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The significance of Yves Klein’s “Ritual”

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individual as a matter of course, or else it
offers only inapplicable good advice and is
therefore not worth a brass farthing to people
who are without these means.

To avoid misunderstanding, let me say that
(i) I don’t see much danger of revolutionary
organisations propagating the ideas of the
official bourgeois apologists (with occasional
exceptions like the scandalmongering about
individual bourgeois figures already mentioned) .

Rather it is a question of possibly reproducing
the unconscious determinants of ideology;
(ii) it is not the official bourgeois ideology
which these organisations are in danger of
perpetuating, but the regressive ideologies of
the oppressed (in the sense of Nietzsche’s
account of Christianity). Contemporary examples
of such ideologies which have infected sections
of the left might be ‘ouvrierism’ with its
concomitant anti-theoretical cult of practice,
and radical feminism.

See e.g. the references to morality in The
Communist Manifesto, or in Bukharin’s Historical
Materialism.

Marcuse’s concepts of surplus-repression and
the performance-principle (as the forms which
gratification-deferment and the realityprinciple take under capitalism) are of value
here.

See his Eros and Civilisation.

The significance
~f Yves Blein’s
(Rilual)

The first man to compare the cheeks of a
young [voman to a rose h’aS obviously a poet;
the first to repeat it IvaS possibly an
idiot.

[Preface to Dialogues Ivj th Marcel Duchamp,
Thames and l~dson, 1971, p13]

vhereas it is undeniahly the case that Duchamp,
Tzara and Picabia were original thinkers of a
high standard, it is harder to make similar
judgements in the case of the Neo-Dadaists.

Among the exceptions of the later movement,
Klein is a particularly interesting figure;
and I think that the deepest philosophical
implications of his whole oeuvre are to he
found in the ‘Ritual’.

I~at, then, is the ‘Ritual’?

Its full title:

the Hi tual for the l,elinquishment of the
Immaterial Pictorial ~ensitivitv Zones.

Klein
exchanged certificates of Zones of Immaterial
Pictorial sensitivity for gold leaf. These
Zones were ‘immaterial’ therefore, thev could
not be seen or held.

Tn a ,vord, thev were intan’lible. The gold leaf with which these zones
I”,ere purchaserl was anything but immaterial – it
had to be the genuine 22/carat a’rticle!

These
certificates were valid only when they and half
the gold had been either destroyed or irretri~v­
ably lost. The ‘Ritual’ manifesto, which Klein
wrote in justification of the ‘happening’, enrls
wi th the following ‘…,ords:

From this moment on [the certificate having
been rlestroyed, and half of the golrl lost]
the immaterial pictorial sensitivit11 zone
belongs to the buyer absolutely and intrinsicall!l. The zones havinq been relinquished
in this way are then not an!] more transferable by their owner.

[Yves Klein, 1928-1962, :-:elected fvritinqs,
Tate Gallery Publications, pS3]

Several distinct concepts are questioned
implicitly by the ‘Ritual’ and these will now,
be discussed.

OrahameWhile
(for Cathy)

Yves Klein is probably best-known as the painter
of huge monochrome canvases, such as the
International Klein Blue series.

However, like
the majority of the Neo-Dadaists, he placed
much emphasis on the event, the ‘happening’, as
opposed to the finished article.

Tt is such a
‘happening’ which is the suhject of this essay.

However, before embarking upon the main part of
my argument, I wish to briefly consider the
achievements of the Neo-Dada movement as a whole,
attempting to demonstrate what an outstanding,
innovating figure Klein was, in an otherwise
tepid, repetitive movement.

Unfortunately, the majority of the NeoDadaists fell into the trap offered by historical repetition and attempted revival. As Marx
wrote in the ‘Eighteenth Brumaire’:

Hegel remarks somewhere that all facts and
personages of great importance in world
history occur, as it were, twice.

He forgot
to add: the first time as tragedy, the
second as farce.

Not only was much that the Neo-Dadaists
‘achieved’ farce (this they would not have
objected to in many cases), it was farce of the
‘worst kind, being dull anq unoriginal. The
judgements made by Marx on the relative values
of ‘the Uncle’ and ‘the Nephew’, have been
reiterated by probably the most un-Ilegelian
mind of the century – Salvador Dali:

So, according to Klein, money can buv a
zone of immaterial nictorial sensitivity. This
may at first seem absurd, but like all the best
absurdities, there is method in the apparent.

madness. Despite the heavy attacks which it is
undergoing at the moment, ‘art’ in our society
is still an essentially elitist category of
interest and participation. The concepts of
‘art’ and ‘property’ remain inextricably
linked. Art still essentially refers to
possessions. These ‘possessions’ need not
necessarily be the country manors and parkland,
the finery and wealth of the landed gentry.

