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05 October 2020
This month's topic: Work, Stimulant, Insomnia
Stimulants: Circulation and Euphoria

It is characteristic of some artists and writers, as well as of the traditions they carry with them, to pay disproportionate attention to the most insignificant objects and themes. However, the image of simplicity that they throw away by means of this gesture usually has various motivations and is part of a strategy that has to be considered in detail if we want to look at the world through its prism. Between the ordinary and its image opens up a wide variety of operations for the calculation and manipulation of the poem. A sort of microscopic hallucination that allows the association and the dialogue of anything that may be presented during this act of prolonged attention, whether or not it has to do with the initial purposes that led to the choice of the object.

The question is, as Flaubert affirmed, that “everything becomes interesting if you look at it long enough”, or as Father Laburu suggests with his usual Jesuit solemnity, that “the imaginary vision can be induced by an external agent – natural or supernatural – that raises a reality equivalent to the engramma, or it can simply be infused by God in the act, because of its declared attachment to the everyday”. Economy of humility and spectral disposition of objects, in any case, it is about detecting certain interferences in our system of perception caused by substances and processes capable of leading us to an unexpected form of attention.

More than a simple and transparent object, we must understand by “stimulant” that which speaks to us of a world of relationships that, time and again, incorporates new meanings and complex and contradictory references. Its study implies the joint vision of discordant facts from which we can hardly exclude the references to our own case, questioning the theoretical pantomime in use and forcing the adopted narration to go from the generic to the concrete. This is Henry Michaux’s success, not so much in talking about, but in shaping an electric current with what it is about, accepting his adventure in language.

But if there is something we must recognize in substances such as coffee, sugar or tobacco, it is precisely the importance they had for an endless number of writers who knew how to rush into the future, whether or not they were concerned about the reconnection of the human being with cosmic forces. The list is endless and it goes through something that is known by all; that the most fervent promoters and agitators of modernity were compulsive consumers of these stimulants. Hegel, known for his gluttony and for whom the exercise of reading the newspaper accompanied by coffee and sugar constituted a kind of modern prayer; the always patient and cordial Immanuel Kant, whose last will, according to Thomas de Quincey, consisted in drinking coffee, even losing his nerves if the wait for the arrival of his daily cup after lunch was prolonged; Voltaire, who drank between 40 and 50 cups of coffee a day; or Honoré de Balzac, so diligent in narrating the dynamics and nervousness of modern social life, who ended his days practically with black eyes injected with coffee. There are other cases, such as that of the founder of modern economy, Adam Smith, who, as related in his biography, was known to be a voracious consumer of sugar, having the habit of attending public conferences accompanied by his cousin, who carried a basket full of sugars in her lap that she used to offer him during the breaks he made in his brilliant speeches on the new economic circulation. A passage, this last one, that the philosopher Susan Buck-Morss reads in key of psychoanalytic humor in her indispensable essay on the dialectic of the master and the slave of Hegel and the Haitian Revolution.

In this way, the general mobilization -technical, demographic and psychological- driven by modernity and the appearance of these objects of consumption, in principle as unproductive as a cigarette, a cup of coffee or a portion of sugar, as well as other drugs that were used recreationally in their experimental phase, are united -if one can say so- by a temporal and micro-physical intersectionality. Historical signs, traces, clues that multiply with every nervous tremor they produce: colonial exploitation and control over diet, the sensualization of merchandise and the establishment of the idea of nature as a resource, the passage from plantation slavery to the constitution of factory wage-labor, or the introduction of scientific calculation in the government of bodies. Its most singular properties (effervescence, dissociation, vapority…) correspond surprisingly to the particularities of a puritanical idealism where all oppositions end up dissolving. Put in a magnifying glass, these could give shape to a kaleidoscopic machine in constant dispersion, like those we find in Raymond Roussel’s novels. A tendency to abstraction that was born with the declared vocation of wanting to digest the whole of reality. Something, which very early on awakened the interest of Nietzsche, a philosopher who practiced a kind of therapeutic writing in the last stage of his life, paying attention to such delicate matters as the climate or diet, and in which he accuses German culture of being the result of a disordered intestine, “a bad digestion that does not end anything”.

These relations between the metabolism, the thought and the productive system are determining for the study of the stimulants, since these substances become immediately archetypes for the rest of merchandise as soon as they are put in circulation. Not only because of the benefits they bring to the coffers of the newly formed tax systems, but also because their intake is surrounded by an obsessive and ritualistic character that with a plus of exoticism ends up shaping the perfect ideal for an economy that far from seeking its usefulness in human needs, will be inclined, more and more decidedly, to take its place at a crossroads located between desires, lack and imagination.

Weren’t the spices -condiments for flavor- that to a great extent guided the great routes through the Indian Ocean? Wasn’t coffee the gasoline of the new bourgeois spirit that emerged in the Enlightenment era? Is it possible to dissociate the massive industrialization of a stimulant like sugar from the caloric needs of the nascent working class in 18th century England? Isn’t the massive consumption of tranquilizers the sign of a society that has intensified the productive gesture of the worker to an excessive degree[1]?

The philosopher Max Jorge Hinderer Cruz[2], affirmed that the study of stimulants requires a thought capable of seeing the question from the perspective of a glove that can be turned over. Only if one is capable of looking at the interior and exterior, reality and dreaming, capitalism and drunkenness, will he or she be able to approach the hidden mathematics that governs the circulation of these substances.


(Featured Image: view of the exhibition  Estimulantes, circulación y euforia (2017) at CCI Tabakalera. Work in the foreground: Why not Lobby Today, by Alice Creischer. Photo by Mikel Eskauriaza).


[1] Franco Berardi (Bifo), After the Future. AK Press, Edinburgh, Oakland, Baltimore, 2011.

[2] Max Jorge Hinderer Cruz together with the curator Pablo Lafuente contributed to the project  Estimulantes: Circulación y Euforia,  in Tabakalera between  2016-2018. See:

Oier Etxeberria is an artist and musician. Since 2019 he has been in charge of the visual arts area of CICC Tabakalera. Previously, he was responsible for the public program of the institution developing projects such as Estimulantes, circulación y euforia (2016-2018) or Ariketak: la segunda respiración (2018-2019). Between 2010 and 2014 he was responsible for the cultural area of the Fundación Cristina Enea (Donostia-San Sebastián) curating exhibitions such as Las Patatas y las Cosas: lurpeko istorioak (2011) or ¿Cuánta tierra necesita un hombre? (2014). Recently she curated, together with Diedrich Diederichsen, the exhibition Cybernetics of the poor: Tutoriales, ejercicios y partituras (2020), a co-production between Tabakalera and the Kunsthalle Wien.

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