Ossified Matter and Fossils of Sensation


Mineralization is understood to be part of the process of the production of things, of the material production of ‘reality’. It is in this context that I see a trajectory for the materiality of paint. Pigment emerged from the natural and material world of plant tissue, animal matter and inorganic mineral and subsequently from industrial hydrocarbon extraction and chemical synthesis. As Philip Ball has noted, colour emerges from ground minerals such as transition metals where the atomic scale environment, the crystal field (electric fields of surrounding electrons) and the chemical constituents engender a unique individual singularity of colour. The materialities of paint have emerged, like fossils, through the entropic cycle of organism, ossified matter and non-organic life.

Extending this framework to incorporate a Deleuzian theory of art, we could say that the process and materiality of paint are ‘mineralized sensation’, composed of emergent and affective flows that manifest independent of human perceptions and affections. For Deleuze the percept extracts itself from perceptions of things and from a perceiving subject while affect extracts itself from states of transition. The traces of ‘nonhuman becomings’ and ‘non-human landscapes of nature’ are crystallized in paint matter as monuments, much as the traces of geological time are inscribed in the process of mineralization and in the materiality of the fossil record.

Fossils, like mineralization, refer to processes shaped by temporal and spatial singularities, a reclamation process born underground. For example ‘trace fossils’ are the residues of a life’s movement, habitat or excretions, something left out of left over, no longer connected to the organism that emerged through it, instead it is the preservation of a process or pattern of sensation. ‘Urolites’ are trace fossils made from piss, malodorous hybrid materials, decaying sediment that erode up and layer down like an industrial ruin or a chemical accident deep underground. This subterranean oil spill is drawn down into the earth by patination but this seepage is also growing up, out and around what has become, for us, an ambiguously permanent concrete fossil.

Sub-fossils are remains where the fossilization process is incomplete, where the contingency of time cuts short the production of non-organic life, once sealed within a solidifying slowing time allowing the fossilization process to gestate, the geological process is interrupted, an extraction or exposure takes place, perhaps the sub-fossil reconnects into an assemblage with the forgotten soft, gelatinous newcomers. Sub-fossils are often found in caves, preserved only for thousands of years, they are caught a strange between state of the organic and the inorganic.


A third mineralized entity is the Pseudo-fossil, a non-fossil, at least not accepted into the taxonomy. Pseudo-fossils are visual patterns in rocks produced by geologic flows rather than biological processes, such as dendrites formed by naturally occurring fissures in the rock that get filled by percolating minerals. These fossils give the appearance of the mineralization process, but the organic host was never there. The mineral deposits are mimics of life, by forming what seem to be complex organic structures. Pseudo-fossils are representations of fossils made by same non-human forces, the flows of matter-energy, from which fossils emerge.

Expanding out again, from this conception of paint as fossilized sensation, what might be speculated for aesthetic theory? We can see in the following quote from Deleuze and Guattari’s ‘What is Philosophy’ a possible orientation,

all things as contemplations not only people and animals but plants, the earth and rocks. Theses are not ideas that we contemplate through concepts but the elements of matter that we contemplate through sensation. The plant contemplates by contracting the elements from which it originates – light, carbon and the salts- and it fills with colours and odors that in each case qualify its variety, its composition: it is sensation in itself.’

In this context, we encounter the reconnection of the genetic conditions of real experience with the structures and materiality of art. Sensation is an aesthetic theory that, while revealed within the conditions of the work of art, expands beyond art into all systems. As John Protevi has pointed out, Deleuze and Guattari show that at critical thresholds some physical and biological systems can be said to ‘sense’ the differences in their environment that trigger self-organizing processes. In this way, Protevi says, signs – thresholds sensed by systems – are not only conceptualized as occurring beyond the register of their relation to signifiers, they are beyond the human and even the organic, they are understood as triggers of material processes. This is aesthetics as emergence.


In this context, sensation is immanent to the material energetic flows that fluctuate between the processual fluidity of the intensive and the matter of the extensive world. Sensation is a multiplicity of intensive interactions, layering’s and couplings of material processes. Aesthetics as sensation does not seek to map or represent transcendence projected onto the material world instead it is a component of the mechanisms of immanence as they emerge from matter itself. Aesthetics orientated in this way can set out to uncover the traces of intensive processes left behind in the informational patterns of matter. Art and the materiality of paint might become a speculative theory of matter. According to Simon O’Sullivan, aesthetics may be ‘an affective deterritorialisation’, a transformation in the matter of an assemblage an intensive transition from one state to another. The material processes of affective, emergent and contingent transition are the processes through which art attempts to siphon the intensive information of the imperceptible.

‘Not every organism has a brain, and not all life is organic, but everywhere there are forces that constitute microbrains, or an inorganic life of things’. 


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