The Broken Mirror - Art after the dreamworld of digital utopia

Starting from the premise that the financial crisis of 2008 made only visible a deeper, structural crisis of information society, the exhibition Fields was conceived as a survey into possibilities of renewal through art. Art used to be understood as a mirror of society. Then, in the twentieth century, media became the preferred mirror of mass society. At the end of the 20th century, information superseded the media and was supposed to become the perfect mirror - the dreamworld of digital utopia. But this mirror is broken, as virtuality and the real have collapsed into an 'integral reality' (Baudrillard). Reality has lost its shadow, its capacity to dream, its underbelly of radical alternatives. As the world is urgently in need of a new social imaginary, the exhibition Fields is an articulation of that search. Fields is about an epistemic shift from subject-object relations within traditional, hierarchical ontologies towards new, networked, horizontal connections. While this slow, glacial transformation happens anyway with a degree of inevitability, we cannot awaken from the dreamworld of digital utopia soon enough. What can an art after information be like? How can we articulate artistic imaginations of a new society? How can we talk about it, categorise and develop such a vision as a more long term, infrastructural goal?


[Note: This is the text of my keynote lecture for the Fields exhibition, as delivered on Friday 16th of May 2014. Since this text was conceived and written as a speech, it does not fully adhere to academic citation standards. A short list of relevant literature is appended at the end.]

The exhibition Fields began two years ago, with a title, and a question. To the title I will come later, but the question first. We asked:

"Which expanded fields of artistic practice offer new ideas for overcoming the crisis of the present and developing new models of a more sustainable and imaginative way of life."

For us it was obvious that the financial crisis of 2008 and the ongoing economic problems were symptoms of a much deeper crisis of the mode of development of post-industrial societies and their social forms. In our call for proposals we wrote:

The changing role of art in society is one where it does not just create a new aesthetics but gets involved in patterns of social, scientific, and technological transformations. Fields, jointly curated by Rasa Smite, Raitis Smits and Armin Medosch, presents an inquiry into patterns of renewal and transition.

Those "patterns of renewal and transition" were quite a challenge that we posed ourselves. Didn't we make thereby a claim a bit too grand? What can art achieve with regard to those larger transformations? Our research question contained already the hint to an answer. Because we know the type of practices we are interested in, the kind of artists we are working with, we think that transdisciplinary combinations of Fields carry the greatest potentials.

This is more than just an ordinary interdisciplinarity that we often find in academia as a kind of lip-service, especially in artistic research and art and science funding that are, underneath their rhetoric, deeply conservative. What we were looking for was a transdisciplinarity that constantly crosses the fields, weaving connections between normally unrelated things, materials, and energies, between genres, disciplines and informal types of knowledge, between art and society.

Tomorrow afternoon, in an experimental workshop called Playing Fields, we will dedicate ourselves to the task of articulating those crossings of the fields. We will try to develop "Wild Ontologies" (which is a reference to La Pensee Savage by Claude Levi-Strauss). These artistic categorisations that we hope to develop are neither normative nor restrictive, artistic practices are not being put into boxes, safe for musealisation. On the contrary, the task of inventing new terms is exploratory, it is about finding contextual seedbeds for renewal and change.

That said, today's lecture will go into another direction. I will now try to explore the philosophical and historical questions that underpin this project. In order to make it more comprehensible I have enlisted support from experts, such as Toni Negri, as well as Herbert Marcuse and Jean Baudrillard, Susan Buck-Morss will make a brief appearance as a prompter and interpreter for Mr. Walter Benjamin (who was unable to come).

The Broken Mirror

The myth of Narcissus who falls in love with his own image has become a foundational myth for art in the Western tradition, together with the myth of Orpheus. That myth not only reflects the deceitful character of beauty and the erotic gaze, but became a metaphor for art as a mirror of society. Art expresses, whether in negative or positive form, the values of an era. To believe in this idea assumes a cogency of art in relation to its time, a capacity on its behalf to understand what is significant and play it back to society. I would dare to suggest that the mirror of art, first, was broken, and then has been superseded by other mirrors.

