Things I don’t need; commenting the void
A study, conducted by Sergio Agnoli for the Marconi Institute for Creativity in Italy, suggests that those who overcome distractions and failures quickly, treating them as the basis for new creativity rather than as setbacks, produce more and better work over the long run.1
- Non-Productivity = Negation of productivity > Productivity: from Latin produco (“I lead forth or forward, bring forward, draw or stretch out, extend, prolong, conduct, etc., bring forth, bear, etc.”) > Produco is “a lengthening, prolonging” > enlarging time (see. Bill Viola’s work) > From pro(“forth, forward”) + duco(“I lead, bring”) > Something you put on the spot > to create, to make happen, to exist essentially > The negation of doing that would be « to bring backward » or « to lead back » > Dust to dust.
- Productivity vs. non-productivity ==> Unproductivity vs. non-productivity (definitions)
- Make sense out of what one does not do rather than what they do (is it conscious? – is it meaningful?)
- think about the statement “in the end, we always tend to regret the things we did not do more than the things we did do”
- Can a living creature be in such a state that it (they) does not produce anything at all? Does it have to be conscious, does it have to have purpose, does it have to be physically tangible, etc.? > Asceticism does not produce anything that you can see or grasp, is not tangible, though one in that position continues to breath (produces CO2), think while contemplating (producing thoughts about the world)
- Depending on what the “production” is, whom or what enacts it and if there is a purpose behind it (these are only assumptions...)
Work and leisure
- What is considered as work or time spent working? Is it only time spent in an office? What does having a productive work mean? Does it mean being efficient (having a goal to achieve for the organization you work for and reaching it)? Is it always visible? What if you work by yourself? In a broader view, isn’t it going from one pleased desire to another (next level goal)?
- What are the roles? What part do we have to play? Does one has to work in such a way that they produce something useful to the specific society they live in? And then to be considered a valuable member of it?
- Is leisure that different from work? The intention is different but can relaxing be part of your lifetime job on earth too? What about when asleep? Isn’t the brain still functioning, ergo producing (or at least organizing) stuff for you? What about dreaming?
- Can it be that one never does nor produces nothing? I mean unless you are a stone left undiscovered, but then again “if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it still make noise?”
The meaning and the void – on being and non-being
- Isn’t it about intellectualizing the things that are produced?
- What are the intentions behind what we do or do not do? Does it always have to be meaningful? Can it acquire meaning afterwards?
- How about intuitions? Does the non-production have to be conscious?
- Can non-productivity be achieved by a living human being? Wouldn’t that mean death? Then again, the body decomposes and produces things for other livings (you basically are recycled)
- There’s the dichotomy, for the void can be only if something is, therefore non-productivity may be only because there is productivity
Not doing something isn’t already doing something? It is a chosen reaction (avoiding to do rather than do).
1. The arrival: compiling stuff
Here is how it’s going to be: the story will follow a narrative, an attempt to find meaning in things we do not do, find meaning in a non-productive way, and then be relieved of nonsense and productions. Interrupting life’s normal course and get involved in a limited adventure (limited because from the beginning we know it will end). So you start thinking about how it is going to be, you make assumptions, probably even build expectations, even though you know you should not. You also think about how to work non-productively, and perhaps will be able to find a path to achieve it. You might even find greater things, things you would never have expected.
There is this quote, saying that one always regrets more the things they don’t do than the things they actually do. Probably because if you don’t try it, you cannot judge your experience of it neither grow from it and then get frustrated and can never be free of this frustration of not having tried the thing.
So it began... Upon my arrival in Madrid, a friend advised me to find the meaning of the things I did not do rather than in the things I did do and to be as unproductive as possible. I wasn't sure what it meant, so I tried asceticism techniques for a while, thinking about nothing, emptying myself of the surroundings, not being affected by anything, and try to just focus, letting myself go, “drawing maps to get lost”2, stop being part and just observe. At that time, I was in a state of contemplation, I was not producing anything, there was just the world spinning, and me watching it.
But soon I realized I was put in a position where I could no longer do as if nothing mattered, for I was put in this unknown city for the first time in my life. Scary and exciting huh... Doors to another world were opening. Knowing that I could not waste a moment, and that it would happen one way or another, I decided I could benefit more if I did things, and I could not escape from it anyway because, except from that moment, I scheduled appointments, I had meetings to attend, work to do, etc. So basically, I decided to follow the course of events and see if it made sense in the end.
To do so, and this was related to the primary idea I had for the final presentation, I thought I’d keep track of everything that would happen during those two weeks in Madrid, compiling objects, cinema or museum tickets, press releases, relics and such insignificant objects. Productions per se. This is a thing I usually do (boxing years of life3), and so when needed, I can open a box and retrieve a specific memory or time from the past.
Anyway, The box should have contained every memory of this disruption in time, this residency moment, archiving material for future references. It should have contained productions of all kinds. Artefacts as proofs of what had been done (or not), tracing back on Time. Material proofs of nothingness, proofs I assumed one would like to remember at some point later on.
