Laura Gonzalez


Precarious Art Essay


Around 1796 Samuel Hahnemann founded, with the theories developed in his book
Organon, a system of medical practice known as homeopathy [from the Greek
homoio-similar and pathos-suffering].

Some years before, struck by the similarities between quinine poisoning and
malaria, the illness the plant was suppose to cure, he decided, in order to
prove his ideas, to take the venom himself. He developed all the symptoms
in his healthy body to an extent that he nearly died. However, the continuous
ingestion of minute doses of quinine, after a certain time, also healed him.
[First principle of the method: similia similibus curantur, like is cured
by like].

Homeopathy’s most frequent medicaments are pills obtained from poisonous plants
or animals, homologous organs, tissues, miasma, or morbid secretions in dilutions
varying from C [1X/100] to LM [1X/50000]. Some poison’s mother tincture is
put in a receptacle. This is then emptied, refilled with water, shaken 100
times and emptied again. To obtain a 6C dilution, the process has to be repeated
6 times and the pills are made with the substance remaining in the receptacle.
For a 30LM dilution, 1.500.000 times. [Second principle: potent remedies].
It is believed that, the higher the concentration (closer to 6C), the more
it will cure physical problems; the lower the concentration (closer to 30LM,
closer to zero matter), the more it will work with the psychological ones.
And it is also believed that, even if homeopathic treatments seem innocuous,
1 pill is different from 1000 ad infinitum and it is necessary for the specialist
to have a constant surveillance of their patient and stop the treatment as
soon as the symptoms disappear. [Third principle: the minimal dose].
Homeopathy doctors, to choose the right remedy from a spectrum of poisons
with the same symptomatology, can only rely on the most complete possible
knowledge of their patient, observing the total Gestalt of their disease and
the constitutional organism as a whole. [Fourth principle: individual treatment].
A month’s daily dose of 3 pills of snake venom (Lachesis Mutus) in a 6C concentration
cured my uterus pain and made me think what if the first precarious artist
was not an artist, but a doctor.


‘Untitled (Perfect Lovers)’ is a question, a printed A4 paper inside a stamped
envelope send to some of you. Just that. I only knew your names and addresses
then; you did not learn about my precariousness, about my life [24 years,
4 countries, I don’t remember how many different cities, how many streets
and houses and people and languages], or about my belief in artists being
flexible and adapting their work to every situation [it is that and not the
strength, the quality that made steel stand above stone and iron as a material
for swords]. The pain suffered from travelling having to leave behind works,
images, thoughts [where are they now? In which cellar or cupboard? Do they
still exist?] made me react against it. My problem was in the conception,
in the physical heaviness of light ideas that inspired them. The paintings
were about missing people, my work is now about the lost of those paintings:
a luggage-light work, bearable, carriable, rethinkable, continuable, useable
work [the paintings, as physical entities, were useless]. So, when it is time
to depart, I am able to leave with everything [sometimes my drawings are just
conversations], effectively, without a trace, and make my new home wherever
I find a place for it.

The Precarious Art Rules

The strategy is different this time. Instead of going from evidence to principle
[homeopathic system] it is useful for a certain train of thought to invert
the terms and list the principles of precarious art first:
1: economy of materials, actions and forms
2: transportability
3: repeatability [dispensability in extreme cases]

4: transparency in showing
Then the counter-principles, the illnesses it provokes and cures:
1: specialization of the artist
2: gallery spaces
3: preciousness [uniqueness in extreme cases]
4: mysticism

Please, keep that in mind as we go along.

Laura Gonzalez, Strange Animal, 2001

Post office

I walked into the busy post office with, honestly speaking, a mixture of fear
and hope. I did not know what was going to happen when I send those letters,
when I lost control of them. However, I had to do it, it was part of the process
and I had to let it go. I had to let the letter be itself and arrive to you.
That is the only way for surprising things to happen. To let go. I remember
I had to queue. In the wait, I wondered myself if it was worth it, if it was
not better to simply impose my answer… and just say: This is it. But I do
not know the answer. Unanswerable questions often provoke extremely personal
responses and that was the truth I was looking for. It was you, and the promise
of a dialogue that liberated me from my doubts.


