The Pre-History
of Zero

1 / Museum
Kunsthaus Lempertz, Brussels
12.09.15 – 9.10.15

Zero: the number of things you have when you don’t have anything.
A definition found by Joëlle Tuerlinckx in the
Mathematics Section of the Boston Museum of
Science, in 1996.

Joëlle Tuerlinckx’ series of line drawings, Dessins Sous Zéro ( literally translated in English as ‘drawings below zero’ ), made in 2004, started from the artist experimenting with the compression tool on her computer. Unusually for her, Tuerlinckx had been busy sketching what she describes as a set of ‘baroque serpentine drawings’ ¹ for an exhibition in Karlsruhe, in the ‘baroque berceau’ region of Germany, when she pressed a button on the keyboard and the whole graphic confection collapsed, in a single moment, down to a single flat line. Reflecting upon this ‘moment zero’, as she pictures what now displayed before her, looking more like the very beginning of a sketch rather than the sum of her recent efforts, Tuerlinckx was surprised by the realisation that ‘what appeared to be merely the commencement of a drawing can have a long story before it starts.’ Subsequently she came to refer to this revelation as ‘the pre-history of language’.

The next surprise came a short time afterwards when she attempted to decompress the drawing again, only to find that it re-emerged as a completely different, rectilinear pattern. The previous baroque serpentine drawing had been transformed into a strict geometrical set of lines, through the action of the computer processor. There was no going back. For Tuerlinckx, however, this unexpected outcome was ‘a wonderful discovery… that baroque and minimalism touch each other’, an idea that became the basis for the ensuing series of works. Typically, the artist’s response to the corruption of her drawing by the computer system was to adapt her own methodology accordingly. As with the serial adaption of the title of her recent major exhibition series, ‘Wor( l )( d )( k ) in Progress?’, transiting from ‘work’ to ‘world’ to ‘word’ across three venues, her method is to be constantly ‘in progress’, and so to remain open to whatever may arise. Catherine Wood has described this approach as ‘a kind of continuous perceptual present where manifold possibilities of meaning proliferate’. ² By responding, step-by-step, in ‘real-time’, to the formal disciplines and constraints of language – or to the formal conventions of the art institution, in ‘real-space’ – Tuerlinckx nimbly tiptoes around the regulation of reductive equivalence.

With regard to the notion of ‘reductive equivalence’, Friedrich Nietzsche’s essay On Truth and Lies in an Extra-moral Sense puts forward the idea that all language is essentially ‘a lie’, because no two referents are, strictly speaking, identical.

‘Every word immediately becomes a concept, inasmuch as it is not intended to serve as a reminder of the unique and wholly individualized original experience to which it owes its birth, but must at the same time fit innumerable, more or less similar cases – which means, strictly speaking, never equal – in other words, a lot of unequal cases. Every concept originates through our equating what is unequal.’ ³

Thus we lie when we call two different leaves ‘leaves’; we ignore some different characteristics, and focus on those that are the same. We notice traits held in common only because it is useful to do so. Language is made possible only by what Nietzsche calls a ‘residue of metaphor’, the ‘dead bony remainder’ of a metaphor, that is, of a word that was initially unique and referred only to a single referent. The momentary, unique conjunction of two different elements is codified and petrified by ‘useful language’, and its ultimate perfection, ‘science’.

Tuerlinckx’ work can initially seem scientific, even mathematical, in its empirical process-based inquiry. Zero is a frequent point of reference. Diagrams of unknown objects, comparatively similar-looking geometrical forms and mysteriously specific measurements abound. At Kunsthaus Lempertz the gallery space is transformed into a kind of working laboratory, filled with experiments in progress. Rather than factual observation, however, her practice gravitates towards the creation of language, generating systems of signification and of categorisation that remain unexplained, just short of collapsing into meaninglessness. Rather than revealing underlying equivalences, the work seems to emerge out of these particular processes of abstraction.

