Jonathan Baxter

Artist and …

Quotations and other mis-readings

Like Walter Benjamin I’m interested in quotations. Like Sigmund Freud I’m interested in lapses: misreading, misspeaking and mishearing. The following quotations/mis-quotations spoke/mis-spoke to me. They’re listed here in descending chronological order and updated as footnotes to the work I make/unmake. No attempt has been made to resolve their contradictions.

Once again I should like to start with the wound.

(Joseph Beuys, quoted in Mesch, 2017, p. 18)

We ought, says Kant, to become acquainted with the instrument, before we undertake the work for which it is to be employed; for if the instrument be insufficient, all the trouble will be spent in vain … But the examination of knowledge can only be carried out by an act of knowledge. To examine this so-called instrument is the same thing as to know it. But to seek to know before we know is as absurd as the wise resolution of Scholasticus, not to venture into the water until he had learned to swim.

(Hegel, quoted in Singer, 1983/2001, p. 68)

… to enter more fully / the warm – dark – moisture / of One in whose hunger / for survival and passion / for friends – and movement / for justice – and yearning / for touch and pleasure / we are becoming / ourselves.

(Carter Heyward, 1989, p. 2)

… ecology is a … hyper-complex operator, a catalyst of change, a caretaker of concern, with great and grave stakes. But the most important stake is the development of a new kind of subjectivity.

(Gary Genosko, 2009, p. 71)

Contemporary art has moved far from the internalized engine of change that characterized Modernism’s model of art. Today, artists draw from every aspect of human knowledge and experience, adopting these as raw materials from which to create new ways of looking at the world.

(Eleanor Heartney – taken from an Art and Education mail-out for Montclair State University, Stratatorium, the 2014 MFA in Studio Art thesis exhibition)

… the scenes that beggars stage seem to have declined in dramatic merit.

(Erving Goffman, 1959/90, p. 50)

The APG anticipates small areas of land initially being given back to Aboriginal communities after specific campaigns over long periods of time. Political unification of those successful groups would form the developing Aboriginal nation territory. The strategy would be to rally all Aboriginal people around a particular community which is seeking to reclaim certain areas of land … [C]ontrol would eventually be conceded by the white authorities as being revested in the Aboriginal communities. This of course would take great people resources, financial support, and grim determination. The latter is entirely in our hands.

(Aboriginal Provisional Government statement in Day, 2005, p.192. The slippage I’m interested in, here, concerns the Artist Placement Group (APG), and what it would mean for contemporary iterations of APG to support the above proposal in a variety of contexts.)

‘I’ve done as you suggested. I’ve messed the place up, but it doesn’t look convincing. It just doesn’t look like a dog’s been here. It just looks like an art exhibition.’

(Kazuo Ishiguro, 2009, p. 68)

I saw in the mirror of humility a human being to whom history could do no more, a grotesque creature who had been released from the pre-ordained destiny which had battered him until he was half-senseless …

New myths are needed; but that’s none of my business.

(Salman Rushdie, 1995, p. 447 & p. 458)

The discipline of ruling interests and ideas has allied itself with a skepticism that masquerades as realism, creating over the world, a semblance of closure. …

This sense of an end to ideological and institutional contests is, however, an illusion fueled by a lack of imagination. … Acts of defiance that seem impossible may, once practiced, seem inevitable.

(Roberto Mangabeira Unger, 2005/2009, p. 169 and p. 170)

I came into the world imbued with the will to find a meaning in things, my spirit filled with the desire to attain to the source of the world, and then I found that I was an object in the midst of other objects. / Sealed into this crushing objecthood, I turned beseechingly to others. Their attention was a liberation, running over my body suddenly abraded into non-being, endowing me once more with the agility that I had thought lost, and by taking me out of the world, restoring me to it. But just as I reached the other side, I stumbled, and the movements, the attitudes, the glances of the others fixed me there, in the sense in which a chemical solution is fixed by a dye. I was indignant; I demanded an explanation. Nothing happened. I burst apart. Now the fragments have been put together again by another self.

(Frantz Fanon, 1952/1970, p. 77)

[T]he avant-garde opens a way for an average person to understand himself or herself as an artist – to enter the field of art as a producer of weak, poor, only partially visible images. But an average person is by definition not popular – only stars, celebrities, and exceptional and famous personalities can be popular. Popular art is made for a population consisting of spectators. Avant-garde art is made for a population consisting of artists.

