Untitled (MOLLY HOUSE) opening at EXILE on Sept. 5 & 6
HAUS WIEN: September 21 - 27, 2020
„Misfitting Together“ on view at mumok until January 6, 2021
Independent Space Index Vienna
Untitled (MOLLY HOUSE) opening at EXILE on Sept. 5 & 6
HAUS WIEN: September 21 - 27, 2020
„Misfitting Together“ on view at mumok until January 6, 2021
Independent Space Index Vienna

In times of ecological turmoil, evil spirits seem to be celebrating a comeback. Myriads of metaphors in contemporary art and culture reference what might be called demonic negativity. Benedikt Kuhn’s reading of a recent installation by the artist Cole Lu offers a minor demonology, as well as some ideas about how to deal with the ancient elemental ghosts that are haunting us once again.

The fog is rising. It’s getting brighter — Overload, nothing left to see. Blinking eyes between the branches. Darkness. A turning figure in spotlights, a lanky shadow under a lantern. Uncanny images glitching. Through the woods at night; Yes, I’m already asleep... Beneath many gestures, words and images of contemporary cultures there is a demonic latency glowing. Islands and accumulations of similar pictures and conceptions point to a kind of negativity which doesn’t represent a clearly definable form but rather a certain potential, occurring in various shapes and degrees. The return of fiery silhouettes, bleeding eyes and myriads of nightmare-metaphors cannot be described with one general term but requires particular, specific explanations — minor demonologies.
  In a world that seems to be out of whack in multiple regards, references towards a demonic negativity can for example be useful in two ways. Firstly: „Since the concept of the daimon crosses the boundaries separating the human from the animal and the divine“,1 this figure of inversion allows for a description of profound threats to the concept of western andro- and anthropocentric conceptions of subjectivity. Secondly, current ecologies, rapidly closing in on us, lean themselves to descriptions in demonic metaphors; „elemental spirits“ always signified those parts of the environment, which are beyond human control. That means a possibility of a demonology in the so-called Anthropocene would consist in the evaluation of psychic, social and natural ecologies, paying special attention to its evil spirits and infestations. Some of them seem to be in play within the installation The Dust Enforcer (All These Darlings Said It’s the End and Now US) by the artist Cole Lu, which has been on view at Deli Gallery in Brooklyn, NYC in the fall of last year. 2

Cole Lu, The Dust Enforcer, 2019, installation view

Cole Lu, The Dust Enforcer (All These Darlings Said It’s the End and Now US), 2019, installation view

A demonic figure, half-human and half-animal, is crouching in the cold light of neon tubes hanging from the ceiling, holding its head in between its knees, arms pressed on its abdomen like in great pain. In close proximity there is an object that looks like a fusion of a sacrificial altar, with a thick grey pedestal and a sealed oxygen chamber enclosing a two-headed dog, of which remains unclear whether it is dead or alive. In the back of the figure which is resembling a faun and can be identified as a figuration of the monster Geryon3 via the accompanying text, there is a three-parted graphic. The engraving in cast bronze depict the two friends, Geryon and his herding dog Orthrus, crossing the river Styx that separates the world of the living from the world of the dead. Apart from the elements already mentioned, the installation only contains two more graphics, which frame the glass chamber at its front and back site. In strong contrast to the situation in which the sculptural representations of Geryon and Orthrus are in, these engravings in silicon compound show scenes in idyllic surroundings; Geryon and Orthrus hiking through cypress forests and Geryon swimming in a heated bath. Both sculptures and all of the five engravings are being commented on and extended by long, poetic titles. If one takes these (sub-)titles into consideration as well, The Dust Enforcer presents itself as a work, containing a rather complex narrative. On first sight it might seem as if Lu tells a rather simple, culturally-pessimistic story, like it is currently done by many works commenting on the desperate ecological state of the earth: An idyllic, primordial surrounding seems to be contrasted with the technological condition of our late-capitalist world, in which helpless living creatures are exposed to the wrongdoings of high-tech- apparatuses (variations of this Fall of Man-narrative in context of our technological-era with a moralistic tendency have lately often been part of all sorts of Anthropocene-kitsch). Closer inspection shows, however, that Lu’s work thwarts the possibilities of such a one-dimensional interpretation.

