The Object of Art History

I have an interview with Amsterdam-based art critic and historian Sven Lutticken in the latest V2_ebook, BlowUp: Speculative Realities (free download), in which we glance back to modernism and minimalism to think the aesthetic commodity in Smithson’s wake, amidst eco-crisis and the so-called speculative realist turn.

An except from Sven’s responses to my questions: 

if art became crucial for philosophy – for the philosophy of the ‘aesthetic turn’ – because it showed matter to be imbued with spirit, modern art engaged in a flirtation with various forms of base materialism, with matter conceived to be outside the human. The shipwreck of spirit. The Bataille of the journal Documents is, of course, a prime example of such a project – which in this case was itself a truly aesthetic hybrid of the artistic and the philosophical, and which was in effect one episode in Bataille’s critical long engagement with idealism, and with Hegel in particular. Today, in the collapsing Anthropocene, to think matter from outside the human obviously poses different challenges, as the material fabric of our planet has been inexorably altered by human intervention. This was something recognized by Smithson. On the one hand, he turned entropy into something of a fetish, seemingly subjugating history to a natural law (the second law of thermodynamics); on the other hand, he was well aware that human activity accelerated entropy, and that a cosmic given had thereby become a social and political problem – which became the basis of his aesthetic project. By now, planet earth is itself the ultimate artwork, a subject-object out of control, an actant acting up in ways we cannot control. We may want to think matter from outside the human, but matter itself won’t let us.

The ebook accompanies an exhibition curated by Michelle Kasprzak, featuring new art works commissioned by V2_ Institute for the Unstable Media. The exhibition launched at at Roodkapje, Meent 121 – 133, Rotterdam, The Netherlands December 8 2012 – January 11 2013.

Exhibition Information

This edition of V2_’s Blowup series of events and exhibitions will examine the how and the why of speculative realism, object-oriented ontology and artistic practice. Four new art commissions examine different aspects of Object-oriented ontology (OOO), such as a non-human-centered view of the world, and the limits of knowledge. An e-book of interviews with artists and thinkers, released with a short talk at the exhibition finissage, will round out the programme and provide insights into the relationship between this exciting turn in philosophy and contemporary art and design. Commissioned artists include Tuur van Balen & Revital Cohen (BE/UK), Cheryl Field (UK), and Karolina Sobecka (US).


The term ‘speculative realism’ was coined at a conference at goldsmiths in 2007 chaired by Alberto Toscano that included the philosophers Ray Brassier, Iain Hamilton grant, graham Harman and Quentin Meillassoux. Since then the term has split into factions like object-oriented ontology (OOO), spawned a number of journals (Speculations and O-Zone), book series and several other conferences and debates. The theme can be taken as part of a current philosophical interest in rethinking correlationism (an act of division between human and world), and is broadly congruent with existing discussions of the nonhuman, more-than-human and other frameworks of new materialism. Many key points of these conceptual trends are also pertinent to current trends in artistic practice: a non-anthropocentric worldview; an interest in modes of ontological levelling (a democracy of things); a consideration of aggregate forces like climate through cat- egories of autonomy.