Existence Beyond Condition, 1970
When we stand far from ground level and happen to climb to a high place, we sense fear not from rationally realizing the altitude, but from our body not being sustained and reinforced; that is when we confirm a sense of “elevation.” Because the fact that we use our feet to stand does not change, we feel that we can fly or jump freely, but there is nothing but sky a few feet under the floorboards. If we think about it, our freedom is controlled by nothing.
There is no better place to sense the Earth than from a place of elevation. We are able to stand straight and walk on land without grasping onto anything. Even if we fall at any instant, we will not fall any greater distance than our own height, so we do not need to grab onto anything in particular to sustain our body.
For those who make architectural designs and plans for large machines, or for those who produce some type of thing, it is probably necessary to see and draw, but these plans do not necessarily represent the monumental spaces of buildings and machines or the accuracy of the actual materials used. To state an extreme, even if the plans represent symbols for stones, steels, glass, wool, and polyurethane boards, it is difficult to imagine the certainty of the thing/object in our mind other than knowing that these things are represented as symbols. Even if we were able to imagine this, it would be at a condensed level, and enfolded into a flimsy object like paper. There must be a difference between the recognition of individual materials with which people engage versus the actual gathering of those materials.
The theory of whether plans are ends in themselves must be regarded from the perspective that the actual object and its plans are things of a completely different nature and dimension. Minimal art and Constructivist objects almost always require plans, and the resulting objects are fed back to fit these plans precisely, which means that people’s fundamental actions are being controlled without their knowing. When an uncalculated error occurs to things that we are accustomed to seeing, we feel that something is out of place, or sense a mysterious point of interrogation, wondering what this is. The greater the gap between the plan and the actual object, the more we are pulled into the artist’s intention. After the objects were made, there was a period two or three years ago when it was popular to present plans and diagrams in the same place as the object. But this process completely ignored the artist’s conceptual thinking and imagination. In other words, it controlled the freedom of the viewer’s thoughts toward the existing object, and points to the obvious progression by which contemporary objects have themselves been presented as representations of conceptual thinking.
As long as we are conscious of whether plans are precedents for visual objects or processes, these plans will never be complete and there should be no need to display them. When plans are no longer perceived as representations, or possess a perceived meaning, a plan sustains itself as a plan for the first time. If plans were simply diagrams, numerical formulae, and symbols easily shaped by the hands of people, there would be no emphatic reason to make objects. With regard to the function of a plan, the reasoning behind showing the plan disappears at the point at which the shift from imagination to perceived representation becomes generalized. Is it not ironic that only when one denies a creative act, the plan becomes an important beginning for a thing to want to make objects?1
During a time that a diagram is drawn, even if the symbols, lines, and rectangles had to become actual objects or phenomena, or representations of objects envisioned in the near future, they are codes and schemes of imagined phenomena, and not actual codifications or schematizations. These imagined codes and diagrams result not from various spontaneous promises of the mind, but are substituted by promised imaginary codes and diagrams.
Ever since we entered the 1960s and New York Pop artists such as Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Claes Oldenburg, and Tom Wesselmann came to be introduced to Japan, a critic who had just returned from the United States stated that each artist held onto an immense volume of memos and notes, and was unwilling to show them to people. When we consider the United States not as a place to think about styles, but as a place to realize something, we realize how these vast memos and notes have functioned to isolate each of these artists. Furthermore, by advocating one’s own style, we come to realize how we have continued to make a claim on America and the America that exists within us.
These immense memos and notes were written not only for the purpose of making objects, but more significantly, they were used when one realized a stronghold of emotions arising from things in daily life. One would then organize and actualize these into objects or two-dimensional canvases by chance in the final stages of organization. To further clarify, creative acts for American artists came to be conceived from the awareness of regarding these as personal memos, and not from the necessity of making objects. Here we can confirm the indispensable role these immense memos of Johns, Rauschenberg, and others played as charges of anti-society, anti-man, and anti-self.
One may say that these vast memos are a product of the ideology of American civilization or, more emphatically, the course of knowledge in response to the entirety of Western thought. “Immense memos” are an important key for tearing down the overly formalized manner of seeing objects and of conceptual thought, and are meant not to make, but to destroy.
Young Japanese artists mindlessly carry around thick notepads and are insistent on promoting themselves, but I question whether these future artists should really be exposing their cheap memos. When we jot down memos, we always do so with the intention of making a visual object. So long as we aim for objects to be spatial and temporal, memos will only have a secondary value.
If memos and data are necessary, one must reform something. Americans used memos and data as a reform for anti-society and anti-self. As long as we are still conscious of producing objects, we have lost the meaning to possess memos, and that is why we must directly re-form objects themselves.
