Badiou proposes in this extraordinary exposition that an installation is an example of what Wallace's Stevens calls "description without place": a presentation which does not find itself placed, and where objects are presented outside their normal appearing in a world. I want to elaborate on this idea, roaming a bit in some general considerations.
Does the description without place proper to the installation to which Badiou testifies displace the objects and the relations which constitute its contents, or does the installation rather displace what is outside the installation-set with its objects and relations? What is actually displaced in the insertion of an installation into a space for its exhibition, and what relation does it obtain therefore by its subtraction from its integration into their worldly placement?
Which is the splace (space of placement) and which is outplace: installation, its outside, the world?
First, I think the installation's primary function is related to how it introduces the spectator's gaze into the ambiguity of the space between the objective organization of the artwork-set and the worldly-set. This is an extension of what Lacan calls anamorphosis; the subjective distortion which, in synthesizing the presentation of a being, blurs what is outside it; the negative alienating function of the subject's agency which Hegel famously condensed in a single statement: 'the spirit is a bone').
But how is this concrete anamorphosis effected in the case of the installation with regards to the ambiguity between the installation and world, inside and outside, splace and outplace? This is a question as old as art: wherein lies the limits of the artwork, and where does the limit lie? Needless to say, the last century has been the century of the deconstruction and experimentation of displacements of the margins of the work, from the function of the frame in urban/site intervention (Buren, Goldsworthy), to the conception of audience qua observer in performance art, where the subject actively participates in the becoming of the work itself. Likewise, Malevich's simplicity strikes in its haunting ambiguity: where does the subject's gaze end and the objectivity of the work properly begin? In this last case with Malevich the ambiguity is taken to its ontological limit: the black aquare can either appear as the density of the object alienating the sterile whiteness of its background, or this whiteness can itself appear as the pierced space, haunted by the central void of an simple blackness lurking at its center. The subject's constitutive gaze is thereby inscribed on the work; the relation presented in the artwork is not so much representational as much as perspectival, not directly constituting reality as much as introducing an irresolvable split into it. So when Lacan had to cross the signifier of the subject, this means to testify the agency of the subject as that of introducing a constitutive split in Reality, the anamorphosis which for Hegel defined subjective negativity.
But let us return to the installation.
Concerning the arrangement of objects and relations, the installation clearly presents a novel effect with respect to painting, drawing or theater performance. The difference is clearly one between the idea of representation and the inscription of scission or to the subject of lack as participating in the work. One doesn't think of a painting depicting a living room as being 'taken away from its organic placing' just because it is in a museum or enframed; the frame clearly excludes such organic 'place of dwelling' from the ideal placing of the idea in the work. As Gadamer put; the artwork ( is not a mere copy, since in its representation it does not mean to signal the spectator away from the work itself, but is itself the work as presented which retroactively renders the original an Idea in which representation of the artwork participates: “The picture then has an autonomy that also affects the original. For strictly speaking, it is only through the picture (Bild) that the original (Urbild) becomes the original.” [Truth and Method: Pg. 136]
The installation of the living room on the other hand, does not clearly delimit a qualitative difference between outside and inside; the question is one of placement: how does the installation appear in this space, concretely, and what does it say about the relations it exhibits in relation to the gap it introduces in the world? Allowing our free transit from the installation-set to the world, the artist thereby inscribes the mediational void of the spectator between the two places:
First, the world as splace and the installation as cut or fragment (outplace).
Second, the world as limit (outplace) to the splace of the abstracted relations of the installation.
It is this scission which I propose to watch more closely now.
The mediational void which is the spectator marks itself in the irreconcilable duality: either the installation is organically displaced from the world, or it is the world which is excluded by this placeless fragment. The installation is either objectivized as a non continuous, thereby displaced, element in the worldly organization (splace), or limit to a dys-functional space of objective relations which excludes what is outside itself as a whole. What are these dysfunctional relations in the installation?
