Philosophy

Thingness in art and the paradox of Entdinglichung

In a recent article Sven Lüttincken speaks of the contemporary ‘return’ of the object, the thing in art. It’s interesting to see how modernist artists like Carl Einstein and purely idealist thinkers on the one hand and, as mentioned by Lüttincken, a-modernists like Latour and contemporary artist on the other are in a way to sides of the same coin. That is; they are both ‘thingminded’ in the sense that they’re are reacting on the liveliness of the things themselves. As Lüttincken states: ‘a dominant motif in productivist theory was the need to go beyond fetishized capitalist object-commodities towards a new type of veshch production and distribution that would no longer hide the things’ histories, the productive conditions that shaped them.’  Artists like Rodchencko and El Lissitzky tried, as early as the 1930’s, to explore the interactional and fluid character of the existence and character of things; as for Latour, their leidmotif was to explicate the way in which things play a part in human life. Opposed to purely idealist thinkers and artists who more or less tried to develop the human, subjective gaze as a dominator or destructor of objects. 
Now, the striking resemblance here is that both sides are determined to deny (not conquer) the subject-object distinction. Where as, in Lüttincken’s article, the modernist/idealist side higlights the total social and political definition of the object and, consequently, like Einstein, lets the subject be all there is; the a-modern/contemporary side uses this definition against the modernists, showing the importance of the existence of objects themselves. So, where on the one side the objects are ‘charged’ on the other side they are, that is: performing, existing and being with and not ‘thanks to’.   

Furthermore, it’s especially interesting to see how in 20th century art constructivism swapped positions; at first is seems to understand itself as defining everything as construct (that is ‘human made’), but then, with Rodchencko, it tries to understand what it means for something to be constructed. So, at first it seems that constructivism turns into idealism by transcending the objects on the base of their ‘constructed existence’ but then it tries to cope with the ‘tangled thingness in which we are embedded’.

By coincidence Lüttincken mentions, in his last paragraph, something I’ve been thinking about in the last few weeks (mainly in relation to architecture), namely the meaning of ‘readymades’. Particularly in the nexus of architecture / ‘Innenraum’ and contemporary living and existence this seems quite interesting. I will write about this in a forthcoming post.

You can find the whole article here:
http://e-flux.com/journal/view/132

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