notes and images from a lecture given by Dan Robinson at Unidee -University of Ideas, Fondazione Pistoletto, Italy. 9th September 2004.

for printing: set PageSetup to Landscape to keep images

Floodlit Platform

Floodlit Platform was a lecture and golf-style event for Unidee that tested the parameters of institutional expression.

Floodlit Platform
was part of Plot, a project by Dan Robinson and Bryan Davies to investigate market driven lifestyle cultures (such as golf, BMXing, rock climbing) alongside the organisation of art activity.

The Plot project was organised by Artist House - a space dedicated to a new identity of art in Leeds - and Centre for International Success - whose manifesto is the tremor of a hammond organ.

The lecture invited the residents to reflect on
their and our art practices in relation to lifestyle and documentary rhetoric at Cittadellarte. It also proposed a golf-style event/party for the evening of Saturday the 11th September.


I want to present a set of ideas / questions that come from thinking about relationships between organisational systems, spaces and the individual. In particular to consider instances where meaning is produced from dialogues between art practice and wider structures, where identities are expressed at sites where individuals meet the world.

This paper arises from a context of research through practice, rather than purely theoretical work so I'll be showing examples of practical work throughout.

When I say organisational systems, I'm talking for example about institutions, lifestyle subcultures, the market and language, (but also about subjectivity, voice or signification -all systems, but won't really go into)

When I talk about spaces, I'm thinking about both physical space and ideas space. Particularly interested the nature of fictional space, in examples of novels, poetry or manifesto. Where we might find attempts to describe imagined spaces. Whether we're reading science-fiction or political manifesto, a tension is felt between an idea of a space and the language used to communicate it.

I'm thinking about collisions of space and language. De Certeau wrote, "space is a practiced place", Science proposes that space is not absolute but is determined in relation to a subject. Deconstruction, Post-structuralism, Textuality and Dialogism are all theories suggesting a loosening of fixed meanings, where the work of reading is a production of meaning. Subjectivity is realised as a dialogue with systems - language system, or spatial systems, as a kind of mutual unravelling, the result being that both sides of the relation are transformed by the encounter.

Our motivation for exploring these ideas is based in a desire to create free spaces for production of meanings, and also to challenge the relationship between such spaces and meanings.

With this in mind I would like to consider 'responsible social transformation' and how this relies on a kind of double - of deconstructing meanings, whilst making intelligible proposals. And what does 'responsible social transformation' signify? Activities of resistance, transformation, or signifying practices need to work to transform relations to language as much as to capital…

notes: ideas of fiction and translation between actual events, documentation and manifestos. How Sites determine production of meaning. Utopian spaces / models. Language and space.


'Can a space for free thought be created simply by declaring it exists?
(and if such a space exists, does it have a voice of its own?) (and what is free thinking? A whole other question…)

Translating highlights that language has no absolute meaning, rather its a surface. Spoken accents, inflection.. language does not fix meaning, statements exist poetically, logically, rhythmically.

'Can a space for free thought be created simply by declaring it exists?'
A short story in four languages appears on International poster (Leeds)


International poster_(Leeds)
Dan Robinson, 2004


Urban Jumble, Leeds
Joint project with Artist House

As an art & design student project, we aimed to create an ambivalent space between Institutions in order to escape the 'authority' of any single role or institution. As a result each participant had multiple roles, creating a dynamic collaboration. This is not to say the group dynamic is anarchic or non-hierarchical, simply that these roles are ambivalent and shifting, and that participants occupy multiple positions.

The project focused on lifestyles, identifiable groups built around shared social, leisure, cultural situations and ideologies. We wanted to think about relations between individual expression and wider organisational and economic systems. The result was a gallery installation built around three 'Urban Extracts' (an allotment, a BMX community and a housing estate) that interacted in a live event.

'The BMX ramp doubled up as a performance platform, reading room, viewing area. Uses overlapped each other: a BMX rider dodges an art student performing potting up, the joint spectacle is projected live on the gallery window broken by silhouettes of the audience. Tripods and documentary hardware become part of the image. Conversations become a shadow play set to live music…'

We were interested in how an event could frame the paradox where a BMX biker is aware of himself as a biker, as fulfilling the image/ style/ trend of the BMX biker portrayed in magazines etc, whilst also being genuinely into the actual biking. The 'lifestyle image' of BMXing could be seen as the rhetoric of the BMX biking community. It is created by often a large commercially viable organisation, say behind the bike magazines etc, which in a way conflicts with the counter culture, DIY side to the sport.