Art comes from Artificial

One extreme pole of the meaning of art is 'artificial'. Everything that is made is art. Art is human labour that uses the material world, nature, to create something. Almost the opposite is claimed by the institutional theory of art. According to it, art is a social institution. Art is everything that is validated by the social institution of Art as art. We can abstract from that and say that the first version is about distancing human culture from nature. The second version is about valorisation: art gives value to things (also ideas, concepts).

Civilization and its Discontent

Sigmund Freud has developed a historical cultural theory according to which the building of civilization was based on the repression of libidinal forces. Eros, the unifying force of love, and Thanatos, the death drive had to be channelled into particular directions in order for civilization to develop. According to Herbert Marcuse's interpretation of Freud, industrial civilization was built on surplus repression. The industrial revolution - the creation of huge forces of production for the sake of returning profit - made it necessary to socially engineer surplus repression. Not only people but also animals and nature were subjected to that.

All that is solid melts into air

One key contradiction of capitalist development - which was well understood by Marx and Engels - is the one between the constantly revolutionising forces of production and the backwardness of social relations. Capital, in constant need of new sources of profit, revolutionises the means of production through science and technology. This would in principle create the conditions for a real social revolution. But this progressive tendency that is inherent to capital is constantly held in checked by another tendency, that to maintain existing social relations. In order to keep the capital owning class - the trans-global aristo-oligarchy - in power, the sharp arrow of progress has to be blunted.

Dreamworlds of Mass Utopia

The long historic trajectory of the past two centuries was characterised by the rise and fall of dreamworlds of mass utopia. Susan Buck-Morss borrows the term dreamworld from Walter Benjamin. A dreamworld is not just an illusion, a false belief, but a collective social imaginary that has great mobilizing power.

"The Construction of mass utopia was the dream of the twentieth century. It was the driving ideological force of industrial modernization in both its capitalist and socialist forms. The dream was itself an immense material power that transformed the natural world, investing industrially produced objects and built environments with collective, political desire."

Towards the end of the 20th century, the dreamworld of Socialism collapsed. Rather than bringing forth the final triumph of capitalism, as many believed, according to Buck-Morss it also hastened the demise of the capitalist version of the dream of mass utopia. While commodities are still produced and sold, while the basic forms of industrial mass society still exist, the belief into it as a utopia that can bring democracy and universal emancipation has waned.

Thatcher versus the Multitude

When Susan Buck-Morss wrote Dreamworlds and Catastrophe in the 1990s, a new dreamworld was on the rise. The internet was, when it was first opened to public usage, considered a new tool for popular emancipation, for learning and democracy. But by that time, in the late 20th century, the idea of the masses had given way to two rivalling notions: on one hand the Thatcherite idea that there is no such thing as a society, and on the other hand, the idea of the multitude. Which of those two ideas prevails in the 21st century will be of decisive influence not just on the shape of societies but also on the potentially transformative power of art.

Art and Beauty

One basic tenet of Greek philosophy was that there were different forms of knowledge, ordered hierarchically. In order to be able to act in the world it was necessary to apply the right type of knowledge in the right context. The lowest categories were those associated with forms of knowledge that enabled people to cope with the necessities of life, the highest were linked to philosophy, understood as the purest form of knowledge that has no other purpose outside itself.

The world of the senses was somehow in between. On one hand, the senses were connected with the the world of needs and necessity, which for the Greeks was the world of unfreedom, because material existence could never be fully controlled. On the other hand it was recognised that perception of beauty was linked with the formation of concepts in the mind. Art was a kind of mediating force that connected the world of needs and of instincts with that of the free imagination.

Affirmative Culture

The Greek system of knowledge had its foundations in the class structure of Greek city states where most of the work was done by slaves and by women. Work was invisible and despised. Those class barriers shaped the ideas about the separation between manual and intellectual labour. Yet despite that, there was still a relationship between what was beautiful and what was useful, between what was necessary and what was true.

