I’ve nearly finished my proposed essay that attempts to map OOO and Michael Fried’s aesthetic criticism / historical analysis together. The process of writing and reengaging with the artworks he celebrates, has thrown some interesting conclusions.
I know that the majority of those who will read it will be of a philosophical background so I’m desperately trying to avoid lapsing into ‘art speak’. This usually involves describing the work and the artist’s actions, in the minutest detail. If the writer concerned is a good one (like Fried) it can be an absolute joy. If they aren’t (like Bourriaud or Ranciere) then its like trying to find cupcakes through treacle.
Its also nailed the reasons why I admire OOO so much as an ontology. Many artists and thinkers like to distance ontology from arts practice so that ontological concepts guide the artists concepts (theory informs practice). I find this position untenable personally, it is the reason why so much art based directly on Speculative Realism and OOO misses the point completely. The process of making work is explicitly ontological. By making work which panders to the audience directly, you are submitting to the antithesis of the Speculative Realist / OOO position; that the artwork needs the human viewer in order to work. By contrast Fried has made a career in tracing the opposite.
Its really interesting to see how Morton, Bogost, Bryant and Harman are applying OOO to so many different areas. Amongst other areas of integration, Harman is going to have a go at piercing the epistemological distinction between real and sensual objects. Bogost is developing a fantastic videogame design project, that forces the user to confront avatars themselves, on their own terms. Because Morton’s already developed such important ecological work, its fantastic to see how OOO is transforming his own ecological thought. And finally Bryant is dealing out important post after post on the impact of object mediation (Sartre and anti-praxis), social group collectives and political agency.
So here are my main questions that assume a lot, but are the main ones nonetheless. The integration is one between Digital artworks, algorithms and OOO. These are questions that I’ve dealt with in much more detail, for the PhD;
1.) Is aesthetic expression with the viewer or the artwork?
Are artworks special types of artworks that deliver expression autonomously, or can the autonomy of expression be delivered by any object whatsoever? In the history of aesthetics (that admits to artworks being explicitly ontological), this seems like a forced choice. Either, the artwork is a special type of object that is ‘idealised’, i.e. it is a special assemblage of ordinary things that resembles an object which is “no ordinary object”. Or if any object has the capacity to work as an artwork, then it is the relational receiver, system or context, that ‘makes’ it art in the perspective sense. Or, artworks have the political impact of opening space within systems and social patterns.
For the best part of the last 40 – 50 years, art criticism has sided with the relational aspect and rejected the formalist, transcending object part. This is where OOO comes in, it completely obliterates that forced choice. The object is both independent and relational at the same time. You can have your cake and eat it, formalist supporters.
2.) What is the difference between Artworks and **mundane** objects?
This should be noted with the proviso, (if any). As you would have detected, this fails to answer the question of what it is we are actually looking at. OOO does not just reject the suggestion that other objects are mundane, (i.e. a painting is indeed a painting, and not a dog or a bar of soap, but each object also has an equal ontological validity as any other), it complicates things further. Humans are also objects and as such, they are not held as sole bearers of aesthetic judgement anymore. The artwork-object we are looking at, should have just as much aesthetic capability as the viewer.
Where does this leave the special idealised artwork, and perhaps more importantly, where does that leave the perceptive issue of relation? OOO provides an interesting alternative to the suggestion that what we are dealing with is “two” types of object-perception, one mundane, the other being genuinely aesthetic. This is necessary for the artwork to function ‘as’ an artwork, because if it doesn’t, then the perceiving object solely handles the aesthetic process.
3.) Why is aesthetics important here and not design or engineering?
I’ll admit this, I’m not totally sure on the answer. I can’t reveal the reason why I think Fried’s aesthetics will answer some significant questions on how real objects connect without connecting; I’m still unsure as to why even Fried’s aesthetic contribution should satisfy aesthetics sole criterion for causation. I don’t want to follow Harman here and go all out on aesthetics being ‘first’ philosophy, but as fascinating as allure is, I still see no sufficient reason why aesthetics should matter here. I think some sort of confrontation comes from the last question…
4.) What part does the Digital Arts and algorithms play in this?
My own solution is look into the rather forgotten history of early computational, generative – algorithmic art. Sounds odd to pick such a specific artistic discipline, if we’re being general with all manner of artworks and objects, then surely this doesn’t matter. I hold that what separates algorithmic aesthetics is the confrontation with withdrawn execution. By letting the artwork run or execute on a expropriated or created algorithm, the ontological sensibility has the same formal contingency as the execution of a painting, video installation or shard of glass.
In aesthetics, execution means linking both; the withdrawn being of an object and the intended style and production of the artist(s) setting up the work. The artwork is that which specifically confronts the beholder with its own blind-algorithmic execution in presence. To interrograte this further, one must reevaluate what execution is and how this emerges from its rules or algorithm. To do this, we must reevaluate what an algorithm is. Thats for another discussion.