The Comparative Literature Undergraduate Journal

A Premier Humanities Research Journal at the University of California, Berkeley

Discourse on Landscape and Territorialization in the Moving Image and Beyond: Philippe Parreno’s Anywhen in Critical Conversation

Discourse on Landscape and Territorialization in the Moving Image and Beyond: Philippe Parreno’s Anywhen in Critical Conversation

By Elena Janney

This paper comprises three dialogic case studies that together chart and activate a critical conversation about the global condition of contemporary art. Engaging the writings of Édouard Glissant, Hito Steyerl, Antonin Artaud, Frantz Fanon, Jonas Mekas and Félix Guattari, this investigation situates a work of experimental video art—Philippe Parreno’s 2016 Anywhen—within the ongoing critical and political discourses that inform the film’s aesthetic and existential preoccupations: viz., the production of collective, territorialized subjectivity. The interdisciplinary compass of this study, which addresses philosophy, as well as critical, literary, art historical and post-colonial theory, launches a dialogue in real time, one that takes place within a work of art and beyond.

PART I: A New Region of the World

In Édouard Glissant’s 2007 lecture at Vassar College, entitled “A New Region of the World,” he put forward a vision for a hitherto unknown, aspirational topography of time and space in line with what he calls an Aesthetic of the World, or “a feeling of our relation to beauty.”[1] About this domain, he explains:

This new region of the world is essentially new for us in that we all enter it together, together for the first time in the histories of the various humanities, former colonists and former colonizers, former empires and former trading posts, and it is no longer a matter of explorations or discoveries or territorial conquests, but of a sharing of imaginaries, which means that we sense today that our identities no longer require what is identical but perhaps reference, again for the first time, a harmony of differences.[2]

This “harmony of differences” that characterizes Glissant’s new region of the world is conceived as the product of a continual, self-sustaining generation and encounter of oppositions, which creates tensions that in turn indicate beauty. These tensions –of differences– are fundamental to Glissant’s idea of art. He explains that the original goal of “prehistoric” art was not to identify differences—in the sense in which differences are imagined to constitute identity and to render unknowns unknowable—but rather to realize or comprehend the total quantity of differences of the Whole-world.[3] Glissant describes the existence of a gap [écart] created by the perceived gulf between self and other, and inhabited by those peoples who have historically been rendered voiceless in view of the dynamics of colonialism and slavery. This gap, or “signifying margin,” generates infinite new differences and relations between differences, and in this regard it also functions as a bridge, because it renders all differences the same, to the extent that they are equally different.  The result is a sort of “unity-diversity” or creole condition that Glissant terms “the unforeseeable continuity of the world.”[4]

Glissant’s vision of a new region of the world contains within it an image of the unforeseeable continuity of the world. While this new region might initially appear to be merely an aesthetic abstraction, Glissant goes on to articulate it in two—notably concrete and evocative—correlated visualizations that speak to his idea of beauty, and that moreover share the imagery of converging waterways. The first image arises in association with the “fertile explosions” that Glissant predicts will be able to rupture the violent mechanism that persists in producing the undifferentiated:

these are the languages that will . . . reawaken among us the traces of assassinated tongues, and that will weave the web fertilized by the multiplicities of tongues, then the inland seas and the seas concentrated on themselves, Mediterranean and Black Sea and Marmara Sea, will instantly bring together the mouths of their long rivers and the bounds of their fresh waters and their salt waters.[5]

This image of a circular flow recurs in a second vision of the “attraction of differences” imagined as a rendezvous where the oceans, those matrices of beauty, are also already meeting. Spare us your storms, boatmen of the great wind [batelier du grand vent], and we so love storms! And the beauty of beauty has stemmed from this: its immediately offering to intuition one dimension of the improbable; and not from this: its supposed pre-ratification of all truth in some self-evidence to that degree closed. The unexpected thing about differences is their consenting, through their mutual consecrations, to the beauty of this very open field of the possible.[6]

These images of river mouths and seas streaming together and of oceans as matrices of beauty meeting—where beauty is conceived as a realization of the totality of differences—in an “open field of the possible” offer a blueprint for the topography of a new region of the world wherein a global society can make sense of difference in new and more productive ways, and oceans no longer separate the First World and the Third, but rather flow in a continuous circulation that interrupts traditional paradigms of space and time.

