U is for Usage — Chris Sharp — 2018
This text was written for the book ABC B.A. published in 2018 by Dent-de-Leone and distributed by Les presses du réel. This monograph is composed of a collection of texts and critical essays in the form of a abc-book. Based on key words, twelve art critics, curators or writers wrote a text commenting on Boris Achour’s work. The book also includes an iconographic collection offering an overview of the artist’s work.
U is for Usage
Few questions are more fundamental to art than the question of use (usage). It always crops up. Whether it be from an ontological or a social perspective, it is something of a philosophical revenant, that which always returns, that which haunts art with the accursed vengeance of a Greek tragedy. It is almost as if it were the negative space of art, that thing, or concept against which art takes shape, or better yet, becomes shapeless, and (un)defines itself (for in some ways, it’s easier to say what it is not, rather than what it is). The question of use, or better, uselessness, is part and parcel of a complex nexus of issues which includes questions of play and ceremony, or ritual. They are as essential one another as the coexistence of interdiction and transgression. These questions are examined and theorized, most notably, in Georges Bataille’s book Lascaux or The Birth of Art. According to Bataille, the birth of art parallels the birth of religious transgression (ecstasy and the sacrifice), the party or festival, and the game (the latter two being indistinguishable from one another). The emergence of art is a consequence of the evolution from homo faber (he who makes, who works) to homo sapiens (he who knows). However, in Bataille’s estimation, the real shift is not characterized by knowledge, but by a will to transgress or better yet, play (as in homo ludens – he who plays). The transgression is a byproduct of the interdiction, which has to do with sacred and profane time. Profane time is the time of work, in which all energy must be invested (recuperable) in the preservation of the species, while sacred time is the time of profligacy, of the expenditure of un-recuperable energy. The interdiction of the profligate expenditure applies to profane time, while the sacred time of religious transgression is that which sanctions it. Play is of the order religious transgression. “Play,” he writes. “Is a point of transgression with regard to the law of work: art, play and transgression coexist in a single movement that negates the principles which govern the regularity of work.” The question of use comes into play here (no pun intended) with regard to work and play. In the case of the former (work), use is a clear-cut concept, relating all but exclusively to tools in which objects have specific, definable uses. Once the issue of play (and necessarily art) enter the picture, the philosophically debatable and slippery concept of the useless enters the picture. For when all is said and done, that is precisely what distinguishes the two domains from one another – the useful and useless. Where the former is applied to the profane world of the basic human necessities (food, clothing and shelter), the latter touches upon the sacred in so far as, akin to the expenditure of energy and life in the sacrifice, it serves no identifiable, recuperable purpose (this is obviously from an utilitarian perspective).
In the practice of Boris Achour, this complex dichotomy is constantly, if playfully tested and explored. From the artist’s interest in games without rules (objects without known uses) to his representation of ceremonies in which objects are assigned an ad-hoc use or even useless forms of labor. In the case of the latter, I am thinking of his impossibly entitled #EncerandoLadrillo #EncéraMe #BorisAchourLadrillo #ElEcoLadrillo #CuidadoDeLadrillo #BrickWaxing #WaxMe#BorisAchourBrick #ElEcoBrick #BrickCare (2016), at El museo experimental el eco in Mexico City in 2017. This work consisted of a stool (pedestal) with a brick (sculpture) on top of it, which was meant to be waxed (by the spectator – the materials were provided). A totally pointless, if not useless act of labor, this work deploys tools – wax and rag, meant to preserve shoes, furniture, but a not a brick – in such a way as to ultimately negate their use. Curiously, while the useless of the labor speaks to the ontologically artistic, and therefore sacred nature of the piece, its material components speaks to its profane relationship with the world, that which ultimately renders it self-negating in and of itself.
Questions of use and play are playfully addressed elsewhere in the artist’s practice. For instance, Des jeux dont j’ignore les règles (2014/15) : this work is comprised of a series of sculptural/displays that resemble board games. For example one is evocative of Mahjong while another brings to mind chutes and ladders, but that is all. They are reminiscent, but totally distinct, and essentially devoid of rules (incidentally, this work could almost be seen as the conceptual board game equivalent of Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of Play). Each game is meant to be “played” by two people, and the presentation of the games is often accompanied by fictional videos of people “playing” the games, e.g., inventing rules for the games. Collapsing art and play into one another, and doubly so, because the playing of the game is approached through play itself (invention), this series, by foregrounding its double uselessness, essentially becomes an active, philosophical reflection on the quiddity of art à la Bataille.
 Georges Bataille, Lascaux ou la naissance de l’art. vol. IX of Oeuvres Complètes, (Paris: Gallimard, 2010), 41. Translation by the author of the text.
. Incidentally, the absurd abundance of hashtags ironically refers to this work’s forlorn hope (a brick?) of being Instagrammable.