We take photos to document the final object that remains, but recently we do not maintain the things we have made. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say, rather than that we do not maintain them, that we cannot maintain them. The moment a work is made, it is definitively there, but as we begin to lose our conscious awareness toward the object, the object simultaneously breaks down and there is a shift from a state of “presence” toward a condition of “existence.”2 In the state of “presence,” emphasis is on the presence or absence of conceptual thinking through the condition of the object’s “presence” rather than on the object simply being present. This is not to say that an object’s “present” state occurs without the actual manipulation of the hand, but it points to the object’s present condition after it has been subject to some form of application, whether through artificial assembly, acts of movement, or technology. “Existence” refers to the time, space, and invariable state of the object, and points to none other than the object that we see precisely in front of us.
Depending on the person, producing a state of “presence” is secondary, and connected with the awareness of producing a thing. Before we comprehend “presence,” there is obviously a state of “absence” on the other end, and in order to transition from “absence” to “presence,” it is necessary for an element to be visualized. If the state of “presence” constitutes the standpoint of a visualized object, the state of “absence” must no doubt constitute part of making a non-visualized object.
As long as our knowledge of making objects rests on the understanding that “something must be present,” we will without a doubt believe in the element of a “present object.” Thus if we do not tear apart the concept of the object’s materials, many of which people use to make objects, we will not be able to make new objects from a separate standpoint.
By imagining a “present” state, we move from a fictional world into an actual world. This knowledge of “presence” and its relationship to making something clearly cannot be avoided. Furthermore, by acknowledging the presence of a produced work even at a point when the conceptual and symbolic effects are lost, these remnants cannot be completely torn apart.
Knowledge of a work “existing” is recognizing that it is evident, and one cannot imagine a state of “absence.” Separate from any artificial constraints, in other words, it cannot help but exist when a human-made creation is completely ignored. To be “present” is the knowledge of a condition, but “to exist” is the very understanding of something that materially exists. The understanding of “existing” is to obliterate both the idea of transforming something anew, and the sadistic character to create a unique thing driven by reality within some sort of structural organization.
One can say that the state of “existing” is a very individual and unique way of being for us. The clue for people to transcend their awareness of making objects is to replace the condition of an “existing” thing with that thing’s extreme limit of “existence,” and by shifting our usual understanding of the condition of a general thing to each thing’s isolated mode of “existence.”
Artists at the very least have to begin by breaking free from their potential consciousness or conceptions of making an object. In order to understand the shift from an object’s general state of being to “the state of existing” at an extreme limit, it is necessary to view human acts as intermediaries. Say one artist places a large rock on a steel plate. From the act of placing one object over another, we understand that a thing and a thing, a thing and a human, share a similar place. If we go one step further, and if it is necessary for the steel and stone to never be placed separately, then the conditional character of the thing and the thing are making this happen.
Say there is a wooden log. There is a difference between a means to make this wooden log stand versus a condition where it is standing without the intervention of a human hand. To make it stand is not about the process of producing something, but rather about the fundamental transformation of something, and
perhaps it is more natural if the wooden log were lying on its side, buried in the ground, or broken. To make the wood stand is based on the fact that the wood will stand, and one may say that the characteristic manner in which something stands is reduced and taken from the manner of one’s act upon it. However, the condition in which a wooden log stands definitively in a place without the human hand is dependent on the support or retains a state in which it stands without any support; the issue here lies in the fundamental manner in which a thing stands. When this happens, one’s act is ultimately tied to the thing, and there should be no remnant of a concept of its having been “made.”
In daily life, people are not conscious that they are repeating the same movements when they are in the process of repeating these same movements. This is because even if the movements and the situations, objects, and methods surrounding these movements are the same, they each possess a different character. Even if we are conscious of making things, things reveal themselves in some form because they do not evade how the repetitive patterns of these movements attract things.
One artist attempted to conduct minimal interaction with objects by slackening a piece of cloth and writing numbers on rocks, but this approach conversely constituted a maximum interaction with objects. The piece of cloth itself was not slackened by one’s hand, but it wrinkled, picked up dirt, expanded, or contracted. However, in wanting the plain surface of the cloth to appear more slackened, the artist in fact produced a condition for the cloth that required manual manipulation. For the slackened state is a natural shape for the cloth, and to inject an unnatural loosening within this recognition of naturalness is to be involved in the original proposition of the cloth; the artist’s point that this could only be expressed through cloth is to persist in interacting with the object to a maximum degree.
Even when the form of an object exists in reality, there are cases when people are unable to see its substance. This is because the condition of “existing” does not involve any signs, and thus marking a stone with numbers is to signal the fact of “existence” itself. However, this process is not skeptical of a manner in which something “undeniably exists.” I do not know whether the stones’ numerical markings were comprehended, but if there was a definite idea for marking these numbers, the artist must unconsciously believe that numerical signs apply equally to all of humankind. If numbers are things that we use personally, then they might in fact function as “signs.” If the existence of numbers, stones, numbers marked on something, and stones marked by something contain substance, then at the point at which these stones and numbers in fact “inscribe numbers,” there may have been room for one to enter the work without much interaction. But as long as the stones do not possess the necessity to exist the way they should based on what the numbers signify, we must say that this is a completely useless gesture even before one interacts with the work at a minimal level.
