Determined Indeterminancy
A review of
THE THIRD MIND at Le Palais de Tokyo
Curated by Ugo Rondinone

By Joseph Nechvatal

William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin


Determined Indeterminancy
A review of
THE THIRD MIND at Le Palais de Tokyo
Curated by Ugo Rondinone
By Joseph Nechvatal


THE THIRD MIND
Le Palais de Tokyo
13, avenue du prÚsident Wilson 75116 Paris
September 7th - January 8th


I first want to congratulate the guest curator Ugo Rondinone and the 
new director of Le Palais de Tokyo, Marc-Olivier Wahler, for mounting 
a really high-quality group show (*) that criss-crosses an assortment 
of generational frontiers and stylistic barriers. Ugo Rondinone is an 
artist known for his talent for building systems of connections and 
given the visual results of this exhibit; he has, in large part, very 
good taste in art. I particularly enjoyed his assembling excellent 
works of Brion Gysin - William S. Burroughs, Ronald Bladen, Lee 
Bontecou, Andy Warhol, Nancy Grossman, Cady Noland, Martin Boyce, 
Paul Thek and Emma Kunz.

I think what might be interesting about this disquieting show, is to 
look at how this group show differs in its conjoining (or not) from 
other group shows by pinning it to the collaborative work of Brion 
Gysin and William S. Burroughs from the early 1960s known as The 
Third Mind. Also we can place THE THIRD MIND in the context of wider 
connections and ponder at what point does homage turn into 
exploitation?

First some background. Beat writer Burroughs and the artist Brion 
Gysin, known predominantly for his rediscovery of the Dada master 
Tristan Tzara's cut-up technique and for co-inventing the flickering 
Dreamachine device, worked together in the early 1960s on a 
publishing project that used a chance based cut-up method. A cut-up 
method consists of cutting up and randomly reassembling various 
fragments of something to give them a completely new and unexpected 
meaning. 1+1=3 (**) In the recent biography of Allen Ginsburg, 
Celebrate Myself, Ginsburg's archivist, Bill Morgan, excellently 
recounts some of the genesis of Brion Gysin and William S. Burroughs 
forays into radical Dada cut-up technique and collaboration based on 
Ginsburg's diary entries.

Gysin in the mid 1950's pointed out to Burroughs that collage 
technique has been a regular tool in painting and graphics since half 
a century. This came as late news to the young Beat writers of that 
time, so it is perhaps not surprising that Ginsburg's first exposure 
to Burroughs's use of the cut-up was met with distain - Ginsburg 
considered it something along the lines of a parlor trick. (p. 318) 
Even more, Ginsburg speculated from NYC that Burroughs had lost his 
mind through lack of sex (note: Burroughs lusted after Ginsburg in 
vain). As a joke, Ginsburg and Peter Orlovsky cut up some of their 
own poems and rearranged them and sent them to Burroughs with the 
note "Just having a little fun mother". (pp. 318 - 319). However 
Burroughs was so dedicated to the random cut-up method that he often 
defended his use of the technique. When Ginsburg and Orlovsky arrived 
in Tangiers in 1961, Burroughs was working on an even more advanced 
use of the cut-up; he and Ian Sommerville were cutting and splicing 
audiotapes and Burroughs was making collages from newspapers and 
photographs while proclaiming that poetry and words were dead. (pp. 
331-332)

Burroughs however soon began work on a cut-up novel, the Soft Machine 
- drawing material from his The Word Hoard. (**) This manuscript was 
soon being "assembled" and edited by Ian Sommerville and Michael 
Portman; Burroughs's companions. Sommerville was regularly speaking 
of building electrical cut-up machines.

Burroughs would soon begin collaborating on a book project with Brion 
Gysin using the cut-up method; cutting up and reassembling various 
fragments of sentences and images to give them a new and unexpected 
meaning. The Third Mind is the title of the book they devised 
together following this method - and they were so overwhelmed by the 
results that they felt it had been composed by a third person; a 
third author (mind) made of a synthesis of their two personalities.

Ginsburg remained highly skeptical for some time, but following his 
travels in India came to appreciate the cut-up technique; even while 
never employing it.