The essential character of language is its power of abstraction; that is to say its distance from the reality of things. In Nitetzsche’s critique, negativity is the essence of language. The word ‘tree’ is not the same as the tree that stands in the park outside, but it is also not the same as any other tree. It is the negation of all particular real trees for the sake of an idea of a tree. It is precisely this distance from reality that provides language with the power to negate the actual, individual thing, for the sake of the idea of a thing. Thus literary theorist Maurice Blanchot writes, ‘speech has a function that is not only representative but also destructive. It causes to vanish, it renders the object absent, it annihilates it’. ⁴

The ‘present tense’ of Joëlle Tuerlinckx’ visual poetics actively seeks to elude such negativity, evading the annihilation of reductive equivalence by inventing its own parallel systems of difference and repetition. Impossibly, it seems to attempt to abstract our experience and, simultaneously, to immerse us in the physical materiality of perception: an encounter that is at once conceptual and phenomenological. A simple baton of wood has the word ‘Objet’ written upon it in pencil, placed next to a similar piece of wood labelled ‘A’, besides another baton labelled ‘a’ and a rough paint-stick marked ‘A’, that on closer inspection we discover is carefully crafted out of paper. In order to achieve such a state of elusive immediacy – of evanescence – the artist must constantly ‘duck and dive’, dancing on the border’s edge of language, between sense and non-sense, mimicking its structures whilst deftly side-stepping its destructive ‘equation of the unequal’. Thus Tuerlinckx continually devises her own individual taxonomies, her own idiolectic lexicon, her own embodied metrics, as – in Julia Kristeva’s term – a ‘subject-in-process’. ⁵

Kristeva’s notion of the subject-in-process is represented in the form of a semiotic chora. This is the place of perpetual renewal in language, a chaotic space that is closely related to the infantile ( pre-Oedipal ) condition, as an emotional field, tied to our instincts, which dwells in the fissures and prosody of language rather than in the denotative meanings of the symbolic order. A sort of ‘dancing body’ ( from the Greek khoreia, meaning ‘dance’ ),the semiotic chora is in perpetual motion, actively resisting the discipline and containment of the symbolic order. It energises the sign ( as well as the subject ) by placing expulsion ( of the abject maternal environment ) at the core of its structure. Just as dance allows the dancer to explore an infinite progression of bodily movements, the semiotic chora presents an infinite potential for creating signifying movements.

If the subject-in-process draws its chaotic energy from a pre-Oedipal sense of boundless omnipotence, then the reductive equivalence of the symbolic order, and the relational mediation of the object-world, actively works to reduce all of this limitless desire down to zero. The all-encompassing subjective reality, that hitherto contained everything, is compressed down to a single flat line, which marks the beginning of an orderly, Oedipal history. How are we to resist such a process of linguistic annihilation and re-connect with our own ‘pre-history’? As Antonin Artaud put it, how can we learn, again, ‘to dance wrong side out as in the frenzy of dance halls’? ⁶

1 / Museum ( X Objets Publiquement Mis En Scène )( X Objecten Publiek Getoond ) Galerie Nagel Draxler in Salle de ventes Lempertz, Brussel, 2015 ©JT. 《1/美术馆》(‘X个客体的公演’),兰伯茨拍卖行,布鲁塞尔,2015 © JT

1 / Museum ( X Objets Publiquement Mis En Scène )( X Objecten Publiek Getoond ) Galerie Nagel Draxler in Salle de ventes Lempertz, Brussel, 2015 ©JT. 《1/美术馆》(‘X个客体的公演’),兰伯茨拍卖行,布鲁塞尔,2015 © JT.

On encountering the transitional space created by Tuerlinckx at Kunsthaus Lempertz, which initially appears playful and haphazard, we soon find, to the contrary, that we are consumed within an all-enveloping subjective reality, located at the shifting borderline between inner and outer worlds; between the interiority of absolute omnipotence and the external reality of reductive equivalence. The elusive immediacy of this ‘moment zero’ evaporates, however, as soon as it is contained within the fixity of representation, henceforth only to exist as an absence within the decompressed history of its interpretation – the evanescence of the visual poetics of a subject-in-proc ( gr ) ess.

‘The thing was there, we grasped it in the living motion of comprehensive action – and once it has become an image it instantly becomes ungraspable, non-contemporary, impassive… the present thing in its absence, the thing graspable because ungraspable, appearing as something that has disappeared, the return of what does not come back.’ ⁷ ( Maurice Blanchot, The Two Versions of the Imaginary, 1955 )
1. Joëlle Tuerlinckx, in conversation with the author.
2. Catherine Wood, ‘Stories of 0’, Afterall, 10 ( 2004 ), 10 – 19.
3. Friedrich Nietzsche, ‘On Truth and Lies in an Extramoral Sense’ in: The Portable Nietzsche, ( London: Penguin, 1977 ), pp. 42 – 47.
4. Maurice Blanchot, The Work of Fire, ( Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1995 ).
5. Julia Kristeva, Revolution in Poetic Language ( New York: Columbia University Press, 1984 ).
6. Antonin Artaud, To Be Done with the Judgement of God, 1947.
7. Maurice Blanchot, ‘The Two Versions of the Imaginary’, in: G. Quasha ( ed. ) The Station Hill Blanchot Reader ( New York: Station Hill, 1999 ), pp. 424 – 425.







