The Aesthetics of Suggestion and time in the gallery space with reference to installations by Jean-Luc Godard, Chantal Akerman and Jean-Francois Lyotard


The purpose of this paper is to create a philosophical framework to the spatial and temporal parameters of the art gallery. Coming from a background in between film theory and philosophy I have chosen either conceptual or fully realized exhibitions by either philosophers or film practitioners grappling with the pragmatics and aesthetics of the gallery space. I have deliberately begun by making simpler points before diving head on into the subject matter. I am attempting an approach to writing a paper in the spirit of what Deleuze and Guattari would label as ‘constructivism’ that the construction of ideas in a philosophical essay is very much like the construction of an artwork and beings from shunya or zero and then builds with a logic detached from reality. As a result of this my paper is much longer than the desired limit. Instead of 10 it is 13 pages long.


The art exhibition is a spatial manifestation of subjective and objective matter gathered together by the artist and realized in the space known as the art gallery. In certain specific cases (which I shall be elucidating in this paper) the gallery space is freed from the strict temporal means that bind forms like music and cinema. In the case of these two media, the art object is appropriated to points in the succession that are doomed to a specific time code. Unlike these forms the gallery space frees the individual static objects (and not temporal objects like performances and installations) of its inherent position in a temporal succession. In short, the variable engagement of the spectator with the spatial arrangement of art objects in their successive permutations is freed of temporal constraints. It must be noted that in these specific cases the gallery space simultaneously creates a unique temporal experience for the spectator, which depends on the movements of the spectator and is not predefined, as in music and cinema, by the artist.

The succession of objects that the spectator engages with creates an argument through the denotational aspect of the artworks. The denotational aspect is what comes much before the secondary meaning or connotational aspect of the artworks The denotational aspect of the gallery space could either be a discourse on the nature of the subject at hand around which the show has been curated or one which reflects on the subjective gaze of the spectator. By the denotational aspect of the artwork I mean the assemblage of signifiers and their corresponding signified parameters that mediate the artwork and create meaning for the spectator. However if we were to go merely beyond the denotational aspect of space dominated by the signifier-signified chain we encounter a succession of volumes of objects that proliferate the larger whole of the gallery and exist as either concentrations or rarefactions of matter. It is precisely when we think in terms of the non-denotational aspect of space that we encounter the purely experiential qualities of the gallery space.

The denotational aspect, in other words, builds on matter, sign and symbol to create a blockage in the consistent flow of thought that proliferates in the mind of the spectator on encountering the succession of objects in the gallery. In this way the denotational aspect creates a blockage in the proliferation of thought by drawing the spectator to engage with signification. Simile, metaphor, metonymy and allegory are ways of connecting parallel possibilities on the denotational dimension of art.

I will try to make a case for the non-denotational aspect of space precisely by studying the relationship between the denotational and the non-metaphorical aspect. I shall do this through the study of ancient texts that create a taxonomy of aesthetic means through which the intended mean is linked to the denotational meaning.

An ancient Indian text Dhvanyaloka by the Sanskrit scholar Anandvardhan literally translates into “The Light on the [Doctrine of] Suggestion.”[1] The 8th century text is from the area between India and Pakistan that constitutes the modern state of Kashmir. The text studies the aesthetics of suggestion as being the primary sense of a poetic passage or dhvani through a study of language as being suggestive and not denotational or metaphorical. In short, the suggestiveness of the primary passage has a relationship with denotation primarily through overcoming it in different ways. Ananda uses the “typology of suggestion” to create a link between denotation and the suggestion through either avivaksitavacya, “where the denoted sense is unintended,” atyantatiraskrta where the denotational is “entirely set aside” and arthatarasanskramita where it is wholly abandoned and “shifted to something else.” For example in the following case the denotational is a prohibition[2]:

Mother-in-law sleeps here, I there;

look, traveller while it is light.

For at night when you cannot see,

you must not fall into my bed.

