In­tro­duc­tion & Cu­ra­to­ri­al State­ment

In­tro­duc­tion & Cu­ra­to­ri­al State­ment by Michelle Kasprzak for the Speculative Realities ebook.

The way that thought, as it is ex­pressed through lan­guage, in­ter­sects with thought as it is ex­pressed through ma­te­ri­al forms is a cen­tral cu­ra­to­ri­al con­cern of mine. Par­tic­ular­ly to­day, when artists col­lab­orate with and are in­flu­enced by such a wide va­ri­ety of ac­tors, in­clud­ing philoso­phers and sci­en­tists, un­der­stand­ing this in­ter­sec­tion and cre­at­ing pro­duc­tive frame­works where these worlds meet is ar­guably one of the key func­tions of a cu­ra­tor.

In the case of the ex­hi­bi­tion and eBook de­vel­oped as Blowup: Spec­ula­tive Re­al­ities, I was in­trigued by the re­cent con­ti­nen­tal philo­soph­ical turn to­wards ma­te­ri­al­ism and the ob­ject. Con­cepts put for­ward by Ob­ject-​Ori­ent­ed On­tol­ogy and Spec­ula­tive Re­al­ism seem to hold great po­ten­tial for spurring a con­ver­sa­tion about how philo­soph­ical thought can be in di­alogue with, or pro­vide ad­di­tion­al in­sights in­to and con­text for, con­tem­po­rary modes of art pro­duc­tion.

What brought me to the point of con­sid­er­ing this par­tic­ular in­ter­ac­tion be­tween phi­los­ophy and art was the ex­pe­ri­ence of co-​cu­rat­ing the an­chor ex­hi­bi­tion of the Dutch Elec­tron­ic Art Fes­ti­val 2012, which was themed The Pow­er of Things. The ex­hi­bi­tion was an overt in­ves­ti­ga­tion of ma­te­ri­al­ism and ob­ject­hood, and was in­flu­enced by Jane Ben­nett’s Vi­brant Mat­ter, vi­tal­ist philoso­phies, and the idea of ‘vi­tal beau­ty’ as de­scribed by John Ruskin. For an ex­hi­bi­tion that still might be clas­si­fied as a ‘me­dia art’ or ‘elec­tron­ic art’ ex­hi­bi­tion (in­deed we still use the term ‘Elec­tron­ic Art’ with­in the name of the fes­ti­val it­self) it was re­mark­ably lack­ing in glow­ing screens and in­ter­ac­tive ex­pe­ri­ences that re­quired trig­ger­ing sen­sors. In­stead, the ex­hi­bi­tion hall was most­ly filled with ob­jects: a ball made up of all the nat­ural­ly-​oc­cur­ring el­ements on earth (Ter­res­tri­al Ball by Kianoosh Mo­tallebi), a sculp­ture made of salt and ice that changed over time (Sealed by Jes­si­ca de Boer), a pool of wa­ter with daz­zling re­flec­tions (No­tion Mo­tion by Ola­fur Elias­son), a nano-​en­gi­neered art­work com­posed of the ‘black­est black’ (Hostage Pt. 1 by Fred­erik de Wilde), and nu­mer­ous oth­er ex­am­ples.

