Gandhi Bürger

When the Gogolian nose enters the burgh of an airport terminal, it is naturally overwhelmed by the pustulant profusion of perfumeries. Even it, the finest of noses, being no more than a nose, quickly loses itself in the thick, heavy nebula of indiscernment. In this hothouse, where the greatest variety of fragrances strain to acclimatize, even the stench of the salesperson’s sweat merges with the maundering maelstrom. The molecular bombardment of the olfactory receptors transforms the nose, this delicate organ, into a furnace as fiery as the Elbe during the Dresden air strike. The nose itself begins to melt. Don’t bother running to the allergist – this cocktail of gaseous molecules is a strategic orchestration, like its sister science, airport architectonics. Just as the exits from the Amsterdam Schiphol airport are concealed within the mall’s labyrinth, the gustotheques of contemporary art are a weapon of mass asphyxiation, a complex, nano-technological deployment of perfume diffusers gone autistic. After apoplectic shock comes the necessary period of adaptation, in which nasal intelligence again takes the upper hand. Since it only knows how to follow its nose, it rearranges its receptors in order to begin distinguishing between fragrances. It’s a typological task, if anything. It’s doubtful whether all the 754,301 paying visitors to documenta 12 found their way to the exit. Still caught in this anomie, we searched in vain for the store manager. How does one draw up the exit plan for this monumental and populist gustotheque for the bourgeoisie? (1)? By sniffing out the bürgers.

"Systems are constructed upon uncertain facts which have never been examined, and which only go to show the penchant men have for wishing to find resemblances between most disparate objects, regularity where variety reigns, and order among those things which they perceive only in a confused manner." Buffon, Natural History, 1749.

It is precisely because confusion reigned in the burgh that they wanted to make us believe there was a will to order. And they wanted to give it the feel of a professional fair and not of a flea market. The difference? The categorical organization of aisles. Didn’t the sanctified theme of the migration of forms assemble the most disparate objects simply because they couldn’t figure out what else to call them? Here, instead of the migration of herbivores across the savanna, we had a safari – from the migration of forms to formal tourism. The bürger’s unification of the most disparate objects is nothing more than the pendulum swing of the tourist who knows only two places: home and not home. The tourist also knows only two ways of relating to objects: from the jeep, through binoculars, or photographed with a telephoto lens and displayed in a digital picture frame on the living room credenza in. Once again, what is a burgh? It’s a town surrounded by towers – one tower, a watchtower. The watchtower allows you to observe interior and exterior movements (in other words, migrations), and to make sure that they flow in the right direction, like a herd of wildebeest caged within the citadel, which always circulate in the same direction (2). But in airport gustotheques, as in holiday photo albums, as in burghs everywhere, we appreciate order even when we perceive only vaguely: we don’t mix here and there, inside and outside; a wildebeest doesn’t fornicate with an antelope. In the bürger’s citadel, migration is permitted, but not emigration or immigration. Hence the Grand Tour of airport hubs.

"We like it best when visitors enter the exhibition and remain silent for as long as possible." Roger Buergel, quoted by Hanno Rauterberg in Fascinated by the Form, The Atlantic Times, May 2007.

"Within these walls consecrated to marvels, I collect and safeguard the works of the artist’s prodigious hand, equal to and rivaled by his intelligence; one is nothing without the other."
"Rare things and beautiful things, here carefully assembled, instruct the eye to look at all the creations of the world, as if for the first time."
"All men create without their knowledge, just as they breathe, but the artist feels himself create; his act engages his entire being, his cherished pain fortifies him."
"He who passes shall determine whether I appear as tomb or a treasure, whether I speak or remain silent. This depends only on you, friend. Do not enter without desire." Paul Valéry, texts carved into the architecture of the Palais de Chaillot, Place de Trocadéro, Paris.

The gothic error was to have confined the Mysteries to the squares in front of cathedrals. There is a link missing between the Middle Ages and the bürger’s cultural temple. After the Restoration of the good kings of France, once the revolutionary retches had quieted down, came a bürger-King named Louis-Phillipe I, the sole monarch of the Orléans line. In order to mark the importance of his regime change—all while preserving royal pomp and concealing a whole forest of financial speculators behind the tree of the good-life—he found an artistic director capable of fortifying ‘public’ taste with a clever collection of heretofore unknown treasures: works of art characterized by the entire engagement of artistic being. This cürator, Baron Taylor, had the grand idea of transporting the Obelisk of Luxor all the way to the Place de la Concorde. This was the first modernist instance of heteropathy: choose a ‘neutral’ symbol (for non-Egyptians, that is) to adorn the site of Louis XVI’s public murder, a symbol which, in resisting appropriation, would make everyone happy. How Huysmans was mistaken to leave Des Esseintes to languish in his countryside abode. The Grand Bourgeois Chill Out (3), like the rave party, takes place in the open air or in an air-conditioned cathedral. More public! "Feel with your mind, think with your senses" (4), but not too much. It’s Commedia dell’Arte for a continent of non-smoking, asexual drug addicts, popping Sour Apple Tic-Tacs instead of ecstasy, haunted at night by their orthorexic neuroses, slathering their ‘Nostalbio Burgers’ with animal-rights sauce, renewing their subscriptions to the newsletter of the ‘Bürghers Without Borders’, reading Agamben so they can discuss God again with a gentle smile while enjoying the delicacy of a Max Havelaar Zebu upholstered couch from Ikea’s new rustic line, philosophizing about the semi-finals of the Europa Cup, one eye on the plasma screen, the other humbly squinting at the Angelüs Novüs. The Sturmtigers of Andorra beat the Sons of Saint-Paul of Karl-Marx-Stadt 12 to 0, with no overtime. For the final, all bets on the line on http://www.buch-macher.eü

"I don’t think in any language, I think in images." Vladimir Nabokov.