To define precariousness it is necessary to say it is a quality, a way of
being, an adjective issued from a time where travelling, reproduction (photography,
photocopies, recordings, video), image and communication are accessible to
everyone; a time of celebrated individuality (the personal is political) and
infinite choices. But it is also a period of illness, crises and disillusion
of modern promises. All that is postmodernity, where, with all the trickery
implied, everything is possible but not everything is valid. The truth of
the world and the things is unobtainable now, and the representation of the
Real2 impossible because it is precisely the Real (death, God, the desires,
the obscene, the abject) what we have to deny to be social subjects. Art works
in the Reality sphere, accepts the pact between the Imaginary and Symbolic.
Precarious art is more towards the border, dealing with a counter pact between
the Real and Reality.

Laura Gonzalez, Untitled, 2001

That letter was art

I know you what you want to tell me. Well, yes. That letter was art. Just
consider it for a moment. Let us state as a hypothesis that art is a discontinuity
of knowledge, a palm tree in a desert, something breaking and then being newly
unified. It does not need to be a big change; a gesture also has an impact,
something is transformed by it creating a before and an after3 . If you believe
me in this, then you will understand why I find a warming pleasure in imagining
you, in your house or your office, getting my letter, opening and reading
it. I suppose you smiled then. I know you smiled. And also I know that, thanks
to that unexpected post, your day was slightly different from the one before.


Hyper-realistic, hyper-technological images surround us, imposed through television,
magazines, adverts, cinema, virtual realities. They are presented as more
real than the Real itself, more tri-dimensional, more seductive, more believable
in their lie and, this being their secret, more auratic. Aura is a ‘manifestation
of a distance however close it might be’. In the hyper-technological image,
the aura is an intense, powerful, strong, consistent and magnificent part
of something more intense, powerful, strong, consistent, magnificent and bigger.
It is in quantity that it finds its power. Precarious art aura is weaker,
smaller, more fragile and deniable. But it is a whole. And exists only by

Laura Gonzalez, Transportable Wall, 2003


When a declaration of love is reduced to a kiss and a sermon to an aphorism,
no parts are less important or less intense and, in this concentration, there
is no need for transitions: all words are equally necessary. But even in its
simplicity, the aphorism expands, fills the space of the mind and appears
as more resonant and, in fact, truer. Kim Wong does big drawings that can
be put in a box of matches; I had Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ work in my body after
eating it and carried it home; and an atom, put to such a speed perceptual
understanding cannot apprehend, is one of the principles of the atomic bomb.
Just a matter of expansion.

Untitled (Perfect Lovers)

I remember being shaken by the economy of Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ piece ‘Untitled
(Perfect Lovers)’. With only a gesture, he showed me a whole tale, from beginning
to end, a story that was imperative to be told, like the primitive hand is
impressed in the cavern. All this vitality was expressed simply by placing
in an office space two clocks going at the same time and calling them perfect
lovers. He explained me everything there. He also predicted its own death.
Maybe not now. Later. But one day, one of them will stop leaving the other
inconsolably alone.

Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Untitled (Perfect Lovers)


Gestures, to be gestures and not just banalities, have to be perfect in their
structures . For our perception, any simple formation can be divided and subdivided
in smaller ones to the infinite. Science would put a stopping point for that:
quark particles. What makes a action more resonant and wonderful than any
other is the adequation of all its constitutive components and the way they
behave in time and space, a feeling of being completely right, a complete
control and mastering of the detail, an immense significance of the small
actions. Sometimes even, the miracle does not happen in the pieces, but in
the distance between them. Everything on it has to be finished [in grammar,
a perfect tense is a past tense] sometimes even before it has started.

Why a letter?

Because it is precarious But if that is not enough, let us go back to basics
and look in the dictionary.

1: held by the favour and at the pleasure of another, uncertain
2: question-begging, taken for granted, unfounded, doubtful
3: dependent on circumstances or chance, unstable
4: perilous
5: suppliant; importunate

Hence, it had to be a letter to express my personal doubt intimately to you,
one to one, with your name and a special voice. It had to be a letter because
everyone keeps letters; they are precious in their rarity, forgotten after
emails, telephones and text messages. It had to be like that for you to be
able to keep it, remember and think about it. The question is unanswerable
because it is asked in time; it metamorphoses in different persons, in different
looks, faces, names, histories. It had to be a letter to arrive to you indirectly,
by itself. The question asking itself like an internal god. I had to do it
like that to disturb a particular moment of your day and make you listen at
the dilemma. And it had to be a letter to provoke your response.