To understand the ways in which this vision presents a radical departure from dominant space-time constructions, Hito Steyerl’s investigation into the historical exercise of single-point linear perspective in “In Free Fall: A Thought Experiment on Vertical Perspective” becomes invaluable. Steyerl explains that the state of free fall involves the loss of horizon, and consequently “the departure of a stable paradigm of orientation, which has situated concepts of subject and object, of time and space, throughout modernity. In falling, the lines of the horizon shatter, twirl around, and superimpose.”[7] Although Glissant’s alternative framework is more circular than vertical, his vision of continuous flow certainly cancels the idea of the horizon, therein bypassing traditional, falsely-objective representations of empirical space.

Steyerl explicitly connects the construction of the horizon to the legacy of Cartesian philosophy, the advent of the colonial project, and to the viewing subject as vanishing point: “The use of the horizon to calculate position gave seafarers a sense of orientation, thus also enabling colonialism and the spread of a capitalist global market, but also became an important tool for the construction of the optical paradigms that came to define modernity, the most important paradigm being that of so-called linear perspective.”[8] Steyerl refers to Erwin Panofsky to elucidate the process by which linear perspective misrepresents an artificial, homogenous space as reality, explaining: “the construction of linear perspective declares the view of a one-eyed and immobile spectator as a norm—and this view is itself assumed to be natural, scientific, and objective. Thus, linear perspective is based on an abstraction, and does not correspond to any subjective perception.”[9] Ultimately, Steyerl asserts that, in practice and throughout history, linear perspective has operated in art as “a matrix for racial and religious propaganda, and related atrocities.”[10] Very much in dialogue with Glissant’s view that the imbalance of relations—a state of estrangement at odds with beauty, wherein difference is conceived as an opposing rather than a connecting force—stems from a contrived opposition of moral codes which all fundamentally misrecognize difference, Steyerl argues that, “this so-called scientific worldview helped set standards for marking people as other, thus legitimizing their conquest or the domination over them.”[11]

The topography that Glissant imagines for his new region of the world debunks linear perspective by rejecting the vanishing point and the position of sovereign subjecthood in its warpage of space and time into a shape of unity and wholeness. The river mouths that shift to flow into one another observe no spatial or temporal boundaries and repudiate the metaphysical premise of the picture plane as a stable landscape of representation. In “Free Fall,” Steyerl concludes that the final destination of our collective plummet is not solid ground, but rather a “shifting formation” which recalls Glissant’s open field of the possible.[12] Taking this consonance as an invitation and a line of flight, the question now becomes one of articulation; of how this shifting formation or open field of the possible and its dissident transformational potential can be articulated or realized within the landscape of contemporary artistic and critical praxis.

The schema of the stage that Antonin Artaud puts forward in his Theater of Cruelty comes as close as could be desired to providing an answer. Operating within the same discursive space as Glissant and Steyerl, the stage that Artaud imagines in The Theater and its Double performs a complete break with linear paradigms:

We abolish the stage and the auditorium and replace them by a single site, without partition or barrier of any kind, which will become the theater of the action. A direct communication will be re-established between the spectator and the spectacle, between the actor and the spectator, from the fact that the spectator, placed in the middle of the action, is engulfed and physically affected by it. This envelopment results, in part, from the very configuration of the room itself.[13]

The Theater of Cruelty accentuates sensorial experience—(a language that “can fascinate and ensnare the organs”[14])—and introduces the principle of alogism—(“words will be construed in an incantational, truly magical sense–for their shape and their sensuous emanations, not only for their meaning”[15])—in opposition to Cartesian modes, which privilege rationalism and denounce sensation as the source of untruth. Artaud’s theater mobilizes a “poetry of the senses” which exists beyond language and originates a “poetry in space.” In her position at the center of the stage, the spectator is enveloped by and within the spectacle. This dynamic interpellates the viewer in new ways, destabilizing and displacing sovereign perspective through the creation of a space in which the central vanishing point is dissipated or fractured into a fluid, circulating stream. Artaud envisions the intentional overlap of dissonances, “inversions of form,” “displacements of signification” and the “diffusion of action over an immense space,” all of which serve to break down homogenous, linear space-time in favor of flexible temporalities that eschew spatial uniformity and chronological sequence.[16]

Like Steyerl’s poor image, Artaud’s Theater of Cruelty is crucially about “its own real conditions of existence.”[17] In accordance with Glissant’s vision of beauty, this stage embraces the tensions that indicate the possibility of encounter with other “differences that will come to be added.”[18] Artaud’s proposed language of the theater—a poetry in space—comprises “an appeal to certain unhabitual ideas, which by their very nature cannot be limited or even formally depicted. These ideas which touch on Creation, Becoming, and Chaos, are all of a cosmic order and . . . they are able to create a kind of passionate equation between Man, Society, Nature, and Objects.”[19] This “metaphysical inclination” towards domains beyond representation forcefully predicts Glissant’s aqueous, cosmic vision for a new region of the world and even seems to affirm his conviction that the work of art, like Nature, can be variously “temple and place and diversity.”[20]

