Hito Steyerl & Boris Buden. The artist as res(iden)t.

by florence cheval

If we think about the meaning of the word residence, a strange mathematical problem emerges. We could call it the problem of the residue. But what is this? There is always a difference between the number of people who reside in a certain place and those who are being taken into account. The mere residents are usually in excess over the others. While the former simply happen to live there, the latter are being woven into a network of nation, representation and benefits. While the former are just subjects, the latter are politically represented. The former reside everywhere without necessarily belonging anywhere. Their residence doesn’t lead to representation. They belong to the people and at the same time they don’t. Seen from this perspective, they form a structural leftover, a rest, a surplus of people, which throws the whole concept of a people into crisis. As Giorgio Agamben has demonstrated in his treatise on St. Paul’s letters, the figure of the rest is of extreme political importance. In this context, the rest is something which escapes the relation of majority and minority, it is neither Greek nor Jew, but something which suspends that partition and undermines the identity of any imagined community. The rest is the figure of the people if it is not seen under ethnic or even class categories: the people as such. The rest is not the product of a subtraction of political subjects from the crowd as such. But it is rather the excess produced by this operation, the impossibility for any people to ever be identical with itself. The concept of residence thus immediately leads to the notion of the residue, or the rest.

The perspective of the rest: this is the position from which we have to think through the condition of so-called residencies. But residents are not identical with the rest. The condition of residency just creates a space, where the problem of the rest is highlighted and the dynamics of residence and residue unfold. Not primarily because residencies are usually temporary and encourage mobile and flexible subjectivities. And neither because they induce migration and often cater to non-citizens. Not even because they would prevent any people from being identical with itself if such a thing were possible. But because they condense the tensions between different forms of the common – both in a positive and negative way. In an optimistic perspective we might say, that they open up new forms of connection between people, which are no longer formatted by nation or origin and create forms of relation beyond identity. In a more realistic perspective they are spaces, where the deterritorialized conditions of global culture industries crash head on into the politics of national representation. The conditions of residencies express exactly that crash.

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Hito Steyerl et Boris Buden, « The Artist as Res(iden)t », in Etcetera 104: On Residencies, December 2006.