The Everyday

The precarious art relation is formulated as it follows: something-artist-public.
It is not completed if one of the terms of the equation is missing. Adam Chodzko
put a free advert in Loot newspaper seeking photos of people that thought
they looked like God. If you are one of them, please tell him, because he
needs your receptivity I don’t think I am much mistaken if I say that all
precarious artists do, a certain frame of mind and the will to play the game.
I don’t think I am much mistaken either if I say precarious artists have a
peculiar fascination for the everyday in order to transplant familiar things
into the domain of the extraordinary. All that surrounds precarious artists
is a provocation for working, a subject for thinking a little bit more clearly
and also a beauty. We look for things in unusual places, places where anyone
can go: newsagents, stationers, sweets shops, the streets, a theatre, the
post office where I send you the letter, the kitchen in my house, NHS centres;
transforming traditional materials, studios and inspirations. Sometimes, it
is even more economic: what we do is only to point6 at some thing or other
and say ‘look how amazing is this!’ impressing the world with our little passion.
Some other times, not even that: we only have to wait for the experiences
to come to us. This flexibility, when it comes to more concrete problems,
is more difficult than what it seems. But overall, we are lucky. Everything
can amaze precarious artists.

Laura Gonzalez, Insect, 2001


They have asked me what I was going to do with your answers, how I was to
give an outcome to the diversity of responses provoked by such an unanswerable
question. Here it is. It is this, this text, these words, this reflections
upon a process carried in time, a lived progression. The beauty happened in
the non-met relation: me-letter, letter-you, you-answer, answer-me. The circle
close itself then and there was no need for more.


Precarious art is mainly exhibited in galleries, rethinking that space, bombarding
its meaning like poetry bombards language. It is seen by everyone. At least
that is the theoretical audience we try to deal with, the one we dream about,
the one we imagine when we work. But the public that comes to the galleries
is different and no so democratic. The real public is normally well trained
in art, art lovers, art dealers or artists that do not ask anymore the overused
question ‘Is this art?’ but assume it to be able to see what is beyond and
make the necessary semantic and humorous connections. The pieces are not obvious
sometimes and it is through the expression of an explicit desire of looking
at them, a will to do it [‘There must be something in here… Look for it!’]
that we find them. Hence, the relation established with the piece is similar
to voyeurism, intimate but remote. But, if ‘one must go beyond logic in order
to experience what is large in what is small’ which is the organ used to commune
with precarious art? It is not the intellect, and I don’t think it is the
heart neither for the emotion issued is not sentimental but something deeper,
more primitive. Could it be the skin? My objection is then the superficiality
but I have to admit that there is certainly something perceived with the whole
body. What about the ears, where the vertigo sensation is created? But precarious
art is more than a simple matter of redefinition of our scale. Probably it
is received with a precarious quality like health or illness, taking some
poison that is also the cure.

Laura Gonzalez, Book of I Love Yous,(detail), 2000

Questions and Answers

That some of you answered the letter and some others no it does not matter.
That some of you gave me drawings, or words, or postcards, or essays, or new
letters, or sculptures, or simple silence, it does not matter. The importance
is in my attempt to establish a relation with some of you, an invitation to
a dialogue. Even if you did not care about what was written, or about the
simple action of sending it to you and you threw it away, my approach to you
was harmless, honest and humble. The question I asked you was just that question,
no more and no less, with all its miseries and seductions. Moreover, to exist,
it did not mind you at all.