            Rasa is the mood that poetry and art in general arouses, in the sexual sense, or awakens from deep slumber. Although it is the one word to indicate the value of the suggestive aesthetic in the Sanskrit language, it also has an everyday usage in the Hindi language, where it means ‘juice.’ For example ‘santre ka ras pite hai’ means ‘let’s have orange juice.’ The film-maker Robert Bresson in his masterpiece Pickpocket (1959) captures the ‘rasa’ which he calls “the solitude of the pickpocket” by editing sequences where only the necessary details of the pickpocket act are shown while the others are omitted. In this way he captures the essence of the event by pulverizing it into liquid elements, like in a fruit juice, where the inessential elements such as peels and seeds are omitted.

The image is that point where the process of denotation begins as it suggests the possibility of signification. The possibility of thinking of the image as non-existent or absent i.e. art without an image, thoroughly limits the possibilities of art, very often rendering the creation of art itself impossible. According to Deleuze and Guattari[3] in What is Philosophy? , the art object “is a bloc of sensations, that is to say, a compound of percepts and affects.” For Deleuze and Guattari “[w]e paint,sculpt,compose and write with sensations.”[4] I would like to suggest as Deleuze and Guattari have argued in What is Philosophy? (Editions De Minuit, 1991) that thought is the root of sensation. Their interest in the before-thought, that which lies before the perception-image and its recognition through language, the existence of a process before the arrival of thought, is nothing but the birth of sensation that creates art.

I would argue that it is thought itself that serves as “[the] mental object and helps us to derive images that at the same time go beyond images and abstractions” to arrive at the Deleuzean idea of the concept. According to Deleuze and Guattari:


“The concept is defined by the inseparability of a finite number of heterogeneous components traversed by a point of absolute survey at infinite speed. Concepts are ‘absolute surfaces or volumes,’ forms whose only object is “the inseparability of distinct variations.”

Deleuze and Guattari’s conclusion that the concept and its root, sensation arises out of the meeting point of thing and thought, leads to their concept of deframing “following lines of flight that pass through the territory only in order to open it onto the universe.” These lines of flight either converge on opinions “from which we wanted to escape” or diverge into chaos “that we wanted to confront.”


In film the relationship of the present moment is made explicit, to the moment that has passed and the anticipated moment in the future, through the physiological structure of the film strip where each shot is a whole and is attached to the shot before and after it. Coming from a film background the gallery space (in its traditional single-objects-in-a-series exhibition usage) freed me of this rigid determination of the relationship between the past, present and future.

In Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, the exemplary use of the cinematic utterance through Kane’s utterance “Rosebud”, created a unique relationship between the past [the Deleuzean before-thought], the present and the anticipated future. Modern artists from the post-structuralist era usually fragmented this relationship between past, present and future by splitting the present into three dimensions each linking to the past, present and the future i.e. past-present, present-present and present-future. In this way the present of the present linked to the past-present and present-future. Following Welles’ examples, artists tended to stretch the past-present (coming into the present moment) into some portion of the present-present, and delay the present-present (going away from the present moment) into the present-future, so that the past-present directly moved into the present-future making the present moment itself (i.e. present-present) absent. For the sake of the gallery space I would like to suggest precisely the opposite i.e. stretching the present moment to accommodate the past-present and the present-future. [5]

It would be engaging to witness how this abstract method of analyzing time experientially becomes reified when applied to a strictly material and economic scale.

In his masterpiece Das Kapital[6], Karl Marx elaborates on the nature of the commodity form specifically in relation to the way in which it mediates the capitalist and his profit through generating both profitable surplus value and pathological unemployment. Marx argues that the nature of capital and the industrialized production of the commodity form alienates the worker, through the application of machines, and the eventual product, the commodity form itself. Marx argues that with the arrival of the commodity form through the mechanization of labour, the nature of time as appropriated by this labour creates a notion of time that is slightly faster than the empirical notion of Newtonian time that existed before the industrial revolution. I would like to argue that most of our practices of listening to music, an experiential interpretation of Marx’s claim, can be pronounced capitalist as the music we listen to is slightly faster than our own empirical notion of time. In order to create a form of music against the capital we must do precisely the opposite i.e. slow down music so that it is first deliberately slower than the notion of time, in this way increasing the intensity of our engagement with each passing moment. This is precisely what Indian music does, by deliberately slowing down the present and then making it only slightly faster. This can also happen through varied patterns in the slowed down temporality that stretch the experience of the present.