不久之后就出现了接下来的震惊,当时她正尝试再次把素描解压缩,我们发现她的作品重现为一个完全不同的直线的图案。之前巴洛克式蜿蜒曲折的素描通过计算机处理器的作用,已经转化成一个线条组成的严格的几何图案,根本没有折回的可能。不过对于图林克斯来说,这种出乎意料的结果‘是一个奇妙的发现……巴洛克和极简主义彼此触及’,这个想法成了接下来一系列作品的基础。典型的是,艺术家对计算机系统对她的素描的破坏所做的反应,就是要相应地调整自己的方法。就像最近在大型展览系列中标题的连续调整一样,《进行中的( 作品 )/( 世界 )/( 言语 )》,在三个展场中标题从‘作品’转换为‘世界’,又转换为‘言语’,她的方法是一直处于‘进行中’,而且对任何可能提出的问题保持开放。凯瑟琳·伍德把这种手法称为‘某种认知的不断呈现,展现了意义扩充的可能性’。2通过一步一步地‘实时’回应语言的形式规训和约束—或者说是在‘真实空间’中艺术机构的形式上的惯例—图林克斯灵活而小心翼翼地试探还原的对等事物的规则。





《1/美术馆》(‘X个客体的公演’),兰伯茨拍卖行,布鲁塞尔,2015 © 克里斯朵夫·芬克. 1 / Museum ( X Objets Publiquement Mis En Scène )( X Objecten Publiek Getoond ) Galerie Nagel Draxler in Salle de ventes Lempertz, Brussel, 2015 ©Christoph Fink.

《1/美术馆》(‘X个客体的公演’),兰伯茨拍卖行,布鲁塞尔,2015 © 克里斯朵夫·芬克. 1 / Museum ( X Objets Publiquement Mis En Scène )( X Objecten Publiek Getoond ) Galerie Nagel Draxler in Salle de ventes Lempertz, Brussel, 2015 ©Christoph Fink.



《在‘1/美术馆 复制 1/美术馆’》(‘X个客体的公演’),兰伯茨拍卖行,布鲁塞尔,2015 © JT. copie 1 / Museum’ In ‘1 / Museum ( X Objets Publiquement Mis En Scène ) ( X Objecten Publiek Getoond ) Galerie Nagel Draxler in Salle de ventes Lempertz, Brussel, 2015 ©JT.

《在‘1/美术馆 复制 1/美术馆’》(‘X个客体的公演’),兰伯茨拍卖行,布鲁塞尔,2015 © JT. copie 1 / Museum’ In ‘1 / Museum ( X Objets Publiquement Mis En Scène ) ( X Objecten Publiek Getoond ) Galerie Nagel Draxler in Salle de ventes Lempertz, Brussel, 2015 ©JT.

克里斯特瓦的过程中的主体这个概念,是以语义学上的空间这种形式再现出来的。这就是语言的认知发生更新的地方,一个与婴儿( 前俄狄浦斯 )状态紧密联系在一起的混沌空间,是一个情感场域,被我们的本能所束缚,存在于语言的割裂和韵律当中,而不是符号世界的外延意义中。一种‘舞动的身体’( 来自希腊文khoreia,意思是‘舞蹈’),符号学上的意念是一个恒久的运动,主动抗拒符号世界的规训和容纳。通过在其结构核心置入( 对悲惨的物质环境的 )排除机制,从而让符号( 也让主体 )活跃起来。就像舞蹈让舞者探索了身体动作的无限延续一样,符号学上的意念为创造标志性的活动提供了无限的潜力。



‘事物就在那里,我们通过理解这一充满活力的举动就能把握它,它一旦成为一个形象,立刻就变成了不可把握的、非当下的、毫无感觉的……眼下的事物在于其缺失,可把握的事物变得不可把握,显现出来的某物已经消失,不曾重新回来的事物又重新回归。’7莫里斯·布朗肖,《两种虚构》( 1955年 )
1.  布林克斯,与作者的谈话。
2.  凯瑟琳·伍德,《零的故事》,Afterall杂志,2004年第10期。
3.  弗雷德里希·尼采,《论真理与谎言:道德之外的意义》,
4.  莫里斯·布朗肖,《烈火之作》,1995年。
5.  茱莉亚·克里斯特瓦,《诗歌语言的革命》,1984年。
6.  安托南·阿尔托,《完成上帝的审判》,1947年。
7.  莫里斯·布朗肖,《两种虚构》,引自《布朗肖读本》,1999年。