Some notes on “The Art of the Real”

Over at Dark Chemistry, S.C Hickman (sorry if I’ve got that incorrect) has some fascinating thoughts on the intersecting of Speculative Realism and Art. Theres an interesting comment in relation to Ray Brassier, in that rather than art creating new vocabularies to express the real, perhaps art can “begin with an objectification of experience that, as Ray Brassier states it, “would generate self-less subjects that understand themselves to be no-one and no-where.”

In relation to Urbanmoics recent event entited ‘The Real Thing‘ and David Roden’s thoughts at enemyindustry, Hickman writes;

“If the objective world is no longer an object for us, no longer a ‘correlationist’ form in relations to a subject, for knowing or experiencing by a subject, then what is this new form of art to be? As Dr. David Roden on his blog enemyindustry states it “if we grant reality autonomy from our ideas of it, how is this sovereignty to be understood? What is the place of experience in our understanding of the autonomy of the real – including the experience of art – once we displace the subject from the centre of philosophical concern?” [4]  He informs us of a symposium held at Urbanomic’s The Real Thing where Amanda Beech, an artist, intimated that “art may have a contribution to make in understanding the role of experience in relation to a recalcitrantly weird and indifferent universe.” (ibid.)

If you look at David’s post on The Real Thing, you’ll see my comments on the bottom (the only one sadly) expressing my concern over the suggestion that art can replicate the real in itself. Before I get to that, heres another quote from a site; ‘Notes from the Vomitorium‘ (great name) that Hickman references – it comments on Amanda Beech and Florian Hecker’s work in the show;

“The Real Thing certainly provided a platform, an opportunity for people to access, experience or explore a fleeting facet of speculative realism. Writers, thinkers, philosophers and academics have explored Speculative Realism for some years now, but retrospectively I cannot help but feel compelled by the unique power/effectiveness of art to convey such ideas and themes, the instantaneous effect, the vivid ontological impressions, especially from Amanda Beech’s Sanity Assassin and Florian Heckers Speculative Solution were enthralling and powerful. It’s wonderful to have experienced art working and exploring so effectively for Speculative Realism, hopefully this exciting and effective mode of enquiry continues.”

If anything, art is what can put ontology in its place. The procedure of making and exhibiting pieces of work is an explicitly ontological practice. Art does not illustrate ontology, it is ontology! Beech and Hecker know this, and personally I think its great that the speculative line of enquiry is being actively pursued.

My academic take on it however is slightly different, in so far as I don’t think the works go far enough. Trying to intimately persuade the viewer that there is a real beyond the horizon which, in turn is wildly indifferent to the correlate of common sense is not enough in my opinion.

And this comes back to what I call the ‘squeezed middle of disclosure’ inherent to the ontological underpinnings of art. In Heideggerian terms, it is suggestion that art reveals the withdrawn Being of things. Or what Fried calls the ‘presentness’ of art. You could take the Lacanian view (like the critic Claire Bishop does), that human perception needs to be confronted with something that points to a blockage in thought. Art as Antagonism. The art of the real, then is the pointing towards the blockage of the Real – it really is the Art ‘of’ the Real, psychoanalytically speaking.

But what the correlationist argument also reveals is an inherent crisis within the reception of artworks. Art cannot reveal the real if the viewer is explicitly aware that the real has been disclosed. As Fried specifically notes, if the consciousness of the work is made explicit to the viewer, then there is a inauthentic co-relation between the viewer and the artwork. And make no mistake, it is co-relating in every sense of the correlationist argument. You are relating to a piece of work and in turn the work cannot function with the viewer, hence there is a co-relation there.

By contrast I hold that if you want a piece of work that leads a speculative mode of enquiry, it must take the formalist route and be discrete, independent and above all, ignore the role of the beholder. A great work of art need not pander to the whimsical torments of the human subject – but of course its not as simple as returning to formalism minus the idealist baggage.

I foresee two ways out of this dilemma; one is the “Meillassouxian criticism of finitude” option – that you witness an artwork which will go-on without you regardless. A sort of future – obverse arche fossil piece. Something like Every Icon would fit the bill here, in so far as the executant enumerable algorithm will take trillions of years to finish thus rendering the correlationist’s finitude somewhat problematic. Brian Eno’s 77 million paintings also adopts the same approach (although I personally prefer Every Icon’s simplicity),

I could have easily written a Meillassouxian take on this, such that the work could allude to an absolute indifference to human thought. The work forces you to confront the uneasy tension between the procedure in itself, which is programmed to execute beyond your life and certainly the finitude of the human race and the solar system (and the even the universe according to certain scientific timeframes).

