“If we are in a situation, we are surrounded and cannot be transparent to ourselves, so that our contact with ourselves is necessarily achieved only in a sphere of ambiguity”

Maurice Merleau-Ponty 

As I work on this text I have George Orwell’s six rules for writing hanging on the wall above my desk. The first rule is as follows: “Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.” In other words, avoid linguistic clichés. The only real problem with this advice is that it’s hard work to follow it. Trying to avoid clichés can also, however, have a limiting effect. Basic human questions like: who are you? who am I? what is the world? have a cloud of banality hanging over them in language, so heavy with rain that as I’m writing this I have to force myself to leave the words untouched on the paper. This is how this language operates – it forces many things into the same words and can turn the most complicated of relationships into banal clichés in the blink of an eye.

In the organisation of the world as it is experienced by a person there are many patterns. This form of language is just one of these, and within this text an obvious example – as here – the written language must be said to play a central role. The patterns not only organise the world, they also produce it. The individuals who enter this circular movement are created through their relationship to the world and each other – and are therefore, like language, like the world, both subjects and objects in the round dance.

“The round dance” is not a randomly chosen term. The movements of the human body dancing provide an effective metaphor for this philosophical model, and are at the same time a continuous, concrete practice of these processes. The power relations among the nodes, and the production of meaning between them, seem tangible in the way that they take part in the movement.

The dancer (individual) leads
The body (world) leads
The dance steps (patterns) lead
The dancers (community) lead

The lines can be shuffled around and all permutations are equally valid.

Logical, linguistic reasoning is central and of inestimable value for both political and practical interactions between people; and collocations of words are often seen as clearer than any other meaning producing system. Experience of living in the world is however a totally different and more holistic process; language always appears in combination with the other dance steps involved in an individual’s meeting with the world. Images, movements or sounds that can signify, among other things, cultural, ideological and identity-forming codes, are some of the other systems that operate continuously. Others are “pure” feelings and sense impressions.

If you look away from the western, Judeo-Christian tradition where body and soul form a dichotomy, then there is no a priori hierarchical difference between the dance steps. Like a choir they all enter into the dance.


These “other” dance steps could simply be called aesthetics. The term "aesthetics" has gone through a number of changes, and is today generally understood as having to do with beauty and art. However based on its etymological origins in ancient Greek language, it encompasses a lot more than that. It was derived from the Greek αἰσθητικός (aisthetikos, meaning “esthetic, sensitive, sentient”), which in turn was derived from αἰσθάνομαι (aisthanomai, meaning “I perceive, feel, sense”).  In this form the term can be said to represent all dance steps that are not pure logical reasoning.

Phenomena that today are grouped under the term “art” often include the conscious use of and experimentation with aesthetics in this meaning of the word.

A scientific paper, in contrast, seeks to reach a conclusion through logical reasoning. It feels obliged to oppose its own aesthetics, or to transcend them. Whether or not it is even possible to uphold this “standard”, the norms, the common set of rules as to how meaning should be produced, are always present. Even criticism of these rules is supposed to adhere to the rules themselves. Science should attempt to be, claim to be, want to be objective, causal, empirical. How power, politics and aesthetics have operated within science through centuries does not change that. A scientific text should, plainly said, stay by the wall observing the other dancers.

Art is different. When logical reasoning enters into art practice, it operates in parallel with other aesthetic structures. The strict norms which separate the scientific type of meaning production from all others, are not present, and the nerdy looking guy standing in the corner watching the dance will not automatically be the one everyone listens to. Art is an infiltrating body, moving into the dance. Its pattern of movement is not set before it comes into being. The unique possibilities that art holds are linked to this position from which it operates – it can enter into potentially all kinds of analysis of the world, while seeing things from inside the dance and acknowledging its own position. This position grants art the ability to act through new self-shaped, often ritualised rules of action. To collect elements, categorise them, compile them in ways which are not predetermined.