We were also aware of how we as artists were subject to the same paradox; where we were contriving the 'look' of the event whilst it being a genuine investigation that created a real buzz.

Urban Jumble highlighted for us an implied binary between reality, 'activity', 'participation', 'lived experience' on the one hand and artificiality, 'rhetoric', language at a remove, on the other. Following on from this the Plot project aims to loosen the binary 'activity : rhetoric', as a strategy to create new spaces and possibilities for action, thought and communication.



Urban Jumble, Leeds



Other instances of rhetoric calling for free thought:

Relational art works often set up activities that knowingly conjure rhetorical images to underline the works intended meaning. For example Charles Esche's as curator at Rooseum, exhibited artist's whose works could be said to illustrate his ideologies; making the walls vibrate, breaking up the walls of the institution - a metaphor for what the curator wanted to communicate.

Now, the term 'art' might be starting to describe that space in society for experimentation, questioning and discovery that religion, science and philosophy have occupied sporadically in former times. Therefore the institutions to foster it have to be part community centre, part laboratory and part academy, with less need for the established showroom function. They must also be political in a direct way, thinking through the consequences of our extreme free market policies."

Charles Esche

Pistoletto's Mediterranean mirror table, or photographs of discussions from Cittadellarte, regardless of what conversation takes places, the images perhaps look like the conversation is somehow utopian.

Revealing semantic and organisational mechanisms behind such creation of meaning, does not cause the meaning to collapse.



Thinking about how events appear from a distance, my work 'A Building Speaks'
consists of both a live drawing event and documentation of the same event in image and text.

Ne Pas Plier - images of protest, activism as an aesthetic?


A Building Speaks
Dan Robinson, 2004


Looking at relationships between voice and space. Having made extensive use of the term 'site-specific' in reference to my practice, the term has become increasingly meaningless to me. I have begun to feel that everything is in some sense site-specific, has a relation to its context, that spaces we inhabit determine what we feel, think, say.

How do spaces of inauguration (such as language, the academy, employment) define us?

"The interpellative name may arrive without a speaker - on bureaucratic forms, the census, adoption papers, employment applications. Who utters such words?"
Judith Butler

How does the location of a thought or dialogue determine its content?



  in 'Meeting at The Point!' we carried out highly visible 'fieldwork' at a local landmark.

'We are curating a series of encounters and dialogues in civic space. For a recent field trip to Cookridge Tower, we invited a painter and a writer to work with us. We set up camp next to this communications tower, prominent on the Leeds skyline and drew attention to ourselves with a tent, tripods, easels, binoculars and conspicuous activity on the grass verge. A dialogue was established with staff of the tower. Evidence was collected as sound recordings, photographs, a painting and written accounts.'

I want to consider how meaning is created in translations between space and language. Translation has a neutral feel. But perhaps translation points to what writing or authorship is? I want to look at different instances of translation, of model spaces into language and utopian language into realities.


  Meeting at The Point!
BT Communications tower and nearby playing fields
Cookridge, Leeds UK
August, 2002

Dan Robinson & Liz Stirling work collaboratively as 'The Point!'

meeting at the point!


JG Ballard's Super-Cannes is set in Eden-Olympia a kind of tainted utopia of a business park.

"Lured by tax concessions and a climate like northern California's, dozens of multinational companies had moved into the business park that now employed over ten thousand people. The senior managements were the most highly paid professional caste in Europe, a new elite of administrators, enarques and scientific entrepreneurs. The lavish brochure enthused over a vision of glass and titanium straight from the drawing boards of Richard Neutre and Frank Gehry, but softened by landscaped parks and artificial lakes, a humane version of Corbusier's radiant city." (1)

"It looks very civilized in a Euro kind of way. Not a drifting leaf in sight. Its hard to believe anyone would be allowed to go mad here."

"I peered through the wrought iron gates at silent tennis courts and swimming pools waiting for their owners to return. Over the immaculate gardens hung an air of well-bred catatonia that only money can buy." (3)

The novel proposes a fictional space, a culture, a community, an architecture, but a space where each characters' motivations unfold in relation to this anti-model community. It's very seductive and repellent at the same time.

notes: (equivalencies between the novel, and the language of curators, founders of institutions, manifestos.)

JG Ballard's Super-Cannes
  Department of Inbetween & Centre for International Success are fictional organisations realizing actual projects.