In order for a thing to emerge in an invariable state of existence, usually it is accompanied by human acts. However, rather than a means, this showed the constant existing state of “having ought to be” by integrating the invariable element of the act itself with the element of the variable potential of the thing itself. If we tried to understand the thing’s invariable aspects to a larger degree, we must tear apart the thing’s existing concepts.
People see things “as they exist.” In contrast, we can also see things “as if they do not exist.” Trompe l’oeil and vision tricks that were in vogue a year ago were carelessly presented with the reality of knowledge that the substance of objects premised on change in fact exists, but unfortunately this did not last.
Nowadays, objects are being produced under monikers of conceptual art, natural art, and air art, still relegated to art but undefined as art. For us, producing objects does not have a purpose; in other words we are doing nothing further than the work of work. Conceptual value exists for the first time when there is a purpose, but our work constitutes “work” itself that cannot possess rules, and while being purposeless, our work preserves our position as work.
When we made a thing (mono), it was necessary to discard the knowledge of making because we were accustomed to seeing mono as objects of objective existence based on positioning ourselves as subjects. Before “seeing,” we must first perceive “the way things exist” when we stand beside others. Based on the objectivity of seeing, people tend to acknowledge “the way things exist” by “seeing” “things” in a one-way direction. If we cannot keep in mind the understanding that “things” exist as “things,” then “things” will always be perceived in a state other than “things.”
When “things” are denied as “things,” we realize that “things” are of equal value and standing with “things.” In fact we do try to express such things as concepts through “things,” but is the thing that is expressed conceptual thinking itself? No; when “things” become non-objectified objects, we merely acknowledge this “thing” as the substance of a non-objectified object.
One way of a “thing” denying a “thing” is to present the inherent character of a “thing” as a “phenomenon” that can only be signaled through those things. For example, breaking glass with stone, or placing a metal object on rubber, is about combining these special traits and letting them be composed of these various elements of “things.” However, this phenomenon is different from a
natural occurrence, and the persistence of a “thing” is backed by the strangeness of having occurred without any intent of occurring, and continues as long as that condition is maintained without having been naturally destroyed. In addition, as for the physical effects of when this “phenomenon” occurs, when this “phenomenon” is destroyed, the same degree of action is necessary. When a glass plate breaks due to the weight of a stone, or when a rubber tape is crushed by metal, people know the characteristics of when glass and rubber break or when they expand and contract. Although we share the conceptual site of glass or rubber only through these situations, when they break in front of us, and when the glass and rubber have expanded and contracted, we lose the site of a shared concept. For this reason, we must possess a new unknown conceptual terrain of “a broken thing” or “a crushed object.” In other words, together when a “thing” no longer becomes a “thing,” they possess a new site of encounter.
Another method of investigating “an unknown thing” is to use homogeneous matter, whether it be the mass, volume, temporality, or spatiality, and transform it, and to clearly present the sense that they are “different things.” In the case of a “phenomenon,” materials of different quality are simultaneously replaced by a reciprocal condition, but as for homogenous “things,” the object of reciprocal interaction is contained in the things themselves, the subject and object become integrated, and “thing” itself exists as an object that should be seen. For this “existing thing” to appear, a human-made deliberate act must be imposed, a mechanical treatment must occur. However, this is not enough of an issue for us. Rather, it is sufficient to acknowledge that an object clearly exists as it transforms.
When a thing to be prescribed and understood tears a thing (itself) apart, it transforms into something else. From one actuality to another, a “thing” changes into a “thing” as long as the “thing” never loses its concept as a “thing.”
From a world of fabrication to actuality, a fabricated object to an actual object, from concept to actual object, the converse may also exist. We have constantly thought about expression while trying to create a relative standard. When we realize for the first time here that the standard of a “thing” is “thing” itself and measure the degree of “deliberate and non-deliberate action,” we have already fallen into the negative effects that “one must create” based on the previous modernist thought of creating.
If not only people, but all things contained a critical mind, then “things” should be able to critique people and “things” themselves. If one’s awareness of producing a “thing” involves an oppositional intent, then the final “thing” including oneself, we must acknowledge that that creative consciousness, effects, and parallel actions must be clear objects of criticism. Because we believe in creating objects too much, we cannot seem to see through the essence of a “thing,” “act,” “the essence of seeing,” and essence of “recognition.”
When a creative act possesses one principle, we had to tear down that theory and search for a new methodology. Having lost a sense of the real, a natural collapse occurred by the manner in which “things” were conceived through the mind as a medium, causing a limit in ideas. The method of slowly pulling on an undercurrent of ideas and continuously changing one’s mode of representation, such as theorizing an extremely old philosophy, will only consist in uselessly applying oneself inside these principles.
Translated from the Japanese by Mika Yoshitake
Originally published as Kishio Suga, “Jōtai o koete aru” (Existence Beyond Condition), Bijutsu techō, no. 324 (February 1970): 24–33.
1 For the sake of consistency, I have translated mono per the following throughout the translation:
もの mono (general) = things
物 mono / 事物 jibutsu (concrete) = objects
2 The terms aru are distinguished as follows:
有る = presence
在る = existence (being)