WHITE TEXT/BLACK BACKGROUND
BLACK TEXT/WHITE BACKGROUND

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ANDREY MONASTYRSKI

Preface to Volume One

Most of the actions described here consist of a situation in which a group of people, invited by the action’s organizers, participate in some unknown activity. Everything that happens in such a situation can be divided into that which takes place in the empirical sphere (according to the organizers’ preliminary plans) and that which takes place in the sphere of the psychological, that is, the experience of the events in the participants’ field of vision during the activity and the experience of that which precedes and accompanies the activity.

Since in our work we are interested precisely in the realm of the psychological, the “interior,” we are forced to pay particular attention to all kinds of preliminary events – to that which occurs as if “on the edges” of the action’s demonstrational “field.” The demonstrational field itself expands and becomes an object of observation: we try to discover on it zones that possess certain properties and interrelationships. These properties and relationships, as we imagine, act to produce levels of perception, on one of which can be achieved the experience of the events as events occurring mostly “inside” a liberating consciousness—this is the general goal of the actions. In a structural sense, the goal consists of keeping from artificially breaching the boundaries of direct perception within which nearly every action begins its unfolding.

In this sense, our sense of the actions’ plot is naturally altered. The mythological or symbolic content of the plot is not important (in the organizers’ conception) relative to the construction of that level of perception, as one of the constructive elements, for whose creation it (the plot) is used as an instrument.

Nevertheless, any activity on the demonstrational field, however minimal, involves interpretation, and one metaphorical layer of the demonstrational field itself is overlaid with another: the viewer begins to wonder about the meaning of this or that activity and finally “discovers” its mythological or some other content. It is true that the structure of certain actions is such that it includes the interpretive process within itself (“interpretationality” as such); that is, in the course of their realization, the necessity to “interpret through” as a psychological necessity is embodied in the form of a particularly directed understanding, one that for the organizers is always already false. In this way, a broader interpretation is precluded during the action, but later, it is unavoidable, and since the actions are usually fairly brief, the participants may experience the sense that this “mythologicity” was experienced by them during the action itself. The problem of free interpretation is for us fundamentally important. We understand free interpretation as the demonstrational position of the “outside observer.” This is the only position, for example, occupied by the reader of the texts describing the actions. However, there are certain means by which the formation of such a position is forestalled during the action itself and especially for a time after its visible conclusion. One of these means is the inclusion of an extra-demonstrational element, whose action prolongs the level of experience and creates a sense of indeterminacy in the action’s temporal conclusion. The inclusion on an extra-demonstrational element into the demonstrational structure at various points in the action and its course during the demonstration will from now on be called “empty action.”

In order for the audience to realize that their consciousness was involved in the construction of the event (in preparation for the act of becoming conscious of the self) and—as becomes clear in recollection—for them to understand the fact that during the preceding, their consciousness was in fact the object of the demonstration for a physically nonexistant “outside viewer,” we introduce the “empty action,” which, signifying the system of demonstrational relations, shapes the consciousness of the viewer-participants at the same time as one of the constituents of the aesthetic act.

Here we have determined “empty action” as a priciple, though it is expressed in its own way in each action and is understood as a certain temporal fragment of an action when the audience, if we can express it in this way, “intensely does not understand” or “incorrectly understands” what is happening. Leaping ahead, we should note that those means-acts or means-events with the help of which the “empty action” is realized (appearance, disappearance, withdrawal, doubling, etc.) not only create the conditions for meditation on the level of direct perception, but become its theme as well.

We consider the relationship between object and subject in their dynamic interconnection an extremely important element of the demonstrational structure. The reader will have no trouble noting that the movement of figures and objects in the described texts occurs for the most part along straight lines in two directions: either away from the viewers or toward the viewers. In the given context, this movement should be understood as a movement along a kind of “line of perception,” which appears as a part of the demonstrational model.

Thus, all the figures and steps in the actions are as if “pencil marks” indicating the edges, zones, and connections on the empty (pure) demonstrational “field” along which the action’s participants and organizers “pass” in the course of its realization. Here we would like to briefly pause on the demonstrational field itself and try in general terms to describe certain of its stages, conditions, and structures, taking into account and partly proceeding from the impressions of the participants.