Centre for International Success Department of Inbetween

"Unidee places artistic creativity at the centre of research directed towards the responsible transformation of society... "

"Art is the most sensitive and comprehensive expression of thought, and the time has come for the artist to assume responsibility for establishing communication between every other human activity, from economics to politics, from science to religion, from education to behaviour, in brief to all areas of the social fabric"

"… the project is not a preestablished and formalized design, it is a free, dynamic, fluid, supple sign that fits between the old trenches to form a capillary connection in the flesh of a new, complex, self-designing body"

These statements are extracts from 'Progetto Arte' a manifesto by Michelangelo Pistoletto (1994) which serves as the founding document of Cittadellarte, Fondazione Pistoletto.



International Pedestrian
Telefonica Communications Mast & Olympic Plaza
Anella Olimpica Montjuic, Barcelona Spain
26th May 2003

'a small crowd gathered, some shouted Spanish, others joined in with bouncy balls'

International Pedestrian
a project by CIS


There is a fascinating dynamic between an individual voice here (at Cittadellarte) and the wider rhetoric of the foundation itself. Does space having a strong sense of meaning in itself? and how is a voice within that space heard?

Duet For Town Hall

The vestibule resonates with silence.
From his belt keys to a metal gate in darkness,
Cold steps scare pigeons into rain and the city.
Wadding is strapped to the bell hammer dampening the chime,
From the tower a taut line falls to the vestibule where a walkie-talkie is suspended.
Occasional voices burst from around the building.


  Whilst being sceptical of these rhetorical images, they also seem useful in creating spaces for free thought.

In 'Futurology' a project by Hewitt + Jordan using Creative Partnerships funding (whereby artists work in schools) Dave Beech asked pupils to 'think about what they want to change in their immediate locality.' The project organisers argued, "At the root of Beech's project is the belief that the ability to articulate what you want to change cannot be underestimated as a step in the process of making things happen." (4)

Dave Beech
wall drawing, detail
part of 'Futurology' a project by Hewitt & Jordan

'At the root of Beech's project is the belief that the ability to articulate what you want to change cannot be underestimated as a step in the process of making things happen.'



Plurality of the individual

Individual is a "locus in which an incoherent plurality of relational determinations interact" (5)

Once we begin to really look and analyse an object and its relations to the universe, we spiral out into "infinite relationships between everything and everything else" (6)

Multiplicity of the writeable

" Contemporary novel as an encyclopedia, as a method of knowledge, and above all as a network of connections between the events, the people and the things of the world." (7)

notes: Multiple subjectivity partly draws on ideas of subjectivity - realisation of self in relation to other. Getting away from the idea of subjectivity as single, one, fixed, but as set of dialogues, relations- multiple Bakhtinian model of dialogism, polyphony, carnivalesque, rather than authority, one.


How do we move between life and language? Or live encounters and language?

Art practice relies on various timescales between 'live' event, installation, printed page or photographic documentation?

An event may come after a proposal, score or manifesto. Or documentation might result from an event. Simultaneous presentations of 'live' and 'secondary' images also occur such as live action video projection.

Documentation has an implied objectivity or truth but can equally be a poetic or fictional space. As part of the infrastructure around practice, documentation (and proposal) are key moments for production of meaning.

I'm thinking of documentation as a kind of translation. An idea might exist in an image and then as a text, as a conversation, an event. For me a sense of authorship accumulates between these forms. The documentary photograph, the curatorial statement the subsequent review all contributing to the fiction. These mechanisms are acutely felt in relational art event, where the momentum created by reading the internal relations of the artwork spiral out into the wider universe of relations.



  We see examples of this in language around art practice, and in language around life. How is an experience translated into a poem. Is this an objective mechanism?

Hayley Newman's series of photographs, 'Connotations', 1998, are photographic constructions of fictional performances

Hayley Newman
from 'Connotations - Performance Images' (8)

14 April 1996
New York
Photographer unknown
Black & White photographic print
39 x 39 cm

"Sitting in a bin bag waiting for bin men to pick me up in New York. When the bin men arrived at 4pm, I jumped out of the bag and ran home."

Of Burden's description, Newman says, 'It seems the cool detachment of the text copies the factual authority of the camera in its documentation of the work..'

This authority created by a fictional objectivity also seems present in Charles Reznikoff's poems, where text describes moments.