PART II: Patterns of Deterritorialization on the World Stage

 In The Wretched of the Earth (1961), Frantz Fanon decisively establishes the paramount importance of the land within the framework of colonialism, asserting that “For a colonized people, the most essential value, because it is the most meaningful, is first and foremost the land: the land, which must provide bread and, naturally, dignity.”[21] For Fanon, the land does not figure as the object of an abstract or romantic, pan-Africanist identification with the soil. Rather, it represents the fundamental target of colonial violence and the concrete site of resistance vis-à-vis a militant decolonial struggle. The land’s occupied state becomes constitutive of the subjugated condition of the bodies and psyches of the colonized population, which has been violently alienated from the material foundation of its collective livelihood, its morality, its poetry. Fanon explains that, in the colonist’s racist imaginary, the dehumanized colonial subjects become indistinguishable from the landscape itself:

A hostile, ungovernable, and fundamentally rebellious Nature is in fact synonymous in the colonies with the bush, the mosquitoes, the natives, and disease. Colonization has succeeded once this untamed Nature has been brought under control. Cutting railroads through the bush, draining swamps, and ignoring the political and economic existence of the native population are in fact one and the same thing.[22]

This laceration, penetration and excavation of the land corresponds to analogous mechanisms of violence acting upon the bodies and psyches of the colonized people.

It is owing precisely to this association that Fanon deliberately centers the land in his analysis of spatial dialectics and domination. Accordingly, he insists that decolonization—freeing the people from colonial control—necessitates a transformation of the earth itself; Material resistance must take place always and crucially in relation to the land. Fanon contends that, “To dislocate the colonial world does not mean that once the borders have been eliminated there will be a right of way between the two sectors. To destroy the colonial world means nothing less than demolishing the colonist’s sector, burying it deep within the earth or banishing it from the territory.”[23] When Fanon says that the colonial world must be “blown to smithereens” he does not speak purely in metaphor. He wants to radically alter the topography of the land itself by obliterating the European sector through violent action, for only then can the land be redeemed. Fanon compares the decolonial insurrection to a wildfire that cannot be contained.[24] This image of the flames of revolution purging the countryside reinforces the idea that the collective psyche of the colonized can only be cleansed and liberated from its inferiority complexes through a physical purge of the earth that shared in its subjugation. The land, after all, is the source of bread and dignity—a dignity born out of and sustained by an unencumbered, “natural” consonance between psychosocial and geographic territories.

The dynamics of colonialism make this human-earth dignity impossible. Fanon explains that the colonist jealously restricts the colonized’s engagement with the land, creating a state of alienation between the population and the earth, which manifests as a petrification in relation to space and time. In contrast to the colonist’s sector, the “native” sector is “a world with no space, people are piled one on top of the other, the shacks squeezed tightly together.”[25] It is by means of this compartmentalization or spatial coercion—the confinement of the colonized people to cramped ghettoes or reservations on their own land—that colonized subjectivities are constituted. Fanon observes that, because the colonial subject is “a man penned in,” his dreams are “muscular dreams, dreams of action, dreams of aggressive vitality . . . [of] jumping, swimming, running, and climbing.”[26] Dreams, in other words, of unrestricted movement vis-à-vis the land, which would allow a release of the muscular tension symptomatic of the colonized’s enforced state of paralysis. Fanon describes the colonial sector as a petrified zone, not a ripple on the surface, the palm trees sway against the clouds, the waves of the sea lap against the shore, the raw materials come and go, legitimating the colonist’s presence, while more dead than alive the colonized subject crouches forever in the same old dream. The colonist makes history. His life is an epic, an odyssey. He is invested with the very beginning: “We made this land.” He is the guarantor for its existence: “If we leave, all will be lost, and this land will return to the Dark Ages.” Opposite him, listless being wasted away by fevers and consumed by “ancestral customs” compose a virtually petrified background to the innovative dynamism of colonial mercantilism.[27]

In this passage, Fanon maps out a paradigm of movement and stagnation in relation to space and time on a global scale. As a hegemonic force, the European West is highly mobile and acquisitive. It is imagined to be able to initiate contact with any other culture or race and to absorb its difference, interrupt its connection to the earth and to history, all while preserving its own ontological integrity.