These are primarily material possessions. The
possessions to which much modern, avant-garde
art refers, are intellectual. consider how
much modern art is based upon making allusions.

Finnegan’s Wake and The Waste Land are the two
literary examples pAT excellence. Composers as
far removed from each other in their working
methods as Stockhausen, stravinsky and lIindemith
capitalize upon the audience’s familiarity with
the music of Bach, Beethoven and Mozart. The
visual arts present similar manifestations of
this trend. Consider the allusions which a
painter as un-theatrical as soutine was making
with his painting of a flayed ox (which assumes
an uncanny human shape) which only hecomes
fully comprehensible when one knows of the
Rembrandt ‘Flayed Ox’ in the Louvre. Duchamp’s
notorious~LHOOG similarly makes sense only when
the spectat~r knows of the reputation and cultural ‘sanctity’ which has become attached to
Leonardo’s ‘Mona Lisa’.

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In such ways does the art of the twentieth
century refer to the posses9ions – intel;ectually speaking – of the reader, spectator,
listener.

But in this Wa¥, the art of the
nresent century has only reinforced the importance of possessions.

In the sixteenth-, seventeenth- and eiqhteenth centuries paintings of
manor houses and other finery merely affirmed
the material sunerintity of the patrons. The
art of the twentieth century, which I have
consirlered above, affirms their intellectual
suneriority as well, for the simple reason
that it is only a certain sector of society
which has the ornortunity to hecome ‘cultured’.

‘.no these neon le are those who can afford, financiallv speakinq, to study culture.

In our
nresent society, not only do material possessions rletermine intellectual possessions, but
in m~nv casps, culture actually endorses this
phpnompnon.

Thus the myth of a person being
the sum of his nurchaserl possessions is
nprnetuClterl.

Thi s is whett Yves “lein WetS il’1nlyinq I’lhen he
cJ~inprl thett one could nurchase a zone of
immaterietl pictori~l sensitivity with so much
nold leaf.

Hut the irony of the ‘Ritual’

clemonc;trettes that Klein was ormosed to these
tfonc!encies.

Ylein’s zones of pictorial sen~itivitv were
‘immaterial’.

This constitutes a profound
hre”k 1,:1 th the tntcli tion of the F”uropean oil
naintino.

T:1is trac1.ition ,,’etS one “hich ultimately clt~nendecl upon the tacti le, material
ou”l i ty 0 f the ob] ects which were (lepicted in
naintinqs.

This aspect of J~uropean oil paintinq
was noticed hv Flerenson ancl Levi-strauss, and
1].,s heen sunnortecl more recently bv John Herrrer.

Icconl i nq to Herensnn, one of the clistinguishi ng featurps ‘If the TOuronean oil l’aintina ‘vas
‘the cnrnnreal siqnificance of objects’ “‘hich
,'”S ,]enictecl on the canvases.

Tn the nrececlinq
s,’ctinn, T ha’le snnken of the emnhasis which
our sncietv nl~ces unon pnssessinns.

This
ohser'”tion hds also been marle lJV Levi-.<C;trauss:

Tt is this avid and ambitious desire to tak~
ion of thp ohject for the henefi t of
the nr,’ner or (?’.ren of the spectator (,!hich
seems to me to constitute one of the oriainal
features of the art of ~~stern civilization.

[cruoted in ,John I:erqer, r’C’lI/s of Seeinq,
F’elic~ll Books, lQrl, nH<ll

noc;spss

'r()~;s"ssi()n' :rnd 'the cornoreal siqnificance of
"l'l"t:ts' "re ,'lns"l'! connpcterl.

::ot onlv di(l
)’lei n cnnJ’1ent cvni c”llv unon the <leterMi nrltion
nf intell,~ctll"l nossessinn~; hv mClterial "e"lth
– hp denied the t"ctile, and funclamentc,llv
'rnssi)'le', hv m"kinn his 7.ones 'immaterii'll'.

This si’l:nnrl noint, nf’ the neqCltion of the
L,ctilp iMl·licit in Vlein’s ‘Tiitual’, learls on
to the nt’xt tI’ln noints ,.,’hich T \’ish to consicler.

TI(‘ first of these is the cri ticisl’1 “‘hich V:lein
\’.’1S Je 1T E’llinCl aqainst tl1itt concept of art Ivhich
has Iltc’en fostered hv the bourqeoi sie: the Vi c1esnrp”,j ,1rt-Cls-COml’1octitv concept 1,,’hieh is so
chdL,ctpristic of our current society.

