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Jan Verwoert 5: The Inexhaustable and Exhaustion: 20.2.2009

The Inexhaustable and Exhaustion – On Care and Surrender (Return to the Mount of Olives)

The talk will be yet another attempt to question the dominant concept of art practice as a strategical practice of claiming and legitimizing positions through declaring intentions: Ideologically, practically and emotionally it presupposes a role model of the artist as a souvereign agent who would and shouldnever be at a loss when asked what his or her next move (i.e. idea or project) will be. The capacity to always have a concept ready is a definining feature the ideal of a strategical mover who knows inexhaustable resources of ideas and legitimations to be his very own capital. It's a contemporary professional standard that determines what we seem demand from ourselves.

If the source of the problem then is the fantasy of the inexhaustable resources of a souvereign self - manifesting themselves in intentional strategies - the question is: with what notion to replace that concept? The previous talk introduced the notion of dedication as a possible alternative since (similar to inspiration) in the moment of dedication one is empowered by the indebtedness to the other - and the trajectory of one's action is set towards the other. This talk will continue along this path and propose the notion of care as a radical form of dedication. Why do we make art, show it, look at it, think and talk about it. It's simple: Because we care.

What does it mean to care? Is care an act or an attitude? Care is riddled with contradictions: On one hand the stance of care is the strongest alternative to the stance of the heroic since it implies no claim to souvereignty and acknowledges an irresolvable indebtedness to the other as its point of departure and empowerment. On the other hand the stance of care could be seen to imply a tacit, yet even more precarious heroic fantasy: since care is by definition unconditional one would expect it to also be inexhaustable. When you care, there is no no. The desire to push oneself beyond the point of exhaustion then becomes even more seductive than it could ever be if one only sought to flaunt one's sovereignty. Where are the limits of the unconditional? The limits at which the exhaustion of the inexhaustible is felt in a moment of surrender? In the bible and history of painting it all happens on the mount of olives.

There is yet another problem inherent to care: its economy. By virtue of being unconditional, care (like dedication) exceeds the conditions of all economical exchange. Care is given in response to a feeling of indebtedness that is immeasurable. It is a gift that, when given freely, is connected to no demand to be returned. By definition that is, while in reality any act of care (like dedication) is always prone to be seen as a mere attempt to ingratiate oneself to the other and create an economy of mutual dependency where a return, of course, is expected. For care to remain credible, it must be rescued from economical thinking. But can care ever even be uneconomical? After all, like all things economical, it is supplied in response to a demand. To be good care it must answer to the nature of that demand. But, when you care, how do you determine the nature of the other's needs? Maybe you can't. Maybe what anyone needs (as Lacan says) is impossible to deter mine anyway. But then care too would be impossible or at least it would never be more than a charade. What does it mean to surrender oneself to this charade? How do you call for care?

Jan Verwoert

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