After all the thesis’ developed about precarious art, it is important to talk
about one more, an anti-thesis: its contradictions . It uses simple shapes,
actions and materials and yet it is very sophisticated: playing with art history,
introduces objects into the art context presupposing we understand and know
ready-made and conceptual strategies. The techniques applied [cut, glue, tear,
pose, drop, hammer, hang…] are non-specialized, everyone has done them at
some time or other and yet it talks to a very specific audience [would anyone
not trained in art consider my letter seriously?]. It controls, through aura
and expansion, the surrounding space, being extremely fragile at the same
time. The work is humorous [can you deny a smile to Chodzko’s ‘God look-alike’
piece?] and yet pathetic, cruelly pathetic in their art rite, art status [it
is dispensable, throw-away-art and repeatable, photocopy-art], artist’s role
[in theory anyone could do it] and art spaces subversion. What would happen
if the art gallery’s sacred places did not support the projects? Precarious
art asks imagination and poetic connections from the viewer, including at
the same time failure feelings that destabilizes itself: it is blameless and
deniable, looking for your trust and faith, but doing it cynically. It promises
you intimacy, being inaccessible, extraneous to you. It is nomad because it
does not settle down, it does not follow certain rules or systems and yet
submits to other policies like gallery or museum’s. But it is there, entering
a common ground for art where it develops its most powerful war, the one that
enables the question of a point-zero in our aesthetics, an uncomfortable sense
of finitude. That is the importance of these contradictions: the pieces allows
them in their structure, they include them and show them off, leaving us thinking.

Who are the perfect lovers?

I suppose you have to read the whole novel to understand what I am going to
say. You have to read the words he chose, feel their intense aesthetical experience
while following the characters [Agnes, Laura, Paul, Bernard] and the writer’
own train of thought. At the end of the third part of Immortality called,
for details’ sake Fighting, Laura is in Paul and Agnes’ living room. Her body
is disgustingly thin and thrashed by trying to rescue some love with attempts
of suicide and tears swell her eyes. Note her situation. And now, listen to
her confronting her sister: To ask what love means makes no sense, my dear
sister, said Laura. Love is someting you’ve either experienced or you haven’t.
Love is love, that’s all you can say about it. It’s a pair of wings beating
in my heart and driving me to do things that seem unwise to you. Love is love
and my letter was my letter. The question on it answers itself just by asking;
and formulating a response that tries to be true would only provoke, as it
happened, a change in the question, leaving the problem eternally unsolved.
it is only now that I can go back where I satrted, 9 months ago, and ask you
again, for the last time and forever: who are the perfect lovers?

Laura Gonzalez, Untitled (Perfect Lovers), 2000


We can retrace some precariousness in the past: Duchamp, Manzoni, the Povera
artists, the Fluxus group, conceptual and mail artists, minimalists and postminimalists…
but precarious art connot be identified with any of them because its work
is the manifestation of an impossibility, of something that, being there,

cannot be touched. Questions have to remain unanswered to be. Precarious art’s
definition is precarious. Even its name is slippery, unpinnable. It could
be nomad art, it could be threshold art, it could be lyrical art, everyday
art, question art, doubtful art. But, somehow, all the other names are precarious
as well.

Laura Gonzalez, Oh God!, 2003

About Me

I am an artist and writer. My recent practice performance, film, dance, photography and text, and my work has been performed, exhibited and published in many venues in Europe and the US. I have spoken at numerous conferences and events, including the Museum for the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, the Medical Museum in Copenhagen, College Arts Association and the Association for the Psychoanalysis of Culture and Society. When I am not following Freud, Lacan and Marx’s footsteps with my camera or creating performance works as part of my Athenaeum Research Fellowship at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, I teach postgraduate students at Transart Institute.

I am currently immersed in an interdisciplinary project exploring knowledge and the body of the hysteric. In 2013, together with Child and Adolescent Mental Health practitioner Frances Davies, I co-edited the book ‘Madness, Women and the Power of Art’, to which I contributed a work authored with Eleanor Bowen. My book ‘Make Me Yours: How Art Seduces’ was published by Cambridge Scholars in 2016. In this text, investigates psychoanalytic approaches to making and understanding objects of seduction, including an examination of parallels between artistic and analytic practices, a study of Manolo Blahnik’s shoes as objects of desire, a disturbing encounter with Marcel Duchamp’s last work, and the creation of a psychoanalytically inspired Discourse of the Artefact, a framework enabling the circulation of questions and answers through a relational approach to artworks.