In a great article written by Jan Verwoert in Frieze, the author explores the neurosis that links the art world and today’s taste for the intangible and brings it closer to what, in my opinion, art should stand for: presence.
He quotes Joshua Simon’s new book ‘Neomaterialism’ where debt seems to be the crux of the matter. He says: ‘Credit card purchases and mortgage settlements may feel abstract at first. But debt brings its material truth home to you: you do not own that new computer, TV, car or flat: they own you. As long as you cannot pay back the debt these things put a spell on you: you are theirs. So material values today translate straight into material fears. And who could stay calm? When housing bubbles burst overnight, you want something tangible to hold on to. Be its your abs, sales or tenure’.
According to Simon, ‘panicky materialism’ is ‘precisely the firm denial of the panic politics governing material affairs today that has bolstered the slow but steady rise of speculative realism’. Graham Harman is the philosopher that has been talking about this in order to restabilize the positive faith in a rock bottom of material reality. Harman promotes ‘object-oriented philosophy’ as the long awaited ‘revival of metaphysics’.
And it is from this point of view that Verwoert says: ‘Personally, if I were to support a reviva, it would be that of the resurgence of interest in art historian Aby Warburg. The renewed currency of his thinking seems to stem from the fact that Warburg was courageous enough to link practices in modern material cultural back to animist rites’. With this, Warburg saw presence in the work of art and human connection. In other words, that respect for credit cards and real estate turns into fear and frenzy in the same way that tribes used to fear certain devils. As citizens of the modern world, we remain subject to the same sense of terror that animist rites address when they assume that matter has soul and that devils live in all things playing cruel games with us. In a world of debt, where the things you own possess you, the only true realism may well be speculative animism.
So, could we fight material fear with animist means? Dance with snakes to bring the rain? Success won’t be guaranteed. But, if performed consciously and collectively, the dance wold at least help to acknowledge fear as a common condition. Experience indicates that it takes interpersonal alchemy to cultivate environments in which artistic practices, reflective thinking and human relations flourish. Working such environmental magic is the way to go. It’s not a question of metaphysics -perhaps it’s just a matter of looking around to see if you’ve got company. Just a thought.
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