Chris Burden Performance


12 November 1972,
Riko Mizuno Gallery,
Los Angeles, California

"At 8pm I lay down on La Cienega Boulevard and was covered completely with a canvas tarpaulin. Two fifteen minute flares were placed near me to alert cars. Just before the flares extinguished, a police car arrived. I was arrested and booked for causing a false emergency to be reported. Trial took place in Beverly Hills. After three days of deliberation, the jury failed to reach a decision.'

  Calvino: "Think what it would be to have a work conceived from outside the self, a work that would let us escape the limited perspective of the individual ego, not only to enter into selves like our own but to give speech to that which has no language, to the bird perching on the edge of the gutter, to the tree in spring and the tree in fall, to stone, to cement, to plastic…" (9)

Charles Reznikoff's poems have been described as' Imagist' or 'Objectivist'.

In his essay on Reznikoff, 'The Decisive Moment', Paul Auster writes, 'The point is that there is no point… Their aim, quite simply, is clarity. Of seeing and speaking.' (10)

Processes of describing something, witnessing the production of meaning: Is this social transformation, in that it alters our relation to the world around us? Should we use poetic language as the basis of institutional structures or mechanisms.

The stiff lines of the twigs
Blurred by the buds.

Moonlit Night
The trees' shadows lie in black pools in the lawns.

The Bridge

In a cloud
bones of steel.

Charles Reznikoff, 1927)

Some of the institutional experiments such as proto-academy, free university, Cittadellarte, seem to react against a notion that bureaucratic systems and audit culture restricts creativity. How would a poetic audit be implemented.

'Manifesto' - Organ & speaker cabinet, sound, posters.
A poetic institutional model of the Centre for International Success
'A tatty 1970's club organ and speaker cabinet hums with anticipation. Scrambled through the whirring and rattling of the speaker itself, we hear voices resonating in a public hall. On the wall by the organ, hangs a stark black and white poster, with a manifesto message: 'for a poetic infrastructure'. A second poster oscillates with the sound of the speaker cabinet, to which it is attached. Closer inspection reveals, in delicate type, a paragraph about voices vibrating and disappearing in the cosmos. The combined presence of sounds, texts and objects invites an intuitive reading. This feels like an open model for some kind of poetic framework, institution, or mindset.'

To summarise, I have tried to highlight and confuse the role of fiction within translation, objectivity and rhetoric, in order to loosen a kind of false binary opposition, and to focus attention on this as an area of creative possibility a method of creating spaces for free thought.

notes: How do art images embody these ideas:
A black and white snap of a bunch of artists, poets and revolutionaries hanging out, smoking and drinking - an image of something 'happening'.
The smell of oil paint, those art students look so cool, I want to make art. That artist is so unhinged, if I buy their work I am creative by association...

These image associations are deliberately crude to make a point, but more subtle and complex mythic associations exist between art activities, insitutions and images. We are wrapped up in them, and rely on them.





Can we embrace an imagined look of an event as a means to organising a collaborative event / party?

e.g. architecture, location, clothes, stances, platform, lighting, photographic style, performance...

"The floodlit platform sings empty at dusk. Glaring bulbs fix your gaze to its glaring surface, a void shouting anticipation. This is space turned on, amplified to the hilt. It wants your slightest gesture, to trigger its feedback, its screaming noise and full bodily vibration, its infinite network of contacts to the surrounding universe. All this against a drunken alpine backdrop in a northern Italian town."

link to images from resulting event



  1. JG Ballard, Super-Cannes, (Flamingo, GB. 2000) p5
  2. ibid. p9
  3. ibid. p20
  4. Hewitt + Jordan, on Dave Beech in exhibition handout for Futurology. (New Art Centre, Walsall, UK. 2004)
  5. Michel de Certeau, Introduction, The Practice of Everyday Life, trans Steven Rendall (University of California Press 1984) p xi
  6. Italo Calvino, 'Multiplicity'. in Six Memos for the Next Millennium. (Vintage, London 1996) P112
  7. ibid. p105
  8. Hayley Newman, 'Connotations - Performance Images.' in Performancemania. (London, Matt's Gallery. 2001) p93
  9. Italo Calvino,. 'Multiplicity'. in Six Memos for the Next Millennium. (Vintage, London 1996) p124
  10. Paul Auster, 'The Decisive Moment.' in Hand to Mouth: a chronicle of early failure. (London : Faber and Faber, 1997) p36

    images and text copyright Dan Robinson, 2004