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Commentaries on this Media!

Das Kapital as an object

by Ethan Tussey

by Yahya Mete Madra for IN MEDIA RES

When I first saw Nasan Tur’s “Kapital” (2011), a triptych featuring handmade sheets of paper made from the 1957 edition of the three volumes of Das Kapital, in a beautiful yet quite rarefied space of a contemporary art gallery, I didn’t know how to approach it. It felt sacrilegious, even though approaching the artwork in such moralistic terms would be in contradiction with my secular Marxist convictions. Upon close inspection, one could even discern the individual letters. What a waste of a beautiful 1957 edition of Marx’s Capital! 

The recent controversy about the online availability of Collected Works of Marx and Engels (here is the petition of Marxist scholars and activist to keep it on the public domain and here is a response from Lawrence & Wishart, an independent radical publisher affiliated with the historical Communist Party of Great Britain) puts some of this into perspective. We are indeed in a transitional conjucture (have we ever been not?) where book as a physical object swiftly becoming an antiquarian entity. Marxists and radicals still have to come to terms with the multifarious implications of this development (in forces of production), precisely because the immaterialization of the object (in this case, manifesting itself in the digitalization of Capital) does not entail the disappearance of the constitutive problem of how to organize the relations of production and reproduction (in this case, manifesting itself in the labor of archival research, editing, writing, and translation).

Doubtless, Tur’s work is not a fable of obsolescence. "The making of" provides an insight that is not initially available for the gallery audience. Tur literally destroys Capital as an object, transforms it into formless goo, and finally turns into a new object. He took a particular kind of (admittedly) sublimated commodity (otherwise why would it be a sacrilege?) and turned it into another kind of sublimated commodity. The process of transformation involves not only destruction and production but also abstraction (i.e., the book turned into “dough”). In this sense, the work can be read as a commentary on contemporary art itself as a system of objects. By inserting, through destroying and abstracting, Capital into a white-cube (located in a district which is itself under transition, used to be a commercial harbor, now a zone for cultural economy and tourism), Tur renders visible the material and institutional conditions of valorization in contemporary art.


Das Kapital as an object

A slide show of Nasan Tur's art

from Kapital (2011)
Creator: Nasan Tur
Distributor: N/A
Posted by Ethan Tussey