Object-Oriented Philosophy and Performance Art

Curator's Note

What is the art object in the accompanying video from artist Jayson Musson? I suspect that object-oriented philosophy will enable us to think about performance-based art in novel ways. Object-oriented philosophy arises from what Graham Harman determines to be a core fallacy in contemporary metaphysics, that the “root duality of the universe is not made up of subject and object [….], but of objects and relations.”

Is the art object the digital file, which is a text written by a computer inside Musson's camera and that text is read by his computer that then translates the text so that a browser can read the text that the camera wrote, so that your computer performs the video in your browser? This boiling-down of an object into its smallest parts and then claiming that the collection of these small parts is an adequate description of the object is called undermining an object by Harman. Is the art object Musson's body, in an empty space (his “alabaster alcove”) performing a script that translates his years of practice and study? The inflation of the capacity for Musson to communicate the “is-ness” of the art object is, according to Harman, to overmine the object.

The art object times and it spaces. This is one of the consequences of the object-oriented approach. As Tim Morton puts it, “If there is no top object [overmining] and no bottom object [undermining], neither is there a middle object. That is, there is no such thing as a space, or time, “in” which objects float. There is no environment distinct from objects. [….] Objects don’t sit in a box of space or time. It’s the other way around: space and time emanate from objects.” Because object-oriented philosophy holds that any relation between any two objects automatically produces distortion all objects relating are generative entities. Relationships create differences. My distorting of the original is to be expected, according to the object-oriented thinking all translations are “lossy” and this loss or distortion in the translation from one object relating to another is at the core of performance art.



Very thought-provoking post, Paul. As a practitioner of object-oriented ontology, I think you're absolutely right to point out that OOO necessitates mereological thinking, something that gets lost in the sometimes rancorous debates about how OOO can be utilized to think through aesthetic, political, or social problems. As you indicate, for many OOO'ers - especially those that follow a materialist trajectory, like Levi Bryant or Ian Bogost - the 'real' art object isn't a composite of parts or a totality (digital bits or Musson's directed words and movements), but all of the above, existing independently and interacting in self-generated 'relational space', if you will. Given your thoughts on OOO and performance art, what extrapolations would you make about the identity of the artist? Do you agree with some object-oriented thinkers that OOO collapses any idea of identity beyond what's manifested in given relational schemes? It seems to me that how one answers that question would impact one's parsing of aesthetic sensibility, as well the gulf between artistic intentions and effects. Here, I'm obviously thinking of art objects as actants - what types of potential they hold and differences they produce qua their being as art objects in various assemblages.

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