Cole Lu, Thus, on any day, at any hour of any day, the stretch of sky left me wild and breathless. If the world ends now we are free, not a bee moved up from your spine inside. (Geryon), 2019

Cole Lu, Thus, on any day, at any hour of any day, the stretch of sky left me wild
and breathless. If the world ends now we are free, not a bee moved up
from your spine inside. (Geryon), 2019

Cole Lu, In the last seconds, it is as if everyone leaped off the mount, hold hands. The end approaches like approaching ground. Like honey is the sleep of just. (Orthros), 2019

Cole Lu, In the last seconds, it is as if everyone leaped off the mount, hold hands. The end approaches like approaching ground. Like honey is the sleep of
just. (Orthros), 2019

Cole Lu, In the last seconds, it is as if everyone leaped off the mount, hold hands. The end approaches like approaching ground. Like honey is the sleep of just. (Orthros), 2019, detail

Cole Lu, In the last seconds, it is as if everyone leaped off the mount, hold hands. The end approaches like approaching ground. Like honey is the sleep of
just. (Orthros), 2019, detail

The narratives causal nexus, connecting the graphical and sculptural works, seems to be the explosion of a volcano, being depicted on one of the engravings. That this isn’t just a background-effect of the depicted scene, but the reason for the suffering of the sculptural figurations in the gallery space, is being suggested by the title of the whole installation which is a reference to the description of the Sumero-Assyrian demon Pazuzu in Reza Negarestani’s text Cylonopedia.4 There, Pazuzu shows itself “in the guise of dust-soups, arid floods, messy rains, unheard-of epidemics and xero-informatic communications which usually manifest in the form of demonic possession.’’5 In Lu’s installation Pazuzu causes its effects in the form of volcanic ash which falls on Orthrus and Geryon and threatens to suffocate them. This elemental calamity then means the end of the good life of the friends, which is depicted on the engravings, and their (soon-to-be?) death; the moment of suffering presented by the sculptures. Taking this demonic presence into account complicates the narrative in two ways. The convulsive posture of Geryon can now not only be interpreted as a reaction to the death/captivity of his friend but also as a reaction to the demonic possession taking hold of him. Besides that, maybe even more importantly, the oxygen chamber is now freed from its exclusive meaning of being a culturally-pessimistic, techno- deterministic sign. Instead of it being the reason of Orthrus dead it can now also be read as his chance of surviving the deathly rain of ash, brought about by Pazuzu.

Cole Lu, Here it is always fluent. Here were listen to voices. Here also are stable things. (Frigidarium), 2019

Cole Lu, Here it is always fluent. Here were listen to voices. Here also are
stable things. (Frigidarium), 2019

Cole Lu, In the beginning, there was a song, when you hear it, you'll know it is the most beautiful song in the world. (Insula), 2019, detail

Cole Lu, In the beginning, there was a song, when you hear it, you'll know it is the most beautiful song in the world. (Insula), 2019, detail

Apart from this increased ambivalence on the level of content there are also diabolical signs of confusion on a rather formal level of the work. Two temporal marks, which can be found in the titles of parts of the work (namely “In the beginning...’’ and “In the last seconds...’’) are suggesting clearly identifiable points of beginning and end in this story of the life and death of Orthrus and Geryon. Such a linear dramaturgy seems unlikely however, especially in light of another inscription, connecting a reference to an “old old age...’’ (third temporal mark) with the image of the friends crossing the river Styx into the realm of the dead. The symbolic crossing opens up the possibility, that the scenes depicted on the inscriptions might not be references to a shared past of the two friends but maybe to an upcoming future. While it is certainly possible that Lu depicts Orthrus/Geroyn imagining their own death (in this case the narrative would indeed be a linear one); an inversion of that image is just as likely. The “old old age’’ could indeed be a reference to a point in time long before the eruption of the volcano and — for example — symbolize the birth of the two depicted characters. The contra-intuitive connection of origin and death deprives Lu’s narrative of a clearly definable temporal linearity and allows for new semantic roles of its elements.