In the 1930s Herbert Marcuse developed a theory of affirmative culture, a theory that showed how 'bourgeois culture helped to reproduce, legitimate, and cover over the social relations of capitalism.' According to Marcuse, the difference between bourgeois society and antiquity was bad conscience.

Whereas the injustice of the social system was of no concern for Greek philosophers, the bourgeoisie, - in its heroic phase in the 18th and 19th century, - needed the support of workers and peasants to overthrow aristocracy. It had to advocate the promise of a better life for all. Bourgeois society could only exist by promising the dreamworld of mass emancipation.

This included an understanding of art and philosophy as disciplines which should be open to all, in principle. This promise, however, existed 'in principle' but not in reality. The utopian promise was offloaded into the 'autonomous' sphere of art. As the economic system generated inequality and thereby made this utopian promise ever harder to achieve in reality, the supposedly higher spiritual values had to be worshipped in art even more, exactly because justice and equality had become ever harder to achieve on the material plane. The idealism of culture thus served to support the status quo.

"For humanity, goodness, joy, truth, and solidarity were preserved in the realm of culture. Only in art has bourgeois society tolerated its own ideals and taken them seriously as a general demand. What counts as utopia, phantasy, and rebellion in the world of fact is allowed in art.”

Aesthetic Education Reloaded

The Greek conception of beauty was modernised by the philosopher Immanuel Kant in the enlightenment era (Kaliningrad). Kant highlighted how sensual perception - which only recently had become associated with the new philosophical category of aesthetics - was a mediating force between sense perception as mere materiality, and the creation of models in the mind.

Influenced by Kant, the poet and playwright Friedrich Schiller took this idea and developed it into a more radical vision. In his letters On an Aesthetic Education Schiller postulated that a more ethical way of life - read, a better way of life - ‘must take the path through the aesthetic realm, because it is through beauty that one arrives at freedom’. Moreover, the best way to do so was through play, suggested Schiller. Only in play would humanity find to its true self an d bridge the Cartesian gap between subject and object, between the self and the world.

The Field of Mass Communication

In the twentieth century, electronic media, and not art, became the preferred mirror of societies. The fight over media was understood as a defining fight over the path to mass emancipation. The dreamworld of mass consumption was organised by the force field of mass media that exerted its ordering power on every blade of grass on the front lawn of the suburbian home in the American empire.

Marshall McLuhan, the dark prophet of media society, maintained that the structure of media was more important than their content. The ordering power of the force field of mass communication was defined by the structural properties of the media used. It was not the structure of the social field that determined the media, but the structure of the media that determined the social field. Moreover, this power was near inescapable because media spoke directly to the unconscious.

The Utopia of Mass Media Emancipation

Against those ideas, an alternative utopia of media emancipation was developed, an idea of do-it-yourself, bottom up, self-governed small or free media. The idea was abandoned that emancipation could happen through the mass media but would rather have to be an emancipation from them. Tools for emancipation would be alternative or so called Radical Media, student and community radio stations, fanzines, video activism, self-organised educational activities etc. This was the beginning of the era of media art.

Art and Liberation

According to Marcuse, a social revolution needed to ex-change not only one dominant group for another one but also needed to encompass a liberation of repressed libidinal forces. A free society needed to be one based on individuals who had freed themselves from surplus repression and started to develop their instinctual life and the sensual basis of interaction with each other and nature. This is the deeper meaning of the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s that was suppressed by its commercial and male-centric version, the Pornotopia of Playboy and Penthouse magazine.

The New Art and the Ecological Turn

The Slovenian group OHO, formed in 1966, rebelled against the affirmative function of art. They experimented with land art, arte povera, conceptual art, and went onto the streets and into the fields. With their outdoor projects they explored the countryside in search of new experiences that fostered friendship and unity between themselves and 'confrontations of their mental state with nature'.

