les presses du réel

Starting with (from) Marseilles – 65 projects of contemporary artBureau des Compétences et Désirs (Office for Abilities and Desires)

Preface (p. 3)

Even if it is love, science, law, economics, politics, media or art - the subsystems which the world consist of, have their own logics, their own ways of reacting, their own speed.
The unity of the world - as the sociologist Niklas Luhmann, the father of the sub-systems theory, declared - is an illusion. The world consists solely of subsystems. Those systems ignore the other systems. Moreover within the same system there is place for interrogation or even a kind of healthy ignorance towards the presuppositions of that very same system.
Such is the place of the Office for abilities and desires within the world of art. Luhmann was a smart man. He wanted us to understand the world and, therefore, to accept the world with all its contradictions as well as its continuous changes in their infinite variations. That means we have to learn to perceive the world from within. In Luhmann's theory, there are no outsiders: we are all inside and therefore we have to perform in such a way. But as a consequence, we have to understand how things function and for Luhmann this can only mean we have to take how we communicate far more seriously. This also seems to be perfectly applicable to the actions of the Office for abilities and desires.
However, in general we communicate not like a presidential candidate or an art gallery dealer, we communicate in the world - most of us do so indeed - as a tourist. A tourist reacts on expectations and delivers therewith new expectations. A tourist even takes seriously forms of communication which are not in the first place of a touristic character.
The theory of systems tries to understand how things organize themselves - from within - as a system of communicationin order to then shape their very existence. This is how I would describe the background of the Office for abilities and desires and the creation of this publication. The communication systems of the Office – to which abilities and desires allude - divert the production of art and recommend, instead of opportunism or defeatism, an alternative and a creative refuge. The Office even - remember its splendid cooking books -takes cultural tourism seriouly, by deviating and questioning the existing forms of tourism.
But the Office is not about mere action and reaction, it creates a mirror for the production of art, not only in the Marseilles' region but far beyond. The Office is a kind of undefinable, yet not undefined compass in order to verify the authority of one presupposed direction, and to ensure the validities of other directions. The Office for abilities and desires makes the possible probable, and the probable possible. It is a sub-system - and the Office hardly denies it - that can only exists because of the very system it challenges.
The Office is a small part of the art world, it is not a secret nor a sect. But instead of imitating the vast system of art, it has created its own system, the system of production of a culture. And this kind of production we terribly lack in the art world today. The Office for abilities and desires gives the art world a place - for the production and the communication of a culture - instead of a specialized domain. The Office for abilities and desires is a privileged instrument to speak up, to communicate with and about.

Chris Dercon, director of Haus der Kunst of Munich

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