The initial experience of a viewer-participant who has been invited to an action can be defined as a state of anticipation. In the empirical field, prior to the start of the event, this “field” of anticipation becomes filled with all sorts of premonitions and presuppositions. Obviously, the more “unknown” the event promised in the invitation, the less concrete these premonitions and presuppositions will be. The tendency of this anticipation is such that if this concreteness is kept to a minimum, then the field of anticipation will remain practically empty and in a heightened state of tension until the very start of the action. A large role is played here by the different contexts, forming a particular historical-contextual background which must be kept in mind in the planning of the action so that, on the one hand, they are related, and on the other, the action as if goes beyond its borders and in this way changes this general contextual background. (In this sense, the penetration of certain elements and, most importantly, principles of different spiritual practices into contemporary aesthetics seems in this sense significant and constitutive to us.)

And so, if the field of anticipation is “empty,” then anticipation itself as a psychological experience becomes concentrated and is felt as nearly a sufficient (pre-sufficient) condition. One gets the impression that the action has begun, when in reality the one experiencing this condition has not yet come to that place from where the action can be seen (or heard).

We made use of two different means to create this preliminary impression, which can be called pre-anticipation. First is the form of the invitation (or preliminary instructions), second – the particular spatio-temporal qualities of the journey to the place of action. With regard to the further unfolding of the demonstrational field, we shall call the field of pre-anticipation that psychological field which has not yet “linked up” through the visual field with the real (empirical) field on which one expects to “see” some anticipated event.

Here we can give a preliminary definition of the demonstrational field as the total of the psychological, visual, and empirical fields, which includes—it is important to note—both the experiences and events preceding the action itself as well as those continuing after the action’s conclusion.

The indistinct spatio-temporal boundaries of pre-anticipation become concentrated into the more rigid spatial and temporal constraints of anticipation proper at the moment when the viewer-participants come out of the forest and into the empty open field by way of the simplest of instruction-notices of the type “this is where it will happen.” It is necessary to consider in more detail this real field, which in such a psychological situation certainly and unconsciously becomes charged with the epithet “empty.” The real field can be brown, green, level, humped, etc., but it is absolutely clear that in this moment its main quality, for the person experiencing pre-anticipation and now anticipation, is its “emptiness.”

The experience of this “emptiness” of the real field and the continuing experience of anticipation as an empty “field” of anticipation become linked. The real field becomes a metaphor and at some point can be perceived as an extension of the field of anticipation, sharing all the while in the qualities inherent to psychological fields: “invisibility,” non-objectivity, the state of being located “inside,” in other words, not standing in contradiction to consciousness. It should be noted that it is precisely the vast free space of the real field, when the visual field as if freely unfolds in space and the field of anticipation “unfolds” alongside it, that gives the effect of maintaining concentrated anticipation for a protracted length of time.

At this point, there arises the problem of not upsetting this state through the crude injection of some object or event into the visual field. As we have already said above, our goal is not to “show” something to the viewer-participants. The goal consists of preserving the impression of anticipation as of an important, meaningful event. However, if pre-anticipation demands its resolution in anticipation, which is what is accomplished, then anticipation, in turn, also demands its own resolution in some new experience; in other words, it necessarily demands the start of action—otherwise it cannot realize itself as its own object. It is important here, having preserved the liberation of consciousness from the direct sphere of everyday perception, achieved as the result of its being “led” as if along the periphery of the demonstrational field, to act on it through the pre-arranged event of the action in such a way as to keep it from returning to that initial state, preceding pre-anticipation, and to preserve it within its own self, in its own liberation even in the perception of entirely real events.

To solve this problem (and here we refer to a particular group of actions: Appearance, Comedy, The Third Variant, Pictures, Place of Action), we make use of the device of gradually bringing the object of observation (the figure of the viewer-participant) from invisibility, through the zone of indistinctness, into the zone of distinguishability along the empirical plane of the demonstrational field.

But still, if up to this point we had the experience of pure expectation, then now, with the appearance of the object of perception in the real field, this experience ceases, breaks off and there begins the process of intensified looking, and moreover, there appears the desire to understand the meaning of this object. From our point of view, this new step of perception is a pause, a necessary step in the process of perception, but is in no way that event for the sake of which everything had been arranged. We should say straightaway that the events of the action are undertaken in order to “distract the eye.” The nature of expectation demands that this step is carried out, and to get out of doing it in the context of the given problem is impossible. But it is possible to “deceive” perception, that is, to complete it but then to let the audience understand that “while everyone was looking in one direction, the main even was happening in a completely different place” – in this case in the consciousness of the viewers themselves.

There is one important particularity here that must be clarified, specifically, that the action was taking place. That is, that by the point when it is understood that the “looking” was a “looking in the wrong direction,” the main event has already taken place, in the present moment, it can only be remembered, but to observe it consciously is impossible, since during the time when it takes its course, consciousness is occupied elsewhere, it is directed toward the perception of something else.

