Abstractgeology: Painting and Neo-Materialism

The focus of this blog/project is to open a strain of enquiry between the processes and objects of contemporary abstract painting incorporating its historical legacies and the neo-materialist and speculative realist turn in post-continental philosophy. The key research areas are as follows;

–       Contemporary abstract painting processes and objects that emerge from the legacy of Modernist abstraction (autonomy, medium specificity, mathematical geometry, historical/cosmological time, strategy of failure/collapse).

–       The Speculative Realist turn in post-continental philosophy, with specific focus on Manuel DeLanda’s ‘neo-materialist’ reading of Deleuze and Guattari and Graham Harman’s Object oriented ontology and claim of ‘aesthetics as first philosophy’.

–       Theoretical, literary and fictional methodologies will aid the formation of relations between abstract painting and post-continental philosophy.

The object of my research will be the processes (practices) and objects (artworks) of contemporary abstract painting informing a theory of art as a philosophising of the non-human world. Through the emergence of a dual framework of post-continental philosophy and contemporary painting practice based on the legacy of modernist abstraction, I will explore painting through abstraction and the autonomous medium specificity as it performs as a ‘philosophical diagram’ towards an immanent philosophy of complexity, emergence and autopoiesis in human and non-human systems.

In the context of painting as philosophising, I will read the legacy of modernist abstraction through Robert Smithson, Jean Francois Lyotard and Liam Gillick. This is a legacy where the collapse of form is conceived of as ‘entropic innovation’ (Smithson), as the failed attempts to re-present the unpresentable (Lyotard), or the abstract as failed representations of impossibilities (Gillick), formulates a theory of abstract painting as the continued attempt to map the non-human world, only to fall short and to continually re-present these attempts.

The value of an unreadable language of visual abstraction that emerges from abstract painting was a strategy that could never truly re-present what Merleau-Ponty referred to as ‘the discovery of the logos of the life-world’. However, for Lyotard, the inevitable failure of a strategy to re-present the unpresentable, encapsulated in the work of Cezanne, Newman and Pollock among many others, still maintained credibility not as painting on an ontic level but instead on a level of philosophical or ontological interrogation into the existence of primordial reality, before matter-energy has been formatted with linguistic, conceptual and psychological correlations.

A formative connection between abstract painting and philosophy emerges in ‘Francis Bacon: Logic of Sensation’, where the author Gilles Deleuze characterises abstract painting as the conversion and translation of data into ‘digital codification’. This characterisation is opposed to the historical painting, considered ‘an analogical art’. Deleuze points out, paradoxically that the object of this digital codification is the analogical and hence abstract painting is the digital expression of the analogical. However, this digitization is not a coded formula but a diagrammatic accident. The diagram ‘imposes a zone of objective indeterminability between two forms’, with its essential function to allow for the emergence of something from it, and if nothing emerges from it, it fails’. Deleuze’s use of ‘the diagrammatic accident’ performs an assemblage with the legacy of modernist abstraction and the recent ‘neo-materialism’ interpretation of Deleuzian philosophy by Manuel DeLanda.

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