As the foundation of a spatial dialectics with regard to the land, this vision of a masculinized, mobile West in opposition to and domination over a feminized, petrified East initially appears difficult to reconcile with Jonas Mekas’ experience, chronicled in his 1991 memoir I Had Nowhere to Go. As a displaced person—prevented from returning home to Lithuania after the Soviet occupation of the Baltic states in the wake of World War II—Mekas’ alienation from the land takes the form of continual movement rather than petrification. But while these two conditions may seem to be at odds, they are more properly diverging, yet correlated, expressions of the same affliction. Over the course of I Had Nowhere to Go, Mekas demonstrates that, while the journey of a displaced person might appear to be an “odyssey,” it does not, in actual fact, fit into the Western ontological tradition of the epic.

Mekas’ movement is not muscular in the way of the colonized person’s dreams. Nor does it constitute action the sense that Nietzsche advocates. Mekas’ wandering, triggered by violent displacement, is neither dynamic nor oriented toward the future. —He declares himself “a world bum.”[28]— And in this sense, his movement becomes simply another form of petrification. Indeed, Mekas’ spatial alienation affects his relationship to time in measurable ways. At the end of the year 1945, he begins labeling his journal entries, “No date,” explaining: “I prefer to go into the future blindly . . . This blind journey is not my choice. The generation before me, your generation, the generation that put me on this journey, didn’t produce any reliable maps or compasses I can trust.”[29] The displaced person in the twentieth century is caught up in the slipstream of forces beyond his control, and a slipstream is, in truth, a partial vacuum. Beyond a doubt, Mekas’ alienation from the earth, psychic and material, echoes that of a colonized subject.

For Mekas as for Fanon, the state of his native land—subjected to brutal occupation and exploitation at the sites of the open wound between “East” and “West”—connotes a corresponding condition in the psyche and spirit of its people. The institutions of domination at work in I Had Nowhere to Go and The Wretched of the Earth—viz., colonialism, war, global capitalism, etc.—systematically wage a campaign of spatial coercion whereby subjects are prevented from establishing a connection to the earth on their own terms. The resulting dissonance between the social landscape—the “affect of territorialized subjectivity,” in Guattarian terms[30]—and the newly embattled material landscape produces a perceptible state of estrangement in the dispossessed individual.

In I Had Nowhere to Go, Mekas critically establishes a collective identification between a people, its social psyche, and the land: “Let us build our houses with our own hands. And grow the wheat, and bake the bread. Then we’ll know what the earth is . . .”[31] And he goes on to explore the ways in which the mass displacement generated by war, political repression and institutionalized violence painfully interrupts this connection. A lyricist at heart, Mekas’ alienation from the soil of his childhood, from the rightful source of his livelihood, from a part of his soul, afflicts him profoundly on a personal level:

What really hurts, deep inside, it’s the earth I left, that sky, those hills. It’s those nights that got stuck in me, deep. They hurt, they remain painful wounds inside, those evenings, those nights. I touch the ground here—and that other soil wakes up in me. I am looking at this sky—but I see that other sky . . . It all got imprinted very very deep. There is something in it, in the way the rivers bend there; there is something in that. There is something in the way the rains sounded there, a different sound, not like any other rain I’ve ever heard in my travels.[32]

For Mekas as for Fanon, the identification between the people and the land is imagined as mutually constitutive. A despondent Lithuanian man at the displaced persons camp in Germany gives voice to the raw pain of this reciprocal connection in times of war: “‘Ah, my Lithuania is covered with blood, swimming in blood . . . The fields are no longer green there, they are red. My heart is in pain . . .’”[33] The analogy between the man’s psychic torment and the occupied state of his homeland is quite explicit. The land bleeds; the heart of the displaced person bleeds its answer in exile.

Fanon himself compares the spatial order of post-war Europe to that of a colony: “Deportation, massacres, forced labor, and slavery were the primary methods used by capitalism to increase its gold and diamond reserves, and establish its wealth and power. Not so long ago, Nazism transformed the whole of Europe into a genuine colony.”[34] Without ignoring the serious role that anti-black racism plays in determining the treatment of bodies by the mechanisms of global domination, it can be argued that the colonized subject and the displaced person share a similarly subordinated position in relation to power, knowledge, meaning, and the politics of space.

