22 June 2011

Saving Objects from Themselves

"But, you might say, doesn’t object-oriented ontology, with its isolated objects that never enter into relations, make the mistake of commodity fetishism to an even greater degree than the anti-consumerism argument, by completely removing objects from the social relations of which they are the bearers? I’m not sure it does. One of the things that object-oriented ontology rightly reminds us of is the importance of distinguishing between ontological dependence and causal dependence. That objects cannot be reduced to their relations does not mean that they could have come to exist without these relations. The relations of production which produce commodities as commodities are no less visible on an object-oriented view. Furthermore, for Marx commodity fetishism is not just an illusion, a misrecognition of relations as objects. Rather, commodity fetishism is a material reality: capitalism really does produce autonomous objects which gain their powers from the relations which produced them. Object-oriented ontology’s account of objects is compatible with this materialist analysis of commodity fetishism, indeed, may be better placed to explain commodities than a philosophy which focuses on the human subject."
--  via #

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Over at Things mag, a contributor speculatively wondered, "What do sites like Shred of the Month and Will it Blend? actually mean? A form of capitalist self-hatred (the wanton destruction of all that is held sacred)?"

I suspect that a fair amount of the "meaning" doesn't extend much further than the merely testosteronic -- being the product of that undying male adolescent urge that never tires of seeing things blown up, dropped from a tall building, shot out of a cannon, or what have you.

But there are a number of ways to speculate on or analyze it -- such as attributing it to an assuaging of lingering puritanical impulses, or as a manifestation of subconscious resentment toward the ceaseless parade of goods and gadgets and at the artificial needs and desires that are created to sell such stuff to people.

As far as the practice of shredding and blending is concerned, something similar came to mind some years ago when I first encountered the fetishistic internet meme of "Unboxing." Would we, could we, maybe see the emergence of an opposing trend? Such as one in which people upload videos documenting the destruction of high-end commodities -- whether discarding them in anticipation of their almost-immediate obsolescence, or gleefully smashing or mutilating them for the baffling, transgressive thrill of it. In the latter case, I figured that this could constitute a form of consumerist "snuff porn."

In some ways, this sort of thing has been a trope in installation art over the decades, or at least it was once upon a time -- displays of wasted and rotting food, gestalt configurations of mass-consumables or everyday expendable items, etc. But ever since the Simulationalist/pop-conceptual development of the 1980s, there's been a considerable amount of art devoted to this very thing -- dealing (sometimes critically, sometimes not) with consumer objects, the design of same, and the various desires or fetishistic associations that coalesce around such objects.1 But of course this sort of thing only makes sense in a certain economy. Which is why for a while now I've been wondering if we're not due to see the emergence of some variety of Arte Povera 2.0 sensibility in the contemporary artworld.2

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1. This is to say nothing of another corresponding curatorial trend -- the post-Krens, faux-populism sort that offers the gen public exhibitions of motorcycles, celebrity wardrobes, and the like.

2. After all, it looks like we're going to be stuck in this situation for a good while longer; so it isn't like the relevance of such work would be fated to a short shelf-life.

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