Invisible Hands

Marina Roy

David Clark’s interactive website projects A is for Apple (2002) and 88 Constellations for Wittgenstein (to be played with the Left Hand) (2008) play out under our fingers and through our minds as if we were being guided by invisible hands tugging or plucking at metaphysical strings. They slacken to make us feel free, only to tighten up as we zero in on signifiers we attempt so desperately to deconstruct. Fort-da, visible and invisible, proof and repetition, master and slave, fallen apples and fallen humans, upright crowns and upside-down chairs, Ws and Ms... We wander freely amidst a playing field of words and numbers, a game board of images and sounds, not sure of the invisible rules at hand.

Wittgenstein said that the limits of language are the limits of our world while Derrida wrote there is nothing outside the text. However these philosophers were themselves secretly guided by the mysteries of the unknown, the unconscious, the invisible fleshy ‘remainder’ that lies outside the symbolic order. We run around through the structure, looking for a way out, finding ourselves forever stuck within the limits of our symbolic universe. The glimmer of the ‘remainder’ or ‘excess’ that defies linguistic, visual and aural representation is that which keeps us running through an infinite series of plots, the meaning behind our search remaining illusive. It is when we strike up, momentarily, against ruptures that open up onto the unconscious, that we get a glimpse of the infinite possibilities that our consciousness restricts us from apprehending. Everything and nothing is arbitrary.

It is perhaps Clark’s sound, the accumulation of glitchy, uncanny, or spectral aural ‘partial objects’  that provides a key to our feeling of unease and our perverse pleasure in wanting to know what secret logic lies at the root of this body of work. His projects could be understood as a contemporary version of the total artwork, an allegorical impulse gone obsessive, shot through with a horror vacui. Every fragment of image or sound becomes a supplementary ‘ornament’ to the greater whole, at the service of an experience which escapes any clear logical answer, without a central coherent core. This in opposition to the Loosian paradigm of form follows function. Or maybe the key is in the humour that infiltrates the strictures of the symbolic, as when Clark makes a scatological joke on Adolf Loos’  name (sounds like ‘loo’), based on the latter’s adamant statement that one needs to distinguish the urn from the chamber pot, death from shit. These moments reveal a tear in the fabric of our symbolic order, a spilling beyond the limits of language.

Much more twitchy and fast-paced, more centred on pop culture is A is for Apple. Apple. Religious icon. God. Playing God. Monotheism. Symbol of knowledge. Fruit off the tree of knowledge, the tree of good and evil, from which originated shame and consciousness of good and evil. The departure of civilization (language) from ‘‘nature.’’ The dispersal of language. The death instinct. The undead. The poison apple of myth and of fact. Scientific icon (of Newton’s discovery of gravity). Corporate icon (for Mac computer; record label for the Beatles). The promise of difference within repetition and homogeneity.Much more dreamlike, haunted, mesmerizing, and philosophical is 88. 88 Constellations. 88 Piano keys. Two upright infinities. Twinned fat ladies. The double. Binaries. Polarities. Twin towers. 2001. Floors of Kuala Lumpur. Two Islamic/Judaic Stars. 1889. Births of Chaplin, Hitler, and Wittgenstein. Chaplin’s age at the moment of his death... and the list goes on. But things don’t quite mirror one another here. There is the uncanny element, in the manner of the part object, of a project to be played solely with the left hand (Wittgenstein’s brother Paul played the piano with his left hand after he lost his right arm during the First World War).

The number 88 and the thing/word apple provide clues to a seemingly preor- dained plan or conspiratorial power, an alien presence. Freud or Levi-Strauss might have pointed to an innate, phylogenetic or universal structure in the human psyche or in human culture. In both projects psychoanalysis is used to uncover the secrets of the self as well as of ideology.Power and resistance. The phallus and castration. Intelligent computers and the alien other...