But I would be lying if I genuinely thought this – for me, what is important about the piece is the actual confrontation between beholder and indifferent thing, not the allusion to thinking the unthinkable absolute in itself. Like Graham, I do not believe there to be an absolutist thought possible in ontology. Just because you can conceive the algorithm and its rules, it does not mean you have exhausted the execution of that algorithm. Your thought of it, does not mean you instantly execute it, such is the metaphysical commitment we are applying here.

It is not enough to simply say that thought embraces the real if it goes on without you, or exists as execution whilst you are not looking at it. The computational structure of the piece is discrete, it can only exist in complete separation to its composites and parts. For a start, Every Icon is not going to last trillions of years, the Java language it is built on needs a server to host it, and this too will not last trillions of years for obvious reasons.

But here lies the tension between the algorithm and its output. The algorithm is discrete, separate from any notion of an absolute, it is a discrete sample of time. This particular sample of time, where the algorithm enumerates every icon is thoroughly indifferent to our discrete sample of time, my time, your time, the computer system’s internal clock time. All algorithms are discrete and not absolute. The artwork must be independent even when we are looking at it, and in turn (and despite the issue that our perception of it, is appearance), ontology is discrete. That is what Every Icon alludes to us.

There is the additional suggestion that only aesthetics alone can allow a discrete entity can interact with another, only aesthetics can signal discrete Being from the depths without being confronted by it explicitly. The procedure of science or cosmology may, for example discover new solar systems, planets, elements, paradigms and subatomic particles – but perhaps they still take on the Art of the Real in so far as they reveal caricatured discrete periods of execution; lasting either a millisecond or seemingly extraordinary large amount of time.

3 thoughts on “Some notes on “The Art of the Real””

  1. I like what you said here:

    “By contrast I hold that if you want a piece of work that leads a speculative mode of enquiry, it must take the formalist route and be discrete, independent and above all, ignore the role of the beholder.”

    As well as:

    “…for me, what is important about the piece is the actual confrontation between beholder and indifferent thing, not the allusion to thinking the unthinkable absolute in itself. Like Graham, I do not believe there to be an absolutist thought possible in ontology.”

    Like I stated on David’s site on Harman’s idea of a “plate-techtonics ontology”:

    “Vicarious causation, of which science so far knows nothing, is closer to what is called formal cause. To say that formal cause operates vicariously means that forms do not touch one another directly, but somehow melt, fuse, and decompress in a shared common space from which all are partly absent. My claim is that two entities influence one another only by meeting on the interior of a third, where they exist side-by-side until something happens that allows them to interact. In this sense, the theory of vicarious causation is a theory of the molten inner core of objects – a sort of plate tectonics of ontology.”

    This meeting in a third-object, “existing side-by-side until something happens that allows them to interact…” seems to me the form an ontological anti-aesthetic (following Rimbaud, Ligotti?) would have to take to be both viable and generative/productive.

  2. Hey S.C. Hickman

    Thanks for your comments. Your take on Vicarious Causation seems spot on. If I have allure correct, Harman often describes it as a bewitching, intimate affair. But what is important to note is the asymmetrical form of the interaction. Plate tectonics is a quite a good analogy actually in terms of what Harman calls buffered causation, that objects actually have some rudimentary form of contact before they contact fully. Often this comes under the guise of perception, circumventing the object step by step, looking at it’s qualities. Two objects existing side by side until they productively contact each other.

    Allure then is completely different; it is a rift directly with the notes of the object itself – the thing as a whole – looking into the depths behind the qualities rather than at the qualities. This is why expanding the notion of Fried’s beholder is key here; it does so much of the work for arguing that vicarious causation is a legitimate working ontology. An causal object beholds. To be beholden is to be beheld by something in particular. In as much as something is alluring, the object that finds the thing alluring must change into a state of being beheld. This is where something akin to a speculative aesthetics creeps in for me – mapping the aesthetics between objects that fit those formal qualities, whether they be human, a guitar, a cordless phone, titan’s methane lake ecosystem, or a bell on a cat’s collars.

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