Now for THE THIRD MIND show itself. Two major works (themselves 
multitudinal) advance well Rondinone's thesis of the third mind. Of 
course, foremost is the Brion Gysin and William S. Burroughs 
collaboration The Third Mind. An entire gallery is devoted to the 
maquettes for this unpublished book from the collection of the Los 
Angeles County Museum of Art - and it does not disillusion the 4th 
mind: that of the viewer/reader. It is a golden hodgepodge feast and 
serves as the underpinnings of the exhibit.

Then there is the glamorous video installation/accumulation of Andy 
Warhol's Screen Tests from 1964-1966: a group of silent b&w 
three-minute films in which visitors to the Warhol factory try to sit 
still. Here we see an interlaced presentation that visually connects 
the youthful faces of Edi Sedgwick, Susan Sontag, Nico, John Giorno, 
Jonas Mekas, Gerald Melanga, Jack Smith, Paul Thek, Lou Reed and the 
distinguished Marcel Duchamp. The presentation is structurally 
connectivist given its 4 directional presentation as a low laying 
sculpture. It is incredibly enjoyable. Plus the room is ringed with 
black haunting photograms called Angels by the fascinating Bruce 
Conner from 1973-75.

In terms of a more traditional synthetic associational curatorial 
fission, the strongest effect was achieved for me in the Ronald 
Bladen, Nancy Grossman, Cady Noland gallery. Everything here is 
screaming in harmony of power, sex and violence. The entire space 
felt hard as nails - most all of it a macho silver and black. 
Bracketing the huge gallery were long rows of Nancy Grossman's famous 
black-leathered heads, aggressively sprouting phallic shapes like 
picks and horns. Ronald Bladen's 1969 minimal masterwork The 
Cathedral Evening aggressively dominates the interior space with a 
mammoth triangle breach. This is backed up by his famous Three 
Elements from 1965. Then, giving the gallery a sense of an almost 
palpably Oedipal contest, is a large group of superb black on silver 
Cady Noland anthropological silkscreens on metal from the early 1990s.
     
The other room that really collectively worked for me held Paul Thek 
and Emma Kunz. Three wonderful Paul Thek Meat Piece are there; weird 
post-minimal sculptures that sickly encase flayed body sections in 
wax in long yellow transparent plexiglas shrines that literally 
shine. This meat-machine mix is counter-pointed with the healing 
magnetic-field ephemerality of Emma Kunz's geometric drawings, done 
with lead and colored pencils or chalk on graph paper. It was easy to 
envision some fierce spiritual forces zapping each other throughout 
that area.

Other rooms bring the connectivest bent to a jolting halt. I simply 
admired Martin Boyce's huge neon sculpture (Boyce channeling Dan 
Flavin), but it produced no associative effects with what else was in 
the room. Worse of all was a room entirely devoted to the work of Joe 
Brainard. What was that doing there? One strains to see (or imagine) 
even a 2nd mind in that space. So the unavoidable thought arises, 
well, Rondinone must like this stuff - so that is at least two minds 
in synch. But does Rondinone think there is anything still 
interesting in a Gober sink? His The Split-up Conflicted Sink from 
1985 also played a huge flat note for me in this supposed visual 
symphony, as did the overly unembellished black crosses of Valentin 
Carron, the stupid car bashed installation by Sarah Lucas, and the 
cloying faux-na´ve canvases of Karen Kilimnik. How to connect this 
boring, stupid and na´ve work to the third mind connectivity theme?

OK. I will. On thinking about the show on my way home, I concluded 
that the show's relationship to connectivity is gravely na´ve and 
passÚ (if pleasant in a quaint, charming way) in lieu of the 
multi-networked world in which we now reside. By now various theories 
of complexity have established an undeniable influence within 
cultural theory by emphasizing open systems and collaborative 
adaptability. One ponders if Rondinone has ever even heard of the 
theories of Tiziana Terranova, Eugene Thacker or other cultural 
workers involved in the issues of human-machine symbiosis as 
interface within our inter-network media ecology. So yes, part of the 
pleasure for me was bathing in this old fashioned naivety, having 
just spent some serious time reading and writing on the topics of 
conspiratorial shadow activities (****) and viral software logic 
based on complex inter-connectionism (*****). Placed against issues 
of avant-garde cybernetics, the coupling of nature and biology via 
code, media ecologies, distributed management teams, internet mash-up 
music, artificial life swarms, the political herd mind, and 
Negri/Hardt's multitudes; THE THIRD MIND played in my mind like a 
romp through a kindergarten playpen. Nice. It felt good to forget 
about that pervasive nagging political/cultural feeling of stalemate 
created by the resilience of our current reality in that it 
assimilates everything.

