Hüttner, Per

Guest Author of August 2012

Per Hüttner is a Swedish visual artist based in Paris whose restless traveling contradistinguishes his life and artistic practice. He is active in the field of photography and public and interactive performances, which often stimulate our phenomenological and cultural perception of reality. A project like Jogging in Exotic Cities, where the artist runs through cities around the world completely white dressed, demands us to be aware of our social and cultural habitus. We can hold it or optionally change it. Deeply tied up to his investigative attitude is the foundation of an international network of artists, curators, scholars and scientists called “Vision Forum.” Vision Forum is an independent project of the Linkoepings University in Sweden and is a rhizomatic, horizontal organization working across visual art, film, and science. Composed by several nodes, Vision Forum also embraces the nomadic project “OuUnPo-Ouvroir d’Univers Potentiels,” an acronym based on the pataphysical group “OuLiPo-Ouvroir de Litterature Potentielle.” Founded in 2009, OuUnPo lives of recurring encounters in different cities of the world, where its usual members gather with local artists, practitioners and institutions to build up a program of performances, events, lectures, concerts, etc.
In the following essay Per Hüttner offers us an existential and philosophical reflection on the meaning of such a window for human and cultural exchange between the local and global, between punctual and relational identities. It is therefore our pleasure to introduce Per Hüttner as our August Guest Author

OuUnPo: Temporality Collapsing the Global with the Local.

“Why do men fight for their servitude as stubbornly as though it were their salvation?”
Baruch Spinoza

Formulating the problematic

Any discussion about globalization needs to start with the temporal aspect of this process. Globalizing processes operate at very different speeds. Our planet has always been and will always remain global – just like the congruence between the two words indicates. The fact that Homo sapiens inhabit every part of the planet since about 10 000 years is one example of that (even though if it took 50 000 years to spread to every continent). In other words, some globalizing processes are fast and others are slower. We tend to refer to the former when we speak of globalization and it is generally the circulation of information and capitalist goods and services (including cheap and relatively fast travel) that we speak of. But I would like to shift the attention to the slower processes – since both represent two faces of the same movement.

The OuUnPo Methodology

I have been working with a project and an amorphous research/production group called OuUnPo since 2009 and in this group we have together developed some interesting methodologies that relate to globalization and temporality. Now you will say, that I do not know how to label what this strange artistic/scientific agglomeration is. And you are right. But as you will see, it is essential in this strategy that the informal and ever changing group of people cannot be defined. This movement of becoming and production of knowledge goes hand in hand with what Deleuze and Guattari call disjunctive synthesis – something that allows us to collapse the global and the local in order to liberate creation.

So, let’s look at what can be defined about OuUnPo. It is a pan-European research group made up of artists, curators and researchers who together look at the boundaries of performance by appropriating and stretching the language of workshops, seminars and meetings. The group travels to different cities and investigates a given problem in collaboration with a number of local institutions on in each location: museums, art organizations, research centers, residency programs, informal groups, music venues, night clubs and academic institutions.

Introducing Temporality

We all know that (bad) news travel fast and that the latest digital gadget penetrates its global markets with astounding speed. In a similar way the hippest tune and coolest fashion will conquer the globe even faster. But how long will it take for humanity to digest the full implications of Heisenberg’s “Uncertainty Principle” (that enables the existence of all digital devices)? Or Bergson’s “Duration” that forever changes our outlook on time? Rimbaud’s “splintered I”? Nietzsche’s “Eternal Return” (that remains so widely misunderstood)?

But in order to make full use of the potential of investigating globalization and temporality, we have to start with another Nietzschean concept (developed further by Deleuze and Guattari in Anti-Oedipus). In On the Genealogy of Morals Nietzsche makes some remarkable discoveries about debt. He does so by looking at primitive societies and then shifting the focus to modern society. Through this strategy he manages to prove that each individual is in debt to the state. Not only that, but also that this debt is infinite and that this debt to the state replaces the relationship that the primitive man had to the earth or to the ground. This is a brilliant approach, since it allows us to see that there a difference in nature between the economy of debt and exchange. The former is incompatible with and has nothing to do with the latter. In other words, the debt-debtor relationship bars any possibility for exchange. Nietzsche is also careful to underline that there is only one state. This is interesting and important in terms of globalization, because we cannot travel away from our infinite debt. This means that we have create situations where the infinite debt is suspended in order to enable exchange.

How to Deal with Multiplicity

I will return to debt and exchange and why it is so important for the OuUnPo strategy shortly. But before I do, I need to make a little detour. I grew up in liberal Sweden in the 1970’s. At this time, education was slowly changing so that the outlook should be to the entire world in response to the previously all-consuming euro-centrism. So to give an example, we were not only taught about Christianity. But also about Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, animism (and I have surely forgotten some religions that were stamped onto our young cortexes with great zeal). The intentions were good, but the teachers knew little or nothing about most of these religions and the cultural context that they create and exist in.

