ESR 8 Blog March/April 2023: Marteinn Sindri Jónsson

Between Not Everything and Not Nothing


Two years have passed since I first arrived in Friedrichshafen at the Bodensee, and it feels that time has gone by both fast and slow. For many reasons, arriving in Friedrichshafen in lockdown in 2021 was such an important moment, not least because of the transition from the virtual to the actual, from the abstract to the concrete. Meeting my colleagues IRL was such an important encounter — as all of us know by now. There is a gaping abyss between the two-dimensional screen of the laptop and the experiential wealth of finding oneself in the same situation as another. And some of these experiences have made a lasting imprint and are constantly evoked these days in the blossoming and warming of the city. The magnolias and the cherries are blooming again, and the crickets are chirping, just as these early months and weeks when a beer by the lake, where a small stream enters the expanse of the Bodensee, provided a new grounding, when a conversation on a rooftop in the sun spelled a new beginning, when a bike ride by the lake led to new friendships.


There have been several occasions in the past months that have made me stop and appreciate the value of seeing my colleagues, friends, and family in person, and one of them was the third part of the FEINART training programme that gathered most of the ‘network’ in the same place. This time we met in Berlin for three days. This was a month ago — it feels like a year. It is always such a pleasure to see all these people — all of you folks— and to spend time together, not perched in front of a screen, but gathered in conversation, in a workshop, around food, or in corner pubs and late-night clubs, in studio visits and on walks through the city. These are the moments when I feel most like I belong to a community of researchers, and less like a disembodied node in a network that activates occasionally on an internet platform that avows to its shortcomings by insisting that it materialises a team.


Another of these moments happened soon after, as my family visited me in Germany for our Easter vacation. This was one of the happiest periods in the past three years, and even though I was ill with the flu for most of the time, that could in no way blot out the sunny days spent away from desktops and laptops, notifications, and alarms. Instead, I spent the days eating ice cream with my sons, visiting lamas and mountains, riding bikes and simply existing. For my family, this was the first time since the fall of 2021 that they were here with me, and everyone seemed to deeply enjoy the opportunity to return, if briefly.


Yet another pleasurable encounter took place this week, as my second supervisor Prof. Dr. Sabeth Buchmann visited Zeppelin University for our first meeting IRL (it was from her that I picked up this shorthand for in-real-life), and to give a workshop about workshops. It was a fascinating exploration of the format of the workshop and the rehearsal in relation to Marina Vishmidt‘s (2022) reformulation of her notion of infrastructural critique in the recently published Broken Relations: Infrastructure, Aesthetics and Critique, edited by Sabeth together with Martin Beck, Beatrice von Bismarck and Ilse Lafer. The volume is a great resource on the most recent developments in the field of infrastructural theory, and there Vishmidt expands her earlier contribution (2017) to Maria Hlavajova‘s and Simon Sheikh‘s Former West, ‘Between Not Everything and Not Nothing: Cuts Towards Infrastructural Critique.’


Perhaps we could say that the virtual encounters that I mentioned in the beginning are precisely located somewhere between ‘not everything’ and ‘not nothing’, a formulation which I understand as (amongst several other things) a preliminary attempt to address the discursive ambiguities of the ‘infrastructural turn’ in art theory specifically, and the humanities more generally. As some would have it, Dirk van Laak (2021) for instance, the term loses its meaning if we try to apply to anything else than is necessary. Vishmidt on the other hand suggests that we could think of such abstract Kantian notions as time and space as infrastructure, however always in a dialectical relationship to the ‘material’. But if we say that virtual encounters, like the notion of infrastructure, are between ‘not everything’ and ‘not nothing’, are we forced to say that actual encounters (IRL) are everything? That would be far reaching, wouldn’t it? Of course, they are still also between ‘not everything’ and ‘not nothing’, but perhaps in a different way from the virtual encounters. Are they then more towards the everything? Or do they just function differently towards the everything? And how about the nothing? What is the relationship between an encounter and nothing?


Regardless of how we would like to answer these questions, one thing transpires when we start to think about the virtual encounter and the actual encounter in the terms of infrastructure. We can start to ask about the different infrastructures that allow these different encounters, and we can ask: who has access to these infrastructures and how they should best be put to use? We can’t be everywhere all the time, but at the same time whenever I’ve had these actual encounters in the past weeks and months, I have seriously wondered what it would be like to have these more often, and about the infrastructures that enable or disable such opportunities.



Sources cited:

Vishmidt, Marina. 2017. ‘Between Not Everything and Not Nothing: Cuta Towards Infrastructural Critique,’ in Maria Hlavajova and Simon Sheikh, eds. Former West: Art and the Contemporary After 1989. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, pp. 265-269.


Vishmidt, Marina. 2022. ‘ ‘A Self-relating Negativity’: Where Infrastructure and Critique Meet,’ in,  Broken Relations: Infrastructure, Aesthetics, and Critique, Martin Beck, Beatrice von Bismarck, Sabeth Buchmann and Ilse Lafer, eds, Leipzig: Spector Books, pp29-44.


Van Laak, Dirk. Infrastructures, Version: 1.0. in „Docupedia-Zeitgeschichte“, 20.05.2021 DOI:

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