Tncleed,
etS I:rnst “ischer ,’as ever Clt nains to emphasize,
our societv is – first (1nrl foremost – a commoclitv
S(l,’

i

et’!:

LVertltiJinu has become a commoditu: side bu
side h’itiJ the neat market there is the art

ITIrlrJ:et, ,c;i,;e “Y sicle 1″ith the car market is
the 1>ook Inarket, the lahour market, the sex
market, markets for information, secret
serFices and, of course, public opinion.

lbol’e <111, it is man 1"ho has become a
commod i tu.

[T:rnst Fischer, .”larx in his n14n rl’ords,
PAlican Books, 1′)73, 0167]

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So, there has become such a thing as the
‘art market’.

rJhat does thi s imply? A market
is a place where goods are bought and exchanged.

Works of art are exchanged – either for other
works or for
money.

This constitutes the
utter neqation of the concept of art as a tool
of cultural function, as something Vhich
actually has an operative purpose.

To paraphrase ~arx, a commodity is something which
lies external to ourselves, and which ~atisfies
~ desire, be it alimentarv or intellectual.

It
is utilized.

It is usecl for a specific nqrpose.

Hence, it is a use-value.

But the exchange of commodites is evidentl!!

an act characterised hI] a total ahstract.ion
from use-value …

As use-values, commodities are, ahove all,
of different qualities, but as exchangevalues they are merely different qUalit.ies,
and consequently do not contain an atom of
use-vlalue.

[Fischer, op cit, pp53-4J

(The full absurdity of the art–as-commodi ty concept prevalent in bourgeois societv can be seen
when the difference betVeen a Salvador lJali
lithograph and a medieval jewel casket is no
longer qualitative, but merely quantitathre.

Their difference has become basicallv one of
dollars, and no longer of use.)
Klein’s zones of pictorial sensitivity clefy
the art-market.

The market is an organ of
transfer – yP.t Klein explicitly states that the
oVner’s possession of one of his enhemeral
Zones is both absolute and intrinsic. .Ibove
all, they are not transferable.

They are nonnegotiahle.

They can [;ever be the subject of
barter in the market-place.

With the everintensifyinq crises in capitalis~ which this
century is witnessing, art objects are more
than ever before being usecl as a hedge-aqainstinflation.

It is onlv bv. virtue of their
I
raritv, tangibilitv anrl exchangeahilitv that
this has becomE’ nossible.

Klein’s Zones are
ephemeral.

‘l’hey are non-nerrotiable.

Therefore,
they are not ‘art’ in the financially valueladen sense of the word.

Doubtless, many will be struck by the apparent
‘irrationality’ of Klein’s ‘Ritual’. And the
majority of these people will look upon Klein in
the light of the many fashionable cults of unreason,
and proceed to group his thought alongside that of
Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and their countless twentieth-century disciples.

But I do not think that
the ‘irrationality’ of Klein can be filed under
this heading.

Admittedly, in the notes he left
about the nature of the ‘blueness’ of his Inter~ational Klein Blue series, several turns of phrase
come uncomfortably close to the advocacy of a
‘spirituality’ in art.

But I c1.o not think that
there is anything ‘spiritual’ about the intrinsic,
non-transferable, iPUTlaterial quality of his zones.

As I have attempted to show, I think that they
constitute an attack on the way in which, in a
capitalist society, art-objects are no longer
functional, save as forms of investment.

In the
irrationality of the ‘Ritual’, he Vas cynically
mirroring a dichotomy in the bourgeois concent of
art-as-investment-object.

In a previous issue of
this Magazine, Roger Taylor wrote:

The contemporary artist is very much arvare of
the elitist character of art and the more
cyn_ical artists have traded on this fact to
make the category as overtly absurd as possible.

It has been concluded that there is no rationale behind what instances are instances of art,
and that the instances of art are instances
of art as the arbitrary fiats within the high
bourgeoisie.

The f_iats are not arbitrary in
the sense that there are no explanations of

them, but they are arhitrary in the sense that
there is no rationale behind them.

[Radical Philosophy 5, p34J

Klein, I think, must berated among the most
perceptively biting of these cynics, these nasty
people who try their damnedest to upset the
cultural applecart.

The Neo-Dadaists set out to shock the ‘cultured
classes from their complacency.

Perhaps they
ought to have borne in mind what eventually became
of Duchamp, Picabia and Dali once the spectators
had recovered from the initial surprise. The
quickest way of dealing with the artistic outlaw
is to extend the limits of legality so he is no
longer outlaw, but an integrated – hence ‘respectable’ – participant in civilization. This is what
happened in the case of the above artists. Thus
the Neo-Dadaists found it harder than ever to provoke serious thought rather than to allow the
spectator the reassurance of complacent admiration.

Jean Tingueley resorted to auto-destructives, constructions set to blow themselves up.

