Afternoon Dust

Reading notes: Renée Green, Other Planes of There

Renée Green is one of my favourite artists, and has been since I saw her solo exhibition Endless Dreams and Water Between at National Maritime Museum, Greenwich back in 2009. Recently I finished reading her book Other Planes of There, which collects a selection of her writings from 1981 to 2010, though most of the essays, articles, exhibition proposals, and other texts date from 1990 onwards. This book documents aspects of Green’s practice with which I was unfamiliar, and also sheds new light on themes and concerns I already associated with her work.

The title of the book comes from a poem by Sun Ra, and identifies a thread of thought that runs throughout Green’s work tracing many patterns of interest, desire, conflict, ambivalence, and belief: namely, a concern with elsewheres, elsewhens, and othernesses of various sorts. At times, Green expresses in her writings a deep frustration with the international art scene for its uncritical adoption of a discourse of otherness, a tendency through which unconscious racisms and colonialisms proliferate. At other moments, and particularly in her later work, she acknowledges the seductive pull of such discourse, and also an urgent need to plunder: to plunder the resources of other times, other cultures, and other realms of thought (scientific, literary, historical), to learn from them strategies and techniques for responding to the current crisis. It is a plundering that aims to leave the wealth and the dignity of its targets intact, and takes the form of a constant questioning and re-examining of dominant narratives and assumptions.

Indeed, one can sense the urgency in her writing increasing as it approaches the present, even as the open frustration diminishes. The crisis which Green hopes to equip herself and others to face is not explicitly defined, but relates to the economic, social, political, and ecological conditions in which Western humanist thought increasingly finds itself impotent, routed by capitalist pseudo-rationalism and right-wing fanaticism alike. Over the decades, ‘identity politics’ reaches the height of its influence as intellectual cause célèbre, fall from grace, and is then recuperated in myriad new transformations. Technology is investigated as a potential means of generating new planes of there, and then absorbed into a general critical practice across multiple forms and media.

Engagement and escape, commitment and longing: these seem to form the double gravitational pull of otherness, of the multiple elsewheres towards which our hopes and dreams are always travelling. Green’s writing traces these travels through questions, narratives, and critical explorations of many kinds, all with a subtlety and passion that is inspiring.