Eternity is out of reach. Art cannot and will not reach any conclusions about the centre of things — or timeless truths about being or doing. This modernist dream is long gone. Art is on the contrary more time-dependent than any other form of expression, as it is not only happening within time, but is also painfully aware of its own situation, like an insecure teenager not yet sure about how to move seamlessly through the night. Within the dialectic process of blending into the massive dance floor, feeling the music controlling the body – before falling back into self-conscious scrutiny – therein lies its paradoxical possibility of acting as a free unit. In what I see as its most interesting form, art is not only made through contemporary norms, ideologies, aesthetic codes – it openly acknowledges this, its own position as a combined cultural product and producer.

As a result of this double presentness, art can function as a space for dealing with or even breaking with the structures within which it operates – not only those of the so-called art world (thank heavens) but also within other fields of interest or sociological arenas. Art has the potential to discreetly remove structures, truths, dynamics, and for a moment leave things more open, malleable. There is no mysticism to this mystical realm. This realm that we admit to not seeing through, not ever knowing thoroughly, this dark, foggy shape that hovers behind each and every dancer as we interact. Its mystery is commonplace and always present, it needs no affirmation in itself, but it needs to be dealt with, touched. Directly. Insecurely.

As the artist “lets go” of it, the artwork not only feels her body being taken over by the rhythm and music. In the same way that large groups of people when moving start resembling one big morphing body, she begins blending in, and synthesises with the other dancers and movements till she holds no autonomy of her own. Where she begins or ends is unclear. This is, in my view, the reality of all art projects and pieces – they do not hold the answers to every question they pose, nor do they know where they will end up. I personally have a strong liking for work that does not hide this process of unplanned synthesis but exhibits its infiltrative nature openly within its basic form. Works that even embrace their malleable nature as a way to retain their freedom. Joachim Koester writes about this with regards to history. How the “unresolved” nature of a piece may hinder its historical instrumentalisation – rather than fortify it.

”Politically the mission of my photographs is simple: since they always contain a hidden remainder, they cannot be immidiately consumed. The photographs are scenarios where latent narratives can unfold. They are mute and unresolved and exactly that makes them changing and binds them to the future as an unspoken potentiality. Thus I hope the images resist the instrumentalisation of history which is the prevailing mode – the historical detail is above all chaotic and marked by chance just like the weeds, bushes and trees that grow up in abandoned places. But perhaps another message is hidden in the mistakes, unresolved ideas and obsolete spaces that attract me. They remind me of the enormously destructive powers abiding in the market-driven economies (the destructive undercurrent associated with the former Soviet Communist countries is more frequently noted). Wrapped in phantasmagoria we seem to forget everything that never becomes, what one may call “the archaelogy of abandoned futures,” while the forgotten spaces that remain behind, grown over and filled with traces of earlier activities, become monuments of the unrealised – the potential – a crack in oblivion.”

Joachim Koester 

Though admittedly most often at a very small scale, an artwork can also form “scenarios where latent narratives can unfold” at earlier stages in its development. What turns it will take are not predetermined. My own work consists of a series of trials and experiments where outer occurrences continuously help shape what I’m doing. It also actively engages other people. My collaborators are my accomplices, advisers, assistants or discussion partners – in addition to, and sometimes instead of, an audience. The social context that enfolds the work at its moment of formation is, at that time for me, also its most important content.

The dynamics of the working process have led in a number of directions, for example into the realm of dance, musical contexts, public actions, text. The point at which the work passes through a moment of being labelled art varies, and which traces, evidence of previous activity or scores for future movement may (or may not) end up in an art context, are generally not decided on before late in the process. From there on, I hope for them to get permanently lost in the dance.

For me art constitutes techniques for a basic investigation of human existence which takes place within time, through action. My own art practice centres around questions of power. How it operates and how it is opposed, escaped, kidnapped. How it functions both within the process of my own art making and the world at large. I would like for my work to hover in this space between control and the loss thereof, both thematically and practically. This space that holds unlimited amounts of potential – for utopias and dystopias, for violence and pleasure – for things not covered by these sets of opposing linguistic terms, situations which must be worked on by other means.


“The more our daily life appears standardised, stereotyped, and subject to an accelerated reproduction of objects of consumption, the more art must be injected into it in order to extract from it that little difference which plays simultaneously between other levels of repetition, and even in order to make the two extremes resonate—namely, the habitual series of consumption and the instinctual series of destruction and death.”

