Kenneth White

Toward the rear wall of the laboratory, there is an object comprised of six nondescript sides. Each is constituted of alternating layers of common plywood, steel wool, and conventional household insulation. Six layers in all. These materials display their natural appearance, no additive marks appear on their surfaces. Their manipulation is plainly limited to the ends of producing six fat planes, bound by nails pounded in an orderly, economical disbursement. The object’s interior is lined with galvanized sheet metal. This interior is accessible through a hinged door fashioned from one of its four vertical sides. Much less than a hermetic seal, the door was deliberately constructed two inches short of reaching the base layer of the object. Further, a crude open window measuring six by six inches square, the only source of illumination into the chamber, has been cut in the door. Inside, the object is empty except for a simple stool. To enter, one is compelled to close the door upon him or her self, and is thus resigned to sit on the stool, in bare darkness. It is something like a small telephone booth, but without interface, wires, or any kind of device that might suggest some technological relation with the environment beyond its walls. And yet this object is precisely an instrument. Its form has been determined by specific intentions, intentions of a finely scientific rhetoric.

The object under consideration, dating to 1940, was named by its inventor Wilhelm Reich, in the perfunctory, descriptive mode customary to his scientific aspirations for his inventions, the orgone energy accumulator. He believed that orgone energy, thus accumulated in his instrument, would instigate intense recuperative potentiality for whomever may choose to enter. Such a person increases the circulation of his or her own naturally produced bioelectrical radiation and is immersed in atmospheric radiation that is attracted by the materials of the accumulator. The orgone in the body of the participating subject is in dynamic exchange with that of the accumulator. For Reich, his instrument is a self-sufficient system of environmental transformation. A constant higher temperature, slower electroscopic discharge, and higher rate of electrical impulses in the accumulator proffer adequate registration of orgone’s presence. He determined that orgone is “capable of developing a motor force.”[1] Thus, Reich believed that he, through the orgone energy accumulator, had summarily invalidated the Second Law of Thermodynamics.[2]

The accumulator originated, in a way, when Reich began his studies as a prized pupil of Sigmund Freud in interwar Vienna. However, in 1929, Reich wrote, to the great discomfort of his colleagues of both psychoanalytic and Marxist stripes, that, “Because psychoanalysis, unless it is watered down, undermines bourgeois ideology, and because, furthermore, only a socialist economy can provide a basis for the free development of intellect and sexuality alike, psychoanalysis has a future only under socialism.”[3] Both factions would shortly excommunicate Reich. Later, the accumulator stood as the central grievance in the United States Food and Drug Administration’s injunction against Reich; his instrument would ultimately catalyze the inventor’s own death in an American prison. The accumulator accumulates, so to speak, a curious life, rather after-life, as an instrument and a monument rejected by both discursive and institutional regimes.

In the end, this laboratory in which our object of consideration stands, like some kind of agitated monolith, is itself lined with alternating layers of common plywood, steel wool, and conventional household insulation. Six layers in all. Galvanized sheet metal lines its interior space. In short, we are in a mise-en-abyme: our part-instrument, part-monument is within a site reproducing the structure of the object itself, like the dynamic exchange between the perceiving/perceived subject, the accumulator, and its expanded field. “Nothing, it would seem, could possibly give this object the right to lay claim to whatever one might mean by the category sculpture. Unless, that is, the category can be made to become almost infinitely malleable.”[4]

Kenneth White
Palo Alto, October 2010



[1] Wilhelm Reich, Discovery of the Orgone, Volume Two: The Cancer Biopathy (New York: Orgone Institute Press, 1948), pp. 150.

[2] Ibid., pp. 106.

[3] Wilhelm Reich, “Dialectical Materialism and Psychoanalysis” in Sex-Pol: Essays, 1929-1934, edited by Lee Baxandall, Introduction by Bertell Ollman (New York: Vintage, 1972) pp. 56.

[4] Rosalind E. Krauss, “Sculpture in the Expanded Field” (1978) from The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths (Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 1985) pp. 277.

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