Statement by the Editorial Committee (1971)

Peinture, cahiers théoriques; translated by Daniel Marcus

Published in: Peinture, cahiers théoriques 1 (1971), 7-12. The members of the editorial committee at the time were Vincent Bioulès, Louis Cane, Marc Devade, and Daniel Dezeuze.

The journal PEINTURE, cahiers théoriques is situated in an unprecedented position relative to other existing journals in the “artistic” field; its object is neither journalistic (informative) nor economic (supporting products on the painting market, valorizing objects). It is situated in the precise gap left by the absence of theory, from which derives both dogmatism (the recuperation of pictorial practice in the name of politics) and eclecticism (the censure of politics under the cover of “liberalism”).

The very existence of this journal is rooted in the practice of a certain number of painters, the theory of Marxism-Leninism, and the thought of Mao Zedong insofar as it speaks to the current historical situation (economic, social, political, and ideological) in which France finds itself, especially the texts “On Contradiction” and “On Practice.”

It must be recognized that this theory is in no way the result of moral or sentimental reflection, but that it has been taken up by these painters on the basis of their own practice (painting) as a social practice distinguishing itself within the superstructure from that of the scientists, as subjects who refuse to submit themselves to the signifier in mastering their psychosis (foreclosure of the subject of the real), and who differ equally from the subjects of ideology, whose misrecognition/recognition [méconnaissance/reconnaissance] has been installed in the imaginary of the “self” and structures it as a neurosis of transference.

As a real avant-garde (relative to the academic avant-gardism of the market on one hand, and in relation to the group Supports/Surfaces on the other), the journal presents a negative project (against the monopolist bourgeoisie, against the dominant ideology, and against mechanistic materialism and the use of theory as a support for marketable products) the impact of which is limited to the specific contradiction which forms its object: painting. The pictorial field, highly economically overdetermined (more so than “literature,” for example, which deals directly with signification, with language) insofar as it produces “artistic” objects, and highly sexually invested insofar as these objects are most often objects of fetishism—this field mounts a strenuous resistance to any sort of transformation, whether at the level of infrastructure (market economy) or of superstructure (ideology of art or of the end of art).

The danger posed to every avant-garde by the painting market is to render it redeemable by this very same market to the extent that its “contestatory” impact is successful (one avant-garde succeeding another, to the market’s profit). For this reason, the struggle should not be waged solely at the level of the formal transformation of painting (quickly reprised as academicism, easily taught in art schools) but should rather be extended to the theoretical and indeed to the political level (based on Marxism-Leninism), so as to avoid becoming recuperated either as a “product of the market” or as a new academicism—and thus to serve as an ally to the proletariat in its class struggle, and to its avant-garde: the Parti Communiste Français.

The formal subversion inflicted upon the market by the fact that we insist upon working on “painting” as a relatively autonomous signifying practice that tracks alongside the material history which determines it in the final instance (in other words, is capable of modifying it, of running in advance or falling behind in relation to it, of having its own temporality), as opposed to the avant-gardist rejection of painting (non-art, production of objects playing out a total rupture with the history of painting up to the present, and thus leaving this history unthought), should coincide with the unveiling of painting’s specific logic as a signifying system. This objective scientific discovery strikes at the very core of the metaphysical framework that considers the signifying formations (literature, painting, etc.… ) purely as ideologies (the “artist” participates in ideology outside of his practice, but his practice is a specific space that should be distinguished from ideology and from science) as does mechanistic “Marxism,” or as ideas, as does transcendental philosophy—in short, as expressions of something already present, or as immanences. Mechanistic materialism and transcendental philosophy share the idealist belief in matter as inert and unformed, which the subject has therefore to “create.” The discovery of this logic specific to the painting system [au système peinture] renders academic and moot any representational mode of painting, whether as the reproduction of its own mode of production or as an image of an already-present reality, and gives rise to pictorial practice as the transformative production or non-production which exposes the work of production instead of real objects, inscribing itself within a dialectical process of knowledge that effaces the object produced and transforms it into an object of knowledge; transformative production giving way to a reading and not to a recognition [reconnaissance] of something always already there, as misrecognition [méconnaissance] of the manner in which “it” gets there.

To consider painting solely as ideology (expression, representation) forecloses the dialectical distinction between signifier (signification in its properly material function, or rather, that which produces signification)/ideology, and blocks the pictorial work [le travail pictural] in favor of a discourse about its ideological function. Ideology as a practice signifying “painting” cannot be fully understood except by way of historical materialism; it is a series autonomous from history, from the history of class struggle, the principal contradiction from which the specific contradiction of “painting” derives its own dialectical-materialist logic. To fail to grasp this autonomy dialectically (relativity and autonomy) is to open the door to dogmatism, that is, to the covering-over of a specific practice by the principal contradiction; it is to fail to think the dialectic of the principal contradiction / specific contradiction and to mechanically join the one to the other.