Mekas is a permanent exile; a man without land, who nonetheless brims with an objectless “land consciousness.” Driven by the same impulse that leads Fanon to orchestrate an armed revolution, the poet in Mekas searches for Paradise. When his dislocation from material reality overwhelms him, he declares: “I don’t want to connect myself to this world. I am searching for another world to which it would be worth connecting myself.”[35] This other world vividly recalls Glissant’s “new region of the world,” and Mekas is in continual pursuit of this spatial ideal. Cast from the womb (Nature), expelled from the garden, he encounters illusions of Paradise at every turn: a small German lake among pine trees, the word “America,” a cheap luncheonette. The topography of this new region of the world—the focus of Mekas’ search, which takes poetry as its modus operandi—is a dynamic, heterogeneous topography, perhaps even an aqueous topography.

Mekas identifies the ocean as “the primary element,” and though it awes and even cows him during his first encounter with the Atlantic at the age of twenty-seven, he recognizes that the water seems to stand for limitless potential: “I keep looking at the ocean and yet I can’t describe it. I am amazed by its power. Jump in—you are a pure nothing, nobody will notice you, maybe not even a fish. It has to be the primary element, all right, moving and moving, heaving, breathing deeply and angrily. Now it’s light green, now blue, now, again, back to dark black.”[36] The sea is a shifting formation, an open field of the possible, but it is also the site of the Middle Passage. It seems to provide a spatial metaphor for deterritorialization; a vehicle of undifferentiation, yet at the same time, a medium in which all differences can coexist. At once a “no-place” and an “any-when,” the ocean recognizes the condition of the petrified and displaced subjects in relation to the earth, offering them a new set of possibilities and hinting at a connection to the source.

PART III: Territorialized, Collective Subjectivity in the Work of Art

 Philippe Parreno conceived his short film Anywhen as the centerpiece of a site-specific commission by the same name, which transformed the Turbine Hall at London’s Tate Modern over a period of six months beginning in October 2016.[37] Parreno imagined the immersive exhibition as “a construction of situations or sequences in a non-linear narrative.”[38] Orchestrated as an evolving concatenation of dynamic, light-based and acoustic scenarios that unfolded and refolded in space and time, the exhibition destabilized conventional ideas of machine and life. “The building [the Tate’s Turbine Hall],” Parreno has explained, “basically becomes a sort of, I would say, an automaton. The automaton is sensitive to some inputs.”[39]

Anywhen, the film, combines visually arresting footage of a bioluminescent cephalopod—a Mediterranean cuttlefish—with a monologue delivered by the English ventriloquist Nina Conti. The voice-over, which functions variously as a poem and as a scenario, comprises a sort of polyphonic bricolage: Parreno’s own writings mixed and interwoven with fragments of James Joyce. The fact that Conti speaks off-camera, unseen by the viewer, confounds traditional notions of authorship in the film. And accordingly, the phantoms of the ventriloquial dummy, the automaton, and the avatar come to the fore. The voice—which belongs, symbolically, to a split self—states: “The mask is the first automaton.” The “thrown” or displaced voice creates a sense of the uncanny as it appears to caress the image of the cuttlefish, whose responsive metachrotic skin and graceful tentacle movements seem to proclaim their owner the perfect, embodied receptacle for these projected thoughts. “The machine,” the voice intones, “is animal.” The monologue is preoccupied with agency, with our relationship to nature, with the mechanical, and with the “quasi-living”: human versus machine versus animal versus machine.

This synthetic stream of language—full of condensations, displacements and reversals—saturates the languid visual sequences of the cephalopod floating, almost dancing, in deep space. In this way, Parreno creates an aqueous dream state, which suggests a dislocation in time, and inevitably invokes the question of Glissant’s “new region of the world.” Alternating between extreme close-ups and satellite panoramas, Parreno’s manipulation of scale in Anywhen collapses the microcosm into the macrocosm and the macrocosm back into the microcosm. The camera never functions as a mechanism for reproducing the illusion of inherently ideological Renaissance space. The horizon, as point of reference, simply does not exist, and in consequence, it becomes almost impossible to distinguish an intimate shot of the cuttlefish’s textured skin from an areal image of clouds moving over the ocean’s surface. Parreno effectuates a deliberate confusion of deep spaces—a re- or an un-mapping, as it were[40]—, with the result that the sea also becomes the universe. This ocean-cosmos certainly seems to hold the potential for a new region of the world. After all, Glissant describes the seas as “matrices of beauty” and Jonas Mekas identifies the ocean as “the primary element.”[41] But for all this promise, Anywhen resists essentializing, easy answers.