2. Time + chaos = non-productivity
Few days after my arrival, a person reminded me of Socrates’ saying: "all I know is that I know nothing", and I kind of reached that state pretty quickly actually, since I was already in an “emptying the mind” position before arriving. With this new quote in mind, I then came to think about what knowledge meant, and if it could consitute a form of production. These were pretty materialistic questions. And regarding the void I was trying to (re)create, I slowly mooved to the thought that once something (anything) had germed, starts to exist, it became pretty hard to fully annihilate it. Even a thought.
produce produce produce
product product product
production production productions
Once created, it cannot be undone, it cannot be suppressed, it can only transfer.
It is part of the things that exist.
3. The banishment attempt
When I thought about archiving, I had in mind the possibility of investing all these objects with emotional charges, depending on the places I would have gone to, the activities I would have done, and so on. But since my ideas were not fixed, I guess my mind just slept. And in a this capitalistic world, I wondered how once could actually get rid of productivity? The intention was to clean the surface. And if I could not undo the things that I had done, then it might have helped to get rid of all the relics, all the representations of experiences I had during the residency.
Linking back to the topic of the residency, and after discussing the possibility for this archival box containing traces of non-productivity to truely disapear with a coleague back in France, I received specific instructions from her in order to send the objects back to oblivion by pushing them so far that they would cross the edge and annihilate themselves. To recreate a state of non-being for those objects, as if they never were.
The process involved banishing them as they were “products” and doing so banishing the idea of those productions as well. She gave me a very strict protocole to follow, and so I tried, knowing that it would as well mean give all that energy back, as sacrifice, keeping only partial and altered memories, as time would follow its course and all this would ultimately fade into my subconscious. Obviously, I would not be able to forget everything, and since I was in touch with people that I would probably see again in the future, it was impossible to reach this full state of oblivion. But I think I came pretty close.
And so, I prepared myself to that idea of loss. Soon, another problem arose, as I realized I could actually never achieve this loss completely for two reasons:
- first: I could never get rid of some objects, metal does not burn, books I simply refuse to burn
- second: even within this fire of oblivion, there would still be something left: ashes
Keeping these two problems aside in my mind, we prepared anyway. All the objects that I was able to collect were there, and with the help of another partner in crime, a perfect spot in the suburbs came to found us to do the ritual properly.
It took two us hours to burn everything.
As planned, all that remained was dust and smoke. As part of something else. Leftovers of my own productivity. Enriched even, by the action I had on it. I had been able to merge a productive nonsense into an even more meaningful thought and so I bottle it.
And so I was left with minimal amount of desired goods. The things I did not need but could not help to keep alive.
4. Things I don't need
- a bottle of ashes
- a metal pin
- an artist book (red)
- an artist book (white)
- a feather (grey)
- a feather (white)
- a pine cone
- a clothespin
- a plastic bottle
- a coin
5. The gift-giving solution
Going from there, and especially with the burning process, I got that nothing was really produced. Everything was transformed and recycled. The air we breathe, the memory that is transferred to the unconscious.
Since I was not able to burn everything down, metal piece I could not melt and books I could never burn, the other way I could achieve it was to pass it on. Another way of symbolically make amends. This had just turned into a gift-giving ceremonial, like a Potlatch (19c.), where all the belongings of one family and especially the most valuable were shared as a sign of respectability among the community.
We will dance when our laws command us to dance, we will feast when our hearts desire to feast. Do we ask the white man, 'Do as the Indian does'? No, we do not. Why, then, will you ask us, 'Do as the white man does'? It is a strict law that bids us to dance. It is a strict law that bids us to distribute our property among our friends and neighbors. It is a good law. Let the white man observe his law; we shall observe ours. And now, if you are come to forbid us to dance, begone; if not, you will be welcome to us.4
Potlatch was considered in 1881 a worse than useless custom" that was seen as wasteful, unproductive, and contrary to 'civilized values' of accumulation”5
Need I say more ?
This residency was about sharing life, casual moment, intimacy, I thought I’d ask the audience (co-resdents and hosts) of the presentation to take these objects if they wanted them, as they represented the things I wanted to keep but I did not need. Things I don’t need, literally meaning I did not and still do not have to have these with me to live nor survive. And so I gave up on them so that the totality of it could be set free, forgiven and forgotten.
In the end, people were asked to take a little something if they pleased, no need for explanation, they could but it was not mandatory. If they wanted to, they also had the possibility of letting go of something, with or without saying why, but it had to be something they were not able to throw away, something valuable, something they were fond of, but still, something they did not need and could pass on to someone they entrusted with a certain kind of responsibility.
0. Things I don't need by Human Tetris (2010)
2. Yoko Ono, map piece, 1964
3. See Ray Johnson's Bob boxes, Andy Warhol's time capsules, or Carl Sagan's Voyageur golden record
4. Chief O'wax̱a̱laga̱lis to Franz Boas, in "The Indians of British Columbia," The Popular Science Monthly, March 1888 (vol. 32)
5. M. Sproat, quoted in Douglas Cole and Ira Chaikin, An Iron Hand upon the People: The Law against the Potlatch on the Northwest Coast(Vancouver and Toronto 1990)