On the other hand, to say that every ideology functions to “constitute concrete individual as subjects,”[1] in other words, that every subject is merely the subject of ideology, of which it is the expression, the representation, is to forget that the subject is “already” constituted in and by the signifier (language, not to be confused with ideology: language is not a superstructure) and thus forecloses the materiality of the signifier that constitutes the subject, reducing it to a superstructural determination even though it is determinant, and thereby forecloses the materiality of the subject as object of analysis of its signifiers, reducing it to a question of the ideology that signifies it.

Just as neither painting nor its subject is reducible to ideology, by the same token, painting cannot be reduced to its “artistic function” without reducing it to the simple production of objects or “works.” To consider painting as a signifying practice is to deal not with the object produced but with the work of production, not with the commodity but with the productive force: that is, with the manner in which the subject of painting (the painter) effaces himself and produces himself (death drive / sublimation) in deconstructing / constructing a painting. In this sense painting no longer produces an object, but is an operation of “frayage,”[2] implicating the subject like a line that approaches its end to the extent that it opens a path. The subject, split by the signifier (as Freud indicates in his account of the unconscious) and separated from the ego’s plenitude, is constantly undermined at his core by a drive towards self-destruction, the precondition of sublimation, that is, a precondition of work as the operation of frayage, as negativity/formalization [mise en forme]. This dialectic, which belongs to every signifying practice, proscribes any static or teleological conception of pictorial practice. Conceived in this manner, pictorial practice becomes the dynamic field of a heterogenous contradiction (as a practical operation and not as an act of idealist reasoning, as phenomenological decoding) between subject and object, between sense and matter, the signified and the signifier, where one finds traced and extended, in all their complexity, the laws governing the production of significations without their being detained at the surface of sensation (subjectivity) or reduced to the linearity of a beyond of the subject (objectivity).

Pictorial practice as a signifying practice excludes any consideration of painting as the discourse of a subject in the analyst’s sense of the term or as the reproduction of its own objective material operating conditions, as a materialist of materials might have it; pictorial practice is an analytical materialism (concerning the subject constituted by this practice) that takes as its starting point the material possibilities of painting as an operation undertaken within the material history of which historical materialism is the method.

Therefore we consider painting not as a real object but as an object of complex knowledge, the science of which must be based on Marxist-Leninist theory in a dialectical relationship with the relatively autonomous historical practice of avant-garde movements, a history of painting that possesses relative autonomy in relation to the economic, social, and political fields.

PEINTURE, cahiers théoriques does not propose, whether at the level of practice or the level of theory, a “new,” avant-gardist type of painting, but rather a new practice of painting in correlation with other disciplines (linguistics, semiotics, psychoanalysis, philosophy) and taking as its foundation, as the place of its reforging, historical materialism and dialectical materialism.

We end with five fundamental points that constitute the basis of our work in PEINTURE, cahiers théoriques.

1 – The dominant bourgeois ideology dialectically reflects the global crisis in the capitalist mode of production, the decay of imperialism. This crisis, as the principal contradiction between capitalism and socialism, can be seized at its secondary, ideological level in the inner workings of a specific mode of signification such as painting.

2 – For the purposes of this journal, historical materialism and dialectical materialism are the main theoretical bases of this seizure, together with psychoanalysis, as work directed at the unconscious and as analysis of the subject of the practice [of painting].

3 – The mechanism of knowledge necessary for analysis of the specific contradiction “painting” is first and foremost an experimental practice (the work specific to picture-making), followed by the different sciences of language: linguistics, semiotics.

4 – A third tool of knowledge will also be necessary: the confrontation of Western painting with a particular outside, China, which, for reasons both contemporary (the Chinese Revolution, the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution) and ancient (ancient Chinese dialectical materialist philosophy), and for reasons contemporary and ancient at once (ideogrammatic writing), offers an instructive lesson to the theory and practice of painting. This confrontation forces provincial Western ethnocentrism to confront its opposite, which is already at work within it in spite of itself, on the international scene of a “monumental” history.

5 – The articulation of these three final points

  • Experimental practice
  • Linguistics, semiotics
  • Chinese thought and writing

with

  • Marxism-Leninism
  • Psychoanalysis
  • Mao Zedong thought

should enable the production of a certain number of concepts constituting the science of painting, a new practice of painting, to produce the weapons of a struggle against idealism and its corollaries: monopoly capitalism and imperialism.

To change the bases of painting is not to transform the world, but it is to contribute to what is changing the world at its base. PEINTURE, cahiers théoriques will do its part.

The editorial committee,
May 1971


[1] Translator’s note: Uncited in the original text, this quotation is drawn from Louis Althusser’s 1970 essay “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes Towards an Investigation).”

[2] Translator’s note: A Lacanism, sometimes translated as “facilitation” or “path-breaking.”