The slow accumulation of historical processes, the emergent patterns of becoming, the stratification and subsequent de-stratification of assemblages are concepts that are both real and metaphorical. Manuel DeLanda interprets the ontology of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari as a new materialism or geophilosophy. An example of this re-configured ‘philosophy of immanence’ from Manuel Delanda’s ‘A Thousand Years of Non-Linear History’ might help to illustrate the powerful collisions between the real and the metaphorical, and in so doing, help to construct the apparatus for the mining of the illusive worlds beyond our man-made façade. The following quotation explores the process of mineralization,
“In the organic world, soft tissue (gels and aerosols, muscle and nerve) reigned supreme until 500 million years ago. At that point, some of the conglomerations of fleshy-matter energy that made up life under-went a sudden mineralization, a new material for constructing living creatures emerged: bone. It is almost as if the mineral world that had served as a substratum for the emergence of biological creatures was reasserting itself, confirming that geology, far from having been left behind as a primitive stage of the earths evolution, fully co-existed with the soft, gelatinous newcomers. Primitive bone, a stiff calcified rod that would later become the vertebral column, made new forms of movement control possible… and yet bone never forgot its mineral origins: it is the living material that most easily petrifies, that most readily crosses the threshold back to the world of rocks. For that reason, much of the geological record is written with bone fossil. About 8000 years ago, human populations began mineralizing again when they developed an urban exoskeleton, bricks of sun-dried clay became building materials, stone monuments and defensive walls. This exoskeleton served a purpose similar to its internal counterpart, to control the movement of human flesh in and out of the town walls.” (DeLanda, 1997, p.26-27)
The term ‘mineralization’ has multiple applications and so meaning is not static. Soil mineralization is the result of chemical compounds in organic matter decomposing into plant accessible forms. In geology, the process introduces metals into rock as well as the process by which sediments replace organic material in the body of an organism that died and been buried. In biology, the term relates to the process where an organic substance is transformed into an inorganic one, when, as DeLanda says, soft tissue becomes bone, or when bacteria eats the organic matter and leaves behind the minerals to produce a fossil. All of these attributed meanings are understood to be part of the process of production of things, and so contribute to the material production of ‘reality’, however much we are denied access to it. DeLanda uses this realism to inject the abstract concept of emergence with a reality, when he says that the mineral world was re-asserting itself in reaction to the organic through the production of bone. But more interesting here is the transition of the use of the term mineralization in real terms into what seems to be the metaphorical use of the term. DeLanda says that humans began mineralizing again in the production of an ‘urban exoskeleton’ through the use of minerals in the form of building materials and thus producing control over its fleshy counterpart. He goes still further by saying that the process of mineralization is evident in the building of stone monuments.
In the coarse of one paragraph, DeLanda sees the internal biological process of the mineralization of tissue into bone, as analogous with the human construction of objects of tribal worship. The resulting materiality of mineralization becomes an apparatus from which visual technologies and representation emerge. Minerals such as ochres or iron oxide enable the performance of analogues which eventually become the aesthetic surfaces or objects we engage with through the legacies of modernist abstraction (although the modern period is based on the industrial production of synthetic colour – more on this is a later post). It seems that the re-assertion of the non-organic world over the organic through the production of bone or millions of years later through the enclosure of the organic behind in-organic stone walls, tells us that we are not mere observers of a world from which we are denied access, but we are instead caught up in the very processes of emergence we seek to de-code. We are the material flows of matter and energy as well as objects that deny access only to present a surface for consideration.
The formulation of art as a kind of process of fossilization that is embedded, from the very beginning, within the autopoietic machine that evolved into the embodiment of consciousness with flesh and bone re-articulates assumptions around the legacies of modernist abstraction. As Bruno Latour has long since recognized in the claim that we have never been modern because we have never really made a split between human and world, the reality and the metaphor of art and mineralization allows for the legacies of modernist abstraction to be open to the perturbations of the non-modern world and not the abstraction that ‘rules in a void, pretending to be free of time’.
From bone emerging from soft tissue, to the construction of walls and monuments and still further to the creation of objects of tribal worship and idols that perform representation to the abstract reduction of forms to surface and the self-referentiality of modernism, we are fully immersed in a kind of ‘speculative sublime’. All artworks, as well as other types of things not yet ‘classified’ as artworks, are a process of fossilization. They are traces of emergence and the remains of autopoietic machines that have been swept up and deposited by the flows of matter and energy. The remains are left behind as new forms emerge within new relations and systems of reference to be carried onward into the continuous remaking of old fossils. In this context, it seems that the process of emergence is only ever traceable through its discarded remnants, as relics of an endless entropic perishing and re-emerging.
The reality of this metaphor within the context of the legacies of modernism is easily associated with the work of Robert Smithson. Works such as Spiral Jetty – Great Salt Lake, Utah 1970 or Partially Buried Woodshed – Kent State University, Ohio 1970, or a proposal for a reclamation for s strip mine site 1972 are just a few amongst a body of work that constantly pushed the concept of entropy into the social sphere. The relation of a slow geological collapse toward a state of equilibrium with the perceived collapse of the modernist project was a reoccurring theme until his death. Smithson’s art is part of the wider speculative metaphor of the geological and biological processes of mineralization. Just as the process of mineralization destroys the organic leaving behind complex structures of the inorganic, Smithson’s works attempt to engage the dialectic relationship between strip mining and land reclamation, leaving behind earth works that are real man-made fossil monuments to the non-human world. In a sense Smithson’s medium, is the combination of a system of scientific references with the tired ruin of geographic, social and cultural entropy, the works that emerge from the overlap are relics and impressions of the petrified remains and irreversibility of collapsed time.