Can objects perform?: agency and thingliness in contemporary sculpture and installation
Kollectiv, G. and Kollectiv, P. (2009) Can objects perform?: agency and thingliness in contemporary sculpture and installation. In: Sculpture and Performance, 24 March 2009, Henry Moore Institute, Leeds.
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In his 1967 essay, “Art and Objecthood”, Michael Fried bemoaned the theatricality of minimalist sculpture, which replaced the presentness of compositional sculpture with the staging of an experience for the viewer as performer. His argument has since been inverted by artists and art writers invested in the idea of sculptures as props forming part of an artistic experience economy. This discourse has accompanied the rise of relational aesthetics as a dominant paradigm for contemporary art. More recently, however, there has been a turn away from relationality to ‘object-oriented’ art, where objects are seen to stage their own theatrical experiences, performing themselves without requiring the activation of a viewer’s body. We trace parallels between the philosophy of Bruno Latour and the “Speculative Materialism” group and this emerging trend in sculpture. In ascribing agency to objects, Latour proposes a radical shift from philosophy’s traditional investigation of the relationship between the mind and the world. Drawn to the idea that matter can be creative, artists have embraced his thinking. However, we argue that this has lead to a generalized, universalizing humanism that disables political action. Moreover, it undermines the potential for anti-humanist critique latent in object-oriented philosophy.