Gilles Deleuze 

The movement of bodies through space can form such situations loaded with information and meaning flowing in a myriad of directions. Situations that are up for grabs when it comes to that “basic investigation of human existence”.

The habits and norms which shape people’s movements are created through complicated processes which are in no way easily deduced through critical rationality alone. Discourses  must however be said to play an important role; ”discourses” here understood in Foucauldian terms, namely as certain traditions, or areas of knowledge formation, collections of texts and speech acts that through their validation by authorities within academia, institutions, governmental organs or popular culture create a kind of body, a body which in its turn produces new texts, new speech acts, and so constantly reproduces itself and its power in defining Truth. Imagine this body of discourse to take on the form of a cityscape, an invisible, yet physical architecture rising up amongst the one made of concrete and steel. 

This might sound like a metaphor already complete, as Foucault’s term encompasses so much that it could be said to signify the rest of the power structures involved in shaping the patterns of movement, aside from the physical architecture. I would however propose severing an element from this large collection of phenomena labeled "discourse", and suggest the presence of a third structure with dynamics of its own: the physical movements themselves. The day to day movement of the bodies through the city is a point where the dance described in the beginning of this text reaches a state of wordless, physical manifestation. Instead of imagining people running around in between the Architecture of Discourse and that of stone or steel, let’s allow the patterns of the bodies’ movements to create a cityscape of their own. Imagine that the movements over time build up, are condensed, until they form firm material. There are events and processes that happen within this third structure that appear to hold a material form of their own.

Through time, these three cityscapes vibrate alongside each other, continuously pushing each other up against each others’ walls.

Sweden is a particularly interesting place to observe this friction. My knowledge of it is admittedly very limited, but the paradoxes of its public arenas are visually more striking than anywhere else I have been. Within areas designed for recreational activities, the movements of the masses appear nearly completely predestined, Even the sub-cultural elements which often represent breaks with these patterns are largely included in the system. Here, seemingly complete regularity is combined with an unbreakable faith in individual freedom and belonging.

Within the fittingly named “folkrørelserna” ("the people’s movements")   of late 19th century Sweden, the movements of the body became a central theme. This focus was in no way unique for Sweden, but in the later construction of their modernistic social democratic vision of “folkhämmet” (“the peoples’ home”) it flourished beyond compare.

“To put everything in motion was one of modernity’s main principles. Anything which was standing still represented stagnation in a culture that held progress as its highest value. Like the air, everything should circulate. This applied not least to the body.” 

Jon Olof Nilsson 

A number of principles for exactly how the body should move were talked about, written about, and taught to the people. The systematically organised body movements of gymnastics were considered to be central techniques in the development of a healthy, beautiful population – the ideal body being that of dynamic, red-cheeked, physically strong workers.

Moving the body correctly was considered important not only for the population's physical health and beauty , but also for their intellectual and moral upbringing. For many infants in the early 20th century, this ideal of a highly regulated bodily existence led to practices which at other times in history could easily be classified as abuse. If they were crying out, wishing to be cuddled, it was considered  important for the caretaker to stay strong and not succumb to empathic instincts. The baby was best served by being fed according to strict schedules, and thereby subsumed to the patterns preordained by ideology, joining in on the march towards the ideal society. In Swedish handbooks of that time parents and nurturing staff were advised to offer infants food at 6am, 10am, 2pm, 6pm and 10pm. No exceptions should be made.  Instead of merely being an anecdote about a peculiar moment in time and space, this is an example of tendencies continuously in action all over the place. It says something about how concrete physical actions, even in the extreme form of violence, can sneak their way into human conduct disguised as free and somehow neutral acts, often with even worse results than infants crying.

When power operates directly through the physical movement of bodies in space, without bothering to stop for a moment of reflection on the way – it holds a powerful potentiality. A potential that can develop in atrocious directions.

