– Autumn/Winter 2004

Edgar Arceneaux's Search for the Meaning Among Infinite Variations

Charles Gaines


Edgar Arceneaux's inquiries into the nature of knowledge make his practice epistemological. He looks at the language mechanisms that underlie the way knowledge is constructed, and acts upon them in two ways: one, he develops from these mechanisms an aesthetic language for the interpretation of images (meaning becomes a function of aesthetic judgments); and two, he uses these judgments to produce the textual geography for the expression of his politics.

This relationship paves the way for his own unique contribution to the idea, explored by theorists like Adorno and Althusser, that aesthetics and politics are inseparable. Arceneaux may be closer to Althusser in his thinking. According to Althusser, art is constitutively ideological and political, but its aesthetic faculty visualises the ideology it contains, and in this way performs the task of estranging ideology from itself. As Michael Sprinker states:

Althusser insists that the ideological (and therefore the political)
effectiveness of artworks derives from their aesthetic power, namely, from
their production of an 'internal distance' in relation to the ideology that
they present. The presentation of ideology in art, as it were, estranges
ideology from itself, creating the possibility for, not only identification
with or interpellation by the ideology presented, but a knowledge of it, a
knowledge that the audience can then put to use in transforming the conditions
that produced the ideology in the first place.

Arceneaux comments on the acquisition of knowledge and the political/social ideas that the mechanisms of acquisition form through his aesthetic decisions; he does this by constructing relationships between separate things that may be circumstantially related but empirically unrelated.

An example can be seen in his 1997 work Spock, Tuvac, Tupac (the

  1. Michael Sprinker, 'Art and Ideology', Material Events: Paul de Man and the Afterlife of Theory, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001, p.44

  2. Marco Santambrogio and Patrizia Violi, 'Introduction', in Umberto Eco (ed.), Meaning and Mental Representation, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998, pp.5-6. This represents a debate between linguists and philosophers regarding the connection between meaning and truth. Philosophy states that meaning exists when the truthfulness of a sentence can be determined. Linguists suggest that meaning is connected to the apprehension of the intention of the speaker or writer. The latter is not concerned with truth, therefore to say, 'I am Charles' only requires that the listener understand that the speaker intends to say this. She does not need to know if Charles is a real person in order for the sentence to be meaningful.

  3. E-mail conversation with Edgar Arceneaux, Los Angeles, CA., 10 June 2004

  4. Aimee Chang in Lost Library, Ulm: Kuntsverein Ulm, 2003

  5. Ibid.

  6. Jorge Luis Borges, 'The Library of Babel', Labyrinths, New York: New Directions, 1962, p.51

  7. A. Chang, op. cit.

  8. J.L. Borges, 'La Biblioteca de Babel' (1941), Ficciones, Madrid: Alianza, 1971, pp.90

  9. Jules-François Dupuis (Raoul Vaneigem), A Cavalier History of Surrealism (1977), San Francisco: AK Press, 1999, p.87

  10. Ibid., p.88

  11. Christopher Rollason, 'Borges's 'Library of Babel' and the Internet', www.themodernword.com/borges/borges_papers_rollason2.html

  12. Eungie Joo, 'Library as Cosmos: Eungie Joo Speaks with Edgar Arceneaux', in Lost Library, op. cit.

  13. 13 J.-F. Dupuis, op. cit., pp.87-88. This idea is basic to the surrealist détournement: 'The two basic principles of détournement are the loss of importance, and in the extreme case the complete disappearance of the original meaning of each independent diverted element; and, simultaneously, the organising of another meaningful whole which confers a new significance upon each of those elements.' Andre Breton, Internationale Situationniste no.3, in J.-F.Dupuis, op.cit., p.93

  14. Arceneaux as quoted in E. Joo, op. cit.

  15. Fernand Hallyn, The Poetic Structure of the World: Copernicus and Kepler, Cambridge: MIT Press, 1990, p.12

  16. Ibid., p.7