Geophilosophy and the Aesthetics of Emergence

Manuel DeLanda’s neo-materialism is a philosophy of matter that not only speculates a ‘machinic phylum’ or ‘non-organic vitality’ but also develops a rigorous theoretical framework for the processes of morphogenesis in all types of systems whether they are of geological, social, economic or psychic nature. These speculative and rigorous qualities draw on the ‘flows’ of matter-energy as they move through phase transitions from solid, liquid and gas forming structural territories like geological strata or static institutions while also deterritorialising structures like social relations or the effects of hallucinatory chemicals on the psychic structures of the mind. While DeLanda’s ontology is broadly concerned with social, technological and scientific systems, it is my claim that his philosophy of matter can also be formulated towards, ‘an aesthetics of emergence’. I’ll be working on this theory for next few months, and will post some more detailed statements here, but for now I want show some contemporary painting that I think can be seen to philosophise matter through an aesthetics of emergence, which performs what I call ‘a geophilosophy of paint’.

Keith Tyson’s ‘Nature Paintings’ from 2006 offer real emergent qualities. Medium to large-scale works of mixed media on acid primed aluminum or mirror are dependent on chance, material viscosity, behavioral gravitational pull, ambient and local temperature, and on patterns that are created by chemical reaction. The artist sets up the parameters from which random and chaotic flows mix matter into weird oil and pigment ecosystems. Reminiscent of ‘nebula, histology plate, rock formation or industrial outflow’ Tyson’s nature paintings expose the forces and process of systems far from thermodynamic equilibrium. Tyson’s other projects, including the ‘History Paintings’ series evokes time, geography and randomness, the ‘Large Field Array’, cubic sculptures named after a linked telescope project in New Mexico as well as the ‘Artmachine’ project which uses computer algorithms to generate proposals for art works, offer a strong associations with DeLanda’s ontology of non-human agency and the ‘machinc phylum’.

Two other artists in the contemporary context offer equally engaging but differing approaches to painting’s materiality and emergent capacities. Jacob Kassay makes medium sized silver monochromes, the generative process of which is a literal chemical process. After preparing the canvas with gesso and silver paint, the works are coated in chemicals and exposed to the process of electrolysis – a direct electrical current drives a chemical reaction to form pattern and mirroring qualities on the surface. This self-organizing process shifts the meanings of painting yet again into new industrial and scientific domains. Daniel Turner is another artist whose practice employs the chemical and material qualities of matter itself. In one installation, an iron oxide stain on the gallery floor alludes to the base mineral matter from which paint was originally derived. The emergence of minerals in the early formation of matter in geological processes is brought into the gallery space as an accidental stain of iron oxide drawing us closer to the possibility of conceiving of a world beyond the socially constructed mind – world correlate of idealist philosophy. Instead, a ‘speculative realist’ or ‘neo-materialist’ philosophy of art can lead us out of our current anthropomorphic fog.

‘This emergence insists on the power that things have in and over our lives. The banalities, oddities, or necessities that occupy space, also make it possible to leave that space altogether.  Objects all hold the endless capacity to estrange us from the comfort of the given; to evoke what remains unseen, or previously unthought.  An object can do this on its own, but it can also do it as a series working together’.

From ‘Appoggiatura’ by Jacob Kassay and Ajay Kurian.

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