Notes on Nicolas Bourriaud’s Postproduction

Postproduction is a technical term from the audiovisual vocabulary

used in television, film, and video. It refers to the set of processes

applied to recorded material: montage, the inclusion of other visual

or audio sources, subtitling, voice-overs, and special effects. As a set

of activities linked to the service industry and recycling, postproduction

belongs to the tertiary sector, as opposed to the industrial or agricultural

sector, i.e., the production of raw materials.

Since the early nineties, an ever increasing number of artworks have

been created on the basis of preexisting works; more and more

artists interpret, reproduce, re-exhibit, or use works made by others

or available cultural products. This art of postproduction seems to

respond to the proliferating chaos of global culture in the information

age, which is characterized by an increase in the supply of works

and the art world’s annexation of forms ignored or disdained until now.

These artists who insert their own work into that of others contribute

to the eradication of the traditional distinction between production and

consumption, creation and copy, readymade and original work. The

material they manipulate is no longer primary. It is no longer a matter

of elaborating a form on the basis of a raw material but working with

objects that are already in circulation on the cultural market, which

is to say, objects already informed by other objects. Notions of originality

(being at the origin of) and even of creation (making something

from nothing) are slowly blurred in this new cultural landscape marked

by the twin figures of the DJ and the programmer, both of whom have

the task of selecting cultural objects and inserting them into new


– In a true free market, consumers play an equally important role as firms. Firms may produce goods and services, but it is consumers who decide what to buy and how to spend their money. The capitalist system is dependent on the public.

The difference between artists who produce works based on objects

already produced and those who operate ex nihilo is one that Karl

Marx observes in German Ideology: there is a difference, he says, between

natural tools of production (e.g., working the earth) and tools

of production created by civilization. In the first case, Marx argues,

individuals are subordinate to nature. In the second, they are dealing

with a “product of labor,” that is, capital, a mixture of accumulated

labor and tools of production. These are only held together by exchange,

an interhuman transaction embodied by a third term, money.

The art of the twentieth century developed according to a similar

schema: the industrial revolution made its effects felt, but with some

delay. When Marcel Duchamp exhibited a bottle rack in 1914 and

used a mass-produced object as a “tool of production,” he brought

the capitalist process of production (working on the basis of accumulated

labor) into the sphere of art, while at the same time indexing

the role of the artist to the world of exchange: he suddenly found

kinship with the merchant, content to move products from one place

to another—Go Capitalism! Who knew that commerce had such a profound impact on art history?



As Liam Gillick explains, “in the eighties, a large part of artistic production

seemed to mean that artists went shopping in the right shops.

Now, it seems as though new artists have gone shopping, too, but

in unsuitable shops, in all sorts of shops.”” The passage from the

eighties to the nineties might be represented by the juxtaposition of

two photographs: one of a shop window, another of a flea market

or airport shopping mall. From Jeff Koons to Rirkrit Tiravanija, from

Haim Steinbach to Jason Rhoades, one formal system has been

substituted for another: since the early nineties, the dominant visual

model is closer to the open-air market, the bazaar, the souk, a temporary

and nomadic gathering of precarious materials and products

of various provenances. Recycling (a method) and chaotic arrangement

(an aesthetic) have supplanted shopping, store windows, and

shelving in the role of formal matrices.

The market-form is the quintessential

place for this rawness: an installation by Jason Rhoades, for example,

is presented as a unitary composition made of objects, each of

which retains its expressive autonomy, in the manner of paintings

by Arcimboldo. Formally, Rhoades’s work is quite similar to Rirkrit

Tiravanija’s. Untitled (Peace Sells), which Tiravanija made in 1999,

is an exuberant display of disparate elements that clearly testifies to

a resistance to unifying the diverse, perceptible in all his work. But

Tiravanija organizes the multiple elements that make up his installations

so as to underscore their use value, while Rhoades presents

objects that seem endowed with an autonomous logic, quasi-indifferent

to the human. We can see one or more guiding lines, structures

imbricated within one another, but the atoms brought together by

the artist do not blend completely into an organic whole. Each object

seems to resist a formal unity, forming subsets that resist projection

into a vaster whole and that at times are transplanted from one

structure to another. The domain of forms that Rhoades is referencing,

then, evokes the heterogeneity of stalls in a market and the meandering

that implies: “… it’s about relationships to people, like me to my

dad, or tomatoes to squash, beans to weeds, and weeds to corn,

corn to the ground and the ground to the extension cords.”

Under an ideal market system, where there is what economists term “perfect competition”, consumers actually are more powerful than firms. Because they punish any firm that over-prices its product, and because they shift their income to goods that yield the greatest benefit (utility) to them, they enable society to achieve the most efficient possible outcome in the long run.

If governments want to strengthen their economy, the key is to strengthen the market, not strengthen industry. By building a better market, the government benefits both consumers and producers. That is what capitalism and free markets are about.


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