The installation deals with the insertion of the spectator into the determination of the ontological consistency of the work as object, and the world in which it appears. From the spectator's position outside the installation, the world as the place of relations finds an abrupt interruption of the normal sequence of objective relations in it. This limit appears localized, there where another sequence of objects-relations begins, a second description which, although identifiable as being part of the world, is inserted separately to what it 'mundanely' to a consistent totality, to a fully constituted functional space.
For example, in Hirst's pharmacy, even if one assumes the medicinal pills presented in the installation are recognizable as actual pills, and even if they could in fact be sold in a pharmacy for the treatment of illnesses, they do not appear in their installation within the nexus of this finality. The pills, and their presentation in the installation, are isolated, there to be perceived only within the enclosed set of the relations they have with the objects inside of its contours, severed from their missing complement, a lack guarded by the indifferent world at its uncertain margins. The imaginary supplement which would grant the installation its completeness is equivalent to its imaginary recognition as a displaced part of the world, either as an obstacle in the open path of what continues the continuity of the stability of the world (as outplace), or being itself alienated by the surrounding world (as splace), in the scission palpable through the uncertain imaginary body from which it is subtracted . The relations exhibited in the installation are thereby merely fragmentary and incomplete at all ends; the imaginary sets to work either to project the displaced installation as obstacle to the preceding harmony of the world as place, or the installation is the place which appears in claustrophic alienation, like a child desperately looking for her lost mother in the tumult of a flocking crowd.
This displaced objectivity in the installation, defined by Stevens as 'description without place' and cherished by Badiou, finally does present identifiable relations between objects in the world; negatively in relation to the extent that they appear as organs, wrested from their organic integration to the world's stipulated functional homeostasis. But the scission of the artwork from its integration into a normal network allows us see the installation as objectivized precisely insofar as it is a de-functionalized exhibition of functions (relations between sets of objects), wrested from their mundane finality. In their rearrangement they thus present a sort of material abstraction, a scission of the intermediary links which leads to specific destinations in a world. This material abstraction, engraved in the constitutive split between outside and inside, splace and outplace, finally calls into question the missing element just as much as what it presents. From the outside, the installation is what is in excess of the world (the world would be regular without this exception); from the inside it is what can only acquire completeness by integration to a missing totality, as lacking alinated from the turmoil of the world, a child wrested from the mother, and in fundamental excess or interruption. This integration into the artwork in which it spaces itself in the claustrophobic alienation from the world is, of course, not the clear 'white paper protected by its whiteness' announced by Stevens and which demarcates the forms of drawing, but rather a confusing darkness, the indifferent march of the void of the world.
This is the objective outplace which, with carrying intensity, describes the void of subjective life in the anamorphosis of the Real; the cut which places the installation at an unforeseen split relative to the subject's position, exactly like Zizek attributes to Lynch and his revolution in cinema, and which Badiou reminds us apropos Stevens.
There is finally something of an ironic distantiation in the installation: its relations are merely quotes, marginal organs, exposed in their structural dependence to an absent sphere (the white void of the real which Mallarme named the 'anti-paper'). But at the same time the work immanently doubts the structural coherency of what it opens, what it interrupts when we, outside the space of the installation can identify as an abrupt suspension, a reminder of another place making palpable its fragmentary and incomplete instantiation.
If the surrealists introduced ontological relativity to the object as subjective constitution (idealist anamorphosis, Kant), and if Malevich introduced ontological anamorphosis to designate the purely positional distinction between the Same and the Other in which the activity of the subject is located (dialectical anamorphosis, Hegel), then we can propose that in the installation serves to introduce anamorphosis into the distinction of artwork/world itself, blurring their very separation (Real anamorphosis, Lacan).
Perhaps Badiou's greatest contribution is to locate the proper emergence of the subject beyond this placed purely formal and differential blind spot in reality, while recognizing in it the evental subtraction from the representational placings: the generic excess to the stability of the natural ontological order which distributes the multiple in a world. It is this subjective constitution which sustains the empty perspectival placement which dichotomizes the scission between the place and the outplace, the cut inside and the untamed force which lays as background.