Exhibition: Emily Floyd – Anti-totalitarian Vectors


Not all philosophical Characters are shaped the same way, but they are mostly (originally) created from the words of ordinary language. Only translation alienates these characters from their original birthplace and transforms them into free-floating categories…

– Ágnes Heller, A Philosophy of History in Fragments (1993)


Emily Floyd will be joining us in November to participate a series of events organised by Thesis Eleven and featuring Ágnes Heller.

[update: Due to Ágnes’s recent death, events this coming November will be reworked into a celebration and memorial of her life and work]

We will be welcoming Ágnes back to Australia in celebration of both her 90th birthday and Thesis Eleven’s 40th. We will have an opportunity to reflect on Thesis Eleven’s relationship with Ágnes, the Australian sojourn of the Budapest School and to continue conversations begun at the 2018 Conference on Eastern European Critical Theory at Sichuan University. More details for these events will be available soon.

Emily is currently exhibiting at the Anna Schwartz Gallery with a show that directly engages with Ánges Heller’s philosophical motifs. Details below.


Anti-totalitarian Vectors (Emily Floyd)

13 July – 17 August 2019
Anna Schwartz Gallery
185 Finders Street Melbourne

Julie Ewington and Emily Floyd: In Conversation
Saturday August 7th @ 3.00 pm 
Anna Schwartz Gallery


Anna Schwartz Gallery is delighted to present a new body of work by Emily Floyd. Anti-totalitarian Vectors belongs to a series of informal libraries and diagrams assembled by Floyd that conflate childhood space with political philosophy, activating the urgent legacy of twentieth century anti-totalitarian struggle. The exhibition is conceived as a compendium of typographic artefacts and propositional objects which together form a library and garden, dedicated to the Hungarian philosopher Ágnes Heller.

Through close attention to Heller’s texts, the exhibition comprises philosophical motifs drawn from A Philosophy of History in Fragments, including the Owl of Minerva, a family of Umlauts, or “The Philosophical Characters in Order of Appearance”, and a garden of medicinal herbs. Anti-totalitarian Vectors considers “The ‘thingness’ of language and its role as a creator of worlds.”

Owl of Minerva

The Owl of Minerva is cast by the artist as a Snowy Owl holding a lantern whose light guides viewers through the installation. An emblem of continental philosophy – in Greek and Roman mythology The owl of Minerva is a symbol of knowledge and insight, the familiar and non-human companion of Athena or Minerva, goddess of wisdom. For Heller, after Hegel, “Philosophy is the owl of Minerva; it casts a retrospective glance. Speculative thinking is this retrospective glance.” The owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk – meaning that philosophy comes to understand a historical condition just as it passes away.


An umlaut (/ oo m-lout / ˈʊm laʊt /) is used over a vowel, as in Hungarian or German, to indicate a  different vowel quality, usually fronting or rounding. The sculptural Umlauts envision speculative fragments of a Hungarian Letterpress, cast in bronze with black patina, for typesetting a library of The Budapest School – a philosophical circle whose core group found exile in Australia between 1977 – 1986. In her 1976 text The Theory of Need in Marx (Allison & Busby), Ágnes Heller proposes that objects “bring about” needs, and needs “bring about” objects. “The need and its objects are ‘moments’, ‘sides’ of one-in-the-same complex.” Heller’s theory is evoked to consider how contemporary forces bring new objects into the world.


A recurrent motif in Floyd’s work is the library. A series of structured, architectural edifices inscribed with dynamic, geometric compositions hold space and the objects contained within, creating a garden from ideas. Six free-standing, architecturally-scaled, aluminium sculptures or book forms feature abstractions of original book covers of György Lukacs, Ágnes Heller and The Budapest School, including Lukacs’ Tactics and Ethics (New Left Books, 1972), Heller’s The Theory of Need in Marx (Allison and Busby, 1976), the Hungarian journal Tiszatáj and Australian journal Thesis Eleven.

Anti-totalitarian Vectors

For the occasion of the exhibition Floyd has produced a screen print poster portfolio based on journal and book covers of texts by Lukács, Heller and The Budapest School. Floyd’s extended title-page for the edition speculates on the limits and possibilities of the archive.

Working in sculpture, printmaking and public installation, Emily Floyd is renowned for her text-based sculptures and pedagogically inspired works that combine a strong focus on visual qualities with an interest in the legacies of modernism. Her work engages a wide range of disciplines including social activism, design and typography, literature and cultural studies, community participation and public education. Intersecting public space with a carefully considered aesthetic approach, the artist creates bold spaces for public engagement and interaction.

Recent projects include the 2018 International Curatorial and Studio Program Residency and exhibition, A Working Model of the World at Parsons School of Design, New York City (2017); All the World’s Futures, 56th Venice Biennale curated by Okwui Enwezor (2015) and Below Another Sky, curated by Alexia Holt at the British Council London (2015).

Floyd’s work is in the permanent collections of the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne;  National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; Queensland Art Gallery & Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane; Victoria and Albert Museum, London; The British Museum, London; amongst others.




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