Other Planes of There: Selected Writings
by Renée Green
Duke University Press, Durham, NC, 2014
520 pp., illus. 249 col., 41 b/w. Trade, $99.95; paper, $29.95
ISBN: 978-0-8223-5692-9; ISBN: 978-0-8223-5703-2.
Reviewed by Edith Doove
Transtechnology Research, University of Plymouth
When content pages read like a text in themselves, this must reveal something about the quality of the author of the book. This anthology of selected writings by Renée Green is certainly extremely rich and in a way a work of art in itself, which makes it hardly possible to write a concise review of it. Yvonne Rainer, herself a choreographer and filmmaker, describes Green's "far-reaching social and political interests" in her blurb on the back of the book as having "led her into taking on the roles of artist-curator-archivist-historian- exhibition designer and, perhaps most unusual, adventuress-traveler." This layered description of Green's activities gives a good indication of the scope of the book. Apart from introductory essays by Green herself as well as Gloria Sutton, the texts which span a period from 1981 to 2010, are divided in five sections: Genealogies, Circuits of Exchange, Encounters, Positions and the longest one, Operations. Even when read chronologically as I did, it still feels at all times refreshingly non-linear. What turns reading this encyclopaedic book into a dense exploratory adventure is the wide range of its subjects and the different styles of writing that Green administers, from deeply academic to storytelling or almost indexical.
The title 'Other Planes of There' not only alludes to this layered condition but is also the title of an exhibition and installation. This double use, or maybe better re-use or re-take of work, whether it is written or made, is a constant as Green clearly lives with her oeuvre and likes to revive its different components over the years in changing contexts to test out their on-going but also changing agency. The idea of the encounter and following from this interaction in all its disguises is thus central. It is exemplified in the importance of the idea of the Contact Zone that Green introduced in her 1994 symposium 'Negotiations in the Contact Zone' at The Drawing Center in New York. In her introductory essay Gloria Sutton discusses this "watershed" moment when Green organised a dialogue between cultural producers and cultural critics on the issue of art as theoretical critique and the similar but simultaneously different methodologies of both groups. This is just one example of how Green not only constantly questions and interrogates her own work, but also the conditions in which it is generated; when, where and with whom. Her critical engagement is amongst others apparent in her essay 'Why Reply?' (2007) on "(...) participation of any kind in relation to international cultural events (ICEs), as well as more generally (...) the question on why engage, discuss, respond, or question". Green poses a question that seems central to her work: "How to acknowledge the beauty and power of intellect, details, specificity, and precision in the aesthetic process rather than consider these aspects as extraneous?"
Sutton starts her essay with a quote from Green during the Contact Zone symposium on the importance of moving outside of someone's comfort zone and the knowledge of one or more other languages "to enable a rethinking of established notions". Green has certainly travelled and lived throughout the world, most notably extended periods in Vienna and Portugal, and speaks several languages as well as using myriad media ones. As Sutton states the book 'Other Planes of There' is in itself another 'contact zone' in which established notions are provoked and rethought by exposing them to different contexts.
While reading the book I remembered having run into Green's work on several occasions and in different places, to start with in Antwerp in 1993 when it was a Cultural Capital of Europe. Green took part in one of its central exhibitions 'On Taking a Normal Situation...' and republishes in this anthology the text she wrote for it under the section 'Operations'. She also muses in her introductory essay about the fact that the massive installation she made for this exhibition, 'Inventory of Clues', was mysteriously 'lost'. I realize I have 'lost' the catalogue of both that exhibition as well as the one of the exhibition that I visited in Firminy, 'Project Unité' in one of Le Corbusier's Unité d'Habitation. Green relates a harrowing account of her actually living in the half-deserted place right up to the opening of the exhibition. I still remember my visit vividly, and this account now adds to it. It is a shame I can't find the catalogue. It might be hiding in one of my still unpacked boxes. Green mentions both exhibitions several times throughout her texts and it is interesting to see how these interventions resonate both for the artist and the 'perceiver' as she prefers to call the one that engages with her work.
This in its turn chimes well with two texts that follow each other in the 'Operations' section. 'Why Systems?' (2004) starts with an extensive definition of the word system from Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language, demonstrating the many layers involved in its meaning. Green continues to discuss the "accretive process (...) that runs through all of (her) production" and how "the intersecting forms of these different elements affect how it is possible for a perceiver to engage". 'Relay' (2005) again starts with a definition, this time of the word relay that is equally very layered. For Green the term, which she used as a title for the exhibition this text was written for, "suggest(s) ways of thinking about (her) work", occurring "in different and overlapping forms and tak(ing) place over time and in multiple locations." Relay and other projects at the time focused "on the relationality and tensions arising in and between locations, movement, and passages of time." Green makes her intention clear by quoting Kubler from his The Shape of Time: Remarks on the History of Things (1962): "Historical recall never can be complete nor can it be even entirely correct, because of the successive relays that deform the message." That Green is simultaneously working with Deleuze's idea of a constant becoming, also of meaning, is stressed by the title of her introductory essay 'Other Planes, Different Phases, My Geometry, Times, Movements: Becomings Ongoing' which resonates throughout the book.
The precision of construction, a slow precise build-up over many years, consisting of the "combination of processes and questions" that Green uses in all of her work is not surprisingly also apparent in the structure of the book. Apart from the sections mentioned above, there are 142 plates in a separate section with colour illustrations of her artwork that allude to the in total 51 chapters. This section sits in a peculiar place, not neatly in the middle or at the end, but between chapters 47 and 48. This placement makes it the kind of counterpoint that Green applies throughout her oeuvre and which thus turns the entire book in an artwork or at least into an integral part of that oeuvre. The last four chapters also become something as an afterword through this positioning after the pictorial interlude. These texts seem more reflexive, looking back in time, slightly more melancholic. The last text, 'Endless Dreams and Water Between', a semi-fictional text about a woman, Aria, who invites three of her friends to start writing each other letters and also physically meet in the so-called September Institute, is based on the idea of studying islands, referencing amongst others Deleuze and Gertrude Stein. Aria's interest lies in what is specific, what slips away in oblivion and is determinedly unfashionable. She leaves her friends with the following words inspired by Bergson and Deleuze that clearly reveal a lot about what Aria/Green tries to put her finger on:
"Why something rather than nothing, but why this rather than something else? Why this tension of duration? Why this speed rather than another? Why this proportion? And why will a perception evoke a given memory, or pick up certain frequencies rather than others? In other words, being is difference and not the immovable or the undifferentiated, nor is it contradiction, which is merely false movement. Being is the difference itself of the thing, what Bergson often calls the nuance."
Complete with an extensive Publishing History, Curriculum Vitae and Index that indicate clearly the rich scope of this anthology, this certainly is a beautiful example of what thinking through and with work can lead to.