Interviews

Agnieszka Kurant

Agnieszka Kurant, Cutaways, 2013, HD video, color, sound, 21 minutes.

For “exformation,” Agnieszka Kurant’s debut solo museum exhibition in the US, she worked with editor Walter Murch to create Cutaways, 2013, which gathers together characters who were cut from feature-length Hollywood films. Also on view are several works that explore rumors and fictions and the ways in which these can infiltrate political and economic systems, becoming what Kurant terms “phantom capital.” The show is on view at SculptureCenter in New York through January 27, 2014.

CONTEMPORARY CAPITALISM TRADES IN NONEXISTENCE. Seventy percent of money in this world is phantom—it exists virtually, on computers—but still produces physical consequences. The only economics capable of capturing its nature is the same economics that theoreticians of culture refer to when they talk about specters, ghosts, and delusions: libidinous economics. Our entire political economy has shifted toward immaterial labor, a model no longer based on physical work in a factory but on the production of knowledge and conceptual products like copyrights, patents, and ideas. Late capitalism paradoxically realizes the ideas of dematerialization proposed by Conceptual art. One of cognitive capitalism’s agents is what I call “phantom capital,” redundant and potential material that despite its immaterial status acts as proxy of economic value and political meaning and can have substantial effects on day-to-day life. I am interested in how phantoms, fictions, and magic play into economics. Fiction always has reality effects.

I titled my latest exhibition “exformation,” a term which was originally coined by the Danish science writer Tor Nørretranders to refer to explicitly discarded information—immaterial data that are crucial in shaping contemporary narratives. The unknown unknowns of knowledge. I wanted to bring up the notion of negative information, because the field of information is constituted by what is excluded from it, by deliberately discarded information. History is dependent on its cutouts. Complexity science has coined a term for this: “silent heroes.” A silent hero is someone who is integral to the discovery of some great thing but is never credited. The machine of the art world is contingent on the millions that never made it—writers with unpublished novels, artists with unseen work, curators without platforms. These are the people who are buying magazines, museum memberships, attending screenings and openings. They are essential for the industry to exist—without them there would be no Venice Biennale artists, no Oscar-winning filmmakers.

I find myself lured toward the realm of phantom characters—an invisible universe of actors who have been completely deleted from the final cut of feature films, leaving no apparent traces yet strangely belonging to them. That’s how my film Cutaways began. With the generous collaboration of Walter Murch, I interviewed directors, editors, and producers, collecting close to two hundred characters that had been cut out from film history. I selected three—a hitchhiker played by Charlotte Rampling, who was originally cast in a substantial supporting role in Vanishing Point; a role played by Abe Vigoda, who was to be the lawyer and best friend of Harry Caul, portrayed by Gene Hackman, in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation; and Monster Joe, the owner of the junkyard in Pulp Fiction, who was played by Dick Miller. And then I wrote a script that allows the three of them to meet.

The extinction of singular authorship looms over our epoch. Knowledge and labor are increasingly produced by a self-organized complex system of collective intelligence based on millions of microcontributions. Of course, cultural products without authors have existed forever—just think of the Bible, mythology, and fairy tales. Artistic creativity and value production in art undergo a mystification. They operate via one of the major common myths surrounding art: the idea of creativity as an individual process. In my work I am trying to draw attention to creativity as a product of collective intelligence and complex, nonlinear processes.

I am interested in the hybrid status, aura, value, and authorship of objects. Much of my practice takes up objects and places capable of transformation and inversion—works which can always be unmade or are reversible. It is interesting, for example, to watch a meme circulate, change, and grow exponentially. I think of artworks as living organisms with their own agency and agenda.

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