(Boris Groys, 2010, p. 115)

The future of our world – the world we share – is syncretistic, impure. We are not shut off from one another. More and more, we leak into each other.

Literature is dialogue; responsiveness.

(Susan Sontag, ‘The Fragile Alliance’, 2003)

I belong to a people, heart and mind, who do not trust mirrors. Not those, in any case, in which we ourselves appear. The empty mirror, the one that reflects noses and hair unlike our own, and a prosperity and harmony we may never have known, gives us peace. Our shame is deep. For shame is the result of soul injury. Mirrors, however, are sacred, not only because they permit us to witness the body we are fortunate this time around to be in, but because they permit us to ascertain the condition of the eternal that rests behind the body, the soul. As an ancient Japanese proverb states: when the mirror is dim the soul is not pure.

Art is the mirror, perhaps the only one, in which we can see our true collective face. We must honor its sacred function. We must let art help us.

(Alice Walker, 1996, p. 13)

But isn’t it interesting that someone in the grip of such a monstrous religious fantasy – believing she is doing the Lord’s work – is doing the work that the Lord would be doing if there was a Lord?

(E.L. Doctorow, 2009, p. 139)

What if performance challenges strict divisions about where art ends and the rest of the world begins?

[T]he disruption of one medium often requiries a re-skilling in the techniques of another.

(Shannon Jackson, 2011, p. 15 & 19)

There is, however, one contradictory phenomena, which may prove, that it is not absolutely impossible for ideas to arise, independent of their corresponding impressions. … [T]hough this instance is so singular, that it is scarcely worth observing, and does not merit, that for it alone we should alter our general maxim.

(David Hume, 1756/1999, pp. 98/9)

At its worst, the power-mongering of curationism creates an intolerable noise, a constant cycle of grasping and display. To escape and conquer this, there must be stillness.

(David Balzer, 2015, p. 129)

The hostility to association of fine art with normal processes of living is a pathetic, even tragic, commentary on life as it is ordinarily lived. Only because that life is usually so stunted, aborted, slack, or heavy laden, is the idea entertained that there is some inherent antagonism between the process of normal living and creation and enjoyment of works of esthetic art. After all, even though ‘spiritual’ and ‘material’ are separated and set in opposition to one another, there must be conditions through which the ideal is capable of embodiment and realization …

(John Dewey in Freeland, 2003, pp. 81-2)

Conceptual Art in the broadest sense was a kind of laboratory for innovations in the rest of the century. An unconscious international energy emerged from the raw materials of friendship, art history, interdisciplinary readings, and a fervor to change the world and the ways artists related to it.

(Lucy Lippard in Materializing Six Years: Lucy R. Lippard and the Emergence of Conceptual Art, 2012, p. xii)

Overturning the very premises from which social engagement operates can be both artistically and critically invigorating.

(Claire Bishop, from and interview with Jennifer Roche)

The stage is theological for as long as it is dominated by speech, by will to speech, by the layout of a primary logos which does not belong to the theatrical site and governs it from a distance. The stage is theological for as long as its structure , following the entirety of tradition, comports the following elements: an author-creator who, absent and from afar, is armed with a text and keeps watch over, assembles, regulates the time or the meaning of representation, letting this latter represent him as concerns what is called the content of his thoughts, his intentions, his ideas. He lets representation represent him through representatives, directors or actors, enslaved interpreters who represent characters who, primarily through what they say, more or less directly represent the thought of the “creator.” Interpretative slaves who faithfully execute the providential designs of the “master.” Who moreover … creates nothing, has only the illusion of having created, because he only transcribes and makes available for reading a text whose nature is itself merely representative …’

(Jacques Derrida, 1978/1997, p. 235)

Did I wait somewhere for this place to be ready to receive me? Or did it wait for me to come and people it?

(Samuel Beckett, quoted in Foster, 1989, p. 206)

And in that clear unpeopled space they saved / It lightly reared its head, with scarce a trace // of not being there.


Historicity. Immanence. Enclosure of analysis (cognition and understanding) in one given text. The problem of the boundaries between text and context. Each word (each sign) of the text exceeds its boundaries. Any understanding is a correlation of a given text with other texts. Commentary. The dialogic nature of this correlation. …

Contexts of understanding. The problem of remote contexts. The eternal renewal of meanings in all new contexts. Small time (the present day, the present past, and the forseeable [desired] future) and great time – infinite and unfinalised dialogue in which no meaning dies. The living in nature (organic). Everything inorganic is drawn into life in the process of exchange (only in abstraction can things be juxtaposed by taking them separately from life).

