin the search for this potentially volatile faction. Concern had even been expressed that they had instigated the riots of the Parisian banlieue in the summer of 2005 and the Ministry wanted to avoid any repeat scenarios at all costs.

When I was young, one of my greatest ambitions had been to write a book for the Merve Verlag, a prêt-a-porter paperback for intelligence-on-the-run. The Merve Verlag was a distinguished publishing house whose author list comprised part of the sector whose files might have been marked by the stamp of “dangerously smart.” I had my suspicions of such fantastic categorizations confirmed one day when I caught my first glance inside one of the Ministry’s vaults dedicated to the works of “ideas and non-ideas with many words around them,” finding there stacks and stacks of the white books with colorful banners. Many such tomes often ended up being allocated to the dark recesses of the Bureau of Rejected Philosophy, and many never saw the light of day thereafter. The science fiction undertone of their titles titillated my sixth sense:

Hyperculturality
Zeus in New York: Heidegger and the Cybernetic
Voyage to Another Star
Divertimento für Gilles Deleuze
Rhizome
The Seeing Machine
The Aesthetic of Disappearance
The Unreal Monument
The Problem of Artificial Intelligence
In the Future No One Will Be Famous

Whilst peering over them, poring through their pages, making lists of those that I wished to dedicate some time to later, I bumped into their current carekeeper, Mr Auterraum, a lovely species with a six-pack torso and spectacles like Waldo. It was enough to send me into a tizzy every time he came near.

“What are you looking for, Frau Lamm?” he inquired, pushing his tortoise-shell glasses up the sharp slope of his nose. His German accent only added to the complete and utter disarray of my very being.

“Oh, my, Mr Auterraum, I’m very starry that I’ve disturbed you by your vork… I mean I am very sorry to have disturbed you. I just thought I’d have a look at the Ministry’s distinguished collection of endangered books and knowing you to be, well, to be who you are, um, well, maybe you can help me find a vork, work, I mean, that I have been looking for, yes, about … worldwide conspiracies in the music of pop.” (I was working undercover, after all.)

“Pop music, you say? You mean music composed and then played backwards by Manson and such?”

“No, not exactly. More like conspiracies on the dancefloor, Michael Jackson and how the Afghans used his Thriller to coordinate the great coup of Raji Raji….”

“Oh yes, yes, I know exactly what you mean. Let me see here. No, no, the Merve sector is all wrong. You’ll need to head to the Children of the Weathermen sector for the plethora of works on that theme.”

I had just begun to follow him when he turned hot on his heels after receiving a message on his handy, muttering something about “the dust devils, the dust devils,” he needed to tend to the dust devils first. He then vanished down the hall.

ADHT, I could only presume. Rather a bad case of it. Baffled, I returned to the stacks after having settled the mini-debate with myself (internal, subjective, and irrelevant to the story?) as to whether or not I should pee first before returning to the list-making after having dodged that sexy beast Mr Auterraum and his odd theories of dust devils, whatever they were. Speaking with him was like taking a stroll into a black hole and not knowing whether you’d come back again. On tenterhooks that he would return, my fingers moved across the pages impatiently and the need to pee made me all the more anxious when I came across an untranslatable sentence from Heidegger:

Das Bedenklichste in unserer bedenklichen Zeit ist, daß wir noch nicht denken.
[roughly translated: The most thoughtful thing in our thoughtful time is that we don’t think yet.]

Trouble had arrived, but I had the feeling that I was approaching my target as so many of the press releases we had received at the Ministry had spoken of the need for thought. I pulled to a full stop. I closed the book and began looking for further clues to the quandary of naming Anonymous in other books. Sortis Shakespeariani, was the game, and waving my finger magically through the air, I landed upon a title which spoke volumes to my urgent need of an immediate answer: Immediatism. Synchronicity. Perusing its scant pages, I immediately began taking notes:

Fully realizing that any art ‘manifesto’ written today can only stink of the same bitter irony it seeks to oppose, we nevertheless declare without hesitation (without too much thought) the founding of a ‘movement’, IMMEDIATISM. We feel free to do so because we intend to practice Immediatism in secret, in order to avoid any contamination of mediation. Publicly, we’ll continue our work in publishing, radio, printing, music, etc., but privately we will create something else, something to be shared freely but never consumed passively, something which can be discussed openly but never understood by the agents of alienation, something with no commercial potential yet valuable beyond price, something occult yet woven completely into the fabric of our everyday lives.

I was convinced that these statements had certain uncanny parallels to those I had read from the manifesto-in-progress, the “Notes towards the Anonymous Movement,” that slip of paper which Mr Panama covertly handed me in the elevator of the Waldorf. The author was most certainly one and the same. Back at the Ministry, I began my report tenuously and even at variance with the subject at hand, for though I had found the author of the Anonymous Movement at last, I wanted to delay Mr Rainbow’s knowledge of my knowledge, keeping him in the dark for a brief moment in time. I decided it was best that I should play dumb and so I began:

A Night of Work on Useless
 Solutions for as yet Non-Existent Situations
A Memo for the Ministry of Leisure
12 April 2006

“An obvious matrix for Immediatism is the party. Thus a good meal could be an Immediatist art project, especially if everyone present cooked as well as ate. … rituals of conviviality like Fourier’s ‘Museum Orgy’ (erotic costumes, poses, and skits), live music and dance—the past can be ransacked for appropriate forms & imagination will supply more.”

