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 itself.

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  pprehend, 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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.