Here begins the second of three threads that we are curating for e-flux conversations. We have another fantastic group of contributors, who will take it in turns to write a post every weekday (Monday – Friday). This time we will be considering the political and artistic significance of materiality today and making a call for new historical materialisms, in opposition to any kind of essentialising, ahistorical materialist ontologies.
Art, the social sciences and cultural theory are presently witnessing a wave of new materialisms. From object-oriented ontologies and neuroscience to affect theories and new vitalisms, a range of fresh perspectives are placing renewed emphasis upon materiality, the physical body and ‘the thing’. In opposition to the poststructuralist emphasis on textuality, or the post-autonomist notions of ‘immaterial labour’ and the ‘information economy’, these new approaches demand that we deal with the contemporary world in concrete, materialised terms. On the face of things, this may seem like a positive development, since the contemporary world remains thoroughly material and spatial and our present context of environmental crisis, globalisation and biopolitics can surely only be understood in materialist terms. However, we are concerned that the various new materialisms often evidence worryingly ahistorical and naturalising tendencies. While the present drive towards materialism offers a great opportunity for critical thought, we are also concerned that the construction of transhistorical ontologies might simply lead into new theoretical cul-de-sacs.
Our main interest here is to consider the specific historical significance of materiality and space within the current stage of capitalism, as well as in relation to contemporary art. Can we locate particular assemblages of the material and the spatial with relation to financialisation, digitalisation and the other abstractions of 21st century capitalism? Rather than a new model of what matter or space always are, we call for a reinvigorated historical materialism – a perspective that emphasises the constant reproduction of materiality in altering forms, with varying political stakes.
(Antti Laitinen - Forest Square III, 2013)
Our contributors for this conversation have all been working in areas that are relevant to these issues, but they have very different backgrounds and interests. For this first week, we would like them to broadly respond to our initial provocation in relation to their own ongoing concerns. We will see how the conversation develops after that.
We are really delighted to have such a wonderful panel for this topic and are certain that they will offer extremely enlightening ideas. Briefly, the participants are Lance Wakeling (Tuesdays), Amanda Boetzkes (Wednesdays), Bill Roberts (Thursdays) and Louis Moreno (Fridays).
Lance Wakeling is a Brooklyn-based artist whose recent work includes a set of video essays that focus in the physical sites of global telecom and security infrastructures. His new film, Field Visits for Chelsea Manning, premiered in December 2014. Amanda Boetzkes is an Assistant Professor in the School of Fine Arts and Music at the University of Guelph. Her first book, The Ethics of Earth Art, published in 2010 and she is currently working towards a new book, provisionally titled Contemporary Art and the Drive to Waste. Bill Roberts is a research fellow at Warwick University. He has published essays on the work of Liam Gillick, Allan Sekula and Ina Blom and is currently researching the intersection of contemporary art with architecture and design. Louis Moreno is a Lecturer in Visual Culture at Goldsmiths College, University of London and a member of the ‘freethought’ collective who are one of the artistic directors of the 2016 Bergen Assembly. His background is in Marxist urban geography and during 2014 he published an essay on ‘the urban process under financialised capitalism’ in the journal City.
(Photograph of the making of Antti Laitinen - Forest Square III, 2013. For more, see: http://www.frame-finland.fi/fallingtrees/forest-square/)