And that was that. It was enough to throw him off my track, to get him off of my back at least for a week, so that I might enjoy the sojourn into knowing the unknown. But further investigations led me into a muddle: whether or not this Anonymous Movement was some sort of Chinese Tong or secret society, whether or not they moved in circles of “democratic shamanism” escaped me. I had booked a flight for Juniper Hills, California, to speak with the Town Council about further agreements. It was there that my search for Hakim Bey ended in the gutter. Bey (after a bitter divorce from Sylvie Lowen, a real estate tycoon of Vanuatu island) had been sentenced by the Ministry some 20 years hence and, never having come to trial, had disappeared presumably in the ever-swelling bowels of Guantánamo.

Some weeks later, a rather convoluted constellation of conversations led me on another path completely. It was an ordinary Wednesday in Paris, but as everyone knows, Wednesday night séances at Alejandro Jodorowsky’s were a treat not to be missed. It was there that I discovered another clue that led me to the dark heart of Serbia and Montenegro via Venice. After having tea with Onan the Magnificient (just to get the number of the man I was really after), I met up with Branislav Dimitrijevic in Belgrade who told me all about the work of the Anonymous artist/curator who put together the “International Exhibition of Modern Art (Armory Show)” in 1986, an “anonymous genius” who made a series of copies (shoddy copies made perhaps after reproductions found in books) of those same artworks that had appeared originally in the Armory Show of 1913—Cezanne, Gauguin, Brancusi, Matisse, Kandinsky, Leger, Picabia, etc. Our conversation lasted til the break of dawn, and, unfortunately, the only thing I have penciled in my notebook is the question: “Can an art collection become an ethnographic collection—simulating the status of artifacts?” I thought I was hot on the trail, but no…. This was not the person we were after. Dimitrijevic put me on to a lady in Croatia who put me in touch with an academic named Ana P, who seemed to know all about these Anonymous Movements involving artists like Mangelos and Jo Klek.

Jo Klek, in turn, talked about the antecedents to the antecedents. In 1934 at the MoMA, there was an “Anonymous Art” show and others had taken place in Harlem sometime around the turn of the millennium. But none of these Anonymous authors was the author that I was looking for. The only conclusion that I could come to was that Anonymous had become a brand that takes on non-Anonymous characteristics by necessity. All attempts to reach a final destination were but so many hijacked detours into tomfoolery. Ever elusive, Anonymous would remain Anonymous.

The piles on my desk, the phone calls from Mr Panama requesting more secret meetings in elevators, and the enigmatic memos of Mr Rainbow were beginning to tax my inner yogi. He had sent me a memo outlining the possible dangers of the Eighth Dwarf (“short, black, rubber?”) of whom Andre, of course, had never heard. The surfeit of sources for speculation, however, was yet another cause of worry at the Ministry in dire need of a clear report. After all, we were just one cog among many working towards a greater Creatocracy. The conundrum of Anonymity continued to present confirmation that our task had only just begun.

– April Elizabeth Lamm

Addendum
An excerpt from a taped conversation between Annie Hall and Woody Allen, very similar to the conversation held between April Lamm and the Anonymous curator one hot summer night in the revolving restaurant at the top of the TV tower at Alexander Platz:

Annie Hall: Well, you’re what Granny Hall would call a real Jew.

Woodie Allen: Thank you.

Annie: Well, she hates Jews, she thinks that they just make money, but let me tell you, man, she’s the one, I’m telling you, is she ever.

Woodie: So did you do those photographs in there, or what?

Annie: Yeah, yeah I sort of dabble around.
(I dabble—listen to me, what a jerk?)

Woodie: They’re wonderful, you know. They have they have a quality.
(You are a great-looking girl)

Annie: Well, I would like to take a serious photography course.
(He probably thinks I’m a yo-yo)

Woodie: Photography is interesting cause you know it’s a new art form and an
aesthetic criteria that hasn’t emerged yet.
(I wonder what she looks like naked)

Annie: Aesthetic criteria? You mean whether or not it is a good photo or not.
(I’m not smart enough for him. Hang in there)

Woodie: The medium enters in as a condition of the art form itself.
(I don’t know what I’m saying. She senses I’m shallow)

Annie: To me, it’s all instinctive, I just try to feel it, and not try to think about it so much.
(God I hope he doesn’t turn out to be a schmuck like the others)

Woodie: Still you need a set of aesthetic guidelines to put it in social perspective.
(Christ I sound like FM radio, relax!)

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