Priceless | Useless

I think the great thing about art is that it may have a function in terms of empowering people or endowing people’s sensibilities, but it’s ultimately purposefully useless’ (Richard Serra, 2006)

Central to my research is the production of knowledge through art. My interest lies in the understanding of such knowledge. The core of my production tend to focus on questions of value, the use of everyday materials and a playfulness in regards to the construction and presentation of works. However, the biggest question for me: is art useless? It is a hard-to-answer question. According to Lefebvre, knowledge in art and its usefulness is not necessarily answerable.

‘To produce is to create well-defined implements and objects which are strengthened in the process of becoming. Knowledge always aspires to reduce its object to a finite number of answers to a finite numbers of questions, each question eliciting a yes or no (and thus logical) answer’ (Lefebvre, 2002, The critique of everyday life: volume 2 foundations for a sociology of the everyday. London: Verso: 128).

For Lefebvre, we are ruled by functionalism that does not account for all the aspects of “reality”. He suggests that art is not functional, and cannot be restricted to yes and no answers. For him, art is intrinsically connected to play, and like play, it is transfunctional. Furthermore, everyday life is transfunctional, as much as art and play are. (ibid, 203,205).

‘Transfunctionality [is] whatever we cannot reply to by yes or no […] Play is a momentary transfunctionality which consists of its own unfolding: ephemeral work of an individual or several individuals, successful or not, perfect or not, marvellous or not’ (ibid, 205, 206).

In this way, art can be understood as operating transfunctionally. Its knowledge is not attained by yes or no answers. The knowledge of an artwork operates in the instances of uncertainty, i.e. an artwork is useful and useless at the same time.

[Extract from: de Melo, Marcelo (2011) “As a blind man in a dark room looking for a black cat that isn’t there”. Critical Evaluation Paper, MA Fine Art. Canterbury: University for the Creative Arts.]

“As a blind man in a dark room looking for a black cat that isn’t there” installation work by Marcelo de Melo
“As a blind man in a dark room looking for a black cat that isn’t there” installation work by Marcelo de Melo
Wall scan
Wall scan
Floor scan
Floor scan


Henri Lefebvre

Richard Serra


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