The turn that OHO took stood for a paradigmatic change in art and in societies, a rejection of the industrial paradigm and its social form, mass culture. OHO's collective experiments on the countryside mark a larger turn to and awareness of ecological issues in art, but also in society. At the same time, their 'transcendental conceptualism' opened the possibility for the emergence of media art. For those reasons, OHO's work of around 1970 became inspirational for this show as a historical anchoring point.

Art and Nature

OHO were of course not the first artists to discover nature. Art has a complex and sometimes contradictory relationship with nature that changes over time. According to one of the first modern art theorists, Leon Battista Alberti, art derives its persuasive power from being based on 'the first principles of nature'. Art creates an image of nature that is somehow better than nature istelf, because nature's first principles are caught in their essence. These principles are partly based on experience, partly on a theoretical conception of nature that is closer to science or theory. The tools provided by technological and scientific progress allow artists today to work directly with those first principles, to question them and to deploy them in representations of sensory data. Nature is made to speak directly to us, through a new techno-scientific sensorium.

Art and Life

In the 1970s a generation of artists tried to break through the barrier between art and life in numerous ways, through body art, ritual, video art, performance, feminism, anti-racism, queer activism, workerism. With the benefit of hindsight we can say that those were brave attempts at defining new sensibilities through practice. In the manner of a true avant-garde, the avant-gardes of the 1970s anticipated the changing structure of feelings that was already under way in much larger strata of society. Ever more people opened up their senses and sensibilities to more tolerant and open views on nearly everything.

The potentially liberating effects of those changes in the structure of feeling, were, in the long run, outflanked by another manoeuvre, the rise of neoliberal information society.

The Dreamworld of Digital Utopia

The digital revolution had been brewing for quite a long time already in the Closed Worlds of Cold War weapon labs and think tanks, but also in artistic and design avant-gardes who created an early information aesthetics. But then the Big Bang of information society was the mass fabrication of the first microprocessor by the then small company Intel in 1971. From then on the rise of the information society was unstoppable. This development, however, coincided with the rise of the neo-liberal ideology. Information society in the making developed into a particular form shaped by the concomitant rise of neo-liberalism. The potential benefits of the changing structure of feelings was partly off-set by the arrival of new power structures and new centralisation tendencies.

The Postmedia Condition

At about the same time as the information revolution started to take off, art critic Rosalind Krauss formulated the idea of a postmedia condition in art. Krauss took as her starting point the historical thesis of Clement Greenberg about modernist painting. Through a purification process painting arrived at its real self, flat colour-field painting. Krauss argued that the search for the specificity of painting had subsequently broken through the mirror of the screen and art had emptied itself out into reality. Since the explosion of the arts in the 1960s and 1970s, everything could be a medium.

From Post- to Remediation

The term postmedia, however, has a certain usefulness only in art. We can now read the experiments of the avant-gardes of the 1970s as a period of entering into the media. What happened was a foundational process of re-mediation that, maybe, in hindsight, will appear of similar historic proportions as 'primitive accumulation': the process of becoming media, of entering a more mediated stage which was also a re-mediation, because it re-configured our sensory-intellectual apparatus.

The Mirror of Information

Information started to be seen as the perfect mirror: other media had either just related to one of the senses, such as hearing or seeing, or, in film, a combination of those organised in a linear way. The computer, however, had from the very start been considered an electronic brain, a machine that mirrored thought processes. This idea has inscribed itself into the history of computer science. The ideas about the computer as an intelligent machine have also reflected back on how humans saw themselves and the world.

In physics, scientists started to believe that the universe computes, that information is a third entity, besides matter and energy. Geneticists started to think that the building blocks of life were nothing but information. Economists defined markets as a kind of giant supercomputer that constantly calculates the value of each and every thing. And while the neoliberal ideology re-shaped politics and unleashed market forces, the markets themselves became digitized, as an interconnected global financial system was created.

Philosophers of science provide us with an interesting explanation for that, they call it the cultural fallacy. The cultural fallacy is the tendency by the science of a time to understand nature in the image of the most advanced science. For instance, in the age of Newton, clock-making was the most advanced science. Accordingly, Newton imagined the universe as a perfect clockwork. Now, computation is the most advanced technology and therefore we believe in information. The cultural fallacy is one explanation, but not the only one, why I believe that the mirror of information is broken.


