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Objects of Study or Commodification of Knowledge? Remarks on Artistic Research Simon Sheikh
We read Capital as philosophers, and therefore posed it a different question. To go straight to the point, let us admit: we posed it the question of its relation to its object, hence both the question of the specificity of its object, and the question of the specificity of its relation to that object,i.e., the question of the nature of the type of discourse set to work to handle this object, the question of scientific research. – Louis Althusser, Reading Capital, 1969. One of the current buzzwords of art production and education is the notion of artistic research. But what does such a concept entail? Let us begin by positing three, admittedly tentative, possible definitions: 1. research intoartistic practices and materials, or, 2. research as artistic practice, or, finally, 3. research that is artistic, i.e. an aesthetic approach to science. I will here suggest that we look at the term research through Louis Althusser’s famous description of (Marxist) science as an enterprise that has a theory of its object of study, and thus ask what could be the object of study in the arts after thedematerialization of the art object, and, in turn, question the role of (dematerialized) artistic production within the knowledge economy of current cognitive capital. The dematerialization of the art object, was, of course, the title of a famous book by Lucy Lippard, mapping the development of conceptual art in the period, 1966-72, that is, the same time that Althusser was developing his theory ofscience in For Marx and Reading Capital. For Lippard, the move from art objects into what Jean-François Chevrier, in his study of the period, was later to name ‘public things’, was also a move away from the commodity status of art, and thus a critical and political intervention into the economy of art and the economy of signs. However, Lippard’s claims are about the potentiality of the practice,of its logic of enunciation, not of its recuperation, as is to a large extent the case of with Chevrier, about the potentiality of the practice, of its logic of enunciation, not of its recuperation. Since the 1960s, with the advent of minimal sculpture, conceptual art and site specific practices, art institutions have had to take the double process of dematerialization of the art object on the onehand and the so called expanded field of art practices on the other, into account. Which, in turn, has led to the establishing of new public platforms and formats, not just exhibition venues, but also the production of exhibitions in different types of venues, as well as creating venues that are not primarily for exhibition. The crucial shift that cannot be

ART&RESEARCH: A Journal of Ideas, Contexts and Methods. Volume 2. No. 2. Spring 2009

emphasized enough is accurately best described as ‘art conquering space’ byy art historian Jean-François Chevrier, who has written of how this conquest has facilitated a shift in emphasis from the production and display of art objects to what he calls ”public things”.11 Whereas the object standsin relation to objectivity, and thus apart from the subject, the thing cannot be reduced to a single relation, or type of relation. Additionally, the introduction of the term ‘public’ means that this thing is placed in a relation to the many, that its significations are uncertain in the sense that it is open for discussion. This shift also entails, naturally, different notions of communicativepossibilities and methods for the artwork, where neither its form, context nor spectator is fixed or stabile: such relations must be constantly (re)negotiated, and, ultimately, conceived in notions of publics or public spheres. And it indicates how notions of audience, the dialogical, modes of address and conception(s) of the public sphere(s) haves become the important points in our orientation,...