mineralmatters

OIL

OIL is not an object, nor is it a commodity. It is a naturally occurring substance, the self-formation of which follows the same processes as that of the commodity. It is a consolidated distillation of millions of years worth of compressed matter and organisms like you or me (the dead labour of accumulated time). To that extent, oil is a matrix for everything: the world distilled. Oil materializes and makes real the Kantian claim to open access and universality (insofar as it includes you or me). When your expression is countenanced and reflected by a pool of oil, that is time moving forward looking backward. The visual phenomenon of oil, I would argue, sabotages and scrambles the networks of economic and social capital that circumscribe the individual bourgeoise-homme, reducing him to an infinitesimally, incalculably small and irrelevant droplet of oil-to-come. This is a metaphysical attack and a good thing. This is the moment when the Sublime is reclaimed by Mother Nature and launched back at the constituted subject, to invert what happens in the sublime moment – the flashing undoing of the subject in the face of the object followed by the return of reconciliation. (Here the reconciled subject is permanently undone). OIL presents a premonition a thousand times more gruesome than the guillotine. More than death for the individual, oil presents the death of species human. That is actually, our DNA splayed out and squelched together with the DNA and membranes of countless other, taxonomically unregistered, things. OIL is a giant soup in which one human life-span of life on Earth constitutes one drop. And now consider the fact that the world goes through 88 million barrels of the stuff a day.

Exercise

What happens when the work of art – that ‘expensive hunk of well-regulated area’ – is outwardly emptied of its metaphysical content, the ‘content’ we prize beyond surface materiality – wood, steel, stone – and above the ‘visionary’ artist’s actual imprint? [1]

What if, instead of treating this material surface as a translucent screen to be peeled away, revealing the valorised quota of ‘universal truth’ contained within but, crucially, not equal to, the object’s outward form, our gaze and judgment purposefully, deliberately, rested on the surface: spreading a shimmering coat like an exquisite pond skater?

Could we purge our vision of its iconographical training, its tendency to metonymically enlarge from an object’s historical allotment, whereby a Judd cube sculpture cites a Piet Mondrian painting which in turn catalogues a set of colours and shapes, thus channelling a tactile model of vision predating modern history etc. etc. etc… What if, fatigued by our impulse to auto-genealogize when face-to-face with a work (because it makes us feel comfortable and clever), we made an attempt to close down this lexicon of inevitably unfolding image-signs, and instead, unnatural though it may seem to be, relax our expert eyes, allow our gaze to float upon the textured surface whilst making an effort to go no further.

We skate, eyeing around the brushstrokes or concrete, seeking some kind of entry-point into the work. But no! We do not want to lose ourselves in the object, to be returned transformed and inflected by the artist’s nurturing vision. That is not the point of this exercise. Instead, keep circulating, keep moving and, by suspending your gaze a millimetre-length film from the actual materials of the object, pond skater that you have become, you might be able to keep hold of whatever agenda you call your own.


[1] Farber, Manny, ‘White Elephant Art vs. Termite Art’, Negative Space: Manny Farber on the

Movies, Praeger (1971) p. 135

Questions

Through tracing the unique ontology of the art object as it persists now, I hope to address such aporetic questions as: What is the value of aesthetic value today? What kind of universally normative conditions can still be asserted as a priori for the situation of aesthetic engagement, when the self-critical artist increasingly seeks to engineer specific conditions for the reception of her work? Could (the labour of) spectatorship be shifted from the sphere of reception to the sphere of production whilst maintaining the aesthetic distance of non-participation? How can we restore the haptic to visuality – thus grounding an appearance long ephemerized through mechanical reproduction and smart phones – whilst refraining from actually touching what is there in front of us? Could the epistemological categories of Kant’s 3rd Critique be reworked and relativized to account for the specific social subject, by engaging recent developments in the field of queer phenomenology? Can the ‘aura’ be salvaged by moving away from a conception of the object as a moment in the life of the sovereign subject, to a situation whereby the subject is countenanced as a moment in the processual life of the object, (in line with Adorno’s theory of reconciliation)? What kind of material and formal properties might adequate to Hegel’s outlining of a Synthesis that suspends the moments of its negations; of a Being and Becoming entwined in Stasis?

Mineral life obliterates scale. Is mineral life therefore powerful enough to smash through the subject’s sovereign gaze, and if so, how can we put this natural force to use?