Organizing Color
Toward a Chromatics of the Social
Timon Beyes


1Something Winged: Color as Organizational Force
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Chapter 1 discusses the relation of color and social organization and why it matters. Color is a primary aesthetic and social force, of utmost importance in its capacity (what color can do) and in its agency (what color does). As elemental medium, color organizes life. At the same time, color is itself endlessly organized and managed. As such, it helps shape political revolutions, the consolidation and expansion of capitalism and consumer society, the institutionalization of science, the workings of colonial empires, and all sorts of ways of classifying people, bodies, and habits. Yet it also proves to be a most unruly, slippery, and evasive substance, escaping attempts at control and codification. The chapter also introduces the rest of the book.

2Weimar, ca. 1800: Cooking Chocolate
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Chapter 2 revisits the poet and polymath Goethe, who around 1800 is literally cooking chocolate to observe and marvel at chromatic transformation. From Goethe's foundational experiments, observations, writings, and ramblings, a counter-discourse of chromatics takes flight, which this chapter traces. This discourse includes a fascinatingly heterodox cast of thinkers, artists, and makers alive to color's fluidity, capriciousness, and uncontrollability. It offers the main assumptions that inform a chromatics of the social. And Goethe's forays into the history of chromatic thought offer glimpses of how forms and processes of knowing colour are to be understood organizationally, as both embedded in and shaping scientific associations and their practices.

3New Lanark, 1816: Working the Silent Monitor
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Chapter 3 begins with the world of industrial labor by evoking the industrialist Robert Owen's cotton mills in nineteenth-century Scotland. Once regarded as a benign experiment in social reform, the disciplining and "betterment" of workers entailed the installation of silent monitors, color-coded blocks designed to monitor, evaluate, and atmospherically condition the workers' behavior. This scene opens up to an exploration of color as social technology and management tool, as affective force shaping experience and conduct, and its capacities and failures to condition sites of labor and organization. Arguably, current "creative," multihued workspaces present the contemporary update of such uses and abuses of colour.

4Lower Bengal, 1859: The Coke of Empire
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Chapter 4 moves to Lower Bengal, India, and recounts a thick description of the simultaneously horrific and enchanting production of indigo. At the forefront of global commerce, slave trade, and empire, indigo was the quintessential colonial color. Alongside other colonial dyes and pigments, its production and circulation gave rise to organizational regimes of extraction and exploitation. These regimes were thus fueled by colonial hues' combustible mix of attraction and repulsion, chromophilia and chromophobia, revealing color's ambiguity as organizational force and medium of transformation. This force is at work, too, in contemporary attempts to recover the production of "natural" indigo dyes.

5Berlin, 1924: Consuming the Color Chart
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Chapter 5's introductory scene takes place in early twentieth-century Germany, the key site of the rise of chemical color production. The artist and teacher László Moholy-Nagy remembers and reflects the fabrication and display of his enamel paintings in Berlin's Der Sturm gallery. Painting and the making of art is here mediated and enabled by the mundane technology of a color chart. The chapter discusses how the color chart's orderly, calculable, standardized, and commercially exploitable hues helped usher in the age of commodity capitalism. It became a driving force of consumerism (and related practices of color education) and was (and is) endlessly repackaged as consumer good. Yet the chart's many surfaces remain open to erasure, redrawing, and appropriation, materializing color's fundamental contingency.

6The Zone, 1945: Unleashing the Synthetic Rainbow
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Chapter 6 is situated in a ravaged postwar German landscape that the novelist Thomas Pynchon called "the Zone," where in Pynchon's telling the alchemy of the generation of synthetic color is related to a rocket firing on the Lüneburg Heath. Through the novel Gravity's Rainbow and its uncanny meditation on color as relational medium of transformation, the chapter traces how the rise of the chemical conglomerate IG Farben was based on the reorganization of color production to synthetically manufacture the rainbow at home. The quest for artificial hues, tones, tints, and shades fuels the organizational forms and practices of science and technology and directs them toward the business of destruction.

7Paris, 1967: The Revolution Will Be Colorized
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Chapter 7 is located in a bourgeois household in Paris, in the politically turbulent times of the late 1960s, where a group of aspiring revolutionaries debate and train for the coming insurrection. With La Chinoise, the filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard invites spectators into a staging of how (not) to organize a collective subject and how to shoot a film about it. This mise-en-scène is tied to the sway of red in juxtaposition to other primary surface colors. Color here is as central to political organization as to reorganizing the making of film. The chapter discusses how the red of political revolt is both affirmed and unsettled, provoking reflections on the different registers of color's politico-organizational force beyond "red Paris."

8Houston, 1971: Two Kinds of Colorism
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Chapter 8 moves to Houston, Texas, in 1971, where an exhibition of Modernist, abstract color painting, The De Luxe Show, was staged. A site-specific experiment in cultural organization, the show was produced in a rundown neighborhood, assembling putatively difficult paintings in a context presumed to be a color-stable context, the "black ghetto." The chapter relates The De Luxe Show to the contemporary debate on skin-color-based racism and colorism, with color as organizational principle of identification and discrimination. Yet it is also presents the exhibition as a reminder of the difference between color identity and color experience, encapsulated in the figure of the child's innocent eye, and thus of the task of keeping color's autonomy and uncontrollability in play.

9Cologne, 2007: The Distribution of the Insensible
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Chapter 9 stages an encounter with the painter Gerhard Richter's chart paintings. These aleatory compositions of hues, tones, and shades repose the question of what color can do and how it is organized in the age of computational reproduction. The vibrant, highly saturated yet cold hues of democratized color tinkered with on social media platforms and software applications hinge on and are shaped by the inscrutable calculations of datasets. Computational technologies have instigated the next stage in the process of standardizing and controlling colur schemes, again positioning color at the forefront of the struggle for consumer (or "user") perception, now deployed as central if fugitive aesthetic medium of the apparatuses of surveillance capitalism. Yet the technologies of digital engineering, too, both require and enable the sheer presence, intensity, and openness of color relations.

10Broken Tones: Toward a Chromatics of the Social
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Chapter 10 joins the artist Hito Steyerl in the search for a mythical color: "Adorno's grey." The great critical theorist, so the legend goes, had the walls of his lecture hall painted completely gray. Yet in April 1969, the flesh and colors of protest disrupted Adorno's lecture. In Steyerl's video, the fabled gray of discipline, concentration, and docile students harbors uncertainty and becoming-other. This gray is equally managed substance and unmanageable force, prone to fluctuations and hospitable to the interruptions of riotous color that reorganize (classroom) experience. With Adorno's Grey, the book concludes by revisiting a number of organizational forces and forms in their interplay of order and disorder, outlining the contours of a chromatics of the social and reflecting on the critical charge of color, elemental medium of organized life.