On the one hand we find a virtual labyrinth of nodes and connections without fixed origins, a ‘‘body without organs’’, a reservoir of potential movements, traits, and experiences flowing through time and space. An experiment in acti- vating these points, linked in an ever-expanding chains of becoming, such that new possibilities of thought emerge. These conceptual links are initially map- ped out by an author, but go well beyond his control. New versions of history emerge. The chaos of contingency springs from the Ursprung. A primal leap over, or despite, the void. A new conception of natural history. On the other hand, things seem linked, seemingly predetermined, internally guided by secret correspondences. Under the seemingly contingent we search to discover how this revealed latticework reflects the grand scheme of things. The world of power in part unmasked. Within the realm of the symbolic, the void takes the form of the big Other, the foundation of a law we know occupies an empty space, yet which we cannot so easily escape.

We live in an age that has digested and re-rehearsed the lessons of Marx, Freud, deconstruction and post-structuralist thought. There is cynicism toward the idea of ideologies and institutions of power working in our interest, of the law being just and guided by higher moral principles, and yet while we know very well about all this, we still act in the realm of the ‘‘as if’’, or even the ‘‘what if’’. This is the age of conspiratorial belief, belief in the existence of an unseen Other pulling the strings. The demise of the big Other, due to our knowledge of the tautological nature of the Law (the Law is the Law), has resulted in the appearance of ‘the Other of the Other’. In order to be able to bear the idea of existing amidst a plethora of empty signifiers, Zizek asserts that, behind the visible chaos or contingency of social reality, exists a fantasy figure as hidden agent:

...the true conspiracy of power resides in the very notion of conspiracy, in the notion of some mysterious agency that ‘pulls the strings’ and effectively runs the show, that is to say, in the notion that, behind the visible, public power, there is another obscene, invisible, ‘crazy’ power structure. This other, hidden law acts the part of the ‘Other of the Other’ in the Lacanian sense, the part of the metaguarantee of the consistency of the big Other (the symbolic order that regulates social life). The ‘conspiracy theory’ provides a guarantee that the field of the big Other is not an inconsistent bricolage: its basic premise is that, behind the public Master (who, of course, is an impostor), there is a hidden Master who effectively keeps everything under control. One can identify a similar conspiratorial aura emanating from Clark’s works.

Amidst the scattered narratives and objects, we discover Clark the accidental idolator, developing a personal and historical attachment to his findings, in the vein of Walter Benjamin’s private collector. As he muses over his collection of seemingly random findings, he uncovers unforeseeable and coincidental relations between things. These he weaves into secret histories, elaborating new genealogies, the stuff of affinity rather than lineage (in the Deleuzian- Guattarian sense). Perhaps what is being revived here is not just an allegorical impulse but a mimetic one: the seeing of connections between seemingly distant events, persons and things. Bringing these elements into close proximity across great distances and times sparks fantasmagoric images into being, speaking not only against the barbarism of officially recorded history but also of the possibility of re-enchantment. Michael Taussig says that the mime- tic faculty is "the nature that culture uses to create second nature, the faculty to copy, imitate, make models, explore difference, yield into and become Other. The wonder of mimesis lies in the copy drawing on the character and power of the original, to the point whereby the representation may even assume that character and that power."2

Technology itself is haunted by the ghost of our repressed mimetic impulse, inhabited by a belief in the power of a primeval animistic other. Left inactive, this impulse fades into the unconscious, to be lost in the chaos of what were once anthropomorphized constellations. Digital media is inhabited by spectres, designed around unconscious drives, possessed by the Other of the other, or something entirely inexpressible altogether. The trick is to keep the mimetic faculty alive. In revealing the social patterns and coincidences, Clark points to how we have a better chance of being able to trump the logic of the indefatigable Law. 

1 "I Hear You with My Eyes," in Gaze and voice as love objects, by Rebata Saleci and Slavoj Zizek, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1996, 96-97.

2 Michael Taussig, Mimesis and Alterity, NY: Routledge, 1993, xiii).