Dear Readers, Dear Users,
In the summer of 2016 I began translating the essay presented here. In this lexicon Stephen Wright describes translating under “Idleness”:
“Translating is a form of usership (of a text, a word, a string of words, an image or a sound): users are translators, transposing what they find in one idiom into another. And while translating can be hard work, it is creatively idle, making do with what is available rather than feeling compelled to add something else”.
And indeed, it was passionate work, without need for originality, a form of delightful idleness, just as art can be. It gives me great pleasure to present you with a Hebrew translation of Stephen Wright’s important book, on which I labored lovingly and enthusiastically. In it I found the purpose and home for many of my actions and interests in the past ten years, and a theoretical framework that strings together and encapsulates many of my most loved artistic practices, from the dawn of mankind to the present day.
Toward a Lexicon of Usership is an influential essay in the theory of contemporary art. It was written in English by Stephen Wright, a theorist of practice who lives in Paris and Canada, and published in 2013 by Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, The Netherlands. Wright’s notions revive and continue ideals and art forms originating in ceremonies and rituals people have used, through popular practices of creativity and performance, Joseph Beuys and “everyone is an artist”, Antonio Gramsci and “everyone is an intellectual”, to the creative explosion of protest movements around the world since 2011, which is now reawakening with gladdening bursts of explosion.
You are welcome to use the book as you wish, to continue translating, distorting, feeling, or repurposing it for any new purpose you desire; to create new actions, things, speech, and language – which are in such dire need in the time and place we currently occupy; to make art the way we make life – together, alone, with an eruption of unrestrained passion, out of the constraints of correct dimensions, precisely, carelessly, without rules, and without precepts; with respect for every human being, with contempt for power, femininely, southerly, in black.
Being users: autonomous citizens, free people. Being a usership: a common body of people making free use of words and things; a body that might also be called the culture of humankind or the population of the world. Art is the path to freedom.
One of the important notions in the book is the perception of art as a degree of intensity liable to be present in every thing, in contrast with art as a collection of objects or events. Another great notion is the double ontology of art, whereby the emerging and becoming practices in the twenty-first century are expressed on a 1:1 scale. They are always what they are (extraterritorial art) and also propositions (possibly artistic) of what they are. In this way the map can be distinguished from the territory – even when they are identical in size, and this distinction is also in the very craft of use and usership. Life as form.
The essay presented here features some new (Hebrew) words. One of them is shitkhul (repurposing) – giving new purpose to things. To my mind, one of most beautiful attributes of art and the fascinating contradictions within it is the question of the new. The time has come to revive the value of the new in art. New does not mean original or produced for the first time – but fresh thinking and a feeling of birth and becoming that find form in a specific and concrete time and place. Truth is concrete.
Wright helps us imagine a beautiful world in which art is used similarly to language – it has no authorship or ownership, no spectators or sacred space. It is renewed by the use a common body makes of it. No one has the prerogative to interpret it, and the changes in it, its meaning, and importance are determined by the user. As proposed by Ludwig Wittgenstein, who is quoted in the book: “Don’t ask for the meaning, ask for the use”. And the biggest question the book poses is of course: How is art used?
My gratitude goes to my colleagues in the worlds of art and life I inhabit, who gave of their energies to this sacred and profane work. First to my superb language editor Asaf Shur who shaved the stubble and upgraded the style. Special thanks to Udi Edelman, Director of the Institute for Public Presence and editor of Maarav who invited me to publish this translation. A deep bow of gratitude to the members of the Israeli Usership Forum that was established in support of this labor of translation, and who also served as members of the Committee for Hebrew Art Terms: Keren Goldberg, Chen Tamir, Iris Pshedezki, Yoav Lifshitz, Yonatan H. Mishal, Yochai Avrahami, and Hillel Roman. My thanks to Peter Zuiderwijk whose design for the English edition we repurposed in the Hebrew edition. Thanks also to Yael Friedman, Ronen Eidelman, Yana Pevzner Bashan, Yigal Dotan, Dory Manor, Assaf Cohen, Kuba Szreder, Sebastian Cichocki, Charles Esche, Galit Eilat, Steven Wright, and Galia Schutz.
Translated by: Margalit Rodgers