Once things are reduced
to nothing…

Once things are reduced to noth­ing…
adhe­sive vinyl on glass and mir­ror, approx. 7 × 10 feet
Art­s­peak, Van­cou­ver BC


Once things are reduced to noth­ing they beg you to be con­scious of them and ask you to col­o­nize them. Their life hangs by noth­ing more than the thread of your atten­tion.”

—Bruno Latour, The Pas­teur­iza­tion of France (1988)

Bruno Latour’s words are brought into rela­tion with a new site of view­ing. Two sen­tences escape their orig­i­nal con­text with­in a book to col­lide with sub­jects who would not encounter the words oth­er­wise. The words take on new mean­ing through their place­ment on the win­dow, in a space strad­dling the Down­town East­side and Gas­town in Van­cou­ver, but also through imagery col­laged on the reverse of the vinyl text, result­ing in alter­nate net­works of rela­tions. The let­ters and words become hybrid crea­tures. This ges­ture is one not only of sup­ple­ment­ing, but also of aide-memoire—the desire to mem­o­rize an author’s words by insert­ing them into an unfa­mil­iar visu­al frame, asso­ci­at­ing them with a new pic­ture, trans­lat­ing and mate­ri­al­iz­ing them with­in a lived sit­u­a­tion.

Why things”? Things are not just things as we have come to objec­ti­fy them. For Latour things have agency. Things refer to a more ancient mean­ing of assem­bly” or gath­er­ing,” relat­ing to things of concern—that which brings peo­ple togeth­er to dis­cuss what binds and divides them. The things rep­re­sent­ed on the under­side of the text illus­trate a pro­ces­sion of col­o­nized” objects and humans, sub­servient to the forces of con­sumerist cul­ture. This pro­ces­sion of things is float­ing on an abstract amal­gam of leftovers”—the pieces of vinyl left over once the process and appli­ca­tion of cutout imagery is com­plete.

In aspir­ing to a democ­ra­ti­za­tion of rela­tions between human and non-human enti­ties, Latour out­lines how things can enter into com­plex new rela­tions. In his book We Have Nev­er Been Mod­ern (1991), Latour claims that, under the purview of a sym­met­ri­cal anthro­pol­o­gy, the destruc­tion and repres­sion of nature and oth­er cul­tures were dom­i­nant under the mod­ernist project. Now we no longer see nature and cul­ture as dis­tinct and divid­ed. They all become part of the Mid­dle King­dom of qua­si-objects and qua­si-sub­jects. It is time, per­haps, to speak of democ­ra­cy again, but of a democ­ra­cy extend­ed to things.”