During my travels, I have realized that much of what we were taught was actually false – or at least such oversimplifications that it made a mockery of the customs that it tried to portray. My point here is clearly not about Swedish education, but that a functioning and truly globalized world ensures variation and multiplicity and not the opposite. But it also means that we are forced to learn much about so many cultures and sub-cultures, that the unknown and not-knowing plays a very different role in a our everyday lives than it does in a local world. How we deal and relate to the unknown becomes ever more important. So when we embrace bigger perspectives, it is essential that we do not replace a deep understanding of the local (including knowledge about how to deal with that which we cannot grasp) with superficial knowledge about a lot of places and peoples and their relationship to the world that surrounds them.

We have to start by making a distinction between knowledge and information. Media offers a good example. Virtually all media events function the same way. It transmits information. It doesn’t matter if it is a suicide bombing in Iraq or that a celebrity starlet dumps a boyfriend. We can only say, “it has happened again.” The event short-circuits itself and becomes outdated at the same moment that it becomes known. For those effected by the event personally, it is of course a very different story.

So the global endeavor threatens to fall into the same pitfalls as the local, unless we can make sure that knowledge is created and not only that information is being circulated. In order to reap the full benefits of globalization, we will somehow have to collapse the global with the local. Because in the meeting between the two, information will always fall short while knowledge creates potential for exchange.

For example, one Brazilian and one Japanese tourist in Greece can talk about French cheese, Burgundy wine and the Eiffel Tower. But when a person from France joins the conversation, it will change drastically. Equally, the values, attitudes and habits of the people of the Frenchman’s town will most likely look small-minded when they are bounced against the experiences of the Brazilian and Japanese. Opinion falls short when the global collapses the local. It forces anyone who joins the conversation to think, rather than to rely on prefabricated notions. In this meeting knowledge can be produced and circulated. A true exchange is possible. It is like a Biochemist talking about his work to an artist or the other way around. Nothing can be taken for granted. The very earth that we stand on is moving. But we are momentarily reconnected to the ground rather than to debt.

What does OuUnPo Do?

OuUnPo’s methodology addresses the need for alternative forms of education and production – accommodating multiplicity and embracing invention. This strategy acknowledges the need for personal inspiration, an endeavor to find ways to enrich our daily lives, and through that process also enrich the lives of others. In other words, this strategy reconnects art and research to the everyday experience of our lives. It builds an infinite number of bridges between theory and practice, or collapses the boundaries between the two.

In each working session OuUnPo collaborates with a number of local institutions. These are usually in a situation of competition in their everyday practice, but by bringing in an amorphous group of outside players who collaborate with local institutions, OnUnPo collapses the local with global. The strategy allows the partners of the project to get a deeper understanding of how the local and global interacts and how the art world is dealing with the current changes.

OuUnPo also mixes production (mainly of a performative nature) with academic presentation, research, discussions and reflection. The group carries out performances, interactive events, research and public presentations in collaboration with local partners and the local public. These events are often a response to existing contemporary art exhibitions, architectural sites and social situations and are created, in collaboration with local partners, with the direct aim of creating links between the visitors’ everyday life experiences and the works of art, research and architecture at hand.

Returning to Debt

Debt will eventually come back into the picture. It always does, unless we change the very foundations for our society and living together. But we can create windows where an exchange is possible. That is why the collapse between the global and the local that OuUnPo stages has to be short-lived. And this is where it gets really good. When the global, in the form of a highly fragmented collective meets the local, (with its networks, conflicts, contracts, debts and history) there is potential for the economy of debt to be sidetracked for a short instance. But it is essential in this cross-cultural, cross-disciplinary meeting that the global visitors do not represent their country of origin or discipline. They bring their knowledge, experiences, desires and their artistic and/or their academic contribution. The visiting participants cannot be members of a group, represent a country or present themselves as artists, neuroscientists or representing a school or institution – because these established roles immediately brings back the debt economy into play. This is why it is of utmost importance that I cannot tell you what OuUnPo is, only what potential it has to affect the places that the fragmented group of individuals visits.

But the fact that the economy of debt always comes back explains why we will always remain in need of creativity: new art, new philosophy, new science – new thinking. This need for creation has nothing to do with the corporate need for the “new,” because the latter rarely contains any thinking. It only plays on our desires and our social needs. True thinking and true creativity will affect the thinker and his/her environment in a fundamentally different way than any consumer product ever could.

In this short-lived window of freshness when the infinite debt is suspended, Arthur Rimbaud’s “Je est un autre” takes on a different meaning. Nietzsche’s “Eternal Return” also resurfaces with all its power and potential. We realize that there is nothing originally French, Brazilian, Greek or Japanese. As a matter of fact there are no originals at all, just an endless flow of copies (or rather simulacra) that keep reproducing and subjected to chance. However, as we all know, there is some very fine cheese and wine in France – just like there is the worst muck imaginable. But it is with experience that we learn how to distinguish one from the other, or is it only an acquired taste? Maybe this is the big question, which will take longer: for the Japanese to appreciate the smell and taste of French cheese or for the world to take in the basics of Nietzsche’s “Eternal Return”?

Per Hüttner (written in Athens, Milan, Paris, Stockholm, Shanghai and Hong Kong in summer 2012)