Realisms and Object Orientations: Art, Politics and the Philosophy of Tristan Garcia

CCW academic staff member, Maria Walsh, was invited to present a paper at the ICA symposium Realisms and Object Orientations: Art, Politics and the philosophy of Tristan Garcia on 5 December 2014. The event was co-organised by the ICA and the Politics and Fine Art departments of The University of Kent, specifically the two research centres Sound Image Space, which is located within the School of Music, and Fine Art and Critical Thought, which is an interdisciplinary forum that traverses faculties.

According to the symposium publicity, the aim of the symposium was ultimately to contribute to the debate concerning the aesthetic and political repercussions of speculative and object oriented philosophies with regard to their implications for politics and art. As the philosopher and novelist Tristan Garcia, part of this new “realist” tendency within philosophy, was presenting his fiction at the ICA on 5 Dec, it seemed apropos that some of the symposium participants would focus on his work. ‘I was interested to participate to learn more about Garcia’s work, which unlike many of the “speculative” philosophers, seems to tackle more resolutely human problematics, such as class, gender, adolescence, and death,’ said Walsh.

‘I was invited to present a more general presentation on object-oriented philosophies and art based on my feature in Art Monthly published in Nov 2013 “I Object“, which addressed this topic. My symposium presentation built on the Art Monthly feature in which I “gathered” artists such as Hito Steyerl, Ed Atkins, Andy Holden and George Barber into an “assemblage” with one another, as well as philosopher Graham Harman and sociologist Bruno Latour. The purpose of this was to question the ethics of object-oriented approaches in art and philosophy by “assembling” them with lethal objects, i.e. drone technology, which appears in both Steyerl’s and Barber’s videos albeit to different effect and intent. My symposium paper, “Anthropomorphic Relations”, extended the feminist approach of this “assemblage” by bookending the argument with philosopher Rosi Braidotti’s critique of the subject at one end and her critique of anthropocentrism and object-oriented philosophy at the other. My ultimate conclusion was that we cannot forego the politics of location and that making distinctions between flesh and rocks is necessary and is not necessarily anthropocentric.

My presentation came near the end of an intense day that began with Tristan Garcia presenting his flat ontology from his book Form and Object: A Treatise on Things. The aim of his ontology is how to think of something without first thinking of the condition of its existence. His claim was that this radical ontology, rather than producing an effect of universal equivalence, attempts to find an end to the endless liberal ontology of modernity. This was followed by a performative text scripted by artist Annie Davey, but read by an actress, which was based on an adapted excerpt of Edwin Abbott’s 1884 satirical novella Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions. Davey’s text explored how a fictional, “flattened”, society is narrated as a means to teach geometry and the principles of spatial and temporal dimensions.

After a short lunch break, there were two panels of two papers each. In the first, Dr. Steve Klee (artist, academic) considered the implications of Garcia’s concept of representation for art, and Dr Iain MacKenzie (Politics and International Relations department, The University of Kent) evaluated the concept of possession in relation to private property and neo-liberalism. The second panel comprised of Ben Turner (PhD candidate in Political & Social Thought) and myself. Turner presented an overview of Garcia’s philosophy and contrasted it to the uncomfortable alliance with neoliberal ideology that emerges in Graham Harman’s object-oriented philosophy. In the final presentation of the day, artist Matthew de Kersaint Giraudeau presented a performative lecture based on his experience of 9 hours of seminars with Garcia in New York this summer at PS1. His lecture examined the affective states implied by a flattened plane of being, using adolescence and musical taste as the site through which to explore this.

At the end of this intellectually stimulating day, Tristan Garcia’s maxim that “Solitude is by definition the only relation to the world” (Form and Object, 2014), accompanied the audience as it left the building.’

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