While the ocean, in many ways, seems uniquely well suited to achieve the condition of “unity-diversity” that Glissant discusses, the film repeatedly reminds us, through the voice-over, that no place exists apart from history. The incorporeal voice effectively populates the deep space of the ocean-cosmos-screen with ghosts. Lest we forget, the world’s oceans are essential, vexed sites of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, of brutal colonial mercantilism, and more recently of the globalist expansion of neoliberal capitalism, of the current refugee crisis, and of imminent ecological disaster. The monologue repeatedly pushes into a social register rhetorically reminiscent of Fanon’s writings, inquiring gravely: “Who is the master and who is the slave?” The issue of control becomes mysterious and metaphysical. It is in movement, and there is no system. Yet this device of casting questions out into the dark water vividly conjures up an image like the one found in Derek Walcott’s 1979 epic poem “The Schooner Flight.” In a section entitled “Raptures of the Deep,” the central figure, a creole seafarer named “Shabine,” ventures into the ocean as a salvage diver only to be confronted with history in a vibrant, underwater vision:

but this Caribbean so choke with the dead

that when I would melt in emerald water,

whose ceiling rippled like a silk tent,

I saw them corals: brain, fire, sea-fans,

dead-men’s-fingers, and then, the dead men.

I saw that the powdery sand was their bones

ground white from Senegal to San Salvador…[42]

This phantasmagorical apparition attests that the sea, while full of poetry and potentiality, is also a place of history and of death. “Raptures of the deep” is another name for nitrogen narcosis, a reversible state of altered consciousness that can occur while diving at depth. Thus, while Shabine’s vision can likely be traced to the anesthetic effects of certain gasses as high pressure, it also holds the key to a potent, symbolical mode of signification.

Anywhen’s ghostly voice-over approximates this narcotic discursive style. The voice promises: “phosphenes into sounds and sounds into phosphenes.” The synesthetic phenomenon being referenced, wherein sounds inexplicably stimulate luminous impressions on the retina, is in fact a type of hallucination which can be induced with psychotropics. Phosphenic activity—a “light show” in the darkness behind closed lids—has sometimes been called “the prisoner’s cinema.” In his invocation of these rapturous modes, Parreno creates a space for ancestors who might, to borrow Hortense Spillers’ words, be “literally suspended in ‘the oceanic’” of Middle Passage and undifferentiated identity.[43] By means of this aesthetic of narcosis, Anywhen brings about a convergence of the seas—Mediterranean, Caribbean, Atlantic—in accordance with Glissant’s vision for a new region of the world: “then the inland seas and the seas concentrated on themselves, Mediterranean and Black Sea and Marmara Sea, will instantly bring together the mouths of their long rivers and the bounds of their fresh waters and their salt waters.”[44] Thus, while the issues of domination and subalterneity, of mastery and servitude, are all present, the film nevertheless holds out a hope that the deep, cosmic expanse of the ocean might contain the promise of renewal. In Anywhen, the space is never static, for the ocean is pure movement, pure space, pure time. It does not have monuments. It escapes human scale. And yet, it does not present itself as an antidote to reality. The film asks the difficult questions—asks them almost like an exorcism—even though, or perhaps because, the identity of the speaking subject is refracted beyond all possibility of singular attribution. The voice states: “This is not a recording.”

Over and over again, the film seems to be asking: What is human? The camera lingers over the bizarre eye of the cuttlefish in intimate, disorienting close-ups until the luminescent, W-shaped pupil becomes an almost sublime image. This sustained and meticulous attention to the cephalopod’s body, fragmented and stylized by the tight framing, thematizes its alienness and casts the creature—at once object and becoming-animal—as an embodied fetish of proto-alterity. The glowing eye becomes a node that generates questions about the nature of sentience, subjectivity and humanity. As the voice introduces the idea of “data bits,” claiming, at one point, “Here’s what I look like a hundred frames later,” it becomes clear that new technologies are now mediating the story of the animal. The digital machine insinuates itself into the essential structure of subjectivity in order to express a scenario “outside the photologic,” and questions concerning the different orders of existence return to haunt the film. These concerns, coupled with Parreno’s allusions to automata, propel Anywhen into an animist paradigm which troubles the distinction between man and animal, subject and object. The questions that the film raises undoubtedly reflect the influence of Félix Guattari’s radical investigations into the nature and oppositional potentials of subjectivity.

In his 1992 book, Chaosmosis: An Ethico-Aesthetic Paradigm, Guattari expands the definition of a subject, exploring new frameworks for understanding and producing subjectivity, which emphasize the ideas of shared social space and relationality. Writing against what he identified as the repressive regime of the social sciences—structural linguistics and Freudian psychoanalysis, in particular—and against the ideological market apparatuses mobilized by oppressive constructions of the capitalist economy vis-à-vis the digital cultures of the internet, Guattari was working in a landscape that bears striking resemblance to the conceptual and affective topography of Anywhen.

