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Gil Leung — Things are Circulating
Gil Leung, Things are circulating, 2012
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Things are circulating

In 1971 Roland Barthes stated in ‘From Work to Text’ that the text, as opposed to the work, “is that space where no language has a hold over any other, where languages circulate (keeping the circular sense of the term).” Text here has a primary status as productive, a perpetual site of practice where things move around, circulate, before they ossify in works. Whereas “the work can be held in the hand, the text is held in language, [it] only exists in the movement of a discourse.” Though there are many works that can be enjoyed, Barthes’ claim is that this pleasure is only one of consumption, whereas the pleasure associated with the text is productive, “a pleasure without separation.”[ii] Such a prioritising of discursive production over material consumption replicates and deviates some forty years later, Chris Kraus proposing in her essay ‘Indelible Video’, that “the most desired plateau is not the stability once implied by the object, but perpetual flux. Far more creativity goes into the marketing of products than into the products themselves. Likewise, the fact of the disappeared object is key to conceptual art, a term that is oxymoronic: all art now, is conceptual, deriving its value only through context, at a second remove.”[iii] In this sense, the circulation and marketing, the discourse around a work is of more, let’s say, pleasure, than the object work, a disappearance that could stand to constitute production itself as a new object of consumption.

I was recently told by someone that their work, meaning their practice, was so enjoyable that they had no need for leisure time. Work being this pleasurable also seemed to necessitate that they were badly paid and, in fact, that they sustained their practice by working another job. Such a logic tends to switch the positions of production and consumption, paying to work rather than working for pay. Obviously, in this scenario, there are just two types of working going on, paid and bought, except what is being bought is production time. But perhaps buying something, especially one’s own labour, doesn’t necessarily mean consuming it. And in addition perhaps we shouldn’t immediately relegate consumption to a position of futility or weakness. For Barthes, the lack felt in the pleasure of consumption was linked with a realisation that works read could not be re-written. The pleasure of the text was of this writing, of discourse and the circulation of ideas. For the double labouring prosumer, and I use this term as a way of talking about a sort of consumption that uses purchasing power to aspire to a profession, these pleasures are bought together. Not just through the purchasing of their own practice as consummate professionals, but also the inverse of this scenario, the production of their own consumption, as  professional consumers. This configuration is not just to do with an immaterial and debt based model for labour but also because of a rights led and expert model of consuming. The disappearance of the object that Kraus links to video, necessarily promotes the utilisation of existing materials, not in order to re-write but just write; video’s form is not in circulation, it is circulation. Hence practice becomes a service and consuming becomes productive.

The issue then is less of text over work, producer over consumer, practice over distribution, but of the intimate relation between the two, between present objects and future actions. This is not an advocation of some logic of juxtaposition that premises itself upon a certain recognisability of reference, an appropriative claim or a contrary attempt at re-writing. Whether consumption and production are combined or sequential, the important thing is that their relation maintains a certain discursive tension. When separate positions converge within a single practice, the site of discussion can become increasingly insular; like a conversation with several possible selves and the existent materials available. As Gertrude Stein addressed in her 1925 text ‘Composition as Explanation'[iv] the task of making work is compositional, one of distribution and temporality, where and when rather than what a work is. It is the composition of elements, their presentation or presentness that will constitute the work as any sort of textual circulating thing. In this sense, the perpetual attempt to materialise the pleasure of text is less about how many different formal versions of a work exist but rather the way in which its presence might stave off ossification. Counter intuitively, it seems as if the circulation of language occurs at the point where the work stands its own ground. Circulation is not a result of keeping the work moving but because we move with and against it.

Gil Leung


[i] Rivette, Jacques. ‘Interview with Jacques Rivette’, April 1973. Conducted by Bernard Eisenschitz, Jean-Andre Fieschi and Eduardo de Gregorio. Translated by Tom Milne. Originally appeared in La Nouvelle Critique No. 63 (244), April 1973. Published in Jacques Rivette: Texts and Interviews (British Film Institute, 1977).

“A film is always presented in a closed form: a certain number of reels which are screened in a certain order, a beginning, an end. Within this, all these phenomena can occur of circulating meanings, functions and forms; moreover, these phenomena can be incomplete, not finally determined once and for all. This isn’t simply a matter of tinkering, of something mechanical constructed from the outside, but rather – to refer back to what I was saying at the beginning – of something that has been ‘generated’ which seems to entail biological factors. It isn’t a matter of making a film or a work that exhausts its coherence, that closes in on itself; it must continue to function, and to create new meanings, directions and feelings… Here one comes back to the Barthes definition. I refer to Barthes a good deal, but I find that he speaks more lucidly than anyone else at the present time about this kind of problem… and he says: there is a text from the moment one can say: things are circulating. To me it is evident that this potential in the cinema is allied to the semblance of monumentality we were just talking about. What I mean is that on the screen the film presents a certain number of events, objects, characters in quotes, which are closed in on themselves, turned inward, exactly as a statue can be, presenting themselves without immediately stating an identity, and which simultaneously establish comings-and-goings, echoes, among one another.” Sourced from http://www.jacques-rivette.com/.

[ii] Barthes, Roland, ‘From Work to Text’, 1971, translation Copyright 1977, Stephen Heath. Sourced from http://areas.fba.ul.pt/jpeneda/From%20Work%20to%20Text.pdf

[iii] Kraus, Chris, ‘Indelible Video’, 2011. Sourced from http://www.semiotexte.com/?p=683

[iv] Stein, Gertrude, ‘Composition as Explanation’ 1925. There is at present there is distribution, by this I mean expression and time, and in this way at present composition is time that is the reason that at present the time-sense is troubling that is the reason why at present the time-sense in the composition is the composition that is making what there is in composition.” Sourced from http://www.poetryfoundation.org/learning/essay/238702

File under — writing

Gil Leung is a writer, researcher and artist. She is Distribution Manager at Lux, London.

This writing that deals with distribution, essay, labour, language and Roland Barthes was presented at Grand Union, Birmingham as part of ‘Hashfail’. Other artists included were JK Keller, Joey Holder, Oliver Sutherland, Pil & Galia Kollectiv, Polly Fibre, Rhys Coren and Yuri Pattison.