Tricia Collins and Richard Milazzo
First Published in 1990 by Editions Antoine Candau, Paris

One must grant from the start the difficulties involved in reconciling the impulse of social transformation and the formal exigencies of the art object. Joseph Nechvatal's work, or rather, his "project" (which includes digital paintings, photography, sculpture, mixed-media works, video, an audio-cassette magazine, his own theoretical writings, and above all else, the hybrid or mutant mechanical or technological processes, materials and procedures that he has brought to bear upon all of these objects and activities) has been utterly absorbed by these difficulties. However, it must also be said from the start that Nechvatal's practice has not been diminished by these difficulties; rather it has specifically constituted itself through them, and been enhanced by them, in that the work has neither fallen prey or succumbed to the rhetoric and dogma of social transformation nor has it adopted a comfortable or stable aesthetic or formal posture in relation to the art object. Attention to the formal parameters of the object has not bred complacency toward the Social; nor has regard for its social parameters, and for social conditions in general, spawned formal complacency in relation to the object. It has not disabled the object or incapacitated it in any way, even where it has adopted a form of stasis, critical stasis, to enable its relation to the Social. On the contrary, attention to the social parameters of the object, in Nechvatal, has defied the closure of responsible positions.

One must grant these difficulties because it is necessary to acknowledge that the requirements and nature or character of social transformation and formal exigency are, if not antithetical, then substantially disparate. This is to say that the requirements of the former encompass an activity, whereas the latter (must) circumscribe or delimit an object. Formal exigency privileges the object; or rather, it must yield by definition a privileged object. Social transformation, on the other hard, implies an action or activity, if only an attitudinal one. It opposes by definition the stationary condition of things (of the Social) as it would subvert the static condition of the object. It is fundamentally a de-privileging activity or action, that is, until this activity reifies, and then turns into its opposite, subverting itself, by re-privileging its new-found station as a critical activity per se. The moment it objectifies this activity as critique, it re-privileges itself as a critical object. If formal exigency yields the privileged object, then social transformation reifies the privileged activity of critique, yielding in its early stages the critique of privilege but in its later stages the privilege of critique. In other words, the critical object in the art world is no less privileged than the formal object it critiques.

In Nechvatal's work there is the sense that the deprivileging activity of critique and social transformation has itself undergone a deprivileging, or rather, meta-deprivileging process Neither the method nor the content of the formal object, neither the subject of critique nor the critical method, are grounded or localized by a focal point. Nothing is privileged in Nechvatal, not even the working nothingness or stasis, or meta-stasis, of this non-focused "nothing". There is no center, nor focal point in the work, only a 'universal' field of attention that is itself on (critical) overload, and as a consequence produces a static effect. There is no 'cause' or sense of causality, no social or formal, psychological or technological, ideological or logical, network of cause and effect. Nothing is privileged in Nechvatal's scheme of things; it is a universe that sustains or tolerates neither subliminal nor superstructure privilege. And that will not even tolerate this privilege of nothingness by default. The actuality of this overload, the critical mass of thresholds that presses upon this universal field of attention, the focal point of nothingness that constitutes itself as the Spectacle in the contemporary world, cannot be oriented or predetermined by the hierarchy of class distinctions generated from a Marxist model. The all-over method of the work, the arbitrary content of the negations, the abstract, non relational grammar of discausal effects speak to groundlessness, to closure as a critical threshold, to a non-focal model (or non model) of "inside" and "outside", and to the homelessness of the Social itself. This approach provides for the luxury of peripheral vision and the marginal ethos of a radical nothingness.

In short, Nechvatal has not only deprivileged the formal object, he has deprivileged critique or the critical object itself; that is, he has not only deprivileged the aesthetic dimension as the focal point of the art object, he has also attempted to deprivilege critique as the focus of social transformation. It may even be argued that he has tried to deprivilege the notion or concept of social transformation itself by deflecting attention away from critique toward the actualities of desire and void-as-Value. The attempt, then, is not only to deprivilege but to dereify social transformation as a working model through the processes of adulteration, mutation and hybridization. Ultimately, this meta-deprivileging process approaches a critical threshold by subjecting the model of social transformation, and its reified, clandestine idealism, to the 'abstract", non-focal experience of non experience. Here, again, one is confronted by the destablizing, non ideological threshold or experience of desire and critical stasis, by the forms that void-as-Value yields, and by the absurd ethic that accompanies the critical threshold of closure itself.

Ideology reflexive to the critique of representation is ultimately reflexive to the ideology of representation. Both the social and formal objects issued respectively by art or aesthetics share an ideology of privileged representations. Nechvatal has sought to undermine the self-reflexive nature of this ideology of privileged representations through abstract, unreflexive, static meta-activity. An activity that would interrupt the self-reflexive function of the privileged object; a meta-activity that would discontinue the formal privilege of the self-reflexive object and the social privilege of self-reflexive critique; and a meta-deprivileging activity that would cancel the meta-privilege of self-reflexive activity itself. The irony, here, is that neither the dynamic coordinates of social transformation nor coordinates of social transformation nor the static coordinates of formal exigency suffice to graph the nonrepresentational chimera of Nechvatal's practice. In that his practice issues objects that encompass a mental activity that deprivileges critique both as an object and as a self-objectifying activity, his objects deny ideology the satisfaction and privilege of representation.