Amanda Boetzkes and Käte Hamburger Kolleg Aachen: Cultures of Research (c:o/re) are hosting this three days Workshop on 21 – 23 June 2022
The last decade has seen a growing preoccupation with philosophies of realism from artists, curators, and theorists. But while the art world benefits from this domain of philosophical inquiry, the reverse is also true: the significance of realism in an era characterized by fake news, post-critical theory, mass extinctions, climate change, and the precarity of existence due to war and other forms of displacement, can only be fully appreciated by attending to the ways that art captures, mediates, and even shapes our understanding of reality. Taking art’s constitutive relationship to realism seriously, this workshop intervenes on contemporary debates about realism after truth by demonstrating that art does not simply illustrate philosophical theories, it requires their redefinition. The contributors will situate realism in relation to the aesthetic dimensions of media imaging, scientific visualization, bodily expression and perceptual enhancement. Bringing together advanced scholars from art history, media studies, philosophy, literature and social theory, the workshop foregrounds the importance of art’s realism in a global ecology.
Organized by Amanda Boetzkes
Raphaelle Occhietti (University of Guelph)
Kyveli Mavrokordopoulou (École des Hautes Études et Sciences Sociales)
Coordination of event
Ana María Guzmán Olmos (c:o/re Aachen, University of Bonn)
Haus Matthéy, Theaterstraße 67, 52062 Aachen
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Tuesday, June 21, Haus Matthéy
Introduction: Eight Theatrical Rotations Around Art’s Realism
Amanda Boetzkes (c:o/re Aachen, University of Guelph)
In the Thickness of Reality: An Aesthetic of Indifference and Concealment in Eva and Franco Mattes’ The Bots
Maryse Ouellet (University of Bonn)
In 2017, film scholar Erika Balsom wrote a plea for a realist approach in film, namely the observational mode. Her essay argued that the task of vanguard documentary in the posttruth era was to “problematize access to phenomenal reality.” The notion of “access,” however, must be questioned, since it presupposes our separation from reality (Benoist, 2011). In a time when the fabric of reality is stripped from moral standards and lies are allowed to circulate more or less uncensored on social media, the challenge facing art’s realism today is perhaps less a matter of problematizing access to reality than problematizing reality itself, that is to say, to probe the chasm between reality and truth.
In their recent video series, The Bots (2020), artists Eva and Franco Mattes’ have taken on this task, by tracking down former Facebook content moderators who disclosed the psychologically damaging work they used to perform, skimming the illicit and the obscene “digital waste” (Roberts, 2016) like janitors in the shadows of social media. The videos, however, do more than giving access to a hidden dimension of reality: they also merge heterogeneous layers of reality, thereby situating the testimonies in an economy of the visible governed by “radical indifference” (Zuboff, 2019). The testimonies are indeed rendered on screen by six actors who lend their bodies and voices to the anonymized workers, while pretending to deliver makeup tutorials, speaking to their cellphones from their apartment. The disconcerting and humorous channeling of unknown individual predicaments through the widely disseminated and standardized tutorial format takes inspiration from an activist practice ironically consisting in circumventing moderation by sneaking political content into apparently innocent beauty videos or reels (Kuo, 2019). In this workshop, I want to examine The Bots’ aesthetic of equivalence and concealment to reflect on the implications of art’s realism in the post-truth era. How can aesthetic convey the thickness of reality on social media? How to be realist, when reality is deceptive? These are some of the questions I would like to offer for consideration.
Homeless realism (post-metaphysics, post-truth and posterity)
Hilan Bensusan (University of Brasilia)
The realist stance is a combination of two gestures: one that affirms the independence of things from us and another that asserts their permanence, stability and full presence. Both gestures were combined in Plato – and tied together by Aristotle’s reading of Plato’s positions – into what became metaphysics. Around this endeavor, the first gesture – that of independence – was sometimes questioned and abandoned. The second one, nevertheless, proved to be more persistent. Speculative realism, intending to revive the issues around realism, often elaborates new strategies to argue for a package involving the two gestures. The spectral realism gambit, arguably a post-metaphysical one, is to dismiss permanence while keeping independence. In that sense, it discards ousiai as the ultimate commitment somehow required by any form of realism. The rejection of ousiai – substances, presences, homes or perhaps archives that keep something in its proper kernel no matter the concealment happening in what appears – makes room for a realism where what is real is intermittent like what depends on the retrieval from an archive.
Post-metaphysics is contemporary of post-truth. There is a sense in which post-truth is a consequence of the original metaphysical efforts to be able to extract the intelligibility of truth and be able to mimick it by artificially producing its effects. One of the effects of truth is that it generates a network of reliability. Reliability itself has connections with permanence stability and substance. Interestingly, post-truth also reveals the limitations of asserting the full presence of things. Two kinds of responses are then possible: to recoil to a defense of a metaphysical realism or to move somehow forward and explore the impermanence of what is archived – and the ireducible indexical character of whatever is in the past (and can only come back to the fore if rememorated now).
