Vít Havránek: Does something like a beginning exist?
Boris Ondreička: Does it or did it? An infinite number of constant beginnings? Euphoria and dysphoria? Or just the one? That big-bang or whatever? I don’t allow myself to answer questions about the beginning of the universe, any more than about its end.
VH: Does death exist?
BO: Biological death happens, the death of animals. Dying takes time (a coma is not yet death, cogito ergo sum is an incorrect thesis), but death does not exist, it is a moment/aspect: to exist versus to exit. Bodies have a variable duration. The variability depends on “given” parameters and “the care” that is taken (physical and psychological), or there can be violent ends (deliberate or accidental / brought about by self or others). Then we rot. The rotting isn’t death, for it’s already after death, it’s rotting. The body is water and stone is water… Water is the most critical of liquids. Worms, insects and flowers will blissfully draw strength from my waters…
VH: Does the universe exist and where does it end?
BO: Faith is the pre-colonisation of the spaces of the unknown. Believers think that they know more than we atheists do. To think that I know more than someone else, does not necessarily mean anything else than arrogance or anxiety. I am not religiously indifferent, I am anti-religious, though it doesn’t stop me from making friends with believers. I reject answers beyond the boundaries of the known. I reject answers about the end of the universe. What we have called the universe visibly exists and I can look at it above and below by looking into the surface of a lake at night, together with my face, through which (under which) swim fish. I poke my face in the middle with my finger, for a moment it deforms with the interference and I think about the prominence of the stars, that this is based not on distance or size, but on brightness. Thanks to this effect, that which is smallest, furthest away, looks like the nearest, the biggest. And actually, it isn’t a star, but the moon, a body illuminated by another, which is hidden. And it’s not even the moon, it’s a cloud that brings the light of the moon, which is also hidden by another body, light reflected twice. Light has a source. Darkness does not have a source. There is one black, one white and millions of greys. I consider sound and other senses in the same way. “Tone” is a quality that we judge also in pictures and sound, speech, meanings…
VH: Does life exist apart from on our planet?
BO: I think so, but just out of considerations of probability. And even if it does I don’t regard that as important for my life. I can’t even cope with my own life, because there are many things I don’t hear. Not because they are silent, but just because my inner voice is so loud.
VH: Where does my “I” begin?
BO: I don’t know what you mean. Investigating one “I” is like investigating one colour of the skin. I began in my mother’s belly as 50% my mother and 50% my father and later developed under the influence of third persons. Physical orientation is analogical to ethical orientation. A small child can’t yet process polysemia. The family foundation, though, is just a matter of conditions that change through the influence of third persons. The influence of third persons on the family foundation can be over-riding. The body itself can change through the influence of third persons.
VH: What is the body made of?
BO: Of juices that circulate thanks to organs that mostly beat in the dark and so also of the dark that is between them. Organ – organ and prelude, and organ and totality. And the verbal and non-verbal sounds of these juices and organs. I have nothing but my body, these juices that change into joy and a good sleep, that will serve those insects and flowers after my death.
VH: Are genes programmed?
BO: My daughter Olivia loves it when we talk about the percentage of her body that she gets from the nationalities of our ancestors. For example she is 12.5 % Ukrainian. Yes, probably it’s true and genes are programmed. When I hear reports about all these inherited diseases I wonder if they contain part of what sometimes we call original sin. I wonder whose gene contains the thing that fills a boy with excitement from sex and a girl with fear of the same sex, if I am the child of excitement and fear…
VH: Does knowledge bring happiness?
BO: The “Kohelet” of Solomon’s mazkirah (Ecclesiastes in the Bible) resolutely claimed that it does not. We want knowledge to bring happiness, but sometimes that’s not possible. There’s a “negative” and a “negative”, there’s not knowing “something” and not knowing anything. Knowledge is unethical, unaesthetic, polysemic, and multipolar. The extreme point of its polarities is lunacy, which can result from excess. So knowledge, like consumption, has to be subject to a certain order and sobriety. By talking of happiness we get back to talking about the instincts and juices of our bodies: happy is the man who knows how to get food – that way he is attractive, and sleeps happy from food, drink and his organs (filled and emptied). In the Slovak language we make no distinction between “luck” and “happiness”.
VH: What do self-control and self-censorship bring you when you write?
BO: Rhythm, timing, metre, consistency, communicativeness, safety, inner critique. I am not the autistic type of artist; my space is to be found somewhere between the private and the public, in that wall, in the glass of that window. I devote the same time to what I say as to what you hear but there I often get lost in between or imprisoned in those walls. I need ritual (stereotype), in order to be capable of getting back to the safety of the dichotomic normativity of ordinary life from the multi-polar normality of the world of poetry. Writing is radically different from thinking. The written is critical. My texts are not introspective; I use myself as an example. My texts are dedicated to the surrounding world.
VH: What is freedom?
BO: Freedom is just an empty vessel. As soon as it is filled with something, it loses its meaning. If it is not filled with anything, it destroys itself. It always happens like that. Freedom is just a prefix, it is always the freedom “of something”? Freedom does not exist in essence. Essentiality is nonsense per se. Freedom is just a quality of the subject and not a subject itself (a “how” and not a “what”). Freedom is therefore always bound. The world is composed of more attributes than of objects or subjects – there are few meaningful things, but a million ways of being.
VH: What is the motivation for a man to live?