(Mikhail Bakhtin, 1986/1999, p. 161 & p. 169)

Biodiversity means the diversity of life – the rich diversity of life forms on our beautiful planet. Biodiversity is the very fabric of life – it provides the conditions for life’s emergence and maintenance, and the many different ways in which that life is expressed. Biological biodiversity and cultural diversity are intimately related and interdependent. Biodiversity is in fact the embodiment of centuries of cultural evolution, because humans have co-evolved with other species in the diverse ecosystems of the world. Biodiversity in its turn has shaped the world’s diverse cultures. The erosion of biodiversity and the erosion of cultural diversity are related. Both have been threatened by the globalisation of an industrial culture based on reductionist knowledge, mechanistic technologies and the commodification of resources.

(Vandana Shiva, 2000, p. 8)

All institutions, theologies and spiritual traditions can become idolatries, ways of making God a controllable object, rather than helping us experience God as a living, unpredictable object.

(A mis-reading from a quotation by Richard Holloway in John [Ed.], 1992, p. 6. The last word should read ‘subject’.)

… the rest of your life a desert of facts. Cut them open and spread them out like garbage.

(Michael Ondaatje, 1984, p. 134)

“In analysis,” Freud once explained to H.D., “the person is dead after the analysis is over,” to which H.D. responded, “which person?”

(Diane Fuss, 2004, p. 95)

Tathagatha: “one who has thus gone” (tathā-gata) or “one who has thus come” (tathā-āgata) …

The River Tay: (Gaelic: Tatha) …

(Wikipedia – last accessed 2012)

Faced with a wardrobe or a canvas he might start imagining – owning up to – dreams of what he wanted, who he wanted to be, what of himself he might want others to want. If paint, like clothes, was for him then, at an unconscious level, a covering up, then what were the catastrophes associated with nakedness? What would he have been doing, what would he have been thinking about, if he had neither got dressed nor painted?

(Adam Phillips, 2000, p. 67)

The grass people bow / their heads before the wind. // How would it be / to stand among them, bending / our heads like that …? // Yes … and no … perhaps … / lifting our dusty faces / as if we were waiting for / the rain …? // The grass people stand / all year, patient and obedient – / to be among them / is to have only simple / and friendly thoughts, / / and not be afraid.

(John Haines, ‘To Turn Back’.)

It stands in water, wrapped in heron.

(Norman MacCaig, from the poem, ‘Heron’.)

Art is a form of dialogue. If we are to become what the founder of the Slow Food Movement Carlo Petrini calls ‘co-producers’, we need open lines of communication between consumers and producers – networks and channels that flow both ways. The global Artworld is exactly what we don’t need: a one way system that delivers art as though the people at either end had no relationship with one another. It is a system based on profit, nothing else; one that only profits those who run it.

(A mis-quotation from Carolyn Steel, 2009, p. 310. Where Steel writes ‘food’ and ‘food super highway’ I write ‘art’ and ‘Artworld’.)

They will allow the artist and the poet a place in their society if he is a respectable earnest educationalist, who has reassured the populace that he really is an efficient sensible fellow, like any other dull righteous worker, and that Art, Poetry and Religion are not so difficult or important; they too can be made mediocre, it only needs education.

(Cecil Collins, 2002, p. 96)

… but how do we do when it comes to the big squeeze, the collision of our vision with the reality of the situation?

(Pema Chodron, 2008, p. 74)

Analytic interpretation is not designed to be understood; it is designed to make waves.

(Jacques Lacan in Fink, 2007, p. 81)

To consider the body as a situation … is to refuse to break it down into an ‘objective’ and a ‘subjective’ component …

(Toril Moi, 1999, p. 73)

… he opened the cupboards as possessions must be sorted after death, putting objects aside like words of a code or symbols of a life that will never be understood coherently, never explained, now –

He doesn’t move and the other doesn’t move; it’s as if each presence (himself and the sound of his own breathing) waits for the other, as concealment.