Cole Lu, Supposed old old age might show grow old to show what it meant the soul is made of wind instead of warm red liquid (Crossing River Styx), 2019

Cole Lu, Supposed old old age might show grow old to show what it meant the soul is made of wind instead of warm red liquid (Crossing River Styx), 2019

Cole Lu, Supposed old old age might show grow old to show what it meant the soul is made of wind instead of warm red liquid (Crossing River Styx), 2019, detail

Cole Lu, Supposed old old age might show grow old to show what it meant the soul is made of wind instead of warm red liquid (Crossing River Styx), 2019, detail

Instead of telling a story of the technological destruction of the natural earth, The Dust Enforcer presents a plurality of ambivalent, sometimes competing possibilities to be interpreted; due to this equivocality the demon-summoning title becomes programmatic in multiple ways. But what specifically can a minor demonology obtain from this weird ensemble? Which qualities of demonic negativity are being articulated in it?
  The first quality can be described with reference to the many philosophies of liminality which were developed prominently by Donna Haraway and Rosi Braidotti, amongst others.6 In some respects similar to theories of the abject,7 liminal figurations (meaning figures existing at the margins of certain epistemologically or normatively constrained fields) are being moved into the centre of critical attention. It is thereby shown that many of these demonized figurations (seen as monstrous, unsettling, appalling) are often hints at a latent cultural fear of pollution of a certain conception of identity by an external (or externalized) element that is thought of as being alien to it. The demon of commingling threatens the separability of human and animal, body and technology, man and woman and also the maintenance of an assumed dichotomy of the „local“ and the „foreigner“. Theories like the aforementioned are politically significant because they articulate the fact, that often the desire to stabilize the identities threatened by the monstrous goes along with the desire to normatively devalue the feared ‘other’ or to use violence against it. Insofar as the narrative in The Dust Enforcer is being told from the viewpoint of the monstrous Geryon, Lu’s work can be understood as stemming from a similar line of thought. The expectations raised by Geryons appearance (one that evokes the pictorial tradition of forest-demons in european mythology) are being contradicted by the scenes on the engravings and his sculptural representation that might cause an empathic reaction by its viewers. The described quality of demonic negativity here aims at a re-evaluation of values that go along with certain laid down forms of identification and therefore mobilizes a new perspective on well-known narratives, which in turn destabilizes the dichotomy of ‘hero’ and ‘monster’. Although such a form of negativity isn’t innocuous — neither for those who are scared of losing valued concepts of self-reference nor (most obviously) for those who are subjected to persecution and violence because of their demonization — its thematization here seems to imply a moment of understanding. Lu’s sculpture allows for an interpretation as a gesture of empathy (Geryon grieving the loss of his friend) while also demanding an empathic reaction of its viewers. Along with this first quality of negativity however, there is also another one present in The Dust Enforcer.
  The change of perspective that Lu achieves through the specific dramatization of Geryon and Orthrus works as a new method of representation. Instead of showing Geryon as a frightening monster, he receives a new role as a loyal friend and tormented victim. If this call for empathy with the demonized is brought about by a new form of figuration, the articulation of the second quality of demonic negativity works precisely in the opposite way: as a defiguration of the demonic. The invisible protagonist of the installation and its narrative, according to its title the Enforcer of the whole ensemble — Pazuzu — is present only in the form of two signs, namely as a tiny drawing of volcanic ash on one of the engravings and as a reference of the title. In this way Pazuzu demands to be identified while at the same time ultimately making such an identification impossible, because it is never present as itself but only ever in different mediated ways — as a plague, a storm or as ash. Summarizing the punch line of its existence one could say that it not only is defigurated itself but also works defigurating by, according at least to Cyclonopedia, „butcher[ing] open“8 its prey. While the first articulation of demonic negativity can be described as a questioning of certain normative conventions (and thereby of the reception habits of an anthropocentric gaze), the second one operates on a different, maybe more brute level as it were (although that doesn’t mean it’s less significant). While the first articulation aims at a re-evaluation of the attributes „evil“, „repulsive“ or „manipulative“, Pazuzu is a reference to something like a radical outside of human (or, in this case, anthropmorphic-faunish) cogitation or ability to act, which isn’t assimilable or comprehensible at all. On this level, empathy isn’t an applicable term anymore. Although Negarestani isn’t able to fully avoid intentionalist descriptions in his writing altogether,9 he states very clearly that according to his understanding a demonic performance isn’t so much a Faustian negotiation between two more or less equal subjects but an inexorable take-over of the victim. Pazuzu gets excited by sensing the human defense mechanism and increases the force of his attacks, according to the amount of resistance it encounters. It seems obvious to apply Negarestani’s metaphor to the human collective subject as well as to the individual.