In informational capitalism, science has become technoscience, where the boundaries between basic research and research and development for capitalist needs are blurred. In particular in areas such as life science and biology science does no longer try to emulate nature but confidently tries to construct artificial nature. In this sense, science has surpassed art as a creative activity. Technoscience has constructed a post-human imaginary that moves beyond the biological foundations of existence. While this opens up near infinite new avenues of profit making, it also points to the liberating figure of the queer cyborg. Through the cyborg, identity is no longer based on a misunderstood concept of nature, but on the freedom to define oneself.

Into the Funnel of Virtual Reality

The information society, I like to imagine, produced a suction, a giant vortex that drew in everyone and everything. In the arts, the Big Bang of information society coincided with a discourse on dematerialisation. At first, this was seen positively, as a drive against art as commodity by Lucy Lippard. Yet more recently this has been re-conceptualized as a new type of practice that fixes ownership no longer to the object but relies entirely on its definition as an intangible good. We can now read the dematerialisation of art as a rehearsal of new modes of immaterial labour. In this post-industrial mode of production art - and the stock markets - share the ability to create value out of nothing.

As Jean Baudrillard noted 'reality' was becoming paradoxical. In the 1980s Baudrillard diagnosed an Agony of the Real, because of simulation. This critique could still be misinterpreted as a not so new idea that people were caught in their illusions. After we went through virtualisation in the 1990s, the French philosopher changed his tack

"Through virtualisation a reality is created that is extreme in itself in the absence of a critical distance it grants us, in the all enveloping nature of its short-circuited, real-time asphyxiating immediacy."

Art as Creativity

During that period of the Internet's rise to a new type of mass medium art had to suffer a further indignation. Not only was it no longer society's preferred mirror, in the minds of European governments, the idea of art became mixed up with the idea of a generalised notion of creativity. Art was no longer outside utilitarian interests but on the contrary, became of keen interest, not for its own sake, but as a kind of magic, alchemical catalyst that would transform boring industries into glowing boons of digital creative businesses. Art, understood as that generalised notion of creativity, is now part of a utilitarian calculus that links it to innovation and thereby to economic growth.

Narcissus and Orpheus

In this context, we may be tempted to join in with Herbert Marcuse in celebrating the archaic figures Narcissus and Orpheus as potentially most progressive and liberating 'culture-heroes'. Marcuse contrasted them favourably with Prometheus, the trickster and suffering rebel against the gods, the culture-hero of toil, productivity and progress through self-repression. Unsurprisingly, Narcissus and Orpheus have not become culture-heroes of protestant capitalism.

"theirs is the image of joy and fulfillment; the voice which does not command but sings; the gesture which offers and receives; the deed which is peace and ends the labor of conquest; the liberation from time which unites man with god, man with nature."

Marcuse shows how these archetypes of gratification symbolized a non-repressive civilization that brings liberation, a freedom that will release the powers of Eros:

"a state of peace and beauty, a redemption of pleasure, the halt of time: silence, sleep, night, paradise."

The Sociometry of Culture

But we need to be careful here. Beauty is not immune from becoming instrumentalised. The algorithms running at the back end of the social media economy not only maximise the subconscious effectiveness of this or that colour in advertising, but also tell us what we are likely to like because our friends do so. Beauty can be calculated and made operational, just like reason. The digital armature of corporate advertising can quantify pleasure and taste and sell it back to us. While Immanuel Kant still held that it needed a genius to produce aesthetic ideas, this genius now works at the wheels of the global information machine.

We Are The Media

A new business model has emerged in which the free exchange of individuals in so called Social Media drives a powerful surveillance machine that matches products with people. Here the idea of media informing us has undergone a tragic inversion. The media are now inside us, we are the media, but not as the utopia of mass emancipation but an expansion of corporate control.