But what is it that actually took place? If what happened in the real field is false, then in relation to what truth is this falsity understood, what does it point to? Clearly, at this point in the “demonstration,” we are surrounded by a fairly large “field” of expectation, it is as if we have gone fairly deeply into it and away from the edges and have now closed in upon ourselves—in the same way that the thing that was being demonstrated to us was in reality a demonstration of our perception and nothing else. And so, it is this pure expectation that is the thing that happened in reality, and what’s more, expectation that was completed. What was completed, the thing that happened, was not what we expected, not some concrete event in our path, but precisely expectation itself was completed and took place. In other words, the pause in the perception of the object concluded with that same expectation, but it is now on another level of perception, and is not perceived as such throughout its duration: it was experienced through recollection about it at a certain moment in the action. After this moment, the conclusion of the action (the figure’s exit from the field) is perceived with complete immediacy, as if outside its own conventions, on the same levels as the trees, the grass, the viewers themselves, that is it was de-metaphorazied.

It is important to understand that the real “field of action” becomes again an “empty” field even before the participant-organizer left it. As a result of a particular action by the participant-organizer, this field is again metaphorized as “empty” – it acquires a spot, a level of a kind of “heightened emptiness,” with which the recollecting (understanding) consciousness of the participant-viewers enters into metaphorical contact at the same time as the participant-organizer as if “slips off” after this moment in the action onto the empirical field. That is, while still in the empirical zone of the demonstrational field, the participant-organizer ceases being an object of demonstration within the structure of the action, and becomes simply a person who is exiting and exits into the forest, just as in the beginning, he was just a person appearing in the distance from the forest.

We should clarify that in this preface we are considering only one, superficial part of the entire situation, the part “for the viewers” that is more or less related to aesthetic problems. Its internal meaning, which is related to the main goal of the action, specifically, the attainment of a particular spiritual experience—in its essence not sign-oriented—and which has real significance exclusively for those organizers acting in the field, is not considered.

Thus, for the creating of this time of situation all the objects, figures of movement (as we said above, for us this is usually a straight line from the appearing object of perception to the subject or vice-versa, that is, movement as if along a “line” of a subjective-objective relation) used in the action are not meant to have an independent meaning, they “should not have anything written on them,” so to speak, apart from the figures of the participants having a significance as only “participants” in relation to the “viewers.” And if an object is used in some way, then it should be used exclusively to generate some specific conditions of perception, for example, to create an invisibility or a sense of likeness and so forth.

As we were saying above, the appearance of the object of perception in our actions takes place from invisibility through indistinguishability, which demands a certain adaptation in the vision of the perceiver. This technique gives the opportunity to coordinate the psychological and empirical zones of the demonstratinal field.

And so, in the wake of the appearing figure, a certain “false” event unfolds in the zone of “distinguishibility,” and then finally a sharp division of the action takes place into 1) the empirical event, brought out into the area of immediacy after the moment when the viewers understood that the action was false, “empty”; and 2) the psychological event—the experience of completed expectation.

At the moment of this division, it is as if consciousness rejects the concreteness of its expectation. That is, expectation that is completed through recollection is expectation that is removed in its concreteness. It follows that memory in the given situation is likewise a psychological zone within the demonstrational field. This moment can be described in the following way. The truthfulness of the action concluded at the moment when the object of perception came out of the zone of indistinguishability into the zone not of direct, but contrasted perception. The maneuvers of the participant-organizers in the zone of distinguishability were undertaken in order to leave the authenticity of the action in the past, to keep from bringing it out into the present: “it ended then,” and not “it ended now.” But we found out about it only now. In the gap between “then” and “now,” we were lying to ourselves, but we were only told about this “now.” This temporal gap between “then” and “now” is the distance (in our memory) between our expectation and us. We “look” at it from here, arriving to a state of “non-deception,” we are freed from self-deception in one of its concrete, continuing in time, expressions-manifestations. “To look” at expectation is in reality to experience expectation as an expectation of completed liberation from one’s own self. Likely, the unusual quality of this experience in the context of the demonstration (even though it might not even be understood in the way that it is described here – and even should not be understood this way) is what gives birth to the feeling of a promise fulfilled, that “we were not deceived.”

In a strictly aesthetic sense, the actions presented here could be characterized as attempts to make unusual the perception of an ordinary appearance, disappearance, recession, light, sound, etc.

June 1980

trans. Yelena Kalinsky

ANDREY MONASTYRSKY. ACTION OBJECTS

KOLLEKTIVNYE DEYSTVIYA (COLLECTIVE ACTIONS). THE DESCRIPTIONS OF ALL THE ACTIONS, Photo and Video

MOSCOW CONCEPTUALISM

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