If one understands the demonic as a latent metaphor machine of contemporary cultures, producing articulations of various forms and qualities (a little devil on a sports car spoiler, the addressing of mental illness in cloud rap, descriptions of military technology), the linguistic and visual configurations of demonic negativities in Lu’s work are just some of its many possible modes of appearance. However the specific connections of articulations and degrees which were explained above can help to grasp a more general feature of the demonic, namely its resistance to being appropriated (disarmed) within a purely affirmative approach on the one hand and the impossibility of simply identifying and fighting it as a destroyable „evil force“ on the other. To enable this, it is important that Lu uses the references of the mythical figures in the installation in a very free way. Geryon doesn’t look like a reader would expect a victim of Pazuzu to look like, after having read Cyclonopedia (one would expect it to look much more disassembled, so to speak). Geryon doesn’t even look like Geryon in the ancient greek descriptions or like he is described by Dante.10 By avoiding an illustration of the sources of the work in a strict sense, while still choosing to work with a set of references that function as prolific parts of the works narrative, Lu creates the productive tension of figuration, defiguration, text, paratext and reception described above. The moment of the appearance of Pazuzu is, thanks to the nature of the sculptural, preserved in an infinite freeze. Its defigured and defigurating (non-)presence is laying under the story of Geryon and Orthrus like a dissonant chord under a melancholic melody, while the other form of demonic negativity refers to the question of its genealogy, thereby opening up space for critique and empathy.

What conclusions may be derived for a minor demonology from the given descriptions on a more general level? Coming back to the abovementioned feature of demons, to work as figurations of elemental spirits, the tension between the two forms of demonic negativity described with regards to The Dust Enforcer, points towards two theses of an ecological demonology. Briefly sketching both of them is going to conclude this essay.
  (1) If one wants to understand the oxygen chamber and the life it preserves/ends as a device, moderating between the two spheres traditionally called nature and culture, one might take it as a sign of a now undeniable entanglement of these oppositions. Every demonology defines its object animistically. If nowadays hybrid environments (more than ever) attract human attention, if vast parts of our ecologies have to be considered as agents (at least as forceful as humans), the illusion of anthropos being the only source of intentionality and reason crumbles. Against that notion we have to develop new understandings of the networks and assemblages that allow for our existence (from which we can’t separate ourselves, just as we can’t separate ourselves from our nightmares and which entail human and non-human parts in symbiotic and parasitic relations). That again might mean that we should probably learn how to live with our monsters.11 This is not to argue for a naive projection of anthropocentric figures of thought onto non-human parts of the world — it is not necessary to trust the conflations of human and non-human entities to pay attention to them.
  (2) Subsequently, with a similar aim, the radical openness with which Pazuzu is being connected by mesopotamian mythology (and accordingly by Negarestani), points to the necessity of developing an appropriate attitude in respect to the upcoming self-extermination of the species homo sapiens. The successive destruction of the basis of human existence on earth, and the annihilation of vast amounts of other forms of living and non-living co-habitants on the planet, exposes the ridiculousness of the idea of some form of universal controllability of the world, like the one that still prevails in the management-discourse that’s supposed to “solve the ecological crisis“ and “save us“. The glorious sounding name of the Anthropocene is itself a demonic mirage; an inversion of a theological dream.


  1. Jacques Derrida: The Gift of Death (Second Edition). Chicago/London, 2008, p. 5  

  2. “Cole Lu: The Dust Enforcer (All These Darlings Said It’s the End of the World and Now US),’’ Deli Gallery, New York, September 13 - October 20, 2019  

  3. Heracles’ tenth labour, according to greek mythology – Cf. Hesiods and Stesichorus’ descriptions via: https://www.theoi.com/Gigante/ GiganteGeryon.html  

  4. Reza Negarestani: Cyclonopedia. Complicity With Anonymous Materials. Melbourne, 2008 5 Ibid., p. 124  

  5. Ibid., p. 124  

  6. Cf. Rosi Braidotti/Nina Lykke: Monsters, Goddesses and Cyborgs: Feminist Confrontations with Science, Medicine and Cyberspace. London, 1996. And Donna Haraway: Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York, 1991  

  7. Cf. Julia Kristeva: Powers of Horror. An Essay on Abjection. New York, 1982  

  8. Reza Negarestani: Cyclonopedia. Complicity With Anonymous Materials. Melbourne, 2008, p. 130  

  9. Ibid. 

  10. Cf. Dante Alighieri: The Divine Comedy. Canticle 1: Inferno. Canto XVII  

  11. If we should start to love them might be a different question (cf. Bruno Latour: Love Your Monsters. Via: https://nextnature.net/2014/09/love-your-monsters