press release

"CLASE PREFERENTE" at GracaBrandao Gallery, Porto clase Permanente: corporating the principle of division

On a recent Air India flight I found myself positioned awkwardly between two large gentlemen in the economy caste. The larger of the two fellows, a man unhappily burdened with halitosis, had the good nature to philosophize thusly:

"I believe, Sir, that it is better that some should be unhappy, than that none should be happy, which would be the case in a general state of equality."

Lesson: Hyponymy tends greatly to that degree of happiness one might point to as particularly human.

The successful airline, like any corporation, transforms certain paradoxes of the human condition into the very engines of its successful growth. In particular the notion of class, fraught on the surface with divisive politics, becomes, aloft, an abstract and regenerative dialectic. As we begin to jet our way up the sides of the gravity hole at whose bottom our kind has muddied about so uselessly for millenia, the old political and historicized principle of division lightens into a zero-g conceptual curtain between states of competing pleasure principles. Marx, Engels, Lenin & Co. are left far below, engaged in the insectizoid animality of their perpetual struggle. From our cabin window, we look back upon them with as little interest as the first fore-armed amphibian, when his strengthened fins first hoisted him out of the murk of the primordial slime, looked back upon the coelacanth. As our journey will incorporate the de-historization of class, it is necessary that class be visualized, embodied as an ultimate organizing principle. Even before lift-off, messages are communicated to the passengers establishing the various castes of passage. It will be immediately apparent that the class most central to the success of the venture is the lowest: the so-called economy class. The term "economy" is particularly winsome as it re-defines the lumpen poor into the price-conscious. A certain Protestant sense of thrift is placed against the Hebraic ("business") and Catholic ("First Class") luxuries above. The main cabin's suffering becomes a source of pride, indeed the very stuff of its peculiar pleasure. This lowest class is no longer placed in a state of struggle with the "superior" classes, but now in fact condemns them by the very success of its class-consciousness.

We begin to glimpse the particular value of the architectural and esthetic corporation of the principle of division. Not only does "First Class" serve to bolster the higher regions of the human, encouraging the continued advancement of the happier echelons of the species, but it serves to convince the "masses" of the necessity of their sweaty huddle. Indeed the corporation of division serves more the poor than it serves the rich and easily sponsored.

It has been observed that if one were to estimate human dignity by immediate usefulness, plumbing would be among the first and noblest sciences of man. Yet we see our toilets unclogged, our pipes fluxed and joined by men and women rarely admitted into the privileged echelons most reliant on their ability to make bodily waste invisible. Indeed on our journey, airline plumbing itself is de-materialized, waste expelled as chemical pellets by robotic apparatus into sub-orbital atmosphere, a molecular rain fated to fall upon rich and poor alike.

So it is that the plumber aloft no longer is burdened by the uglier aspects of its profession. Its class is no longer defined by labor, but by scope of choice alone. Whereas the business and first-class passenger enjoys a considerable menu with which to slake carnal desires, the economized plumber always chooses between two alternatives. Chicken or pasta; watching a film or not watching; lowering or raising the stiff backed chair.

And still it is served. For the divisions of class in the cabin must themselves always placed in relation to the labor of the stewards. Whereas the servers in the higher classes exude a Jeeves-like aura of excellence, the servers in economy move about like harried slaves. Whereas the first-class passenger must always ooh and ah, indeed find in the recesses of its pampered imagination duties and services enough to make proper use of the evident excellence of the upper-echeloned steward -- entering into the well-known dialectic of the slave and master -- the economy passenger can only pleasure itself in the humiliation of the animal-like cart-shovers in its aisles.

We find in the corporation of division so purely embodied on the modern aircraft, a broad outline of the stratification of humanity's earth-less future. A population classified into two mutually defined groups: the served and the serving. Both are fields of possible motion. The economy passenger, after all, can be invited forward, or amass credits towards a temporary experience of first-class mastery (encouraging future economy class travel). This vector is always in one direction, forward. The first-class passenger fears not a return through the curtain behind -- for the duration of the flight, its position is fixed, its imagination called upon to dwell only on the present demands of its body.

Not so for the first-class server, of course, who must always include among its haughty responsibilities a possible return to the slavery of the main cabin. But in its ability to vector both forward and backward, the steward enjoys the mystique of the magic corporation. As embodiment of the corporation, it has access to the hive-mind super-stratification able to place and move the curtain of class. When it flies as a passenger, the steward will have the opportunity to sit wherever it desires.

On earth, among the multitudes overwhelmed with insuperable calamity, it is common to find those whom a very little assistance would enable to support themselves with decency, and who yet cannot obtain from near relations what they see hourly lavished in ostentation, luxury, or frolic -- and who must content themselves therefore only with injustice and suffering. It is the absence of choice when faced with the very impermanence of their case that haunts them. In the air, where class is fully corporated, suffering is un-fixed from the tortured mud of historicized origin, an inequality of choice equally available to all.

Until that day when we are able to leave the ground permanently, settling the wider reaches of the galaxy for existence forever aloft, we will have to face the sad fact that our aircraft will touch ground again, ending our vacation before it has even begun.

Mark Von Schlegell


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Classe Preferente
kuratiert von Glen Rubsamen

mit Anna Heidenhain , Glen Rubsamen, Johannes Hüppi, Julien Berthier, Marijke van Warmerdam, Markus Ambach, Nuno Ramalho, Rita McBride