Fol­low­ing the con­struc­tion of this ex­hi­bi­tion, con­tain­ing such a range of ma­te­ri­al­ities and pos­ing dif­fer­ent ques­tions and chal­lenges to the view­er, it struck me as an obli­ga­tion to ex­am­ine the ques­tions that were raised by this ex­hi­bi­tion fur­ther. And so I be­gan to eaves­drop on the in­ter­na­tion­al con­ver­sa­tion that has been tak­ing place, sig­nif­icant­ly al­so through on­line me­dia, about Spec­ula­tive Re­al­ism and Ob­ject-​Ori­ent­ed On­tol­ogy. The sig­nif­icance of these turns in phi­los­ophy are clear just from the sec­ondary signs: de­bate is heat­ed; pro­duc­tion of writ­ing and speak­ing events on the top­ics is pro­lif­ic. Some­thing about the re­turn of the thing and think­ing be­yond the hu­man realm is cap­tur­ing imag­ina­tions be­yond the halls of phi­los­ophy where these ideas tend to re­side. The draw of such thought to the arts is al­so pro­nounced. As art crit­ic Rah­ma Khaz­am ob­served: ‘Al­though SR [Spec­ula­tive Re­al­ism] ‘s counter–in­tu­itive the­ses and dis­mis­sive at­ti­tude to­wards hu­man­ity in gen­er­al have their de­trac­tors, [but] for its sup­port­ers in the art world, the men­tal gym­nas­tics it im­pos­es are part of its ap­peal.‘ (Khaz­am 2012).

Cer­tain­ly for me, the al­lure does lie in a fun­da­men­tal shift of cu­ra­to­ri­al think­ing, to re­con­sid­er re­la­tion­ships be­tween ma­te­ri­al and im­ma­te­ri­al pro­cess­es, and be­tween ‘mat­ter’ and ‘what mat­ters,’ pre­scient­ly. Art crit­ic Diedrich Diederich­sen writ­ing on the phe­nomenon of Spec­ula­tive Re­al­ism de­scribes the in­evitabil­ity of this de­sire for thing­hood as a re­sult of de-​reifi­ca­tion and post-​cap­ital­ist pack­ag­ing of self. He sug­gests: ‘We might con­clude that the con­tem­po­rary ten­den­cy in a wide range of fields to de­clare things to be (ghost­ly) be­ings and to call for their eman­ci­pa­tion is a re­sponse to a con­tem­po­rary cap­ital­ism of self-​op­ti­miza­tion, with its im­per­ative to pro­duce a per­fect self as a per­fect thing’ (Diederich­sen 2012). Al­though Diederich­sen doesn’t ref­er­ence it di­rect­ly, one eas­ily calls to mind the art mar­ket’s spi­ralling de­vel­op­ments along these lines. From Un­cle Andy’s fac­to­ry (and the sham­bles of ‘ver­ifi­ca­tion’of which ob­jects were ac­tu­al­ly fash­ioned by the artist or his deputy) to Damien Hirst’s hun­dreds of as­sis­tants that push pro­cess­es of com­mod­ity pro­duc­tion and reifi­ca­tion to its most ec­cen­tric lim­its, we have ob­served how in step the art mar­ket is with broad­er pro­cess­es of glob­al­isa­tion. It is worth bear­ing in mind then, that de­spite our rad­ical im­puls­es in some fringes of the art world, we too are sub­ject to the same forces, and tasked with crit­ical im­per­atives.

My cu­ra­to­ri­al pro­cess in­volved close con­ver­sa­tions with a range of artists who were al­ready look­ing at no­tions of non-​hu­man-​cen­tred­ness, or ma­te­ri­al­ism, or a democ­ra­cy of things in their work. In the end, I nar­rowed down to fo­cus on the con­ver­sa­tions with the artists whose work ap­peared in the V2_ ex­hi­bi­tion com­po­nent of Spec­ula­tive Re­al­ities. Four new com­mis­sions from two in­di­vid­ual artists and one col­lab­ora­tive duo were pro­duced. Through­out the com­mis­sion­ing pro­cess, I di­alogued with the artists (Tu­ur van Balen & Re­vi­tal Co­hen, Cheryl Field, and Karoli­na Sobec­ka) and gave them texts (in par­tic­ular, each artist re­ceived a PDF of Levi Bryant’s The Democ­ra­cy of Things) and I wait­ed some time be­fore re­veal­ing the iden­ti­ty of the oth­er artists to any par­tic­ular artist. In this way, the works were de­vel­oped au­tonomous­ly, with­out any col­lab­ora­tive di­alogue around the ac­tu­al pro­duc­tion pro­cess or out­come, with the un­der­stand­ing that the re­sults would be both het­ero­ge­neous and un­ex­pect­ed.

