Antiknow – Jakob Jakobsen – Flat Time House, London; Review


Antiknow - Jakob Jakobsen - Flat Time House

Antiknow – Exclusive and elusive

In 1968, John Latham (who’s house-archive makes up Flat Time House) proposed a “probably unrealized[1]” course for the AntiUniveristy in Shoredtich East London called Antiknow:

To have respect for observation is fine and unexceptional. On the other hand it is equally necessary to behave without knowing. Knowledge is an illusion that people have…I still think that the UK situation can produce a specific home-grown contribution to the picture of what’s going on. That it will be a hard-edged non-rhetorical picture that will burn the edges off all text books. (John Latham, Introduction to John Latham’s course in 1968 prospectus, 1968)

Antiknow 2013, ‘Directed’ by Jakob Jakobsen, is the culmination of Jakobsen’s 6 month residency at Flat Time House during which time he set up the Antiknow Research group (itself part of a longer body of research into the AntiUniveristy by Jakobsen and formed here from close collaborators and members of Flat Time House’s MFI group) and re-presents the transcripts of the group’s meetings as a “pedagogical theatre of unlearning and the limits of knowledge.” This is been staged through the four downstairs parts of the house, where the groups’ insertion of Latham’s concept into this socio-economic and cultural present are grouped into The Mind, The Brain; The Body and The Hand.

Middle room – The Body Event (Plumbing) Improvising, Unskilling + Antiknow / Hiding, Secrecy + Antiknow

Directed by the activation of stage spot-lights and voices playing back through a club-style PA system, we started halfway through the exhibition in ‘The Body.’ Each room contained one of these light and speaker set-ups – with a pair of spotlights joined by two or three opposing speakers. Most noticeable at first though in the Middles room were the yellow-illuminated fronds of smoke drifting through the corridor of Flat Time House. Here two of the group whisper barely-audiblely, extracts of the unordered transcripts on the wall. Attempting to focus on both the voices and the texts quickly renders both mutually exclusive and irreducible to one another. However, once familiar refrains of radical pedagogy; radicalising knowledge production and struggles against capital begin to emerge you think you know what’s going on with Antiknow – perhaps, another continual refurbishment of radical Autonomia and Anti-political histories that are central to the work of both Latham and the group of people Jakobsen has been well known for working with – but in fact Antiknow, the more time we spent in there (and returning twice) it proved to be much more complex than this; both as an artwork/theatrical installation; a body of research and thought; and how this can be actually articulated as a praxis.

Knowledge production

While the exhibition seeks to work rupture the “exclusion and isolation of subjugated knowledge” by claiming the sites where this is happens as its focus; exclusion and elusiveness become strategies key to Antiknow’s working against the systemic production of exclusionary knowledge. As the exhibition text makes clear, the spaces of controlled knowledge, “…the refugee camp, the mental hospital, the homeless shelter, the prison…” are sites who’s invisibility reveal their own limits (the Foucault reference noted) and should become sites of Antiknowedge investigation  — and yet as this is enacted in the exhibition, Antiknow is by no means concrete or didactic. Instead the output of Jakobsen and the Antiknow research group’s work is fluid, propositional and, like the lived aspect of the Human Strike, Anti-work or Anti-Politics collective and polyphonic.

Back room – The Hand. Anti-work, Counter-production + Antiknow

In this room, the group’s speakers question, work, anti-work, anti-production and what this might actually mean. While again at first the multiple voices sporadically saying the same thing at once is almost off-putting, but the more time spent with here, you notice that this layering of voices only happens when the speaker talks about ‘they’ (with the they voice quieter) or ‘we’ (balanced) or if it’s a collective speech – or thought space. While the combination of several voices and unordered archive in the middle room makes any attempt a linear meaning impossible, the aural phraseology or illustrative formatting of the dialogue here proposes much more the way in which Antiknowledge could produce dialogic and collaborative meaning. In this simple strategic layering of voices the singularity of narrative – and the power concealed within it – can be dissolved.