Wednesday, June 22, Haus Matthéy
The Theatre of Operations
Oxana Timofeeva (European University St. Petersburg)
The talk will conceptualize the idea of the theatre of war operations. The theatricality of war, read literally, will be addressed in its specific temporality of repetition, as well as in its spatial characteristics, its architectures and geo-logics – the scene, the battle ground, and the undergrounds of war, from bomb shelters and trenches to mass graves. I will also focus on the unconscious scenarios in the theatre of war, discuss the structure of desire and the scenes of its phantasmatic realization.
Can Waves Write Poems? Immanent Purposiveness and the Matter of Meaning
Jeff Diamanti (University of Amsterdam)
Can matter story itself, and (if so) is its story coherent? It would appear so given the citational record mounting in various branches of environmental and post-humanities. Yet the largely unresolved polemic of the infamous “Against Theory” by Walter Benn Michaels and Stephan Knapp resolves precisely on this question posed from the standpoint of meaning’s hermeneutic envelope. Returning to the formative distinction between form and matter at the heart of Hegel’s philosophy—and more specifically two recent resuscitations of Formtätigkeit (form activity) in the philosophy of Karen Ng and Michael Marder—I attempt to ask and then answer if indeed the nominalization of “storied matter” underwriting much ecocritical theory is an analytic contradiction in terms (and hazard two arguments about what that contradiction might inflect elsewhere in the constellation of materialist criticism).
Thursday, June 23, Haus Matthéy
Art Between Realism and Warnings (via zoom)
Santiago Zabala (ICREA/Pompeu Fabra University)
The ongoing return to realism and order in art, politics, and culture and the increasingly narrow focus of experts have prevented us from taking warnings seriously. Too often these are discarded as useless or insignificant—much like environmentalists, artists, and philosophers—when in fact they are vital to understanding our spiritual predicament. Though philosophers can’t solve the ongoing emergencies—philosophy was never meant to solve anything—we can interpret their signs. Warnings—not to be confused with predictions—are not meant to convince anyone but invite us to reevaluate our priorities for the future. Unlike recent philosophies of animals, plants, or insects, my philosophy of warnings is more than a philosophical elucidation of a global environmental emergency. It is the ontology within which these issues exist. Phenomenologically we could say that these reacting philosophies are regional ontologies whereas ours is the fundamental one that encompasses all of them. Warnings allow us to think transcendentally without losing sight of actual political, social, and technological urgent matters.
“This word Being,” as Martin Heidegger once said, “serves as a warning to us,” a warning that reality is not made merely of beings and that its truth is not exclusively what can be measured or verified. The central argument in favor of a philosophy of warnings is not that what it warns of comes to pass but rather the pressure it exercises against those emergencies hidden and subsumed under the global call to order. This pressure demands that our environmental, political, and technological priorities be reconsidered, revealing the alarming signs of climate crisis, democratic backsliding, and the commodification of our lives by surveillance capitalism. These warnings are also why we should oppose any demand to “return to normalcy” after an emergency, which signals primarily a desire to ignore what caused the emergency in the first place. A philosophy of warnings seeks to alter and interrupt the reality we’ve become accustomed to through stances that are engaged, interested, and respondent to warnings.
Parallel Perspective: A Forgotten Realism
Jens Schröter (University of Bonn)
One of the classical ingredients of the difficult notion of realism, at least in the history of painting, is central perspective. Central perspective (ideally) follows the rules of the propagation of light (at least as seen from the standpoint of geometrical optics) and thereforen mimics the appearance of the real world. It produces thereby (ideally) a coherence of the depicted space and a potential continuity to the space of the beholder. By relating the representation to the viewpoint of an observer (at least in one point-perspective) it moreover
seems to duplicate our experience of watching the real world. But this subjective aspect of perspective also potentially disturbs the alleged realism, since it shows an object or scene from one, contingent standpoint. This leads, on the one hand, to the complicated problems of perspectivalism and the questions of the situatedness of knowledge.
There are a lot of discussions on that (see e.g. Alloa: Partages de la Perspective). On the other hand, there is a much deeper problem for ‘realism’ caused by central perspective: Central perspective distorts the represented scene, relative lengths, angles etc. change. It is for example difficult to reconstruct a machine or a building from a centralperspectival representation – for images that do realistically pre-present structures like machine or buildings forms of parallel perspective are routinely used. These are much more important as a medial infrastructure for modern technical culture as is central perspective. Moreover, digital image generation can use routinely parallel perspective – as different from the optical media like photography. With digital imaging an important representational tradition from drawing and painting is revived (e.g. in Computer Aided Design).
Given this extreme importance it is strange, why parallel perspective does not play a for more central role in discussions of realism. Parallel Perspective is used for a realism of the objects instead of the subject, so to speak. That should also make Parallel Perspective an interesting topic of study for theoretical positions that discuss the properties of the ‘object’ as such. Several aspects of these complicated problems in and around parallel perspective are discussed in my presentation.
Thursday, June 23, c:o/re, Theaterstr. 75 (Statdpalais), lecture hall
Steve Fuller (c:o/re Aachen, University of Warwick)
Closing Remarks and Discussion