In May 2004 photographs leaked out to the press from the prison of Abu Ghraib close to Baghdad, Iraq. The prison was built by British contractors in the 1950s, and the buildings of this prison were infamous for housing horrible torture and numerous executions during Saddam Hussein’s regime. From 2003 onwards the prison was overtaken by American forces, and during their time there some of the soldiers had taken snapshots of each other while torturing Iraqi prisoners. Images of torture are unfortunately not that rare. What made these photographs even more absurd than others were the soldiers’ physical postures and facial expressions – smiling, laughing, having a jolly good time while tying ropes to their prisoners’ genitalia before dragging them across the floor, and similar activities. The logic of the actions depicted recembled that of a game. There was nothing overtly “practical” to the abuse, nothing strategic in terms of warfare, and the soldiers carrying it out did not even appear angry. Some of the photos showed human pyramids constructed with naked, blindfolded men tied up – an image which resonates with the practice of building human pyramids within the training of American soldiers. It is also a common activity in the American Scout movement and in cheerleading squads, among other places. The activity is considered a teambuilding exercise that allows the natural hierarchy to unfold and new well-suited leaders to appear.  

Within the structure of the pyramid the political is long gone. The power relations among the people involved are based on physical might, sensory experience and aesthetics – and also, although it sounds deeply paradoxical, on morality. A morality that borders on pure religious convictions, as the rules of conduct are not based on any form of discussion or politics, but rather on preordained truths about reality, all-encompassing conceptions of the world, including truths regarding evil/good, human/non human, war hero/Muslim terrorist. I imagine this point of total clarity to be where playing with human bodies as if they were purely aesthetic, ironic building blocks, is possible.

This concrete architecture of the bodies intuitively has some sort of metaphorical yet brutally actual quality to it. This moment when bodies become one mass, when they re-create themselves. This form holds a potential for representing both violence and freedom, even for being violence or freedom.

Through seeing that image of the pyramid of torture – and for a moment feeling the world dissolve. Through the dynamic, euphoric experience of forming a mass of people with no apparent leaders. Through repeating, and repeating again self-initiated acts with no practical function. Through this a sensory, bodily, socially, indescribable experience suddenly surfaces – as were it a dream, for a fraction of a second no longer a dream.


"Rather it is, to remain with Shakespeare, the freedom of Brutus: “That this shall be or we will fall for it,” that is, the freedom to call something into being which did not exist before, which was not given, not even as an object of cognition or imagination, and which therefore, strictly speaking, could not be known."

“Politically, this identification of freedom with sovereignty is perhaps the most pernicious and dangerous consequence of the philosophical equation of freedom and free will. For it leads either to a denial of human freedom – namely, if it is realised that whatever men may be, they are never sovereign – or to the insight that the freedom of one man, or a group, or a body politic can be purchased only at the price of the freedom, i.e., the sovereignty, of all others (.....) Under human conditions, which are determined by the fact that not man but men live on the earth, freedom and sovereignty are so little identical that they cannot even exist simultaneously.” 

Hannah Arendt

Starting from within the dance, and knowing it – art has the possibility of creating these moments of "unreality". Unreality within the reality that Hannah Arendt would have called “the world”. Arendt’s World  would include every structure, truth, category built up through human endeavours over time. This world is continuously misinterpreted as part of the unchangeable natural conditions in which it takes place; the “Earth”. The moments of unreality created by art are neither unconditionally good, God or flawless. But they do possess a hope, a concept not to be underestimated. By uncovering the relative nature of what is at most times experienced as reality itself they create possibilities of, even precedence for, breaking with them, interacting with them, merging them together so that new dynamics can evolve.

The position in the middle of the dance floor is in no way unique to art or philosophy, as it is held by many who seek to utilise aesthetic means for specific ends. Within the hyper-capitalist world of today; la société du spectacle on steroids, there are myriads of waves of aesthetics attempting to lure people into surfing them in order to raise money, political support or just plain ignorance. If we’re lucky. Most of the time the waves seem to go for the tsunami strategy where surfing becomes very difficult. These waves are not really new, they are continuations of dynamics laid out by political, social, physical structures much bigger than them. Their purpose is clear, although sometimes disguised by a complicated layer of sensory fog. The only hope they encompass is one of a very concrete crappy hamburger, a lipstick or the like.