In the film, Parreno seizes upon Guattari’s pragmatic approach to the definitions of language and the self, and the result is a dynamic and processual mode of artistic creation that, in Guattari’s words, constitutes one of the paradigms—together with “the worlds of infancy, madness, [and] amorous passion”—in which we can locate and revive traces of the qualities of “anterior assemblages.”[45] These earlier territorialized Assemblages of enunciation are characterized by a kind of “polysemic, animistic, transindividual subjectivity.”[46] In Anywhen, Parreno makes it his project to generate this collective, territorialized subjectivity, and he begins by reaching back to what Guattari calls “a residual horizon of discursive time (time marked by social clocks), a perpetual duration, [which] escapes the alternative of remembering-forgetting and lives with a stupefying intensity, the affect of territorialized subjectivity.”[47] To this effect, the ventriloquist’s voice pronounces: “Eternity in perpetuity….” In order to reproduce this affect of territorialized subjectivity in his film, Parreno must emulate a kind of proto-aesthetic paradigm wherein, according to Guattari, “the existential territory becomes, at the same time, home-land, self-belonging, attachment to clan and cosmic effusion.”[48] This affective cosmic effusion is precisely the quality that characterizes the deep space of Anywhen’s aqueous dream state.

Guattari elaborates that, in this early model of an Assemblage, “the category of space is in a position that can be described as globally aesthetised.”[49] In Anywhen, Parreno effectively uses this extensive space—the deep, shifting formation of his ocean-cosmos—as a device to produce this “globally aesthetised” condition. Guattari goes on to explain that, crucially, in this globally aesthetised space, “Polyphonic spatial strata, often concentric, appear to attract and colonise all the levels of alterity that in other respects they engender. In relation to them, objects constitute themselves in a transversal, vibratory position, conferring on them a soul, a becoming ancestral, animal, vegetal, cosmic.”[50] It is on account of this transversal, vibratory position in relation to the polyphonic spatial strata of globally aesthetised deep space that Parreno’s cephalopod becomes possessed of a soul. In this way—as one of these becoming-ancestral “objectities-subjectities” described by Guattari—the cuttlefish becomes an “animist nucleus” of subjectivation. Guattari explains that objectities-subjectities, like Anywhen’s cuttlefish, habitually “overlap each other, and invade each other to become collective entities half-thing half-soul, half-man half-beast, machine and flux, matter and sign….”[51] Consequently, in viewing Parreno’s film, the ritual of looking at the fish which is not a fish but rather a becoming-multiple, creates a territorialization or collective subjectivity around the nucleus on the screen.

To the extent that Anywhen manages to produce a territorialized collective subjectivity, it also necessarily generates extensive space and time, and this alternative chronotope can perhaps be understood as the true expression of a new region of the world. Aesthetics, Parreno’s film seems to argue, offers the best possibility for resistance against (capitalistic) deterritorialization. Guattari locates the way in which art “takes its capacity to invent mutant coordinates to extremes” as the foundation of its ability to engender “unprecedented, unforeseen qualities of being.”[52] In other words: new regions of the world characterized by heterogeneity and abstract transversality. Anywhen accordingly interpellates its viewers as “a series of existential territories, linked by chaosmosis,” and unified in a social constellation that is at once machinic Unconscious and cosmic aporia.[53] It could be this is what liberation feels like in time and space. That, after all, seems to be the common task.

Works Cited

Artaud, Antonin. The Theater and its Double. Translated by Mary Caroline Richards. New York: Grove Press, 2004.

Buck, Louisa. “Interview: Philippe Parreno goes with the flow.” The Art Newspaper. October 6, 2016. Accessed December 01, 2017.

Columbus, Christopher. The Journal of Christopher Columbus (during His First Voyage, 1492-93) and Documents Relating the Voyages of John Cabot and Gaspar Corte Real. Translated by Clements R. Markham. London: Hakluyt Society, 1893.

Fanon, Frantz. The Wretched of the Earth. Translated by Richard Philcox. New York: Grove Press, 2004.

Glissant, Édouard. “A New Region of the World.” Translated by John Goodman. Lecture, Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, March 26, 2007.

Guattari, Félix. “The new aesthetic paradigm.” In Chaosmosis: An Ethico-Aesthetic Paradigm, 98-118. Translated by Paul Bains and Julian Pefanis. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995.

