Can a landmark piece of art be reduced to a “simple descriptive statement”? More generally, couldn’t everything be translated “into much smaller”? A challenge proposed by The Society for Conservation of the Present .(SCP). “Too big… and yet never big enough. That’s the paradox of modern life.” Small is beautiful.
N°10, printemps 2011, page 64.
Between 1985 and 1994, a collective was founded in Montreal called The Society for Conservation of the Present, or .(SCP).
The collective envisioned several interesting subtraction projects:
A proposition to reduce Marcel Duchamp’s iconic work Étant Donnés, conserved at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, to “a simple descriptive statement”. Or a celebration of the Canadian artistic movement Ti-Pop, in reference to Pop Art, a low budget version of the canonical American movement. As the collective commented in 1985: “One of our goals was to get Ti-Pop into the dictionary. We organized the launch of a brochure called Ti-Pop in the Dictionary. In a way, we ‘readymade-ified’ a postcolonial Quebecois avant-garde art movement that copied American Pop by proposing Ti-Pop with all the irony involved. And with this evening, we added our own layer, in contemporary colonial fashion.”
Finally, from 1987 onward, .(SCP) created pictograms. According to their designer, Canadian artist Jean Dubé, it was “a fun and absurd attempt at listing all the media used by the collective.”
One such pictogram is “ABSENCE”. But of course, nothing done under this sigil is described in the .(SCP) catalogue. The pictogram makes a hole, it designates an absence.
The Ti-Pop experience and its “small scale” ambition indeed recalls an essay collection by British economist Ernst Friedrich Schumacher, Small Is Beautiful, Economics as if People Mattered. There, Schumacher puts forth certain criteria that he knows to be in full disagreement with the market at the time, in 1974: a human scale, natural capital (refusing to consider nature as revenue), considering environmental integrity when it comes to any commercial decision, sustainability, and finally, decentralization. Basically, all those notions we have left to the wayside these past forty years.
In the book’s epilogue, Schumacher writes: “We are misled if we believe that the destructive forces of the modern world can be controlled simply by mobilizing even more resources—wealth, education and research—to fight against pollution, protect the fauna, discover new sources of energy and arrive at more effective accords for peaceful coexistence.”
This chronicle is precisely the place for asking about the small.
American philosopher Théodore Roszak wrote: “Too big… and yet never big enough. That’s the paradox of modern life.” The too big, there’s the problem.
In Écologie et liberté (Ecology and Liberty) from 1977, reporting on the massive social dysfunction he observed, French philosopher and journalist André Gorz deconstructs the statement – that too big is bad – by writing: “In sum, it is a classic crisis of over-accumulation complicated by a crisis in reproduction due, according to most recent analysis, to the rarefication of natural resources. The solution to this crisis cannot be found in economic growth (…) the link between more and better is broken. Better can be less: creating a minimum of needs, satisfied by using fewer materials, less energy and work, and doing the least harm possible.”
Pretty much at the same time, in 1979, Romanian-American mathematician and economist Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen, to whom we basically owe the term “degrowth”, writes: “Perhaps, the destiny of man is to have a short, but fiery, exciting and extravagant life rather than a long, uneventful and vegetative existence. Let other species — the amoebas, for example — which have no social ambitions whatever inherit an Earth still bathed in plenty of sunshine.” So a matter of time. In the At the source of degrowth issue of “Entropia1 ”magazine, Aurélien Cohen comments on this famous statement. He asks: “Just a joke? Hard to be sure. Perhaps on the contrary, it’s worth taking seriously and interpreting as a sign of complete human freedom to choose against your own interest, against your species’ interest or even to prevent your interest from falling on future generations. Is degrowth ecofascist? (…) We must keep a range of ethical positions open without too rashly excluding the apparent absurdity of opting for generalized self-destruction.”
And so what, then, of the Society for Conservation of the Present’s “ABSENCE” pictogram? The pictogram is perhaps a kind of warning: We may very well have to imagine that everything will go on without us.
THIS WAS: Opting for the small as subtraction.
Translation by Maya Dalinsky
Cover: © Anaïs Enjalbert