Peter Weibel


The modern age and the machine are inseparably linked to each other; the evolution of the machine may have even been the prin­cipal motor of the modern age. At the age of the machine-sup­ported industrial revolution, fundamental changes in the con­tracts of man with society and with nature ensued so that the emancipation of the humiliated masses and the social revolution really seemed possible. The emergence of machines and technol­ogy led to radical changes in the system and to new social and urban relationships. Thus, the political revolution in France and the industrial revolution in England form the corner pillars of the modern age. The pathos of world revolution and the glorification of the machine (»Es lebe die Maschinenkunst Tatlins«, George Grosz and John Heartfield in 1920) characterize the stages of the modern movement from constructivism to surrealism at the beginning of the twentieth century. The technological progress and the artistic avantgarde form parallel movements up to the neo-modern stage (compare for example the manifests of Lucio Fontana). This parallel logic will culminate in the electrified kinet­ics of the European modern movement (from Pevsanek to Zero).

The experiences of totalitarian systems in the twentieth cen­tury, the two World Wars and the economic and ecological cri­ses, have shaken the confidence in the Utopian belief in ma­chines, in the world revolution and in the promise of changes in the system. Utopian visions have fallen apart. The post-modern age was born. The progress and alterations of social systems en­sued from post-industrial, information-supported revolutions. It became post-modern practise not to give up nor to annul the vi­sions of the modern age, but also not to accept them as absolute and totalitarian claims and to formulate them differently. The corner pillars of the modern age seemed not so immobile any more, but collapsable and at least movable. The connection of political and technical revolution was not regarded any longer as absolute, the primal scene of machine and modern age was no longer rehearsed so often and its links not thought so passionately connected any more. The incommensurabilities be­tween society and technology, between technology and nature, between system and the individual were accentuated.

The work of Jon Kessler owes its existence to the logic of the post-modern age. The playful, almost childish handling of electri­fied kinetic objects shows, so to speak, the footnotes to the histor­ical treaties of society, nature and nations; it shows the force of names and of symbolic orders. The anti-authoritarian aura of his formally and conceptually complex works is not only directed against the Father's name, but against any hegemony and domi­nance. The pathos of making absolute single formal elements of art and the purity of form as the mirror and ideal of revolution­ary dreams fell apart. The heterogeneity of his »mixed-media« objects, the materials he used, the structures of his composition, from »bricolage« to scatter technique, contradict the historical claims of autonomy and absoluteness in art. Instead of pathos we get wit, instead of the modern and monumental (compare Manzoni's »socle du monde«) we get the post-modern and per­formed, instead of the exceptional the trivial, instead of the hero the clown. Kessler shifts the scales and reverses the premises. In­stead of chasing the referrers (abstraction), Kessler lets the referrer return. The heterogeneous parts of our everyday life, which are unheroic, impure, normal, banal and unpathetic, supply the material for his constructions and not the pure, well-proportion­ed, precious materials. Kessler is not interested in the magic of the material nor in the importance of the material, but he surfs over the material like the channel zapper over the programmes. He is not interested in the materiality, but in the materialized sig­nificance. He is interested in the shifting, the change, the mobili­ty and the alteration. He does not leave the framework of the modern civilization, with its changes of the system and machine, society and technology, but within this framework he surfs over the debris of the former corner pillars without any respect. The stable world changes into a floating one. He injects into the found materials of everyday life, into these ready-mades, social and psychological references. The transformations of social rela­tionships, political systems and urban connections, the altera­tions between nature and society and between cultures, which are due to the emergence of machine and technology, are projected by him onto a sculpturally enlarged field. The hetero­geneity of his materials and procedures which is expressed by his surfing over the material, by »channel-surfing« over the materialized references, is the signature of a fundamental heter­ogeneity of the post-modern civilization: the reconfiguration of nature and culture as the other, the strange. This is the reason for »Kessler's Asia«, his reference to a strange culture as the basis of his own cultural identity which is built on the desintegra-tion of his own modernist culture. These are the social and psychological referrers in Kessler's work, in which the materials represent concrete materialistic significances and in which the mechanics of the stage are shown as the mechanism of a radical spectacle representing the world. This happens neither in an act of mourning, nor in agony but in merry anarchy overcoming the limitations of historicity. In this way, he succeeds in creating electrified kinetic objects which do not celebrate the foundations of his own culture and the modern age, the belief in revolution and the machine, but which, on the contrary, manifest the feeling of uneasiness and insufficiency towards one's own culture and the yearning for the other and the foreign culture. So far the multi-media aspect of Jon Kessler's work manifests its multi-cultural and incommensurable character. Kessler's work shows the incommensurabilitiesofmodern,  machine-supporteddreams. The equation of modern age and machine does not consist any more of fixed, unviolable works but of tragically fluctuating variables; it becomes a parenthetic statement, a breach, the experience of a breach. This heterogeneous experience which, in spite of its technological modernity, reminds us more of Polke than of Tinguely, this heterogeneous experience of disintegration of the modern age and of one's own culture, of ideology and reality still leaves space for visions, but post-modern and post-utopian ones, for example, visions of Asia, of heteronomy, of different, parallel, possible worlds.

Translated by Michael Stoeber