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2017 The Labyrinth of the Immaterials

Article published Frb 9th 2017 in E-Flux: Superhumanity conversations: Jon Goodbun responds to Daniel Birnbaum and Sven-Olov Wallenstein, “Spatial Thought”

 

Who or what are the Immaterials? What is their nature? What is their culture? And how and why did they come to inhabit a labyrinth on the fifth floor of the Pompidou Centre for a number of months during 1985? What did they do in there? And what did they say? What was the meaning of their occupation of that building, in that city?

In seeking to answer the questions above, we must consider the primary artefacts and texts through which the Immaterials emerge. In “Spatial Thought,” Daniel Birnbaum and Sven-Olov Wallenstein suggest that the project of Les Immatériaux has two main components: the exhibition itself and an essay by Lyotard published concurrently, entitled “The Sublime and the Avant-garde.” However, as soon as these two components are engaged with, a network of other documents, records and artefacts emerge. In addition to the exhibition catalogue texts, there is an experimental interactive text inspired by the work of British cybernetic artist Roy Ascot entitled “Les Immatériaux—Epreuves d’écriture” in which twenty six intellectuals (including Jaques Derrida and Isabelle Stengers) recursively riffed upon fifty keywords given by Lyotard. Furthermore, there are a series of commentaries by Lyotard and others given before, during and after the exhibition, all of which become fascinatingly complicated when considered together with any attempt to critically comprehend the building and institution within which they take shape.

In this brief response I will argue that a specifically abstract spatial analysis is necessary to grasp what is at stake in Lyotard’s conception of Les Immatériaux and why we need to study their host structure to fully understand the double interiority of their nature. More than thirty years after their occupation and on the fortieth anniversary of their architecture, the questions that arise from Jean-François Lyotard’s spatial thought continue to be, as Daniel Birnbaum and Sven-Olov Wallenstein suggest, superhuman.pompidou_matta-clarke

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