Michael Just
A lot of the work that I make is in some way concerned with temporality and the idea of reverse engineering as a method of examining systems in an attempt to expose the way in which they operate and how they can be reconfigured. The first historical event that I have been an active recipient of was the fall of the wall in Germany, but it was only around the turn of the millennium that I had likewise become an activated recipient of the ensuing discourse around claiming history – the physical and socio-economic manifestations of which had begun to emerge as neo-liberal globalization as early as the 70s. I am interested in a discursive cultural framework that does not reject the formal idea of progress in a way distinct from its modernist and enlightenment connotations in positioning itself particularly in opposition to cultural teleology and economic determinism. The theoretical basis of my work stems from an examination of concepts of history and subjectivity in an attempt to establish an interpretation of the ideological formation of the status quo in terms of its historical and prospective constitution. I find myself frequently returning to theories of becoming. In particular I am interested in materialist readings of Hegel, like Catherine Malabou’s, where closure turns into openness, and Deleuze in terms of the question of how to conceptualize the genuinely new. These are concrete questions that I find useful in developing models of production but they also have relevance to a larger discourse on the left in terms of contributing to ideas on how to proceed.

The work is an intertwining of my research, writing, my studio practice and exhibiting – at which the latter two are not necessarily related. Art as a category or as a signifier to describe a certain activity or production, however, seems to me to be a historic notion, particularly relevant in high conceptual art. The clear statement about the potential of art is subject to a constant renegotiation in my work, which attempts to keep its ideological basis in a state of suspension within a discursive realm. I use research methodology in an attempt to conceptualize and reconceptualize a structure of the dominant culture that reveals the fault lines that permeate it. This, in its physical manifestations, is a concrete project. It is based on a multiplicity of shifts within the concept of epistemology. It could be said to start with the historic turn in art towards examining the conditions for the production of meaning rather than assuming a stable code with an inherent key for its decipherment in the process of reception within a binary system. Further thinking in that direction leads to a more significant problematization of the concept of the subject, out of which arises intersubjectivity, and an epistemology based on production within discourse rather than perception. My project is to develop models of production and analysis that operate in an infinitely complex and precise way in their capacity to identify the cracks and gaps in the culture through which possibilities can be opened up. The idea is for this project to remain in a state of critical suspension where aesthetics, the poetic, contradiction and radical difference, analysis and criticality continuously fuse, dissociate, and undermine, while refusing to be grounded in a particular intentionality.

The language that I use in my work in part borrows its grammar and vocabulary from minimalism and conceptual art, but in a way that always questions this use at the same time, and thus implies a confinement of such signifiers to the surface layer of the work. The limitations of minimalism seemed fairly clear early on, in its claim for inherent objectivity within an external field of neutrality, yet Judd’s line “Half or more of the best work in the last few years has been neither painting nor sculpture.” continues to be an important reference point in my reading of it as a signifier for a break with modernism. Subsequently however, I think that post- minimalist practices, which were concerned with a re-inscription of meaning onto the blank slate handed to them by the minimalists needed and still need to be rethought in order to grasp its full implications. I understand those to be the presence of “the other” in the decentralized phenomenological matrix mapped out by the specific object and the implicit question of the politics of the encounter. This, in itself, would certainly be a reductive reading and it is not my intention to historicize relational or community-based artistic practices, none of which I consider applicable to my practice, but all of which I consider myself to be in dialogue with.

The notion of the avant-garde that informs my practice is a complex and contradictory one that oscillates between asserting a position of autonomy, and the reinstatement of artistic practices within a kind of enlightened post-nation- state contemporary life practice in light of a dialectical interpretation of the neo- avantgarde. There is a notion of utopia being negotiated in my work, however this notion is defined by its own limitations. I am a socialist; I subscribe to the idea that radical democracy could be a pragmatic model of structuring social order and common ownership of the means of production. My work is situated in and operating within the fluctuating gap where utopia and contradiction intertwine and mutually undermine, which implies however a perpetual deferral in terms of its localization. The continuation of my practice is the attempt to follow the trace of the gap and the negotiation of difference and limited repetition. There is therefore a contradiction at the center of the work, which at the same time negates the idea of a center altogether. The “however” becomes a signifier of how to navigate the multiple entry points to the work in an attempt to circumvent singularity.

My practice is not medium-specific. I use a large variety of mediums in an attempt to address and establish complexity. The work has a tendency towards the immaterial and it embraces the idea of a refusal of grounding. Historically there are obvious precedents for that, which, as I have already mentioned, are conceptual art and minimalism. I believe, however, that the ubiquitous claim of the obscure failure of modernism plays into the hands of those forces in the culture that would prefer to limit the criticality of the discourse within contemporary art to simplistic commentaries on futility and pedagogic environments that tell people less than what they already know. When reveling in irony becomes a model for artistic production, one would be hard pressed to assume an intention on the author’s part that expects the work to provide anything beyond easy consumption in its deployment into the culture. There is a strong sense of possibility in the recuperation of the progressive moments in modernism. Looking into history is an important part of my research and practice, yet I never do so to address loss without at the same time opening up the possibilities that are inherent to moments of loss. I am far from adopting a didactic position but I think the idea that art does not have a function can only be the result of an outright cynical stance or a misuse of language. I consider myself in many ways connected to what would be the generation preceding mine, people who were able to transform notions of doubt, uncertainty, displacement and lack into productive starting points for artistic practices. It is easy to assume that exposing the flaws of the dominant culture and the escapades of neo- liberalism would be indicative of a critical position. When people talk about art in terms of grasping a sense of its time, I am more interested in developing models of a discursive space where things are called into question rather than shown back.

There is a permeating and highly relevant problem being negotiated in the work of the first generation of post-conceptual artists working with photography: the dichotomy between an activist approach that reflects on the conditions and possibilities of intervention and the degree to which those possibilities are limited by the situation of the work in discursive conventions. My strategy of shape- shifting is grounded in skepticism rather than the idea of circumventing problems of medium-specificity, which would have their origin in modernism. As much as the idea of an inherent quality specific to an artistic medium raises suspicion, I am interested in rethinking the medium up to the point of conceptualizing its return in terms of making a strong argument for the continuance of modernism. I see this continuance at work in practices that imagine and manifest the potential of the discursive for recognizing difference and contributing to the development of models of how societies progress.