Topics in Aesthetics
Renata Camargo Sá
One of John Constable’s highest achievements, his “skying” campaign of the summers of 1821 and 1822 in Hampstead Heath, connects the seventeenth-century approach to landscape to the modernist vision of it in a singular manner. This is the starting point of my investigation of Constable’s cloudscapes, an investigation that aims to bring attention to their vanguard position in actually heralding the concept of “lifeworld,” a concept that was to prove crucial to the development of Modernism. In connecting the Dutch quotidian approach to life with the impressionists’ search for immanence, Constable’s skies became an essential bridge in the history of modern art. His own very personal treatment of natural phenomena as manifestations of spiritual life represents the transition from the naturalist view of nature to a more human-focused – later to be called realist – view of the natural world.
Over the last decades, curator Nicolas Bourriaud has drawn significant inspiration for his writings on contemporary art from the theories of the Situationist International (SI), an avant-garde group in existence from 1957 until 1972. Mischaracterizing the SI’s concepts of the situation, détournement, and the dérive, Bourriaud claims to update these concepts with concepts of his own: relational aesthetics, detourage, and radicant aesthetics. This article identifies such misrepresentations and highlights the differences between Bourriaud’s paradigms and those of the SI. This contextual restitution also provides an opportunity to examine Bourriaud’s general methodology of substituting conceptual formalism for art historical theory. Bourriaud’s publications repeatedly claim a historical materialist perspective on aesthetics, only to eventually eliminate this perspective; his use and abuse of Situationist theory is the foundational example for this pattern. More than the artworks showcased in Bourriaud’s exhibitions and referenced in his publications, his artistic paradigms describe and delineate his own philosophical sleight of hand.
Poverty and Asceticism
David W. Janzen
This Collision examines photographs of Santiago Sierra’s “Line” installations, discovering in these works a unique formulation of the tension between the social and formal aspects of contemporary art. Developing the philosophical implications of this formulation, this essay connects divergent trajectories embodied by the work (i.e. trajectories initiated by the material elements of the works, the body and the line) to divergent trajectories in contemporary aesthetic theory (i.e. the trajectory that emphasises the socio-political possibilities of artistic representation versus the trajectory that emphasises a distinction between the formal aspects of art and the political effects of art). Developing the socio-political approach, I draw on recent work by Claire Bishop who, emphasizing the distinction between consensus and antagonism, argues that Sierra’s work enacts a democratic politics more rigorous than that of “relational art.” Developing a specifically aesthetic understanding of Sierra’s installations, I understand the works in relation to the constructivist interrogation of the nature of the line. Drawing in part on the philosophies of Alain Badiou and Jacques Rancière, I suggest that, whereas a social aesthetic tends to limit art to a didactic function, a geometric aesthetic enables a more rigorously materialist experience of the work without reducing the potential political force of the work.
In this paper I will explore Samuel Beckett’s significant, yet overlooked, contribution to the study of asceticism and ascetic thought. I will present a reading of Beckett’s seminal play, Waiting for Godot, so as to illustrate the way in which Beckett utilizes and develops numerous aspects of Arthur Schopenhauer’s philosophical system. As I understand it, the Beckettian asceticism manifested in the tragedies of Beckett’s middle period not only utilizes aspects of Schopenhauerian asceticism, it also incorporates broader, non-ascetic aspects of Schopenhauerian thought – namely that of boredom, and the aesthetic theory of the dynamically sublime. In contrast to Schopenhauerian asceticism, which focuses on bodily deprivation, Beckettian asceticism impoverishes not only the body but also the mind. Through the medium of tragedy, Beckett presents a unique ascetic method that centres on impoverishing the mind by preventing the formation of useful, or actionable, representations.
Iranian national cinema is showing the scars of artistic persecution. The aesthetic landscape of this national cinema has become one of stark confines – both in its thematic allowances and its aesthetic possibilities. However, these confinements, both physical and technological, have not merely been passively affected by ideological constraints but have also been active in affecting ideological discourse, answering back as it does within imposed limitations. What we are seeing in contemporary Iranian cinema, I believe, is a complex movement of aesthetic novelty, provoking some important questions regarding the relationship between politics and aesthetics. The relatively high-profile instance of which I am concerned here is Jafar Panahi’s This is Not a Film (2011): a work that denies its ontological category and, in turn, furthers its medial possibilities. Panahi’s confinement is an example of enforced asceticism: an asceticism of necessity, groundbreaking in its approach. So much potential arises from this “non-film” – too much to find any answers here. However, this Collision presents the perfect space for briefly outlining some of the questions emanating from a film that is “not a film”. I raise some striking similarities between what occurs with Panahi and the politico-aesthetic ideas of Jacques Rancière in order to contemplate Panahi’s use of asceticism to political effect.