BO: If we are going to talk about the meaning of life, first we must talk about instincts and their cultural obstructions and superstructures: hunger and thirst/ taste, reproduction/orgasm, association/friendship, movement and rest/entertainment… When we talk about instincts, we have to remember that culture forbids us from acting on many of them directly (for the sake of our collective protection…), for example getting food by theft from the weaker. The motivation for life is the fulfilment of sophisticated superstructures, serving them, and their consequences (sex, diet, mortgage…). The pleasurable superstructure motivates the fulfilment of instinct. The obstructive superstructure can destroy that fulfilment. Many superstructures seek to hide their own substructure. The superstructure then means extra work. Hypertrophia, Hypertrophia. Friendship and love. Cultural additives, which substitute smoothly for instincts, but the instincts do not vanish. They are only blocked and they oscillate compulsively from the sidelines… This discourse is extremely decadent in spaces that fight for sheer existence (wars, poverty…).
VH:What is intersubjectivity, archipelago?
BO: Intersubjectivity is inter-space, a space of contact, exchange of subjectivities, correspondence of ideas, confrontation. I write about how, because of the demand for limitless freedom, we are living in a delta. The river doesn’t exist, it has lost its banks, the water drowns the spring, cartography is dead. We are living on islands (isola, isolation) in this delta, everyone alone. We shout at each other across rather choppy surfaces. We build bridges, tunnels, we construct boats and planes; we define archipelagos of empathy, as by ourselves we would not survive the time of hibernation.
VH: What is outimacy?
BO: Outimacy – is the radiation of intimacy “outwards”. Extimacy would already be positioned facing the outside. Outimacy is the private in the context of the public, like standing naked on one’s own balcony, hearing through the wall how a neighbour boils water on the stove – hear the temperature of the water, hear the temperature. Outimacy is the conflict of mine with ours (yours), my inability to come to terms with the social functioning of intimacy. Like when you can’t get around someone who is walking down the middle of the pavement in front of you more slowly than you are: what is the difference here between absorption in thought and egoism?
VH: If you could classify the contents of the biggest library in the world, how would you do it?
BO: I read terribly slowly (and so I don’t read much), because every page has 5 references to other books (which I haven’t read) and leads me to make another five notes. Older books (paper books don’t fascinate me) will because relics. The existing ones will be scanned. The stacks full of paper books will not longer grow, and forests will no longer be felled for paper. That’s a perfect ecological vision. I am still fascinated by the now banal function of the digital encyclopaedia, that allow me to click on a word or quotation, expression, term… That is how I imagine the library of the future – maximum accessibility: everything linked up, concentration on the metalanguage (polysemic categorisation – something like: “What are you thinking about?” “That?” “That?” “That?” Link, link link), investment in translation (the fascinating Columbian poetry of the Nadaismo movement isn’t translated into English…) and not on printing and transport. And that mega-library building will be something like a resort, a campus (for example again in the middle of the Sahara), for people who have a real reason for dealing with the matter of old books.
VH: If you were head of the UN, what would you do?
BO: I would try to ensure that the UN was consensually put in charge of all states, on the basis of minoritarian democracy. I would try to ensure that religions ceased to exist, and later borders, and later all states, but not ethnic groups, minorities, because I would encourage diversity. If only the waters of the sea could be international, if Italy, for example can have a parliament that functions relatively well, why not the whole world together. There would be no passports, visas, foreign ministries or interior ministries…
VH: If you had to write your autobiography, what would it be like?
BO: A record of what I have been and what I am from my point of view – versus a record of what I have been and am from the point of view of others, like Scheissliche Ostblocker. Again it’s that “I”.
VH: If you had to choose or found a constituency in which you would live– what would you create for yourself?
BO: I would found an Interdisciplinary Order of the Body. Because of the success of fulfilment of the demand for range and mobility, the demand for accessibility (information) and knowledge overload are making disciplines more narrowly specialised. The space is so huge and dense that disciplines not only fail to communicate together, but also disrespect each other (medicine and psychology). This means that the servicing of our bodies (including our brains) is at the mercy of the performance of a quantity of egocentrically separated disciplines. The body will be the centre of our future interest. The core activity of my order would be communication between disciplines directly related to the service of our bodies, and consequently a concentration on translation. The basic communication tool would be metaphor.
VH: If you could pose some questions – what would they be?
BO: How to square questions of normality with answers of normativity? How to square coddled theory with corrupt practice? How to translate the internal voice into the external voice? How to fund a family from poetic isolation?
VH: If you had to re-order the files in my computer – what would you do?
BO: I would simply approach theories, themes, expressions, words as the basis of the meta-language. I would link these metalinguistic components together and the files would arrange themselves. The basis of the desktop would be a central search-engine. Then it would be enough just to remember snippets… The whole system would be unidirectional online (protected from the outside in). It will be linked up to the megalibrary. If you allow the megalibrary access to your writing, the whole world will know that you are working precisely on “that” and your attention will be drawn to other, analogical… systems like it that already exist, of course.
VH: If you were responsible for reports and the graphic design of a report for an alien civilisation, how would you do it?
BO: I wouldn’t venture to do that.
Vít Havránek is a theorist and curator, leader of the initiative tranzit.cz.
Boris Ondreička is an artist and curator of Thyssen- Bornemisza Art Contemporary.
Boris Ondreička Theoretical Performance #73, part from the Eu¬stachian Tube, 2013, Athens Biennale 4, Agora, screening and reading– performance, video-still. Photo: archive of the artist.