(‘Art disturbs; science reassures’. – Georges Braque).

Certainly shows a flair for the theatrical, but
then, so does blowing up a factory chimney.

(But
dammit all – is it art? our Victorian counterparts would have asked.)
The train of thought
which underlines Yves Klein’s ‘Ritual’ betrays a
more profound criticism.

But Klein’s work is far
from being free from that rhetoric so characteristic of Neo-Dadaism; but with Klein – in the
‘Ritual’ above all – the rhetoric is never gratuitous.

I;’~

Understanding
Iheoccull
Alfred Cell
, … it takes reality to reveal transcendence’.

, The world and transcendence are one without
being identical’.

Karl Jaspers, Philosophy Vol.III

My objective in this paper is to sketch in the
general form of the Occult.l The Occult order, as
I understand it, is the object of those techniques
and doctrines, interpretative schemes and ritual
procedures, which we commonly group together under
the rubric of Magico-Religious behaviour.

I wish
to understand how it is that the Occult comes into
being as an integral element in human affairs, and
how ritual action, by grasping the Occult can
claim, for its adherents, a measure of control
over the contingencies which surround men in the
course of their daily lives.

It is assumed here
that Magico-Religious behaviour is devoid of
material efficacy, at least of the kind ascribed
to it by its practitioners. Though I would not
dispute the proposition that ritual can have
beneficial consequences, psychologically, therapeutically, or socially, this does not seem to me
to alter the basic fact that r~tual cannot be,
interpreted in terms of a rational means/ends
schema.

1 Magic, science and arl
It hardly needs saying ·that the question of devising a satisfactory theoretical perspective for

viewing ~1agico-Religious behaviour has been a
perennial subject of dispute, not only among
Anthropologists. For an outside observer, particularly for a participant in the secular, disenchanted, rationalistic ethos most characteristic
of the Ivest, there has always been something
positively scandalous about magic, fascinating
and repellent at the same time.

Hence the widespread interest in the subject. For the Anthropologist, the problem has an added dimension of
complexity, due to the ambiguous position he has
to adopt between his own culture, which provides
the background against which his account must he
intelliqible, and the exotic culture which it is
his task to describe faithfully.

He cannot adopt the position of the theoloqian,
who is committed to the doctrines that he makes
it his business to expound: but at the same time
he is loath to deny or minimise the intrinsic
vigour and force of the exotic ideas which he has
been at such pains to record, especially when
seen in the light of their original social context.

Hence the attractions of the theories of
reliqion such as those propounded by Ilorton and
Beattie, both of whom, in different ways, offer
apologies f~r the occult, bv purp~rtinq to see
analogies between the styles of thought which
make recourse to notions of the occult, and more
respectable intellectual activities, already
familiar to us in a Western context. 2
Horton, as is well known, favours an analogy
between Religion, or Magico-Religious behaviour,
and Science. His apology for the Occult is,
essentially, that, like science, it offers an
explanatory scheme for the interpretation of
Nature.

His apology stops short, and turns
instead into an in~ictment, ~~ly because the
primitive thought-systems he is considering fall
short, in certain crucial respects, of the
standard set by developed western scientific
theories.

He locates the fallaciousness of
primitive thought-systems in their inaccessbility
to correction by new experience.

Beattie’s
apology is different, and also his identification
of the basic fallacy,
l~ sees Maqico-Religious
behaviour as expressive, and hence as akin not to
science, but to art, and no less res’pectable for
that. And for him the fallacy is the fallacy of
the artist seduced by the vehemence of his own
creative outpouring into believing that the objects of his efforts can borrow their reality
from him.

In the first part of this paper, I propose to
criticise both of these views in certain respects.

I hasten to add that in neither case would I wish
to controvert the substantive analytical contribution of these authors.

I merely wish to suggest
that it is possible to go further than either in
developing theoretical ideas which will allow us
to understand magic and religion. One such idea
is that of the occult itself, which I will discuss in detail later.

But as a general point I
would argue that analogies, however persuasive,
cannot mask an irreducible quality which attaches
to magico-religious behaviour per se, {which I
would identify as its preoccupation with the
occult}, and that comparisons with other forms of
thought or behaviour, be they science or art or
any other, cannot tell ~s what this specific,
irreducible quality is.

.–

Magic as science
Let me commence by discussing Horton’s impressive
attempt to de-mystify the occult aspects of
primitive world view by drawing an extended analogy between what appear to be mystical ideas (the
gods, heroes and water-spirits of Kalabari cosmology), and the abstract explanatory concepts
employed by western science.

Horton thinks that
religion and magic are interpretative theories about
the order of Nature. He calls them ‘proto-science’

The following quotation summarises his views:

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