The Axiom of Choice – Michel Tombroff

September 28 – November 16 2019.

Michel Tombroff @ Cookie Butcher

press release

“We must get rid of the influence of sophism, restrict the hold of finitude, and free ourselves from the reign of singularities and differences; we must return to the universal without yielding to the temptation of the one, the absolute or the divine. The French philosopher, Alain Badiou, pointed us to the path we should follow: it goes through reconciliation with being, subject and truth, three categories that have been neglected, abandoned, deconstructed or even denied by contemporary thought, in favor of language games. This path follows the question of the unveiling of being and has a sign that says ‘ontology = mathematics’. Its starting point, the only only fixed point of its route, is the void.”

Michel Tombroff claims that conceptual art should follow that same path to establish an alliance between subject, concept and language, old accomplices re-united, so that some bodies of truth may appear. Truth not in the sense of a correct statement or judgment, but in the evental, random, faithful and generic sense of Badiou. It is up to the public to decide if the conjecture deserves to be promoted to the status of demonstration: demonstration that shows that in art as in politics, sciences and love, “There are only bodies and languages, except that there are truths”.

What is at stake is the confrontation between two opposite positions: on the one hand, conceptual art’s most daring formal definition, Joseph Kosuth’s “A work of art is a tautology”; and on the other hand, art’s subjective, romantic scheme, defined by Alain Badiou as “Only art is capable of producing truths. Art is the body of truth”.

Veracity versus truth, the analytical versus the continental, the conceptual versus the subjective. Tombroff’s goal is to connect the two poles of this dialectical situation, to discover and expose a link between concept and subject. Inspired by Badiou’s grand assertion that “ontology = mathematics”, Tombroff decides to use the objects and structures of mathematics as raw material for his art: the axioms of set theory, the empty set, the prime numbers, the continuum hypothesis, the method of forcing and the axiom of choice, to name but a few. He conceives his artworks as self-referential constructions: mathematical objects are the artworks while concurrently the artworks conceptually refer to mathematics. He thus forces us to move to and fro between concepts and objects, and vice-versa, hoping to expose us to the what Badiou calls “the finite descent of the Idea”.

In The Axiom of Choice we see bodies and languages, the traces of the truth procedure that Tombroff initiated from the Badiou event. As for truths, he asserts that, like forcing in mathematics, “art is a method to make true statements about something of which we know nothing”. This is his voluntary, subjective and militant decision, formally authorized by an axiom, the axiom of choice.