Information has become our mirror, but it has been broken, and has done so in a very specific way. It has been pulverized into billions of grains of quartz sand each of which contains a fractal image of the world. Reality has become so fragmented and shot through with fragments of cyber-reality, that something new and frightening has come into existence: integral reality.

The intelligence of evil, or integral reality


"The real is suffocated by its own accumulation. Objective reality - reality related to meaning and representation - gives way to 'Integral Reality', a reality without limits in which everything is realized and technically materialized without reference to any principle or final purpose whatever. We have moved from reality as principle and as concept to the technical realization of the real and its performance."

Baudrillard's 'integral reality' may not too long have appeared a speculative idea. Now, it can quite easily be translated into the everyday of networked culture. It means a global information infrastructure automatically producing its own reality. It means the business-end of surveillance programs by state security organs, as revealed by Edward Snowden. Everything that we do is transparent, leaves a trace, can be calculated and turned into evidence against us. The world of social media plus the PRISM surveillance program, that is Baudrillard's integral reality.

"There is no way now for the dream to be an expression of a desire since its virtual accomplishment is already present."

Art After the Dreamworld of Digital Utopia

Is there a possibility to restore art? Can it have a social function again that is at work outside the walls of the museum and beyond the utilitarianism of the creative economy? What would an art be like that renounces the broken mirror of information yet does not regress into old, pre-digital forms?

In Art and Liberation Herbert Marcuse wrote that 'the achievements of technological civilization indicate the possible transformation of art into technique and technique into art,' and thereby imply the possibility 'of a controlled experimentation with nature and society in order to give nature and society their aesthetic Form':

"Art, Form of the imagination, could guide the construction of the new society. And inasmuch as the aesthetic values are the non-aggressive values par excellence, art as technology and technique would imply the emergence of a new rationality in the construction of a free society, that is, the emergence of new modes and goals of technical progress itself."

The Crossing of the Fields

Art alone is too weak to effect such a transformation. The idea of art that we tried to develop in this exhibition is one that goes beyond the confines of affirmative culture. The realisation of utopia within art alone is not enough. What needs to happen is a real crossing of the fields. This is an understanding of art where it becomes the contact zone for other disciplines, where sensuality becomes reasonable and reason sensuous, where politics are infused with ethics and aesthetics. But that is easier said than done. The categories do not mix and mingle that easily once we put them to the reality test. Institutional gatekeepers watch the boundaries of their disciplines with shrewd eyes. Marcuse's return of the repressed does not necessarily appear in its beautiful form. The sudden release of suppressed psychic forces can turn into terror, not liberty.

Horizontal Networks

The idea of Fields is related to a rather large idea, that of a shift to a less anthropocentric world, one that empowers plants, animals and machines, all living things and also humans. This is also a shift from hierarchical categories and traditional ontologies to horizontal network-like relations. We encounter that transition in many places - from Bruno Latour's actor network theory to relational and participatory art theories such as those in the Techno-Ecologies reader (that we publish today).

This shift to a relational world of Fields as epistemological framework holds the potential of a philosophical democratisation. The empowerment of things diminishes our dictatorial power over them; it also makes the human world less thing-like. The more we can see the world in its own right, the less we should be able to treat each other merely as objects. Fields presents art works that communicate with a nature that has opened up its eyes and talks back to us.

However, this is a long term epistemic shift that points beyond the time-frame of the current techno-political collapse that we are facing, right now. We can watch the melting of the glaciers of European modernity with a feeling of gratification. That very same movement also allows the liberation and emancipation of different peoples and is linked with the tendency of granting more rights to plants and animals. Yet can we accelerate it? Can we make it happen fast enough before other forms of cataclysmic change occur that destroy civilization as we knew it?

The Activation of History

"In the era of industrial culture, consciousness exists in a mythic, dream state, against which historical knowledge is the only antidote."

We need to awake from a collective slumber, the dreamworld of the digital market society. This awakening is not an easy task. Historical knowledge that allows to conceptualise and frame current developments, that is not something really supported by the current system. The dreamworld of digital utopia knows no history, no past, just a continuous mythical present condensed into the digital stream of non-consciousness.