photo 3

Staging and Rehearsal

On the subject of exclusion again: The exhibition shifts us between the total immersion of a completely absorbed rehearsal of what the exhibition proposes in the human strike — with our movement choreographed and so many voices and ideas around AntiKnow playing from the groupings of stage speakers it becomes impossible to think about anything external to the exhibition. You can hear all these conversations going on around you, and yet you cannot participate: this would feel again to press the viewer out of the work, but that Antiknow is a staging and splicing of transcripts means that it can be seen as a rehearsal, or exercise for something elusive, something that cannot be represented – and hence read – within the artwork, that is, in the coda of the exhibition, (anti-)political change. The smoke which, as illustratively as its sounds, brings a sense of space back from the original presence of group while also abstracting this to bring viewer in to that space as it is replayed from a script – wrapped by the smoke into this performance we are performing it too. It also alludes to physicality of voices, giving the ideas a structure, but one that is ethereal, flexible, or just non-solidified and only in between the multiple voices. And yet it is not that, it’s just an image. The images (smoke is as important, but not of the ideas) work distinctly and as part of the politics. But at the same time it is consistently un-graspable; like both problem of trying to perfect, contain or own the politics or discourse, instead Antiknow is an invocation and construction of action.

Front Room – The Mind. Anti-Politics, Revolt + Antiknow

Lastly we listened in the first room to transcripts on Antiknow as rejection of servitude to theory – where actually existing communism as much as capitalism as were pinpointed for their dogmatism – and instead, communism, the common in the whatever singularity where proposed as something that could facilitate shifting between specific, idiosyncratic and local and the general, collective or common. Having ‘participated’ in the dialogue (which was as much in the material of the exhibition as it was coming from the speakers) of the previous rooms, this discussion on the collective and common, and how this scales from the individual up, was in many ways the best way to view this exhibition; it opens directly on the street and so we left this staging directly into the out-side it was aiming itself at. The staging meanwhile continued back into the middle room.

That these people came together is not in itself remarkable — collaborative, dialogic models are nothing new and while the presentation of the record and transcripts of this meeting is very interesting, content-wise you could say it just adds to ongoing conversation (especially here at Flat Time House): but that you get a real sense of these people coming together, that they may, through you again be doing this, and that you get an actual understanding of the collectivity and commons they speak of is where this exhibition is really exciting. The designer-theorist Benjamin Bratton speaks of a geo-politics that shifts politics from the human to the possibilities of the globalised computational systems and its aesthetics (rather than ‘the political’ as already exists in neoliberal governance for example) which is an interesting provocation to the designed world of communications networks – Antiknow presents this here alternatively as a commons – that while, not directly implicating knowledge is increasingly enclosed within global computation, gives pause to the ethics of ‘we are already in the machine’ collectivity of ‘the network’.

While this is all very much a contingent experience of your own thought within a presented body of research or ‘Antiknowledge,’­–all you can do is listen– this exclusion places you at the edge of what you, the individual, can contribute. The alternative is, of course the commons – as something your knowledge of research is part and not distinct from. Again this could be seen foreclosing the freedom of knowledge / Antiknowledge the commons is supposed to support, and yet as a means of storage and communication it is nothing but iterative and unstable: it exists consistently through the replaying of the theatre, but at each time (and repeated visit) the theatre is experienced it is different, and newly activated. The smoke wafting from the second room and much more clearly in the third is one of the elements taking this from a spatial relaying of some very interesting research, in to a genuinely affective, and total piece of lived-theatre, a rehearsal for the moment you leave.

Loose ends:

Staging and theatricality –

Key to rehersal for collectivity / new forms of political organisation

Revisit able

Viewer involvement

Movement and spatiality

Clubin’ + Familiarity

Lights, speaker systems, smoke, sound effects on video (repetition, rhythm, pulses – industrial house). Back metal, play, human strike.

[1] All quotes are taken from the exhibition text unless noted.