This principle is used in the early films of Chantal Akerman, the most significant of Belgium’s filmmakers, who is also the most celebrated feminist director alongside Agnes Varda. In her masterpiece Jeanne Dielman: 24 Quai De Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, Akerman explores the nature of everyday time in the domestic setting of the house. Like in Indian music, she deliberately slows down the editing at the beginning delaying the cut after its denotational potential has been exhausted (exhausting time like Bresson exhausted the actor through repeated stretched takes until the actor become an expressionless blank body) so that the spectator is forced to engage with passing time itself. As Mani Kaul has affirmed, that in film, “when nothing moves time does.” The pace is gradually quickened until the past moving into the present is made pathological in the Nietzschean sense with the violence in the final sequences.

As a significant film practitioner Akerman entered the gallery space through an art exhibition titled Ellipsis[7] curated by Lynne Cooke in 2007.However what interests me more in Akerman is her text A Family in Brussels written earlier in 2001, which was Akerman’s first entry into the gallery space. This entry, however was not through an art exhibition or installation as in the case of Ellipsis but was instead a reading of her literary piece at the Dia Center for the Arts in Brussels between October 11th and October 13th,2001. The funding was provided by Association Francaise d’Action Artistique, Ministere des Affaires Etangeres or AFAA. The publication of the book and accompanying CD, a recording of Akerman reciting the text received support from the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in the United States.

More complex than Jeanne Dielman the protagonist of her 1976 work, the central character of A Family in Brussels[8] is much more sophisticated than her earlier counterpart. Akerman creates a temporal approach to her construction of the dialectic between issues in the text, taking the brain as being the subject of her elaboration in this way reminiscing the work of French philosopher Henri Bergson. Schizoanalysis, or the degree to which something (a person or an object) is split, then creates a range of sensory or motor values that link the extension of objects in matter . According to Sigmund Freud, for victims of anxiety “[t]he things which are felt to be the most irreconcilable in his regard are those which originally belonged together but which in the course of development have been split asunder.” Following this, the protagonist creates “irreconcilable” mechanisms by drawing together different extended objects that come together. According to Samuel Beckett this “irreconcilable” is an accident which occurs at the meeting point of voluntary and involuntary memory. I would say that it is when the sensory and motor, hysterical and anxious, interiority and exteriority, voluntary and involuntary i.e. the two sides of the schizoanalysis meet that the accident is caused.

Whereas in cinema, the apparatus mediates the creator and created in obvious ways, I would argue that in the gallery space it is a becoming-apparatus of matter that sets a Kafkaesque metamorphosis into motion. By becoming-apparatus I mean that every element of the space is apparatus for giving rise to an unplanned sensation through the accident. Whereas in film, the retake gives rise to the accident (I mean an accident before the film was projected, i.e. when it was shot), in the gallery space the accident occurs while the spectator is moving through the space.

This is precisely what drew me to Godard’s installation Voyage(s) En Utopie, Jean-Luc Godard 1946-2006[9] at the Center Pompidou between 11th May and 14th August, 2006. Godard uses the gallery space to transform Deleuze and Guattari’s emphasis on the before-thought to a Nietzschean emphasis on during thought to create a new discourse on the gallery space.

In Voyage(s) En Utopie Godard attempts to engage with the politics between :

  1. Artists, curators and galleries,
  2. Financial issues leading to the source of capital
  3. Technical difficulties in the way of completing the realization of the artwork

Godard has the audience engage with ideas from the cancelled show, Collage(s) de France, archeologie du Cinema, d’apres, JLG, curated by Dominique Paini. Godard shares discarded material from the exhibition as well as conceptual material on the difference between the present exhibition and the cancelled one. Godard designs these ideas in the section titled Avant Hier or Before Yesterday which is also a during, the during-production of the exhibit, suggesting that process which arrives before thought is also the one where most of the artwork is produced. Thought is a movement in the past as it comes before action. Since action constitutes the present, the ‘before-thought’ is nothing but the before past or past of the past. The first and second room use archaic material to represent this past of the past that is , for certain reviewers, reminiscent of the modernist works of Christian Boltanski and Ilya Kabakov.

