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Justina M Barnicke Gallery 
Hart House, University of Toronto

January 24–March 16, 2013 

A Project by Charles Stankievech

With contributions by Anonymous, Abbas Akhavan, George Antheil, Gregory Bateson, BBC, Walter Benjamin, Lene Berg, Black Cat Systems, Sir Anthony Blunt, Mel Bochner, Bertolt Brecht, Adam Broomberg + Oliver Chanarin, Bill Burns, Canadian Army, Raymond Cass, Center for Land Use Interpretation, CIA, Lt. Col. Jim Channon, Dana Claxton, Jean Cocteau, Salvador Dali, DBI Architects, Jan Dibbets, Encounter Magazine, Arthur Erickson, Harun Farocki, FBI, Coco Fusco, Dan Graham, Hizbollah, Albert Hofmann, Douglas Huebler, Israeli Defense Force, Donald Judd, Yves Klein, Joseph Kosuth, Hedy Lamarr, Alfonso Laurencic, An-My Lê, Libyan Minister of Culture and Ethnic Affairs, Lucy R. Lippard, El Lissitzky, Mark Lombardi, Gordon Matta-Clark, Simon Menner, Major. Vera Michael, Lee Miller, Richard Mosse, Sang Mun, MoMA NYC, NSA, Trevor Paglen, Palestine Arab Delegation, Roland Penrose with David Sherman, Queen's Press, Walid Raad, Fabian Reimann, Steve Rowell, Peter Paul Rubens, Raúl Ruiz, Ed Ruscha, Paul Ryan, Secret Level, Joshua Simon, Robert Smithson, Edward Snowden, Anna-Sophie Springer, Charles Stankievech, Deborah Stratman, Abbott Handerson Thayer, Tor Project, Tamas St. Turba, Ubisoft, US Army, Paul Virilio, Edward Wadsworth, Eyal Weizman, Wikileaks, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Amir Yatziv, Philip R. Zimmermann, and others.



counterclockwise from top left: Sir Anthony Blunt on BBC's Panorama (1963);
Walter Banjamin,
Mondrian 69-96 (1986); Raúl Ruiz, The Hypothesis of the Stolen Painting (1978).


Download Program

CounterIntelligence: Objet petit a

Revolving around the question of authorship and attribution unfolding out of the controversial painting no.6092 bought by double agent Sir Anthony Blunt in 1953 for the National Gallery of Canada, the evening’s program Objet petit a considers the coded image produced by a nom de guerre. The title Objet petit a is a term which Jacques Lacan defines “as the cause of desire in which the subject disappears and as sustaining the subject between truth and knowledge.” While for Lacan “objet a” could famously function as the memento mori skull in such imagery as Hans Holbein The Younger’s The Ambassadors, in this program the concept functions via the missing banal art object that is sublimated by the split subject—the public figure of the art critic and the private world of military secrets and sex magick.

The first film of the evening is a short interview with Sir Anthony Blunt from Richard Dimbleby’s BBC program Panorama. In this rare footage we see Sir Blunt give a pre-opening tour of the new Queen’s Gallery in Buckingham Palace in 1963 at the peak of his intellectual career and not yet unmasked for his double intelligence activities for MI5 and the Soviets. What appears as common chitchat about art objects in the heart of the British Empire takes on a new duplicity seen in the “rear view mirror” of archival footage. Most interestingly, the interview starts with a discussion of the triptych portrait than none other than King Charles--the monarch who adored Peter Paul Ruben’s who’s letter is included in the exhibition Counterintelligence and who under his espionage career negotiated with King Charles the trilateral peace agreement between England-Spain-Holland. Sir Blunt also points out the similarity between the historic painting and the tableau vivant of cinema he and the interviewer are currently enacting and further explored in the final film of the evening.

The faux lecture by the alias “Walter Benjamin” titled Piet Mondrian 63–96 follows suit in the discourse around objects that are not what they appear as well as subjects who are not who they say they are. The exhuming of the persona “Walter Benjamin” by an eastern European artist/theorist in the 1980s was a strategic move to question the hierarchy of the original and the copy while providing a novel position for the art critic. In this short video, Benjamin articulates an argument trying to comprehend the paradoxes of duplicate paintings as well as paintings from the future that mysteriously hang in his lecture hall in 1986 Belgrade.

The final film of the evening is the masterpiece L’Hypothèse du tableau volé (The Hypothesis of the Stolen Painting) from 1978. A collaboration between the theorist and erotic writer Pierre Klossowski and filmmaker Raúl Ruiz, this film also takes on the form of the lecture, but this time by a paranoid Collector in a ghostly mansion where the film seamlessly shifts between paintings and recreations of the paintings as tableaux vivants. On the surface, the film is an eccentric meditation on the peculiar paintings of the fictional painter Frédéric Tonnerre who was arrested by the State after the raid of a Ceremony in which his paintings were used, but further reflection reveals the work explores the epistemological problematics of historic iconography when the image is split between symbolic exchange and secret initiation. Six paintings are presented and lectured upon, but the Collector’s theories can only be explained by positing a secret, seventh painting that has been stolen and would provide the key to unlocking the meaning of the series and thus the sex magick rite. Thus the film eloquently illustrates that the subject’s reality only makes sense if he posits a missing fragment (objet petit a) at the centre of his individual world. Shot by Sacha Vierny, Peter Greenaway later hires cinematographer Vierny for the majority of his films, borrowing not only the visual style of frames-with-in-frames but also the secret connection between images within a narrative to be solved.


Sir Anthony Blunt + Richard Dimbleby
“The Queen’s Gallery,” BBC’s Panorama, 1963 Video

Walter Benjamin
Mondrian 63 – 96, 1986 Video
Courtesy of the artist

Raúl Ruiz
L’Hypothèse du tableau volé (The Hypothesis of the Stolen Painting), 1979 Film transferred to DVD
Courtesy of INA

The curator would like to thank Walter Benjamin, Jeff Khonsary & the INA for making these screenings possible.