The fi­nal ex­hib­it­ed four works, while sub­stan­tial­ly dif­fer­ent (and de­scribed and pic­tured in an­oth­er sec­tion of this eBook) al­so had sev­er­al points of con­ver­gence. A fun­da­men­tal re­turn to and con­cern with na­ture be­came ap­par­ent; moun­tains, clouds, and liv­ing plants fig­ured strong­ly in the group of works. In­ter­est­ing­ly, a wry sense of hu­mour can al­so be per­ceived in each work: the ab­sur­di­ty in Cheryl Field’s dis­em­bod­ied fin­gers and tongues; the chance in­ter­ac­tions with ran­dom landown­ers in Karoli­na Sobec­ka’s Cloud Mak­er ex­per­iments; the sheer stretch of the imag­ina­tion in­volved in Tu­ur van Balen and Re­vi­tal Co­hen’s night gar­den for com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween hares and the moon.

Fi­nal­ly, it is worth not­ing that while we laboured on pro­duc­ing this ex­hi­bi­tion and the in­ter­views for this eBook, in­ter­est in the wider world in this philo­soph­ical turn man­ifest­ed in­to oth­er ex­hi­bi­tions si­mul­ta­ne­ous­ly: Res­onance and Rep­eti­tion, cu­rat­ed by Riv­et in New York; Things’ Mat­ter, cu­rat­ed by Klara Man­hal in Van­cou­ver; and The Re­turn of the Ob­ject, cu­rat­ed by Ste­fanie Hessler in Berlin. What this si­mul­tane­ity sug­gests in any­one’s guess, but to me it sig­nals that grap­pling with the con­cepts and con­se­quences of these philo­soph­ical move­ments has been as­sumed as a pri­or­ity for art of this mo­ment.

This eBook has two func­tions: as a cat­alogue of the Blowup: Spec­ula­tive Re­al­ities ex­hi­bi­tion, and as a plat­form for fur­ther thoughts on the in­ter­sec­tions be­tween the philo­soph­ical move­ments known as Spec­ula­tive Re­al­ism and Ob­ject-​Ori­ent­ed On­tol­ogy and vi­su­al and me­dia art. The texts in this read­er con­sist main­ly of in­ter­views, with thinkers on the fore­front of art crit­icism, me­dia the­ory, phi­los­ophy and art prac­tice, that speak to and far be­yond the ex­hi­bi­tion it­self. It is my hope that even if you were not able to ex­pe­ri­ence the ex­hi­bi­tion as it man­ifest­ed in Rot­ter­dam in 2012-13, this read­er will il­lu­mi­nate dif­fer­ent ways of think­ing and ap­proach­ing the Spec­ula­tive Re­al­ism and Ob­ject-​Ori­ent­ed On­tol­ogy in a broad sense.

Michelle Kasprzak
Cu­ra­tor, V2_ In­sti­tute for the Un­sta­ble Me­dia
In­tro­duc­tion & Cu­ra­to­ri­al State­mentRot­ter­dam, 11/01/2013

Khaz­am, Rah­ma. The Se­cret Life of Things. Springerin, is­sue 2/12
Diederich­sen, Diedrich. An­ima­tion, De-​reifi­ca­tion, and the New Charm of the Inan­imate. E-​flux. Jour­nal #36, 07/2012.

In ad­di­tion to all my won­der­ful col­leagues at V2_, I wish to ex­tend deep­est thanks to Michael Di­eter and Rachel O’Reil­ly for not on­ly their in­ci­sive in­ter­views in­clud­ed as part of this vol­ume, but for their on­go­ing sup­port in the de­vel­op­ment of this project and their in­tel­lec­tu­al guid­ance and col­lab­ora­tion on all lev­els.

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