(Nadine Gordimer, 1974/8, p. 238 & 227)

We are looking for ‘spaces’ (geographic, social, cultural, imagined) with potential to flower as autonomous zones – and we are looking for times in which these spaces are relatively open, either through neglect on the part of the State or because they somehow escaped notice by the mapmakers  …

(Hakim Bey on the TAZ)

… against the two dominant models of democratic politics, the ‘aggregative’ one that reduces it to the negotiation of interests and the ‘deliberative’ or ‘dialogic’ one which believes that decisions on matters of common concern should result from the free and unconstrained public deliberation of all, I have proposed to envisage democratic politics as a form of ‘agonistic pluralism’ in order to stress that in modern democratic politics, the crucial problem is how to transform antagonism into agonism. In my view the aim of democratic politics should be to provide the framework through which conflicts can take the form of an agonistic confrontation among adversaries instead of manifesting themselves as an antagonistic struggle between enemies.

(Chantal Mouffe, 2000/2009, p.117)

The artist has to be on the ground, in a relationship with the other participants, allowing the project to take form as a result of the actual engagement.

(Jan Cohen-Cruz, 2010, p.126)

With the hollowing out of community by the market system, with its loss of structure, articulation, and form, comes the concomitant hollowing out of personality itself. Just as the spiritual and institutional ties that linked human beings together into vibrant social relations are eroded by the mass market, so the sinews that make for subjectivity, character and self-definition are divested of form and meaning. The isolated, seemingly autonomous ego that bourgeois society celebrated as the highest achievement of “modernity” turns out to be the mere husk of a once fairly rounded individual whose very completeness as an ego was responsible because he or she was rooted in a fairly rounded and complete community.

(Murray Bookchin, 1999, p. 96)

They will discover out of ordinary things the meaning of ordinariness.

(Allan Kaprow, 1996/2003, p. 9)

All living creatures on earth are being threatened today by violence, terrorism, economic disparity, environmental degradation, and so-called religious intolerance or civilizational conflicts. All these problems are being created by human beings through the exploitation of negative emotions such as greed and hatred. Industrialization has enabled humanity to produce more commodities than people really need, which has necessitated the creation of markets and the exploitation of greed through indoctrination and brainwashing.

(Samdhong Rimpoche, quoted in Sivaraksa, 2009, p. vii)

Voiding creates form: a clearing organises the forest around an opening.

(Luce Irigaray, 1982/92, p. 52)

What condemns the capitalist value system is that it is characterized by general equivalence, which flattens out all other forms of value, alienating them in its hegemony.

(Felix Guattarri, 2000, p. 65)

In our godforsaken state we lacked God, and this lack, this hunger for a single piece of edible bread in Bonn was with us. The Regent, Sovereign, All-powerful Potentate did not, indeed could not, help us. But the God of defeat and of pain, the God of Golgotha was with us.

(Dorothee Soelle, 1995, p. 45)

… a humanity that could no longer kill itself would lose its balance, would cease to be normal …

(Maurice Blanchot, 1955/1998), p. 105)

… folks take off their animal selves and assume their usual, human masks, thereby learning that ‘human’ is just one among many masks that animals wear.

(Ronald Grimes in Szerszynski eta., (Ed), 2003, p. 32)

The [biotic] pyramid is a tangle of chains so complex as to seem disorderly, yet the stability of the system proves it to be a highly organized structure.

(Aldo Leopold, 1949/1968, p. 215)

Because anarchism is in its essence an anti-dogmatic and unstructured cluster of related attitudes, which does not depend for its existence on any enduring organization, it can flourish when circumstances are favourable and then, like a desert plant, lie dormant for seasons and even years, waiting for the rains that will make it burgeon.

(George Woodstock, quoted in Blunt and Wills, 2000, p. 28)

All angels are terrifying.


When I gave myself the task of bringing to light what people hide, not through the compulsion of hypnosis, but through what they say and show, I thought the task more difficult than it actually is. Anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear will be convinced that mortals cannot hide a secret. If one’s lips are silent, one will be voluble with one’s finger-tips; betrayal seeps through every pore. And for that reason the task of bringing the most hidden parts of the soul to consciousness is very easy to accomplish.

(Sigmund Freud in Phillips (Ed.), 2006, p. 498)

To empty is not the same as to deny.

(Shunryu Suzuki, 2003, p. 38)

The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form, was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses, his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.

(Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, 1888/1977, p. 83)

This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned towards the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.

(Walter Benjamin, 1973/1992, p. 249)

The text is a tissue of innumerable quotations …

(Roland Barthes, quoted in Kearney, 1991/1998, p. 182)