Are you a killer? Do you have it in yourself, to murder somebody… or several… how would you do it…
Looking back at 20th century it is interesting to find that the birth of the contemporary serial killer and different critiques of representation within the arts coincide. Is it only circumstantial that the Manson Family and Joseph Kosuth’s “Art and Philosophy” both happen in ‘’69? If not, does the serial killer pave the way for conceptual art or is it the other way around? We can certainly speculate if the two Ohio born perpetrators were accomplices? Obviously they, or we, put the wrong guy behind bars – Kosuth’s might neither have executed the acts but the amount of torture he is responsible for is totally den Haag scale – yet we shouldn’t confuse Manson for a dark precursor of conceptual work when what he really was as a dumbass art student that mixed up abstract expressionism with portrait painting. I mean it’s a bit far fetched to understand finishing off an actress as an act of institutional critique before Tate Modern was even conceived.
The conventional Hollywood murder movie is obsessing around murder as representation. It is a one-off set up and the job of the detective or whatever authority is to trace the expression back to its manifestation and thus confirm the regime of representation both framing and making possible the motif for the criminal act. Hollywood takes its job serious. The objective of the murder movie is not to induce fear in the viewer, not to produce havoc on the streets of American cities but to reinforce the regimes of representation governing life. The killer is not even a pimple on the imperialist face but a mouche strategically placed to on the one hand cover the corrupt nature of the capitalist machinery and simultaneously confirm the necessity of a repressive state apparatus.
Following Walter Benjamin and his writing on the author as producer the logical solution must be that any anti-capitalist movies must not deal with singular murder cases, but if at all with murder as a mode of ungrounding or corrupting representation.
From another point of view one would need to look closer into the notion of authorship in respect of murder movies where the killer is known from the start or only discovered in the last scene. It is possible that Manson had access to Barthes’ “Death of the Author” published in the US in 1967.
But if the conventional killer is one that organizes murder in respect of causality, forms follows function, less is more and most of all the motive is inscribed in the image, the serial killer addresses representation differently. However the killings might be more manifest as images his or her work is a matter of critically addressing representation. The modernist killer is black and white a rational existence that brings together Western philosophy, an autonomous subject and executes his deeds due some metaphysical necessity. The serial instead is a Bergsonist operating vis a vis duration – the element of torture -, intuition as method – the necessary decoding/recoding of patterns -, with a badly hidden appetite for post-structuralism – text – the endless reference to the bible -, iteration – one more time – all charged by an in-autonomous subjects haunted by bodies that matter.
Through repetition and slight differentiation the now classical serial killer questions representation and produces a moment of instability. He or she is of course not concerned with images as such but of the politics and ideologies underlying image production. The object of violence or destruction is not a human being with a name but the “real” object is the fundaments upon which our ethics rest. The serial killer is not a critic, or not any more, he is hooked up with criticality – studied Visual Studies at Goldsmiths – and it is not he who kills but late capitalism and control society and yet he is faster than a superhero in announcing himself as guilty. The serialkiller destabilizes responsibility or authorship with a Lacanian twist: “I did it but it wasn’t me.”
But as usual it is not the job of the critique to execute the destruction. His job is simply to point in the right direction, which is perhaps why Manson stands out as “genius” making it, so to say, impossible for his “family” to not execute the murders. But then fortunately or not there are good folks like Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman (Sev7en) to terminate those ungrounding forces and restore representation safe and sound. But wait a second who is the Brad’s and Morgan’s of the artistic field? Is it critics, education, programmer and curators or who, cuz normally it’s the state that authorizes the killings the artist being some sort of needed yet not necessary war machine. Or is Morgan and Brad performed by Michael Asher and Tino Sehgal, two generations of institutional critique: whilst seemingly taking a stand against the institution – the serial killer can only be apprehended through unorthodox methods, engagement with the dark side and an even bigger genius – are in fact authorizing or even consolidating granted regimes of representation.
However, the worst case must after all be the museum/festival-director, curator or critic that feels the inner urge to step into the mind of the perpetrator. That understand that only by seeing with the eyes of the killer, only be becoming his/her subjectivity can the case be solved. But isn’t this exactly the moment when the curator also becomes the artist and the institution poses a critique onto itself. Utter vanity, personified by William Peterson in “Manhunter” – solving the case by taking up the subject of the killer he implicitly also admit that he could already have done it – delicately resurrected as Grissom in CSI.
But as we know the serial killer has already become a historical character firmly rooted in cold-war rhetoric. Today the destabilizing killer has become neo-liberalism’s best friend being a kind of self-employed and self-organized asset that through his non-causal administration and execution of activity becomes valuable. Further, his departure from classical regimes of representation can be seen as a shift to post-Fordist production, or a kind of immaterial labor, focusing on activity, sharing and process rather than finitude and the circulation of goods/representations. Today the serial killer has become the norm – an anti-authoritarian, post-hierarchical, knowledge sharing guy that is not involved in making “pieces” but engages in practice based performance.
He, now as a collective, comes together to practice not to produce. To practice the subject, not in respect of any given hierarchy or assumed set of values but instead in order to engage in self-enhancement. Producing representation proper issues responsibility whereas the practice based serial killer production implies a deterritorialization of responsibility that disqualifies any kind of critique. The practice based performance is not guilty for having done the deed, because the act was what the context asked for. “-I could not have done otherwise.”
It is high time that we revise our protocols and end the apologetic regime of the serial killer, sharpen our knives, reload our weapons and aim at defined targets, definite objects and embrace the violent regimes of straight forward representation. The chicken shit attitude towards representation has to come to an end, there is no time for negotiation and regurgitation about image production, institutional critique, tautological or self-referential self-enhancement – that’s the job of well-meaning leftists and psychoanalysts. But hell no, it’s not about a re-industrialization of artistic activity, hell no this is about speculation and realist formation, away from anthropocentric welfare “kunst” – towards the end of art as a relational terrain, in favor of a hermetic gesture that asks for no forgiveness, that pays no respect to the spectator, resents emancipation and aims at the motherfuckin heart.