The Real New beginnings are on the other hand never yet fully formulated, never yet brought to a conclusion. They are admittedly also always built on previous aesthetics, politics, art. Still the act of creating a genuinely new combination, making a leap, is possible though not an easy task. It requires the radical boldness of performing a public loss of control – and a space that allows for this kind of activity – a space that at least to some extent can encompass discussion based not on pure rhetoric, but rather on utterances with no apparent goal. A space for the unresolved.

In order for this space to arise, an open, bold audience is also necessary – someone who at least potentially lets the art, the new ideas move their worldview. An environment of people that takes on the task of further developing the ideas, analysing them, or consciously dismissing them. This space can either be created spontaneously by the combination of acts performed by its momentary “inhabitants” – or it can exist as a more long lasting structure.

An interesting example of such a space is the “art world”, a space that though in no way neutral, objective or unproblematic, holds a potential for free expression. It is a strange place where the structures of capitalism and other power structures are stronger and more visible than anywhere else, and still it is filled with agents who at times do not follow the dynamics of these structures.
It is by nature an obviously problematic space that needs continuous reshaping, redefining, widening. And paradoxically, in those moments where the art suddenly for a moment pops out of it and merges with other, sometimes broader, political and social realms, the art world is at its most potent. It is in those moments art can constitute nodes in a network of new starting points, possible futures – be an active agent within the Rhizome.

Again we are stuck in a position of extreme contradiction – art’s existence as a distinct category is what allows people and places to be dedicated to its production and distribution over time. Within this category, art’s right to exist as a basic investigation of being is protected. The danger of this emphasis on autonomy is however the prospect of confusing the right to act on thoughts not yet formulated, never to be formulated even, with settling only for that. For staying put within the make-believe introverted modernist romanticism. Within the political/economic reality of the (art) world today, that degree of romanticism leads to artworks mainly existing as commodities. The inbuilt potentiality of freedom held by art is not that of romanticism, but rather one of a political freedom that entails participation. Therefore the art world can be said to practically function at its best at times of its dilation, of blurring the categories of art and life. Of taking part in the making of Temporary Autonomous Zones . With very, VERY few exceptions artists do after all imagine their work to be seen at some point, heard, worked on by someone – not to have it rot in an attic with no light.

Remember, Thoureau did have his mum wash his clothes every week.


"—Duchamp speaks of a "pictorial nominalism"—the artwork is invented in its making, not according to the givens of what is Art. Hence his fantastic paradox: How to make a work of art that isn’t a work of art?"

Sarat Maharaj

“ 'Oh, I know who you are': at this moment I cease to address you, or to be addressed by you."

 Judith Butler

Even if art as described in this text holds a potential for meaning production which is exceptionally free and fantastic, it cannot outrun time. Art production relates to its time even when pretending to be timeless, and is better off actively moving into it.

The personal situation of the artist or artists at the moment of its execution – resource-wise, physically, emotionally – contributes to defining the starting point of any given art work. There are as many unique positions on the dance floor as there are artists within moments in time. An artwork’s positioning is never neutral, and the artists’ continuous self-analysis is of necessity an important part of art making. Personally I like to let this position influence the work very directly by helping determine which mediums and techniques to use, so that each piece can develop its own amateur dance steps, so to speak. The dance steps are not only those of an amateur – the patterns they make up initially come across as useless, since their goal of operation is not yet distinctly formulated. As the activity of art making does not have pre-set rules, in it the questions of "what is this?" and "why am I doing it?" repeat themselves endlessly and are never to be fully answered. This is no relativist stance – on the contrary. It represents a strong propensity to act, regardless of permanently active doubts about what exactly will come of it.

In socio-political terms, a large number of artists within the tradition which I have been taught come from a “western”, “well-educated” background in peaceful corners of the world. In the globalised reality of today, even when working from a very personal point of view, distant areas are bound to pop up as references, subject matter, or concrete objects of investigation. That is by all means legitimate, and working within the politics of the now also feels urgent, necessary. However, the starting point is in this respect also in need of exploration – by the artists themselves and/or by the audience. It should not be unconsciously covered up no matter how unsexy it may feel. In dealing with one's own elastic subjectivity lies the modesty needed for truly addressing other people. “You” are never more transparent or possible to permanently apprehend, than am “I”.

