Second Life

A series of previously unfinalized works about social and institutional boundaries and thresholds


Fields of Knowledge
  • Aesthetics / Media
  • Artistic legacies
  • Curatorial practice

Organizing Institutions



Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts

Process initiated


Opens to public





4017 Walnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19104


100% Formal - 0% Informal

Slought is pleased to announce "Second Life," a project that explores thresholds in previously unfinalized works about social and institutional boundaries, on display February 9 to April 27, 2017. Join us for a closing conversation about unfinalized legacies and the challenges of remembering on Saturday, April 22, 2017 from 6:00-7:30pm, featuring Annette Fierro, Alexandra Wagner, and Amy Oppenheim, and moderated by Aaron Levy and Jean-Michel Rabaté of Slought.

The concept of the unfinalizable appears in the Russian philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin's writings, and describes our unending relationship to individuals, artworks and communities. Resisting the tendency to assess individuals or artworks as finite, Bakhtin proposes continual dialogue and processes of becoming. He recognizes that we are always "on the threshold of decisions" as we mediate relationships among individuals and their social and historical realities. In particular, Bakhtin accentuates dialogue and performance as potentially radicalizing and destabilizing forces. They mark an intertwining of self and society, and artworks and socio-political realities.

"Second Life" also builds upon contemporary discussions of the "open work," participation, and interactivity, as well as the current geopolitics of migration and survival. In all of these contexts, relationships and life itself unfolds in time, place and through acts of understanding and adaptation. Bakhtin invokes the term threshold to describe moments of crisis and rupture in these situations, which create the conditions for potential transformations of self, society and history. Derived from the Latin limen (liminal), a threshold is an activity or encounter on the margins. Such experiences resist normative and hierarchical structures and can lead to profound change for the individual and society.

With these considerations in mind, "Second Life" seeks to stage installations and events that enact such threshold experiences -- psychologically, spatially, and socially. We begin with installations and events engaging artist Dennis Oppenheim's Guarded Land Area (1970), architect Lebbeus Woods' Tales from the Tectonic Forest (2012), and designer Krzysztof Wodiczko's City Hall Tower Illumination (1987). The architectural schematics and installation proposals in these works constitute an aesthetic of the threshold, and foreground experiences of social and institutional boundaries and power dynamics. In situating these works in Philadelphia, New Orleans and other cities marked by periods of individual, communal and institutional division, we also seek to create meaningful conversation and critical practices of empowerment.

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The works featured in "Second Life" present specific ethical, contextual and methodological challenges. Foremost among these is the absence of the artist - whether by death or design.

In relation to our curatorial process, we must also address questions concerning quotation and appropriation. Should we aim for absolute fidelity to quotations and other traces left by the artist about the work? This implies access to their pure expression and a zealous devotion that silences our own voices. As philosopher Jacques Derrida warns, this "excess of fidelity would end up saying and exchanging nothing."

Perhaps we should avoid quotation altogether in favor of reenactment and other forms of appropriation. Yet, in avoiding attempts to identify and understand the singularity of the work we risk making it disappear again.

We are thus left with the challenge of navigating and negotiating these two tendencies in our search to establish the validity of a second life.

"Two infidelities, an impossible choice: on the one hand, not to say anything that comes back to oneself, to one's own voice, to remain silent... Thus, out of zealous devotion or gratitude, out of approbation as well, to be content with just quoting... But this excess of fidelity would end up saying and exchanging nothing. It returns to death...

On the other hand, by avoiding all quotation, all identification, all rapprochement even, one risks making [it] disappear again. We are left then with having to do and not do both at once, with having to correct one infidelity by the other."

-- Jacques Derrida, Eulogy for Roland Barthes, 1980

Related readings

On boundaries and thresholds