Art and Things: A Re-Evaluation of Critical Discourse
In line with modernist radical discourse, critical theory has traditionally been suspicious of things. The theory of “reification” (Lukacs) critiques modern capitalism because relations between people appear as relations between things. This condition is understood as a disempowerment or alienation of human nature. The critique of the spectacle put forth by the Situationist International also condemns advanced industrial societies because relations between people appear as relations between (thing-like) images. The basic assumption behind this type of critique is the need to restore the primacy of people over things. In contrast, this presentation argues for a fundamental reevaluation of the modernist suspicion of thinghood. In particular, it draws on the experience of avant-garde film and digital media artists whose work explores the possibilities afforded by their tools. Electronic pioneers like Nam June Paik or Woody and Steina Vasulka, for instance, often experiment with media technologies to discover new possibilities of action, perception, and thought. Instead of building critical discourse on the fear of things, critical theory should follow suit and treat things as interactive partners. The question of the formation of the collective of human and non-human agents becomes the core aspect. Questions of freedom and empowerment must be rethought in light of this paradigm shift. This new way of thinking also builds on theoretical work in action-network theory and ecological optics.
Keywords: Things as Co-Creators, New Technologies, Action-Network Theory, Ecological Optics
Dr. Hector Rodriguez
Associate Professor, School of Creative Media, City University of Hong Kong