Before determining how to move methodically from fragrances to trends and from aromas to ritornellos, the stylist’s work begins with an examination. Styling, in other words, is one of the disciplines based on the discursive use of images which are merely idols when left mute. Yet the stylist feels stymied when discourse is countered with pseudo-sensualism—a camouflage strategy. We were already familiar with Asiatic rhetoric, which consists in drowning out the total absence of discourse in a flood of verbal icons. But we underestimated the ability of Asiatic pseudo-sensualism to be used in the service of a pre-Benjaminian gesture of a return to subjugation (5). Is the Paul Klee totem, photocopied and placed in the center of the Fridericianum’s staircase, oriented toward Mecca? Subjugation inevitably results in absolutism, that is, power as incontestable, authority as indisputable, and perception as non-interpretable. Subjugation is the perceptual mode of absolutism, which is the political mode of essentialism (6),which is the ontological mode of property, which is the condition of transcendence.
Property: the religion of primary elements. How could one doubt that the privatization of the means of production, which we sometimes call capitalism, is the economic mode of transcendentalism, and therefore essentialism, and therefore absolutism, and therefore subjugation? Here, we grasp the articulation between decadence and absolute power: the immanent world is only a vile representation of the Unnamable Truth, so let’s calmly rejoice in the search for First Principles in the decadence of things. And above all, let’s not get caught up in how they are produced. From then on we’ll discuss amongst ourselves the color of auras and butterfly wings as if they were the alphabet of the sole Logos, the Ectoplasm of Truth. From the spiritual in art to the cüre of spiritualism.

"The Prince, in all matters, must think first of examining what can bring or remove the public’s approbation." Louis XIV, Instructions to the Dauphin.

‘Les Incroyables.’ Now here is a multi-sensory work – political, aesthetic, corporeal – which eluded the Kassel watchtower while encapsulating two problematics so poorly understood in Documenta 12: style and textiles. ‘Les Incroyables’ was the first collection by the one known as John Galliano, inspired by the French Revolution and presented at Central Saint Martins College of Arts & Design in 1984. What is the ‘Galliano procedure’? It consists in snatching up a cultural theme, mechanizing it under the form of an aesthetic style, using this style to select a vocabulary of fabrics and cürating it in volume and in the space of a clothing product. The marketing department takes care of the rest: the tie-ins that mark the passage from haute-couture to prêt-à-porter. Documenta 12 achieved the impossible: it produced a kitsch-digest version of the Galliano procedure. Indeed, in order to produce à la Galliano, you must first know the qualities of a fabric, the way it takes shape and becomes an image. The couture label on these 100 days of the wunder-catwalk documenta 12 was right to privilege its public, considering that they were the only ones trying to add a bit of method to their penitential procession. Still, ‘Educational Commitment’ held the place of honor: 7,635 guided visits of New Age Creationism. The US version of intelligent design has its pioneer museums; let’s oppose them with our crusader museums. A few cathedrals of pillage. Our good archbishops belong to the punk-lavallière generation: "God save Gandhi."

Gandhi, which means "perfumer" in Hindi.


Société Réaliste, Paris, January 2008.

Translated by Joanna Fiduccia.

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1 - Bourgeois: resident of a burgh or borough freed from feudal rule. In the 17th century, pejorative designation of an individual ‘without taste and without culture.’ In the 18th century, someone ‘who does not practice manual work with a well-to-do situation.’ The class between the nobles and the peasants. Etymology: from the Germanic burg, a ‘fortified city.’ (source: Trésor de la Langue Française).

2- ‘To know that no one before you has seen an organ you are examining, to trace relationships that have occurred to no one before, to immerse yourself in the wondrous crystalline world of the microscope, where silence reigns, circumscribed by its own horizon, a blindingly white arena—all this is so enticing that I cannot describe it.’ Letter from Vladimir Nabokov to Elena Sikorski (1945), in Vladimir Nabokov: Selected Letters 1940-1977, Harvest Books, 1990.

3- "The documenta 12 magazines will provide an interested public with the knowledge required to be able to move competently and therefore leisurely through the space of the exhibition." Roger M. Buergel, media material, Documenta 12 website, (link).

4- "Move your Mind" (SAAB's motto). SAAB was the main financial sponsor of Documenta 12.

5- "What is contemporary art? What is a contemporary public? The experience of art is always the experience of life. If we wish to redefine this relationship, we require a medium to remove us from our immediate ‘living context’. The aesthetic experience, which begins where meaning in the conventional sense ends, could be such a medium." Roger M. Buergel & Ruth Noack, ‘On the poetics of Documenta 12’, Documenta 12 website, section ‘Exhibition’.

6- "What constitutes life, when everything is subtracted which does not belong essentially to life? Does art help us to penetrate to what is essential?’ Extract from Documenta 12 website, section ‘about Documenta’.