The third room in the exhibit is Yesterday which uses clips from Godard’s favourite film makers Roberto Rossellini, Jean Renoir, Robert Bresson, Jean Cocteau, Jean-Pierre Melville and Jacques Becker. Included is a clip from Nicholas Ray’s Johnny Guitar denoting the lost charm of the cinema of yesterday and in a sense standing for nostalgia. Godard also selects a clip from Orson Welles’ incomplete epic Don Quixote, in another way suggesting the incomplete nature of the Collage(s) project and this incomplete nature as being the subject for Voyage(s).

The main hall, which forms the backbone of the exhibit consists of a section titled Today. Godard uses the apparatus to create a contemporary bedroom, kitchen, living room and office. Godard is citing Ozu by trying to create the immanent through objects from the everyday. Thus he uses everyday to resonate with the sublime. In this context I would like to cite a sequence from my friend Jessica Bardsley’s film which attempts to recreate this Ozu like perception-image by filming the interiors of the Ted Smallwood store, depicting clothes and household items with a Ozu-like position of a 3 foot tilt up shot.

In the kitchen area Godard complicates the relationship between the State and the image by displaying pornographic images. Godard brings in an outside element to complicate the relationship between individuals on the social plane and simplify it on the plane of individual consciousness, in line with his famous quotation in Histoire(s) Du Cinema: “When you can’t make things simple, you make them complicated.” These images are a direct reference to Richard Hamilton’s collage: Just What is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing (1956).

A tent for the homeless is made part of the exhibit to engage with the outside of the political situation and allocate it as part of the museum .Godard emphasizes the physiological portion of the exhibit by deliberately not hiding the DVD cables, power cables and connection to the televisions. In this way his work cites the sventramenti (meaning “disembowelment”) aesthetic of Italian modernist artists who engaged with the medical aspect of the artwork through a fragmentation of the midriff of the artworks. Like in the Italian masterworks, the fragmentation of the whole into its medical parts creates a pathology between the body occupying the minimalistic architectural space and the gaseous psyche moving across the space like a spirit.

Whereas in cinema, the apparatus mediates the creator and created in obvious ways I would argue that in the gallery space it is a becoming-apparatus of matter that sets a Kafkaesque metamorphosis from character to organism into motion. By becoming-apparatus I mean that every element of the space is apparatus for giving rise to an unplanned sensation through the accident. Whereas in film, the retake gives rise to the accident (I mean an accident before the film was projected or edited i.e. during its shooting), in the gallery space the accident occurs while the spectator is moving through the space.

Throughout his work Godard has attempted to be in dialogue with the production process and its politics. The work of art then for Godard is always in touch with the phase of capital and the new conditions that give rise to the artwork. In this way throughout his work he has emphasizes the work of art as being incomplete and in the process of being completed while it is being exhibited. This is a both a statement on the incompleteness of modernist works as well as an invitation for the audience to participate in the completion of the artwork so that it is able to realize (in the sense of realization, the French word of adapting a text) meaning.

Godard used materials from the past in all their incompleteness to produce a new book consisting of old incomplete or unpublished documents but also used the opportunity to produce an entirely new Marxist free object in the form of his film Vrai Faux Passeport (False Passport,2006) and ensuring it is part of the exhibit.

Godard’s exhibition is reminiscent of Jean-Francois Lyotard’s Les Immateriaux[10], which engages with a world in the 1980s where an increasing dematerialization of transferrable securities and money is complemented extremely formalist movements in art such as Suprematism and Minimal Art in painting and Serialism in music. The increasing immateriality of economic transaction is contrasted with the formalism of post-modern art.

Lyotard’s exhibition is a discourse on emerging materials, which replace the Cartesian dictum of man being master of nature but instead make him both master and participant in the unveiling of the mise-en-scene of the material. Lyotard does this by enabling the spectator to interact with the apparatus, which simulates depth in three-dimensional holograms. The proceedings include participating in a chess game where the computer reacts to every move the spectator makes.