“Hyundai Commission: Philippe Parreno: Anywhen – Exhibition at Tate Modern.” Tate. Accessed December 01, 2017.

Mekas, Jonas. I Had Nowhere to Go. Leipzig: Spector Books, 2017.

Spillers, Hortense. “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book.” Diacritics 17, no. 2 (Summer 1987): 65-81.

Steyerl, Hito. “In Defense of the Poor Image.” In The Wretched of the Screen, 31-45. e-flux journal. Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2012.

Steyerl, Hito. “In Free Fall: A Thought Experiment on Vertical Perspective.” In The Wretched of the Screen, 12-30. e-flux journal. Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2012.

Walcott, Derek. “The Schooner Flight.” In Collected Poems 1948-1984, 345-61. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1986.


[1] Édouard Glissant, “A New Region of the World,” trans. John Goodman (lecture, Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, March 26, 2007), 1.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid, 5.

[4] Ibid, 11.

[5] Ibid, 3.

[6] Ibid, 6.

[7] Hito Steyerl, “In Free Fall: A Thought Experiment on Vertical Perspective,” in The Wretched of the Screen, e-flux journal (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2012), 14.

[8] Ibid, 15.

[9] Ibid, 18.

[10] Ibid, 19-20.

[11] Ibid, 20.

[12] Ibid, 28.

[13] Antonin Artaud, The Theater and its Double, trans. Mary Caroline Richards (New York: Grove Press, 2004), 96; emphasis added.

[14] Ibid, 91.

[15] Ibid, 125.

[16] Ibid 125, 43, 97.

[17] Hito Steyerl, “In Defense of the Poor Image,” in The Wretched of the Screen, e-flux journal (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2012), 44.

[18] Édouard Glissant, “A New Region of the World,” 6; emphasis original.

[19] Antonin Artaud, The Theater and its Double, 90.

[20] Édouard Glissant, “A New Region of the World,” 12.

[21] Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, trans. Richard Philcox (New York: Grove Press, 2004), 9.

[22] Ibid, 182.

[23] Ibid, 6.

[24] Ibid, 79.

[25] Ibid, 4.

[26] Ibid, 15.

[27] Ibid, 14-15.

[28] Jonas Mekas, I Had Nowhere to Go (Leipzig: Spector Books, 2017), 363.

[29] Ibid, 101.

[30] Félix Guattari, “The new aesthetic paradigm,” in Chaosmosis: An Ethico-Aesthetic Paradigm, trans. Paul Bains and Julian Pefanis (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995), 102.

[31] Jonas Mekas, I Had Nowhere to Go, 120.

[32] Ibid, 162.

[33] Ibid, 230.

[34] Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, 57.

[35] Jonas Mekas, I Had Nowhere to Go, 135.

[36] Ibid, 287.

[37] In an interview, Parreno explained that the title, “Anywhen,” comes from “the concept of ‘floating attention,’ a term used by psychoanalysts in the 1970s [to describe the necessary state of the analyst’s mind when listening to the patient, mirroring the free association required of the patient].” The idea of floating attention, of “floating time and floating space,” lead Parreno to the idea of “anywhen,” a word used by James Joyce in Finnegans Wake. Louisa Buck, “Interview: Philippe Parreno goes with the flow,” The Art Newspaper, October 6, 2016, accessed December 01, 2017.

[38] “Hyundai Commission: Philippe Parreno: Anywhen – Exhibition at Tate Modern,” Tate, accessed December 01, 2017.

[39] Ibid.

[40] In August of the year 1492, Christopher Columbus wrote in his journal: “I propose to construct a new chart for navigating, on which I shall delineate all the sea and lands of the Ocean in their proper positions under their bearings…” Christopher Columbus, The Journal of Christopher Columbus (during His First Voyage, 1492-93) and Documents Relating the Voyages of John Cabot and Gaspar Corte Real, trans. Clements R. Markham (London: Hakluyt Society, 1893), 18.

[41] Édouard Glissant, “A New Region of the World,” 6; Jonas Mekas, I Had Nowhere to Go, 287.

[42] Derek Walcott, “The Schooner Flight,” in Collected Poems 1948-1984 (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1986), 350.

[43] Hortense Spillers, “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book,” Diacritics 17, no. 2 (Summer 1987), 72.

[44] Édouard Glissant, “A New Region of the World,” 3.

[45] Félix Guattari, “The new aesthetic paradigm,” 101.

[46] Ibid.

[47] Ibid, 102.

[48] Ibid.

[49] Ibid.

[50] Ibid.

[51] Ibid.

[52] Ibid, 106.

[53] Ibid, 118.