The “place” that has been named the art world also benefits from this perspective. The definitions of what it encompasses and where it is located, often feel predestined by economic or authoritarian mechanical dynamics. Given the amount of postcolonial theory, Marxism, semiotics, poststructuralism and the like flourishing within the field of art theory, this seems very paradoxical. It is as though the critique through its generic correctness can be reduced to a symbolic activity. The art world truly appreciates a delicious meal of critical theory – but quite often this metaphor continues being valid till digestion has worked its wonders.

The centres of the art world are being created and re-created within the discourse of scholars and artists. The peripheries, the outsides and the places we do not even consider, are thereby also re-defined continuously. Assuming that the people involved in the art world have goals beyond tactical manoeuvring through already existing power structures, a bombastic, homogeneous notion of the cultural and geographical centres of the art world is not useful. The self-scrutiny of the teenager can never be surpassed.

After all it's not gymnastics we’re after.

It’s the insecure chaotic dancing that is the privilege of art and artists.

Art is, and will always be, the bait in a hamster’s wheel. It can never satisfy an insatiable desire. But neither can life. (...) Perhaps some of art’s secret can be found in how, without us really knowing it, it reminds us of how impossible it is to satisfy an endless need, and that in this very impossibility mutters a bitter happiness: we are separated from everything we could have had or been, but we can think about it.  

Tor Ulven

  - From The "Phenomenology of Perception", Routledge 1994 Part 3, Page 381.
  - "Aesthetics" on wikipedia; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
  - From the text "Hypnagogia"printed in exhibition catalogue from the Preus Museum
  - Page 365 of Difference and Repetition (London: Routledge, 2004)
  - Discourse (from Latin discursus, meaning "running to and from") generally refers to  "written or spoken communication or debate"(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Discourse)
  - ‘Foucault and the Deconstruction of History from History of Structuralism by François Dosse.
  - Page 51 of "Alva Myrdal- en virvel i den modärna strömmen" by Jon Olof Nilsson
  - Page 83  "Alva Myrdal- en virvel i den modärna strömmen" by Jon Olof Nilsson. Quote translated by Jonathan Evans.
   - Page 64  "Alva Myrdal- en virvel i den modärna strömmen" by Jon Olof Nilsson.
  - From question answered at "ASK ANDY" : http://netcommish.com/askandy99.asp
  - Page 151 in  "Between Past and Future – Eight exercises in political thought"  from the essay "What is Freedom", Penguin Books, 2006
  Page 162 of Between "Past and Future  Eight exercises in political thought"  from the essay "What is Freedom", Penguin Books, 2006.
  - From "The Human Condition", Hannah Arendt, first published in 1952
  - La Société du spectacle is a work of philosophy and critical theory by Guy Debord. It was first published in 1967 in France.
  - Refering to the above mentioned text by Joachim Koester (footnote 3)
  - ‘rhizome’ from "Capitalism and Schizophrenia" Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. Its two volumes, published eight years apart, are Anti-Oedipus (1972, trans. 1977) and A Thousand Plateaus (1980, trans. 1987). It is an image of thought representing a non hierarchical approach to producing meaning/history, resisting the structure of the tree system which charts causality along chronological lines and implies that all phenomena have a "root".
  - ‘Temporary Autonomious Zones’  is a term coined by Hakim Bey (born Peter Lamborn Wilson, 1945) in his book "T.A.Z.: The Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism" (first published 1991) which describes a utopian, non-hierarchical situation. In the book he explores different methods for generating such zones.
  - From an interview conducted by Daniel Birnbaum published in ArtForum, 2001. (http://www.artforum.com/static/issues/200202/features/index.html)
  -  Judith Butler, "Giving an Account of Oneself"  p. 43, Fordan University Press 2005.
  -  ’Motgift- Tor Ulven- Kilde: Alf van der Hagen: Dialoger 2’ . Interview conducted in Oslo 16. - 17. oktober 1993 (Forlaget Oktober 1996) Quote translated by Jonathan Evans.