Lyotard complements these interactive spaces with automated spaces, which in the philosopher’s own words “self-procreate.” These sites include those where a computer converts the spectator’s movement into music, one where a complex roboto produces a life-size imitation of a car, using synthetic images drawn by a computer. The most sophisticated section is one where a biocompatible computer transmits information at a cellular level with a video game showing three-dimensional structures that assemble themselves. The different spaces create a paradoxical relationship between the topology of the decentered space and the movements of the spectator, which are recorded on a compact disc which the spectator can take home after he has completed his tour of the exhibit.

The exhibit uses an electronic operator (denoted by the rectangles at the beginning of the topology) which determine the path taken by the spectator to define the relationship between past, present and future, the degree to which something is material or immaterial and the relationship between the thing and the spectator in terms of either possession, mastery or participation.

Unlike Lyotard, Godard underlines the conditions of production of the free object that is free of socio-economic and political connotation. Godard mediates the nature of past present and future with the use of Jean Francois Champoillion’s Rosetta discovered in the 19th century and key to translating hieroglyphs. In this way both Lyotard and Godard’s exhibits deal with doing through dynamic action in time and their other being in the larger static whole of time as well as the conditions that create a new parameter for action in being. Their works are a reflection on the amygdala, that part of the brain that is simultaneously instinctive and deliberate in its functioning.



[1] The Dhvanyaloka of Anandavardhana with the Locana of Abhinavagupta, tr. By Daniel H.H. Ingalls, Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson and M.V. Patwardhan, ed: Ingalls, Harvard University Presss, 1990. Pg 1-43


[2] However Ananda goes onto show a second type of sophisticated suggestive aesthetic, known as vivaksitanyaparavacya, “where the literal sense is intended but only as leading on to something further.” An example of this is the use of the word “blinded” in poetry is used in secondary usage and gives birth to rasa or the taste or juice of mood:

The sun has stolen out affection for the moon,

Whose circle now is dull with frost

And like a mirror blinded by one’s breath

Shines no more.


[3] What is Philosophy?, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Les Editions De Minuit, 1991. Translated by Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchell, Columbia University Press,1994. Pg 163-199

[4] What is Philosophy?, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Les Editions De Minuit, 1991. Translated by Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchell, Columbia University Press,1994. Pg 167

[5] In pre-modern Hindu thought this principle of the present being stretched to accommodate the past and the future is used to create the metre of Vedic chants and is then used to create musical scales known as ragas. According to Mani Kaul[5], the nature of a raga can be thus approached:

“Nobody has been able to completely define the figure of a raag. It is an intangible musical sense that goes beyond the tones that make a raag. It arises from certain tones but once established becomes independent of them. A raag in this sense is almost like a being without a body. A being which is borne by body, when awakened, goes away beyond the confines of body. The figure of a raag is therefore not a musically constructed object, it is a musical being that is to be therefore not a musically constructed object, it is a musical being that is to be evoked (traditionally invoked) before it will reveal itself or permit the musician its elaboration. For this reason, Raagamala paintings and literary descriptions that attempt to visualize the nature of Indian music present a raag as being in human form.”

Mani Kaul’s approximation of being without a body can be linked to Deleuze and Guattari’s body without organs. According to Kaul the same raga can exist in sleeping, waking and dreaming states and in their permutations and combinations. A raga can therefore exist in sleeping-waking, dreaming-sleeping and dreaming-waking states.


[6] Das Kapital, Karl Marx, 1867-1894

[7] Ellipsis by Ara H. Merijan, Frieze Magazine, April 2008

[8] A Family in Brussels, Chantal Akerman, Dia,2001

[9] In the Still of the Museum: Jean-Luc Godard’s Sixty Year Voyage by Jehanne-Marie Gavarini, Postmodern Culture, Volume 17, Number 1, September 2006. Jean-Luc Godard by Matthieu Laurette, Frieze Magazine, Issue 102 October 2006. Jean-Luc Godard Exhibition: Travel(s) in Utopia, Jean-Luc Godard 1946-2006 In Search of a Lost Theorem by Alex Munt in The Godard Museum, Issue 40, Senses of Cinema.

[10] Les Immateriaux by Jean-Francois Lyotard, Thinking About Exhibitions by Reesa Greenberg, Bruce W. Ferguson and Sandy Naime. Page 114-125.

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