Fields renounces the mirror of information. This does not mean that we reject scientific knowledge, rationality or computers. Fields is about creating new connections between different materialities, forms of knowledge and social and communal being. Lets just turn for a minute to the materials used in this exhibition:

soil, seeds, railway tracks, electromagentism, the earth's magnetosphere, rubbings of bank portals, colour fields, technoscience, genetic modification, information, yogurt, electricity, light, chance, wheat fields, telecommunication, words, bees, plants, movements, textiles, animals, Kayaks, waterways ...

Each of these works is using material aspects of the world to create new connections, new combinations of fields and their embodiments in works or assemblages. The aesthetic information is dissipated in the world in new and different ways, fostering an expansion of the ethical impulse inherent to art.

Building New Conversations

This cannot happen through practice alone but needs also an opening of new channels for conversations. These conversations need to seek to make explicit what is implicitly already present, an awareness of shared values that are not utilitarian. Some of the words used by artists in the self-description of their works are terms like 'invisible, inaudible, tactile, autonomy, accidental nature, emancipation, trans-gender-ing'.

These could be building blocks for Wild Ontologies [which is the title of my new project that follows directly from Fields]. Eurocentric modernity was based on subject-object relations whereby certain terms were conceived as polar opposites such as man and nature, sensuality and reason. The overcoming of those patterns, those hierarchical ordering systems, needs to be reflected in new language, new terminology.

Fields is about the building of an infrastructure for critical thought through a liberated vocabulary. Key to the success of the endeavour will be to build a consensus around those Wild Ontologies. Such a consensus can only come from what Toni Negri has called the constitutive power of the Multitude. The Multitude is a new conception of what once were the masses, an 'ensemble of singular multiplicities':

"The transition from constituted power (potere costituente) to constituting force (potenza costituente) was the transition from the last forms of modern society — a society organized around the state, the bosses, the working class, and a juridical order founded on a single, absolutely stable centre — to a society in which the power of capital has become as diffuse as the subversive capacity of the multitude."

The Radical Social Imaginary

Negri's post-modern 'potenza costituente' is a visible force in the shape of various social movements, from the indignant people occupying squares to the global movement of indigenous peoples who now all use the power of self-organisation, of self-valorization. Negri's ideas are complimentary to those of the Greek revolutionary, philosopher and psycho-analyst Cornelius Castoriadis. He gave the term imaginary a radical and specific meaning. The imaginary was not an illusion held by individuals, but a collective social capacity to institute new social forms. The magma of new ideas, brewing in the collective subconscious has the power to break out like a volcano and constitute a radical new social imaginary.

And in this sense, I have no final message that I could squeeze into a sentence or two. The message is the exhibition Fields that we have collectively made. It is the radical plurality of works in this exhibition that maybe can together formulate, well, not one but many messages. Those many messages are like fields of vectors that all point to openings of new possibilities. While art alone is too weak to realise those potentials, it has the freedom to bring all those potentials and desires together. The museum exhibition, which may be considered by some a quite conservative format, brings all those currents together in one place, to display their radical heterogeneity, their fractal beauty, the infinite capacity of the imagination to institute new material practices and social forms.


Baudrillard, Jean. The Intelligence of Evil Or the Lucidity Pact. Bloomsbury Academic, 2005.

Castoriadis, Cornelius. The Imaginary Institution of Society. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1987.

Freud, Sigmund. Civilization and Its Discontents. Translated by James Strachey. Norton, 2005.

Marcuse, Herbert. Eros and Civilisation: A Philosophical Inquiry Into Freud. Ark Paperbacks, 1987.

Marcuse, Herbert. Art and Liberation: Collected Papers of Herbert Marcuse. Taylor & Francis, 2007.

Buck-Morss, Susan. Dreamworld and Catastrophe: The Passing of Mass Utopia in East and West. MIT Press, 2002.

Negri, Antonio. “In Conversation with Antonio Negri.” E-Flux, September 2010.