But no, Ugo Rondinone did not randomly cut and reassemble art to 
create a new third meaning. He did not cut-up anything. He did, like 
every music dj, fashion designer, and group show curator, remix 
contemporary expression from recent decades to permit new meanings to 
emerge from the mix. The ideas in the collaborative work of Brion 
Gysin and William S. Burroughs were not needed to achieve this end - 
and perhaps they were poorly intellectually served here (even though 
it was great to see the work). There was no use of chance or 
randomness evident here (even the re-shuffled catalogue pages I heard 
was rather suspiciously non-random) that is necessary for a really 
unexpected - and perhaps disastrous - result. This show did not go 
that far. There was no randomly reassembling of various fragments of 
something to give them a completely new and unexpected meaning (like 
I saw in the show Rolywholyover: A Composition for Museum by John 
Cage at the Guggenheim Museum in Soho NYC in 1994). THE THIRD MIND is 
just a standard, but good, heterogeneous art show where the whole is 
greater than its parts. Which is as it must be.


Joseph Nechvatal
http://www.nechvatal.net


(*) The show contains work from: Ronald Bladen, Lee Bontecou, Martin, 
Boyce, Joe Brainard, Valentin Carron, Vija Celmins, Bruce Conner, 
Verne Dawson, Jay Defeo, Trisha Donnelly, Urs Fischer, Bruno 
Gironcoli, Robert Gober, Nancy Grossman, Hans Josephsohn, Brion Gysin 
and  William S. Burroughs, Toba Khedoori, Karen Kilimnik, Emma Kunz, 
Andrew Lord, Sarah Lucas, Hugo Markl, Cady Noland, Laurie Parsons, 
Jean-Frederic Schnyder, Josh Smith, Paul Thek, Andy Warhol, Rebecca 
Warren, and Sue Williams. Also applause to Marc-Olivier Wahler for 
cutting Le Palais de Tokyo into large but manageable discrete spaces. 
What a relief from the prior cavernous chaos.


(**) Recently I heard Martin Scorsese speak about how any editing 
together of two shots in a film creates a third subjective image 
effect in the mind of the viewer.


(***) The Word Hoard is a collection of Burroughs's manuscripts 
written in Tangier, Paris, and London that all together created the 
super mother-load manuscript that served as the basis for much of 
Burroughs's cut-up writings: The Soft Machine, Nova Express, The 
Ticket That Exploded, (together referred to as The Nova Trilogy or 
Nova Epic). Even Naked Lunch was taken from sections of The Word 
Hoard. There was also produced a text called Dead Fingers Talk in 
1963 which cotains excerpts from Naked Lunch, The Soft Machine and 
The Ticket That Exploded - combined together to create a new 
narrative. Also, via Burroughs's artistic collaborations with Brion 
Gysin and Ian Sommerville, the cut-up technique was combined with 
images, Gysin's paintings, and sound, via Somerville's tape 
recorders. Some of these recordings can be heard here: 
http://www.ubu.com/sound/burroughs.html
There were also a number of cut-up films that were produced which can 
be seen here:
http://www.ubu.com/film/burroughs.html
William Buys a Parrot (1963)
Bill and Tony (1972)
Towers Open Fire (1963)
Ghost at n░9 (Paris) (1963-72)
The Cut-Ups (1966)


(****) See my review of The Road to 9/11: Wealth, Empire, and the 
Future of America by Peter Dale Scott here: 
http://heyokamagazine.com/HEYOKA.9.BOOKS.DaleScott..htm


(*****) See my review of: IF/THEN - A Book Review of "Digital 
Contagions: A Media Archaeology of Computer Viruses" by Jussi Parikka 
here: 
http://transition.turbulence.org/blog/2007/09/28/review-of-digital-contagions/





Brion Gysin and William S. Burroughs from The Third Mind



Codex:
You may wish to put my text into the cut-up machine on the web here: 
http://www.languageisavirus.com/cutupmachine.html

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