[NetBehaviour] Maps for the Outside.

marc marc.garrett at furtherfield.org
Tue Feb 28 03:37:09 CET 2006

Maps for the Outside.

by Brian Holmes

Bureau d'Etudes, or the revenge of the concept

The closure of the gallery space is a classic conceptual gesture. 
Witness this proposal by Robert Barry: "My exhibition at the Art & 
Project Gallery in Amsterdam in December, '69, will last two weeks. I 
asked them to lock the door and nail my announcement to it, reading: 
'For the exhibition the gallery will be closed.'" [1] Conceptual art can 
be defined, not simply as the refusal of the commodified object and the 
specialized art system, but as an active signage pointing to the outside 
world, conceived as an expanded field for experimental practices of 
intimacy, expression and collaboration - indeed, for the transformation 
of social reality. [2]

Thirty-two years later, in October-December 2001, the French group 
Bureau d'Etudes reiterated the gesture, sealing off the exhibition space 
of Le Spot, a converted industrial building in the port city of Le 
Havre. Instead of a simple sign, they confronted the visitor with a 
book, Juridic Park, which upon closer inspection proved to be a detailed 
set of maps to the "legal subsoil" of the city. But these maps, like the 
more recent cartographic projects, do not simply embrace the outside of 
one of modernity's specialized subsystems. Rather they detail the 
proliferating closures of a totally administered society, where almost 
every square inch of terrain is strictly codified for exclusive, 
proprietary uses. The name of the group, "Bureau d'Etudes," denotes an 
expert consultancy, a study office for technical research. Theirs is an 
intensely precise apprehension of the world, shot through with flashes 
of dark humor. But their work in its broadest dimensions is also the 
foundation, or perhaps the springboard, for an antagonistic utopia.


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