Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the more often and more steadily we reflect upon them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me. I do not merely conjecture them and seek them as though obscured in darkness or in the transcendent region beyond my horizon: I see them before me, and I associate them directly with the consciousness of my own existence.
(Emmanuel Kant, Critique of Practical Reason, 1788)
LA VIE – A LIBI was a solo exhibition of John Lie A Fo. From March 12 to April 2, 2022, this manifestation was on view at Readytex Art Gallery (RAG). It brought us to Kantianism that connects life with ‘the starry heavens’. But in the works of Lie A Fo we can especially find the Copernican revolution with which the philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas confronted us. Levinas taught us that life is nothing but time-spatiality, for his philosophy brought us the insight that time is the absolute and space, being derived from time, is the relative (Keij, 2021). In the exhibition of Lie A Fo I experienced life that way, but then as an ambiguity beyond ideology.
Beyond the realm of words
John Lie A Fo says it beyond the realm of words. In LA VIE – A LIBI I see “a nature that exists not as a world of objects tamed for a transcendental viewer, but as a realm that includes and transcends a subject.” For this, people are asked to think about identity and difference, temporality and beyond the temporal, and life and death as part of one’s own existence (Lang, 1999). In other words, Lie A Fo performs a philosophy that builds on relationships and makes an intersectional or holistic approach to life accessible. A demonstration that also applies to the 1994 artwork Stations by the American artist Bill Viola. According to Professor of Modern and Contemporary Art Karen Lang, Stations offers not just one point of view, but as a whole body; the physical experience in time. Likewise, life has time at its core. The present… Stations depicts virtual bodies that are also projected as mirror images on granite surfaces and in which the viewer can see the own reflection. “We are presented with a visual environment that invites the involvement of the eye and the body, and of our movement in space,” because reflection here is seeing oneself as another (Lang, 1999). I see this as a similarity between Stations and LA VIE – A LIBI. One difference is that both confuse reflection in their own ways.
LA VIE – A LIBI confuses reflection by connecting symbolism and material. Possibly this relationship moves the mind in relation to time. But I also find the use of spatiality in Lie A Fo’s work interesting, especially how he connects different subjects and materials that he brings together in a complex layering. This is how I read his spatio-temporality: the merging of different types of knowledge systems and technologies.
Characteristics of our time
I find another similarity between Stations and LA VIE – A LIBI in characteristics of our time. Political scientist and philosopher Achille Mbembe names these: geographical and cultural uprooting, redefinition of the human, the entrance that computer technology-based devices have found in all aspects of social life, and the power of capital with the ability to manipulate the human species. (Mbembe, 2017).
LA VIE – A LIBI mainly pushes me towards the cultural uprooting and the redefinition of the human. Especially my associations with the figures in the works of John Lie A Fo tell me that. In the terminology of Martin Heidegger, Being must go through a stage in which it is purified by fire to reach its apotheosis. This German philosopher has claimed that the earth will blow itself up as the ‘supreme fulfillment’ of technology, allowing for a new history of a new humanity and a new world. “The end of the first beginning, and potentially the beginning of a ‘new beginning’” (Mbembe, 2017). Since LA VIE – A LIBI refers to our relationship with the earth, through the constellation of man and the other-than-human, it also brings me to the question: is Lie A Fo constructing a ‘terrasophy’ here? According to philosopher Henk Manschot, “a much more comprehensive cultural shift is needed that no longer focuses on ‘the human’, but on the process of life”. He defines ‘terrasophy’ as a new orientation in philosophical cosmology, an orientation that has made the human-earth correlation the key question for the 21st century. Nietzsche’s vision plays a role in this question because it does not start from the ‘modern’ individual. I see the same in paintings of Lie A Fo such as Red Man Story, Boy with white horse, and Rite 2.
In Nietzschean terrasophy, the universal perspective of modernity has been removed. When I dive into the terrasophy of LA VIE – A LIBI, I experience “fuck off with looking for unity”. For the regulation of life on earth, this manifestation focuses on the diversity and complexity of local cultures and communities. “It is not universality, but the values of plurality and diversity that first come to the front” (Manschot, 2020). “Universalism involves being absorbed into an already formed unity. Commonality presupposes a relationship based on sharing, on being part of something together” (Mbembe, 2017). In dealing with the idea of universality, LA VIE – A LIBI takes me to African philosophy, among other things, in which the starting point of human existence is the question of relationship and not that of Being. That is why I do not find ‘unity’ or ‘the universal’ in this exhibition, but rather the ‘common’ in which Lie A Fo used specific symbols. This exhibition – woven together with images of, among other things, skeletons, masters, crosses, and skulls – is a multiple narrative about cultural complexity in human nature. Because the artworks 2 Viruses and Warning bring me to the sense of a catastrophe in our time, I really appreciate the message the terrasophy of John Lie A Fo brings here and now. It transcends the idea of ’my own existence’.
In LA VIE – A LIBI I find a critique of Being that dominates modern culture. Modernity is divisive in politics, turning war into medicine and poison. “War has acquired a permanent place not only as a goal and necessity in democracy, but also in politics and culture” (Mbembe, 2017).
- J. Keij, Tijd als kwetsbaarheid in de filosofie van Levinas, 2021
- K. Lang, Reasons and Remainders: Kantian performativity in the history of art, 1999
- A. Mbembe, Een politiek van vijandschap, 2017
- H. Manschot, Blijf de aarde trouw: Pleidooi voor een nietzscheaanse terrasofie, 2020
This publication was made possible in part by a grant from the Dr. Silvia W. de Groot Fund.
Read more about the Dr. Silvia W. de Groot Fund here (only in Dutch).
Read more about Dr. Silvia W. de Groot here (only in Dutch).
Miguel E. Keerveld (Suriname, 1982) works in conjunction with the brand EdKe and the performance persona Tumpi Flow. Educated in civil technical engineering, ‘he’ operates with focus on visual language and creative writing. As a hybrid-intuitive concept, ‘she’ performs political interventions related to social practice. As researcher ‘it’ is focused on activating performative politics and manifesting rituals, both related to creative counseling and civic engineering of a cyborg feminist project.