Hui Yuk and Andreas Broeckmann: 30 Years after Les Immatériaux: Art, Science, and Theory, 2015

In­ 1985,­ the ­French ­philosopher­ Jean-François ­Lyotard ­together ­with­ the­ design ­theorist­ Thierry­ Chaput,­ curated ­the ­exhibition­ Les Immatériaux at the ­Centre ­Georges ­Pompidou ­in ­Paris. ­He had ­accepted­ an ­invitation by ­the­ Minister for Culture ­and­ the ­Center for Industrial Creation (CCI).­ Six ­years ­after­ Lyotard’s ­report ­on ­The Postmodern Condition (1979), ­the ­exhibition ­demonstrated­ the ­hypothesis­ which ­he ­had ­described­ in ­the ­report. ­The ­objects­ and ­artworks ­shown­ expressed ­his ­observations ­of ­what ­was ­happening ­in­ domains ­such ­as ­art, ­science ­and ­philosophy, ­under ­the ­new­ condition­ of­ communication ­technologies. ­Lyotard’s ­report ­is ­considered ­to ­be­ a ­response ­to­ another­ report ­by ­Simon­ Nora­ and­ Alain ­Minc,­ in­ the ­1970s,­ which­ proposed­ the “computerisation of society”. ­Nora ­and­ Minc’s ­project ­lead ­to ­the ­development ­of ­the ­French ­Minitel­ system.­ According ­to ­Lyotard, ­the ­new­ “postmodern”­ condition ­demanded ­a ­new ­sensibility, ­as ­he ­stated ­in ­the ­principle­ proposition­for ­the ­exhibition: ­”The­ insecurity,­ the­ loss ­of­ identity,­ the ­crisis­ is­ not­ expressed­ only­ in ­economy and ­the ­social, ­but­ also­ in ­the ­domains ­of­ the ­sensibility,­ of ­the ­knowledge ­and­ the ­power­ of­ man ­(futility,­ life,­ death),­ the ­modes­ of ­life ­(in ­relation ­to ­work,­ to­ habits, ­to ­food,­ … ­etc.).” A ­constant­ return ­to ­the ­postmodern­ condition ­became ­a­ general­ method ­of­ Lyotard’s­ philosophical­ thinking ­to ­go ­beyond­ the­ modern ­imagination,­ and­ guided­ the­ construction ­of­ the­ exhibition­ which ­was,­ in ­his ­own­ words, ­a ­”manifestation”,­ a­ “non-exhibition”.

The ­title ­of­ the ­exhibition ­Les Immatériaux ­demonstrates ­a­ form ­of­ resistance­ against ­the ­modern­ conception­ of­ materiality.­ The ­original­ title ­for ­the ­project­ that ­the ­CCI­ had ­initiated­ already ­in­ 1981,­ before ­Lyotard ­got ­involved­ in­ 1983,­ was Création et matériaux nouveaux.­ This ­title ­was ­changed­ several ­times:­ Matériau et création, ­Matériaux nouveaux et création, ­La Matière dans tous ses états, ­before ­it ­was­finally ­announced­ to ­the ­public ­as ­Les Immatériaux. The etymological root mât ­refers ­to ­making ­by ­hand, ­to ­measure, ­to­ construct.­ The­ moderns ­since ­Descartes ­conceive ­a ­dualism­ and­ hence ­an ­opposition­ between the res cogitans ­and­ the ­res extensa;­ the­ thinking ­mind­ becomes ­the­ foundation ­of ­knowledge ­and ­also ­the ­judge­ of­what ­is ­real. ­As­ Lyotard­ wrote:­ “In ­the ­tradition ­of ­modernity, ­the­ relation­ of­ the­ human ­with ­materials ­is ­fixed­ by­ the ­Cartesian­ programme: ­to ­become­ master­ and­ possessor ­of ­nature. ­A­ free ­will ­imposes­ its ­ends ­to­ the­ given­ sense ­data ­to ­divert ­them away ­from­ their­ natural­ sense. It­ will­ determine ­their­ end­ with ­the ­help­ of­ language which­ allows­ it ­to ­articulate­ what­is­ possible ­(a ­project)­ and ­to­ impose ­it ­upon­ what ­is­ real ­(matter).”

Yuk, Hui, and Andreas Broeckmann. 30 Years after Les Immatériaux: Art, Science, and Theory. Meson­press: Lüneburg, 2015.