Vol. 11 (2023) – Aesthetic Intersections 5
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In response to the catastrophes of the twentieth century, contemporary writers were often led to revolutionize inherited forms of philosophical presentation. And now, in an age of Anthropocene extinction, such experiments have become necessary once again. To comprehend this most recent of disasters, the present essay develops a practice of the philosophical fragment which, by returning to contemporaneous accounts of Auschwitz, Hiroshima, and Chernobyl, seeks to demonstrate what was both anticipated by and wholly unforeseen from within the perspective of earlier attempts at contending with natural and societal disasters. By tracking the changing status of the skies in such writers as Robert Antelme, Marguerite Duras, Günther Anders, Svetlana Alexievich, and Greta Thunberg, the present essay distinguishes this longer twentieth-century history of destruction from the work of extermination now underway.
Recollecting the Future: Matter, Form, and Spectral Violence in the Work of Pedro Reyes by Justin L. Harmon and Enrique Chacón
This paper offers an immanent critique of three key works by Mexican sculptor and multimedia artist Pedro Reyes. Palas por pistolas (2008), Imagine (2012), and Disarm (2013–20) each function by transmuting guns confiscated from drug cartels into instruments for positive social change—first shovels for planting trees, and then musical instruments which are later automated and programmed to produce aleatory compositions. Following a cue from Reyes, we interpret this material and psychosocial transmutation as an alchemical process in which latent potencies for new modes of relation are agitated and brought to the surface. In line with the artist’s stated intentions, we discern a definite positive value in the integration of the weapons into a new logic. But the most significant value we identify is negative or, better, nihiliative, enacting what Adorno describes as a “voluntary involuntary” and, in this way, challenging Reyes’s interpretive prepositioning of his own works. We explore surprising tensions that arise both within and between the works, allowed to stand on their own, when one approaches them from the vantage of a hylomorphic conception of art objects, that is, as composites of matter and form. The gun-instruments, appropriated from an economy of death, deploy as an uncanny counterpower to techno-logical reductionism precisely because of the disturbing ambiguity that they reveal in and between the familiar concepts of “matter,” “form,” “substratum,” and “substance.”
The emergence of conceptual art is one of the most profound changes that has ever taken place within the cultural sphere of artistic practices. Naturally, the deviation of conceptual art from traditional art forms has been intensely debated. However, pragmatist art theory and aesthetics has placed relatively scarce emphasis upon this significant divergence. Hence, the aim of this paper is to introduce a coherent pragmatist approach to conceptual art; one that explains the emotionalized expression of meaning through conceptual art objects which, on the face of it, appear to lack the potential for conducting such experiential functions. The main discussion concerns the relation between the constitutive parts and the whole of a work of art. In particular, I highlight the peculiar role of contextual information in the process of interpreting and experiencing conceptual art objects. The ideas put forward are based on John Dewey’s philosophical naturalism, which also comprises the broad theoretical framework for this study.